If you lead an adult education course or book discussion group at a Catholic parish, the next book you should consider working through is Michael Paul Gallagher’s Faith Maps. In the introduction to the work, Gallagher describes his purpose in this way: “I hope to offer others the fruits of my reflecting on faith, a personal adventure that has lasted half a century [N.B.: Gallagher, a Jesuit, was a lecturer in modern literature at University College, Dublin, before moving to Rome nearly twenty years ago to teach fundamental theology]. More specifically, I want to gather from the wisdom of ten major writers, and to let their wisdom reach people who cannot devote so much time to reading” (2). At this task, Gallagher succeeds admirably. Faith Maps is a readily accessible work, but this accessibility in no way detracts from the wealth of wisdom contained in its pages. This small monograph is impressive on a number of different levels, but Gallagher is especially to be commended for the breadth of material he covers and for the hermeneutical generosity that he extends towards his interlocutors.
As an explanation of the work’s title, Gallagher writes: “The book is entitled ‘Faith Maps’ in the sense that each chapter takes a religious thinker and asks how he or she would point us in the direction of Christian faith. The focus will be more on how we can move towards the possibility of religious belief, and less on the content of what we believe” (3). Gallagher’s emphasis on “how we can move towards the possibility of religious belief” weaves a thread throughout all ten chapters. Even when treating the work of a more traditional and dialectical theologian like Joseph Ratzinger, Gallagher sifts out those elements of Razinger’s thought that specifically relate to the process of fostering a living and vibrant faith. Gallagher makes it clear that in doing so he does not intend to downplay the significance of doctrine; rather, his choice in this respect has to do with his sense that the contemporary crisis of religious belief often involves existential concerns more than intellectual doubt. Regarding this issue, Gallagher points to Karl Rahner as a model: “Talking about God in a merely doctrinal or ‘propositional’ sense was out of touch with what [Rahner] sensed to be the hungers and needs of the age. It was not a question of watering down the faith (as he has sometimes been accused of doing) but of doing justice to possible journeys of faith in a new moment of culture” (37). The latter part of this quotation succinctly captures the central aim of Gallagher’s work.
The mention of Ratzinger and Rahner in the above paragraph points to another conspicuous strength of Faith Maps: namely, the diversity of voices that Gallagher draws upon. As many readers of this website probably well know, it can often prove difficult to find books for ecclesial and academic contexts that do not lean too heavily towards the theological left or right, and thus that risk alienating from the outset a certain portion of one’s students. Gallagher’s book sidesteps this problem by choosing “religious explorers” from across the theological spectrum. While I lack empirical data, I imagine that there are not many books now available in which one can find sympathetic treatments of both Newman and Blondel, Balthasar and Lonergan, Rahner and Ratzinger. Moreover, Gallagher avoids the faux pas of reserving space only for male figures, even if Flannery O’Connor and Dorothee Soelle are outnumbered 5 to 1 by their male counterparts.
Again, I highly recommend this work. In a historical context in which very few of us have the time available to work through the major treatises of the above mentioned writers, Michael Paul Gallagher has done us a great service by distilling some of their most important insights and organizing these insights into a compelling spiritual reflection. His Faith Maps should prove beneficial to those who are seeking to deepen their faith, as well as those who are hoping to discover faith for the first time.