Book Reviews

Book Review: The Joy of the Gospel (Pope Francis)

Pope Francis, head of the world’s largest church, is easily the most influential Christian in the world. Though non-Catholic, I have been thoroughly impressed and inspired by Pope Francis’s dedication to living the gospel. From rejecting the lavish papal residence to sneaking out of the Vatican at night to help the poor, the current pontiff seems to follow the example of Christ closer than any other Christian figure today. It is with this admiration that I sat down to read Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).

Pope Francis tackles several major topics in this work including internal church matters, capitalism, and the needs of the poor and vulnerable, yet the overall message that Pope Francis seems to be conveying to his followers here is the lack of joy among contemporary Christians. “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.”1 Living out the Christian faith should not be seen as a burden, according to Pope Francis, it should be a joyful expression of God’s love for us and for all of creation. If the gospel does not bring us great joy as Christians, then we are doing it all wrong!

Pope Francis offers a particularly strong critique of global capitalism, which rubs many politically right-leaning Americans the wrong way. Americans must keep in mind that Pope Francis hails from South America, where capitalism is often associated with dictators and oppressive corporations. Latin Americans, along with Asians and Africans, experienced globalization and neoliberal economic policies quite differently than Westerners have. With that in mind, I would like to share one passage at length:

“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throwaway’ culture which is now spreading.”2

Comments like the one above often get the pope labeled a “leftist” or “Marxist” by right-wing pundits, but these comments are not the result of any political philosophy, they are a product of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Pope Francis’s sentiments here represent a wholly Christian pro-life worldview, one we might all take heed to follow more closely. Pope Francis is correct in his assertion that we have secularized economics to the point of actually “deifying” the market, leaving no room for God and the Christian worldview.3 There is a special place in Pope Francis’s heart for the poor and marginalized, which can be seen from his actions and from the emphasis he places on their protection in this book.

Pope Francis also critiques the excessive legalism and “spiritual worldliness” of many in the church. The pope notes that many Christians have an “ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine, and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the gospel have a real impact” on people’s lives.4 The Church and its doctrines and practices are there to bring Christians closer to God and spread the gospel. They are not to be used as weapons to beat others over the head with. Ecclesiastical elitism is sinful in Pope Francis’s view.

As a non-Catholic, I am in no position to assess his papacy or how Catholics receive him. But if this book is any indication, he will make the Catholic Church stronger and more faithful through his leadership. The Joy of the Gospel is a worthwhile read for both Catholics and non-Catholics. All Christians will benefit from Pope Francis’s wisdom.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

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Chris Smith

Chris Smith

Chris is currently employed as a library specialist for Middle Eastern language materials at Duke University. Prior to that he spent two years as a teaching assistant and Ph.D. student in Islamic Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. He holds a M.A. in Religion from Wake Forest and a B.A. in Global Studies and Religious Studies from UNC-Chapel Hill. Chris has two daughters and currently resides in Chapel Hill, NC.

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