Witnessing Christ

I read an advance copy of Archbishop Charles Chaput’s eBook, A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness in the Next Generation, scheduled to be released today. It is a short piece of 24 pages in length that addresses some of the challenges to genuine and effective witness to the Gospel in our society today.

Although I think some of the Archbishop’s statements are overgeneralized (e.g., he lumps all media together, giving the impression there exists a single journalistic orthodoxy intent on presenting religion in a a negative light), I think there is truth to his concern that “The America emerging in the next several decades is likely to be much less friendly to Christian faith than anything in our country’s past.” That poses a challenge to all Christians, not only Catholics (the locus of his concern).

I also share the Archbishop’s view of the value of strong religious communities in, among other things, preventing notions of freedom of the individual from turning into a “destructive individualism” that turns freedom into a “license for selfishness.” Community helps us develop a sense of morality, helps us discern right and wrong.

Finally, I think Archbishop Chaput is correct that there are many people who call themselves Christian who don’t really believe in the Gospel and don’t live lives reshaped and transformed by Christ. Whether because of embarrassment or because they only “keep their religions for comfort value” it has no effect on them, and therefore no social force.

This little book is intended as a wake-up call to Catholic to renew their efforts to convert the culture in which they live – to be “the kind of witness that sets fire to the human heart,” and he talks about the important role of Catholic higher education in sending out Catholics capable of doing that.

The Archbishop, however does not sufficiently address the difficulty created by the fact that the United States today is more religiously diverse than it had ever been. It may be that the system of government that developed in our country was shaped by a “predominantly Christian inspiration,” but it takes more than assertion to suggest that a Christian worldview should pervade government policy, law and society today. I’m not saying one can’t make that case, merely that it is not attempted in this book. And that is a surprising omission given that the Archbishop acknowledges that “People don’t conform their lives to a message because it is useful. They do so because they believe the message is true and therefore life-giving.” It is one thing to convey the message to other Christians who merely need to be educated about the truths of their faith; it is another to convey it to people who do not share that faith.

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