West and the New Evangelization

I just finished reading At the Heart of the Gospel by Christopher West, which was sent to me for review by Random House. West is a prominent voice promoting John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and this book is his most recent contribution on that subject. Although the book is very heavy with quotes from West’s earlier works as well as from John Paul II’s teachings, there is enough new material to make it worthwhile to read on its own for those interested in deepening their understanding of the Theology of the Body.

One of the most compelling parts of the book for me was the final chapter, on the subject of “The New Evangelization.” West is on the money in suggesting that our world today urgently needs “Catholics and all believers to ‘go into the main streets and invite everyone to the wedding feast,’” (quoting Matthew’s Gospel) and in observing that none of those invited will come “if we don’t put the invitation in a language they can connect with and understand.” His discussion of what it means to do that, and to convey a “theology of affirmation,” is powerful.

The other part of the book that I found most worthwhile was West’s discussion of idolatry and iconoclasm. West suggests that without a new way of seeing, we tend to lean in the direction of either “worshiping the physical world as idolaters, or rejecting the physical world as iconoclasts.” He explains

The full-blown idolater views sensual pleasures as man’s be-all and end-all and dives in headfirst. The full-blown iconoclast views all that is sensual with suspicion and flees into a “safe” dis-incarnate “spirituality.” The idolater seeks his comfort in “mere flesh.” The iconoclast in “mere spirit.”

West’s discussion of both the temptations toward, and the dangers of, imbalance in either direction is very good. I also think he is correct that, as between the two, iconoclasm can be more dangerous in the sense that it “more readily passes for religious ‘success,’” because many people erroneously think that “rigorism in bodily matters equals holiness.”

Some parts of the book were less persuasive to me than others, but even there, I found West presented much that is worth thinking about.