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Book Review: Jack Kerwick Tackles the Problem of ‘Jesus Now’

Christianity and the World
Jack Kerwick
Stairway Press
192 pages
$7.50 paperback, $3.00 Kindle

If the primary function of the Church is to promote diversity and multiculturalism, then the world’s many Catholics are obliged to support post-national actors seeking to quash counter-globalist resistance. If, on the other hand, Christian faith and practice cannot be boiled down to liberal platitudes about openness, then the world’s many Catholics should be indifferent – perhaps hostile – to globalism. Jack Kerwick may be counted among the Catholic counter-globalists, and in Christianity and the World, he challenges the credentials of the figure he refers to as “Jesus Now.”

As Kerwick explains, “Jesus Now” is:

… a man of our times, a liberal progressive whose Politically Correct moral and political sensibilities are unassailable. He preaches “tolerance,” “inclusivity,” and importantly, he is “non-judgmental.” Moreover, Jesus Now is largely indifferent to whether people even believe in him – just so long as they are “good” people. Of course, it is not quite correct to say of Jesus Now that he judges no one. But his judgment is extremely selective. He adversely judges white, affluent, Western Christians. Everyone else is given a pass.

Except for the fact that “Jesus Now” seems to have it in for the Russians, too, I have nothing to contribute to Kerwick’s description of the liberal messiah, whom Kerwick astutely describes as “wildly boring.” Compared to the emasculated, saccharine pseudo-messiah elevated by liberal Protestants and most diocesan newspapers, just about any ideology or cult is more interesting, attractive, and worth exploring – from communism to Jungian psychology to the mysticism of the Klingons from Star Trek.

As Kerwick points out, there is a “glaring contrast” between the non-judgmental “Jesus Now” and “the Real Jesus (who will be referred to from now on simply as ‘Jesus’).” For the latter, “being the Author of the Heavens and the Earth, the Sovereign Ruler of all creation, is the Judge Incarnate.” Whatever we make of Kerwick’s brief exegesis, he demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that the Christ as revealed in the Gospels is flatly incompatible with the face Father James Martin presents to the world. Many of Kerwick’s references are no doubt familiar to the tradition-minded Catholic, but a few are nonetheless worth reiterating. Christ condemns those who will not believe (Mt 10:1-15), instructs his disciples to arm themselves (Lk 22:36), and uses physical violence to cast the merchants from the Temple. When a Gentile woman asked Him to heal her daughter, His initial response was that “it is not good to take the bread of the children, and cast it to the dogs” (Mk 7: 24-30). Kerwick does a service to the Faith by highlighting such passages, which simply cannot be fit into the milieu of “the Spirit of Vatican II.”

Having had the pleasure of meeting and conversing with the author a few years ago at a conference during which he lectured about the thought of Catholic virtue theorist Alasdair MacIntyre, I can attest that Mr. Kerwick is as straight-shooting and engaging in person as he is in print. He is also a walking encyclopedia; his time devoted to the study of the Great Books has not been wasted, for it shows insofar as his essays repeatedly revisit the touchstone texts of Western civilization. Unlike so many celebrity Christian writers, Kerwick is scrupulous about drawing upon serious thinkers as he backs up and threshes out his assertions regarding the nature of Christianity.

If anything, Kerwick’s rebuttal of the militant atheists is more compelling than his refutation of liberal theology. In countering Richard Dawkins’s attack upon the ontological argument for the existence of God, for instance, Kerwick delves into the thought of not just Catholic giants like Saint Anselm and Saint Thomas Aquinas, but also polymath genius Gottfried Leibniz and philosopher Norman Malcom. With regard to the last figure, Kerwick even calls out Dawkins for having pulled a fast one. It seems Dawkins has quoted Malcom out of context, making it appear as if the distinguished scholar was skeptical toward the ontological argument when he was in fact one of its foremost defenders.

“Malcom is scarcely the only contemporary philosopher to defend some version or other of the ontological argument,” adds Kerwick.

The point here, though, is not that the ontological argument ultimately succeeds. The verdict is still out on this. The point, rather, is to show that minds far more philosophically and theologically adept than anything that Dawkins has displayed recognize in the ontological argument a species of reasoning that deserves to be treated with the utmost seriousness. Dawkins’ judgment … is the function of the pseudo-intellectualism and sophomoric attitude with which he addresses topics that transcend his area of expertise.

For the benefit of secular humanist Millenials who tout human rights and dismiss the Church, Kerwick explains that Millennials’ cherished notions about the worth of the individual rest upon metaphysical assumptions about the dignity of man as a being made in the image of God. Jean-Paul was right about one thing: to reject God, as such, is to reject transcendent moral order as such. If nothing is sacred, as secularists insist, then it should be obvious that neither is Bruce Jenner’s plaintive claim to be woman.

Kerwick’s book is not without its shortcomings. In dealing with the ways Christianity shaped the evolution of the West, for instance, Kerwick uncritically quotes one scholar’s claim that there was a pervasive idea that “slavery in itself was against divine law.” This is a curious assertion in view of Saint John Chrysostom’s homily on 1 Corinthians 7, wherein we may find an unambiguous and extended argument against interfering with the institution.

Even so, Christianity and the World is a step above the pop psychology tracts that too often pass for Christian apologetics nowadays, and worth passing on to anyone seeking a deeper knowledge of the Faith. In Kerwick’s own words, “to serve Jesus, we must first know Him from the idol – the false god – with which ‘polite society’ has replaced Him.”

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