About ten or fifteen years ago, apologetics seemed to be all the rage among Catholics. Today, there is a much stronger focus on evangelization.
For many of us, evangelization is a new and uncomfortable realm. For some reason, we just feel more comfortable with apologetics and defending the faith.
I wonder, though, if becoming good at defending the faith has made it difficult for us to share our faith.
Sharing the faith calls for different skills and a different approach from defending the faith.
The danger, as I see it, is trying to do apologetics while trying to call it evangelization.
We can certainly do both evangelization and apologetics, but we have to be careful with our approach.
A Love for Catholic Apologetics
Apologetics is essentially the work we do to present a rational basis for our Christian faith. It is the work of defense against the objections to faith.
When I first discovered apologetics, I loved it. I ate it up.
After my initial conversion in high school, I became ultra-passionate about my faith. I turned to Catholic Answers and books like Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons? so I could learn as much as possible about my Catholic faith. I even watched EWTN shows (yep, as a teenager) and read books by Scott Hahn.
When I became a theology teacher, I turned to those same sources for background reading about what I was trying to teach in class. They were all great resources and very helpful in answering kids’ questions.
But answering their questions was never enough. I could satisfy the minds, but their hearts still needed healing.
How Evangelization and Apologetics Connect
When you shift your focus from apologetics to evangelization, you have to shift your content and approach.
It was a hard lesson for me to learn.
I loved the search and discovery of the Truth. Many Christians find God in search of the Truth.
Yet, we have to be careful. We can’t win souls with winning arguments. Conversion always happens in the heart.
Charity comes before faith.
Love comes before truth.
A background in apologetics is essential for evangelization because it equips us with rational answers to questions and objections about the faith, but we can’t stop there.
We have to go beyond expertise in doctrine, and allow ourselves to be vulnerable witnesses to the Gospel.
An often quoted Scripture passage by apologists applies here:
“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence . . .”1 Peter 3:5-6
Read this advice carefully. Before the explanation and before the question comes the noticeable hope. And even when the answer is given, it is not done in an argumentative tone.
A part of what we do in evangeliztion is remove obstacles to grace. Beliefs about Mary, the saints, the Pope, etc. can often be those initial obstacles.
Just be careful. The more you know, often the harder it is to present a response to an argument that appeals to the heart and the head.
In my experience, behind almost every objection or argument against the faith is a wound that needs to be healed.
First, do the healing.
Then, do some proclaiming.
Then, when they are ready, present the teaching (apologetics).
(photo credit: storm-crypt)
Nice explanation of the necessity of both but the differences between them. Thanks!
It’s always been interesting to me how apologetics seems to do more for invigorating the faith of those who are already Catholic. It provides the logic and structure that appeals to Catholics who have never found that at any other time…probably because they were just kids when they first learned about the faith. However, it’s not particularly effective for evangelization on it’s own, which is what it’s billed for. The problem is winning an argument is not very endearing. It definitely does have it’s place though. Once you’ve attracted and intrigued someone with Catholicism, you need to have logical explanations for why those things are true. That’s where apologetics comes in and is very effective. You just can’t lead with it. I wish more apologists understood this about human nature. Decisions are mostly made on emotion but that needs to be backed up by reason. Professional apologists should teach their methods in the right context. They think their way is the only thing needed, and they spawn a legion of would-be evangelists that are really just shooting themselves in the foot.