January 20, 2021

Reading Assignment

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. (Ephesians 2: 7-9, The Message)

With August fast approaching, it’s time to get out those summer reading lists. I know you had your heart set on finishing Calvin’s Institutes and Adam Clarke’s entire commentary series, but might I recommend something a bit more attainable?

We have asked the Writers’ Roundtable to be prepared to discuss Robert Capon’s Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace toward the end of August. This book was first recommended to me by Michael Spencer following one of our many discussions of grace. “You need to read this book,” said Michael. “But be very careful who sees you reading it. You could be branded a heretic.” Ok. He had my attention. Capon’s book went from “someday” to “right now.” And Michael was right—this is a very dangerous book.

So before I recommend that you buy and read Between Noon And Three, let me tell you why you might not want to do so.

The first part of this book is a parable written by Capon—a retired Episcopal priest, author, and chef—that describes a love affair between a college professor and one of his adult students. Capon tells you right up front that nothing bad will happen to them, that they don’t get caught, and they have a great time. One chapter in this parable goes into rather steamy detail about their great time. Later in the book, Capon tells another parable about one Mafia hit man being “offed” by other Mafia assassins. This, too, is described in detail, and is not easy or fun reading. Both of these parables are used to illustrate the book’s subject: grace. And, contrary to what you might think, Capon makes a good case for both parables.

If either or both of these illustrations strike you as the wrong sort of thing to use to show God’s great gift of grace, you are right. And that is exactly the reason Capon uses them. You are shocked into looking at grace in a whole new way. This book will shake you to the core of your beliefs. For me, it helped strip away the religion that had been lining the walls of my heart for so many years.

Take all of this into account before you commit to reading Between Noon And Three. Remember, this is not holy scripture. If you don’t want to read it, don’t. And if you start reading it and don’t like it, put it away. Give it away. Sell it used on Amazon. Just don’t yell at me if you are offended. You will be offended. If you aren’t, you really aren’t reading the book.

You have been warned.

But…if you will read this book with a heart open to hearing from God about his great gift, you may find as I did that your life is turned upside-down. Or, rather, turned right-side up. There is no book save Scripture itself and several books by Lewis that have changed my life more than Between Noon And Three.

I am taking time to suggest you read it now as I think you will get much more out of the Writers’ Roundtable August discussion of this title if you have read it. Our discussion is going to be just that—a discussion, not a review. We want you to be a part of it, not just a spectator.

Grace is a very dangerous thing. It means your total freedom, and that, too, is dangerous. Don’t approach this lightly. You may find yourself suddenly free to live in a way you have previously thought off-limits. Living in complete forgiveness can give you a lightheaded feeling that could result in spontaneous joy. You could begin to see the silliness of trying to be shaped by churchianity, just as Michael Spencer did. You could embrace Jesus-shaped spirituality. And if enough of us did that, imagine the damage that would done in this world.

Yes, reading and being changed by this book is a very dangerous thing indeed.

What are you waiting for?


  1. I’m intrigued. I have often wondered if I truly understood grace, how different my life might be. Plus, I don’t shy away from dangerous books – they tend to be the life-changers.
    Tangent: I am new to your blog and wonder if you have ever posted/published an IM Recommended Reading List. I should be very curious to see what you would place on it. Thank you! ~ L

  2. Ok. I’m interested. I really like Capon.

    I look forward to reading the book, but from your description, it appears that he uses parables in the same way Jesus did. We tend to take the parables too literally, or should I say linearly (i.e. this illustration is directly proportional to this spiritual truth, or this equals that). But many of the parables – whether the subject is a Samaritan, a grumpy judge, or a shrewd manager – I think Jesus uses contrast as much as comparison. Often Jesus uses the phrase, “how much more”, indicating that something more than a one-to-one comparison is being made. Jesus definitely gets our attention through these parables. If we really thought about them, I think they would shock us much more than the pithy platitudes we typically assign to them.

    • You are right about Jesus’ use of story. For instance, the Prodigal Son story was a favorite among rabbis in Jesus’ day, only their ending was different. The way it was traditionally taught, when the prodigal came up the road, he walked all the way to where the father was (no good Jewish father would ever run to his son), and after his confession and request to be a servant on the family farm, the father would say, “No! You have disgraced this family. Leave and never return.” The older son would then say, “Dad, thanks for standing up for family values.” And he would go back to bookkeeping.

      As you can see, Jesus did a fair share of turning things right-side up with his parables. I’m sure he offended just as readily as Capon does.

      Have fun, but buckle your seat belt. It is a wild ride to grace.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        So Jesus took what was an “everybody knows that” Rabbinical story of the time, played it straight right up to the punch line, then turned the punch line one-eighty on its ear?

