Archive | January 10, 2011

Why I Dislike Apologetics

We live in a sometimes scary world, and apologetics is a scary word to some.

To some people apologetics is synonymous with theology-kids and adults running about and stomping people on the head.

In some cases this is true, like here and here.

But this doesn’t have to be the case.

1. I dislike apologetics because it is hard.

It takes courage and fortitude to put your beliefs on the line and be willing to learn something new. Unfortunately, many people forget or act like they don’t know, or simply don’t know this. It takes character, virtue and humility. If you do not understand this, and you think the rote memorization of scriptures and facts makes you an apologist, please shut up and find a spiritual director.

Our Lord didn’t run around empirically trying to prove Himself, he didn’t have to. He made his claims, and those who believed, believed. Those who did not, were hard hearted. Apologetics is so much more than just memorizing.

Apologetics is not easy because we’re dealing with postmodern cultures in many English speaking countries, entire cultures that have forgotten what Truth is or why it might matter to our lives. It’s a difficult process to retain the Truth and translate the gospel into words understandable by postmodernists if you’re not well trained for virtue as well as information.

Does this mean apologetics is bunk?

Not at all, it just means it takes more than philosophical proofs to convince people there is a God, and only spiritual formation can exert the necessary force to make us virtuous apologists. This is not to say stop sharing the gospel, but I do want to emphasize, it’s not easy. If you’re not patient, humble and able to move beyond a classroom argument, you’re wasting your time, and everyone else’s. Ultimately apologetics is about conversation, listening, offering advice that leads to long-term relationships that build change for the better in all persons instead of trying to “win souls.”

2. I dislike apologetics because it assumes Reason is the only way to faith.

The cat is out of the bag. And it’s an ugly one. I have tons of friends who are still in Evangelical camps and some who are Catholics who think that getting a solid argument together will surely win the day. That’s the real myth here. People hold their beliefs because they are invested in them. People are not rational beings, and surely your “airtight” argument, even if done charitably can come across as arrogance.

“Unless we’re committed to actually learning something and moving on in deeper community, apologetics is a type of masturbation for the mind.”

When I was in undergrad there was one Catholic at my Charismatic University. He was always charitable one-on-one and answered questions with patience. When people came to him trying to preach to him, or expecting him to worship Mary or something, he got frustrated but who wouldn’t? (And as an aside, if you’re curious about Catholicism or any other religion, don’t expect people to perform their faith on command or live up to your stereotypes.)

Anyways, this one Catholic won me over in many ways, because of our friendship, because he was patient with me, and because he loved me more than he cared whether I became Catholic or not. We had disagreements along the way, but in the end, it was not his solid arguments that led me to faith, it was his determination to make room for me in his life, and his ability to make a place for my questions to be answered graciously and without contempt that won me over. It was that, and his own quiet piety towards his faith and his invitations to join him for prayer in his dorm some nights that exposed me to the beauty of what he believes.

It was not his in class arguments, or his frustrations that showed me his faith, it was the quiet moments, where he simply existed as a Catholic that showed me the beauty of Christ. Just think about it.

 

“Apologetics done incorrectly is…the ultimate danger. We might leave a trail of spiritual disaster, yet feel as if we’ve served or even worse, “suffered” for the gospel.”

3. I dislike apologetics because it is not an end-all.

Apologetics and reasoning can only go so far. We should move beyond the war of words, or at the very least make sure our apologists are connected to their community of faith and the virtues that verify our belief. Unless we’re committed to actually learning something and moving on in deeper community, apologetics is a type of masturbation for the mind. That’s the danger. We go through the motions of looking as if we’re deep, spiritual people getting together to talk about the Holy and the Beautiful and end up empty and locked away in self satisfaction.

Apologetics done incorrectly is just a show for pride and pomp. And really, that’s the ultimate danger. We might leave a trail of spiritual disaster, yet feel as if we’ve served or even worse, “suffered” for the gospel. If someone rejects our attempts to convert them, we might feel supremely justified at our “sufferings for the gospel”. Yet, we’ve had no real talk, only soundbytes that someone wrote down to convince someone or are somehow supposed to make “real” Christians out of us. I am unconvinced about the validity of this plan. Just like I’m unconvinced that learning a ton of soundbytes on American history somehow makes me a real historian. Being a Christian is not about the information on our lips, it’s about the content of our confession from our lives as well as our minds.

“Being an ass will never make you fit to suffer for the kingdom…Be holy, be beautiful, that’s how we preach the gospel.”

I am convinced that apologetics are important, but only in contact with being actual Christians, as well as an open invitation for others to see how we actually worship and live. I am certain that apologetics has a place, but it is not the chief of our defenses. The lives we live against the death-promoting cultures of the world, that’s what matters. We’re supposed to be holy hearts, not flapping gums. Life must be rich, full of love and compassion, or else it’s empty, wasted, and no good for anyone whatsoever. The same applies to apologetics. Apologetics must be full bodied and logical, full of love and compassion, connected to a community and life of faith, or else you’re wasting my time.

Move past the soundbytes, learn that the most true defense of the faith is a virtuous life, and a willingness to love your enemies in extraordinary circumstances. Speaking on behalf of the kingdom, which is what all speech by Christians should be, requires virtue, and honesty, and holiness. Apologetics is never the ends, it is always a means. And our use of the means should be righteous, and full of life and compassion. Being an ass will never make you fit to suffer for the kingdom. Argument alone is hardly saintly. Be holy, be beautiful, that’s how we preach the gospel.

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