Jonathan Jones II. A Graceful Uprising: How Grace Changes Everything. Dallas: Start2Finish Books, 2015. See here to buy the book.
A Graceful Uprising is about God’s grace, and it focuses on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. In terms of uniqueness, its main points are not radically different from other evangelical books about God’s grace, even though these points are worth reading, reviewing, and internalizing. What sets this book apart, however, is that it presents a Church of Christ perspective on Romans. Its author, Jonathan Jones II, attended Freed-Hardeman University and preaches at a Church of Christ congregation.
What is a Church of Christ perspective, or the Church of Christ perspective that is manifest in this book? It believes that water baptism is required for salvation. Jones argues that water baptism is where God’s powerful work of salvation takes place, and where the sinner confesses sin and calls out to God for salvation. Jones cites Scriptures that he believes support that point (Acts 22:16; Colossians 2:12; I Timothy 6:12-13; I Peter 3:21). This perspective is non-Calvinist: it does not believe in predestination, and it thinks that Christians can lose their salvation by leaving the faith. (God does not leave Christians, but Christians can leave God, according to Jones. Moreover, on the basis of Romans 11, Jones argues that a Christian who apostasizes can return to the faith. I wonder how Jones would interpret Hebrews 6:4-6, which states that it is impossible to renew to repentance certain people who fall away.) In contrast to Calvinists, Jones interprets aspects of Romans 9 as God using people’s free choices for or against him, not as God somehow causing those choices.
Most surprisingly to me, there were things that Jones said that struck me as rather postmillennialist. Postmillennialism asserts that Christians will make the world a better place, then Christ will return. Jones emphasized more than once how Christians can transform the world through the Gospel and the example of their self-sacrificial love. He presents God’s righteousness as something that is imputed to individual believers, but also as something that God introduces into a sinful world that changes it, perhaps even cures it. I wondered if postmillennialism were a part of the Church of Christ’s teachings: I was aware that preterism was a part of its eschatology, on some level, but postmillennialism? I did a search on the Internet, and I found a forum in which people were saying that Churches of Christ have both amillennialists and postmillennialists attending them. I learned something new!
I did learn new things from this book, as Jones offered his interpretation of certain Scriptures. I appreciated Jones’ points about the Holy Spirit’s intercession for believers in Romans 8 (according to Jones, the Holy Spirit hears our prayers, determines what we need spiritually, and brings his assessment of our needs to God), and also about the weaker brother in Romans 14 (according to Jones, Romans 14 exhorts the weaker brother to tolerate the practices of the stronger brother rather than expecting everyone to cater to him to avoid offense). Questions emerged in my mind, though. These are not necessarily questions that I would expect Jones to address, but they were still in my mind. For example, Jones states that one should not be causing others to be spiritually lost (Romans 14:15). Would this include expressing doubts about the Bible, or presenting conclusions that question a Christian fundamentalist view of reality? In my opinion, if God did not want us to question or to arrive at non-fundamentalist conclusions, then God should have made the “truth” clearer.
I think that Jones’ book runs into some of the same problems that many other Christian books on grace run into: there always seems to be a catch to God’s free grace. It does not look entirely free. On the one hand, Jones presents grace as something that produces spiritual security within the believer. The believer does not have to fret about being lost or losing his or her salvation (provided he or she has faith), even if he or she may stumble. It is like being on a ship, Jones states: a person may stumble on the ship, but that is not the same as falling overboard. Appealing to Paul, Jones depicts grace as conducive to liberty and joy. On the other hand, I see indications that Jones’ approach could be conducive to spiritual insecurity. Jones states in an end-note that, not just faith, but also repentance is a condition for salvation. Jones affirms that those who have truly received grace will walk in the Spirit. Jones also places emphasis on faith—-trusting God—-as a condition for receiving and maintaining salvation, and this may trouble those who have difficulty believing, or holding on to belief. When we introduce subjective criteria into salvation, or require people to assess their salvation according to the quality of their spiritual lives, does that make grace less free? It can make it feel less free! I cannot fault Jones for any of this, for I do believe that he is reflecting what is in the New Testament.
I will also say that, on some level, I can understand and appreciate the perspective that grace should make people more righteous—-not just in terms of their standing and position before God, but also in terms of what they think and how they live. As I was reading Jones, a question that occurred to me as Jones presented the usual evangelical version of the Gospel was, “What is the point?” Jones, like many other evangelicals, presents God as an utter perfectionist regarding God’s law before people are saved, which is why people cannot be saved by obeying God’s law; after people are saved by grace, however, God is not that kind of perfectionist. Why, though? Why would God change his M.O. like that? Is God’s holiness or righteousness somehow lessened once a person accepts Christ? It sounds rather arbitrary to me, though I am aware that many evangelicals would assure me that it is not. To his credit, however, Jones did balance that out with his presentation of grace as something that transforms, as something that makes people new and practically righteous.
I give this book five stars because it was a delightful read, and I did learn new things from it.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book through Bookcrash, in exchange for an honest review.