West Still Leading Us Forth to the Heart of the Gospel

By Deacon Jim Russell, Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri

I have just finished Christopher West’s At the Heart of the Gospel, and, like my Archbishop mentions in his endorsement of the work at the front of the book, I believe the “desert” experience of West’s sabbatical has left him poised to continue blazing the trail, ever onward and upward, on the “holy mountain” that is John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”

I would strongly urge any past critics of West to pay particular attention to the footnotes and appendices of this work, so that the clearest possible picture emerges regarding two important truths: first, that West’s sabbatical reflection has served to sharpen his focus regarding how best to present these great mysteries to a population hungry for the truths so beautifully expressed in the Theology of the Body, and, second, that West’s presentation of the Theology of the Body in the larger context of the Church’s continuous Tradition has been—and remains—not only theologically sound but beautifully accurate.

I would also propose that this book would seem to represent on one hand a positive and gentle explanation that should go a long way toward alleviating the concerns once expressed by a very few academics and theologians regarding both the substance and style of West’s works.

On the other hand, as I perceive that West has had to endure a rather unjust “puritanical pushback” from some Catholics whose own unstudied approach to the subject suggests that those same Catholics have yet to come to terms with John Paul II’s original work itself,  I believe this book offers a brilliantly illuminating antidote to any uncharitable personal attacks West may have faced  alongside rather reckless claims regarding where the work of John Paul II ultimately is leading us.

And where does the “Theology of the Body” lead us, according to West? I would suggest the answer to this is found in the deep association West makes between this “theology” and the reality of the wounded world in which we find ourselves. West ably shows how the Theology of the Body brings us to the essence of the new evangelization—to nothing less than the “heart of the Gospel,” the Holy Heart of Jesus Christ Himself.

Read more about Christopher’s West At The Heart of the Gospel at the Patheos Book Club.

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