The ABCs of the New Evangelization

I recently finished reading The Evangelization Equation: The Who, What, and How, written by Fr. James A. Wehner and sent to me by the Catholic Company as part of its reviewer program. The book, published this year, has received high praise from several bishops and other commentators.

There are some things I really like about this book and I think a lot of what Fr. Wehner says about evangelization is both true and important. First, and near to my heart, is the point that the “goal of evangelization is not for us to simply hear truth and give intellectual assent to it. God doesn’t just want our heads; He wants our hearts.” The goal of evangelization is to transform our hearts, not merely to get us to give intellectual assent to a set of doctrines. In my view, it is impossible to overemphasize the importance of inner transformation and so was happy to see that as a central part of the author’s discussion of the anthropological foundation of evangelization.

Second, the book correctly identifies evangelization as a task for everyone. Fr. Wehner puts great emphasis in helping people understand that the call to holiness is a universal call and that we are all called to “be more deliberate, purposeful, and committed to clearly sharing the Gospel with others.”

Third, although the book is longer on theory than on practical discussion of what makes for good evangelization, it does offer in one of the final chapters a set of principles essential for successfully carrying out the new evangelization, with some stories to accompany them. While nothing like a complete prescription, the chapter does identify some real challenges to effective evangelization and the hope is that it will stimulate some serious reflection about what is working and what is not.

I won’t say I agree with all of Fr. Wehner’s views about what evangeliation means and how he talks about certain issues, but there is much valuable to reflect on in this book.

There is one thing that bothered me as I was reading. Despite recognizing the Holy Spirit as the primary agent of evangelization, there is no mention of the importance of prayer until the conclusion of the book, which offers only a passing reference to prayer as being necessary to make our preaching and practice possible. In my view, a couple of sentences at the end of the book do not give prayer the emphasis it deserves. If our efforts at evangelization are going to be fruitful and well-guided, prayer is essential. We have to always be sure we are preaching God and not something else and if we are not people of prayer, we run a very great risk that we cease to preach God.