[Pixabay / released under Creative Commons CC0]
I was on “Meet the Author” with Ken Huck today, talking about my new book, Proving the Catholic Faith is Biblical. He had sent me ten questions, so I could prepare some notes for the interview. We covered maybe 7 or 8 of them in our 23 minutes, but even then I didn’t always use all the material for any given question, so I thought I would make a paper out of it. I spent about two hours preparing it.
* * * * *
1. You are known as a Catholic apologist. Many people misunderstand what an apologist does. You address this as your final essay in the book, but I want to talk about this up front. What is a Catholic apologist?
It’s one who defends the Catholic faith, and tries to show that it is reasonable and plausible. It’s focused on reasons for faith. The word, “apologist” doesn’t mean “saying you’re sorry” all the time. The original meaning comes from Plato’s Apology, which was an account of the trial of Socrates in ancient Greece. He defended himself from false charges. So it had the connotation of elaborate self-defense, rather than “I was wrong and I’m sorry . . .” But even in our usage now, we often will give an explanation, when an apology is given. The same Greek word is a biblical term. It appears in 1 Peter 3:15 (a big passage for apologists). In RSV it reads: “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you . . .”
One way apologists like to describe our work is to say that it removes roadblocks to faith or belief in particular doctrines. We seek to remove those difficulties and so help people be more assured and confident in their faith. But the main thing is always faith and God’s grace. It’s like that old saying: “you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” God’s grace enables a person to drink, so to speak. The apologists help to get the person to the place where they want to drink and understand why they should drink.
2. Many of your books rely on the proving that Catholicism is in fact a very Biblically based faith. Does this focus come out of your background as an Evangelical Christian?
Yes and no. It does in the sense that we tried to prove everything from the Bible, as Protestants. It was always front and center; so there is that influence from my past. I think it’s a very good influence, and I have written about how Catholics ought to read and understand the Bible a lot more than they do.
But it wasn’t why I actually became a Catholic (this was back in 1990). I had three main reasons: one moral and two historical ones:
1) the contraception issue,
2) development of doctrine,
3) studying the 16th century advent of Protestantism from both sides: not just reading Protestant accounts.
None of those reasons had much to do at all with biblical analysis or arguments. What happened was that I started writing after my conversion, to explain to my Protestant friends why I had become a Catholic, and to do that, the most sensible way is to use a lot of biblical support, because all Christians accept the inspiration of Scripture (and Protestants are always claiming that Catholic beliefs are so unbiblical
). So I started writing long essays about major topics where Catholics have distinctive beliefs, over against Protestants, and that became my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism
. That was a bestseller, so I have written several more along the same lines, which were popular, too, but I do write about lots of other things, too; especially Church history. My current book follows the method that I am most known for.But showing how Catholicism is in harmony with the Bible is not
the same as accepting the false notion of sola scriptura
, or Bible Alone: the view that Scripture is the only
infallible authority. It’s simply using a method of argument that Protestants will respect. If we quote to them papal encyclicals and ecumenical councils, it means little to them, because they aren’t accepted as their authority. You have to find common ground
; or a common premise. So I specialize in Scripture because I specialize in outreach to Protestants, and that’s what they “hear
.” St. Paul said, “I have become all things to all men, that by any means I might save some of them.”
3. Maybe you can explain to our Catholic listeners why the Bible is so extremely important to many non-Catholic Christians?
They make it their entire rule of faith, or authority in terms of how they determine truth. They do that with very good reason: because it’s God’s inspired revelation, and we fully agree with them about that. But Catholics think it’s an incomplete rule of faith, and that you have to also have an authoritative Church and tradition, within which correct interpretation of the Bible can happen. It’s when you deny the authority of the Church and apostolic tradition, that you get hundreds of competing theologies. I always say that when contradictions are present, someone’s gonna be wrong, and that the devil is the father of lies and falsehood.
The myth is that all we have to do is read the Bible, and it’ll be so crystal clear to anyone who is willing to accept it, that all will agree, and there will be a wonderful harmony. Luther talked about how a plowboy can understand Scripture. I agree that Scripture is clear in many things; yet well-intentioned, holy people have disagreed about a lot of doctrines. The history of Protestantism has shown that! We still need an authoritative guide in order to have unity.
4. Let’s talk about the new book. It is a series of short essays. Tell us about how the book is arranged?
The idea was to deal with each topic in a very concise manner: hitting the major points about it, and to show how the Bible supports the Catholic position. Many of the chapters came from articles that I had written for two magazines or newspapers: The Michigan Catholic and Seton Magazine (which is a homeschooling publication). Those were either 800 or 1000 words, so they fit right into the plan for this book. Some of the chapters are even shorter than that: just one or two pages. I was just trying to present something about each topic that would make people think or challenge them, or maybe be something “new”: if indeed there are any apologetics argument that are actually new. Usually someone else thought of it hundreds of years ago.Of course, we’re in an age where people like quick, easy, instant answers; Twitter and the sound byte and so forth. My natural tendency and preference is to write at length about things, but apologists have to recognize what their audience wants, and so I now have five books that provide “short” answers, like The One-Minute Apologist (also with Sophia Institute Press), and The New Catholic Answer Bible (from Our Sunday Visitor).
5. With your extensive experience as an apologist do these 80 areas cover most of the most common objections that non-Catholic Christians have toward Catholicism?
That’s what I tried to do. Most of them came originally from papers I had written for my website, either from dialoguing with Protestants or replying to some claim they made. My emphasis is usually on how a Protestant would think about theological issues, and what would convince them that the Catholic Church had the correct answer.
