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At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2013

    Christopher West is a masterful author. His book, "At the H

    Christopher West is a masterful author. His book, "At the Heart of the Gospel" reveals his ability to explain and defend his ideas, as well as his ability to develop his ideas more precisely in response to constructive criticism. This book is a result of the sabbatical that Christopher West took in 2010. In his introduction he explains: "I reflected prayerfully on the challenges my work has received, seeking to glean as much as possible from what various authors were saying.This book is the fruit of those reflections" (p. 3). West truly produced a masterpiece here. 

    His main premise in this book, at least, what I took to be the main premise (there are many things that you  argue are a "main premise") is that without properly understanding human sexuality we cannot truly understand the Incarnation or the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Church,which is so often portrayed in Sacred Scripture as a marriage. With this premise, West makes it easy for us to desire to study the Theology of the Body. If we understand this premise, we cannot help but desire to know more! 

    West does a great job discussing the 2 extremes that are often taken by people regarding human sexuality. The first, which many Good Christians inadvertently take, is that we should try to crush/repress our sexual desires in order to be "holy". West does a good job explaining that this "Wound of Puritanism," as he calls it, does violence to the human person. It also implies that the body is evil, which can't be true if the Word became incarnate. West also says that this extreme facilitates the other: that of understanding our sexuality apart from our desire for holy love. I love what West says: "When believers demand a holiness free from eros, the secular world, for its part, quite happily demands an eros free of holiness."

    Perhaps my favorite part of West's book though, is not even directly related to human sexuality. West does a good job discussing one of the finer, more subtle points of Blessed John Paul II's Theology of the Body, the need to overcome concupiscence. West discusses the fact that avoiding sin is not virtue. Jesus gives us a "New Law" in the New Testament, that of living a life of virtue, not just of avoiding sin. There is a difference between not doing something that is wrong, and doing something that is right. As West says, "In effect, if all we've been given when it comes to Church teaching is a list of rules to follow, then we have yet to 'pass over' from the Old to the New Testaments" (page 81-82). 

    My only 'bone to pick' so to speak is not one of doctrine but one of style. West ends up quoting quite copiously from his previous books, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I thought that he would find new ways to explain himself after spending so much time reflecting on the criticisms of his work. Also, West spends a lot of time on some foundational principles. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but if you have a basic understanding of Theology of the Body, parts of this book will seem a little dull/slow. 
    That being said, I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, regardless of your understanding of Theology of the Body. Christopher West has done an incredible job making the teachings of Blessed John Paul II both relevant and accessible.

    *I received this book free from WaterBrooke Multnomah Publishing for this review.

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  • Posted April 15, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Alice D. for Readers Favorite Christopher West, aut

    Reviewed by Alice D. for Readers Favorite

    Christopher West, author of "At the Heart of the Gospel", has done in-depth research into Catholic Church theology and writes well of the writings of many noted church theologians, most especially the late Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body". Author West does not shy away from issues such as the state of the world in which we live and prevailing attitudes towards sexuality and the human body. He states clearly on page 16 that we "must reclaim the essential link between eros and agape, between sexuality and spirituality, between body and soul". West explains that the sexual realm is a profoundly sacred one for, as he explains, "the marriage of flesh and spirit lies at the heart of the Gospel and at the heart of our humanity (page 59)."

    "At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the Evangelization" is a complex and challenging text. Although it is well-written, well-edited and well-formatted and documented, the casual reader will put this book aside after reading the first few pages. Clergy, however, should study every word and preach a simplified version so that all congregants can appreciate its message about the male and female bodies and the spirituality of the call of man and woman to become "one flesh". Author West discusses difficult issues such as idolatry and iconoclasm and advocates that the truly religious person must be willing to reach out to others who have no beliefs, to sit with them and talk with them as Jesus Christ did. "At the Heart of the Gospel" offers strong words and advice for our troubled world.

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  • Posted March 7, 2012

    Faithful, Engrossing - A Cultural Game-Changer

    In the summer of 2009, following a story on ABC's Nightline, criticism of Christopher West came fast and furious: "He's leading people into dangerous waters . . . West isn't doing justice to John Paul II's Theology of the Body . . . He doesn't take into account the incredible strength of concupiscence, and his readers and listeners are going to be caught off-guard." To me, it appeared that West's critics would be comfortable affirming that Jesus could empower people to overcome sin - racism, drunkeness, the hunger for revenge, etc. -and actually live as blazing examples of those sins' opposing virtues . . . but He could not give them a real, sustained victory over lust. In that one area we seemed forever doomed to live on a precipice. West on the other hand seemed to completely embrace the rich spiritual theology of the Catholic Church, and especially that of St. John of the Cross. St John, the Church's mystical Doctor, taught that God can bring us into a "transforming union" with Himself, one that allows us to conquer temptations and take on the image of Christ, albeit with some slight imperfections, even in this life! Jesus' desire is to bring healing and wholeness to the whole person - and sexuality is an integral part of who we are as human beings. "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full" (Jn.10:10).

    So imagine my excitement when I saw the title of Christopher West's new book, "At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization." Does West answer his critics? Yes, and with a tremendous amount of charity. Hats off to him for taking those criticisms to prayer, reflecting upon them, and emerging with an even stronger presentation of Theology of the Body (TOB hereafter) to show for it. Throughout this new book he anchors his explanation of TOB with quotations from John Paul II's text as well as Scripture and the Catechism. He supports his points with TOB commentary from theological heavy weights like Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) and Dr. Michael Waldstein (who in 2006, made the new, critical translation of John Paul's TOB), and offers supporting insights from bedrocks of orthodoxy such as Fulton J. Sheen. I have absolutely no doubts that what West gives readers is a completely faithful presentation of John Paul's thought, accessible to today's culture.

    Christopher West does a masterful job of teaching us the true value of the body within Christian Faith. As much as the world around us - and even our own poor catechesis - would like to characterize Christianity as souls seeking release from sinful flesh, nothing could be further from the truth. The great scandal of Christianity - as opposed to the Platonism of the Greeks, or the Cartesian duality of today - is the conviction that God not only descended into human flesh but, through the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, has raised it to literally unimaginable heights. The goal, the victory, we Christians await is not our souls' liberation from the body and the spiritual experience of heaven, but the glorification of both soul and body on the day Christ brings heaven to earth!

    I did find myself taken aback at several points in the book - not from anything irreverent or immodest on West's part, but by the depth of the Holy Father's reflection. Allow me to site one example: the Holy Father's vision of marriage as the "primordial sacrament" (TOB 97:2). Prior to humanity's fa

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