Thoughts/criticisms would be welcomed, even from the people in this group who I know view me an apologist hater. ;)
One of the more distinctly American developments in American Catholicism of the last 25 years has been the explosion of lay apologetics as not just an aspect of one's ministry/apostolate, but a ministry and apostolate unto its own. Bloggers style themselves "professional apologists" and individuals like Dr. Taylor Marshall even will certify you an "expert" apologist if you attend his classes. For various reasons, you mostly see this in America, or the very least, in developed countries. Starting with Karl Keating's Catholicism and Fundamentalism a cottage industry has grown out of apologetics, some even making a healthy living off of "defending the faith." (Another distinctly American phenomena)
While this movement had sustained growth, it has run into a bit of decline lately. For many, apologetics isn't as profitable as it once was. Working as an editor for a small catholic website (and one who writes for a much larger one as well) I also know the market for strict apologetics is also down. When I have pointed this out in the past, I have been accused of "hating apologetics" and having some sort of disdain towards apologists.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I have had apologists write for me. Having originally made my bones in apologetics, I carry a deep respect for it. I still to this day have a working relationship with several apologists, and they often serve as idea men for my columns. Whenever I begin a new series, I ask them to be my critic. The critically acclaimed (ironically by several prominent apologists) Bad Evangelist Club came about because of discussions I had with a pretty well known apologist blogger who suggested I use my writers to explore the subject of common errors apologists make or have seen, as told by those apologists.
It is not apologetics that I have opposed. Rather, it is a certain commercializing of apologetics that has helped divorce it from its original purpose. I also oppose the polarization of apologetics that is practicing apologetics from ideological factions, rather than for the service of the Church as a whole. In place of this I support and advocate those who are beginning to return to the proper roots of apologetics, who I'll mention more of. I'll just briefly touch on all of these topics. I don't want to hear "well I don't do such and such." That's good. Want a cookie? You're not getting a donation, a cookie will have to suffice. Nobody cares what you are doing. Seriously, they don't. You being innocent has no bearing on the fact it's a real issue, and something that needs to be considered.
I also hope my words can help put into context recent statements by Pope Francis opposing the "apologetics approach" when dealing with non-Catholics. A lot of Catholics are worried or troubled by these statements, but they really shouldn't be. While I'm not sure his "ecumenism of encounter" is the right idea, or that people are actually doing what he calls for, I really think there's something to what he says that, even if we end up disagreeing, we shouldn't dismiss it right away.
1.) Apologetics is a reasoned case for "the hope that lies within" that must always be conducted with charity, so says the Apostle Peter. This is different from evangelization (pronouncing the message) and catechesis (showing how that message can lead to a better life as a Christian), but it cannot be truly separated. Indeed, to separate them is to present apologetics in a vacuum. It is something all Christians are called to, not a few, not the experts, everyone. All should be able to give an accounting for why they have hope in Christ, and to understand the basic doctrines of the Gospel. This is why calling yourself an apologist does not make you one, nor does receiving a certificate from some university make you an expert at said apologetics. Some are obviously better at it than others, but that does not make them apologists as say one may call themselves a licensed catechist or a licensed theologian.
2.) In today's apologetics subculture, apologetics is turned into a specialized discipline where little attention is paid to catechesis or evangelization. Or, even worse, they equate apologetics with evangelization, so when they engage in an internet forum war, they are really doing the work of evangelization.
3.) Another danger in apologetics is it presents the Catholic Faith primarily as a set of ideas and doctrines to be defended. As Fulton Sheen famously said, Catholics do not worship a dogma, we worship a person. That person is Jesus Christ. All of our missionary outreach, whether apologetics, catechesis or evangelization must be firmly grounded in two persons: Jesus Christ, and the individual we are speaking to. Apologetics is a manner of relating to the spiritual needs of an individual, not combating or defending a set of intellectual propositions against this or that group. How much of internet apologetics is based off of this relational approach? When we do apologetics, how often are we friends with the person we are explaining the faith to? I do not believe i am exaggerating when I say that this relational approach has almost evaporated from apologetics, just like it has evaporated from so many other facets of our "self-referential Church", to use the words of Pope Francis.
