TOB and Christopher West... an Interesting Study


#1

Ran across this Sacramentum Vitae blog entry today, and thought that some of the folks here in Family Life would find it interesting and informative. I liked it's honest approach that acknowledged both the failings of West (he is human after all ;) ) in his attempt to reiterate TOB for a wider audience, and also the fact that West was/is filling a real need to make the TOB a more complete and accessible teaching.

I've obtained the revised version of Dawn Eden's recent master's thesis at "the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies" in Washington, DC: "Towards a 'Climate of Chastity': Bringing Catechesis on the Theology of the Body into the Hermeneutic of Continuity". Some will remember her: ex-rock-journalist, Catholic convert, and author of the countercultural 2006 book The Thrill of the Chaste—a title reflecting her talent as an erstwhile headline writer. Eden can write very well for a general audience.

That's why potential readers should not be put off by the theological jargon in the title of the present, more academic work. For one thing, people motivated enough to tackle the topic in depth will already have a good enough idea of what terms such as 'catechesis', 'the theology of the body', and 'the hermeneutic of continuity' mean. And making the usual allowances for academic ritual, the work itself is a clearly written critique of the popularizing approach of Christopher West. That's important because West has guided the thinking of more American Catholics today than anybody else who talks about human sexuality from a Catholic standpoint. Exposing his theological and catechetical weaknesses, and proposing improvements, would be a real service to the American Church. Eden's thesis is a big step in that direction......

(emphasis mine)


#2

Thank you for the interesting read. I agree that West sometimes glosses over the details of the complete message of JPII's TOB and the teaching of the Church as a whole, but I always regarded that as him coming to the level of his audiences. I was once a fallen away Catholic who related well to his message as it was delivered in a manner that I could relate to at the time. It planted a seed in me that the Holy Spirit has since nurtured pushing me to delve deeper into the teachings. I now recognize some of the shortcomings in his presentation of the subject, but a more complete, theologically correct presentation of the material would have went right over my head 10 years ago... :shrug:


#3

Thanks - I am a fan of Eden and West. I too can credit West for helping me immensely in understanding Catholic teachings on marriage and sexuality as a young woman and Catholic. As a writer, I know it's all about audience when it comes to delivering certain details of a message, and I think West is fair in pointing out that his goal isn't to replace TOB but to make it more accessible to certain audiences. I am reading Love & Responsibility right now and it. is. hard. Not impossible - but hard. We need West but we also need to keep digging and learning and encouraging healthy critiques like Eden's!


#4

You're welcome. :) I like to share!
zaramarie: I really, really appreciated Love and Responsibility. I read it for a college class right at the time that my now-husband, then-boyfriend and I were starting to seriously discern where God was leading us, and what kind of a marriage we wanted. It was incredibly formative for us individually and as a couple.

jjtc: I wonder, if the presentation had been well written for that "general audience" I bet you would have been quite capable of understanding, even at the beginning of your journey. At least, that's what I hope Eden's thesis ends up as: a better, more accurate explanation, that at the same time loses none of it's general "getableness."


#5

West writes and speaks a lot, so it's hard to keep up with him. But I think the blog author still misses West's purpose. The focus of criticism appears to be on his claim that TOB is "revolutionary." Like almost all criticism of West, the author appears to forget who West is and what his purpose is. Even though it is acknowledged that West is a "popularizer" rather than an ivy tower theologian, the author fails to see that for the typical AUDIENCE West is speaking to, TOB IS "revolutionary."

Intellectuals need to face facts. NOBODY is going to come to a lecture titled "Humanae Vitae: the misunderstood story" except those of us who already believe/submit to it. Preaching to the choir might feel good, but doesn't help much. West does what he does because it captures the interest of those who have already written off the Church as being capable of having any insight on sexual matters. That is his brilliance. He is the first to admit that this is his purpose and role.

He's not a theologian, he's an evangelist. Learn the difference.


#6

There were several irresponsible claims in Eden's "work"

Here's one problem. It was George Wiegel that claimed its "revolutionary", not originally West.


#7

[quote="agapewolf, post:6, topic:203793"]
There were several irresponsible claims in Eden's "work"

[/quote]

Like what? :) (besides falsely attributing the "revolutionary" tag as West's claim)

and I guess I've always assumed that Evangelism should be practiced with the best Theology possible.... you know, the evangelist keeps learning and working and praying so that he continually gives the best, most truthful teaching he can. :shrug: Delivery can change depending on the audience, but the content should be substantially the same. No? :confused:


#8

Consecrated, I'm sure glad you weren't around Ireland in the days of St. Patrick then. His shamrock analogy has been picked to death by theologians since then, but it was the right explanation for the time, the place and the culture that needed to hear it. It resonated brilliantly with the Irish people and played a part in their conversion.

