by Robert Barron with John L. Allen Jr.
This book is written by John Allen but Bishop Barron's name appears first as an author partly because (I'm sure) his name sells books and also because his articles, books, interviews, and YouTube videos are quoted so extensively that the number of his words in the book potentially easily rival that of Allen. It's a little odd, though, because so much of the book is Allen saying something along the lines of "Bishop Barron believes..." followed by a summary of the bishop's beliefs and then some long quotes.
Every quote, and there were a lot of them, was in italics. It was a little annoying to read so much in italics. Because they were indented on the right and the left, I don't think the italics were necessary.
The book begins with a brief biography of Bishop Barron. Then it explains how the bishop prefers to begin conversations about the Catholic faith - with beauty, goodness, and truth. There's a chapter on evangelization in general, and then a handful of chapters addressing areas in which Catholics often struggle to explain and defend the faith including the relationship between faith and science, the sex-abuse scandal, and the relationship between religion and violence. Finally, the book ends with two chapters on Robert Barron as a bishop and his ministry, Word on Fire.
Bishop Barron is one of the bright spots of the New Evangelization. In the years since this phrase first started circulating, there have been a lot of books and tweets and articles about it, but it's hard to point to any results. Bishop Barron seems to be drawing notice, not just from Catholics, but from many of other faiths, including those who proclaim no faith at all. His thoughts on how to draw people to the Catholic church, how to teach what the church believes, and how to interact with people who are antagonistic toward the church are insightful and thought-provoking.
American Catholics today generally don't have to worry about Protestant bigots swooping down with pitchforks and torches to destroy their parishes, but they do have to cope with an elite snobbery that says religion is backward, benighted, superstitious, and dangerous because of the primitive hatreds and prejudices it unleashes. They have to live in a culture that tries to force them, in a thousand ways, to separate their minds from their hearts--telling them that if they insist, for sentimental or psychological reasons, on clinging to a religious faith, it can't have anything to do with the way they see the world, or with their lives as professionals and as citizens.Allen provides background on Bishop Barron's life, but also the development of his thoughts on evangelization. He's been on YouTube nearly as long as there's been a YouTube, embracing new avenues for reaching not just Catholics who want to learn more about their faith, but all sorts of people who can explore new ideas from the safety of their homes. He draws them in with conversations about popular movies and books, but he has particular ideas about how to being a conversation about the Catholic faith. It's not about teaching them the rules or telling them they're wrong in how they life or what they think. Instead, Bishop Barron begins with beauty. Then goodness and truth. There are lots of examples in the book of what beauty, goodness, and truth look like in the Catholic faith and in conversations with people who don't know Catholics very well.
The point that resonated with me was the idea that we can't begin a conversation by telling someone he or she is wrong.
Barron believes that Catholicism's rules make sense only to someone who's already been enchanted by the faith and the Church, and being hit over the heat with rules at the beginning isn't a very reliable pathway to enchantment.I've seen this sort of engagement (or failure to do so) in our own community.
One way to successfully attract people to a faithful life is to live that kind of life, a saintly life. Bishop Barron speaks often of how attractive and inspiring are the lives of people like St. Teresa of Kolkata.
In that sense, Barron believes, the saints and the martyrs illustrate what morality is all about. It's not a matter of checking boxes to make sure you're following the rules but rather one of becoming the kind of person whose own life is fully ordered to the good, and thus has the power to change the world. In other words, it's by looking at the saints that one understands why morality matters, and what it's intended to produce.I think this idea of living a life fully ordered to the good shifts the focus of evangelization from the actions of others to those of ourselves. A life of sacrificial giving and loving reveals our faith in a way credentials and books and verbal arguments never can.
I don't know the best way to evangelize, but Bishop Barron's strategies and recommendations make sense to me. I'm thinking seriously about assigning this book to my children in high school for Apologetics.
Evangelization isn't about a concept or an idea, but about a friendship with Christ that you have, and that you want someone else to have too.
I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. The opinions above are my own. The links above are not affiliate links, but the book is also available at Amazon (affiliate link).