I wholeheartedly recommend David Zahl’s new book, Seculosity, available today! Please go order it (and pick up my book too if you haven’t yet!).

I’ve never met David in the flesh, but I expect to do so very soon when he comes through Nashville on his book tour in May. But I feel like I know him already, not only because we have a lot of mutual friends, but because we grew up on the same music and movies, and we are interested in answers to all the same questions. I was absolutely delighted last year when David agreed to endorse my book, Truth Matters, and I was pleased when he sent me an early copy of his new book a few weeks ago and asked me to share what I thought about it. I knew I would like it; but I didn’t know just how deeply it would speak to me at this moment in my life. Let me explain.

As most of you know, my family and I were received into full communion with the Catholic Church on January 1. As a result, I renounced my ministry in the Episcopal Church. I resigned my very influential and lucrative diocesan position, and I have been unemployed for the past three months. I have no regrets. I’m relieved and excited. By taking these steps, grace has abounded like I could never have imagined. But as you would expect, there have been a few accompanying anxieties. How will I provide for my family? And what about a vocation to ministry? There are many uncertainties. Sticking to a good routine of prayer, writing, exercise, and time with family keeps me focused on how grateful I am for where God has led me. A lot of old friends have proved their mettle in their encouragement and support, and a lot of new friends have made me feel right at home. And reading a book with the kind of assurance of God’s grace that David writes about in Seculosity is the icing on the cake. I am certain of this: Great are the works of the Lord, and there’s nothing I can do (or not do) to change that fact. I am not the main character in my life, thank God!

But I’ve always been an achiever. Big time. If you know me, you know that about me. I’ve had some setbacks and tough times my life – we all do – but I’ve also gone from success to success. Most of all I want to please God and do his will. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with that. It’s who I am; but in periods like the one I’m in now, I am acutely aware of the fact that being “enough” is not the result of anything I’ve ever done or will ever do. I’ve given some good sermons and taught some good lessons. I’ve usually been there for my wife and kids. But like every human being, I have also been a big failure. And even if it’s for good and holy reasons, being unemployed can make a person feel especially like a failure! But that’s ok. That’s the lesson of the fall. Because of sin, everyone and everything is broken. Our brokenness prompts us to present an unnatural self and to imagine others around us according to our own hang-ups. David writes towards the beginning of his book, “We want to feel good about ourselves, and so we edit our personalities to maximize the approval of others. Or we exaggerate hardships to make ourselves seem more heroic or others more villainous.” Yep.

Each chapter of Seculosity faces a different pitfall that stands in the way of worshiping God and thereby being our true selves, which are God’s construction, not our own. David reminds us that there are as many false gods as there are people, but there are some major ones that almost all of us bow down to in the 21st Century: work, food, technology, and even romantic love. The book ends with a breathtaking appeal to letting go of all of it and giving in to the saving grace of God, who died and rose again that we may be transformed. I’m not ashamed to say, I was moved to tears. As you can guess, I’m in a pretty emotional place in my life right now. A great place, but an intensely sensitive one.

David is a Protestant and I am a Catholic. There are one or two places in his analysis when I would want to put some of my own Catholic imagination in dialogue with the implicit Reformation view he shares in various places in the book. But when I closed Seculosity, I had no doubt that it was the work of a brother Christian with gifts to offer us all. The penultimate chapter, “The Seculosity of Jesusland,” is an astonishing proposition of a religion of grace that does not caricature the idea of law. As a Catholic, I wanted to run straight to confession and mass to experience exactly this kind of religion! “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”

When I read the closing words of David’s conclusion, I felt like the people who heard Peter’s speech in Acts 2. I was “cut to the heart.” I wanted to be saved. And then I remembered. I have been saved! I am being saved! I will be saved!
Thank you, David, for reminding me just how great are the works of the Lord, whose grace is always enough.

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Andrew Petiprin is a Catholic writer and former Episcopal priest. He is the author of Truth Matters: Knowing God and Yourself.