The Scrappy Evangelist

by Fr Paul Rowan, St Benedict, 656pp, £19

Christian apologetics in the early 21st century is a tough gig. As Fr Paul Rowan reminds us, contemporary Western unbelief has been “culturally induced”, rather than thought out. The postmodern mind has grown allergic to concrete claims to truth, fond of “promoting the journey, but not the arrival”.

To repeat: a tough gig. Help needed. Enter GK Chesterton. Could the path he took be a viable one for postmodern man to follow? Could he help rouse contemporary sceptics to an adventure similar to his?

Fr Rowan believes he can. Once Chesterton had freed himself from the world-view of the aesthetes and the solipsistic depression it induced in him, he was able find his way to what he called the “submerged sunrise of wonder”. With wonder came humility; deep, reciprocal friendships, even with opponents; gratitude; love of paradox; and, of course, conversion, when all the “scraps” of evidence from countless sources converged on Rome.

This great, daunting slab of a book teases out the meaning and applicability for our times of the Chesterton way. Its bulk reflects the author’s determination to leave no stone unturned in this endeavour. Chesterton brings with him to the table St Thomas Aquinas and St Francis. Fr Rowan invites Rahner, Lonergan, von Balthasar, Ratzinger and several others to join them, and adds much of his own wisdom too. There is a tremendous riff on how his own apparently humdrum act of tapping away at a computer to write a book is evidence of cosmic magic.

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