All posts tagged: book review

Martyrdom Is No Bloodless Myth

The fifth canto of the British poet Geoffrey Hill’s poem “Genesis” contains what I think are among the most quietly terrifying lines in modern English religious verse: By blood we live, the hot, the cold To ravage and redeem the world: There is no bloodless myth will hold. And by Christ’s blood are men made free Though in close shrouds their bodies lie Under the rough pelt of the sea; Though Earth has rolled beneath her weight The bones that cannot bear the light. Hill structures his poem around the days of biblical creation, each day placing himself in the immanent frame of the divinely-authored world, a world right on the razor’s edge where despoliation and redemption meet with such a mathematical precision that neither seems to intermingle with the other. The violence of Hill’s sinful world resists its redemption through the generation of pain and the production of blood; the redeemer, however, meets blood with blood, his own blood, a counter-blood by which “are men made free.” Thus, when Hill delivers the line, “There …

The Exemplary Clarity of the Five Proofs of the Existence of God

Edward Feser has a definite gift for making fairly abstruse philosophical material accessible to readers from outside the academic world, without compromising the rigor of the arguments or omitting challenging details. As scholarly virtues go, this is one of the rarer ones—in part because it takes considerable patience both to acquire and to practice, and in part because it requires a genuine desire to entrust difficult ideas to those from whom they are typically withheld. Perhaps the best example of this gift in action hitherto was his 2006 volume Philosophy of Mind: A Beginner’s Guide (at least, speaking for myself, I have both recommended it to general readers and used it with undergraduates, in either case with very happy results). But this present volume, Five Proofs of the Existence of God, is no less substantial an achievement. In it, Feser has undertaken to explain and defend several of the most demanding traditional arguments for the reality of God, as thoroughly as possible, in a way that communicates their internal coherence to readers who may have no …

Could Dialogue Between Science and Religion Be the Disease Rather Than the Cure?

During the past year I had the privilege of working with the McGrath Institute for Church Life’s Science & Religion Initiative at the University of Notre Dame. Recognizing that polling data consistently indicates that the apparent conflict between “science” and “religion” is the leading cause of young people leaving the Catholic Church, the McGrath Institute developed this initiative with the goal of aiding high school teachers in both fields re-imagine curricula that would explore the relationship between science and religion and challenge the notion that the two are fundamentally opposed. In the course of my interactions with the participants, I was amazed at their expertise in their given field, their willingness to thoughtfully engage core concepts and thought patterns from different fields, and their commitment to their vocation as educators. I am sure that I learned far more from them than they did from me in the course of our time together. Perhaps the most important insight I gained from the experience of facilitating the online forum, in which participants reflected on various attempts to …

Review: “The Gift of Birth” by Susan Windley-Daoust

“They were ‘doing birth’ to me rather than helping me ‘give birth,’” writes Susan Windley-Daoust of her first experience of childbirth, which she had hoped to do naturally but that instead resulted in “failure to progress” and a C-section. “That birth experience ended up being spiritually abusive by the ongoing treatment of me as an object (and not just an object; close to an object of ridicule). My experience may have been worse than some, but it was not that unusual” (14). So many women are terrified at the notion or scarred by the past experience of giving birth in the U.S. today. In The Gift of Birth: Discerning God’s Presence During Childbirth, Windley-Daoust speaks to the need for healing and also for truth: for women to recognize and reject the culturally accepted, destructive lie that “childbirth will break you: you can’t do it without the drugs; that’s just life and it needs to be this way” (14). Her first birth gave her the impetus to be “extremely intentional and attentive” to her three subsequent …

Review: “Beyond the Abortion Wars” by Charles Camosy

There may be nothing quite as divisive and seemingly stuck in a political quagmire than abortion in twenty-first century America. This is exactly why Charlie Camosy’s book Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation is so timely and so needed in the conversation, one he proposes Millennials are ready to abandon in favor of a new political and social binary. Instead of simply entrenching his arguments deeper in the familiar, worn paths of pro-life and pro-choice rhetoric, Camosy explores the real, varied history of each side as well as the true nature of the arguments that keep each side fueled passionately against one another. He doesn’t shy away from the deeply problematic moral question of human life and its protection, while at the same time recognizing the intricate moral tangle of the woman’s body and agency in both sex and pregnancy. It is this careful approach to both the child and the mother at a moral, philosophical level as well as practically and judicially that is refreshing and needed if society is …

