The Scrappy Evangelist by Fr Paul Rowan, St Benedict, 656pp, £19
Christian apologetics in the early 21st century is a tough gig. As Fr Paul Rowan reminds us, contemporary Western unbelief has been “culturally induced”, rather than thought out. The postmodern mind has grown allergic to concrete claims to truth, fond of “promoting the journey, but not the arrival”.
To repeat: a tough gig. Help needed. Enter GK Chesterton. Could the path he took be a viable one for postmodern man to follow? Could he help rouse contemporary sceptics to an adventure similar to his?
Fr Rowan believes he can. Once Chesterton had freed himself from the world-view of the aesthetes and the solipsistic depression it induced in him, he was able find his way to what he called the “submerged sunrise of wonder”. With wonder came humility; deep, reciprocal friendships, even with opponents; gratitude; love of paradox; and, of course, conversion, when all the “scraps” of evidence from countless sources converged on Rome.
This great, daunting slab of a book teases out the meaning and applicability for our times of the Chesterton way. Its bulk reflects the author’s determination to leave no stone unturned in this endeavour. Chesterton brings with him to the table St Thomas Aquinas and St Francis. Fr Rowan invites Rahner, Lonergan, von Balthasar, Ratzinger and several others to join them, and adds much of his own wisdom too. There is a tremendous riff on how his own apparently humdrum act of tapping away at a computer to write a book is evidence of cosmic magic.
The Scrappy Evangelist is somewhat weighed down by an inordinate amount of repetition, but it remains compelling to anyone with an interest in where the Church goes next in making a reality of the “Court of the Gentiles” project launched by Benedict XVI, which aimed to bring Catholics into dialogue with contemporary secular culture. Apologists must remain confident that the Holy Spirit “slowly changes hearts and moulds human responses”.
Fr Rowan shows how the Church might stand its ground while keeping both its mind and arms open to the stranger, the cynic and the searcher.
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Make a Donation
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund