Culture, Essays

Catholic Apologetics and the New Evangelization

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Today apologetics has a questionable reputation among many Christian scholars, laypersons, and clergymen. Because Christianity is a matter of faith, the critics say, apologetics must be taken as a curious example of modern-day fundamentalism.[1]

Despite the decline of apologetics after the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), the discipline seems to be making a steady comeback in certain quarters of the Church. As Avery Dulles espies, the Church is witnessing the “rebirth of apologetics.”[2] He says that a newer approach should be shaped under the theology of Vatican II. This vision of apologetics still needs to be nurtured by theologians and other intellectually engaged laypersons in the light of other prevailing activities and attitudes in the Church, including the following: “dialogue instead of apologetics,” “practical relevance instead of apologetics,” “love instead of apologetics,” “holiness instead of apologetics,” “ecumenism instead of apologetics,” “justice instead of apologetics,” etc. None of these aforementioned attitudes should negate or weaken the perennial enterprise of apologetics which can help foster the Church’s mission to evangelize the world.

On the Need for Apologetics

Before we retrieve and resituate the role of apologetics, it might be profitable to recount some of the positive reasons why Catholics might defend the faith with reason and compelling evidence.

The first reason to do apologetics is that Scripture commands it.[3] In Jude 3, Christians are told to “contend for the faith.” In Colossians 4:5–6, St. Paul warns the Church: “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one.” Paul saw his own role as that of an apologist. In Philippians 1:16, he wrote, “I am here for the defense of the Gospel.” Walter Kasper summarized the biblical basis of apologetics:

Faith, as understood in the Bible, is not a blind venture, not an irrational feeling, not an uncalculated option and certainly not a sacrificium intellectus (sacrifice of the intellect). Rather, faith can and must give a rational account of itself.[4]

Many more passages could be cited to describe the biblical vision of apologetics.

Second, common sense suggests that defending the faith is needed. Unlike mere animals, God created human beings with the ability to reason. Therefore, God expects us to reason and defend the Christian faith. Reason also helps people to determine what is true. Without reason, there is no justification for holding to one set of beliefs over and against another set of beliefs.[5] Socrates once said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” The same goes for Christian faith: the unexamined faith is not worth believing. Since God did not create anyone without a mind, it is normal for people to have questions about and even objections to Catholic teaching.

Third, apologetics helps inculturate the Gospel. Catholics must be able to understand the wider cultural context where they live for an effective witness.[6] The intellectual zeitgeist of the modern West is often traced back to the Enlightenment. The hallmark of this movement was to free humanity from the ‘shackles of organized religion.’ The impact of this movement is still felt in the academy today. The upshot is that tradition and faith are equivalent to an opinion or personal taste. Only the observable and experiential are worthy of public discussion and debate.

Because apologetics can help one to take reason seriously, it will help reach laypersons and scholars who are influenced by modern philosophical paradigms. Kasper elaborates on the cultural malaise, offering a solution:

Especially in a situation like ours today, when everything depends on the Christian faith making the transition to new cultural horizons and a new epoch, there can be no question of the Christian retreating into the realm of private experience. Today, as hardly ever before in the history of Christianity, it is essential that the Christian faith emphasize its reasonableness which is accessible to all human beings.[7]

Fourth, the results of apologetics confirm its validity. Sometimes doubters of apologetics complain that rational defenses of the faith never accompany conversions.[8] But this is a serious misreading of Church history. After trying to debunk the historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection, Frank Morrison became a Catholic after recognizing the compelling evidence for the Resurrection.[9] C.S. Lewis came to believe in Christ under the influence of apologetics. In fact, Lewis was convinced that many of the people that he knew in England at the time who believed in God did so because of arguments for God’s existence:

Nearly everyone I know who has embraced Christianity in adult life has been influenced by what seemed to him to be at least a probable argument for Theism.[10]

St. Augustine embraced Catholicism after hearing a thoughtful Catholic debate with a Manichean. Former atheist Antony Flew recently became a philosophical theist because of arguments for God’s existence.[11] Although many examples could be given, the point is that apologetic defenses have triggered a change of mind and even conversion.

