The Modernized Jesus of the RENEW 'Process'

by James Likoudis


The contempt for traditional dogma manifested by these visionaries of a "new Church" is reflected in the non-doctrinal structure of the RENEW process and the particular favour it gives the works and views of dissenter theologians and writers. While this article is old, Paulist Press still promotes RENEW and still publishes some of the same dissident writers.

Larger Work

The Christian Order

Publisher & Date

The Christian Order, May 1986

The RENEW program (or "process") of the Archdiocese of Newark promising the development of "vibrant faith communities" has now spread into 70 Catholic dioceses of the United States, including the Diocese of Buffalo. Touted as a "spiritual renewal process" it remains highly controversial. There are myriad objections to the RENEW process. In many respects it is simply embarrassing with its crooked, gnarled tree logo, balloons, signs, banners, buttons, mugs, and bumper stickers. RENEW'S utter silliness results in part from its use of pop-psychology, group-dynamics techniques applied to the interaction of small groups (quite reminiscent of the psychological manipulation found in such secular, behaviour-modification programs such as "Effective Parenting Information for Children" - EPIC). However, in posing as a "spiritual renewal process", RENEW is a much more serious phenomenon.

RENEW Materials and the Paulist Press

The truth is that RENEW materials as published by Paulist Press have proved a destabilizing and polarizing influence in many places and brought forth sharp criticism by discerning priests and laity alike. Paulist Press does not have a credible record in Catholic publishing, as witness the Vatican's recent condemnation of such Paulist Press best sellers as "Christ Among Us" by ex-priest Anthony Wilhelm and "Sexual Morality" by Fr. Philip Keane, S.S. These books were so theologically askew that their imprimaturs were ordered withdrawn. Many other books and texts published by the Paulist Press have subjected Catholic faith and morals to a process of radical revision and outright assault. Examples are:

  1. The "Come to the Father" elementary school religions education series (it helped create a whole generation of religiously illiterate Catholics);
  2. "Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought" by Fr. Anthony Kosnik et. al. (this book sponsored by the Catholic Theological Society of America also suffered direct condemnation by the Vatican for undermining biblical sexual morality);
  3. "Introduction to the Faith of Catholics" by Fr. Richard Chilson;
  4. "Jesus and the Eucharist" by Fr. Ted Guzie, S.J.;
  5. "Parents Talk Love: The Catholic Family Handbook About Sexuality" by Susan K. Sullivan and Fr. Matthew A. Kawiak;
  6. "Education in Love" sex-education program;
  7. "Biblical Reflections on Crises Facing the Church by" the Modernist biblical scholar Fr. Raymond Brown;
  8. "Magisterium" by Fr. Francis A. Sullivan, S.J.;
  9. "Making Moral Decisions" by former Jesuit and Canisius College professer Edward Steven;
  10. "Readings in Moral Theology" (Nos. 1-4) by leading dissenter theologians Charles E. Curran and Richard McCormick, S.J.

The above are but a few of the Paulist Press books promoting deviations from Catholic teaching and which have aroused the concern of Catholic parents desirous of handing on "the Faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). It is important to understand that some of the above books and texts have freely circulated in the Diocese of Buffalo spreading errors and confusion concerning the Church's teaching on faith and morals. Now Paulist Press has given us RENEW.

Vatican II Betrayed

That the Catholic Church and indeed all Christian confessions in the nations of the West are in a crisis situation is no surprise to those who keep abreast of religious matters. What is surprising is that there can be found Christians who ignore the profound nature of this crisis and the flood of heterodox theological and catechetical literature which has contributed to it.

How the mind of the Second Vatican Council has been distorted and betrayed by dissenter theologians, catechists, and journalists is a theme enlarged upon by one of the highest dignitaries in the Church, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in his new book The Ratzinger Report (Ignatius Press). Cardinal Ratzinger's autopsy on the "anti-spirit of the Council" deserves careful reading by all Christians. Similarly, Msgr. Philip Delhaye of Belgium, who was secretary-general of the Vatican's International Theological Commission and a leading theologian at the Second Vatican Council, has echoed Cardinal Ratzinger's critique of the false theologies at work reviving the destructive errors of classical Modernism. He too has noted how a "parallel council" of liberal Modernist theologians and publishers has succeeded in giving the general public a false conception of the work and meaning of Vatican II. They have created their own conception of the Church which Vatican II never dreamed of, even attempting to replace the Hierarchy by the "People of God" who are given a democratist political-sociological, not biblical meaning. The dogmatic definitions of past Ecumenical Councils are ignored in an effort to adapt to the "modern mentality" or are replaced by tendentious interpretations of "signs of the times".

It should be remarked here that the contempt for traditional dogma manifested by these visionaries of a "new Church" is reflected in the non-doctrinal structure of the RENEW process and the particular favour it gives the works and views of dissenter theologians and writers.

RENEW and the Deformation of Christ

Whatever bits and pieces of Catholic doctrine are found in RENEW are, however, vitiated by its heretical deformation of the sacred humanity (and divine personality) of Jesus Christ. One has only to read the RENEW materials circulating in the Diocese [of Buffalo] to see what a miserable sham the RENEW process is in its pretension "to help people get to know and love Jesus better by more clearly understanding the things which Christ said and thought." RENEW's modernized Jesus is simply not the Jesus of the divinely inspired Gospels of the New Testament. RENEW's Jesus has been in effect stripped of His divinity and reduced to the proportions of a mere man, manifesting ignorance of his identity and mission, and mouthing palsy-walsy banalities. For example, RENEW's exposition of the Scripture text: "You are the Light to the world" runs as follows:

"Jesus turned to His friends and said: 'People look up to you. They see how happy you all are with life. They want to follow your life-style because they, too want to be happy and at peace. That's a very important thing you are doing. You can't let these people down'." (Evangelization: Home, p. 20)

Far more serious are the following quotations from RENEW undermining the faith of Christians in the divinity of the Word made flesh:

"Jesus shows us what fully humanness really is. He BECAME fully human by the choices and decisions He made in His life. In His imagination, His mind, His heart, His words and deeds, He GREW into a person of wisdom. Wisdom is the highest gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the gift by which we are enabled to see things as God sees them.

