“The Romance of Grace” by Jim McNeely

romance-of-graceReviewed for E2R by Steve Hackman.

As the message of grace spreads through the church it goes without saying that grace authors face an increasingly difficult challenge; distinguishing their grace book from the plethora of others that have recently hit the market. In The Romance of Grace Jim McNeely does just that. His Romance transcends the feeling of intimacy a grace book naturally generates and takes it to the next level…

God doesn’t just love you.

No indeed.

God is in love with you!

McNeely sets the tone for this passion at the beginning of The Romance Of Grace by invoking an iconic movie about true love, The Princess Bride. Highlighting the scene where Princess Buttercup is being chastised by an old woman, the Ancient Booer, for treating true love like garbage and settling for a love much less true, McNeely ties this cinematic exchange to the real life misery most Christians find themselves in.

We walk with the voice of the Ancient Booer in our ears accusing us of settling for misery – and for no good reason. We have romance in our hands knowing that our true love lives, and we give that up for nothing but petty fears, useless obligations, and secret shames. Truly our great sin is not stealing or adultery, or anger, or false oaths – our greatest sin is that we give up true love. We fall short not of our obligations, but of glory (Rom 3:23). (p.12)

Despite Buttercup’s condescending and flippant attitude toward Wesley’s unconditional love, Wesley pursues Buttercup with a singular passion. He overcomes swordsmen, giants, con men, and death itself to win his True Love! And the church’s “Wesley” is even better…

Boo Meme

Morality vs. romance

All grace books address the works vs grace dichotomy. Most followers of Jesus struggle with the weight of performance as an aspect of their faith at some point, and the rest that comes with grace is a welcome message. McNeely, though, addresses the issue with the passion of Solomon writing of his Beloved:

Picture God as a man who is ravaged by his love for a beautiful woman. Such a man’s first thought is not, “How can I get this woman to be more practical and virtuous?” His main thought is, “How can I get this woman to fall in love with me?”… Morals were important enough to send Jesus to the cross, but we are the joy for which he endured the shame. (pp.17-18)

The thought of God being ravaged in his love for us is a message which doesn’t get delivered in the standard sermon. Instead the church, as if it were a grown woman at an orphanage, is told that if we clean ourselves up and patch a couple of holes in our dress, we just may find a suitor who will overlook our obvious shortcomings.

Moral good vs. aesthetic good

Jim McNeely offers a compelling insight into a dilemma that has driven Christians crazy since Paul the Apostle; “Why do I want to do bad things and sometimes not want to do good things?” In Romance he argues that our will is consistently at odds with our heart, acting as a moral bellwether of what we know we should or shouldn’t be doing. Essentially our will is needed to keep our desires in check. In the Garden, because all desire before the fall was life giving, the will was not essential. However:

once the desire for the forbidden entered, at the suggestion of the serpent, the moral and aesthetic good were split. Then our conscience was born and we entered the prison of the ought. (p.22)

Christians then fall into the trap of attempting to strengthen their will to shore up their morality and make themselves attractive to God. In Romance McNeely demonstrates that that mode of thinking – what Paul described as “the flesh” – is something that God seeks not to remodel but to bulldoze. His desire is not for a will so strong it always trumps our desire, but for our desire (the aesthetic good) to once again be for what is life giving (the moral good).

The romance of Grace

The book suggests that the main question for God is not how he can make us good but rather, “How can I get them to respond to my love?” The strength of McNeely’s The Romance of Grace rests in his ability to suggest the notion of God as our lover without the corruption of that notion that a broken culture would produce. Instead McNeely intertwines grace and romance effortlessly and suggests:

He (God) gave us absolute favour and acceptance first, and lets us work out how we live with that afterward. He is looking for a perfection of love, for virtue chosen freely from desire. (p.97)

Yes, we are indeed Princess Buttercup, and our “Wesley” will not stop in the pursuit of his True Love!

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12 Comments on “The Romance of Grace” by Jim McNeely

  1. RockyMtnSonshine@aol.com // September 12, 2014 at 11:20 am // Reply

    I just downloaded The Romance of Grace to my Kindle………thank you for the recommendation Paul.

  2. Being reminded that we were made for more than the morality involved in divine love but the ravages of divine love is like a ray of light shooting into the dungeon of lost love in my soul. I must read this volume!

  3. Steve Hackman is a great reviewer. Steve also has a way with words. Another great wordsmith. Thanks Steve.

  4. Steve, thanks for a fantastic review! You really caught the flavor of my book!

  5. from where can i download this book?

  6. Some random thoughts on McNeely’s offensive thinking………

    Offensive: why Jim McNeely’s book is so offensive:

    McNeely brings us a metanarrative here void of ought and which finds all lines of evidence within God’s interior, and interior, an image, which Man is to one day mirror. Barry’s comment that we are, “…..reminded that we were made for more than the morality involved in divine love but the ravages of divine love…..” mirrors an Image, a Landscape void of gaps in Being’s essence. McNeely’s approach takes lines of division amid all the stuff of beauty/desire/will and asserts that – in the Christian metanarrative – such lines are a symptom of the problem rather than the essence of wholeness of being. Initially disturbing to us, it seems such may just be the fact of the matter as, we find, there are no such lines within God and, thereby, we find an immutable line of evidence that Man – whom God is fashioning in His Own Image – will find that such lineless landscapes are the true and the real, are the final good.

    • You know what? You really caught that correctly! That is where we are heading -> a free and unified good where there is no division between the moral good and the aesthetic good. Even more scandalous – as seated in the heavenlies, as free from threat and condemnation, as freely choosing the good because of the grace given us, we are already there. It is when our mind slips back to regarding the coercion of the law that we have a mind set on the flesh and slip back into Romans 7 land.

  7. Offensive: Being in Love means being in God, and there, in Him, Immutable Love begets yet more love – ad infinitum:

    As we peer into Him we peer into love’s lineless triune milieu of singularity void of division there inside the Root of all Being Who is Himself One. Fashioned in God’s Image, Man is found in the lap of Personhood’s inescapably triune milieu of Self-Other-Us within the ceaseless reciprocity of the immutable love of the Necessary Being. Therein – in Trinity – love’s timeless Sacrifice, pouring out, of all which we call Self – amid and among love’s timeless Filling of all which we call the Beloved/Other forever begets within such living waters all which just is the singular Us – and this ad infinitum void of what we call First, void of what we call Last, void of what we call Thirst, void of what morality calls parts. Such triune contours within the immutable love of the Necessary Being bring us to the ends of what Man can call sight as he peers into He Who first precedes, then endures, and finally outreaches, outdistances, all possible worlds. The exegesis of filiation, of the eternally begotten as a proper and orthodox semantic paradigm is there forever housed within the Triune, that is to say, within those motions which both the intellectual and existential affirm as comprising love, Who Scripture affirms is Himself God, Who Himself affirms that He timelessly makes of Himself all that can be called our Means and Ends.

  8. Paul,

    Some random thoughts there – didn’t know if one, or some, or none, would bring anything to the table, and, really, on a slow morning after reading the post, just wanted to share some thoughts on what seems to be quite an interesting theme for a Christian book – McNeely daring to take our interior reliance upon ought amid good/evil and touch it, even shatter it, with that Chief Corner Stone, that which the legalist in me, perhaps in all of us, finds offensive…..but which is inescapable.

  9. I have purchased this on kindle and having just read the first chapter I can say this book is everything promised in Steve Hackman’s review So good!! Thank you Jim McNeely and thanks Paul for introducing this beautiful book to us on your E2R website.
    Gilly

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