Moreover, the objection that “only the Holy Spirit brings persons to Christ, not human arguments” is shortsighted at best and mistaken at worst.[12] It limits what an infinite God can do. It is not the Holy Spirit or human reason. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit using persons who use good arguments in defense of the Gospel. When believers engage in the apologetic task, it can create an atmosphere that makes Christian belief reasonable for outsiders (and even for insiders within the Church). Many people say that they have engaged in apologetics, but are ineffective in their witness. However, what these individuals tend to overlook is that conversions are often gradual and take time. We simply do not know how or when God will use the things we say in our momentary witness. Perhaps the seed that we plant will sprout a few days or even a few years down the road.

Conversely, everyone who entrusts themselves in faith has a reason for becoming Catholic. Not having a reason for faith is tantamount to saying that one has faith by sheer accident. Still writing as an atheist, Antony Flew poignantly explains:

Discussion of this sort is today widely discredited. People with pretensions either to deep wisdom or to worldly sophistication will tell us that everyone knows that you cannot either prove or disprove the existence of God, and the fundamentals of any religion belong to the province of faith rather than of reason. They could not be more wrong. . . . The claim about the provinces of faith and reason is presumably to be construed as implying that it is either impossible or unnecessary to offer any sort of good reasons: either for making a commitment of religious faith, as opposed to refraining to from making any such commitment; or for making any one particular commitment rather than any other. If this is the correct interpretation—and unless it is, the claim would seem to lack point—then it must be recognized how enormously damaging to faith this contention is, and how extremely insulting to all persons of faith. For it makes any and every such commitment equally arbitrary and equally frivolous. They are all made, it is being suggested, for no good reason at all; and every one is as utterly unreasonable as every other.[13]

So, the principle question should not be whether or not there are reasons for faith, but what are the kinds of reasons that Catholics and other Christians have already absorbed into their Christian outlook on the world. Nobody believes in anything unless they know it is first believable.

No matter what the circumstances, apologists must never make it their goal to win arguments. No one in an apologetically oriented discussion should be forced into a win-lose situation. Instead, apologists must develop the skill of making the Christian faith coherent and attractive, being respectful to their dialogue partner in the process. Ideas need to be presented and challenged, not persons as such.[14] As the framers of Gaudium et Spes acknowledge:

Love and good will, to be sure, must in no way render us indifferent to truth and goodness. Indeed, love itself impels the disciples of Christ to speak the saving truth to all men. But it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions. God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts, for that reason he forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone. (§28; cf. §92)

One of the most basic components of apologetics is to love and care for our dialogue partners. But this would not mean that Catholics should refuse to make hard truth claims. Rather, the focus must remain on how our defense of the faith is made.[15] Apologists must propose the truths of the faith, and they must never impose Catholic truth on those individuals who refuse to accept it.

Gustave Doré, St. Paul Preaching to the Thessalonians; courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Gustave Doré, St. Paul Preaching to the Thessalonians; courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

One might argue that an apologetical mind is one that coincides with a heart for Christ. Hiding the truths of faith is not a sign of love, but of fear. If Catholics truly believe that Jesus is Lord, then they will make the attempt to evangelize in every way that is humanly possible, not just in ways that exclude the mind and verbal persuasion. Arguments can and must be given for faith. However, being argumentative is an abuse of apologetics and should always be avoided. Apologetics is about defending Catholic truth, and should not be seen as a defensive posture in reaction to the world. Moreover, the apologist is not exclusively concerned with persuading unbelievers, but is also concerned to motivate believers within the Church. In this way, apologetics is needed for believers to become confident about what they believe in order to explain and live out their faith.

Although apologetics can sometimes make people feel uncomfortable, this reaction seems to stem from apprehending the truth about Christ and his Church in the discussion. Let us remember the words of the Gospel of John:

This is the verdict, that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. (Jn 3:19–21)

Whether it is the past or the future, the Gospel will be countercultural, demanding a radical change of lifestyle. And this realization can make some people uncomfortable. As Cardinal Dulles explains:

If [accusations made against the validity of apologetics] come from a mentality that . . . shrinks from any kind of confrontation, the criticisms should probably be discounted. Apologetics has to be somewhat controversial; it should forthrightly defend the settled teaching of the Church.[16]

Not only should we always be ready to give a reason for Christian hope, we should also be ready for rejection. But such rejection is not due to apologetics, but because of the worldview issues at stake.

