What is the purpose of grace? How is grace made manifest to humanity? What are the similarities and differences between sacraments and sacramentals? These are three of the questions addressed in Gregory S. Neal’s book, Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life. His years as a lifelong learner, pastor, and teacher provide not only the expertise, but also the lived experience to explore these topics.
Although Neal’s personal background, tradition, and practice are Methodist, his book teaches about grace, sacraments, and sacramentals from diverse points of view. One example of this diversity is in his introductory chapter to the sacraments. Since the sacraments are a means of grace – the ways by which grace is given to humans – it would seem important to understand what the sacraments are. Neal expounds on the various denominational groupings and describes how each defines the term sacraments, as well as how many they include in their tradition and why. His personal beliefs are clearly and openly stated, yet those beliefs do not interfere with his even-handed discourse on the topic.
Neal draws on a variety of sources, ranging from the Bible, to hymnals and prayer books, to current theologians. His writing, although peppered with theological comments and terms, is clear and readable. The addition of anecdotes personalizes the book and gives it warmth. Because every chapter ends with a page of questions for reflection and discussion, the book could be used for study by either individuals or groups.
Grace Upon Grace would be a good read for any layperson desiring expanded knowledge of both grace and the sacraments.
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