Author: Larry Taunton, 2011. (Thomas Nelson Publishers)
How do you debate a polemic atheist? Most of us probably don't do this often, but Larry Taunton, apologist and executive director of Fixed Point Foundation, does. He opens this book with a prologue focusing on his debate and subsequent dinner with Christopher Hitchens, Oxford scholar and one of the new atheists. Ultimately, though, he doesn't win the debate by making stronger arguments; he wins the debate through his process of adoption of a 12 year-old Ukrainian orphan named Sasha.
Taunton points out, "There is a simple means for determing the goodness of any society, and it is not found in economic or political terms. It is in this: how do they treat their poor, their widowed, and their orphaned?" (page 89). This book is the Taunton family's journey to adopt Sasha, and along the way he points out the dismal moral state of former communist countries. And "when atheism is adopted as a worldview at a societal level, be it passively or actively, its effects on that society is detrimental." (page 34)
"The Grace Effect" is no theological treatise. It is a memoir of this adoption process. I don't usually read or enjoy memoirs, but this one engages early and becomes compelling reading. A quick read, it is as much a page-turner as the latest James Patterson novel.
Taunton alternates pages of history with pages from his story. He took his wife and two of his three sons to Ukraine to complete the adoption begun a year earlier. But what we would expect to take days here in the United States took weeks in that eastern bloc country. Fraught with bribery and corruption, Taunton's frustrations come across clearly. The "gifts" that grease the palms of the officials, even judges, do not often speed the process. But they prevent the process from stalling. There is a clear contrast of cultures.
Indeed, Taunton establishes this purpose right up front, in the foreword:
It is rather, my purpose to make a case for society's need of Christianity's gentling, inspiring, and culturally transforming power. I hope that through the narrative of our experience, readers will be given a glimpse into a world without faith in Jesus Christ and, as a consequence, have greater appreciation for what Christianity has given, is giving, and may give us still if we mine the vast richness of it. (page xii.)He goes on in chapter one to outline his view of grace, explaining the book's title:
As one experiences grace in his own life, he extends grace to others. Through the inward transformation of the individual, there is a correspoding outward transformation of society. That is what I call the 'grace effect'. Simpy defined, it is an observable phenomenon -- that life is demonstrably better where authentic Christianity flourishes. (page 22)Sasha is his reality check. Sasha is his demonstration of the grace effect. Having been abandoned at birth and moved from orphanage to orphanage, she met Larry's wife and sons when they were on a short-term mission to the Ukraine. God moved their hearts to consider adoption and then provided the funds needed through individuals and supporters. Not a Christian, Sasha is moved by the grace and love that she experiences from a family, having never known a family before. This grace transforms her as she becomes a daugher and a sister and ultimately a follower of Jesus.
Sasha's redemption is a powerful story of grace at work. Though atheists will consider it just a humanistic effort springing from the goodwill of man, the contrast between the non-Christian and Christian cultures is evidence enough of the failures of man apart from grace.
"The Grace Effect" is an inspiring book. It may not move you to adopt another Sasha. But it will move you to thank God that we live in a country that still bears the imprint of its Christian beginnings. And it will likely cause you to pray for the leaders in our country, that we can continue to live "quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (1 Tim. 2:3).
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