Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book Review: Christ in the Chaos

Kimm Crandall is wild about grace, obsessed with pointing desperate moms to Jesus. Again and again I've printed off posts or copied quotes from her blog to preach to myself. So when I found out she had a book coming out this spring, I knew I would want to read it.

Christ in the Chaos isn't your usual guilt-inducing book about motherhood. Instead, it's oxygen for the soul--and it's not just for mothers.

Kimm begins by helping readers root our identity not in motherhood, but in our place as His beloved daughters. A mom of four, Kimm doesn't pretend to have it all together; she knows she's desperately inadequate and isn't afraid to shout out that truth. Like the Apostle Paul, she gladly boasts in her weakness so that Christ's power can rest on her. And as she hides herself in Him, she brings something heavy to her readers: not the burdens of guilt and shame, of "should" and try harder and do better, but the weight of glory--the reassurance of love and holy welcome and finished work to rest in.

As Kimm explains, whether we are consumed with guilt and despair over how we have failed our children, or whether we are patting ourselves on the back for being Awesome Moms, our love for our kids is tainted with selfishness and pride. Chaos reigns when we are worshipping self, focused on our own abilities and successes. Our chaotic, sin-tainted hearts need the good news of the gospel--that we are beloved; that our identity, our righteousness, is in Christ.

Kimm sets out to dismantle our idols, to point readers away from themselves and toward Jesus. We’re often so focused on doing better, trying harder, but Kimm exhorts, “The key is Jesus. The key is not in somehow ‘being better,’ because being better is all about our invariably sin-tainted performance. ‘Being better’ is all about me. ...We must trade in our performance obsession...for a SAVIOR obsession.”

She acknowledges that readers may be looking for some concrete guidance on how to live in light of the gospel. But she outlines the dangers of providing a “Godly Motherhood Checklist”—in short, pride when we live up to it and despair when we don’t. Instead, Kimm writes,
“my desire is that God would use this book to free you to rest in Christ's outrageous grace, love, and mercy for you--not to motivate you to try harder. Freedom from the stain of sin. Rest from our strivings to be worthy in ourselves. Love that never changes. Mercy for all our failures. Grace that saves eternally. These are things that Christ lived, died, and rose again in order to give us--precisely because we can't get them any other way.” 
She continues:
“Are you walking the Christian life because you want to get to a place where you can think, Finally! No more chaos in my life. I’m so glad I learned to get all of that under control? If so, you are merely using the Bible as a stepstool to glorify yourself. If so, you want the rules of Christianity to help you become self-sufficient so that you no longer need Christ. Is that really what you want? If I said, ‘Follow these steps to find Christ in your chaos!’ I would be saying there is a way to live beyond the gospel. A place we can get to on our own that nullifies our very need for Christ. But this is…about living in the gospel, not beyond it.” (emphasis original) 
All this talk about grace can make some people twitchy: Are you saying obedience doesn’t matter? But Kimm's heart is clearly to see you walking in obedient trust. She simply believes that grace *must* be the foundation, the motivation, the air we breathe whether we succeed or fail.

Though I was encouraged by what I read, I found myself squirming a bit uncomfortably a couple of times. I’m not honestly sure if that’s because Kimm’s words were actually off-base or misguided in their emphasis, or simply because grace is so counterintuitive and I have lived so much of my life on the basis of my performance. It may be some of both. I do struggle with a performance orientation and need to humbly lean on grace…yet I also believe we can’t ignore the *transforming* nature of grace. The grace God gives us is grace that enables us to change, not only grace that forgives and covers our failures.

Right after reading this book, I read a challenging article by Dr. David Powlison in the Journal of Biblical Counseling. In “How Does Sanctification Work? Part 1,” Powlison argues against overemphasizing the doctrine of justification to the neglect of other beautiful, life-changing truths in Scripture. He contends that for certain types of people with certain struggles (like Kimm, or me), the constant reminder of justification might be exactly what is needed—but for others, other messages (built on the foundation of justification, but not exclusively about it) may be more timely and helpful.

I then read a friendly debate between Tullian Tchividjian (who shares Kimm’s perspective) and Kevin DeYoung on the role of effort in sanctification. I’m still processing all this, and eagerly awaiting part two of Powlison’s article. Powlison knows how to apply the gospel and keep it central as well as or better than anyone I’ve learned from, so I can’t dismiss his concerns.

In the end, I do wholeheartedly recommend Christ in the Chaos. Kimm’s courageous honesty about her weakness and inadequacy does exactly what she hopes it will do: points readers to what a great Savior she has and the beauty of His mercy and grace.

[full disclosure: Cruciform Press provided me with a complimentary e-copy of this book to review--but the Kindle edition on Amazon is only $5.78!]

1 comment:

Danielle said...

I'd been waiting for your review of this book. I have it on my Amazon wish list. :)