Sunday, August 16, 2015

Guest Post: The Changing Face of Apologetics


Today we again present a guest post by my friend, Kevin Tierney. Kevin most recently posted here on prejudices relating to the Traditional Latin Mass; I have also featured his Catholic Lane articles on the Propers of the Latin Mass on our Facebook page. Today, Kevin writes about the current state of things in mainstream American Catholic apologetics and in what sense the landscape desperately needs to change.

By the way, for some additional background on this post, see this article from the latest addition to the Patheos crowd.

*  *  *  * 

I have frequently said that the way apologetics is conducted in contemporary Catholicism needs to change. In light of recent events, I'll try to offer a explanation here.

Before I get too far, I don't hate apologetics, and I don't hate apologists. Nor do I "attack" apologetics as a discipline within the Church. Rather, I attack a certain subculture of apologetics that is prevelant today within American Catholicism.

One of the big problems with that mainstream subculture is that it tends to define apologetics mostly in terms of debate. Every article is "against so-and-so", the issues having long since subsided from relevance, giving way to a focus on personality. This isn't new. For a good decade or so from the 90's to the aughts, Catholic apologetics was centered around who was fighting James R. White, Eric Svendsen, William Webster, etc. These men certainly needed correction, but Catholic apologists took it far too personally and made the issue the people involved, not the false beliefs they had. (For example, see the Patti Bonds saga, the sister of James White, whose conversion to Catholicism was used as a club to personally embarrass White). We need a stronger emphasis on the issues, and less on the personalities involved.

This also requires a fresh look at the issues. Just because we have the fullness of truth does not mean there's nothing additional we can do. A lot of what passes for apologetics today is essentially stuck in a time-warp of the mid 1990's and earlier. Most Protestants are typecast as James White or Jack Chick. "30,000 denominations" is still a popular argument, no matter how many times it's been debunked. It is presupposed that those outside the Church still speak a common Christian langauge we can comprehend, or that the "institutional collapse" of American Catholicism hasn't happened. All of these realities should influence the way we cover apologetics.

For example, in Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis wants a presentation of the papacy that takes into account a decentralized exercising of authority, and to "demystify" the papacy, as he has also said elsewhere. From an apologetical standpoint, this might be a good idea. A lot of our popular apologetics still presents the Bishop of Rome as an irresistible monarch, free to do as he pleases, and is the single most important part of Catholicism for the average Catholic. On issues like justification, very little is spent talking about mercy or how the soul is transformed by God's grace and mercy, instead simply talking about the role of works in justification and endless parsing over James 2. James 2 is important, but we need to present a whole picture, one that is actually answering the concerns of people, not just checking off a list of Biblical arguments.

A final way in which a lot (but not all!) of apologetics is out of touch is they adopt mentalities and approaches the Holy See has long abandoned. In their polemics, they still act as if a war is being waged with the SSPX for example. The SSPX are "outside the Church", "schismatic or a schismatic mentality", etc. The Church has instead lifted the excommunications and under Pope Francis has accelerated their integration back into full communion at a pretty astonishing pace. Gone is the hostile language of separation. The war is over; it's now time for the terms of the peace to be offered. How many of the big apologists operate according to this mentality? How many hyphenated names are some of them still using to describe brothers the Pope wishes to reconcile? Under their guise of "defending the Church" and defending the Pope, they are acting contrary to his wishes. Apologists should instead be seeking to remove barriers from our wayward brothers, not erecting more.

There's a lot else that needs changing. Some of it apologists have picked up on and are changing, and there's still a long way to go. But change is coming, be certain of that.

9 comments:

Mark Citadel said...

I must confess, it was the apologetics of William Lane Craig that actually led me to become Christian, so I really can attest to how valuable it is in opening people's hearts to God if the reason for closure is spurred by the kind of simplistic arguments employed by the New Atheists.

With regard to Catholic apologists in particular, isn't Edward Feser the greatest in this regard? I feel he is woefully underrated.

Steve Dalton said...

Kevin, I know where you're coming from. Some of these apologists have an absolutely combative attitude toward anyone who disagrees with them, even if the person is on their side. Remember the controversy over the use of Amazing Grace in Catholic worship services? I took the position that the Catholic faith has nearly 2000 years of music to draw upon, so why even bother to use a Protestant hymn at all. A very prominent Apologist smeared me as a Pharisee for suggesting this. He had it in for me ever since. Because several years later, he was taking on Mark Shea's waterboarding obsession. Shea has always claimed we executed Jap Army people for waterboarding. I pointed out on this man's blog the Japs weren't waterboarding American POW's, what they did was pour water into a prisoners stomach, and then force it out by extremely violent means, that could and would cause injuries or death. The man was so ticked years later, that he deleted all my comments, even though it supported his position! How petty can you get?! Kevin, I hope you're right about the new wave of apologetics. The attitude of some of the older apologists is extremely self-defeating in the long run.

Steve Dalton said...

Kevin, I know where you're coming from. Some of these apologists have an absolutely combative attitude toward anyone who disagrees with them, even if the person is on their side. Remember the controversy over the use of Amazing Grace in Catholic worship services? I took the position that the Catholic faith has nearly 2000 years of music to draw upon, so why even bother to use a Protestant hymn at all. A very prominent Apologist smeared me as a Pharisee for suggesting this. He had it in for me ever since. Because several years later, he was taking on Mark Shea's waterboarding obsession. Shea has always claimed we executed Jap Army people for waterboarding. I pointed out on this man's blog the Japs weren't waterboarding American POW's, what they did was pour water into a prisoners stomach, and then force it out by extremely violent means, that could and would cause injuries or death. The man was so ticked years later, that he deleted all my comments, even though it supported his position! How petty can you get?! Kevin, I hope you're right about the new wave of apologetics. The attitude of some of the older apologists is extremely self-defeating in the long run.

Kevin Tierney said...

Steve,

I'm optimistic about the future, but there's still a lot that has to change. Right now most of the apologists who are doing good work are still doing it mostly outside of the big apologetics organizations. They're doing a really good job and being pretty successful at it, but if you listen to most Catholic media, you'd have no clue who a lot of these really good young apologists are. I'm hoping as time goes on that changes.

Kevin Tierney said...

Mark,

Here I'm going to sound bad in admitting I haven't read much of Feser, but then again, atheist apologetics has never really been my thing. but yes, opening hearts and minds is paramount, and you have to do that a variety of ways.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the website Faithfulanswers.com has adhered to the "no attack" desires you write about. Good source!

Winston Davis said...

Mark Citadel,

I agree about William Lane Craig! I always appreciated his arguments.

He was pretty influential in my religious growth. Just the availability of his arguments (via YouTube) and the polished, clear, and succinct nature of his arguments made him invaluable. I grew up Protestant, but he helped ground my belief in God.

Winston Davis said...

Kevin Tierney,

Do you have any names as to who the "good young apologists" are? I would be interested to hear them.

Kevin Tierney said...

Winston,

I'm a huge fan of guys like David Gray (who I do a bi-weekly podcast with).

Joseph Heschmeyer over at Shameless Popery (who I also do work with) is an excellent resource.

There's also "CatholicNick" at catholicnick.blogspot.com who is a pretty solid apologist as well.

Those UnamSanctam scrubs are okay. ;)