In Avery Dulles’ Evangelization for the Third Millennium the reader finds a compilation of ten pieces written by the Cardinal across the years 1993 to 2007 and gathered by his choice for this anthology very close to the end of his life. The collection represents not so much the genre of scholarly, highly footnoted articles, but rather talks, lectures and pastorally engaged reflections that explore some themes of concern to the Church and its contemporary sense of mission. However, to comment on the lack of footnotes and the presumption of a non-academic audience is not meant to imply that these printed articles are lacking in erudition or intellectual insight. To the contrary, they display Cardinal Dulles’ usual clear perception of the nub of theological problems, as well as his respect for these problems as they develop through both the Catholic and Protestant traditions. Yet, because the original audiences of these reflections ranged from attendees at pastoral and catechetical conventions to the readers of popular spiritual journals, Dulles does seem rather deliberately to express himself in clear and relatively jargon-free language.
The Cardinal’s primary concern in these pieces is to explore the activity of “evangelization” in the life of the contemporary Church. By this he means, in the most limited sense, how the Church brings non-members into its fold through the presentation of the Gospel. However, Dulles does also spend time pushing out a definition of “evangelization” by which many more activities are seen as “evangelical.” And so, activities such as conveying not just the limited words of the gospels but also the saving content of its message (or, less verbally, performing good actions or initiating pastoral strategies which care for people in their practical needs) are also to be understood, broadly speaking, as evangelization.
This collection is not an exhaustive historical treatment of these issues. Nor does it plumb every tangential issue of concern (especially in the complex debate between “faith” and “works” that has informed much of the relationship between Catholic and Protestant theologies in the last 450 years). Rather, Dulles takes as his starting point Second Vatican Council’s call for a new look at the preaching and proclaiming tasks of the Church and he pursues that through to both John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s commitment to carrying on that new work on the part of the Church’s pastors.
All in all, Dulles’ clarity and sensitivity to the topic makes this a fine introduction to the issues involved. This book would make an excellent source for anyone who needs to preach or present on these topics in a pastoral setting. And, because the Cardinal couches so much of his discussion in terms of ecclesiological relationships (e.g., “It is not individual Christians nor even the Church that proclaims Christ …Christ proclaims the gospel through the Church and its members.” (89)), these pieces also serve as a lasting commentary on Dulles’ noted explorations into the structure and life of the Church.