Lastly, believers should engage in apologetics because a blind faith can lead to self-destruction; a reasoned faith can lead to sanctity. Richard Dawkins once noted that faith “leads people to believe in whatever it is so strongly that in extreme cases they are prepared to kill and die for it without the need for further justification.”[17] Dawkins is partially correct: blind faith can lead one down the path of violence. But people with a healthy faith will seek to understand the object in which their faith is placed. A healthy faith does not forget to use reason.

When Christians limit the intellectual engagement of faith, this can literally steer them down the path of violence. Catholic faith, however, influences all of human nature, including the mind. It begins with the conviction of the mind and culminates in the eventual consent of the will. Faith that is based on experience and subjective religious experience at the expense of reason leads one to embrace heresy. At other times it leads one to be violent against others. Reason reinforces faith and makes it come alive; fideism ruins the very impetus for faith itself.

Magisterium and Apologetics

Undoubtedly, the Magisterium urges the faithful to engage the world with apologetical arguments. Although Vatican II did not mention or endorse any method of apologetics in detail, this lack of specificity does not mean the Council did not see reasoned defenses of the faith as unimportant or irrelevant. M. John Farrelly notes:

Vatican II gave primacy to the meaning of God and Jesus Christ but also insisted that reason, common human experience, and the historical value of the Gospels support our faith in the existence of God and his revelation through Jesus Christ.[18]

One could mention many other themes that did not have a prominent role in the Council: Trinitarian theology, Christology, pneumatology, harmartiology, protology, etc. Yet all of these doctrines still play a significant role in Catholic theology.

Be that as it may, there can be no denying that the Council was concerned to endorse the use of apologetical theology. Appealing to the central apologetics passage of the New Testament (1 Pet 3:15), the bishops urge that

all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God, should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them. (Lumen Gentium, §10)

In the Declaration on Religious Liberty, the Council states:

The disciple has a grave obligation to Christ, his Master, to grow daily in his knowledge of the truth he has received from him, to be faithful in announcing it, and vigorous in defending it without having recourse to methods which are contrary to the spirit of the Gospel. (Dignitatis Humanae, §14)

Though Catholics can win unbelievers over to faith by their lifestyle, this would not mean that arguments should be excluded in the attempt to evangelize the secular world and the religious others.[19]

Further, the task of defending the faith is commanded by the bishops, especially as believers become more accountable to God’s standards of discipleship. Catholic Christians “are more perfectly bound to the Church by the sacrament of Confirmation, and the Holy Spirit endows them with special strength so that they are more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and by deed, as true witnesses of Christ.”[20] Catholics are not merely called to dialogue with non-Christians, but must seek to convert them to the risen Christ.[21]

The Constitution on Divine Revelation goes so far as to say that we must “fight in defense of the faith” (Dei Verbum, §8). Of course, this phrase is merely stressing the great lengths that Catholics must go to preserve established doctrine and practice against challenges that confront the Christian community.

And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all. (DV §8)

Although believers have the duty to defend the faith, the task of “safeguarding” the Gospel and Church teaching is officially entrusted to the Magisterium (cf. DV §10). Bishops, for instance, are called to provide practical and theoretical defenses of Catholic teaching (cf. Christus Dominus, §13).

Catholics are not only called to engage outsiders with charitable arguments, they must learn effective ways to reach doubters.

One of the great themes of Gaudium et Spes has to do with reading the signs of the times.[22] In reading the culture, Catholics are not only called to engage outsiders with charitable arguments, they must learn effective ways to reach doubters. Method and context must be taken into consideration for effective evangelization to take place:

Within the requirements and methods proper to theology, [men and women] are invited to seek continually for more suitable ways of communicating doctrine to the men of their times; for the deposit of Faith or the truths are one thing and the manner in which they are enunciated, in the same meaning and understanding, is another. (GS §62)

Similarly, in Christus Dominus, the Council teaches that bishops should present the Gospel in a way that is conducive to the modern mindset (cf. CD §13).

In summary, the Council shows a concern to defend the Gospel. Arguments and evidence can be used in dialogue with the world. But we must never force our dialogue partners into a “win-lose” situation. Interreligious dialogue is not a substitute for apologetics. The Council emphasizes different apologetic approaches for the greater purposes of evangelizing the world.

Apologetics and Dialogue

Some anti-apologists seem to think that the Church should be called to dialogue with the world’s other religions, and is not supposed to engage in apologetics. But here it might be necessary to delineate the relationship between Christian apologetics and dialogue. Both of these theological activities within the Church should be welcomed by theologians and other Catholics.

In the Catholic Church we know that there is tension between “dialogue and proclamation.” And the principles which govern each of them are different. On the one hand, an individual is within his rights to engage in proclamation (which entails evangelization and apologetics) when the circumstances allow for it. On the other hand, that same believer can and must engage in interreligious dialogue when different circumstances arise. Dialogue, moreover, is not about converting one’s dialogue partner. Thus dialogue and evangelization have an analogous relationship in the life of an individual Catholic.

These activities are not antagonistic to one another, but epitomize the analogical thinking of a mature Christian or Catholic who knows when to engage in one and not the other at certain times and places. Thus the distinctions between the two paradigms must be kept in delicate balance and individually pursued when necessary. As the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue affirms, “There can be no question of choosing one and ignoring or rejecting the other.”[23] And later: “Both are legitimate and necessary. They are intimately related, but not interchangeable.”[24]

Recent popes have upheld the tension between dialogue and proclamation (which implies the use of reasoned argument). Because the presence of the Spirit can be found outside the Church, the Magisterium urges the faithful to dialogue with members from other world religions. However, the call to enter into dialogue with people from other religions is equally marked by the concern to evangelize them. Thus the biblical call to evangelize the world retains its permanent validity, even though outsiders can be saved. St. John Paul II states it this way:

Nowadays the call to conversion which missionaries address to non-Christians is put into question or passed over in silence. It is seen as an act of ‘proselytizing’; it is claimed that it is enough to help people to become more human or more faithful to their own religion, that it is enough to build communities capable of working for justice, freedom, peace, and solidarity. What is overlooked is that every person has the right to hear the ‘Good News’ of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ, so that each one can live out in its fullness his or her proper calling. (Redemptoris Missio, §46)[25]

According to theologian Catherine Cornille, for instance, dialogue should not do away with apologetics. Rather, the notion of defending the faith should take place within the context of dialogue:

The debate over the relationship between dialogue and proclamation also extends to the question of the legitimacy of apologetics. As such, all authentic dialogue involves a two-way process in which each partner is engaged in a process of not only informing but also convincing the other of the truth of his or her own beliefs and practices. As such, all authentic dialogue necessarily contains a missionary and apologetic dimension. The fullness of dialogue may be regarded as a form of mutual proclamation and in which participants alternately adopt the roles of missionary and seeker. While seemingly contradictory, these roles may coexist in a religious attitude capable of balancing humility and conviction.[26]

Photo: Bob Travis; CC-BY-NC-2.0.

Dialogue and Proclamation continues the vital discussion: although dialogue and proclamation have an analogous relationship with one another, proclamation takes precedence over dialogue. Proclamation must always hold a “permanent priority”[27] over dialogue. Although both paradigms are necessary and play their own unique role in the Church at certain times and places, they “are not on the same level.”[28] To engage in dialogue is to accurately understand the religious others so that evangelists might eventually take the best avenue to engage his or her dialogue partner with the Good News. Dialogue “remains oriented toward proclamation,”[29] which means that dialogue is at the service of proclamation. Proclaiming the Good News “remains central”[30] and is the “climax and fullness”[31] of the Church’s mission.

Practical and Theoretical Apologetics

Still critics may suggest that doubters do not come to faith through arguments. Indeed, for these critics, existential motives of credibility are more important than theoretical arguments.[32] Although this argument may contain some truth, it does not provide enough leverage to renounce reasoned approaches to apologetics. Theory and practice go together.

