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Radical GraceReview - Radical Grace
How Belief in a Benevolent God Benefits Our Health
by J. Harold Ellens
Praeger Publishers, 2007
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H.
Feb 17th 2009 (Volume 13, Issue 8)

Radical Grace examines thoughtfully the interface of religion, spirituality, psychology, and human health.  The author, Dr. J. Harold Ellens, is a Presbyterian Pastor and Theologian Emeritus, and a Philosophy and Psychology Professor Emeritus.  The cardinal aspiration of Ellens is to illumine the widest possible range of conceptual issues in the interjoined realms of psychology, theology, and spirituality.  In this broadly enframing context, human personhood is viewed in terms of God’s radical, unconditional, and universal grace.  A powerful thematic current flowing copiously through the pages of the text is that human health is dependent on the unity of body, mind, and spirit.

Fourteen chapters comprise the major structural pillars upholding the substantive foundation of the text.  The core substantive message of a chapter  is encapsulated pithily in a "Conclusion" appearing at a chapter’s end.  In some of the chapters, this last textual section is followed by "Notes" (consisting of citations to research materials referenced in the chapter’s text).  In a related structural vein, a "Bibliography" attached to the book’s far end gives citations to a multitude of research works germane to further study of the entwined strands of psychology, religion, and spirituality.

An additional structural feature, in the form of an "Introduction," introduces the reader to some of the key ideas implanted firmly in the textual soil.  One of these deeply rooted ideas is that the perception and experience of God as a God of grace is the major healing dynamic associated with maximal well being.

Stylistically, Ellens is a finely intellectually polished writer who paints the canvas of the text with deft brush strokes notable for their abstruseness.  Intellectual denseness is, indeed, one of the book’s principal properties.

In his characteristically abstruse way, Ellens, in Chapter Two, endeavors to impart some understanding to the reader regarding the theology of illness.  From a theologic perspective, Ellens engages in erudite fashion the question of the meaning of illness and health.

It is manifest to Ellens that the dynamics of religion are interwoven tightly with the psychology of anxiety.  And, in Chapter Three, Ellens sets forth his view that religious experience rises from the human experience of anxiety.  In connection with anxiety, Ellens expounds on divine grace.  According to Ellens, this grace is “radical” because one cannot hide from it, or defend against it, nor escape its clenching grasp by means of sin.

Discourse relating to anxiety extends into Chapter Four, where the essential and universal human experience of anxiety draws the continuing sharp focus of Ellens.

Some modern concepts of humanness are described informatively by Ellens, in Chapter Five.  But first, Ellens comparatively discusses some ancient traditions concerning human nature.

In Chapter Six, Ellens discourses on spiritual conversion, particularly in terms of its linkage to psychodynamics.  As is his wont throughout the book, Ellens pursues his discourse in a relatively esoteric manner.

Garnering some understanding of the relation binding communication and psychlogic health is the crux of Chapter Seven.  Some interestingly revealing insights regarding left brain and right brain dominance are proffered.

In Chapter Nine, Ellens toils in the intricate web of connections meshing truth and healing.  In this regard, it is Ellens’ belief that the quest for truth that heals is a psychospiritual endeavor.

One of the mantras of Ellens is that stress is sewed into the fabric of human life as a stimulus for growth.  And therefore, the proper emphasis should be on stress management (rather than stress alleviation).  In Chapter Ten, Ellens spells out his thinking that the secret to a fulfilling life is not to attempt to rid one’s life of stress, but, instead, to effectually manage stress towards growth.

The mental health of pastors and psychologists raptly draws the attention of Ellens, in penultimate Chapter Thirteen.  In this vein, Ellens expounds on ten “commandments” for enhancing the mental health of psychologists and pastors.

Topics broached in concluding Chapter Fourteen extend to a psychotheology of:  health, illness, and healing.  A psychotheological model of psychotherapy likewise falls within the thoughtful ken of interest, of Ellens.

Ellens deserves much credit for superbly crafting a text which interestingly and informatively explores the challenging terrain at the interface of psychology, religion, and spirituality.  Psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, clergy members, theologians, and pastors are among those who professionally may be edified very considerably by the masterful work of Ellens, as put to paper in this very fine book.

© 2009 Leo Uzych

Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare.


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