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Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization
by Ralph Martin
Eerdmans, 332 pages, $24

Following Vatican II, there arose within the Church a mentality, even a conviction, that the preaching of the gospel and the need for conversion to Jesus Christ were not as important as once thought. The council itself could be interpreted as giving the impression, unwittingly, that all religions are fundamentally good, even though “the Church always held and continues to hold that Christ out of infinite love freely underwent suffering and death because of the sins of all men, so that all might attain salvation,” in the words of Nostra Aetate.

In this, his most recent book, Ralph Martin, director of graduate theology programs at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and consultor to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, is concerned about both sides of this equation. First, he is well aware that it is possible for those who do not explicitly believe in Jesus to be saved, yet the probability of their being saved is anyone’s guess. Second, and more important, he argues that the fathers of Vatican II, far from wanting to undermine the proclamation of the gospel to all men and women, actually desired to deepen the Church’s evangelistic spirit.

What motivates Martin is not some fire-and-brimstone legalism or arrogant, narrow-minded triumphalism. Rather, he recognizes that to deprive others of a saving knowledge of Jesus in the name of religious pluralism or a so-called “conviction” that all will be saved is actually to diminish their religious integrity and uprightness of heart.

Depriving them of what would be their greatest treasure and supreme joy is no good deed. It is precisely because Martin wishes “that many be saved” that he seeks to recover the importance of this question and place it at the heart of the new evangelization.

—Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap.,
is executive director of the Secretariat for
Doctrine at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget

by Ronald J. Sider
Intervarsity Press, 171 pages, $15

Ronald J. Sider’s work is a breath of fresh air. Unlike many on the left, he takes our annual deficits and ever-growing debt seriously. Unlike some on the right, he is profoundly concerned about growing poverty and inequality. Combining insights from both sides, he thinks our debt amounts to an “intergenerational injustice” but that balancing the budget “on the backs of the poor” is “also blatant injustice.”

Founder of Evangelicals for Social Action and professor of theology, holistic ministry, and public policy at Palmer Theological Seminary, he offers in Fixing the Moral Deficit a thoughtful and temperate treatment of what has become one of our most contentious issues: the morality of our budget. Sider argues that we face three interrelated crises: deficit, poverty, and injustice.

His proposed solutions are a fifty“fifty mixture of tax increases and budget cuts. Unfortunately, too many of his claims about poverty, inequality, and taxation are tenuous. He doesn’t discuss the causes of poverty (family breakdown, out-of-wedlock childbearing, crime, drugs, etc.) and largely ignores the possibility that the welfare state could be making things worse. Satisfied with pointing to correlations, but without considering causation, he is often too quick to rush to conclusions. It isn’t clear whether the inequality and poverty problems he points to occurred because of or despite the taxation policies he bemoans. Thus, his proposed tax increases may not be the solution we really need.

What the book lacks in finer analysis and policy prescriptions it makes up for in general principles that should guide our thinking about these technical and prudential policy concerns. Advancing what he describes as “a biblically balanced political agenda that is pro-life and pro-poor, pro-family and pro-creation care, pro-sexual integrity and pro-peace-making,” and rejecting both “radical individualism” and “communal collectivism,” he argues for a biblically grounded account of politics that combines personalism and communalism.

In doing so, he rejects both egalitarian and procedural accounts of justice, proposing instead “equality of opportunity up to the point where everyone has access to productive capital so that, if they work responsibly, they can enjoy an adequate income and be dignified members of society.” The state has a legitimate, but limited and subsidiary, role to play in overcoming poverty.

Sider’s thinking is generous throughout, perhaps his finest virtue in these trying times.

—Ryan T. Anderson, a member of First Things
Advisory Council, is editor of
Public Discourse.

The Event of Literature

by Terry Eagleton
Yale, 264 pages, $26

According to Terry Eagleton, when we call a work “literary” we generally mean “a work which is fictional, or which yields significant insight into human experience as opposed to reporting empirical truths, or which uses language in a peculiarly heightened, figurative, or self-conscious way, or which is not practical in the sense that shopping lists are or which is highly valued as a piece of writing.” To be sure, “these are empirical categories, not theoretical ones.” To say that these are empirical categories is to say that the best way to talk about “literature” is to investigate the contexts in which we use the word, what characteristics it has, and what characteristics shape our encounter with it.

Eagleton argues that works of literature employ different strategies for answering implicit questions. And so part of the work—and the enjoyment—of reading is uncovering those strategies and employing strategies of one’s own to uncover them. The study of literature, therefore, involves studying the interactions between the author, the text, and the reader.

In this book, Eagleton draws on Christian theology, Marxism, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, literary criticism, and discussions of literature in Anglo-American philosophy. He shows how the thought of Thomas Aquinas, Karl Marx, and Ludwig Wittgenstein—all of whom believe words get their meaning from how they are used—influenced his own thinking. While he disagrees with other approaches to literature, he offers fair introductions to them.

The result is a tour de force from one of the finest literary critics writing in English. The Event of Literature forms a triptych with two of Eagleton’s earlier works: Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983), which is a standard introduction to the field, and After Theory (2003). In a genre that often prizes obfuscatory prose, Eagleton’s lucidity and humor stand out.

—Scott D. Moringiello is a Gallen Fellow
in the Humanities at Villanova University.

Hunter’s Log

by Timothy Murphy, with illustrations by Eldridge Hardy
The Dakota Institute Press, 110 pages, $19.95

Almost alone in the unforgiving North Dakota landscape, a master of monosyllables as plain as the plains, Timothy Murphy continues to carve out trimeter and tetrameter lines of longing and loss. Nothing that has troubled this soul fails to inform his beautifully crafted, psalm-like poems, with their satisfyingly clinching rhymes. God has gotten hold of Murphy (and vice versa, one sometimes feels), battering him like Donne’s deity and in the process rescuing one of America’s finest poetic talents from an existence at times harrowing (as is appropriate for a former farmer), and on occasion exalting.

A homosexual man of faith in sometimes hand-to-hand combat with what J. V. Cunningham called “Doctor Drink,” Murphy has moved in his poetry from the demands of the flesh to a yearning for the transcendent. In “Cross-lashed””consider that title”he writes “Summits would loom above / the stony trails I trod. / Sex led me to love; / love bound me to God.”

So gifted is he that he can almost joke about this state of affairs and still move us. Notice the puns in “Nine Bells,” his moving tribute to Alan Sullivan, who is described as Murphy’s “first mate in a smock” while a “sawbones [is] looking grave.” Doctor, sailor in a hospital Johnny-gown, and first partner-lover—all in ten syllables.

Confessing himself sometimes prone to despair, Murphy nonetheless knows that his “soul thirsts for the Lord.” As he hunts out on the prairie (the dead-bird count in this volume astonishes), he finds himself “silenced by a landscape and a sky / legible as a Bible for the blind.” I can’t tell from all the hunting poems here if Murphy actually hunts from a blind (he seems always to be on the move with his beloved dog Feeney), but these marvelous poems leave me praying that he finally sees what he seeks.

—Len Krisak is an American poet.