Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church
Basic Books, $27.99, 280 pp.
In March of 1979, Pope John Paul II opened his first encyclical, Redemptor hominis, with these words: “The Redeemer of humanity, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history.” This simple proclamation, coming as it did after the tumultuous decade that preceded the new pope’s election, signaled his intent to reorient the church around its true center. In 1979 many saw the faith languishing amid the postwar dissolution of Catholic subcultures in Europe and the United States. John Paul II understood the sociological truism that living churches must evangelize or die, and did not wring his hands in anxiety about Catholic identity. In the spirit of Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii nuntiandi and its reminder that the church exists to preach the gospel, he became the world’s first evangelical pope. With his own preaching, from papal visits to world youth days, John Paul II initiated the “New Evangelization.”
This programmatic vision of the church as agent of the New Evangelization is the primary basis for George Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism. In the Anglophone world, Weigel is arguably the most widely recognized interpreter of John Paul II. And while Avery Dulles...