Thursday, April 22, 2010
What is Apologetics?
The word "apologetics" comes from the Greek word "apologia" (sometimes spelled "apologeia") which means "to speak in defense" or "to give reason". The meaning of the word, in contemporary times, has become closely associated with saying "sorry", and when we have gone to offer an apology or ask for one, we do or receive just that: a "sorry" response. What we're really asking for or giving, however, when we make or receive an apology, is an explanation or reason. No, apologetics does not mean that we say sorry to other people for being Catholic!
Apologetics means that we speak in defense of our beliefs and to give reason(s) for the beliefs we hold to.
What's the biblical basis for apologetics? In his letters, St. Peter exhorts all Christians to always be ready to offer a reason for the hope that lives them (and that of course means us):
"But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you." - 1 Peter 3:15
... and the following verse which tells us to make this defense in an honourable manner:
"But with modesty and meekness, having a good conscience: that whereas they speak evil of you, they may be ashamed who falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ." - 1 Peter 3:16
When speaking in defense of our faith or giving reason(s) for the beliefs we hold to, what's not important is how much or how little we know, but how we use what we do know. It is possible to win the debate but lose the soul, so to speak. Unfortunately, while we can have a zeal for our faith and want to take every opportunity to give reason(s) for the hope that we have, we can do so in a manner that, in a sense, puts a lot of people off and does more harm than good. It's a bit like that "fire and brimstone" approach: "Repent, or you're going to burn in Hell!" Now, the underlying message there is true, but its delivery leaves much to be desired.
For apologetics to be truly effective, the apologist has to reach and speak to people where they're at and appeal to a certain logic and reasoning. For some, yes, it may be very effective to play scripture tennis and hurtle verses back and forth to each other. For others it may be most effective to use philosophy and reason with others perhaps by using a scientific approach. But here's the thing: no everyone's an expert on scripture, not everyone's a philosopher, and not everyone's a scientist. At best, the average person has a base level understanding of those three facets. The key is to work to what you know best and take opportunities to broaden your knowledge on a range of subject matter and always, always, always remember to give reason with "modesty and meekness": never be rude, never offend anyone intentionally, never palm-off arguments without basis (e.g. like when some might say, "That's stupid!" or "You're being silly now"), etc., but always do the following:
- Even when others are being rude to you, keep your cool;
- It never hurts to ask someone to expound or to provide more information if they can (be prepared to do the same if you are giving reason);
- Paraphrase to clarify and confirm what another is saying to you;
- Read, research and reflect; and
- Pray and prepare!
Most importantly, it's never bad to say "I'm not sure about that" as long as it is always followed up with "... but I'm going to find out for you". These are the hallmarks of a good apologist.
Never be sorry for what you believe in, but always be ready to give reason for it.
May truth prevail.