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