As St. Paul put it (brutally paraphrased from memory), a baby needs his mother's milk and cannot live eating meat. But we cannot stay babies forever and must later move to stronger food. So it is with instruction and catechesis in evangelization.


#9

Having read Dawn's thesis, overall I think she fails to make her case. The main problem is that she doesn't accurately portray what he's actually saying. In effect she sets up a straw man to shoot down.
She does make some good points and I believe she has a good motivation.
If you want more details, I've blogged fairly extensively about this whole issue:
thomasfortoday.blogspot.com

Just one quick point showing where she fails to give the reader the whole context to make a sound judgment. In her criticism at one point she mainly focuses on West's book "Heaven's Song." One of her criticisms is that he doesn't mention children at all in this book. However, Dawn does not even tell her readers what the book is about. It is a commentary on the hidden audiences on the Song of Songs. John Paul doesn't mention children in those audiences and neither does the Song of Songs. Now perhaps Dawn still thinks West should have mentioned children in the book. Fine, but without telling the reader the context, she seriously misrepresents his work.

There's more examples on my blog and others that I haven't blogged about yet.


#10

[quote="manualman, post:5, topic:203793"]
West writes and speaks a lot, so it's hard to keep up with him. But I think the blog author still misses West's purpose. The focus of criticism appears to be on his claim that TOB is "revolutionary." Like almost all criticism of West, the author appears to forget who West is and what his purpose is. Even though it is acknowledged that West is a "popularizer" rather than an ivy tower theologian, the author fails to see that for the typical AUDIENCE West is speaking to, TOB IS "revolutionary."

Intellectuals need to face facts. NOBODY is going to come to a lecture titled "Humanae Vitae: the misunderstood story" except those of us who already believe/submit to it. Preaching to the choir might feel good, but doesn't help much. West does what he does because it captures the interest of those who have already written off the Church as being capable of having any insight on sexual matters. That is his brilliance. He is the first to admit that this is his purpose and role.

He's not a theologian, he's an evangelist. Learn the difference.

[/quote]

In my experience, West seems to raise himself up as a source of teaching, forgetting the fact that everything in ToB, and indeed HV, is all included in previous teachings of the Church.

West raises sex up to inappropriate levels, and makes it out to be far more than it is in an already oversexed culture.


#11

[quote="Alexander_Smith, post:10, topic:203793"]
In my experience, West seems to raise himself up as a source of teaching, forgetting the fact that everything in ToB, and indeed HV, is all included in previous teachings of the Church.

West raises sex up to inappropriate levels, and makes it out to be far more than it is in an already oversexed culture.

[/quote]

This might appear to be true for mature Catholics who have already become well-acquainted with the message that West has been putting out for many years over his public career. However, for those of us who are new to the Church, and those who are being welcomed back into the Church, West's books are a Godsend. It is true our culture is extremely oversexed, but West's message helps move the newer and revert Catholics in the right direction. After we begin to experience a holy sexuality, we can begin to look deeper into the meaty theological stuff. But you will not be able to bring people into the Church unless you acknowledge the importance of sexuality, the appropriate way to begin moving toward holiness in that area of life, and only then will sexuality be put back into proper perspective for a person's life. Just like the overeater who needs a lot of education about food and nutrition before they can begin to move toward a healthier pattern of eating and exercise. You can't just tell an overeater to stop thinking about food or to stop eating so much. You must gently lead them toward a healthier way of thinking first, and their behavior will follow. So, in both situations, a heavy focus upon the problem is necessary at the beginning, and then later more subtle adjustments and course corrections will keep the faithful moving in the right direction.


#12

Christopher West is funny...if you like him, it seems he can do no wrong, and any disagreement is an attack; if you don't like him, he's easy to pick to pieces. I think thats the biggest problem with him, and it's actually a problem with us as a culture, all these popular Catholic writers and speakers become little gods, and we are more attached to them then we are to the faith they are (hopefully) trying to impart.

Step back a minute and think about it. Do we "need" West? No. We need Christ and his Church. Does West make mistakes in his writing and in his interpretation of John Paul II Theology of the Body? Yes. Most people who re-interpret another's work make mistakes, and that is why we should always read with discernment.

West's enthusiam is wonderful, his theology is flawed. Let's remember his humanity, pray for him, and leave our unreserved praise for Christ.


#13

[quote="Alexander_Smith, post:10, topic:203793"]
In my experience, West seems to raise himself up as a source of teaching,** forgetting the fact that everything in ToB, and indeed HV, is all included in previous teachings of the Church.
**
West raises sex up to inappropriate levels, and makes it out to be far more than it is in an already oversexed culture.

