Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The New Evangelization and the Bible Part 1

Blessed Pope John Paul II, following the lead of Pope Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi, called on the whole Church to be involved in a New Evangelization leading up to the Millennium year of 2000. In his encyclical letter Redemptoris Missio, JPII declared that "the moment has come to commit all of the Church's energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples(2-3)." This is quite a charge, and one that needs to be heeded, particularly in the West.

Following the lead of his venerable predecessors, Pope Benedict has recently declared that October 11, 2012 will begin a "Year of Faith". It will mark not only the fifty year anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, but also the Synod of Bishops meeting on the New Evangelization.

So, my question to you is what role do the Holy Scriptures have in the New Evangelization?

Here is what Blessed John Paul II said in this regard, in paragraph 39 of his wonderful apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte:

"There is no doubt that this primacy of holiness and prayer is inconceivable without a renewed listening to the word of God. Ever since the Second Vatican Council underlined the pre-eminent role of the word of God in the life of the Church, great progress has certainly been made in devout listening to Sacred Scripture and attentive study of it. Scripture has its rightful place of honour in the public prayer of the Church. Individuals and communities now make extensive use of the Bible, and among lay people there are many who devote themselves to Scripture with the valuable help of theological and biblical studies. But it is above all the work of evangelization and catechesis which is drawing new life from attentiveness to the word of God. Dear brothers and sisters, this development needs to be consolidated and deepened, also by making sure that every family has a Bible. It is especially necessary that listening to the word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in the ancient and ever valid tradition of lectio divina, which draws from the biblical text the living word which questions, directs and shapes our lives."

More recently, Pope Benedict XVI in his recent post-synodal apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini (96) remarked:

"Pope John Paul II, taking up the prophetic words of Pope Paul VI in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, had in a variety of ways reminded the faithful of the need for a new missionary season for the entire people of God. At the dawn of the third millennium not only are there still many peoples who have not come to know the Good News, but also a great many Christians who need to have the word of God once more persuasively proclaimed to them, so that they can concretely experience the power of the Gospel. Many of our brothers and sisters are “baptized, but insufficiently evangelized”. In a number of cases, nations once rich in faith and in vocations are losing their identity under the influence of a secularized culture. The need for a new evangelization, so deeply felt by my venerable Predecessor, must be valiantly reaffirmed, in the certainty that God’s word is effective. The Church, sure of her Lord’s fidelity, never tires of proclaiming the good news of the Gospel and invites all Christians to discover anew the attraction of following Christ."

The use of Scripture in our daily prayer is essential, but how are we to use Scripture in the active evangelization of our culture?


Theophrastus said...

That's a good question. It is easier to give negative examples than positive examples.

I'm not convinced that mass Bible distribution (a la The Gideons) is really effective. Reading the Bible can be difficult, and just giving someone a translation does not ensure that they will be able to understand what they are reading. (That is, if the book is even opened and read!)

Most of the Bible-use examples we think of (praying, studying, lectio divina, preaching) really seem aimed at those who already believe. The Bible has an obvious role in strengthening faith, teaching ourselves about religion, prayer, and spiritual exercises.

So if we think of evangelization in the broadest possible sense (deepening our existing faith), it is clear that the Bible plays a role. That seems to be what Verbum Domini is saying when it refers to "baptized, but insufficiently evangelized."

I'm less convinced that Bibles play an essential role for those outside faith. I'm also unconvinced about the importance of "making sure that every family has a Bible." At least among middle-class Americans, everyone who wants a Bible can easily acquire one, and I think that is even true of many of those on the outskirts of society (in prison, poor, etc). But I think the value of a Bible that is owned but unread is limited.

Chrysostom said...

Any unread book is useless! I knew of a girl who used to carry copies of "War and Peace" and "On the Interpretation of Dreams" to appear "educated" without ever having cracked the books - not even knowing the author of "War and Peace" was Tolstoy.

I think the best tools for evangelization, by a very large margin, are the existential and rational apologetics, depending on the person and the situation. The "look how Jesus changed my life" or "look at this peaceful grace", or "it's all about faith, science is faith too!" are less than worthless, because if I don't have a rational warrant for belief, I either will laugh, or become a fideist, if I'm exceptionally gullible, or into religion more for relational reasons than reasons of Truth. Reason is the light that illumines faith, and faith illumines reason; one without the other leads to eliminative materialist skepticism, or to fideistic fundamentalism.

The existential apologetic (the meaningless and pointless nature of life without God and the possibility of an afterlife) will sometimes convince even the hard of heart to listen to further apologetics without dismissing them out of hand; further, rational apologetics, such as the various arguments for God, can then be employed: on a purely rational basis, one can prove an individual into Deism (being that an argument convinces the rational, and a proof convinces even the fool); from there, one can follow one or more of the various methods employed by great theologians and apologists throughout history to demonstrate the likelihood of the veracity of Christianity's claims over and above its "competitors". A conversion that leads an individual in to a fideistic faith, I see as being nearly as bad as remaining an atheist or agnostic, as the individual's faith will always be weak, and open the mind to cognitive dissonance; fideism, in my experience, often leads to Fundamentalism.

The Bible is next to useless for an atheist; someone who reads it critically will find nothing but contradictions, and many of the modern Bibles, even without footnotes, can be faith-challenging - with annotation, they're enough to disprove inspiration in the eye of a skeptic. For a believer, the Bible is still a tricky tool: even for the believer, and even for a specifically Catholic believer, there is no "one size fits all" Bible - let alone for all of the various denominations!