November 2003

Switching Churches: A Layman's Guide to a New Commitment.  By Donald Hook. Unlimited Publishing. 118 pages. $11.99.

The demise of mainline Protestantism in the U.S. since the 1960s is a spectacle that Catholics behold with mixed feelings. Catholics can perhaps take heart that many former Protestants are bringing their gifts and enthusiasm to the Church of Rome. However, Catholics must recognize the tragedy and loss to American public life which goes along with the destruction (often self-destruction) of once prominent denominations. So what does one do if one is painfully watching the self-destruction of the denomination in which one has worshiped since childhood? Donald Hook offers an earnest and well-written response to that question with a book that packs a punch.

Like C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, Hook addresses concerns common to Protestants and Catholics alike. The main cause of the corruption and heresy in the major Christian churches today is essentially the same: a worldview that follows the secular culture rather than God. Hook analyzes the problem with wit and grace. An Episcopalian for many years and a professor at a church-related college (Trinity College, Hartford), Hook experienced first-hand what he describes. “I saw Good Friday vanish from the university calendar. I saw coed dorms approved. I saw drunkenness and drugs tolerated on and off campus. I saw the chapel requirement abolished, public prayer prohibited.” He also describes what happened in his Church: “divorce among [both] the laity and clergy; rampant intercommunion; disregard of certain sacraments; tolerance — and then promotion — of active homosexuality among clergy and laity….”

While he outlines the problems effectively, Hook also proposes answers and offers inspiration. He gives practical advice about how to demand orthodoxy from religious leaders. Of course, for those whose leaders are obstinate in their apostasy (Hook describes Episcopalian Bishop Spong as a prime example), the path to God is to be found in switching churches.

Near the end of the book, the author describes his own decision to become Catholic. “When my wife and I left our Episcopal parish church of 27 years, we had already weathered many disappointments. We had raised our children in this particular church, and we had all participated in the fullest. We had contributed steadily and heavily. We had seen doctrines go by the board, watched services disappear, and heard heresy from the pulpit and national headquarters. We witnessed the confusion, sadness and even panic on the part of the elderly…. We marveled at the departure of young people, in whose name and for whose sake so many of the changes had allegedly been instituted.”

For Catholics, this book is a wake-up call — and a warning to those who would take the Catholic Church in the same wrong-headed direction. For Protestants, this book may help develop an understanding of where mainline Protestantism lost its way, and what can be done to fight for the historic Christian faith, either by fighting for Christian orthodoxy within one’s denomination or by leaving it for a more authentic orthodoxy.

- L.A. Carstens



If You Really Loved Me: 100 Questions on Dating, Relationships, and Sexual Purity.  By Jason Evert. Catholic Answers. 231 pages. $14.95.

After finishing Evert’s question-and-answer book on tough sexual issues facing today’s youth, I turned on the radio and was reminded of the need for such a book by the Durex condom commercial cramming the airwaves. As a 19-year-old, I can easily affirm that these are times when it is imperative that a girl learn how to say “no” — but more importantly that she understand why she must say “no.”

I was initially taken aback by the title of the book, braced for what I assumed would be a cheesy extolling of prudish behavior. I was wrong.

Evert is himself in his 20s, and is able to address the reader as his peer. His direct, personal perspective establishes a bond, and it feels as if Evert is writing for a one-man audience — you.

The presentation is well thought out. First, Evert addresses questions on “Chastity and the Meaning of Sex.” Evert makes a point of defining the terms he uses throughout the book, so that he and the reader are on the same page as to what it means to be chaste, what sex is, and other such crucial though often misunderstood terms.

Evert also peppers his work with quotes and example situations — and humor. This makes his work much more enjoyable and keeps Evert from coming across as a lofty scholar preaching to his moral inferiors.

Ah, but the content. What does Evert actually say? One of his main points is the sacredness of sex and the importance of preserving it for marriage. Evert points out many double standards and odd situations that exist in society these days — e.g., how the bond between lovemaking and life is broken by both contraception and in vitro fertilization. In contrast to the negative connotation of “losing” one’s virginity, Evert points to the positive connotation of making a loving gift of one’s virginity to one’s (future) spouse.

Evert is realistic. He does not sugarcoat marriage (or the time spent discerning one’s vocation). He makes it especially clear that while chastity and abstinence are what bring us closer to God and to our (future) spouse, the path it paves is not free from mockery, doubt, and other painful trials. But what Evert also makes clear is that there are heavenly, and even earthly, rewards for traversing this path. Treasuring and guarding our virginity or chastity makes the honeymoon that much more special. It makes the marriage bond that much stronger. It brings one, married or not, that much closer to God.

The book is not flawless, however. Evert tends toward slippery slopes that seem a bit far-fetched. A couple of typos were overlooked, and a couple of questions were insufficiently answered. But overall, this is a quality book. Sure it has a rough edge or two, but as Evert himself points out, no one is perfect. And Evert more than makes up for these infractions with his enormous list of resources and an extensive bibliography, all pointing any troubled reader to further good advice and encouragement.

- Magdalena Vree



Forced Labor: What's Wrong with Balancing Work and Family.  By Brian Robertson. Spence. 240 pages. $17.95.

When then-Vice President Dan Quayle spoke out in 1992 against Murphy Brown’s deliberate choice of single motherhood, he was reviled for his antediluvian notions. In 2003 it may be safer to say the same thing, but it is still hard to come up with the arguments that support what many know in their hearts: Children do better with married parents who give priority to rearing their children. Two people working full-time, even if highly organized, risk exhaustion for themselves and neglect for their offspring. The family does not exist to serve the economy. It is, rather, the other way around — or should be.

Does this mean women should never work outside their homes, that men should never pursue careers that take them away from their families? Of course not, but the value of what we obtain from work, whether an enviable paycheck or ego gratification, needs to be kept in its proper place. What we do in the marketplace can be done by many others — and is often not even necessary. But how we serve our families cannot be duplicated by anyone.

Brian Robertson sees this clearly, and he sees it despite the sustained efforts of many to distort history and statistics. His vision of a society buttressed by a culture that truly values families is well worth consideration.

- Elizabeth C. Hanink





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