Perhaps I was too hard on ‘From Christendom to Apostolic Mission’

There is nothing in the above inadequate description of the Christian vision that claims any originality; others could no doubt give a better account.

Anonymous. From Christendom to Apostolic Mission. Bismarck, ND, University of Mary Press, 2020, pg. 66 .

The quotation above, from the very book itself, would sum up my critique of this book.

For the last 8 months or so I have been highly critical of the book From Christendom to Apostolic Mission: Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age which was published with no named author in 2020. Since its appearance I have seen it pop up all over the place especially in my own Diocese. Ever since I read the book I have criticized it heavily as lazy, inadequate, pietistic and unoriginal. My basic evaluation of the book after some conversations and a number of readings has not changed.

However, perhaps I was too hard.

There are many valid and correct points made in this book that I would not dispute. My simple and critical evaluation is that the book is inadequate and adds nothing of substantial value to what many regard as the most important topic in the life of the Church.

We might then note these two basic modes by which Christianity interacts with human societies: an apostolic mode and a Christendom mode. The first is her way of confronting a society with a very different overall vision than her own; the second is her mode of acting when Christianity has fertilized the soil out of which the society’s basic assumptions spring.

Ibid.; pgs. 18 – 19.

This basic definition is fair enough. One might quibble with the highly reductionist definition of Christendom but I will certainly allow latitude in definition of terms when ‘mode’ is attached. However, the author then goes on to say the following:

Putting it this way is of course if far too simplistic: human societies are dynamic, and the degree to which Christianity is formative of a society’s culture and vision is never complete and static. Nonetheless, it can be of use to view these two modes as “ideal types” in order to inquire how best to respond to the cultural matrix we currently inhabit.

Ibid., pg. 19.

Yes, it is too simplistic. That summarizes my whole critique. Can it be of use to use these two modes as ideal types? If so, it is will be the duty of the book to evidence and argue for that position. Frankly, the weakness of the argument is prevenient:

Peter’s words found resonance in the deep substratum of the minds of his hearers, and three thousand converted in one day. And once converted to faith in Christ, these new believers did not need to be brought to an entirely different way of seeing the world; rather they could be welcomed into the newborn Church and take their places as intelligent believers fairly quickly.

Ibid., pg 17.

Such a view of the proclamation of the Gospel is wholly deficient. It does, in my view, implicitly deny the uniqueness, the un-expectedness, the un-looked for-ness, of the Resurrection of Jesus – an ‘entirely different way of seeing the world.’ While I would not at all deny the author’s belief in the Resurrection of Jesus the claim made in the above quotation is either too simplistic or, as is happens often these days, molding the Sacred Scripture to fit a narrative we desire to forward rather than Revelation as it is.

Not only was the Resurrection of Jesus an utterly unique and unexpected event, it’s implications were were likewise. See the lack of understanding on behalf of the Apostles that is recorded in Scripture. See how even recognizing the risen Jesus was difficult for all of them. Look at the heresies and misunderstandings that are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of Saint Paul and of Saint John. There is simply no reason to think that the words of Peter “found resonance in the deep substratum of the minds of of his hearers” nor that new believers could “take their places as intelligent believers fairly quickly.”

I see this sort of thing all the time.

One will hear people talk about Saint Peter as though he never met the Jesus risen from the dead or that that meeting had no real impact on him. You hear constantly about ‘the simple fisherman’ or ‘the brash personality’ or ‘ the man who denied Jesus.’ All of this is true but is also along way from the whole truth. Read about Saint Peter in the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of Saint Peter that are in Sacred Scripture and you will get a much clear picture of how the Resurrection of Jesus affects a person, their actions, their personality and their work.

On several occasions I have heard about how the Church after Pentecost did have any buildings or structures, didn’t work about schools and so forth but just went out and preached after Pentecost.

Really? Did they not have the Upper Room in which they stayed for a long time? Did they not remain in Jerusalem for a number of years? Did they not have people come and make monetary contributions? Oh yes they did.

I do not mean to make a mountain out of a mole hill. I do mean to suggest that a poor or simplistic interpretation of things is a critical flaw and can lead to poor conclusions.

To whit:

The last several centuries have seen an increasingly bitter contest in the West between two competing ruling visions: a largely Christian vision that had pertained for many centuries, and a humanistic and materialistic vision that began to emerge in the latter part of the seventeenth century, which goes by the general name of ‘the Enlightenment.

Ibid., pg. 29.

This is quite true and, I would say, quite obvious. Then on the very next page:

Until around World War I, Europe was by and large a set of Christendom cultures, though insightful observers were seeing the direction toward which as headed much earlier.

Ibid., pg. 30.

This is likewise true and the description that follows it is fair enough. Therein lies my fundamental point: insightful observers have see all of these things much earlier. The decline was far ahead of World War I as were the the cultural trends and ideas so opposed to the Christian vision and practice. The simplistic treatment of the problem leads to a simplistic offering of a solution. Which leads me to return to the beginning of this article.

There is nothing in the above inadequate description of the Christian vision that claims any originality; others could no doubt give a better account.

Ibid., pg. 66

Excatlcy so.

Kindly note that writing in your own book that your own book is inadequate does not free that book from being criticized as such.

I will not even get into the fact that he subtitle of the book is Pastoral Strategies for and Apostolic Age and no pastoral strategies of any substance are given in the book.

There are people who can profit from this book. People who need to have their complacency shaken and their mental outlook reframed. That is true and this book can work well for them.

If the people mentioned above are the clergy, diocesan chancery staff members, Directors Religious Education/Faith Formation/Youth Ministry, etc., then we are in terrible trouble – blind guides leading the blind comes to mind.

If you are in the group I just mentioned and haven’t already realized pretty much everything written in book From Christendom to Apostolic Mission then I can only wonder at what you have been reading, who you have been talking to and where you have been spending your time.

From Christendom to Apostolic Mission is not a bad book, it is not an offensive book, it will not harm you in any real way it’s just and inadequate description and others give a better account.

Trojan Horse in the City of God by Dietrich VonHilldebrand would be the best one

.Soul of the Apostolate by Jean-Baptiste Chautard would be another.

Saint John Henry Newman figured this all out – read his Sermons Parochial and Plain.

Sherry Weddell was all over this – the first chapter of the book Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell frames the vision quite well. Chapter One: A Generation of Saints from her book Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples gives a tremendously insightful vision of what has happened and how to deal with it.

The Acts XXIX White Paper: Re-Imagining What a Catholic Parish Can Be: A Destination for the 21st Century is a more brief, more accurate and responsive address to the situation at hand.

Perhaps the most practical and encouraging treatment of what to do about all of this is Go Make Disciples: A Common Vision for Evangelization as Proposed by the Most Reverend Donald J. Hying, Bishop of Madison.

Thanks be to God there are many good and even great resources out in the world for those who wish to address the current cultural and ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves. I would submit that we should give greater attention to the good and great resources and leave the inadequate ones where they belong.

That said, whatever helps, helps. I will no more speak harshly about the book From Christendom to Apostolic Mission.

If you wish to leave comments about my thoughts I will read them. I may not respond to them but I will read them.

In laetitia, nulla dies sine Cruce!