inREVIEW — Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels, by Tullian Tchividjian

by Lee Buford on September 8, 2010

What is your working knowledge of the book of Jonah? What is your understanding of the concept of biblical grace? What is the one area of your life you find most challenging, and/or convicting, about which God is speaking to you right now?

Pretty straightforward questions. Yet you may not have taken a close look at such questions in a while. If not, you should. If not, Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels may be just what you’re looking for right now!

Tullian Tchividjian is pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Perhaps you know that he is the grandson of Billy Graham. Yes, the Billy Graham. What you may not know, however, is that Tchividjian is masterfully qualified to pen a book on God’s relentless grace and unyielding pursuit of rebels. And in Surprised by Grace, he has done just that.

Following a Christian upbringing, Tchividjian dropped out of high school at sixteen, moved out of his parents home, and lived a self-described lifestyle of rebellion and sin until age 21…until God’s relentless pursuit of his life could no longer be avoided. He understands that God does not give up on people. He lived it!  And he wants you and me to see the immense grace and mercy bestowed on a fallen, depraved world by the only gracious, loving God of the universe.

Based on a series of sermons Tchividjian preached from the book of Jonah, the book journeys through the text, chapter by chapter, weaving the comparison of the sinful disobedience of one of God’s chosen prophets to the same sinful nature which is consistently exposed in each of us. But before you assume this is “any other commentary”, understand that it’s quite the opposite. This is a story, not a commentary…a story of grace and redemption. A story of sin and deliverance.  As Tchividjian relates in his own words:

“Jonah is a storied presentation of the gospel” (p. 18)

Throughout the book he does an excellent job of conveying biblical truths, reminding us of our sin in comparison to the magnitude of God’s grace, and encouraging the reader to look inward at the applications of God’s grace in our own lives. A few key points Tchividjian wants us to grasp:

  • The gospel is not just for non-Christians, but for Christians as well.
  • We must be saved by the gospel on a daily basis. We must embrace this gift.
  • No sin is bigger than God’s grace. No sinner is beyond His reach.
  • God always values people most. ALWAYS.
  • God wants us to join Him in His work of renewing peoples, places, and things.

As you might expect the book is packed with scripture, not only from Jonah, but also from references elsewhere in the Bible. He also taps into the arts to paint a better picture of who Jonah was, and what his story has to do with yours and mine, including analysis of historical paintings and references to other books and authors…from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick to Tim Keller’s The Reason for God

In the end we see that Jonah is not a story about Jonah and a fish, but a story about Jonah and God…and ultimately a story about you and me. Admittedly, I hadn’t examined and studied the book of Jonah in great depth before reading this book, but I walked away with a deeper understanding for how Jonah’s life was incredibly reflective of my own, and all other sinners as well. And most importantly, I walked away with a greater understanding and appreciation for God’s passion for, and commitment to, the redemption and deliverance of sinners everywhere.

The following, from Douglas Stuart, accurately relates the ultimate question we should all be able to answer from God’s story of Jonah:

“What is God really like?” is thus a more important question in this book than the question “What is Jonah really like?” About the latter question one may speculate; about the former question the book leaves no doubt. (p. 178-79)

I highly recommend you read Surprised by Grace, and I urge you to share it with others. We all need this message. We all need this understanding.

And most importantly, we all need this gospel!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Crossway as part of a blogger giveaway program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one } September 8, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Thanks for the book recommendation. I can relate to just dropping out of Christian life for a while and wandering, as I’m the son of a minister who did exactly that. I’ll be grabbing this on Kindle for Android right away.

-Christian Lee


Lee Buford September 8, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Thanks, Christian! We all are rebels to varying degrees, but God’s grace is infinitely bigger than our sin. I trust you will be blessed by reading this book. Let me know your thoughts when you read it.


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