Most of us have either seen or experienced what Jeff VanVonderen calls "curse-full" relationships—families where control, lack of forgiveness, reactionism, shame, and egomania reign supreme. These are not happy or healthy relationships, and they don't lead to those in them being happy or healthy people. Because they are curse-full and not graceful, they only lead to frustration, fear, anger, discouragement, and an abiding sense of never measuring up to one's own standards or those of a parent or spouse.
What's the solution? In Families Where Grace Is in Place, VanVonderen doesn't offer a list of solutions, a 12-step program, or any how-to device to dig you and yours out of the hole of relationship despair. Instead, he grounds both the problems and the ultimate solution (reliance on God and focus on how you can be happy and loving despite the actions of others) in the biblical framework of sin and the fall of Adam and Eve.
Clearly written and with many to-the-point illustrations and personal stories, Families Where Grace Is in Place is a good place to start for any family, whether it's characterized by grace or the curse. One of the book's main themes is our tendency to want to fix a family problem by fixing a family member (frequently a spouse or child). VanVonderen looks at this issue from a variety of angles, showing why most of us share this weakness and how we can be freed from it.
While this isn't a how-to book, it isn't a theological essay, either. And this, at times, can pose a problem. While VanVonderen's broad categories are pretty sound (the Fall, sin, redemption, grace), he sometimes makes pronouncements that he doesn't adequately support either from Scripture or logically. One such comes on page 19: "The 'man' was in charge, but the man to whom responsibility was given—to be fruitful, fill the earth, subdue it, and rule over every living thing—was both male and female." This is a confusing statement no matter how it's qualified, and the fact that VanVonderen doesn't really qualify or clarify it makes it even more baffling.
This isn't to suggest that the whole book should be discarded. VanVonderen's approach is refreshing when so many self-help manuals tell us to just try harder (trying harder is as often as not the whole problem!), and his overall theology is biblical and stands up to scrutiny. As with any book that isn't the Bible yet undertakes to instruct us on how to live biblically, this one has plenty of good to offer, yet should be read with care.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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