        In the circles I run in, that sort of “Messing with the audience’s expectations” is called (for some unknown reason) “Spanking them with a fish”; I’ve done it a few times myself!

      • It looks like you’re driving some business on Amazon. The cheaper used copies have disappeared since this morning. I still hope to find a copy and participate.

      • “The older son would then say, ‘Dad, thanks for standing up for family values.’ ”


        No doubt regarding the bumpy ride. Bring it on!

  3. I placed a hold on this book at the library. I love the library. 🙂

    I’m currently in the middle of Manning’s “Ragamuffin Gospel,” so this might be a good follow up.

    • This will blow Manning out of the water. And I love Ragamuffin Gospel.

      Libraries are wonderful places! I am in mine four to five times a week…

    • I’ve often said that if I were to be trapped on a deserted island and could only take three books, I’d choose my four-translation Bible, Strong’s Concordance and The Ragamuffin Gospel. So if Capon blows away Manning …

      (opens new tab in Firefox)
      (links to local library system, types in “Robert Capon”)
      (clicks on third book, then “Place Hold”)

      … done.

  4. I just placed a hold on it in my library system.

    (I just love being able to do that from any computer)

  5. I had pretty much decided I wasn’t going to add Capon to my reading list – didn’t fit with where things have been headed. Seems I’m gonna have to rethink that. 🙂

  6. Chap Mike: I’ll give Capon and his kind reviewer every benefit of the doubt. I really dig Manning, so this might scratch where I itch. I must, or choose to 🙂 ) confess that you already offended me by the drive by line “nothing bad will happen to them” about the professor and his (ahem…) ‘student’. So we’ve already gotten the offense thing over, and I havent’ even touched the book yet.

    One of the many reasons I love IMONK is for the books, authors, artists that I never would have met otherwise. Thanks for adding to that legacy. Now the push is to make time for the excellent books, and not merely the ‘above average’ or “yeah…it’s OK….”.

    Greg R
    PS: any chance of someone doing a review to add to Michael’s reg. Augsburger’s “Dissident Disciple” ?? Read a blurb about it this morning, and it looks like great stuff.

  7. I’m currently reading his book on parables. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment. Very thought provoking.

  8. You mentioned this book a while back and I added it to my wishlist at that time. Internetmonk is like my Oprah: You hold up a book and I buy 10 copies 😛
    Seriously though, I’ve been trying to get to it I just am a slow reader and bogged down right now with some other books I just can’t finish. But I’ve just heard to many Capon quotes lately to put off reading him for myself much longer. I’ll be on board for this.

    • I second that. Even if for no other reason I’d come here for suggestions on music and books. When possible I download MP3 audio books to read while doing other chores. Capon’s are only available in print as far as I know, but he is well worth making the time to read.

  9. Kenneth Mullis says

    I responded earlier this year to IM on Capon’s book. I got it fast (I live in UK) I think they digitally printed a copy! I was enthralled, and greatly challenged. Well worth reading, but it is a challenging ride! Not hard to read, but hard to digest because of our crazy attempt to make Grace and Legalism work together! Augsberger’s Dissident Discipleship is another excellent read. A bit less accessible than Capon but well worth persevering. I was fascinated buy the insight into the Amish community. I read Capon during a visit to the USA this year, and DD earlier here in the UK. Left Capon with my hosts in the US with a challenge to read it they dared!

    • I am going to ask one of our intrepid writers tomorrow to review Dissident Discipleship. I have it in hand and read to go. Thanks to you and Greg R (who called me Chaplain Mike, an insult to the good Chap…) for reminded me of it!

      • hey, with the hat and shades, you coulda been Kevin Costner or Lou Pinella for all I know….

        • Not handsome enough to be Costner, and can’t string together the profanities quickly enough to be Sweet Lou…

          • can’t string together the profanities quickly enough to be Sweet Lou…

            and when we’re bragging on you (which is often), we never fail to bring that up….

  10. Just ordered it! May take a while for it to arrive though.

  11. Why I love IM. I am a grandmother of 12, in my 60’s and coming into the “meadow of grace” as I like to call it was SUCH an ordeal. I was SO not in it. I was as far away from it as a person could be and still believe that Christ saves. Grace to my understanding was something if I “appropriated” I would be good, victorious, blah blah blah. I couldn’t live up to the rule. I was a failure and as Manning would say…I felt like my life was a great disappointment to God.
    Through Luther and Manning and Newton and Yancey and Michael S and Rod R I have found God to be tender and understanding and merciful. I have stickie notes of Capon on my computer desktop. The Ragamuffin Gospel was a blessing. I will see about getting this book, Jeff, and am prepared to be….enriched. I am seen as a rebel in my family but my continual prayers are for my beloved grandchildren. I want them to have a real faith in a real Gospel that is rooted in grace and not in their OBEDIENCE! Because grace produces love and if they are products of His grace….well, that is the best of the Best! I love everything each of you has shared.
    (I am not sure if I have contributed before….it’s an age thing, ya know!)