For example, proponents of experiential apologetics are heavily invested with ecumenical theology. But ecumenism, when properly conceived, should be seen as a movement in apologetics. In Redemptoris Missio, St. John Paul II affirms that “mission” provides a major impetus that underlies the search for Christian unity.

The missionary thrust therefore belongs to the very nature of the Christian life, and is also the inspiration behind ecumenism: ‘that they may all be one . . . so that the world may believe that you have sent me’ (Jn 17:21). (RM §1)

Indeed, apologetical theology can help one to understand other doctrinal perspectives which, in turn, can be used to persuade other Christians to achieve some sort of unity. St. John Paul II writes:

Full communion of course will have to come about through the acceptance of the whole truth into which the Holy Spirit guides Christ’s disciples. Hence all forms of reductionism or facile ‘agreement’ must be absolutely avoided. Serious questions must be resolved, for if not, they will reappear at another time, either in the same terms or in a different guise. (Ut Unum Sint, §36)

Ecumenism is not the same thing as apologetics, but both paradigms need one another in making a compelling case.

Similarly, experiential apologists and recent popes have emphasized the persuasive power of charity. Pope Benedict XVI himself maintained that charity is the most convincing apologetic for faith:

Charity, furthermore, cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is free; it is not practiced as a way of achieving other ends. But this does not mean that charitable activity must somehow leave God and Christ aside. For it is always concerned with the whole man. Often the deepest cause of suffering is the very absence of God. Those who practice charity in the Church’s name will never seek to impose the Church’s faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love. A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak. He knows that God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8) and that God’s presence is felt at the very time when the only thing we do is to love. He knows—to return to the questions raised earlier—that disdain for love is disdain for God and man alike; it is an attempt to do without God. Consequently, the best defense of God and man consists precisely in love. It is the responsibility of the Church’s charitable organizations to reinforce this awareness in their members, so that by their activity—as well as their words, their silence, their example—they may be credible witnesses to Christ. (Deus Caritas Est, §31)

Another example of the “apologetics of love” is displayed by the life and death of Christian martyrs. As Tertullian said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”[33] St. John Paul II argued that the martyrs “provide evidence of a love that has no need of lengthy arguments in order to convince. The martyrs stir in us a profound trust because they give voice to what we already feel and they declare what we would like to have the strength to express” (Fides et Ratio, §32).

Holiness may be more than rational, but is certainly not less than rational.

The encounter with Christian unity and love is also linked to the apologetics of holiness. All of these practical concerns can become a persuasive means to faith. “This universal presence of the saints,” says St. John Paul II, “is in fact a proof of the transcendent power of the Spirit. It is the sign and proof of God’s victory over the forces of evil which divide humanity” (UUS, §84).

In sum, theoretical apologetics should not be brushed to the side. For if one is holy, loving, or just, then he or she will use every means to evangelize, not just ways that exclude the mind. Holiness may be more than rational, but is certainly not less than rational. Conversely, if one uses argument, then this can become a means by which one is sanctified. Of course, apologetics is not always needed, and depends on the context of the discussion.

Apologetics and Relevance

Many other critics believe that the notion of defending Christianity does not have practical relevance. For them, Christian faith is supposed to affect one’s life in the concrete―and not remain enclosed within the realm of thought. [34] But here too apologetics and relevance are on two sides of the same evangelical coin.

For example, apologetics can enhance an evangelist’s awareness and confidence to proclaim the Gospel which is supposed to be life-changing. In this respect apologetics safeguards believers from becoming indifferent about discipleship and evangelization. As Dulles affirmed:

If we do not consider that it is important for others to hear the Christian proclamation, we inevitably begin to question its importance for ourselves.[35]

Thus the practice of apologetics plays an important role in facilitating conversion, which leads one to outward action. Discipleship is supposed to be characterized by ongoing conversion. One of the values of engaging in the apologetic task is that it deepens and enriches one’s understanding of Catholic truth. As Christians become more and more confident that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, they inevitably become who they were meant to be in Christ. Quite naturally, theoretical apologetics and outward practice will affect and reinforce one another.

