I Am with You Always
by Benedict Groeschel
Ignatius, $37.95, 507 pages
From the New Testament to the present, Christian theology has sought to explain and describe the believer’s encounter with Jesus. This basic theological project stands at the center of I Am with You Always, an introduction to the history of theology by Fr. Benedict Groeschel. Fr. Groeschel organizes the book around what he sees as the common point at the heart of all forms of Christianity: personal devotion to Jesus Christ. He defines this devotion as “a response to him as a friend; a deeply felt sense of reverence, gratitude, trust, dedication, repentance for our faults; and ultimately an all-encompassing impulse to love and serve him.” Devotion also includes a psychological awareness of Christ’s presence or desire for it, a giving over to Christ of significant things in one’s life, a willingness to do what God asks, repentance, trust in Christ, and remembrance of mortality.
With these principles in mind, Fr. Groeschel walks the reader through the great authors of Christian history, showing the many ways in which Christian truth has been expressed over time. As he admits, the work is “a flight over the Alps,” and many times the reader wishes for more about a particular figure. But part of the value of an overview lies in the way it spurs one to investigate authors one had never considered—I, at least, was not aware of Dag Hammarskjöld’s journals—and to see connections one might have otherwise overlooked.
Take, for instance, the similarities between the prayers of the Wesley brothers and those of the Spanish mystical writers. Or the ways in which Oliver Cromwell’s chaplain, Nicolas Cabasilas, and St. John Eudes each wrote about the heart of Jesus. Many times, Fr. Groeschel notes that a hymn by a member of one Christian group—say, an Anglican divine—could have been written by someone with whom he otherwise would have had doctrinal differences—say, a fourteenth-century Franciscan.
In emphasizing this common ground, of course, significant theological debates are passed over and complex analysis set aside. But it is good to be reminded of how much Christians have in common. The followers of Christ tell—as the American gospel song reminds us—the old, old story of Jesus and his love.
Nathaniel Peters is a graduate student in theology at the University of Notre Dame.