Guest item by Nathaniel Cunningham
In 2008 (thanks to an introduction to the works of Catholic philosopher Dr. Peter Kreeft — check him out!), I developed a strong interest in Catholic articles, recorded lectures, and books.
I began listening to Spirit Catholic Radio, and downloading podcasts of radio shows like EWTN’s Open Line and Catholic Answers’ Catholic Answers Live. I became a reader of the website “Called To Communion,” where converts to Catholicism seek unity in truth with all Christians, through articles and discussion. I started buying (and usually reading!) several Catholic books each year.
And that’s where I continue to find myself today: frequently consuming Catholic content, much of it apologetical in nature (Downloaded audio podcasts, when in the car or out for a run, are a great way to fit this material in my busy days). Let’s be clear, I am no expert; I have no formal training in apologetics. But I’d like to share a few reasons why I find practicing and (informally) studying apologetics so valuable.
Scripture calls us to defend the faith, and to study in order to defend the faith. The answer to why practice apologetics? is easy: because St. Peter, in his first letter, exhorts us to! “Always be prepared to make a defense [Greek: apologian] to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
In fact, his exhortation is to be prepared to give this defense; studying apologetics is one aspect of that preparation (though certainly not the only one). Apologetics — defending the faith to others — is a powerful way of witnessing to Christ.
Now, despite what feels like a large amount of preparation, I do not frequently find myself challenged to make a defense of my faith. (Probably I do not show forth clearly enough the hope that St. Peter describes, nor do I have the wisdom to recognize all the opportunities to evangelize that crop up in my day!) But there are further reasons to study apologetics.
Understanding the common objections to the Catholic faith helps us to be better evangelizers. Listening to, or reading, non-Catholics’ objections to Catholicism, can help provide us with a clearer view “from the outside looking in” — as long as we really strive to listen, to understand, to see the value that the objector is trying to hold on to. We can better walk with those opposed to the Church, or questioning the faith, when we truly understand their view of the Church.
Discussions between apologists and challengers, heard on the radio or read on the internet, can sometimes help us learn what larger disagreements are lurking beneath superficial objections to the faith. Learning about those deeper points of disagreement is critical: it’s rare that we can reach any meaningful agreement with others when we fail to locate the heart of our disagreement!
Studying apologetics builds up our understanding of the truths we already believe. It would take more than a lifetime to understand with depth all of the truths the Church teaches. Yet, because she is Holy Mother Church, authorized by Christ to convey His truths, we do believe whatever the Church proclaims. Continual study of apologetics helps us to grow in understanding in those areas where we initially believed without understanding. The same sorts of explanations that show the reasonableness of the faith to those who challenge it, also serve to make the faith more understandable to us! Thus study of apologetics is one aspect of the “faith seeking understanding” of St. Anselm.
Studying apologetics leads to deeper insights into the truths of the faith. Sometimes delving into explanations of the truths of the faith also helps us to make connections we never saw before, even in areas where we already have some understanding. There is so much depth and richness in Catholic theology and doctrine, and steeping ourselves in apologetical explanations helps us to drink of that depth and gradually to increase our insight into that richness.
Studying apologetics helps us to live with intellectual integrity. When we do not understand the truths of our faith, and yet we seek to uphold them in a secular world, we sometimes find ourselves internally conflicted, unable to articulate to others — or even to ourselves — why and how the Church’s teachings are reasonable and charitable. This is a real issue in the area of moral teachings, especially in an age that has lost much of a classical, Christian understanding of what a human being is made for! Delving into the reasons behind the Church’s moral pronouncements can bring so much peace, by helping us to understand and embrace on a human level the truths we already know we are bound to uphold.
Finally, the words and tone of joyful, charitable, knowledgable apologists provide a lived example of God’s truth expressed in love. I need to get it through my thick head that defending the faith isn’t about winning an argument, or about never having to admit I’m wrong. It’s about helping point the way to the person of Jesus Christ, who is the Truth we all desire.
Those defenders of the faith, on the radio and on the written page, who so joyfully point the way, are excellent examples of Peter’s further exhortation to always give our explanation “in gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). They remind us that holiness and charity are the most convincing argument possible for faith in Christ.
That is my case for the value of apologetics, and I encourage you to dive in! There is such a wealth of available resources in this area, in books, articles, online materials, and our own local Spirit Catholic Radio.