The title of this book, as well as the byline on the front cover; “Fresh thoughts on Catholicism” had me anticipating something very much along the lines of Ray Galea’s “Nothing in My Hand I Bring”, the reasoning and theological concepts behind the author’s conversion from their hereditary Catholicism, toward a more evangelical strain of Christianity.
I was expecting, therefore, something that was going to really highlight the differences between the doctrine of the Catholic and Evangelical churches. It turned out to be quite different to my expectation.
Before I go any further, I’ll give you a hint. Whilst I have a lot of good things to say about it, this is not the book to read if you are looking for something along the lines of what I was expecting (i.e. something that will fill you in on differences in thought, theology and practice between Catholic and Evangelical churches, and talk about the risks involved with the Catholic approach).
Why do I say this? Because that’s what I expected, and it didn’t do heaps for me. I, however, am not someone who has grown up in the Catholic Church, or been involved with the Catholic Church at some stage in my life. I am, quite simply, not the target of the author.
If you are from the Catholic tradition, but you are feeling that there might be something you are missing, your church life feels static and not spirit-filled, or you are just wondering why the church doesn’t seem to give you the answers, then this book IS for you.
Mark Gilbert grew up in the Catholic church, and as he highlights, he is very fond of his Catholic heritage. He knew God was there, he knew he could pray, and he felt extremely secure.
This book, rather than warning against possible traps in the Catholic faith, comes from a very sympathetic perspective; from someone who has been there, and who is very humble about it. Gilbert uses stats and examples from real people to illustrate what he is talking about, from quite an extensive study that relates to the decline in popularity of the church. I found this very interesting; there was a significant body of people who became disenchanted with the Catholic church for similar dissatisfactions; it wasn’t providing the answers.
Whether due to boredom, dissatisfaction with church leadership, a feeling of guilt and inadequacy when it came to sin, a domineering or seemingly pretentious approach to the bible, or a bunch of other reasons that Gilbert talks about, the fact is that the Catholic church is not managing to satisfy people.
Gilbert doesn’t try to tell people they are in the wrong, or come across as condemning of the Church. He does, however, point it back to Jesus.
He talks about how it is not the background you come from, or the church you go to, or anything else, but Jesus, that is at the heart of the gospel. And it is therefore to Jesus (and his revelation in the bible) that people must look if they want to find solutions. What was, for me, the crux of the book, was his argument that explained how Jesus is the solution to “boring, irrelevant religion”.
Along the way, Gilbert deals with other issues; Papal infallibility, misconduct by church leaders, the catholic approach to sin and confession. At some stages I felt there was room for a little more biblical reference: when talking about how people expect a lot from leaders, for example, I felt there could have been a bit of elaboration or discussion about characteristics in leadership, for example in 2 Timothy 3, and James 3:1-2. It took a little while for the biblical references to get going, but then they really started flowing.
Once again; for someone in my situation, who hasn’t been involved in the Catholic church, or even a form of “hereditary Catholicism”, this book is not particularly helpful.
As a book written for it’s audience, I imagine this would be quite a helpful guide, and very practical in the end stages. It is not presumptive, and does not try to bend people to follow Gilbert’s own transition to the Anglican church (a fact he mentions only in passing at the very end of the book). Instead, it establishes a common experience, and then suggests a solution; look in the Bible, look towards Jesus. Gilbert simply encourages his reader to delve into the Bible for themselves, to weigh it up, to enquire, and to treat following Jesus in accordance as their highest priority.
If you want to get hold of it, it’s at http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/road-once-travelled