André Birmelé, L’horizon de la grâce: La foi chrétienne [The Horizon of Grace: The Christian Faith] (Paris and Lyon: Cerf and Olivétan, 2013), 508 pp.
To bring to the attention of a large public in only 500 pages the fundamental convictions of the Christian faith: that was the initial request. This book endeavors to take up the challenge. It is addressed to engaged laity, catechists, preachers, and deacons in the hope that pastors, priests, and students of theology will also be able to find what they need in it. The book offers a systematic review of fundamental Christian convictions presented without simplification but in accessible language. The work is characterized by the conviction that simplicity and a high level of thought are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary.
The major themes are taken up in twelve chapters: God, the word of God, faith, sin, Jesus Christ, his cross and resurrection, salvation by grace, the Holy Spirit, the gift of grace, the church as communion of saints, last things, ethics of consequence, and the world to come. After a general introduction, each chapter begins with an overview of the biblical witness, revisits the great moments in the history of Christianity, then proposes major contemporary approaches, all deliberately eschewing the minutiae of scholarly debates.
The work is centered on the gospel of the love of God for human beings, the divine logic that passes all understanding, the invitation to change perspective, to change the horizon of one’s thought. In deciding to come to the world via the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God invites humanity to enter into the horizon of grace, a new orientation, a dynamic that gives meaning to life. Since the future belongs to God, the present becomes possible.
The approach taken here is consciously ecumenical. The book shows that many subjects that have provoked divisions between the churches are at present the locus of a confession of common faith and the foundation of a reconciled diversity. Openness to the approaches of other ecclesial traditions does not signify any kind of relativization of the differences that remain, however, as indicated for example by the chapters devoted to ecclesiological challenges.
A detailed thematic index of 9 pages and a biblical index of 16 pages allows the reader to use this book as a reference manual. It is not a “dogmatic,” however, in the classical sense of the term. Professional theologians will be astonished by the absence of footnotes or a substantial bibliography. The choice is deliberate. Any other approach would be out of the question in a summary of the profound convictions of the faith restricted to 500 pages.