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Brief Book Review: Bryan Chapell’s ‘Holiness by Grace’

*As to the lapse of posts in the last month, read this. Now, to the review. But first, a story…

In the summer of 2010 I published my first book. Highly influenced by Puritan John Owen’s understanding of mortification (“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”), the book centered around a sanctification rooted in the gospel. I thought it apropos for many reasons, not the least of which is that often what is presented as a strategy for growing in Jesus is little more than an overly burdensome, soul-crushing attempt to win God’s favor by our sweat equity. Instead of enjoying the freedom to serve God, following Christ devolves into merely duty without delight. I was tired of and tired by books (and sermons, songs, etc.) with that message. As a result, not only did I write a book to add what little weight I could to the gospel-centered side in the spiritual formation tug-of-war, I sought to deepen myself in grace-oriented discipleship. It was for that exact reason I chose to get my doctorate at Covenant Theological Seminary.

There are many fine seminaries around the world. I considered many of them in my search for a Doctor of Ministry program. With that said, for me, there was no doubt Covenant would be my ultimate choice. Their emphasis on gospel-centered sanctification stood out above the rest. Covenant’s President, Dr. Bryan Chapell, had written several books and articles on grace-centric spiritual growth. His book Christ-Centered Preaching was known as somewhat of a classic in preaching circles. It only took a few days in my initial two-week doctoral seminars to know (again, for me) I had made right choice. In those two weeks I heard three different seminars dealing with gospel-oriented approaches to ministry. In fact, one of the sessions Dr. Chapell led himself. It dealt primarily with preaching but ended with a brief purview of grace-based sanctification. I was blown away! It was exactly what I was looking for and presented in a way I could grasp. I thought to myself as I frantically took notes, “Don’t miss a thing here Yancey! This stuff will impact your personal growth and public ministry for the rest of your days!”

Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy That Is Our Strength is that session with so much more!

First printed in 2001, but reprinted (with a new cover) this past September, Chapell introduces the reader to the fundamental truth of Christ-centered growth in reflecting on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, “Our holiness is not so much a matter of what we achieve as it is the grace our God provides.” (8) The following chapters, which feel like extended sermons than merely didactic discourse, seek to expound, clarify, and deepen one’s understanding of grace-oriented sanctification. Indeed, it’s this sermonic quality which strengthens Chapell’s work as key principles and abstract thoughts are placed on the “bottom shelf” via insightful stories, helpful analogies, and pithy word crafting. Chapell also takes time to answer critiques to those who challenge the notion our sanctification is rooted in our justification, yet does it in irenic fashion.

I think Holiness by Grace would be worth the price if it only included the chapters on the believer’s union with Christ (“United for Life”) and joy-driven motivation (“The Power of Mercy”). It is in these wonderful sections that Chapell uncovers truths of sanctification that have, in many church traditions, either been obscured or neglected altogether. Throughout it all, the reader will likely find himself sensing a greater joy in his heart to obey in light of seeing again and again what God has done for him in Christ. This is a book about grace in us, for us, and through us!

While some might feel the chapters have more length in them than necessary (such is the plight of the modern reader), Holiness by Grace is an incredibly accessible, eminently readable book which should be a fundamental text in every disciple’s library. It will be a book I not only keep close by but one I shall refer to repeatedly in my life and ministry. I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Picture of Yancey Arrington
Dr. Yancey C. Arrington is an eighth generation Texan, Acts 29 Network and Houston Church Planting Network fan, and Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in the Bay Area of Houston. He is also author of Preaching That Moves People and TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You, and periodically writes for Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition.

1 thought on “Brief Book Review: Bryan Chapell’s ‘Holiness by Grace’”

  1. I read your first book ‘TAP’ and that lead me to read ‘The mortification of sin’ by John Owen , now reading “The Glory of Christ’ by John Owen.
    Thanks for turning back onto reading.

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