Next, a life of discipleship that neglects apologetics can destroy the impetus that underlies missions. If dialogue is understood in the erroneous sense that faith in Jesus is unnecessary or unimportant, and that Christians only have to dialogue with one another for mutual enrichment, then the missionary mandate loses its underlying rationale. But evangelization is essential to the Church’s life. Missionary drive is a sign of vitality, just as its lessening is a sign of a crisis of faith. Part of the reason for this lessening is due to a reductive understanding of ministry that forgets the importance of apologetics. The Church is not merely supposed to be inclusive, but is called also to be expansive. Conversely, if the Church is not expansive, then one must seriously question whether the Church is fulfilling its mission. Understanding and applying the apologetic mandate provides an impetus for the missions.

 

The Church is not merely supposed to be inclusive but is called also to be expansive.

The discipline of apologetics is needed to understand the inner rationale of beliefs or viewpoints that are different or even contrary from Catholic Christianity. The evangelical endeavor demands that Catholics familiarize themselves with different viewpoints. Repressing disagreement is not healthy for authentic faith, and certainly not with full Catholic Christian faith. In recognizing differences one makes the first step toward understanding the problems that need to be addressed for ecumenical reunification and/or evangelization to take place.

The use of apologetics is actually a form of compassion toward one’s interlocutors. Authentic Catholic practice will therefore seek to incorporate apologetics when appropriate. Disagreements do not have to be completely incompatible for Catholics to become more apologetical. It only requires that Catholics at least think that their beliefs are apparently different from other religious viewpoints.[36] The apologetic element to dialogue will help to reveal whether these differences are real or only apparent. The same theme works in reverse. If I hold beliefs that are wrong or misguided, then I certainly would want other persons to point out where I have gone wrong. Good arguments, which are favorable to views that are contrary from my own, can help me to see my own theological or philosophical errors.

In sum, apologetics is needed more now than ever. The New Testament writers and early Church Fathers had to be heavily apologetical, for there was no Christian influence in culture yet. In a post-Christian context, it seems reasonable that we should have the same approach. An apologetical outlook might make greater inroads into the wider world. If we understand what apologetics is in its most basic sense (the positive and negative defense of the Gospel in both theoretical and practical forms), then obviously apologetics is relevant at any time.

Even though our culture and theology continue to change, Christians still live in an era where people need to be convinced that Jesus is Lord. Obviously, this entails that Christians will have to make a defense of the Gospel. Again, there will always be objections to the Gospel, whether they are sub-consciously or openly stated by outsiders and those within the Church. And this is precisely the reason why apologetics will always remain a significant part of Catholic belief.

Today the Catholic apologist’s engagement with other believers and formal outsiders should be more diplomatic (rather than combative) and sensitive to the different avenues that each person might take in response to the Gospel. Although Catholic theology is already philosophically well positioned to deal with most objections, the more tactical concern of the apologist has to do with the means of engagement. Defending the faith requires more than knowledge. It requires an artful method, for a clever apologist can outmaneuver someone else’s case that seems to display more intelligence or well formulated arguments.

Conclusion

Regardless if one is Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, or Orthodox, many believers can empathize with the deleterious effects that dechristianization is having on society. Part of the reason why atheism and indifferentism is gaining such strong headway in the West is due to the ongoing separation of faith and reason. When this separation occurs, the fundamentals of the faith are seen as opinions or personal preferences, undermining one’s motivation to believe in the Gospel. Of course, if faith is nothing other than an opinion, then why seek to evangelize others to believe in the Gospel when the Christian faith is strictly a matter of taste?

Despite the many protests to the contrary, the Church’s teaching on apologetics needs to be retrieved if the spiritual tide is to turn against the ongoing progress of secularization. Many other theological developments in the Church (e.g., ecumenism, dialogue, holiness, beauty, justice, and practical relevance) seem to overshadow apologetics, but these paradigms lose much of their rationale unless they are grounded in the biblical mandate to evangelize the world.

Featured Photo: Thomas Hawk, CC-BY-NC-2.0.

