CALL IT GRACE by Serene Jones


Finding Meaning in a Fractured World
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A troubled life viewed through a theological lens.

Jones (Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World, 2009, etc.)—president of New York’s Union Theological Seminary and past president of the American Academy of Religion—provides a frank memoir undergirded by the works of liberal Christian theologians, philosophers, and other thinkers. Though ostensibly centered on grace, the narrative contains numerous themes of anger and unresolved guilt. The author begins with a careful review of her Oklahoma heritage: homesteaders and rebels immersed in what she calls “prairie theology” (“we were all justified by God’s grace alone, which was good news”). The primary focus of Jones’ ire is her grandfather, whom she remembers as a racist and distasteful man who inappropriately touched his granddaughters. Throughout the book, his memory haunts Jones as a source of original sin that continues to follow her as an inherited taint. A similar source of pain is her mother, a spiteful woman whose final blow—admission of a yearslong affair—devastated her entire family. Along with these close sources of familial pain, the author discusses Timothy McVeigh, whose terrorist act in Oklahoma City touched her family directly. His eventual execution was a further source of internal conflict for Jones. A variety of other life events—e.g., severe illness while studying in India, divorce, a bout with cancer—shape the narrative, all connected to the theological ideas of Barth, Kierkegaard, Niebuhr, and others. The near death of her infant daughter from an allergic reaction tested her faith, and she felt guilty that other mothers around the world lose children every day because they do not share her privilege. Though studded with intriguing and thought-provoking sections, the text is weighed down by the author’s overstated pride in her work as a theologian, her unresolved internal struggles, and her tendency to lash out at others.

A sometimes-laborious read that will resonate mostly with progressive Christian readers.

Pub Date: March 19th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-7352-2364-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2019


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