Kelly M. Kapic, with Justin Borger, God So Loved, He Gave: Entering the Movement of Divine Generosity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010). 281 pp. $19.99/£12.99.
Reviewed by Wesley Vander Lugt
University of St Andrews Editor, Transpositions
It is rare to recommend a book without any reservations, but Go So Loved, He Gave is that sort of book. I agree with the litany of glowing endorsements that this is a book that should move to the top of your reading list. In fact, before reading my review, you might want to listen to Kapic’s summary in his own words and read the preface and first chapter available on the website.
With sparkling prose, Kelly M. Kapic (professor of theology at Covenant College) and Justin Borger (Generosity Content Director for the Maclellan Foundation) describe the biblical story through the lens of generosity, articulating a comprehensive vision supported by compelling expositions of particular passages. At the heart of this story is the triune God who owns all things not through holy hoarding, but through acts of holy generosity. Out of his loving generosity, God created the world, but sinful humans abused this gift by selfishly taking, becoming broken and banished instead of enjoying the bliss of belonging. Astonishingly, God addressed this brokenness not by punishing his rebellious creation, but by giving himself so that his creatures can truly belong to him. Belonging to God means participating in his kingdom inaugurated by the work of Jesus, and living within the movements of divine generosity.
At this point in the book, the narrative slows down and deals in more detail with the nature of God the Father’s gift of the Son and the Spirit, as well as the process of believing, experiencing, and living within this gift. The authors do so through unrushed, conversational retellings of Gospel stories, which reveal that faith in Jesus is itself a gift from God while at the same time an urgent demand. The Spirit too is a gift uniting us to Christ as a guarantee, seal, and first-fruit of fully experiencing God’s gifts in the kingdom and new creation. In the present, we experience God’s gift of salvation in Jesus by producing generous fruit, most notably caring for the poor and needy. Eternal life in God’s kingdom is experienced as a gift in the present, generating hope in the full and future experience of triune generosity.
What does it mean practically, however, to “enter into the movement of divine generosity” in the present? For one, Kapic and Borger insist that we live God’s gift through word and deed, proclaiming the righteousness of God in Christ and living out this righteousness with particular partiality toward the poor. In this way, we improvisationally imitate the form of Jesus’ life, who for our sake became poor, giving up his rights to make us rich in righteousness. Cross-shaped generosity is about giving one’s whole person, not just a mere ten percent of income as a tithe. As such, enabled by God’s continual giving, Christians should be committed to radically generous and hospitable lifestyles with the goal of witnessing to the cross and resurrection through “worshipful communion in the truth” (196), not winning culture wars or political battles. This is the work of the whole Christian community, who has received much in order to give to others. The missional orientation of the early church is evident in the collections for the poor pursued so passionately by Paul and other church leaders. Kapic and Borger observe that these collections certainly served to relieve poverty, but also to unify the church, participate in God’s grace, and prefigure future life with the triune God who “in fairness…favors the fatherless and received the rejected” (212). In short, grateful worship, bold proclamation, embracive hospitality, and generous giving are all fitting ways to participate in the drama of divine generosity.
Several elements make God So Love, He Gave a stunning accomplishment. By drawing on authors as diverse as John Calvin, Pope Benedict, Abraham Kuyper, and Walter Brueggemann, the book soars above stifling provincialism and helps readers hear the voice of the universal church. The book is saturated with Scripture, which can be located with an excellent Scripture index, with particular passages utilized not merely as isolated proof texts, but connected to the comprehensive drama of salvation and divine generosity. Each chapter deals with basic theological topics, but these topics are addressed again and again from creative angles and with both deep theological insight and pastoral wisdom. For example, Kapic and Borger recognize that Christians are not called to imitate the exact career of Jesus, but that we are called to follow the form of his life, a process that bears similarities to the improvisation of jazz musicians who riff within a basic beat. In addition, there is an excellent discussion guide at the end, enabling the reader or groups of readers to reflect on this rich material (also available for download on the website).
Of course, it is impossible for a book of this size to cover everything regarding the divine drama of generosity and our participation within this drama. As such, there is a jump from chapter two and the Fall to chapter three and the coming of the Messiah and King Jesus. Although the Old Testament is discussed in relation to prophesies of the King (49-51), the theme of kingdom generosity would have been more complete with an additional chapter on the Old Testament, while providing more rationale for choosing kingdom as an overarching theme rather than covenant or something else. In addition, it would have been fascinating to see further explanation on the role of imagination as briefly mentioned in chapter ten, as well as how the proposal of this book corresponds or contrasts to generous orthodoxy as originally proposed by Brian McLaren (especially since the authors use the phrase “hospitable orthodoxy,” 195). Another fitting conversation partner for this book is Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection (Eerdmans, 2010), especially given the three chapters on resurrection faith, work and life.
These last few comments are not weaknesses per se, just ways in which the thesis of this book could be elucidated and expanded. As it stands, God So Loved, He Gave is a magnificent work of theology, both in terms of articulating the truth of the gospel and showing its implications for all of life. Not only that, but the book is carefully constructed and beautiful written, making it a joy to read in every possible way. I wholeheartedly recommend that you read this book to discover the drama of divine generosity and how you can participate in the drama today.
*Zondervan provided a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.