Eric Mason. Beat God to the Punch: Because Jesus Demands Your Life. Nashville: B&H, 2014. 108 pp. $12.99.
Church and Ministry
When I got my copy of Beat God to the Punch, I wondered: “What was the deal with this provocative title and how was the author going to explain it?” Well, Eric Mason, the lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania spared no time in explaining the title. “This title is meant to draw the reader into the complexities (and simplicity) of a grace-filled life” (1). He goes on to share Philippians 2:9-11, drawing out the implication of “every knee bowed.” Everyone will bow his or her knee, either willingly or not. “Beating God to the punch involves willingly bending one’s life to Jesus now, and forever” (2).
Sounds sound, but how do we beat a provident, predestining, powerfully unparalleled God to the punch? Mason explains that it’s not by “our own effort, enlightenment, strength, or power. Only by God’s grace is one able to bow” (3). Thus, Beat God to the Punch ends up being a book about the grace of God, while also being a book about how Jesus demands our life. Because as Mason says, “God not only saves us from something, He also saves us for something” (7).
In this brief, 100-page, five chapter book, Mason gives us another gift of a book on grace. Chapter one explains how grace walked by in the person Jesus Christ. Chapter two imparts how grace is experienced. Chapter three presents grace at work. Chapter four traces grace through church history, and chapter five conveys how grace leads us home.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
If you’re in tune to the grace frenzy, you’ll know that this is yet another to add to the smorgasbord. So, why should you read this one?
Well, quite honestly, I appeal to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones here: “Everything is of grace in the Christian life from the very beginning to the very end.” Fundamentally speaking, if you’re reading about the Christian life, then it’s going to be about grace in some way or form; Beat God to the Punch is no different.
Mason uniquely offers his vantage point of trench ministry where he’s seen God’s grace in fresh ways. Instances include his own conversion story (14), when he and his wife lost their first child (63), and the story of a recovering addict (90). We also learn from his failures of not offering grace as he should (cf. the story of a homosexual church guest, 40).
We see how Mason faces discouragement ministering in the broken context of the inner city while still saying, “As the Spirit of Grace does His work in my heart and soul, I walk those streets with the dignity of the gospel because He uses the environment to help me learn where I am really finding my satisfaction” (60). Is this how you see your ministry? It should, regardless of context.
Beat God to the Punch isn’t merely a collection of feel-good grace stories. Beat God to the Punch is a rigorous engagement with Scripture that arrests our attention to be fully devoted to Christ. Thus, Mason makes sure we know whom we follow. From page 53-55 he lists every name to which we ascribe Christ, and endnote twenty-eight (pp. 103-106) provides Scripture references evidencing that ascription. This is a treasure trove for future sermons!
Throughout, Mason engages scholarly work on and about grace from Andreas Kostenberger, D. A. Carson, Jonathan Edwards, Sinclair Ferguson, and many others. These scholars constructively add to our understanding on matters such as the role of a talmid (17-22), the importance of abiding (28-29), and the vivid picture of God’s glory (38).
Chapter four’s riveting historical sketch of the work of grace in church history points us to figures like Augustine, Calvin, Whitefield, and Frederick Douglas. This sketch is accompanied with a handy summary table as an appendix (99-100).
Beat God to the Punch fosters fervor in pastor’s, church members, and the curious souls. Not just to respond to grace but to share it. Heed this unmitigated reminder from Mason: “All cross paths with grace, but not all respond to it” (14). Even though Beat God to the Punch grips you where you are to press into the grace of who God is, not everyone’s knee will bow now, but they will bow then. Whose knees in your congregation need to hear this message?
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
Beat God to the Punch is an expeditious, revitalizing, principled study on grace you won’t want to ignore.