Christine Hoover. From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015. 224 pp. $14.99.
Perfectionism has not been a friend to author and pastor’s wife Christine Hoover. She confesses she was born with a list in her hand and has been obsessed with being good and performing well all her life. She doesn’t boast in these credentials, and she’s tried hard to shake free from them. In her new book, From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel, Hoover puts her finger on the pulse of young women today.
For many, the “goodness gospel” looks like a life driven by exteriors: a perfectly decorated house, laundry that’s always clean, well-mannered children, daily quiet times, or perfect health and fitness. However we seek perfection and “goodness,” we hope our efforts pay off big and that God will be more pleased with us than if we hadn’t tried at all. The hope that our small acts of obedience might add up to make us world-changers often keeps us striving and functionally gives our life meaning. Consequently, if we feel we aren’t making a difference or performing as we should, we not only feel despair—we also feel we’ve disappointed God himself.
From Good to Grace aims to teach readers to seek what God wants for us, not just from us. The book is arranged into three sections. The first, “Good, Bye,” explores the varying ways the goodness gospel expresses itself in our lives, offers a compass for steering clear of the poor motivator of perfectionism, and calls us to abandon the goodness gospel long-term. Part two, “From Good to Grace: Receiving,” focuses on God’s part in equipping believers through his love, his help, and his freedom. The last section, “From Good to Grace: Responding,” considers the believer’s life and what it looks like when freed from the goodness gospel. Overall, the book paints a beautiful picture of God’s grace for the believer.
Doesn’t Grace Lead to Goodness?
This was the one question that stuck with me after reading From Good to Grace. When believers are forgiven and liberated from their bondage to sin and death, aren’t we supposed to become slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:18)? It seemed to me that much of the book equated the pursuit of goodness with legalism. While our acts of righteousness are nothing more than filthy rags, Peter tells us we’re called to be holy as God is holy (1 Pet. 1:14–16). Paul exhorts us to imitate God (who is the definition of goodness) as beloved children (Eph. 5:1). I’m assuming this means God intends us to strive for goodness in some regard. Unfortunately, Hoover does little to address the ways in which these two realities—grace and the pursuit of holiness—interact.
She isn’t the first to step foot into this gray zone. Many have attempted to address the dissonance, and the conversations have often become muddied and misunderstood. We must admit these are complicated and delicate issues. I would love to have seen more willingness to acknowledge the scriptural discord created by hanging out exclusively on either end of the law/grace spectrum.
To be certain, this is a book written for women who live on the perfectionist side of the scale, so it tempers law-lovers with heavy-handed grace. I love heavy-handed grace. But we must not avoid or shy away from the fact that even those of us who struggle with legalism are still called to run the race set before us, striving for “holiness without which no one would see God” (Heb. 12:14). Not every pursuit of goodness is bad or sinful. It’s actually God’s good pleasure to enable us to strive for goodness so we might glorify him more and more as we are sanctified by the Spirit.
Insightful and relatable, Hoover offers a message of good news for the weary perfectionist. She writes:
The gospel ransoms me from my prison of performance. In Christ, I am not my performance. . . . Grace frees me from a focus on self and all the sins and burdens that come along with it: selfishness, insecurity, pride, trying to prove myself worthy, seeking love and approval, fear of not being enough. . . . This is the explosive power of the gospel: it frees us from ourselves and enables us to live for God and for the sake of others. (117)
Hoover does a fantastic job convincing us to move on from performance-based Christianity toward a greater understanding of salvation by grace. If this is what we take away, I believe we will walk away richly served by the message of the cross. From Good to Grace beautifully adorns God’s gospel grace, and it will encourage and strengthen you in his lavish love.