"... Jesus GREW to see everyone and everything as God sees them. In that wisdom He loved all things as a reflection of His Father. He GREW to understand that HE WAS DEEPLY CONNECTED TO EVERYTHING and was therefore responsable for the well-being of all. Jesus BECAME a totally just person who stood in truthful relatedness to everything. He STRUGGLED to uncover the sources of sin and suffering... ." (RENEW, Empowerment by the Spirit:Home book, pp. 28-29. Copyrighted by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Newark, 1980).

"Jesus calls us to life. He calls us to mission. Over and over He calls us back. He is the firstborn, our elder brother who has experienced the same kinds of FRUSTRATIONS in His own time and place in history" (RENEW's Empowerment by the Spirit:Home book p. 31. Copyrighted by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Newark, 1980).

"All our life the Holy Spirit has been gently prodding us to respond to the Father's call. AS IN THE CASE OF JESUS, so in each of us, the Spirit leads us to know WHO WE ARE and to DISCERN WHAT IS THE WILL OF GOD in our life" (RENEW's Empowerment by the Spirit: Small Group Sharing Option, p. 10. Copyrighted by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Newark, 1981. 1984).

"In the gospels Jesus IS BROUGHT TO SPIRITUAL MATURITY BY MEANS OF MANY EXPERIENCES. One day a 'wild and wooly' prophet (John the Baptist) comes out of the desert like an unexpected spring rain. Could this be the long awaited messiah? JESUS WONDERS" (Diocese of Buffalo's "Religious Formation of Youth Using RENEW" manual, p. 80).9

Clearly, the ignorant, struggling, frustrated "Brother Jesus" of the RENEW process cannot be the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the very Eternal Word and Wisdom of God, who took human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Undoubtedly, Christ learned knowledge through experience, but possessing the fullness of divinity He enjoyed full knowledge concerninng His redemptive mission and was aware of both His divinity and His messiahship.

The traditional doctrine of the Church concerning the mystery of the Incarnation, namely that Christ is perfect God and perfect man in the unity of one Divine Person, is thoroughly muddled in the RENEW process. Such heretical deformation of the Sacred Humanity of Christ can never serve as the foundation for authentic spiritual growth and progress. Interestingly, in 1979 William Cardinal Baum warned the U.S. Bishops concerning the increasing attacks on orthodox Christology:

"The mystery of the Incarnation is being challenged in a profound new way by many theologians and if you have not yet felt the effects of this in your own local dioceses, you will in time. These effects already are being felt in our seminaries and universities and undoubtedly will affect preaching and teaching in the local churches".

With RENEW and the regrettable use of certain defective catechetical texts in its Catholic schools, the Diocese of Buffalo can no longer be considered exempt from such a challenge.

The Infection of Modernism

Lastly, it must be said that RENEW's radical reduction of Christ to a mere human person must be traced to the spread of liberal Protestant and Modernist ideas among what might be termed "New Breed" Catholics. Denial of the supernatural order and the divinity of Christ has ravaged almost all Protestant churches. Today, too many Protestant ministers use their pulpits to explain away the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, the divinity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, original sin, angels, miracles, the bodily Resurrection of Christ, etc. — all in the name of a "scientific" higher biblical criticism developed by tendentious (and unbelieving) scholars. The defective Christology of the Archdiocese of Newark's RENEW process manifests the same fatal Modernist distinction between the "Jesus of history" and the "Christ of faith" which has already sapped the faith of many Protestants. RENEW thus serves as another example of the revival of neo-Modernism in the Catholic body since the Second Vatican Council.

There is no question that the Catholic Church will throw off this infection of an unbelieving "new hermeneutics" disseminated by such scholars as Hans Küng, Edward Schillebeeckx, Raymond Brown, and their followers. The present crisis will go the way of past crises in the stormy history of the Church. It is interesting, however, to note Hans Küng's insistance that the theology of the future must assure the displacement of dogma by religious experience. This displacement is precisely the ideological thrust of the RENEW process. In devaluing the objective certainties of revealed religion in favour of the arbitrary opinions and subjective preferences of individuals, RENEW presents a serious challenge to all those who would defend the most basic dogmas of the Christian Faith. There are many today who seek religious experience at the expense of objective truth and revealed dogma. It is the Modernist Hans Küng who writes that "religious experience must replace the definitive teaching of the Church". Similarly, the architects and writers of the Archdiocese of Newark's RENEW "process" publicly proclaim their anti-dogmatic bias:

"People are hungering for an experience of the living God. Many have had such an experience in the sharing groups that have grown up since Vatican II and more recently in the sharing groups of the past term of RENEW. It is an experience beyond doctrine or creed. It is a personal encounter with Christ. We should be jealous of this experience" (RENEW Pastoral Staff book I, p. 37; emphasis added).

RENEW's arrogant claim to provide religious experiences of Christ "beyond doctrine or creed" reveals RENEW'S fundamentally Modernist character and why it fails utterly as a "spiritual formation process" in which Catholics can have confidence.

Mr. Likoudis is the author of various books on historical theology and education, and president Emeritus of the International lay association "Catholics United for the Faith" (CUF). Acknowledgements to The Wanderer.

Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage

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