Why I Am a Catholic Apologist: Another One Comes Home

Why I Am a Catholic Apologist: Another One Comes Home June 12, 2019

+ Analysis and Defense of My Apologetic Methods

One of my reader friends sent me this photo of him reading my (2007) book, The One-Minute Apologist (see book and purchase information: available as low as $2.99)

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People often say (or I know that they think it, from various clues) that I shouldn’t be debating so many people: especially Protestants. A lot of people don’t like debate. They think it is belittling by nature, or that it implies that the other position is held by dummies, etc.

Well, like anything, it can be distorted, and some (probably many) use debate to bully and ridicule and mock folks, simply because they believe differently.

But the Bible commands us to defend the faith (1 Peter 3:15 / Jude 3), and we see the Apostle Paul repeatedly described in Acts as vigorously “arguing” for the faith and “disputing” with both Jews and Greeks. He commended the pagan Athenians (Acts 17) as very “religious” and then shared the gospel with them. He did the same with his fellow Jews.

I don’t think Protestantism is a bad thing: not at all. I was a fervent evangelical Protestant myself (1977-1990) and I learned a million things that I still cherish and utilize in my Christian walk every day. I think it is, by and large, a very wonderful thing, with a few errors mixed into it.

We Catholics believe that Catholicism is the fullness of the Christian faith, and the one institutional, historic Church established by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And so we go out and share that news.

I received a letter (comment on a post) last night that knocked me off of my chair. I had debated this person (Jack) way back in March 2002 about baptismal regeneration. I recently re-posted this lengthy (and quite amiable) exchange onto my current blog (on 10-31-18), from the older Blogspot version. Then I saw that my dialogue opponent posted this:

Dave, I just wanted to thank you for your interactions with me when I was a young man, and to let you know that I am going to be received into the Roman Catholic Church on the Vigil Mass for the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord next month. There was a whole litany of events that led me to the Church, but I think that, over the years, just reflecting on how badly I lost this particular debate on Baptismal Regeneration gradually led me to the truth on that doctrine, and then one by one the other dominoes fell. I really have to give the bulk of the credit to St. Therese of Lisieux and to the Church Fathers for bringing me into the Church, but your contribution was important as well, because you planted a seed that sprouted years down the line. I was going to e-mail you rather than make this public, but I couldn’t find your contact information anywhere on the site. May Christ’s blessings be with you always.

That is why I do what I do. I’m not motivated by money, fame, “power”, foolish pride, acclaim, or anything else of the sort. I do this because 1) I was called to it by God [in terms of devoting my life to this activity], and because 2) the goal is to persuade as many people as possible to become Catholics, or to return to their former faith affiliation; and to strengthen the faith of those who are Catholics, and the faith of all Christians over against atheism and other religions, etc.

When I debate, I see it as simply sharing, and explaining why I have an honest, good-faith disagreement with someone else (and I, in turn, learn a lot about them and their position as well). Whether the other person is convinced is up to them and ultimately up to the Holy Spirit, without Whose influence and grace no one ever believes or does any good and true thing.

So I engaged in this debate over 16 years ago and now my dialogue opponent has been led to come into the Church. This could happen as a partial result of any other debate I have, or due to someone simply reading one of my articles and being influenced by it.

Thus, I keep plugging away, no matter how few may read or how little money I make by doing this for a living. The fruit is up to God. I need not worry about that. My task is to write and exercise the abilities and talents that God graciously granted me. All glory and thanks and praise to God!

I ask those who are inclined to think (with the shake of a head or an eye roll), “there goes that arrogant fool Dave Armstrong again in one of his innumerable debates . . .” when they see me doing that — if they are Catholics – , to please consider what happened here.

It’s not an isolated incident. There are many other such reports as well (see collections one and two of letters received).

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The following commentary was originally entitled “Why I Spend So Much Time Online, and In (Sometimes “Scrappy”) Dialogue / My Apologetics Approach” and was posted on Facebook (12-28-17):

Social media is a mixed bag and always has been. It has to be used wisely. I think I am doing so, for the purpose of apologetics and sharing the faith (evangelism). That is worth using social media for. I’m not wasting time doing worthless things online, but defending Holy Mother Church and the faith.

This includes dialogues and debates with many people. Some get testy because that is how many people are. They take things personally. I do not. It may seem so at times, but that’s just my passion for what I believe and zeal for seeking the truth of any given matter.

Not everyone cares for my style or points of view. That’s fine. No writer is foolish enough to believe that everyone will like to read their stuff.

Dialogues help people (including myself, as you note) clarify things. That’s why I love them. They’ve been a great teaching tool since at least Plato’s time. Dialogues can be of a very uneven quality, because not many people know how to do it, or understand it. Even if they do, they are often too sensitive or insecure to constructively engage in discussion with those who disagree. I’ve been in over 1000 debates or dialogues by now. I know how to do it. It’s a learned art. I’m on social media because this is my primary means of communicating my writing, as a full-time apologist. This is what I do. I’m called to do apologetics and evangelism, and this is the most efficient way today, to do that.

Not all apologists debate. I do. We know that St. Paul (probably the greatest evangelist of all time) “disputed” and “argued” daily with the Jews and the pagans, in synagogues and marketplaces and academies. The apologist must interact with other viewpoints. It can be done by never encountering people directly (only their books and articles), but also by direct encounter. Again, I do both. If that makes me appear “scrappy” then fine! So was Paul. So was Jesus. They were always interacting with hostile audiences. I’m not an academic, who interacts mostly with other academics. I’m a popular-level apologist. Gotta be among the people!

Naming names is sometimes sadly necessary, so that one can warn people to avoid their errors. Again, Paul did this (Hymenaeus, Alexander the Coppersmith, Philetus).

The Church fathers certainly often did so, in fighting all the heresies.

If someone asks, “who is teaching this error you write about?” then it is necessary to name them. I’m not gonna sit there and say, “I can’t name any names.” I’m here to help people avoid theological error.

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(originally 12-28-17 and 12-19-18 on Facebook)

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