4.) Since it is often done without this relational approach, it often loses its ability to speak to who needs to hear that message. While the apologetics subculture boomed, did conversions follow? Did relationships improve between Christians because of the apologetics movement? How often did Protestants come away with a better understanding of apologetics because of the work of Catholic apologists? Sure, it reached a wide audience, but how much change occurred? This isn't to say it did nothing. Just that its a discussion worth having. While many profited, did the Church always benefit as a result? The shrinking of Catholicism in the modern era cannot be blamed on apologetics, but it does tell us that there needs to be more. Apologists shouldn't get so defensive whenever this is pointed out.
5.) There are ultimately limits to apologetics. In order for apologetics to work, there needs to be crystal clear truth, and crystal clear error. While this might happen with those outside the Church, adopting an apologetics approach with those inside the Church is a lot trickier. One cannot adopt an apologetics approach when discussing the Latin Mass and traditionalists (or charismatics and others for that matter) because the debate is often not between truth and error, but (provided it is done properly) between positions that Holy Mother Church has deemed acceptable to hold.
6.) Applying this approach to other matters leads to apologists setting themselves up as a sort of mini-magesterium, or a "magesterium of the magesterium" if you will. Recently, the subject of waterboarding and torture appeared. Most of the debate was focused on what lay apologists said about torture, rather than what trained theologians, and ultimately what the Magesterium said. Lay apologists are not trained to make such decisions. A famous example of this well known amongst apologists is when one started holding some extreme positions, and many apologists started speculating if there was a mental breakdown or something behind it. Dr. Arthur Sippo, a lay apologist but also a trained medical doctor, rebuked them by pointing out they were lay apologists who had no qualification or insight to offer those conclusions, so they shouldn't even try. The only job an apologist has in the torture debate is to explain in a general sense why torture is immoral, point out who says it is immoral, and leave anything further (such as if certain acts constitute torture) to moral theologians and the magesterium. Or you should, to the extent possible make clear you are taking off your apologist hat, if you insist on referring to yourself as a "professional apologist" when you discuss whether or not certain things are torture.
7.) During that debate, we got another example of the nastiest part of the current apologetics subculture: it is heavily based around cults of personality. They style themselves more as warlords with who has the biggest following based on website hits, facebook likes, cash reserves, etc. Often, these apologists clash in a hoss fight, and said hoss fight is presented as apologetics, two guys (typically men yes) with big egos shouting at each other or thinking of who can devise the most creative insult and verbally shred their foe. It is the language of combat and war, not of the Gospel. As an avid fan of professional wrestling, this kind of approach makes for great entertainment in the squared circle, where muscle bound meatheads cut promos and dazzle the crowds with their combat prowess. Is apologetics best served by the WWE approach?
8.) Thankfully, not all apologists are like this. Some of the old timers try (though not always succeed) to stick to this form of apologetics. Others try to do their best to help the audience see which hat they are wearing. While this is good, my hope mostly rests in a lot of the newer apologists who are making a name for themselves on the "independent" circut if you will. They aren't professional apologists, nor are they certified expert apologists, but they are doing innovative apologetics nonetheless. There are those like Joseph Heschmeyer, an apologetics blogger who is also a seminarian. He will always be a good apologist, but it will be one tool in the arsenal of a Catholic priest. There is David Gray, whom apologetics is based on only one part of his ministry. I see those like Shaun McAfee, who use apologetics as one only one arrow in his quiver of various social media promotions to help people understand the faith and become better Christians. I look at Facebook superevangelists like Delali Godwin Adadzie, who do apologetics, but also spend time managing a billion facebook devotional groups helping people to improve their prayer life. It is my hope over the next decade more apologists begin to incorporate with greater frequency the relational approach these individuals are using, which views apologetics as but one tool to deepen relationships with others and with Christ.
About me, I know how I am supposed to act: and how I actually act. The two are not identical.
That does not make me think that how I am supposed to act - as a perfect Catholic and Christian - is a bad idea.
It does let me know that I have to work at improving my behavior.
In the end this feud made both rappers better and forced them to innovate, but Nas innovated better.
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