Summary: A helpful look at a reforming movement within Catholicism, but a lot of inside baseball.
I have read a number of positive reviews of Evangelical Catholicism from people I trust. But more than anything, this book reminded me how little I actually know about Catholicism.
This is a book that is very inside baseball. For those of us outside the Catholic Church, a book that was about 1/3 the length would have been appropriate.
As a non-Catholic, and one that was made very aware of my lack of knowledge it is hard to review this book. But there are things that really stood out to me.
One, I think the main reoccuring theme of the book, that the church has done a very poor job catechizing (teaching) its members is true. John Paul II started a program of ‘new evangelicalization’, which is a dual, active focus on evangelizing those outside the church, and catechizing those inside the church. I think almost no one really disputes this. How it is done I am sure has lots of controversy. But the fact that it is needed, I think is probably less controversial.
Second, Weigel is very clearly a conservative political voice. He is very outspoken about issues of life and sexual ethics. But he also is known for personally advokating conservative political and economic issues and beliving that the church should focus on life issues, but not economic issues. The problem with that perspective is that it ignores a significant part of Catholic social teaching. And Pope Francis, who was elected after this book was released, has clearly not taken Wiegels advice. I ran across this article when I was looking up Wiegel’s background for this review and it highlights how Pope Francis is basically the opposite of what Weigel was suggesting the new pope should focus on.
Third, in spite of the fact that Weigel on several occations says that his focus is not on nostalgia and returning to 1950s era Catholic culture, much of the advice seems to be doing exactly that. Weigel is a conservative voice that does not seem to be reactionary, but instead is conservative out of deeply held ideological and theological values. But those values seem to have created some blind spots.
For instance this quote (rough quote because I was listening to the audiobook) in regard to his advice about the Catholic academic world. “Modern [Catholic] academics are suggesting the modern academic theology is just doing what Aquinas did with Aristostle, only with Marx and postmodern philosphy. What is different should be clear, Artistotle was right about many things, and Marx is not.” There is certainly some truth to this, but you cannot suggest that modern philosophy can be reduced to Marx. Or that everything that Aquinas adapted from Aristotle was correct.
A little bit later in the same section, “The curriculum of Evangelical Catholic Colleges will lay heavy and required stress on an encounter with the classics, including that classic of bibical religion, the bible.” and then “Evangelical Catholic Colleges and University programs will sponsor study abroad programs, specifically aimed at deepening the student’s appriciation of Catholic culture, especially the Christian culture of Europe, the site of the gospel’s first encultureation.”
Except that as a global religion, it is not clear to me, that a western classical education is really essentially Catholic. It can be Catholic, but is that really the most Catholic education? And you can really only suggest that Catholic culture was originally European if by Europe you include all of the Middle East and Northern Africa.
I am a person that is fairly progressive politically. So Wiegel hit a lot of buttons for me. I know that progressives can just as uncritally place upon the church progressive values as what Weigel did with conservative values. It was a good reminder for me that I really do need to be reading and paying attention to other theologically informed voices that have different social values to challenge my own understanding.
On the whole I am not sure I would recommended this to the general Evangelical/Protestant reader. On the one hand, this is a deeply encouraging book because of the focus on Christ and the desire for health within the church. On the other it is deeply focused on a lot of little issues that require background knowledge. The Catholic jargon level is fairly high and Catholic definitions of a number of the terms is different from Protestant definitions of the same terms. I have read enough Catholic theology that I don’t think I misunderstood nearly as much as someone that was coming at this new, but I still think I probably missed some of the nuance.