(Barton Books: Australia: 2009)
Embracing Grace is an obtuse collection of essays, which I suspect will make more sense to those familiar with Graeme Garratt’s work, than those who are not. The thematic link which holds the collection together is the authors’ shared admiration of their mentor, whose retirement from the Director of St. Mark’s National Theological Centre at Charles Sturt University this book celebrates. However, the supposed theological link of ‘Grace’ is less easy to track through the writings of the varied authors. “The title of the book was inspired by the centrality of ‘grace’ for Christian theology, both in understanding the grace of God towards us and the acceptance of that grace for living the Christian life in freedom, compassion and joy. Graeme, for us, embodies such a life” (page 2). Because of this failure of the linking theme, some essays seemed to be much more erudite than others, depending on my own capacity to relate to their subject matter. The strength of the book is in the man to whom it is devoted.
Garrett himself provides the best way into the collection of essays through his response at the end of the book. “God gives Godself to be known, or knowledge of God does not take place at all. Theology presupposes the embracing grace of God” (page 200). If the task of theology is to extend and apply and facilitate the embrace of god to others, what then is the nature of the many and varied ministries of the Church which in essence are it’s theological tasks? The chapters written by non-professional theologians on The Theologian as Citizen, Conversationalist and Poet (John Langmore, Geoffrey Brennan, Terry Falla respectively) seemed more adept at emulating Graeme Garrett’s personal capacity to extend the theological power of Grace into all areas of life and study. For example, Langmore’s chapter entitled ‘Prophetic Grief and Hope,’ elucidates and gives contemporary examples from Australian public policy, Global Development and Nuclear disarmament, for the long standing Christian tradition in which Garrett stands of believing “not only that human life is sacred but that God seeks for all to live wholly fulfilled lives” (page 90). Such practicality finally gave me a way into the rest of the essays which explored Theologian as Priest, Preacher, Spiritual Director, Biblical Interpreter, Prophet, Ethicist, Peacemaker, Teacher and Writer (Stephen Pickard, Jane Foulcher, Kerrie Hide, John Painter, Thorwald Lorenzen, Sarah Bachelard, David Neville, Heather Thompson and Tom Frame). Of these, Bachelard’s chapter entitled ‘Beyond ‘thou shalt’ lies a deeper word’, stands out with her concise remark: “grace creates the possibility of radical fellowship.” What is clear from these thinkers is that grace has created the possibility of radical discipleship, radical being and believing, radical theology. Radical, in the sense that it has the power to transform the world.