Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Converts - A Secret Weapon in the New Evangelization.

Say the word "evangelize" to many Catholics and the first thing that will spring to their is "oh, yeah, that's that thing Protestants do, right?" Wrong. Catholic popes have been imploring the faithful to go forth and evangelize for decades and the need to evangelize has become a major focus for the Church since the Second Vatican Council. Avery Cardinal Dulles makes this point better than I can,
Vatican I, which met from 1869-1870, used the term gospel (evangelium) only once and never used the terms evangelize and evangelization. Less than a century later, Vatican II mentioned the gospel 157 times and used the verb evangelize eighteen times and the noun evangelization thirty-one times.1
As important as evangelization, and indeed the "New Evangelization," are to the Church, many (dare I say most) cradle Catholics shy away from the terms as something uncomfortable, something foreign, something Protestant. The Holy Spirit, desirous that the repeated admonitions of the Holy Fathers be heard and acted on, has thus brought to bear a "secret weapon" for the Church - converts from Protestantism. It is, in many cases, these ex-Protestants (e.g. Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Dr. Taylor Marshall, Steve Ray, Tim Staples, Jimmy Akin, Brandon Vogt, and many others) who are ready, willing, and able to go forth and evangelize.2 It is from this rich background, from a tradition that has long emphasized and embraced evangelization (or "evangelism" as many Protestants seem to prefer), that Shaun McAfee comes and he comes ready to share the fruits, the "inside information," of the Protestant world. It is just this that he does in Filling Our Father's House. What Converts Can teach Us about Evangelization, a book I was happy to receive a review copy of in the mail from Sophia Press.

In this great new manual for evangelization, McAfee takes Catholics through the foreign lands of Evangelical Protestant culture mining that culture for the valuable lessons we Catholics can learn about Evangelization from those more accustomed to it than we sometimes are. In this book we become familiar with: how to develop and deliver our "personal testimony," how to read the Bible regularly, how to deepen our "personal relationship" with Jesus, how to develop and lead "small groups," and how to take a more active role in the life of the parish (yes, there's more to it than just showing up on Sunday!)

Each section is well worth the price of the book (especially at only $10.83 for the paperback on Amazon.) I found the chapter on developing and giving a "personal testimony" to be particularly challenging. As readers may have noticed, I tend to write quite a bit about theology, philosophy, apologetics, news, etc, but not overly much about myself. I suppose I'm more Aquinas than Augustine in my writing in that regard. McAfee makes a great case for the power of the story of our conversion to a deeper love for Jesus and the Church. People love stories and would often rather listen to how we came to love Christ and the Church than to hear an argument for the existence of God (although there is a time and place for that important work, too). McAfee gives us the "how" in response to Pope Paul VI's "why,"
Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.3
For example, McAfee recommends having several different "versions" of different lengths ready to go for any opportunity that comes to share your story.

My wife, who has been contemplating starting a "small group" at our parish (she is also a convert from Protestantism where such groups are common) will find the chapter dedicated to that topic invaluable as McAfee again gives not just the "why," but the "how" for starting such groups.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is struggling with jumping into the New Evangelization. As evangelizing has become the primary mission of the Church even in historically Christian lands (which are rapidly becoming "mission territories"), I could even see parishes handing out copies of Filling Our Father's House to "jump-start" the evangelical fervor of their people. If we are to experience the much talked about "new springtime of the Church" in our Western world, indeed if we are to even survive as a Christian culture in the West, we need to first "go forth and make disciples" (Matt 28:19) and McAfee's book is a great way to get started doing just that.

1.  Avery Dulles “John Paul II and the New Evangelization: What does it Mean?” in ed. Ralph Martin and Peter Williamson, John Paul II and the New Evangelization (Cincinnati: Servant/St. Anthony, 2006), 4.

2. Not that only Protestant converts to Catholicism are, or ought to be, the only ones doing this. I myself am a baptized Catholic and try my best here online and in life to evangelize as do many other "cradle Catholics." One needs only think of men like Father Barron, Patrick Coffin, Patrick Madrid, Popes Francis, Benedict, and John Paul, Mother Teresa, and many others here. 
3. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41

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