The Evangelistic Brilliance of Frank Sheed | Catholic World Report
An interview with Dr. Joseph F. Martin about one of the greatest Catholic apologists of the past century
Dr. Joseph F. Martin, is a professor of Communication and Rhetoric at Hampton University in Virginia. He is the former art director of re:generation quarterly and his artwork has been commissioned by numerous national clients. He has also written essays and reviews for Word, Books and Culture, and other publications. In 2012, Martin was awarded his doctorate from Regent University, receiving honors for his dissertation, “Lingua Franka: An Examination of the Frank Sheed's Rhetorical Achievement”, which examined closely the unique qualities Sheed employed as speaker, apologist, author, and communicator.
Although Frank Sheed (1897-1981) authored over twenty books—including Theology and Sanity, A Map of Life,Society and Sanity,Knowing God, and To Know Christ Jesus—and founded, with his wife Maisie Ward, the Sheed & Ward imprint, he is not nearly as well known as G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. Many, however, think Sheed is the equal of Chesterton and Lewis as a Christian apologist, deserving of more attention as not only a defender of the Faith, but as an evangelist, catechist, and communicator.
CWR recently interviewed Dr. Martin at length about Sheed. The first of this two-part interview focuses on how Sheed helped Martin (a former Evangelical) journey into the Catholic Church, Sheed's background, Sheed's skills as a communicator, and what distinguished Sheed as an apologist. The second part of this interview (to be published on Tuesday, February 11th) will examine Sheed's focus on “sanity”, will compare him to Chesterton and Lewis, and highlight his key books.
CWR: When you first discovered the writings of Frank Sheed, you were not yet Catholic. How did you come upon his work and what sort of impression did it make on you as an Evangelical Protestant?
Joseph Martin: People may be surprised to know Sheed grew up shaped by various non-Catholic influences. In fact, for a good while he was farmed out to the Methodists. Under their preaching he developed what his son later called a “rather Protestant crush on the personality of Jesus.” Sheed himself appreciatively admitted, “Few Catholic boys were getting as much Scripture as I got,” And though his Protestant relatives also fed him with a regular diet of anti-Catholic propaganda, he never bought it. He would intuitively embrace the sacramental faith of his mother.
When someone later told him that his Catholicism was the result of brainwashing, he said his accuser “hadn’t a notion of how many competing detergents my small brain had been scrubbed with.” So he knew all the arguments.
So there’s one reason his writing probably resonated with me. He could present the spectrum of Catholic belief along lines that were accessible to people who knew Scripture but also knew mostly caricatures of the Catholic Church. Some of these latter were off base, but some were all too close to the truth. I laughed out loud at his anecdote of attempting to deflect hecklers’ accusations that Catholics neglect the Bible. When he cockily told them Pius XI had in fact attached an indulgence to fifteen minutes of Scripture reading, they came right back at him: “‘Indulgences are not in Scripture!’ they said.”
I grew up Methodist myself — I’d experienced liturgy, a least sort of. I also crossed paths with the charismatic renewal of the 1970s and the “Born Again” phenomenon given high profile by Chuck Colson’s conversion. Young Life and InterVarsity Fellowship impacted my personal journey as well. Then there were the books of Peter Kreeft, where items I’d held to be Catholic superstitions suddenly started to sound almost plausible. It was all both simultaneously enticing and alarming to consider the Catholics might be right after all.
CWR: When did you first read something by Sheed?