    • You have contributed in a great way, Mary! Thanks for sharing from your heart. I think you’ll like Capon just fine…

      • Well, I ordered it. And I am so happy to be part of the IM gang. My used copy will come from back east and I hope the group read will last for awhile. I’m also on my way up to Barnes and Noble to pick up a couple of copies of Ragamuffin Gospel. One for my 18 year old grandson and a new one for me. But must finish Michael’s book first. It is great. Thanks Jeff.

  12. David Cornwell says

    Just ordered a used copy for $3.95 through B&N, but it actually comes from Better World Books in Mishawaka, Indiana.


  13. One of your contributing writers suggested this book to me and I just finished about 6-8 weeks ago. Probably the best book I have read in the past two years. It was difficult in places and challenging but I felt every viewpoint was treated fairly and represented well.

    Capon is the rarest of intellectuals: one who may argue his point but can just as articulately and strongly argue the opposite to make you think. It is powerful. I look forward to following this discussion.

  14. Stuart B says

    So is there a time period set aside for this book discussion?

  15. I read this book, but I don’t think it affected me as strongly as some other books have. He is great, though, at anticipating what people will think or say about what he writes. I mentioned before that when he put in the section about the mafia hit, I said, “Huh?” It wasn’t so much what he wrote that made me wonder, but the way it was just stuck there in the middle of everything else seemed odd. I liked his book about the Kingdom parables. I like Capon’s emphasis that Jesus loves the least, little, lost and last.

    I love Manning too, particulary his Ragamuffin Gospel, which I loaned out and never got back! Time to get another copy. If anyone wants to borrow my Capon book, you are welcome. Email Chaplain Mike and he can email me the mailing address of whoever would like to borrow it. I will send it by cheap “media mail” so it will take a little while to get to you.

    • I will be mailing off my copy of the book to a commenter here. Thanks for forwarding me the email, Chaplain Mike. Enjoy!

  16. So, does Capon emphasize and explain love and grace better than, say, Paul the Apostle does? 😀

    • Riley Allen says

      Absolutely, Capon has a whole book to focus on the subject not just a few letters that are covering many different subjects and concerns. Are you somehow under the impression that the Bible is the best source for detailed working out of difficult topics? If so, then you probably need to remind yourself of the old saying “sufficient not exhaustive”. God’s word is the starting place for discussion not the end. 🙂

  17. Jonathan Blake says

    It’s been on my to get to list but this just made it a priority. Seems like I am too late to get the really cheap ones but it’s all good. Some would call me somewhat liberal when it comes to grace though I haven’t always been that way but I expect this to push me even further past the boundaries of man-made rules. Here’s to going off the deep end into Grace!

  18. Jonathan Blake says

    I just want to say that it is not 3:04 am here where I live like my comment says. It’s a little earlier than that

  19. Ok, count me in, too. Book ordered and can’t wait.

  20. Ordered it! Used, from AbeBooks. Also Ragamuffin Gospel, thanks to Kenny and others.

    I don’t know how I missed this post yesterday. Looking forward to the Roundtable in August.

  21. dubbahdee says

    I concur on the life rocking potential of this book. I first visited with Mr. Capon by means of his earlier volume “An Offering of Uncles.” I decided to work my way through his canon, which I have been doing methodically for 2 years now. “From Noon…” was my second read.

    You are spot on. For me (as I think for most who have an evangelical background) it was enormously frighteningly disorienting. The parables just place you on such unfamiliar territory — and the ground of that graceland feels mighty shaky. But I stuck with it and got what Mr. C was driving at and found that what I thought was the ground shifting was just the feeling you get when the walls of your religion start to crumble around you. In its place wells up clear cool springs of living water, feeding orchards and fields and forests full of the fruit of the Spirit, all growing in the fertile ground of the grace of Jesus.

    I was about to say that my faith was remade, but that’s not so. At no time did I feel that Jesus moved. He was always and ever the center of my faith. Rather I would have to say that my comprehension of his character and work have been remarkably increased.

    Jesus has always been all in all. This book helped me to understand the radical, wrecking-ball, nutjob, crazy-ass, wtf scandal that the grace of Jesus really is. I have yet to find the top of my head (blown clean off) and I’m really OK with that.

    Heed the warnings. I’m not sure everyone will find the experience as salutary as I have. Enter at your own risk.

  22. Ack – no Kindle version. Library is my next stop.

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