A Book Review from Books At a Glance
By Jesse Payne
Too often, Christians go unheard or unheeded not because of what they say but how they say it. This can easily happen in the context of the local church, especially among (generally younger) Christians who are zealous for doctrine but lack savviness and skill in “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Of course, the antidote to the sledgehammer approach to truth is not to downplay or eliminate biblical convictions but rather to steep these convictions in the fruit of the Spirit and to communicate them with the humility of Jesus.
It is with this hope to see Christian conversation marked by both truth and love that John Crotts writes Graciousness: Tempering Truth with Love. Crotts, pastor of Faith Bible Church in Sharpsburg, Georgia, desires Christian communication marked less by hostility and more by gentleness. Graciousness is a practical resource designed to help Christians understand the expectation God has regarding gentleness and to keep them from separating “God’s truth in their minds from God’s love in their lifestyles” (6).
Crotts defines gracious speech as “words and tones marked by pleasantness, kindness, the will to help, to encourage, and to convey regard” (11). Chapters 1—4 lay the foundation for understanding why the Bible commands this gracious posture among all believers. Crotts stresses that ungracious speech and attitudes flow directly from the heart. In becoming a gracious person, it is the heart that must be made new, not merely the tongue.
The author also provides two key biblical examples to look to as models. First, of course, Jesus Christ, “as the ultimate example of every virtue,” perfectly embodies how to wed grace and truth when interacting with others (27). Even when Christ appeared harsh in the gospels, his message was always one of warning toward the greater end of repentance and life. Though Jesus resorted to firmness with some of the religious leaders of his day, his usual disposition was one of gentleness, lowliness, and kindness to the needy masses around him. Second, Paul provides an excellent case study in graciousness, for the simple fact that at one point in his life he was anything but (Acts 8:1-3). However, even a cursory reading of his epistles reveals a man who was made new and therefore developed a gentle spirit. He never advocated for a watering down of zeal, but rather wanted to see an elevation of kindness and tenderness among Christ followers.
Chapter 5 serves as a bit of a bridge chapter as it is devoted to showing the danger of ungraciousness within the church (rather than an individual). It is a sobering chapter that uses the Ephesian church as an example of how a people heavy on truth and light on love is unacceptable to the Lord. Though they are commended at times, Revelation 2 shows that their lack of love for the Lord spilled over into their lack of love for others (55). Subsequently, Jesus’ warning that he would remove their lampstand if they did not repent from their ungraciousness shows that, from God’s perspective, “it would be better to have no church in the massive, thriving city of Ephesus than to have anunloving church, even if it preaches the truth and opposes people who oppose the truth” (55). A church is in serious danger when an ungracious culture distracts from the gracious offer of the gospel.
Chapters 6—9 focus on practical steps one can take to grow in graciousness. Readers are reminded of the various unhealthy attitudes that can lead to ungraciousness and are encouraged to reflect upon the grace of God shown them. Crotts provides other strategies: focus upon the imago Dei in every person, evaluate your words after difficult conversations, become a better listener, and assume the best of others. Further, Crotts encourages readers to frame their conversations in humility rather than arrogance by using what he terms “gracious helper words” including “I think,” “it seems to me,” or “from my perspective” (100). He also highlights the importance of non-verbal communication and the role of Scripture in cultivating graciousness (107-112).
Beyond individual application, Graciousness also helps readers apply its principles to the Christian community. The church has numerous resources to aid in the formation of graciousness, including Spirit-filled people whom we can learn from and group opportunities in which we can practice gracious speech and deeds. Corporate worship itself is a key component as believers are nourished and encouraged by God’s grace to them in Christ. Gracious people are usually first gracious worshippers.
The final chapter, “The Gospel and Graciousness,” circles back to Crotts’ emphasis that recipients of grace should be conduits of grace: “As your heart becomes softened by [God’s] transforming grace, you should be motivated to do what it takes, with the Spirit’s help, to communicate that same grace to everyone around you” (135). Graciousness is commanded and empowered by God. Further, a gracious people and a gracious church are an evangelistic force, as the light of Christ shines through the kindness and meekness of God’s people (136-137).
Graciousness: Tempering Truth with Love is an excellent primer on the topic of Christian graciousness. It is not an exegetical account of any one biblical passage regarding speech, but rather a sustained argument for a gracious disposition using a variety of Old and New Testament Scriptures. The book is in presentation what it argues for in content: It is a gracious and humble approach to a topic that is often overlooked or assumed. Crotts carefully helps the reader ask important questions: Do these qualities of graciousness define my speech and non-verbal communication? Am I accurate in my own evaluation of myself? Or do I actually exhibit some of these ungracious characteristics? Most people grant themselves the greatest of intentions without reflecting upon them. Crotts’ book will help readers diagnose their level of graciousness (or lack thereof) and then develop it to greater depths.
One of the strongest elements of the book is its attention to the corporate nature of growing in grace. This topic is often discussed in terms of interpersonal communication, and rightfully so. However, Crotts reminds readers that the church body plays a role in developing gentle people, and corporate worship is not ancillary to improving in graciousness but central to it.
Another encouraging aspect of the book is Crotts’ refrain that the gospel fuels graciousness. Gracious speech and personality cannot be white knuckled into existence. It grows as believers gaze at the finished work of Jesus Christ and depend upon the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. The gospel current that feeds the author’s practical application gives the book a tone of hope, tenderness, and mercy.
Christian leaders may wish that the author provided a chapter devoted specifically to the practical issues surrounding giving and receiving criticism with graciousness. However, the general arguments will apply to virtually every setting, including this perennially difficult situation for leaders.
Biblically-rich, well-illustrated, piercing and humorous, and centered on Christ, Graciousness: Tempering Truth with Love is a valuable volume, especially for the those who lean toward a zealousness for truth (an admirable quality!). Crotts nowhere seeks to curtail this impulse, but to help truth-champions communicate in such a way that their convictions will be heard, and, by God’s grace, believed.
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary