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A Book Review… A Helpful And Comprehensive View Of The Church Crisis

December 3, 2020 Featured Today No Comments

By JIM M. VALOIS

A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward by Ralph Martin, published in 2020 by Emmaus Road, Steubenville, Ohio (www.emmausroad.org).

Every once in a while a book is written that casts a high-beam into the dark night so that a way forward is shown. A Church in Crisis by Ralph Martin is one such book. Nearly forty years since his groundbreaking book, the Crisis of Truth, Dr. Martin analyzes the more nuanced and subtle dimensions of the current exigency in the Church and culture.
As a seasoned theologian, appointed as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization by Pope Benedict XVI, Martin brings a level of expertise to a subject that is sorely needed at this time. If there was ever a moment in history when a comprehensive and thoroughly documented perspective was needed, that moment is now.
Martin’s perspective focuses on the crisis as it relates to Scripture, the problem of universalism, the current iterations of the sexual revolution, aggressive environmentalism, and globalism. He calls the Church (all the baptized) to take appropriate steps to begin repairing the damage and to a heartfelt repentance. I found the message to be both sobering and eye-opening and it drew me to prayer and reflection.
The message of the book elaborates on the problem of selectively editing and omitting certain uncomfortable scriptural passages from the liturgy. This can have a profound effect, over time, on the Church and it caused me to pause and ponder this concept as I read. Although Martin does not discuss the misguided Johnson Amendment from 1954 that has had a chilling effect on the preaching of pastors, he does address the fact that solid preaching is often hindered by fear and other factors.
Dr. Martin reminds us that: “We need to recover our confidence in the truthfulness and reliability of Sacred Scripture” (A Church in Crisis, p. 56). St. Paul himself clarifies that Scripture is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). As Dei Verbum clearly teaches:
“Since, therefore, all that the inspired authors, or sacred writers, affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach the truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures” (DV 3:11).
Skepticism concerning the reliability of God’s Word is at root in many of the current issues regarding moral issues, the role of conscience, and the Sacrament of Marriage.
The contemporary problem of universalism is compared to a virus in the book, as many theologians have caught this “pandemic” today. The positions of the two most prominent theologians that lean toward universalism are reviewed: Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Ralph Martin makes a compelling case against this view that all or most will be saved based on many scriptures, several councils of the Church, and the longstanding belief of our faith that has endured to this day in our official teaching.
Since universalism is not merely an academic question, Martin points out that it can cause an overemphasis on worldly concerns besides the eternal consequences:
“Unfortunately, a number of developments in Rome seem to be influenced by this reigning presumption that everyone will be saved in the end. The dominant focus on worldly concerns and the reappearance of a variety of liberation theologies, along with frequent talk about saving the earth, hint at this” (A Church in Crisis, pg.77).
This point is well taken as it seems that the Church at times can appear as a giant social service agency and get off course from the primary mission of saving souls that our Lord entrusted us with in the Great Commission. The almost exclusive harping on the horizontal dimension of the Gospel needs to be addressed and the recognition that it is very possible to lose one’s soul needs to be preached again in a widespread manner.
Dr. Martin also explains that the new iterations of the sexual revolution demand total adherence by all in the culture. Proponents of these novel ideas demand this submission to their viewpoints or individuals risk being labeled an enemy or “hater.” These new concepts require the clear and solid teaching from the Church. Instead, as he rightly indicates, the Church seems to be sounding an uncertain trumpet:
“It is most unfortunate that just at the moment that the world most needs a clear word of warning from the Church about the consequences of abandoning the natural and divine laws governing human sexuality, the high dignity to which God has raised marriage and sexuality, and other important moral issues such as suicide, the Church seems to be wavering and reluctant to speak clearly” (A Church in Crisis, p. 101).
As John Paul II often communicated in documents such Christifideles Laici and others, we should not be afraid but share the Good News because we have the answers in the Gospel to the longings and needs of the human race. And this Good News has answers for the sexual revolution too. Thus I felt that this chapter was particularly important because of widespread confusion among the faithful regarding homosexuality, transgenderism, and fornication. Also the relative silence or uncertainty in the face of these new iterations fails to take the Fatima message into consideration that the last battle of our epoch will be on marriage and the family.
In the chapter on environmentalism and globalism, Dr. Martin highlights that liberation theology is unfortunately making a comeback in the Church after enthusiasm for the ideology waned following the collapse of the Soviet Union. One leading proponent even claims to be an adviser to Pope Francis:
“One of the most famous and influential of these priest-theologians was Leonardo Boff, an ex-Franciscan priest who now writes liberation theology as a layperson and claims to be an adviser to Pope Francis” (A Church in Crisis, p. 149).
Furthermore, the hyper-focus on environmentalism by Church leaders is well documented in the book as well as the appearance, at several Vatican-sponsored conferences, of Jeffrey Sachs. He is a well-known associate of George Soros. Both Sachs and Soros are known globalists who promote abortion and contraception in developing countries “to slow down population growth” (A Church in Crisis, p. 156).
Personally, I found it troubling to learn about Jeffrey Sachs’ substantial recent involvement at the Vatican but also the unscientific basis for the stated aim to “slow down population growth.” This past summer, Elon Musk, South African founder of Paypal, Tesla Motors, and Space X, stated “that the biggest problem the world will face in 20 years is population collapse . . . ..not explosion, collapse” (Patrick Madrid Radio Show, August 12, 2020).
When I learned the views of Elon Musk and others regarding population collapse, I found it added to Martin’s views in his chapter on environmentalism and globalism. For many years, Church leaders have forecast or seen many populations beginning to drop below replacement level and yet globalists often seem more committed to their ideology than to good science. The Church has much wisdom to offer here, but the current orientation seems more aligned with the spirit of the world.
I found A Church in Crisis a compelling read indeed and believe clergy at all levels and laity alike will benefit from its wisdom. It gave me a more comprehensive view of the crisis and yet it was a helpful reminder that we all play a part in the resolution. I believe this work will impact the Church at large for great good if the message is heeded. The respectful tone, the genuine call for prayer and action, the need to overcome pastoral passivity on all levels, the call to reclaim the Word of God in Sacred Scripture and authentic Catholic renewal were key on a personal level.
Perhaps the book is best summed up in the chapter “A Time for Action” on the need for orthodoxy and the good fruit it will bring:
“A main thrust of this book has been that the truth of the Gospel must be clearly grasped, lived, and proclaimed so that healthy Christian life may exist and grow” (A Church in Crisis, p. 385).

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