Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

FAITH Magazine September-October 2009

Who was John? The Fourth Gospel Debate After Pope Benedict XVI' Jesus of Nazareth

by John Redford, Commendation by Cardinal Avery Dulles SJ, St Pauls, 319pp, £16.95

Canon Redford has written Who was John? in a lucid and at times dryly witty style. At one point he dismisses an argument against the authenticity of the fourth gospel in the following terms: "This is a bizarre combination of extreme scepticism regarding evidence in favour of the tradition combined with unsubstantiated hypothesis accepted in favour of arguments contrary to the tradition." He goes on to observe "It is a combination by no means unknown in Johannine criticism."

His objective in writing this study is to contribute to the debate surrounding the authorship of the fourth Gospel initiated by Pope Benedict's book Jesus of Nazareth. Pope Benedict accepts the hypothesis that the fourth Gospel was written by a certain "Presbyter John" who is not to be confused with the Apostle John but who was nonetheless the latter's "transmitter and mouthpiece". Canon Redford in contrast maintains that modern criticism has not overturned the older tradition that John the Apostle was the author of the fourth Gospel. Despite this disagreement Pope Benedict and Canon Redford share a more profound common purpose: regardless of precisely who wrote the fourth Gospel both scholars wish to uphold the historical reliability of the fourth Gospel.

Canon Redford's study is on the whole closely argued and basically convincing. As far as a student or seminarian is concerned the book is well worth the cover price for the bibliography and end notes alone, and it is a more than competent introduction to the field. However Who was John? is not an altogether flawless work.

In certain passages it suffers quite simply from being badly edited; in places the syntax veers towards the opaque. Sometimes Canon Redford's arguments suffer a loss of vigour because their presentation is complicated by a perhaps laudable but ultimately distracting attempt to reference as many other scholars as possible. In the earlier chapters of the book Canon Redford references his own previous publications to such an extent that the reader cannot escape the impression that he is reworking old material.

However these are minor criticisms. A good prose style whilst desirable is not the sole criteria by which one may judge good theological writing, and if the material is of sufficiently good quality it bears repeating. This work also has great strengths. Canon Redford touches upon a number of fascinating themes: his contention that John's description of Jesus as the "Word of God" is rooted more in rabbinic literature than in a Hellenistic culture is fascinating and opens a rich seam of possibilities. Moreover in the later chapters of the book when he discusses the evidence for the identity of the beloved disciple to be found within the Gospel his arguments are thorough and convincing.

Canon Redford has provided an admirable introduction to his subject which is not overly simplistic and so patronising to the reader nor so complex as to be restricted only to those already well-versed in the subject. This is no mean feat given how esoteric and specialised modern biblical criticism has become.

This book does not always make for easy reading. However it would be churlish not to acknowledge the important contribution it makes to a field that is of paramount importance

to the state of Christianity today. Any attempt to demystify the field of Scriptural studies and to widen participation in the important questions surrounding Holy Scripture from an academic elite to a more widespread readership must ultimately be of benefit to the Church and so is to be commended. This is both Canon Redford's and the Pope's intention.

Fr Kevin Douglas

GK Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy: The Making of GKC 1874-1908

by William Oddie, Oxford University Press, viii + 401pp, £2J

Around a hundred years ago The Times newspaper invited prominent authors of the time to submit articles under the title "What's wrong with the world?" GK Chesterton's response was as short as it was profound. "Dear Sirs," he wrote "I am". In reviewing this book it is tempting to employ a similar, albeit less metaphysical device: "Dear Sirs, Buy this book". I cannot leave things there. Not least because a hundred years later the use of "Dear Sirs" is likely to elicit a chorus of feminist outrage which compels me to add that any madams reading this would do well to buy this book as well (I'm sure that helped).

Reading Chesterton is a bit like watching Star Wars. Not those terrible new ones with the computer generated bunny but the original ones. Don't worry, I'm not about to go off on some tedious exposition about the force. What I mean is simply that the great works of Chesterton, books like Heretics, Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man leave upon the reader the impression that they have joined the story as it draws to its conclusion or has already ended. Chesterton writes as a man who has been on a long journey. "There are two ways of getting home" he writes, "and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place".

