The Grace Effect by Larry Alex Taunton – Book Review

Over the last few years, I’ve read two books and several articles by the author of this book, Larry Alex Taunton. I was first introduced to him when I read his book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. The author has spent a good portion of his life dedicated to the intellectual defense of the Christian faith. He is familiar with the arguments for and against Christianity and has debated some of the leading secular intellects of our day.

The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief is a very personal story first that occasionally takes a step back and looks at the bigger picture. The story is their family’s adoption of their daughter from the country of Ukraine. I’d been planning on reading this book for some time, but with Ukraine in the headlines frequently I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a peek behind the curtain of corruption via this story.

I’ve been to Ukraine once myself, only a few months before the war started. Since I was traveling there for a conference, my experience was quite curated to keep me in the hands of hotel staff and those wanting tourist dollars. I didn’t see much of the kind of things attested to in this book. I say this not to disagree with the author, but to actually affirm that there are very different expressions of corruption in the post-communist world.

Mr. Taunton’s story is a fight against de-humanizing corruption. In the Ukrainian orphanages, the lives of the children have little human value and the process of adoption is one during which every bit of currency is rung out of the those trying to rescue a child from system they are incarcerated to.

In the US and much of the western world, we have grown lazy taking advantage of societies where common courtesy is actually common and it is considered ‘bad’ to lie, cheat and steal. This seems to be changing, but I grew up in a world where the main topic of this book, ‘grace’ is at least recognizable.

In Communism and what it leaves behind, grace is absent. The orphans of Ukraine are a despised lower class and the orphanage doesn’t so much exist for their care, but as kind of pre-prison warmup. Most of the unwanted children are destined for an early death or prison in their future. It is expected.

Given that, you might expect there to be some who would be eager to facilitate adoptions in order to deliver these children into the arms of those who want them and would remove them from being a societal problem of Ukraine. That doesn’t seem to be a consideration. Instead, the process is slow, agonizingly slow. If there is anything efficient it is the efficiency at which extra bribe money is extorted from those looking to adopt.

The author points to the history of Russia and Ukraine. These are not countries where it is normal to learn to care for those less fortunate. It can be shocking for an American to run up against the absence of grace, but as someone who has lived for more than 20 years outside of the United States I can testify that most of the world functions more like what the author describes than what you might find in a mid-sized town in the United States.

Why is this true? Despite what our secular friends might think, the presence of Christianity and it’s heritage has a great deal to do with what is usually seen as civilized life. We aren’t civilized because man has evolved to be that way, but instead it is a result of the influence of laws and ethics based on something greater than ourselves. God’s law lays out ultimate statements, but it is Christian values and morals that see communities filled with love and care that surpasses the letter of the law.

I highly recommend this book for the compelling personal story. It is heartbreaking at times, but ends in a way that will build hope in your life. The secondary topic of grace and faith is a welcome, interesting addition and I learned a great deal about the countries involved, especially Ukraine.

This book works well as an illustration for a paper I read more than a decade ago, The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy.

In that paper, a renowned sociologist demonstrates authoritatively the influence evangelical protestant missionaries had on the development of stable democracy around the world. In the last century and more, wherever the expansion of Christian missions was successful, we didn’t just observe the growth of the church, but many other changes happened as well. Religious liberty overall and human rights were improved, education and the availability of reading materials spread widely and the society as a whole became more stable and peaceful.

Grace comes from those who believe it not just as an intellectual idea, but as a profound life-altering philosophy rooted in something. The author describes it in this way:

“Where other religions offer salvation via ‘to do’ lists, Christianity alone among the world’s great religions offers salvation through a Person who is accessed by the grace he so freely offers. Without grace, we are all without hope…Grace, properly articulated, has the effect of putting us all on the same level…isn’t that the grace effect? Working quietly, humbly, and animated by a Great Hope, it changes lives, even the lives of those who do not believe in it.”

If you live in the United States or in most of the western world, you benefitted from grace recently, if not today. You may not recognize it, but it is present because of the Hope of those who came before you. I encourage you to read this book as beautiful illustration or both Grace and it’s absence.

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