[1] The most salient recent example of anti-apologetics is Myron B. Penner, The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014). In this article I engage Penner’s major arguments and resituate the need to “defend the faith” in the light of Catholic theology.

[2] Avery Dulles, “The Rebirth of Apologetics” in First Things (May 2004), 19–23.

[3] Penner’s The End of Apologetics merely assumes that the Scriptural writers were not concerned with doing apologetics (83). Such an assumption does not square with the biblical evidence. For more on the Scriptural basis of apologetics, see Avery Dulles, A History of Apologetics, rev. and exp. ed. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005), 1–26.

[4] Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (New York: Crossroad, 1984), 67.

[5] Thus Penner is consistent with his fideism and anti-apologetics in saying that “Objectively, Christian belief is always a wager” (The End of Apologetics, 133).

[6] Penner’s primary reason for rejecting apologetics stems from his concern that Christian theology has absorbed the assumptions of the Enlightenment project (ibid.,16, 44). However, in the view of apologetics endorsed in this article, the arguments for Christian faith are sufficient but not necessary for the knowledge of the Christian God.

[7] Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, 71.

[8] Penner, The End of Apologetics, 78.

[9] Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987).

[10] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays in Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1970), 173.

[11] Antony Flew, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York: HarperCollins, 2007).

[12] Penner, The End of Apologetics, 170.

[13] Antony Flew, God and Philosophy (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2005), 19, 20.

[14] Penner confuses “who a person is” with “what they believe.” Contra Penner, “who a person is” cannot be reduced to “what a person believes” (The End of Apologetics, 72, 80). Though human beings are always valuable, what they believe or do may be either good or bad, or right or wrong (or some combination thereof).

[15] Penner rightly stresses the importance of “how one believes” in a postmodern age (The End of Apologetics, 42, 66, 72, 84–91, 102). However, the “how one believes” is intimately connected to “what one believes.” So, if I have Spirit-filled faith, then I must resort to reason when the circumstances allow for it. Instead Penner repeatedly bifurcates the “ethics of belief” from the “what of belief.”

[16] Dulles, “The Rebirth of Apologetics,” 20.

[17] Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 198.

[18] M. John Farrelly, Belief in God in Our Time, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1992), 46.

[19] See, e.g., Lumen Gentium, §§11, 19, 23, 24, 25, 28.

[20] Ibid., ¶11.

[21] See, e.g., Vatican II, Ad Gentes, §§30, 39, 39, 40.

[22] See Gaudium et Spes §§4, 10, 11, 12, 41.

[23] Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Dialogue and Proclamation, 6.

[24] Ibid., 77.

[25] Nowhere does the Magisterium make qualifications on who should be evangelized.

[26] Catherine Cornille, The Im-Possibility of Interreligious Dialogue (New York: Herder & Herder, 2008), 71, 72.

[27] Dialogue and Proclamation, 44.

[28] Ibid., 77.

[29] Ibid., 75.

[30] Ibid., 75.

[31] Ibid., 82.

[32] Penner, The End of Apologetics, 49–58, urges that the Church needs better “apostles,” not intellectual “geniuses.” But this seems unaware of the fact that “apostles” would display some “genius” at times. If one follows Christ, then he or she will familiarize themselves with the outlook of unbelievers to engage them in dialogue or friendly debate. Instead Penner creates an dichotomy between “apostles” and “geniuses.” Admittedly, the “genius” who is not a spiritual disciple is not going to do rational apologetics well, and instead will become concerned with “exclusively winning the argument.”

[33] Tertullian, Apologeticus, chp. 50.

[34] Penner, The End of Apologetics, 17, 49, 66, 75, 102, 127, etc.

[35] Dulles, “The Rebirth of Apologetics,” 20.

[36] Cf. Paul Griffiths, “Why We Need Interreligious Polemics” in First Things (June/July 1994), 31–37.

Glenn B. Siniscalchi

Glenn B. Siniscalchi received his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Duquesne University in 2013. He currently serves as Assistant Professor of Theology at Notre Dame College, South Euclid, OH. His recent book is titled Retrieving Apologetics (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2016).