Bradford HINZE. Prophetic Obedience: Ecclesiology for a Dialogical Church. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016. pp. 264. ISBN 9781626981676. Reviewed by Marc TUMEINSKI, Anna Maria College, Paxton, MA 01612.


In his text Prophetic Obedience, Bradford Hinze draws the reader’s attention to valuable questions around the nature and identity of the Church as a prophetic community, particularly in light of the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium and the pontificates of Francis, Benedict XVI and John Paul II. The author aims to examine how the understanding of the Church as the prophetic people of God has been received, from Vatican II until today. Hinze looks broadly at the universal Church and also discusses the Archdiocese of New York as a particular case study. These are potential strengths of the volume.

At the same time, the book feels at times like a missed opportunity, in the sense that its relevance and utility were often crowded out by the author’s recurring criticisms of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Hinze repeatedly characterizes both as ‘paternalistic, centralized, patriarchal, clericalist and hierarchical.’ He contrasts these two Popes with Francis, identifying the latter as a radical reformer who is bringing back a focus on Vatican II, emphasizing the understanding of the Church as the people of God, and encouraging participatory decision making across the Church, particularly at the regional and local levels. This contrast comes across as an overstatement and as a selective reading of the work of all three Popes.

The author further describes the Church as somehow beleaguered during the time of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but now liberated by Francis. Hinze does not even really make an argument, but seems instead to state these characterizations of the three Popes as obvious to any and all observers. All of this distracts from what could have been a more relevant and thought provoking theological argument on the nature of the Church, community, obedience, and the role of prophet both individually and communally.

According to Hinze, the theological work and pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI have officially prioritized an understanding of the Church in terms of communion over, or in place of, the concept of Church as people of God. As a result, they have pushed young people, women and minority groups out of the Church, while Francis is now working on bringing them back. This analysis is somewhat simplistic, and leaves out relevant material from the writings of Francis, Benedict XVI and John Paul II. For instance, Hinze quotes from a 2013 interview with Francis to demonstrate the pope’s emphasis on the Church as people of God (xvii). Yet in the same interview, Francis speaks of the Church as both people of God and as holy mother the hierarchical Church. The author does not mention this part of the interview. While Hinze seems to frame the prophetic Church as being in opposition to the hierarchical Church (e.g., exemplified for the author by the papacies of John Paul and Benedict), Francis in this very same interview notes that the prophetic function of the Church does not and must not oppose the hierarchical nature of the Church. They are not the same, Francis affirms, but they are not in opposition.

Several examples may point to the richness of theological wisdom, particularly in terms of what Hinze describes as prophetic obedience, in the teaching of John Paul II and Benedict XVI–wisdom that the author does not acknowledge or draw upon. In Familiaris Consortio, for example, John Paul II describes the participation of the Christian family in the prophetic mission of Christ, as well as ways that laity and clergy fulfill a prophetic role. One of the theological motifs of Joseph Ratzinger’s work was an understanding of the Church as a creative minority, which has much in common with Hinze’s notion of prophetic obedience. Benedict XVI highlighted Hildegard of Bingen’s prophetic wisdom and discernment, as well as her commitment to obedience, when she was declared a Doctor of the Church. Oversimplifying the work of these three Popes does a disservice to them and to Hinze’s larger purpose.

Nonetheless, Hinge does raise foundational ideas in this text. One of these key ideas is Hinze’s framework of five elements described as essential to the practice of prophetic obedience in and by the Church. These elements are: personal and collective discernment of how to live together as Christians, obedience coupled with listening and the power of reason, the mutuality of a strong individual and communal sense of faith, discernment of the signs of the times, and a commitment to mission and sharing the Good News. More on this framework and on these elements could have been very instructive.

Another invitation implicit in the book was to reflect upon how a local Catholic community can practice obedience while living out its baptismal participation in the prophetic office of Christ. This idea was not given sufficient attention for such a potentially life-giving point, especially at a time when we as Church could particularly benefit from hearing and responding to such an invitation.