“The New Evangelization” – Review

The New Evangelization: What It Is and How It Affects the Life of Every Catholic

by Dr. Ralph Martin

The “new evangelization” is a hot topic among Catholics, and as we near the long-awaited Synod on the New Evangelization, it will only heat up.

Yet despite the phrase’s popularity, there’s a lot of confusion. What does it mean? What’s so new about it? And practically speaking, how are we to participate in this new evangelization?

Dr. Ralph Martin is an expert on the subject and tackles those questions in his new eBook, The New Evangelization: What It Is and How It Affects the Life of Every Catholic (Our Sunday Visitor, eBook, 27 pages). He begins with a simple definition:

“[W]hat’s primarily new about the “new evangelization” is whom it is directed towards, the baptized who are not living in an active relationship of discipleship with Jesus. It is also “new” in the passion and enthusiasm that Blessed John Paul II has stated is essential for its success, along with an openness to the Holy Spirit to show us new methods and expressions of the faith that can communicate with people today.”

But why do we need the new evangelization? Well, the answer is simple: in many areas of the world, particularly the global north, the Church is shriveling. As Ralph shows, baptisms, mass attendance, marriages, and funerals are down across the board. Christian culture has collapsed in many countries that were historically Catholic. And despite large numbers of Hispanic immigrants steadying the American Catholic population, the future in our country looks bleak as young Catholics disavow their faith at record numbers.

According to Ralph, there are two major reasons for this shrinkage. They include a “catastrophic collapse in catechetics,” to borrow a phrase from Pope Benedict XVI, and a general disbelief in hell. Citing the work of sociologist Christian Smith, Ralph notes that the religious beliefs of most young people today can be described as “moralistic therapeutic deism”—a fancy way of saying they conceive of God as a distant Santa-Claus-in-the-sky, concerned only with rules and regulations and positive self-esteem. This profound misunderstanding of who God is, itself a catechetical failure, is a main reason so many fail to know and love Him.

The other reason Ralph gives for the Church’s diminishing evangelization is a general dismissal of hell. This, according to Ralph, is rooted in a misinterpretation of paragraph 16 in Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium which reads:

“Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

Many Catholics read that and think, “well if people can be saved without hearing the Gospel, why evangelize them?” That conclusion is sad and common, and provokes a generally tepid response to evangelization.

(For more on this problem, check out Ralph’s newly-released book titled, Will Many Be Saved?: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization (Eerdmans, paperback, 336 pages). The book is based on his doctoral thesis and examines the views of luminaries like Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Rahner, and John Paul II.)

But here’s the good news: there is a solution. Despite the dire statistics, despite the crumbling Catholic foundation, the “new evangelization” is a powerful antidote. Ralph shows how the Holy Spirit is using this movement to revive the Church and how all people are invited to join in—priests, religious, and laypeople alike.

If you want an expert understanding of the “new evangelization,” along with practical tips on how to live it out, this short, $0.99 eBook is the best one-stop-shop. Read it within the next couple weeks and you’ll be prepared for the great Synod which launches on October 7.

What do you think about the “new evangelization”?