But I had a few, too, that were mostly replies to atheists or what I would call “philosophical defense,” such as chapters called, “A Perfect God Creating an Imperfect World” and “Can God be Blamed for the Nazi Holocaust?” I sort of negotiated with the publisher to keep those in (even though they weren’t strictly “biblical”) because I thought it was important to hit upon the Problem of Evil, which a lot of people (including lots of Christians) struggle with.
6. Tell us about a few of the essay subjects, and the Catholic biblical defense?
Here’s a few in a nutshell. Protestants often say that we shouldn’t call priests “Father” because Jesus said, “call no man your father” (Mt 23:9). But passages have to be understood in context, and in relation to other similar passages. Jesus was using hyperbole or exaggeration, as He often did. The argument I made was that it couldn’t be an absolute prohibition since Jesus Himself referred to “your father Abraham” (Jn 8:56). James 2:21 also refers to “Abraham our father.” St. Paul used the same title for Abraham twice in Romans 4, called Isaac “our forefather” in Romans 9:10, and called himself a “father” to his followers (1 Corinthians 4:15). It’s a classic example of how you can’t just use one supposed “prooftext” in isolation.
Another argument that I think is kind of fun is concerning worship of God through images. Now, many Protestants (esp. Calvinists) tell us that this is absolutely not permitted, and is idolatry, like worshiping the Golden Calf (remember that in the old Ten Commandments movie with Charlton Heston?). The problem is that this is not an absolute in Scripture. In the Old Testament, we see that God revealed Himself in a pillar of cloud and of fire, when the Hebrews were wandering through the wilderness. That is an image, and it is physical matter (water vapor and fire). We also have a passage in Exodus 33:9-11. Part of that reads: “when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the door of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship.” Likewise, in 2 Chronicles 7:1-4, it talks about the “glory of the Lord” descending upon the temple. That was either fire or a cloud , so it says that when the children of Israel saw that, “they bowed down with their faces to the earth on the pavement, and worshiped.” Sounds sort of like eucharistic adoration, doesn’t it?
Another chapter was about biblical analogies for Marian apparitions. I gave several examples, like Samuel appearing to Saul, right before the latter was killed, the prophet Daniel’s extensive visions, Moses and Elijah appearing at the transfiguration (I got to visit that spot last October; it’s amazing), and Paul having a vision in Acts 16:9 where he saw a man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” I love finding stuff like that, where it’s a little out of the ordinary. So the argument is that there are instances of visions or appearances that are not unlike Marian apparitions.
7. One of my favorite subjects is the arguments for the Authority of the Church. What I find interesting, is that many Protestants come into the Church because of the authority. In other words, they see the fracturing of Christianity because of the last of authority. So perhaps this topic is as much for Catholics who reject Church authority, but explain the Biblical basis for Church authority.
That’s one of my own favorite chapters (chapter 8), called, “Three Biblical Arguments for the Authority of the Church.” Briefly, they are Matthew 16:18-19, where Jesus gives St. Peter the keys of the Church, which he calls “My Church”, says that the devil won’t prevail against it (what we call indefectibility of the Church), and gives priests the power to bind and loose, which means imposing penance and granting absolution.
The second is one I love to bring up in debates. In Acts 16:4 it says that St. Paul in his missionary preaching, went around and “delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.” That is the Jerusalem Council, which is described in Acts 15. That is sublime Church authority. Everyone was bound to these decisions. It’s as far from Scripture alone as can be imagined.
The third is 1 Timothy 3:15: “the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” When you unpack the meaning of that, it’s a very strong argument. The Church can’t be a “pillar” of the truth without containing all truth (in other words, being infallible). And that is a Catholic notion: one that Protestants have to grapple with.
8. What is one of the most common challenges you hear as an apologist?
From Protestants, it is that the Catholic Church contradicts the Bible (hence, my specialty, showing that it does not). From atheists, it’s the problem of evil. From Catholics, it’s usually complaints about the Church and people in it. The answer to that is to note that there have always been sinners in the Church, as seen in the early churches of the Corinthians and Galatians, and the seven churches of Revelation that Jesus roundly rebuked. If we’re all sinners, then obviously there will be sinners in the Church, including her leaders!
9. In recent years the existence of Hell has fallen out of favor with Christians, and many seem to think that if Hell exists then only Hitler and a couple other people actually end up there. What does the Bible say?
In Matthew 25 is pretty decisive. It’s about judgment day and God is separating the sheep and the goats. Matthew 25:46 couldn’t be any clearer than it is: “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” It states similarly in Revelation about the Lake of Fire, which is hell, and its eternal torments. There is also the theme of the “book of life,” and passages say that people whose name are in it go to heaven. If someone’s name isn’t in it (some passages say names are “blotted out”), they will go to hell, by their own choice of rejection of God. Jesus also talked about “narrow is the way, and few who find it,” implying that a lot of people will be lost. There is a lot of misunderstanding of hell. It’s always a big topic. But we can pray for any individual to be saved, and should desire that all men be saved (like God does), even while knowing that they won’t be in fact, because of their rebellion.
10. Many RCIA programs are just beginning for the year. I know a lot of people who are in RCIA may come from other faith traditions and continue to have reservations that the Church is faithful to scripture. I think this book would be an excellent resource to give to someone is that position, or as a resource for RCIA instructors to help answer those hard questions? What do you think?
You won’t get any disagreement from me about that! I think also that my book, The One-Minute Apologist (2007) would serve the same purpose. It has about sixty topics: each dealt with in two pages, in a standard format and structure somewhat similar to the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. My current book seeks to be accessible to a wide variety of readers, making the arguments in a straightforward and concise fashion, while still providing readers with something to think about and ponder in each chapter. I’m trying to write to the common man, the person considering Catholicism (especially its biblical basis), and ones who love the Bible as I do, and who like to learn as much about it as they can.