This slim volume begins with a brief, yet meaningful preface outlining Fr. Crean’s primary purposes for writing. He intends to inform the reader about what the Catholic Church “believes about Holy Scripture, and what she has defined,” as well as “what further things it is reasonable for a Catholic to hold.” His primary readers are students formally studying theology, though he also writes with “a wider readership in mind.”
Fr. Crean’s concerns for theology students is probably most prominent and pertinent, given his vocational and academic responsibilities. But, the real realities for curious and eager Catholics and for questioning converts are where this book’s content could be most crucial and where it may have its greatest utility and effect, as well as its widest readership.
Beginning and advanced theology students should find little new in this book’s text, unless they have not grappled fully with the basic principles of biblical exegesis. If so, this book is a good general corrective as it summarizes the truth and justifications of first order principles about the nature and substance of Scripture and provides adequate references throughout the text for further research, reading and reflection.
As a lay Catholic, whose lengthy journey home to the Catholic Church included atheism and evangelical and charismatic Protestantism including graduate level divinity study, I have a fair idea about that wider readership and their needs and necessities. In this I agree and affirm Fr. Crean’s intention and hope for a wider readership.
Yet, the text of the book, in its current state, has only a remote chance of reaching that wider audience. For it is written in an academic tone and style, both of which are appropriate and essential to his primary audience. But, the book’s content could be expressed in a manner much more accessible and engaging to a wider audience without forsaking the breadth and depth of its crucial content for its primary audience. In addition, a topical index might also facilitate later use as a handy reference for personal or group Bible study by a lay reader seeking basic textual information and clarity regarding sound exegesis.
Perhaps, Fr. Crean could be more mindful of the average reader in his vocabulary, tone and pacing. For example, instead of confining elaborations in his extensive and lengthy footnotes, he could just write the basic conceptual content and explanatory and elaborative information within the body of the text in plain language with explanations and clarifications of crucial principles and their many nuances and subtleties. Footnotes would then be brief and be a guide to more detailed and sophisticated sources, where appropriate, particularly for theology students.
As a result of these suggestions, the book’s length might grow to twice its current length, but its potential readership would likely expand by a similar factor. It would thus be a guide for regular Scriptural reading and would mitigate some of the pitfalls, confusions and errors so often a part of theological reading and Scriptural study, as well as promote the use of orthodox commentaries and doctrinal resources.
Not only would this approach in the understanding and analysis of Scriptural books and passages be enhanced, but it could also prevent errors in thinking that could be mitigated by more direct narrative explanations with a more common clarity and in a more hortatory tone.
An example might be to expound on the erroneous exaggeration of biblical perspicuity in the early chapters of the suggested rewrite. Biblical perspicuity is an erroneous assumption about Scriptural study made by almost all Protestant denominations. For Protestantism’s belief in perspicuity asserts that Holy Scripture’s content is clear, obvious and straightforward.
And, it is why so many Protestants conduct Bible studies without any training in exegesis and why they employ a wide variety of biblical commentaries that offer very different interpretations and analyses of Scriptre and its content. Avoiding the erroneous assumption of Protestantism’s perspicuity is a first order, cautionary principle that should guide Catholic readers of Scripture to definitive Church teachings and commentaries.
As such, it is a prudent principle that utilizes the unity of the Bible and the doctrinal truths and scholarly exegetical explanations of biblical passages in light of the Scriptures’ holistic harmony, while preventing erroneous interpretations before they have a chance to influence its readers, particularly those in the hoped for wider readership.
Given these cautions and recommendations about the content, pacing and tone of this proposed re-write, a less obscure title might also elicit a more expansive readership, just as changing its subtitle to “A Guide to Catholic Scriptural Study” rather than its current emphasis on “Students of Theology.”
While these criticisms may be many, the foundational idea and motive for Fr. Crean’s book is not just a sound one, it is a necessary and exciting one particularly as more Catholics seem to be interested in reading Scripture first hand. Teaching them some first order principles in a more narrative style and inspirational tone can only improve the content of this book and its reach and effectiveness.
Such a reconfigured and recast approach to this material has great promise. Making these changes will also put this suggested volume in the hands of priests in their eventual parishes. Priests who know its content and can readily lead their parishioners by putting this improved version in the hands of the curious and the converting with confidence and personal familiarity, an attribute a more scholarly version precludes.
Fr. Crean is to be commended for his insight and the idea of such a “Guide.” With a slightly different approach, keeping a “wider readership in mind,” this book could accomplish its purpose on a scale truly in keeping with its stated purpose.
I encourage Fr. Crean and his publishers to consider these recommendations for there is truly a pressing need for such a guide. Such an accessible guide could become a ready resource for parishes, particularly those who encourage small group Bible studies. As such, it would equip its readers with some crucial exegetical principles and avoid the implicit erroneous assumption of biblical perspicuity and the prevalence of personal interpretation so common in lay led Bible studies.
Letters From That City is available from Os Justi Press.