The majority of Chesterton's best apologetic writing begins with his arrival at the place his journey finally came to an end, that is with Christian orthodoxy "as understood by everybody calling himself Christian until a very short time ago". He writes as a man who seems to come out of nowhere, as though he sprang into the world a fully formed thirty-four year old Catholic author and genius. The very idea that he might have been born or had parents seems almost absurd, like the idea of one's grandparents having once been babies. Yet, just as the original Star Wars films gave us a tantalising glimpse into the history of the main characters, so Chesterton leaves us in no doubt that his own childhood was of immense importance to the development of his ideas. Chesterton's emphasis on theimportance of the nursery to his personal growth is surpassed only by how little he tells us about what he actually did there, or how he came to travel from the nursery to fame and his new found faith.

For fans of Chesterton, William Oddie's book Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy is the long awaited prequel. Here thankfully, Chesterton and Star Wars part company. Unlike the rather disappointing Star Wars prequels, this book should be a delight to existing fans of Chesterton and newcomers alike. Oddie tells the story of the man from childhood to his life as a young adult, his marriage and emergence on to the public stage right through to the publication of Orthodoxy in 1908. This is not simply a novelization of a man's life. Often with books of this kind fanciful statements are made and we have only the author's word that they are true, but William Oddie has gone to remarkable lengths to research every aspect of Chesterton's life. We are treated to lengthyquotations from primary sources including eyewitness descriptions of the family home, unfinished stories Chesterton wrote as a very young child, a diary Chesterton kept as a boy and school report cards, right through to accounts of his wedding day and letters he wrote to his wife.

It would be a mistake though to think of this book as merely the story of the man. It is primarily the story of his ideas. Quoting extensively from Chesterton's poems, letters and articles (many previously unpublished) William Oddie guides us skilfully through the development of Chesterton's ideas, from the anti-clerical pessimism of his youth to his gradual drift towards orthodoxy and eventual conversion to Roman Catholicism. It is a delight to discover ideas in situ that are referred back to in his later works and to be shown the steps that led between them.

All in all this is a practical, well written, highly accessible book that belongs in the hands of everybody who has ever enjoyed the writing of Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

James Preece

The New Evangelization: Overcoming the Obstacles

edited by Steven Boguslawski OP and Ralph Martin, Paulist Press, U7pp, $16.9J

My first thought on seeing the title of this work, was that I was going to find here practical guidance on overcoming the obstacles that appear to prevent many from truly encountering the Gospel, whether it be the un-evangelised in our pews or on our streets. What I discovered was that the main obstacles that this work seeks to overcome and discuss are the obstacles that stop us, as Catholics, wishing to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those around us.

The book contains a series of lectures given at Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit in 2005 and only recently brought to press. The late Cardinal Avery Dulles gave two of the lectures: Vatican II and Evangelisation and Current Theological Obstacles to Evangelisation. For these two contributions alone this book deserves to be read.

In his first lecture Dulles notes that there has been a blindness to the missionary imperative of the Second Vatican Council, and reminds us that the Council in line with tradition calls for all people to be evangelised, and reminds us that sadly many within the Church "know a good many doctrines of the Church but seem never to have encountered the living Christ". For this reviewer, it was the second Dulles article which was the most telling. He chooses to concentrate on only one obstacle among many, and this he identifies as "an exaggerated form of egalitarianism that puts every religion, every conviction, and every moral practice on the same level, giving no higher status or authority to any particular creed or group". He considers how this attitude has permeated the Church andtherefore weakens if not abolishes a missionary spirit. In part, he seems to suggest that it is a false ecumenism that has helped this attitude to become so prevalent. He finally considers the effects of this individualistic secularity on our teaching and belief in the Last Things (Eschatology). If our vision of the life to come is of heaven as a "final and universal human right" one of the main reasons to propose the Gospel to the world is removed.