[/quote]

[quote="mommamaree, post:11, topic:203793"]
This might appear to be true for mature Catholics who have already become well-acquainted with the message that West has been putting out for many years over his public career. However, for those of us who are new to the Church, and those who are being welcomed back into the Church, West's books are a Godsend. It is true our culture is extremely oversexed, but West's message helps move the newer and revert Catholics in the right direction. After we begin to experience a holy sexuality, we can begin to look deeper into the meaty theological stuff. But you will not be able to bring people into the Church unless you acknowledge the importance of sexuality, the appropriate way to begin moving toward holiness in that area of life, and only then will sexuality be put back into proper perspective for a person's life. Just like the overeater who needs a lot of education about food and nutrition before they can begin to move toward a healthier pattern of eating and exercise. You can't just tell an overeater to stop thinking about food or to stop eating so much. You must gently lead them toward a healthier way of thinking first, and their behavior will follow. So, in both situations, a heavy focus upon the problem is necessary at the beginning, and then later more subtle adjustments and course corrections will keep the faithful moving in the right direction.

[/quote]

I think this idea of West's teachings being "revolutionary" needs to ask the question... FOR WHO?

Alexander makes a very good point...
To the church, none of this is "new" or "revolutionary" and it certainly needs to be TAUGHT as being within the Hermeneutic of Continuity...

But, to the people of today's culture, both non-Catholics and Catholics who aren't very educated in the faith (let's admit... there are a few out there! ;))... their view of the Church's teachings of the faith was WRONG. THIS is what West is "revolutionizing"... their incorrect understanding... and I think that's what mommamaree is trying to explain...


#14

[quote="Em_in_FL, post:13, topic:203793"]
I think this idea of West's teachings being "revolutionary" needs to ask the question... FOR WHO?

Alexander makes a very good point...
To the church, none of this is "new" or "revolutionary" and it certainly needs to be TAUGHT as being within the Hermeneutic of Continuity...

But, to the people of today's culture, both non-Catholics and Catholics who aren't very educated in the faith (let's admit... there are a few out there! ;))... their view of the Church's teachings of the faith was WRONG. THIS is what West is "revolutionizing"... their incorrect understanding... and I think that's what mommamaree is trying to explain...

[/quote]

I can't believe I have to correct this so much....

West has never EVER said that his own teaching was revolutionary.

George Weigel, the pope's biographer said that TOB was revolutionary.

This is one of the many very very irresponsible things that Dawn Eden said and misquoted.

I've been to the institute for both week 1 and 2 of the TOB head and heart classes. West never says this is him, JPII and other quotes from the church.

This conversation also happened at the TOB congress--- the concepts are church teaching, which has always existed. TOB is a new articulation of it.


#15

[quote="agapewolf, post:14, topic:203793"]
I can't believe I have to correct this so much....

West has never EVER said that his own teaching was revolutionary.

George Weigel, the pope's biographer said that TOB was revolutionary.

This is one of the many very very irresponsible things that Dawn Eden said and misquoted.

I've been to the institute for both week 1 and 2 of the TOB head and heart classes. West never says this is him, JPII and other quotes from the church.

This conversation also happened at the TOB congress--- the concepts are church teaching, which has always existed. TOB is a new articulation of it.

[/quote]

I understand... which is why I wrote "I think **this idea* of West's teachings..."* not that West stated it himself. ;)


#16

[quote="Em_in_FL, post:15, topic:203793"]
I understand... which is why I wrote "I think **this idea** of West's teachings..." not that West stated it himself. ;)

[/quote]

but its not "west's teachings" at all. No one I know thinks this is west's teachings.


#17

[quote="agapewolf, post:16, topic:203793"]
but its not "west's teachings" at all. No one I know thinks this is west's teachings.

[/quote]

okay... I didn't realize everything would be so analyzed... totally shouldn't have posted... clearly I lack the full understanding of this full debate...

None of that was *actually **relevant *to the point I was trying to make in my post...

Sorry... :o


#18

I have no intention of renewing an argument, I'm not online much, and so I don't always get back to each and every thread, but much of my trouble with C. West is that he doesn't claim his teachings as his own.

He presents them as John Paul II TOB, when in fact they are his own understanding of TOB, altered and affected by his history, mindset, and understanding of his own culture. If West would claim his teachings as his own, I would have less issue with him. It's understandable that West would adjust and repackage TOB, and TOB is not doctrine that must remain as it is.

Because West doesn't present his teachings as West's TOB, but as JPII's TOB, he is confusing people. I've talked to people who think they are rejecting John Paul II's Theology of the Body because they've read and rejected Good News on Sex and Marriage. This is not helpful.

(This is not meant to be a "Insulting C. West" post. As I said before, he's human, and he's obviously trying to live out his faith. I could list my disagreements with his critics as well. I don't hate him and I'm not saying that he's had no positive effect on anyone in the church, so please don't take it negatively.)

Blessings


#19

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