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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About Eli

Brazilian.Catholic.Lover.Photographer.Adventurer.Theologian.

4 responses to “Why I Dislike Apologetics”

  1. Mike says :

    Hey Eli,

    I agree that the best apologetics is example. I think the main problem you’re getting at is that any kind of argument, apologetics included, has a tendency to be prideful. It reminds me of a post that Jen at Conversion Diary had a while back (called “Weakness, Strength, and the End of Self”). In trying to understand the verse “When I am weak, then I am strong” she lays out two hypothetical situations. In the first situation, a person is converted by her eloquent apologetics, in the second situation a person is converted by seeing a watch she is wearing. In the first situation, Jen says she would count the person as having been converted by her, rather than by God. In the second situation it becomes clear that the conversion was God’s work, and not hers.

    All that being said, though, I am still a big believer in argumentation as a way to get at the truth. The danger is in seeing an argument as a battle, as something you “win” or “lose”. In my mind, the only way to lose an argument is to come out of it with the same position you had going in. None of us perfectly know the truth, so if we want to use argument as a tool to get closer to the truth than our opinions need to change over the course of the argument, even if subtly.

    You mention how difficult it is for the church to deal with postmodern culture. Have you seen the blog “The Church and Postmodern Culture”? I don’t regularly follow it but it deals precisely with this issue, which I think is very important.

    • Eli says :

      Great examples, and I’m glad you are reading Jen, she’s an amazing blogger, an inspiration and hopefully someday i’ll sit with her for tea. She seems like a tea kind of gal.

      I understand argumentation, and I didn’t mean to overstate my case against pride. I think reason is important, I just wonder whether there are better ways to play the game than to reason people to death. I don’t discredit apologetic work, I just think it should open itself to other avenues and learn to speak truth in different languages. An example that comes to mind is Hans Urs Von Balthasar who basically says that Beauty is just as convincing and transformational as Truth in his book “Love Alone is Credible.”

      I am glad that you see arguments that way, but unfortunately most people do not approach arguments like that. At least the self-appointed apologists I know don’t. In any case, you’re always the charitable commenter and thoughtful responder, and I just wanted to say thank you.

      I will check out the blog on the Church and postmodern culture. I’ll make sure to try and mention them in some upcoming posts about Revelation.

  2. Alex S. says :

    Hey Eli, great post and nice blog. I’ve read a few of your posts but this is my first comment…dropping by to say ‘Hi!’ and offer my thoughts. I agree that apologetics can be a very self-serving practice…most of which breeds dispute and contention, and diverts attention from the simple gospel. The gospel does not need defending, much like a lion in a cage; let the lion out and he will defend himself. The whole truth of Jesus cannot be contained in any logical argument we come up with. Formulas and analogies are ultimately flawed.

    Like you, I’m not saying dismiss defending the gospel altogether. We have to let it out at some point. The Apostle Paul didn’t rattle off 5-minute gospel presentations, though; he spent time reasoning with people in the synagogues (all throughout Acts) and many other examples in the NT. My beef with apologists is they seldom take the time to get to know a person’s spiritual past. This should have tremendous impact on the manner one approaches a person about faith matters.

    I’m not a fan of trying to get people “saved” or counting salvations. But when it comes to world-view apologetics, man, I think it’s crucial. We’ll never have all the answers but if we shrink when confronted I think we take a personal blow to our own faith. Always be ready to give an answer. 1 Peter 3:15.

    I may have totally missed the point you’re trying to make here but…I think that’s all I wanted to say.

    Be blessed.
    Alex

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