July Book o’ the Month: Paul F. M. Zahl’s “Grace in Practice: A Theology for Everyday Life”

In the introduction to his Homiletics, Karl Barth says, “theology as a church discipline ought in all its branches to be nothing other than sermon preparation in the broadest sense” (17). In that spirit, my church’s preaching team began meeting weekly to discuss three things: last Sunday’s sermon, next Sunday’s Scripture passage, and finally, a book we are all reading together. For July’s Book o’ the Month, I’d like to introduce the readers here at DET to one of those books, namely, Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice. I want to share this with you because it has been one of the most challenging, formative, and helpful books that our group has read since we first started meeting about a year and a half ago. It has especially helped to shape how we think about the experience of grace and how the sermon may be a vehicle for that experience.



Who’s Paul Zahl? He is a retired Episcopal priest, dean and president emeritus of Trinity School for Ministry, and host of PZ’s Podcast, the episodes of which “try to bridge the gap between Old Ancient Teaching…and popular culture.” I cannot recommend this podcast highly enough, especially if you are into Giant Crab movies, Jack Kerouac, or, as Zahl likes to say, “the greatest rock band of all time, Journey. It’s absurd; it’s ridiculous, but it’s also true.” You can also find out more about Zahl, his theology, and the intersection of religion and pop culture over at Mockingbird.

Regarding Grace in Practice, Zahl says:
This book is my attempt, after thirty years of teaching and preaching the message of grace, to set it out systematically, and to do this in the face of the chronic criticism grace receives. I also attempt to connect grace to some contemporary issues in society. How does grace work? That is the theme of the book. No apologies! One-way love is the heart of Christianity. It is what makes Christianity Christian. (ix)

What I would like to do in the next three posts is to first discuss Zahl’s understanding of both law and grace, and (bear with me my fellow Barthians) his anthropological starting point for this “theology of everyday life.” In that post I’ll also discuss what Zahl means by “one-way love,” his understanding of “imputation,” and what he means when he says that he’s written this book “in the face of the chronic criticism grace receives.”

Next, since much of this book discusses the concrete application and experience of grace in relation to contemporary social issues, in a third post, I will lift up several examples of “grace in practice” as discussed by Zahl. Here is where Zahl is at his best, and where he can most help a preacher understand how to connect with his or her listeners’ and find avenues into their own understanding and experience of love, mercy, and God’s grace.

Finally, I would like to discuss why Zahl thinks that “ecclesiology is unimportant” (225). I think that Zahl has some important lessons here for us even as discussions, conferences, and books on discerning a post-Christendom ecclesiology seem ever on the rise.

With that, thank you for reading, and I look forward to sharing and discussing this book with you over the next few weeks.

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Comments

Derek Maris said…
Hey Matthew,

I'm not really familiar with Zahl. I've read one of his books, and that was several years ago. So, I'm looking forward to your posts!

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