Daniel Deutschlander served twelve years as a parish pastor in South Dakota, Canada, and Illinois. He taught German and religion courses at the high school level for four years at Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School in Jackson, WI. From 1984 until 2004, Deutschlander taught courses in history, religion, and German at both Northwestern College (Watertown, WI) and Martin Luther College (New Ulm, MN). He has authored several theological books, including The Narrow Lutheran Middle: Following the Scriptural Road, The Theology of the Cross: Reflections on His Cross and Ours, and Civil Government: God’s Other Kingdom. He remains a sought-after speaker and teacher to this day.
Grace Abounds is meant to serve two purposes. First, it is intended to serve as a textbook for doctrine classes in Lutheran high schools and churches. Second, it can serve as a doctrinal “yellow pages” for pastors or church members to quickly read up on a particular doctrine of interest. Grace Abounds fulfills both purposes superbly. As a textbook, Grace Abounds clearly and succinctly explains major biblical doctrines. As a reference, Grace Abounds strikes a balance between a doctrinal survey class and a seminary dogmatics course.
Deutschlander walks the reader through the traditional disciplines of systematic theology. Beginning with prolegomena, he discusses the nature of religion before covering the inspiration, attributes, and uses of Scripture. Especially helpful for the busy pastor is Deutschlander’s excursus on theology as a habitus practicus (practical aptitude) and his subsequent discussion of how to interpret Scripture. This is an excellent place to begin an overview of biblical doctrine since “the application of the Bible to our lives, to what we think and feel and do, is rich and beautiful and a never-finished project” (81).
Part II of Grace Abounds focuses on theology proper – that is, the study of God. After covering the nature, works, and attributes of God, the reader finds three fascinating discussions. The first such discussion regards God’s providence and concurrence in evil. The second focuses on the question of what is necessary and what is contingent in history. The final discussion takes up the topic of God’s antecedent and consequent will. Deutschlander finds refreshingly novel ways to express classic Lutheran answers to these questions.
The anthropology section of Grace Abounds covers topics such as the creation of man, original sin, and actual sin. His chapter on original sin is precise, such as when Deutschlander notes that sinfulness is an accidental and not essential attribute of humanity (188). It is also unapologetic, such as when Deutschlander uses Scripture to systematically unravel the false teachings of Arminianism, Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, and synergism (191-204). Deutschlander masterfully blends doctrine with its practical uses throughout the section on the study of man. For example, while noting that the devil is one source of actual sin, Deutschlander offers practical insights into how the devil works: “First, he minimizes the sin to which he tempts us…then he comes with his second favorite trick: He maximizes guilt” (211). Such practical applications of doctrine make frequent appearances in Grace Abounds.
Part IV of Grace Abounds focuses on Christology. Deutschlander’s brevity and insight are on full display as he discusses the two natures of Christ, the hypostatic union, and Christ’s work and offices. His clarity shines through in his discussions on the three genuses of the communication of attributes that take place in the hypostatic union. Permit one example:
“The overlap [between the majestic genus and the idiomatic genus] is this: What can be said of the divine nature can be said of the human nature by communication, as a gift from the divine nature, and also can be said of the whole person. The difference [between the majestic genus and the idiomatic genus] is this: What can be said of the human nature can be said of the person – but not of the divine nature” (275).
Deutschlander showcases his clarity again as he delineates between the prompting cause of redemption and the meritorious cause of redemption (287-301), a discussion which is most helpful as a pastor continues to refine an evangelism presentation of law and gospel.
Soteriology, often a time-consuming study due to its wide range of topics, does not tire the reader of Grace Abounds. Deutschlander presents the doctrines of justification, election, faith, the means of grace, the church, and the Christian life, while always keeping in view the exceedingly practical value of these doctrines. From fending off attacks on universal justification (356-362) to answering common objections to the means of grace (420-442), Grace Abounds keeps the principle of theology as a habitus practicus in full view.
The eschatology section of Grace Abounds continues to mesh Scripture with Deutschlander’s trademark clarity and insight. The author’s evangelistic attitude towards the final things is on display when he writes, “[The doctrine of hell] will direct us as well to the great mission of the church, that of carrying into all the world the gospel by which souls are rescued from hell” (551).
Deutschlander wrote Grace Abounds for two purposes: to serve as a textbook and a reference book for both first time and longtime students of doctrine. He accomplishes both purposes with several characteristics that will satisfy any confessional Lutheran. First, Deutschlander makes copious use of Scripture. It is clear that he is not presenting his own theories; rather, he lets Scripture do the heavy lifting while he provides commentary to clarify and elaborate. His thoughts are most clearly captive to the Word of God, a trait uncommonly seen in modern theology. Second, Deutschlander uses a satisfying blend of systematic and practical theology throughout this book. The doctrinal maven will be satisfied by the theological depth of each section while the pragmatic Lutheran will find practical uses for every doctrine discussed. Deutschlander himself sums it up this way, “All doctrine…has the very practical purpose of magnifying God’s grace and increasing our joy and consolation in Christ” (375). Third, Grace Abounds makes appropriate use of the Lutheran Confessions. Deutschlander uses the confessions to support Scripture’s teaching, not to stand in the place of God’s Word. These three characteristics shine through the book as Deutschlander masterfully presents the teachings of God’s Word.
There are few shortcomings to Grace Abounds. If pressed to find weaknesses in this book, two possible drawbacks come to mind. One potential flaw is that a certain degree of background knowledge of German and Latin is assumed. However, Deutschlander notes this in the preface and explains that “some words are either so much a part of a theological vocabulary or else so expressive of some point that to pass by them altogether was simply not possible” (x). Second, Deutschlander’s effort to limit a comprehensive study of Christian doctrine to one volume also leaves the reader wanting more discussion at certain points. For example, Grace Abounds covers the doctrine of election, but left this reviewer hungry for more of Deutschlander’s insights into this topic. While certain readers might wish for more commentary on one or two doctrines, a one-volume doctrinal summary necessitates the omission of some lengthy discussions. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since it prompts the curious reader to dig deeper into Scripture and doctrinal tomes.
This author considers Grace Abounds a “must read” for every pastor and a “highly encouraged read” for every confessional Lutheran. The practical benefits of reading this book are great. It serves as a great review of the “gold and silver threads” (vii) of the doctrines of original sin, justification, the means of grace, and the theology of the cross – doctrines which form the heart and soul of Lutheran theology, doctrines which find numerous applications in ministry, doctrines which keep a Lutheran standing firm in the faith. Pastors are often encouraged, and with good reason, to read C.F.W. Walther’s Law and Gospel annually. This reviewer would add Grace Abounds to such a repeating reading calendar. Read Grace Abounds regularly. As a doctrinal review, as a practical tool, and as a great teaching resource, Grace Abounds should be a well-worn book on every pastor’s shelf.