Monday, April 14, 2008

Why Do We Need Apologetics?

This weekend I was listening to a podcast where the speaker said that she wasn't a fan of C.S. Lewis' nonfiction writing because she didn't think apologetics were necessary.
"I am against the idea of Christian apologetics anyway because if Christ is true then why do you have to explain him?"
For those who haven't come across this term before, apologetics quite simply is a systematic defense of something.

Now, some of this can be explained by the fact that this person is a young woman who perhaps has not come across some of the obstacles that the rest of us have encountered in our search for Truth. Perhaps, as happens with many of us, she has encountered apologetics as an excuse to bludgeon the other person with your own beliefs, although her comment doesn't indicate that.

However, I think this is a common enough objection that I thought I'd just post a couple of my thoughts on it. First of all, just because something is true doesn't mean that we don't need someone to explain it. Mathematics, physics, and foreign languages are all true, but they are much easier to understand and apply when we are helped along by a good instructor.

We have a sterling example given to us in the Acts of the Apostles.
Then the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, "Get up and head south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route."

So he got up and set out. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, that is, the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury, who had come to Jerusalem to worship, and was returning home. Seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

The Spirit said to Philip, "Go and join up with that chariot."

Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?"

He replied, "How can I, unless someone instructs me?" So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him.

This was the scripture passage he was reading: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

In (his) humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his posterity? For his life is taken from the earth."

Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply, "I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?"

Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him.

As they traveled along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "Look, there is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?"

Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water, and he baptized him.

When they came out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, but continued on his way rejoicing.
Acts 8:27-39, New American Bible
That is a case which might not strictly fit in with apologetics as a defense but is definitely consistent with explaining the faith, which would be the ultimate point of a defense. Certainly, that is more the way that I see C.S. Lewis' books about Christianity. I realize they probably were written more with a point than the one I see, but as Lewis himself was brought to believe in Jesus as Truth thanks to his friends' spirited defense of their faith, then one can see why he would want to pass on the favor. I tend to see his books as springing from much the same point as this blog ... being made so joyful by that Truth that one wishes to share it with as many people as possible.

My own personal experience, as any regular readers will know, is that my siblings and I knew about Christianity and Jesus only as it was presented through secular culture, as we were raised by atheists. Our main exposure to faith came through Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, and such movies shown at Easter on television. Had not we been exposed to more indepth explanations of Christianity on some level then we would have been left believing the misconceptions and outright lies that secular culture tells as truth.

As I am discovering, my father is probably not actually an atheist as much as he is a hater of Christians and disbeliever in Jesus Christ. That was made abundantly clear during a conversation I had with him recently. I had to practice apologetics in defending the idea of a personal God of love, especially as made manifest to us in the person of Jesus Christ, when he told me that it was supremely arrogant of people to think that the God who created the universe thought of us as anything more than ants. (I have to say that taking on Happy Catholic using The History Channel as your defense is not very wise ... though I was as loving about it as I could be, it still came down to having to talk about a "personal relationship with God." If you think that wasn't hard, well, think again.) This is simply one of many possible scenarios where one can see that a reasoned, and non-hostile, defense of one's faith can be quite necessary simply to give the Truth a chance to shine upon others.

My own policy is to wait until someone comes to me with a question unless I find that there is a misconception being passed along, usually innocently as was the case when a mention of Catholics "worshiping" saints came up during CraftLit's coverage of Frankenstein. (You find chances to enlighten in the oddest places sometimes!) Much of the time, as with Heather, the person is happy to receive the explanations.

The other use I can make of Lewis' books and one of which I hope this young woman will avail herself later in life when needed, is that his writing turns the mirror upon us when we read it. Every time I read one of his books I see another truth about something I should be considering in my own life of faith. He is supremely insightful in a very simple way that is not condescending.

Something that we all should remember when defending the faith is to do so in a spirit of charity and not to try to win. We personally can do nothing to move men's hearts if they will not let us and, ultimately, it is not us at all anyway. The increase is God's alone though we may be his instruments.

A book that I would highly recommend about apologetics is How Not to Share Your Faith: The Seven Deadly Sins of Catholic Apologetics and Evangelization. I thought I had posted a review, but actually see that I had a series of excerpts. You may read those here:

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