Grace Is for Sinners tells the story of Serena Woods. Woods’ childhood was nothing short of horrific which led to many of her tragic choices. But by God’s grace she came to Christ as a young woman and according to her testimony was growing rapidly in the Lord. She married, had an aspiring career as an actress and a sweet life. Then in three weeks she had an affair with her best friend’s husband, became pregnant and her world fell apart. But this book is not so much about her failures as about her perceived failure of Christian friends toward her during this period in her life.
The book is poorly written with a huge number of broken sentences, wrong punctuation and incomplete thoughts which are all very distracting. But I see at least two positives. First, Woods seems sincere in her efforts to convince God’s people to extend grace lovingly to the spiritually wounded (p. 212). In addition, I see another helpful feature of this book, even though it slips in the back door. It is how Woods has captured well the confusing thought pattern often evident in those who have sinned and been rebuked by the church or other believers. As Philip Yancey remarks on the cover, “The church is notoriously inept at church discipline.” In truth, church discipline is virtually nonexistent today mainly because of books, speakers and church leaders such as Woods. The author comes out swinging at almost anyone who tried to deal with her during this period of adultery and rebelliousness. Without question some mishandled their attempts, particularly one pastor she calls Marc. But she already knew Marc was a hypocrite, involved in his own affair and, thus, hardly representative of a biblical Christian. Nevertheless, Woods paints with a broad brush, essentially vilifying anyone connected with the institutional church. This is positive only in the sense that church leaders can look into the thinking process of those whom they are calling to account for their sinful choices. We must therefore expect anger, slander and rejection from those who are anticipating loving acceptance in the midst of their sins. Even as Woods commits adultery, lives out of wedlock with her best friend’s husband, and marries him even though she has no biblical right to do so, she expects unconditional acceptance. This is perhaps the norm.
As for the negatives, there are many:
• She recounts numerous direct revelations from God (pp. 38, 39, 49, 60-61, 74, 76, 195), revealing a mystical approach to divine instruction.
• Her use of Scripture is atrocious. First, she uses The Message throughout, guaranteeing many misinterpretations. Secondly, she often takes passages out of context providing her own eisigesis to the text (pp. 40, 55, 56-57, 83, 91, 108, 111). She particularly misunderstands 1 Corinthians 5 (pp. 62, 100-105), a passage she must jettison to substantiate her view. And she applies Luke 22:31-32, Jesus’ statement to Peter that Satan has asked to sift him as wheat, to her own life without any biblical warrant to do so (pp. 74, 76, 84).
• This leads directly to her belief that God wanted her to fail spiritually in order that she might write this message—the message of how the church abuses people like herself (pp. 137, 142).
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the book is Woods’ hatred for the established church. For an individual who is calling for love for Christians involved in immorality, adultery and unbiblical marriage, it is sad that she cannot find love for those who have never committed such sins but who she perceives as “too churchy” (pp. 119, 123, 124-128, 130, 140, 143-145, 167-170, 178, 194, 205). A few quotes will give a taste of her hatred:
Going to church for the first time has got to be pretty interesting. You have to dress up in outfits that your mom would have picked out. Then you search for the Bible your grandma gave you when you were twelve. You start your car and are greeted by the Sunday morning Top Forty Countdown…..You try to get in to the song but you get distracted figuring out if it’s really a song or some terribly produced vacation package commercial they’ve been playing since the nineties (p. 124).
Very few [church members] have the courage to disregard the expectations and be authentic. Most choreograph their lives to the graceless ballet of legalism drenched in self-importance (p. 143).
He [pastors in general] has built a life of public approval filled with pats on the back and money slipped in to handshakes. At no time does it occur to him that he has become a product of debauchery and he cannot get through to a single life that needs Jesus (p. 144).
The double talk from the pulpit is predictable and the blanket phrases say nothing. They make a grab for your interest by using corny ways to identify with you. It’s the same feeling as being at a time share convention where all the same tactics are used (p. 167).
Real questions about real situations and real failures have no place in the snicker doodle mothball world they’ve trapped themselves in. You shiver at the thought you almost had and thank God that you don’t have such deep piercing questions in your non-analytical mind (p. 178).
A broad way to answer that [why her faith has not failed] is my relationship is with Jesus not Jesus through a church. …and anything that resembles “churchiness” triggers my gag reflex. I find it sparkling on the outside and hollow and dusty on the inside (p. 194).
Woods admits that during the first six years of her Christian life, up to the time of her moral failure, she had never had a real church home (p. 118). How she has since (in the last two years) become such an expert on churches and Christians is a mystery to me.
Because of the general laxness on sin, and aversion toward anything that even smacks of judgmentalism in the Christian community today, Grace Is for Sinners will play well for many. And while we must ever be mindful of exhibiting grace for sinners, let us not turn that grace into weakness to confront sin because it angers those who are not truly repentant.