I want to thank Douglas Bond for providing me with a copy of Grace Works! (And Ways We Think It Doesn’t) in return for my honest review.
At breakfast recently, my 5th grader turned to me with wide eyes. “I love this song!” he enthused. “Don’t you love it?”
I nodded. “I love this song too. It’s catchy and it makes me feel like I can save the world.” I looked at him for a minute before continuing, wondering how to put my concerns into words. “But I can’t sing it, sweetie.”….
He looked at me for a split second in surprise and his shoulders sagged. “It’s work-based theology, isn’t it, Mom? It’s amazing how good it sounds.”
That’s the moment I was certain that Grace Works! (And Ways We Think It Doesn’t) by Douglas Bond (P&R Publishing, 2014) had made an impact in the fabric of our home. My boys (10 and 11) get it. They understand the insidious creep of false teaching upon the true gospel of God.
Douglas Bond has long been a writer I admire. He’s the author of the Mr. Pipes series (which my boys love–check out our favorite: Mr. Pipes and Psalms and Hymns of the Reformation), as well as a number of Christian biographies and historical fiction. My 11-year-old just finished Hostage Lands, a story involving an ancient Latin manuscript, Hadrian’s Wall, and Christians in the Roman Colosseum. Middle grade fiction doesn’t get much more exciting than that. Mr. Bond carries his gift for story-telling into his first book on Christian doctrine. He also holds nothing back from his keen intellect. That makes Grace Works! both engaging, and tough work to digest. There’s a lot of meat in this book.
Grace Works! is sectioned into 7 parts with 29 chapters (and 2 appendices) for a total of 302 pages. The chapters are hefty in material, but they’re broken up by frequent sub-headings, personal narrative, and stories of Church history, making them easier to apply and to divide into smaller chunks if necessary. Each chapter ends with readings in Scripture, the Belgic or Westminster Confessions, study questions, and a prayer focus. These aspects of the book make it ideal for family study. I think the reading level is perfect for high school, though I read it to my middle-schoolers and we did a Charlotte-Mason-esque narration session at the end of each subtitled section so I could ensure they understood what we’d read and that they’d processed it. I think that discussing this kind of heavy material with students is important, so even with high school students, I’d urge you to read on the same schedule and discuss via the study questions.
Mr. Bond begins Grace Works! with Part 1: The Unanimous Testimony of Church History: It Will Happen to Us. In this section, he discusses some of the areas that were the strongest in the Reformed doctrines of grace following the Reformation, and he explores the spiritual state of those areas now. His testimony is both fascinating and heartbreaking. Amsterdam, Geneva, Scotland, and New England are a long way spiritually from the days of John Calvin, John Knox, and Jonathan Edwards. Parents will want to be aware that Bond does begin this section with the heartbreaking story of prostitutes brazenly posed as live manikins in the street windows of Amsterdam. He’s not graphic, but he doesn’t shy from the terrible consequence of abandoning the gospel.
Douglas Bond has an interesting book trailer you may want to watch concerning this section of the book. He talks about why he wrote the book in front of some amazing European places:
Part 2: “Grace Won’t Work without Works”: And Other Ways We Distort the Gospel addresses the basics of the gospel message. Mr. Bond writes about free grace, election, and our natural desire to “fix” the clear teachings of Scripture.
Part 3: Why Keeping Grace and Works in Order Matters: More Ways We Allow Law to Creep into Gospel really hones in on the means of salvation, the law, grace and faith, and Ordo Salutis (the order of salvation). This was a fascinating section and I found it helped clarify the issue of grace for not only the boys, but for myself in ways I was unaware I needed a little clarifying. Sanctification and justification are not the same thing, and reversing the order they occur in leads to serious doctrinal error.
Part 4: Adding Contingencies to Justification: Ways We Erode the Gospel with Good Intentions talks about our incessant temptation to cloud the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with our own corrupt, stinking good works. Why do we do this? How do we focus on Christ alone through faith alone by grace alone from the message of Scripture alone to the glory of God alone? (Say that ten times fast!) Douglas Bond is going to straighten that out for you and your students using Scripture and the teachings of Church history.
Part 5: How to Interpret the Bible: And Ways We Misinterpret It continues to talk about the importance of a right understanding of Scripture in regards to our understanding of salvation and sanctification. Mr. Bond writes about how to apply hermeneutics correctly to avoid doing violence to the gospel (or as my boys are now fond of saying, neutering the gospel so that it cannot bear fruit).
Part 6: How We Say One Thing but Believe Another: How Departing from Confessions of Faith Corrupts the Gospel discusses the importance of reading, understanding, and adhering to historic confessions of faith. By doing so we avoid historic heresies and we learn lessons already wrestled with by the body of Christ before us. In cutting ourselves off from history and the great Christian theologians of the past, we do ourselves a great disservice. Mr. Bond also discusses teaching these truths to our children.
Part 7: Gospel Vigilance: Rediscovering the Gospel Every Generation discusses teaching the good news of Jesus Christ rightly to our children, then releasing them to follow Christ.
We humans are sinful, fallen creatures. Our hearts are deceitful from the womb. We have a desire to believe that we don’t truly need a sovereign and holy God to rescue us from the pit of our own deathly sin. We want to believe that we can awaken our dead, rotting souls of our own accord. It’s only through a constant and faithful monitoring of the message we preach and the message we hear that we avoid the trap of law-creep. I know myself, I war against the trend toward what Douglas Bond calls “easy-believism” — the idea that one simply need choose God, say a prayer, and then one is free to continue in his or her carnal and destructive ways. Does this make me more prone to law-creep in the message that I teach? It does. Grace Works! was a clarifying and instructional read for me, and one I am certain God is using not just in my sanctification, but in the sanctification of my children as well. I highly recommend Grace Works! to both parents working to teach the gospel to their children (that’s you!) and to older students (probably 9th grade and up). This is a book on theology that is time well spent.
You can purchase Grace Works! at:
Other books for older students reviewed on Thinking Kids:
- God’s Story: A Student’s Guide to Church History by Brian Cosby
- Water the Earth: A Student’s Guide to Missions by Aaron Little
- Rebels Rescued: A Student’s Guide to Reformed Theology by Brian Cosby
- Bitesize Theology: An ABC of Christian Faith by Peter Jeffrey
- Zachary Macaulay (Bitesize Biographies) by Faith Cook
- Questions God Asks by Israel Wayne
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- Christian Books for Kids’ Devotions
- Christian Books about Parenting
~ Danika Cooley
Danika Cooley is the author of When Lightning Struck! The Story of Martin Luther (Fortress Press, 2015), Wonderfully Made (CF4K, 2016), and Bible Road Trip. Her work has been featured in internationally-recognized children's magazines over 150 times.