Book Review (Part 1):

Living God’s Story of Grace, Elizabeth Reynolds Turnage (P&R, 2012) Lately, some of us ladies have been fighting for our right to have real theological studies. We are insulted by the mamby-pamby, theologically-lite women’s studies that seem to open up with silly games, involve crafting, and end up handing out goody bags. We crave depth not only in our studies, but also in personal ability to articulate our faith. Men don’t have to read countless books on more Christian approaches to car repair and taking out the trash, but we seem to have been flooded with so-called Christian ways to get skinny for God and organize our houses. My Real Simple magazine gives me plenty of tips for homemaking. When it comes to theology, I want the same prime rib the men are having, please. And yet, I think women’s small groups are very valuable in the church. In this information age that we are living in, many women are finding the conveniences of technology cutting us off from meaningful, mentoring relationships that shepherd us in our unique role. In Titus 2, Paul points out the importance of women teaching and learning from one another. Intentional small group studies are a purposeful way for women to both share and grow in their faith. While it’s certainly prudent to talk about some of our distinctive roles as women in these groups, that doesn’t mean we want the low-calorie version. Thankfully, there has been more on the menu for us women lately. And I say, keep ‘em coming, because we are hungry. While the cover design of Living God’s Story of Grace seems a little froofy, I think you’ll find that this is another great addition to our meaty menu. It is the second of a three-book series. I have not read the first, Learning God’s Story of Grace, and the 3rd, Loving God’s Story of Grace has not been released yet. This book can be read on it’s own, but I feel like its impact would be much stronger for the study if the group would read book one first. Turnage believes “Scripture calls us to learn and rehearse God’s story of grace, because doing so calls us to live a life of faith, hope, and love—the essence of worship: Faith means trusting in God for life and hope rather than other Gods. Hope means believing that God is doing brand-new things in the midst of a wrecked shalom. Love is living in and telling our story to a broken world sorely in need of a life-transforming story” (73). I really love her theme of story that is woven throughout the book. In each chapter, there is a different Bible study that looks into God’s redemption of his people. As we look to see how our own stories share in some of these themes, we see that each story of redemption in the Bible ultimately points to our Ultimate Redeemer, Jesus Christ. This amazing metanarrative (the life-changing story which I’m sure is even more emphasized in her first book) gives meaning and purpose to the “therefores” that direct our living. Another major theme that I especially appreciated is Turnage’s encouragement to invite wrestling into our Christian journey. God does not promise us a life without suffering, but he does promise himself. We have a sovereign, loving God to turn to, even when we don’t understand how he is working in our lives. She emphasizes that there is much tension and struggle that accompanies hope. The very word hope demands waiting—and well, no one loves waiting. This is such a relieving encouragement for women today, who feel the pressure to uphold the image of a seamless, magazine-like life of immediate gratification. This kind of teaching shows us that it’s okay to be vulnerable and honest with God and one another. For that I am thankful. The organization of each chapter is very conducive for learning. Each chapter begins with its “Key Themes” before introducing the week’s “Bible Study.” There is an “Entering Your Story” section that helps the reader engage in the work God is doing in their own life. A “Theological Theme” is introduced, which I found especially helpful since I had my nearly 13-year-old daughter reading along independently. The “Living Story” section gave practical application to the lesson. While this is certainly an important element to the book’s message, I did find some of the suggestions here a bit forced. For example, in Chapter 5, after reading Revelation 21 & 22, we were to plan a day of joy and rest. It was followed by a quote from Dan Allender, “Sabbath is our re-creating the garden and recreating in the new heavens and new earth” (Loc. 665). Jesus is the one who has earned the new heavens and the new earth for us. We aren’t the ones doing the re-creating. On Sunday, I can have a taste of what is to come, basking in the Lord Jesus Christ’s redemptive rule. How do we convey something so marvelous as the temple of God in our common, everyday life? How does God convey to us Christ and all his benefits as we live as sojourners in this world? He gives us Sunday. Our Sunday worship service best points to our heavenly worship and rest. That isn’t something I can manufacture in some other activity. I found myself having this conversation in my mind a couple of times throughout the book. Even with the title, I really want to add one little word to make it: Living In God's Story of Grace, just to emphasize that we are cast into this drama. After the “Living Story” is the “Praying Story,” which is very enriching. Ending each chapter with a “Moving Forward” point emphasizes that “faith and hope do not exist in that abstract, only lived do they become a reality” (Loc. 201). Whew! I didn’t realize I had so much to say, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I have yet to discuss the greatest strength of the book, where Turnage skillfully teaches us the importance of sharing our own stories, and how to skillfully do this. Stay tuned for Part Two!