Book Review: Surprised by Grace by Tullian Tchividjian


Title: Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels
Author: Tullian Tchividjian
Publisher: Crossway (2010)

The book of Jonah is one of the most captivating in the Old Testament. The rebellious prophet has inspired more art than nearly any other Old Testament figure, and his story has been told and retold repeatedly in the centuries since the events first occurred.

But Jonah is not only a tale of a prophet on the run—it’s one of the clearest depictions of the gospel in the Old Testament. And in Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels, Tullian Tchividjian takes readers on a journey through the biblical account to help us discover the gospel according to Jonah.

Rebels on the Run

Tchividjian is very thorough in his approach to the book. He takes his time giving us the background of the prophet Jonah, who is only mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament in 2 Kings 14:25:

He [King Jeroboam II] restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.

Jonah was kind of a big deal (as far as prophets go). He was the prophet of God whose preaching instructed Jeroboam how to restore the borders of Israel. So when God instructs him to preach judgment in Nineveh, the leading city in Assyria, what would we expect him to do?

The assignment probably takes his breath away. Jonah may already be a homeland hero due to his prophetic success toward building Israel’s defenses, but if that means anything at all in proud, idolatrous Nineveh, it can only be a strike against him. (p. 29)

Instead of obeying, he ran to Tarshish, hoping to evade God’s command. Of this, Tchividjian writes, “On the face of it, his flight seems only to underscore the daunting massiveness of what he’ll encounter if he does what he’s been asked to do.” But there’s something much deeper at the heart of Jonah’s flight.  He continues, “To flee from God is to rise against God. . . . That’s why, if we’re honest, we can start already to identify with Jonah. His runaway posture is our posture, every time we sin. . .” (p. 31, 33)

God’s Amazing Grace

As he continues through the biblical account, Tchividjian is careful to always tie his points back to his audience, to help us to feel the weight of our own rebellion against God—and also to feel the grace that comes from God’s relentless pursuit of rebellious sinners.

When those who’ve fled from him are finally turned around, God always welcomes them back. The cross is God’s greatest statement of that. He always welcomes—with open arms—those who realize that their only hope is to turn from themselves and race toward him. (p. 84)

Redemption and the Promise of Something Greater

When you’re reading Jonah, probably the thing that is most confusing is its abrupt conclusion. The text reads:

You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle? (Jonah 4:10-11)

Full stop.

Tchividjian reminds us that God’s plan of redemption extends not only to humanity but to all of creation. He will make all things new (cf. Rev. 21:5). Tchividjian writes, “In Jesus, God is at work regaining, restoring and extending all that Adam ruined and forfeited by his disobedience.” (p. 132)

This is a really important reminder for all of us. God will redeem all of creation—all that has been subject to futility because of our sin—when Jesus comes again. God’s going to save people we wouldn’t expect. People not like us, people we wouldn’t think “deserve” it… The question is, are we willing to embrace it, or will we, like Jonah, be confounded and frustrated by God’s mercy?

That’s why Jonah is so important. His story is not just about him—it’s about us. We have to stop running from God, especially when things get tough, or when we don’t like what He’s doing, or asking us to do… Most importantly, though, Jonah is about Jesus, who is relentless in His pursuit of His people—so much so that He was willing to suffer death, even death on the cross.

In showing us the gospel according to Jonah, Tullian Tchividjian offers rebels like you and me the opportunity to stop running and embrace God’s relentless grace. The question we’re left with, as was Jonah, is will we stop running?

Read the book; be challenged and be encouraged by this reminder of God’s grace.

A copy of this book was provided for review purposes by Crossway

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