Grace Upon Grace

Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life

Non-Fiction - Religion/Philosophy
234 Pages
Reviewed on 03/23/2015
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Author Biography

The Reverend Dr. Gregory S. Neal is a graduate of Southern Methodist University, Duke Divinity, and Trinity College where his studies included extensive work in Biblical Studies, Languages, Systematic Theology, Worship, and the Sacraments. While having been trained to be a Christian educator, as an ordained United Methodist minister Neal’s heart and soul can be found in the mission and ministry of the local church. To this end he has served for 24 years as the pastor of churches in North Carolina and North Texas, and is currently the Senior Pastor at Northgate United Methodist Church in Irving Texas.

To take his teaching and preaching onto the world-wide-web, in 1999 Dr. Neal founded Grace Incarnate Ministries (http://www.RevNeal.org), which serves audio and video sermons, audio Bible Studies, written theological papers and articles, to an internet-based audience numbering in the tens of thousands. The purpose of Dr. Neal’s ministry is “to share the Real Presence of Jesus Christ through Word and Sacrament, creed and deed, with all of God's children.”

As a popular teacher, preacher, and retreat leader, Dr. Neal is known for his ability to translate complex theological concepts into common, everyday terms. He has spoken on many theological topics before thousands in churches and at conferences around the world, but his area specialization is in the Theology of the Sacraments. He has lead several pilgrimages to Israel, has traveled widely to teach for the General Board of Global Ministries and the General Board of Discipleship, and enjoys volunteering his time as a Chaplain for the Holland America Cruise Line. In addition to travel, his interests include Astronomy, hiking, sailing, reading, computers, and conversation.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Kristine Hall for Readers' Favorite

In Grace Upon Grace, the Reverend Dr. Gregory Neal begins by explaining the difference between various faith communities about how God's grace is received. Neal explains that those faith communities which follow sacramental theology believe that grace is received via instruments of grace, and those which follow ordinance theology believe grace is received only directly from God. Neal primarily discusses the sacramental theology belief, viewing God as always being the principal actor in a Christian's life; however, he often presents and illustrates his points by contrast to the ordinance theology, so readers get a broad understanding of the theologies. As the book progresses, through a series of questions at the end of each chapter, readers are encouraged to reflect upon not only how they receive grace, but to define how grace looks within one's own life. Though he clearly shows that he believes the sacramental theology, he doesn't condemn believers of any faith community and reminds us that "God's grace is bigger than our differences." Neal takes readers on a reflective journey that is expertly written and well-researched with footnotes and an extensive bibliography for consideration.

Almost immediately after starting Grace Upon Grace, I realized that I hadn't ever fully explored the definition of grace. As a Christian, I accept and am thankful to God for His grace, but until Dr. Neal posed the question to readers of how they receive grace -- and I was stumped to answer -- I hadn't thought through the particulars. Dr. Neal, in keeping with sacramental theology, teaches that grace cannot be earned or made or produced by humans. Further, he states that "what grace does for us and within us depends entirely upon where we are in our faith development." Neal uses analogies and metaphors that illustrate his points, making it easier for the lay person to understand the concepts -- and there are concepts that had my mind spinning. Thankfully, theological terms are defined and the summary questions at the end of each chapter really help readers focus and reinforce meanings. I would recommend this book to anyone who ponders the wonder of God's grace and who can be open minded enough to see different perspectives of how grace is realized.

Suzanne Cowles

Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life by Gregory S. Neal provides an uplifting explanation of grace, faith, the holy sacraments and what those esoteric concepts mean from different leading religious points of view. Following the Wesleyan theology of the founder of the Methodist church, Neal examines the sacramentals in eight informative chapters with questions for thought at each chapter conclusion. There is also lyrical poetry, scripture quotes and the translation of theology into easily understandable concepts, which could be an aid to pastors and Sunday school teachers. Neal’s fluid style of writing includes the results of God’s work in his own life and this book is an updated second edition of a previous print. Many fundamental concepts are contrasted, such as the sacramental instruments approach verses good works ordinance theology. At the heart of the book’s thesis is grace, a central abstract concept of unmerited favor, which allows for faith and depends upon our relationship with God.

How the Holy Spirit transforms us with imparted righteousness, the ritual holiness produced by the sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist) and the other steps that lead to grace (Confirmation, Marriage, Penance, Ordination, Extreme Unction), foot washing, transubstantiation, divine favor, salvation and healing, prayer and giving with scripture support rounds off a well-thought out and detailed book. If you are seeking direction from a non-denominational, objective viewpoint, then Gregory S. Neal offers solutions to the mystery of faith through the power of grace, available in all things. This manual lays out God’s design for the beginning of eternal life in Him.

Jack Magnus

Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life is a nonfiction religious text written by Gregory S. Neal. Neal was ordained as an elder in The United Methodist Church after his graduate studies in the Duke School of Divinity. In his book, he discusses grace, what it is, and how and when it is conferred upon individuals through the acts of God and through the sacraments and sacramentals. Neal discusses the differing views the Catholic churches, which includes the Roman Catholic, Anglican and other churches, and the Baptist and other Reformed branches of Christianity on the matters of Baptism and Communion, and whether these are the only real sacraments. Neal shows how grace is given by God through those two sacraments and the other sacraments and sacramentals. He includes footnotes and references to Scriptures and works by theologians and also includes a Selected Bibliography of readings for those who want to continue their studies.

Gregory S. Neal's religious treatise, Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life, is well-presented and thought-provoking. Neal writes to both the scholar and the layman who wants to learn more about faith and grace, and he does so in an elegant and learned manner that never veers into pretentiousness or condescension. I particularly enjoyed his historical approach to the subject matter and the way he was able to share anecdotes of his life and personal experience to illustrate aspects of prevenient grace and the sacramentals. I also appreciated the Questions for Reflection and Discussion page that followed each chapter, which, along with his own poetry, served to help me focus on the topic presented. Neal's enjoyment of the rich intellectual history of his faith is obvious in his presentation, and his skill as a teacher and instructor comes out on each page of this illuminating book. Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life is most highly recommended.