Review: “Preaching as Worship” by Michael Quicke

How might Catholic parishes better form worshippers in, through, and for liturgy? Michael Quicke’s Preaching as Worship: An Integrative Approach to Formation in Your Church provides insight into this question from a decidedly different perspective than the usual approaches from liturgical and sacramental theologians, pastoral practitioners, or even parish councils. Quicke provides an honest and self-reflective pitch for understanding preaching as worship from the perspective of his ministerial experience in predominantly Baptist churches in the United Kingdom and the United States—what many might call a “nonliturgical background,” though he accurately acknowledges that even informal worship patterns create liturgical forms (14). As a professor of preaching at Northern Seminary (Lombard, Illinois), Quicke was deeply influenced by key architect of “ancient-future” worship theology Robert E. Webber’s call to renew “shallow” evangelical worship that was dominated by the pastor with the congregation as “little more than audience,” and devoid of mystery, a “lecture-oriented, music-driven, performance-centered, and program-controlled model” (15–16). In this work, Quicke unpacks his own reexamination of principles and practices as a preacher in light of Webber’s …

Review: “Connected Toward Communion” by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome

New media technology has connected us to astounding stores of information. The same technology has also been blamed for isolating those who develop unhealthy digital dependencies. New technology always giveth and taketh away. It begs the question, to what end are our technological developments aimed? If they are neither all good nor all bad, then cultivating a culture of communication that promotes the common good while avoiding the pitfalls of technological decadence is worth contemplating. In her book, Connected Toward Communion: The Church and Social Communication in the Digital Age, Daniella Zsupan-Jerome offers a fitting response to the telos of technology question. Her lodestar is the collection of Church documents that have addressed the challenges and opportunities of mediated communication. From the Second Vatican Council’s Inter Mirifica to recent World Communications Day addresses, Zsupan-Jerome traces the Church’s thinking on the highly malleable subject of social communications. Much of the popular rhetoric surrounding new media relies on the language of connection for envisioning what this transformation means. Wired magazine, the magisterial guide for all things high …

Review: “Cybertheology” by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ

Much of what has been written in recent years about the intersection of theology and information and communications technology has focused on how best to use the Internet and social media to spread the Gospel. And in the context of the New Evangelization, we talk about evangelizing the culture, a far more difficult and ambitious task. If we are to succeed at either of these endeavors, then we have to know and understand today’s digital culture. This is harder than it would, at first, seem, largely because we miss the wood for the trees. Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ’s Cybertheology: Thinking Christianity in the Era of the Internet enables us to step back, take a deeper look, and reexamine our assumptions. It is a slim, timely book that raises more questions than it answers, one that manages to steer a middle course between enthusiastic appreciation of the Web’s capabilities on the one hand, and sharp criticism of its deficiencies on the other. This delicate balancing act is no easy feat, neither is it wholly successful, but …

Review: “Bible Basics for Catholics” by John Bergsma

With a title like Bible Basics for Catholics: A New Picture of Salvation History, this is not the kind of book that broadcasts learned self-esteem at the coffee house. Better order that flat white to go. No, reading this book amounts to an admission of humility that, as Bergsma writes on the opening page, “You ought to know the Bible better than you do, and you probably feel vaguely guilty that you don’t” (1). The first meaning of the title as plea for help yields to its second, more significant sense: these are Bible basics for Catholics, and so Bergsma offers a distinctly Catholic introduction to salvation history. Bergsma wants to provide for us the aerial view of Scripture, what it is “all about”—which he tells us he missed in his years of graduate study (2). The Church’s liturgy in particular has helped him see “the unity of the Bible through the concept of the covenant” (ibid.). Covenant, informed by biblical and ancient Near Eastern covenants, is “a legal way to make someone a part of your family” (4). The …

Review: “The Heart of the Diaconate” by Deacon James Keating

Deacon James Keating’s The Heart of the Diaconate: Communion with the Servant Mysteries of Christ is a gift to the Church. His book is fruitful reading not only for deacons, bishops, and priests, but also for anyone in or involved with diaconal formation. The author, a theologian whose daily work is the formation of priests and deacons, is uniquely qualified to write a book on what is at heart of the diaconate. At the heart of the diaconate is communion with Christ through his servant mysteries, chief among which is the Eucharist, the truest expression of and so the only starting point for diakonia. Keating’s book is comprised of an introduction and conclusion with three chapters in between. These three chapters cover discerning the call to the diaconate, the period of formation leading to ordination, and diaconal ministry. In my view each of these chapters is worthy of a book. One thing about which Keating changed my mind is the necessity of the transitional diaconate for those men preparing for priestly ordination. “Seminary formation,” he argues, …