History of Non-Academic Lay Catholic Apologetics

History of Non-Academic Lay Catholic Apologetics September 29, 2012
G. K. Chesterton




This occurred on a non-public Facebook thread in September 2012. It was originally a dispute with an Orthodox gentleman (who shall remain anonymous) about divine simplicity and the somewhat related issue of “Divine Energies” (a mostly Orthodox interpretation having to do with God’s Nature). His words are in blue.

* * *

. . . you are an untrained popular Catholic apologist. . . . As far as I know you hold no graduate degrees in philosophy, theology, history or any other relevant field. Noting a fact is not an expression of personal animus. At most it is an expression of indifference.

. . .
people wishing a quality dialog go to Michael L[iccione] or Bryan Cross rather than your blog.

[Etc., etc. (he threw out numerous additional insults along these lines]


By all means, [Name], go dialogue with fellow academics like Michael or Bryan. That’s the world you are in. No one would expect any differently. It’s part and parcel of the academic enterprise. Some academics (like Michael, and also Bryan and many other Catholics online) also care about talking to (and educating) non-academics, too, and I’ve always appreciated that more democratic and egalitarian attitude (over against the ivory tower mentality). That is the essence of a teacher: educating those who know less. I thank God for those people. I immensely admire their efforts outside of the colleges and universities and seminaries.

I must say I was surprised to hear that educated people supposedly avoid my site, since I have more than 650 dialogues posted on it, including many dozens with professors (in addition to lots of pastors, and those with graduate degrees, too): Dr. Edwin Tait [Anglican Church historian]: 17 dialogues, Dr. E. L. Hamilton [evangelical]: 5, Dr. Eric Svendsen [evangelical]: 4, “CPA” [Lutheran professor of history]: 17, Dr. Alexander Pruss [Catholic philosopher], Dr. Barry Bickmore [Mormon]: 2, Dr. Jim Arvo [atheist], “DaGoods” [atheist lawyer]: 19, Dr. Ted Drange [atheist philosopher]: 5, “ProfMTH / Mitch” [atheist professor]: 5, Dr. Jan Schreurs [agnostic scientist]: 3. That’s at least 80 with folks who have a doctorate degree. But in a dream world these edu’m’cated folks supposedly never engage me in dialogue. If we count “Dr.” James White (I dispute his degree because it was from an unaccredited diploma mill, and he did a very plain, utterly non-unique “dissertation” about the Trinity), that is about 25 more, for over 100, or about one-sixth of my total dialogues.

I’ve noted many times, and it is appropriate and necessary to do so again, after an avalanche of posts critical towards me (surely I am entitled to have my “say” too): the most successful Catholic apologists have been those who did not have a theological degree (not even an undergraduate one). My own category of “popular lay apologist” is of this nature.

G. K. Chesterton: the most successful and influential “popular apologist” of the first third of the 20th century, not only had no theological degree; he had no degree whatever, in anything. He took a few art classes at a college. That’s it. Yet a noted Thomist like Gilson said that his book on Aquinas was better than any that he had written himself, and had more insight into the topic, and very profound wisdom.

C. S. Lewis was the most influential Christian apologist of the next 30-year period. He was (as most know) a Professor of English Literature: not theologically trained, that I know of. He had some training in philosophy.

Frank Sheed: a lay apologist of great influence, was a lawyer. Thomas Howard is another English professor. Malcolm Muggeridge was a journalist (like Chesterton). Peter Kreeft is a philosophy professor. Mark Shea was an English major (BA, I think). Karl Keating is a lawyer (though I believe he has taken some theology courses). There are some exceptions: Scott Hahn: a theology professor who also does popular-level stuff and has had tremendous influence. But by and large, it is as I have said.

Thus, we see that there is nothing unusual whatever in this; nor is it somehow frowned upon by the Church. Chesterton (high school education and no theological training) was greatly honored in the Church, and that was 100 years ago. So was Sheed.

I don’t claim to be anything I am not. There is no pretense here. I’m in this proud tradition of lay apologetics, that doesn’t necessarily require advanced degrees in theology (though the more education the better). There is nothing whatever to be ashamed of in that. If someone thinks I am deficient in technical areas of theology because I haven’t read 35 books on one narrow topic (as academics do) — in the original languages — , no skin off my back. I never said that I did read that much on some fine point; nor do I wish to. More power to those who do!

But I’ve read virtually all of, e.g., Cardinal Newman and Chesterton (that’s no small number of books!), in order to produce (“officially”) published quotations books devoted to them. I’ve even done the same this year with John Wesley, and now St. Augustine. I learn and read what is helpful to my particular task: lay apologetics, and explaining and teaching how to defend the Catholic faith to the masses. I’m a successful author, with eight books put out by mainstream Catholic publishers, and lots more to come before I depart this earth. That is not insignificant, nor is it at all easy to do.

I’m happy to occasionally take some arrows and insults. Let ’em fly. That is nothing compared to the multiple hundreds of letters received, of folks saying they are coming into the Church or returning to it, due in part or primarily (on a theological, intellectual, human level) to my writings. The Holy Spirit ultimately draws men in, by His grace, of course. It’s all due to Him; all glory to God.

We apologists mostly just remove roadblocks. That’s what I am here for; what God has called me to do in my life, so let the insults fly if you (or anyone else of like mind) must, about my education and credentials (and far worse). They’re wrongheaded and miss the mark entirely.

And any fair-minded person reading this can surely see that.


Right after this was posted, a person wrote on the same thread:

By the way, I’ve never contacted you, but when I converted to the Catholic Church some twelve years ago your writings online were an enormous help to me in a number of areas. Thank you for what you’ve done in service to the faith.


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