Ralph Martin in his Who can be Saved? What does Vatican II teach? responds to and continues Dulles' investigation. He detects a belief among many Catholics that "Many are called and virtually everybody is chosen." He reminds us that Vatican II does indeed teach us that God offers the possibility of salvation to people who have never heard the gospel, but he then reminds us of the important qualifications that the Council makes, and that many appear to have forgotten.

The late Fr Richard John Neuhaus, once a columnist for this magazine, continues the theme in his lecture Reviving the Missionary Mandate, where he examines Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Redemptoris Missio. Cardinal George of Chicago then looks at the Evangelisation of Culture, concentrating on the US but with a very direct applicability to the British scene. Francis Martin looks at the Scriptural background to evangelisation and the work of the Holy Spirit. Fr Robert Rivers then turns to a more practical approach in From Maintenance to Mission: Evangelisation and the Revitalisation of the Parish. He quotes a couple from his parish who he tells us, asked him "Father all this talk about evangelization is great. But who is going to take care of us while you're outthere taking care of them?" He perceives that our parishes have become preoccupied with our own concerns and have forgotten about those who appear to be outside. He proposes that we need to re-examine the concept of the disciple, reminding us that we all remain learners who must live in a true relationship to the person of Christ. Marc Montminy responds to Fr Rivers from the situation in his own parish.

The book finishes with A Study of Hispanic Catholics: Why are they leaving the Catholic Church by Edwin Hernandez, which gives an interesting overview applicable on both sides of the Atlantic. Philp Jenkins' Trends in Global Christianity: Implications for the new Evangelisation concludes the work with a look at areas of Church growth throughout the world. He opens with the not-very-encouraging quote from St Vincent de Paul: "Jesus said his Church would last until the end of time, but he never mentioned Europe."

Fr David Standen

Unprotected. A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student

Miriam Grossman MD, Sentinel, xxiv+200pp, £8.9J

This book is something of a cri de coeur. A practising psychiatrist observes that in every other field, professionals are bound to warn their clients about risky lifestyles, whether it is a question of exercise, healthy eating or the use of tanning beds. When it comes to sexual morality, the only message allowed is "make sure you're protected." The problem is that sexually transmitted infections, dangers to fertility and psychological devastation are direct consequences of sexual promiscuity which enjoys protected status as a behaviour: otherwise we would be "judgemental."

Grossman illustrates her case with real life stories of students who have come to her in difficulty. After describing the psychological damage done to girls who have been "protected" physically, she concludes "there is no condom for the heart." She details the cavalier attitude to HPV which is regarded as an inevitable part of growing up on campus. As she points out, it is not inevitable but completely preventable if young people do not have sex with others who have been sexually active: she calls upon professionals to tell young people the truth.

In a chapter that is perhaps more easily acceptable in the US than in Britain, she offers a "memo" to the APA (American Psychological Association) that "Believing in God is good for you", arguing again that psychologists should move beyond their own prejudices and accept the evidence, offer young people the truth.

The question of HIV is addressed with devastating honesty, comparing the approach to HIV with the approach to tuberculosis. As a communicable disease, certain legislative measures are in place to protect public health and roommates will be screened and informed of the possible risk. In the case of HIV, one could certainly argue for a degree of discretion but the current orthodoxy is that even utterly irresponsible high-risk behaviour may not be subjected to any kind of sanction.

Post-abortion counselling, as we know from experience in England, is something largely confined to those pro-life groups who accept that there is such a thing as post-abortion trauma. Grossman questions the assumption made through political correctness that there will probably be no consequences. She points out that various websites and public information services helped people after hurricane Katrina to cope with the stress that they had experienced but that there is nothing similar for women who have had an abortion which can be a personal "hurricane" for them. Grossman's professional experience leads her to challenge the secularist consensus in her profession that since abortion is a normal and good thing, it is necessary to ignore the consequences for women.

This is an important book, coming as it does, from an entirely professional perspective, and drawing from the fruits of clinical experience. It deserves to be read both by those in the field and those responsible for policy. When the secularist agenda is making young people sick, it is indeed time to "blow the whistle."

Fr Timothy Finigan

Faith Magazine