Review Twofer: The Romance of Religion, By What Authority?
Two approaches to apologetics
by Gail Deibler Finke
Two popular Patheos bloggers, two broad approaches to apologetics: a twofer review.
Those familiar with bloggers Mark Shea and Dwight Longenecker will be pleased by their new books , and those discovering them for the first time will be delighted.
Mark Shea’s revised By What Authority? is a detailed examination and defense of Catholic doctrines and teachings. Told through the lens of his conversion from Evangelical Christianity to Catholicism by trying to prove Catholicism wrong, it’s entertaining as well as informative.
Known for his blog’s combative and polemical style, Shea here is restrained and wry. His sharp humor is trained on teachings and Biblical interpretations, not on other Christians (for whom he expresses great affection) — but most of all, it’s trained on himself.
A cradle Catholic, I enjoyed Shea’s original book thoroughly both as a way of learning the nuances of my faith and as a way of learning about what Evangelicals believe. I was a fan of the original, and the new edition lives up to its predecessor in its easy to understand explanations of complex ideas, as well as its amusing observations.
Shea’s thesis is that Evangelical Christianity rejects Tradition as the “teachings of men,” but has a tradition of its own it does not question. Next to the through, unbroken, and consistent Tradition of the Church’s Magesterium (teaching authority), Shea demonstrates, it’s the Evangelicals who have created their own “teachings of men” and the Catholics who have preserved the teachings of the Apostles.
I particularly enjoyed the parts on the inexplicable international phenomenon that was The DaVinci Code (people long for Tradition and consistent teachings, Shea says, and cannot distinguish Dan Brown’s laughable “scholarship” from the real thing), and the chapter on “the search for the authentic Jesus,” which alone is worth the price of the whole book.
Fr. Longenecker takes a Big Picture look at Catholic apologetics through the lens of poetry, specifically that of the romantic hero. By romantic hero he’s not talking about medieval romance heroes who die for love, or Harlequin Romance hunks — but about the heroes of myths and fairytales, the seventh sons of sevenths sons who fight giants, kill dragons against all odds, and otherwise manage the impossible.
These stories, Fr. Longenecker says, convey something essential about humanity. And they are summed up in the one, true story of salvation — the story of God who became man, whose crucifixion won victory over death for his people.
Fr. Longenecker is treading in familiar territory here, summing up the work of many other people (notably C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien) who have taken up this theme before. It’s a great introduction to apologetics to people who primarily relate to faith through their emotions and through their reaction to beauty.
In this book Fr. Longenecker, who is a master of short essays in many different tones and styles, seems to have found his voice in a longer work. In previous books this great admirer of G.K. Chesterton has sometimes tended to “out-Chesterton Chesterton,” which is distressingly easy for Chesterton fans to do. The English writer’s rollicking style can quickly turn to a parody of itself.
But in this book Fr. Longenecker tamps down that urge while at the same time presenting a lively, Chestertonian defense of love, miracles, beauty, truth, faith, and (of course) Christ. Just as valuable is his combination of reason and emotion. In an age when emotion all too often trumps all (while, conversely, a sizeable group of people favor reason devoid of emotion), this book is a great example of how, in Catholicism, reason and emotion balance each other out and are necessary to each other.
Whether you’re a “big picture person” or a “detail person,” one of these books is for you. I recommend covering the whole gamut and buying both.
Gail Deibler Finke is the Senior Editor of The Catholic Beat.
Mark Shea: By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition. Ignatius Press, San Francisco; 2013.
Dwight Longenecker, The Romance of Religion: Fightng for Goodness Truth, and Beauty W Publishing Group (an imprint of Thomas Nelson), Nashville; 2014. Available Feb. 4th.
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