Book Review: God So Loved, He Gave
A few years ago, I picked up Kelly M. Kapic's book, God So Loved, He Gave: Entering the Movement of Divine Generosity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010). I intended to read it for an upcoming sermon, but never did get around to it. As time passed, I forgot why I had even purchased the book. So I wasn't quite sure what to expect from it. But it is one of the most impactful books I've ever come across.
That sounds like an overstatement. But the reason the book made such an impression is because of how convicting it was for me. In reading this book, I came to see that I am not a very generous person. Whatever acts of generosity I do show are too often half-hearted and obligatory rather than the kind of cheerful generosity that God loves (2 Cor 9:7). But rather than leaving me feeling bad about myself, Kapic wrote this book to show that "as we learn to dwell in the good news of belonging to God, we will grow in the freedom to give ourselves to God and others in ways that are impossible for those who treasure their lives as their own" (p. 10). To see how this works, Kapic takes us again through the gospel story.
The Sin of Taking
Part One of the book begins with the good news that everything belongs to God. This is good news because we, along with all of creation, exist as a gift of God's own trinitarian love. And as part of this gracious creation, we are meant to reflect the greatness of our Creator who rules over us, not by keeping but by giving. Kapic points to the life-giving cycle of all things coming "from, through, and back to" God (Rom 11:36). So, as God's love flows generously to his creatures, that love is then meant to go back to him in thanksgiving and praise.
The tragic reality of the Fall is made plain right here. Rather than enjoying God's plenteous provision, Adam and Eve lost everything when they took the one thing they were forbidden from having. Thinking that by taking they could find true freedom, they cast themselves and all of creation into all kinds of bondage. Sin, above all, is a form of bondage. Rather than ruling as God’s image bearers, we become enslaved to the things over which we were meant to rule. Kapic writes:
We are consumed by our consumerism and possessed by our possessions. Our eyes and ears are held captive to a constant onslaught of advertising that fuels our passion to possess more and more things we don’t really need so that we can impress more and more people we don’t even like. What is this if not a sign of bondage? (pp. 42-43)
Saved by a Gift
In Part Two, Kapic turns to the stunning act of God in solving our slavery and bondage. "One would think," he writes, "that in order to fix this God should take something back. He doesn't. Instead, he gives even more away. In fact, he gives everything away" (p. 60).
And the greatest gift he gives is his own Son: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3:16). Our familiarity with this verse may shield us from noticing how stunning this gift truly is. Kapic reminds us that gifts are normally given in celebration of some achievement or to mark a joyous occasion. But in this case, God gives not to those who deserve some honor but to those who have stolen from him and offended him. In fact, the entire story of redemption could be summarized like this: "God reclaims ownership by paying an exorbitant price for what was already his" (p. 70).
All it takes to receive this great gift from God is faith. We must believe the gift to receive the gift. In chapter 5, Kapic helpfully shows why faith is so hard: it asks everything from us. But then again, the Bible treats faith itself as a gift. While faith is demanded, it is first of all something we experience and then respond to (p. 90).
Through faith, we enter the movement of God’s generosity. The gift of God changes us as we believe it, and God keeps on giving so we can, too. He gives us the gift of his Holy Spirit (chapter 6). And when the Holy Spirit is received, the evidence is seen in radical generosity. Just as Satan promotes withholding and manipulation aimed at self-service, the Holy Spirit promotes generosity to those in need.
Wrapping up Part Two, Kapic address the gift of the Kingdom of God. We enter this kingdom through faith and repentance, by changing our whole orientation toward God, ourselves, and the world (pp. 122-23). Kapic writes about the values of the Kingdom of God and how we who belong to it are to govern our lives by those values. These values may be summarized as “justice and righteousness,” with generosity flowing from them as the main characteristic (p. 134).
Imitating God’s Generosity
The final part of Kapic's book takes us from the wonders of God's saving generosity toward us and on to how we may then imitate that generosity in the Christian life. We imitate God's generosity, not by adapting to some "minimum standard" (like 10%), but by "creatively reenacting the virtue of his unselfish love in countless and different situations" (p. 155). Kapic acknowledges there is freedom on how we imitate Jesus, but also that the basic form is the cross of Christ and the giving up of rights and resources.
Thus, we must not minimize the importance of good works, which are nothing other than outward and concrete expressions of love. Kapic urges the Christian to avoid the errors of both mistaken confidence in our works as well as undervaluing the gift of God that we have been made for work. How can we keep our balance here? Kapic suggests the resurrection as our starting point. Believing in the resurrection has the practical significance of leading us to invest in the world rather than living detached from it. And the way that God leads us to believe in the resurrection is the ministry of the church, which is "not an ideal we must realize" but rather "a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate" (p. 192).
And that is why, Kapic concludes, the church itself is God's gift to the world. Armed with the mission of Jesus, the world hears good news: the generous invitation to enjoy the hospitality of God. As believers in this generous good news, our responsibility is to steward the grace of God that has been given to us by freely offering it to all in word and deed.