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An inward and spiritual grace

15 March 2013

Meaty but readable teaching given, says Robert Mackley


Grace: The free, unconditional and limitless love of God
Peter Groves
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 (Use code CT618 )

A PERSISTENT problem for Christians is that theology tends to fall into two categories: either Janet-and-John guides for neophytes, or technical theology for those studying at an advanced level. For any parish priest concerned that a key task for the 21st-century Church is catechesis, so that Christians can properly give an account of the hope that is in them (as St Peter tells us), this is alarming.

Andrew Davison, the Tutor in Doctrine at Westcott House, and Canterbury Press are, therefore, to be congratulated warmly on their new series Faith Going Deeper, which is precisely an attempt to provide something to bridge the chasm between the basic introduction and the degree textbook.

The Vicar of St Mary Magdalen's, Oxford, Peter Groves, has written an excellent first volume in the series, and he looks (fittingly; for it is at the heart of Christianity) at the subject of grace. This reasonably short book of about 150 pages is divided into nine chapters, which begin by addressing the obvious question what grace is; go on through explorations of grace in terms of God and the Bible, justification and human freedom; and end with grace and the sacramental life. Each chapter is thus a readable 15 to 20 pages.

Groves avoids using excessive technical language, and is keen to give practical illustrations and examples, thus sparing even the denser theological sections from being impossible.

Grace, Groves says, is generally the lovingkindness of God, and, specifically, a gift from God that enables us to do and be things that we otherwise are incapable of. From this foundation, the author goes on to demolish unhelpful dualisms (such as alleged opposition of law and grace), and to answer questions such as "Why couldn't God just forgive us" with the answer: that's exactly what he has done.

The language about grace and justification and so on are attempts to make sense of an event, God's free forgiveness, which is beyond ordinary words, like an artist painting Jesus, who does not copy from a literal original, but interprets something that is beyond his or her understanding.

The book rightly ends with worship; for "almost everything that has been said about grace", Groves writes, "will be repeated in an account of the Eucharist". The eternal self-giving of God the Holy Trinity entered the human realm in Jesus Christ, and continues today in the eucharist; and all of this, of course, is grace.

The Revd Robert Mackley is the Vicar of Little St Mary's, Cambridge


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