Grace in Practice:
A Theology of Everyday Life
by Paul F. M. Zahl
Eerdmans, 267 pages, $18
The Anglican theologian Paul Zahl, who is currently dean of the only conservative evangelical Episcopalian seminary in the United States, is hard to pin down. I use the terms conservative and evangelical advis edly. While Zahl has long been an ardent defender of the evangelical wing of Anglicanism, he tends to make many evangelicals uneasy with his historical-critical approach to the Scriptures and his ready acceptance of a canon-within-a-canon. And while Zahl is respected by conservative Anglicans as one of the most vocal critics of theological liberalism in the Episcopal Church, he has made many conservatives nervous by his own theology, which in the past has questioned the importance of Trinitarian doctrine and rejected God's presence in the sacraments.
As I said, a hard man to pin down—except when it comes to salvation by grace, about which he is as steadfast as anyone since Martin Luther. In the best tradition of Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, C.F.W. Walther's Law and Gospel, and Gerhard Forde, Zahl argues with every fiber of his being that the law always kills and condemns, and that only God's grace in Christ gives life and freedom. Zahl's newest and best book, Grace in Practice, is a fascinating, sometimes brilliant, and deeply pastoral attempt to work out this theology of grace as a universal principle for Christian doctrine and life.
Zahl's theology is always in service of pastoral ministry, and so here he is not primarily concerned with grace as a theological concept, but rather with how it works in everyday life. Zahl thinks that grace is the universal theological principle, and consequently he demonstrates how grace in practice works in a wide range of human affairs, such as friendship, marriage, child-rearing, politics, war, economics, pastoral care, preaching, churchmanship, and prayer.
Does it work? Many will think so, but perhaps in some areas more than others. Zahl is probably on surer ground when talking about salvation by grace than economics or criminal justice. But his exposition of the classic Lutheran law-grace dialectic is as good as can be found anywhere, illuminated persuasively by numerous insights drawn from everyday life. Many will applaud Zahl's new appreciation of the importance of Trinitarian doctrine and the role of the Holy Spirit. Many others of a more Catholic persuasion will strenuously disagree with Zahl's conclusions—as will many Protestant followers of Bonhoeffer and Wesley. But anyone interested in the old-time Lutheran gospel of grace would do well to read this fine book.
The Morality of Adoption:
Social-Psychological, Theological, and Legal Perspectives
edited by Timothy P. Jackson
Eerdmans, 337 pages, $26 paper
Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish thinkers engage the dimensions of adoption suggested by the subtitle. Contributions are both theoretical and practical, not neglecting such difficult questions as cultural clashes and children with disabilities.