“No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.” —St. John Paul II
All Catholics are called to evangelize. It is our supreme duty, says the Church’s newest canonized saint. To evangelize is to propose the truths of Christianity with love – not impose them. It is an invitation – not a confrontation. And it always begins with a clear and simple offer to accept Jesus Christ as who He claimed to be. That is step one. But anyone who has not been baptized or who is not practicing the Christian faith has made their decision for a reason. You, therefore, will be required to give an answer to the questions and objections to your proposal that will surely arise. Therefore, apologetics is the “handmaiden” of evangelization.
Doing apologetics in evangelization is not to say “I’m sorry for being Christian!” Rather it is a defense for being a Christian. As the word “cleave” can mean to split apart or to join together, to give an apology can mean to remorsefully retract a decision or defend a decision. Yes, English is a funny language.
For an evangelical Catholic, doing apologetics means standing firm in the Faith and giving a reasoned account for what Catholics hold true, though always with joy, clarity and simplicity. Defending the Faith is a crucial skill for us all – and its necessity is rooted in Scripture (1 Pet 3:15). Giving good responses to the questions and objections from those with whom we share our faith has never been more critical than in today’s secular culture. In an ever more skeptical and non-Christian world, this skill is a must for all who wish to effectively respond to Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). The Scriptures say:
“Always be prepared to make a defense (Gk. apologia) to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15)
Let me also note that “making disciples” is not directly equal to “doing apologetics.” When we evangelize with the purpose of making disciples, we proclaim the Truth in word and deed, and when necessary, defend the Word. For the best commentary on what apologetics “is and isn’t” read Catholic apologist Mark Shea’s article here.
So although apologetics is not always necessary when we evangelize, we still must be prepared to defend our Christian faith and worldview. Here are three reasons why we should heed St. Peter’s command:
Reason #1: To defend the invisible, mysterious and miraculous in a culture where science is the ultimate authority for truth
“Preserving the mystery of the divine, apologetics does not seek to prove the contents of revelation, except to show that they cannot be disproved.” —Cardinal Avery Dulles
There is a predominant philosophy today that is not compatible with Christianity and as such, is held by many non-Christians. It is called “naturalism” and it has infiltrated many of today’s schools, universities and beyond. Naturalists hold that “nature” is all there is; there is no “supernatural.” Many naturalists also believe that the scientific method of observation, measurement, data collection, etc is the only way to know what is true. That is, if science can’t prove it then it can’t be real. But this belief that “the non-scientific is nonsense” is absurd and we will see why in a moment.
Understanding that such philosophies are prevalent in today’s culture, Pope Francis has called us to challenge these counter-Christian views with rational arguments. He says:
“Proclaiming the Gospel message to different cultures also involves proclaiming it to professional, scientific and academic circles. This means an encounter between faith, reason and the sciences with a view to developing new approaches and arguments on the issue of credibility, a creative apologetics which would encourage greater openness to the Gospel on the part of all” (Evangelii Gaudium 132)
So these counter-Christian world views must be challenged by Christians within the academic and scientific worlds, and without. The Christian faith is full of the unseeable as we acknowledge many spiritual things in our system of belief (God, angels, the soul, etc). And we profess, not only that there is a spiritual reality in addition to a physical reality, but that the very crux and foundation of our Christian belief – namely, God – is pure spirit. Therefore Christians must know how to defend the mysterious. And especially Catholics! With our affirmations of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and the many Eucharistic miracles reported around the world through the centuries (like this one ends 4321), and with things like exorcism, incorruptible bodies of the saints, countless miraculous healings, Marian apparitions and many other miraculous phenomena to which we lay claim to as truly of God, we have the obligation to know how to speak sensibly about why we believe in the reality of such things. (Remember: All miracles officially recognized by the Catholic Church have been thoroughly investigated by scientific, medical and/or other experts who have concluded that there is no rational explanation for what has occurred.)
All mysteries can be explained up to a certain point. Paraphrasing the great Catholic apologist, Frank Sheed, mystery is not something that cannot be understood at all; a mystery is something than cannot be completely understood. For the Christian intellect, a sacred mystery is an endless wellspring of truth.
Our human intellect has limitations. When we reach those outermost limits we must take a leap of faith to go farther in our understanding. Actually we take these “leaps” all the time. For example: I have never been to China nor seen it firsthand but I have seen lots of evidence for its existence. The evidence available to me can only take me so far but I am willing to take a leap of faith and assert that “China exists!”
In a debate against atheist Dr. Peter Atkins, the renowned Christian philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig noted several “invisible” everyday things that cannot be accounted for by the scientific method (observation, measurement, etc) including:
– logical and mathematical truths (science presupposes logic and math)
– metaphysical truths (do other minds exist?)
– ethical beliefs about statements of value (science cannot prove what is morally right and wrong, better or worse)
– aesthetic judgements (science cannot definitively prove what is beautiful and what is not)
– science itself! (can science prove that science is the only way to know what is real?)
Note that these are all things that cannot be directly measured or observed. Numbers, beauty, moral values and other minds are all non-physical “things” and yet are commonly accepted to be real entities by people of all philosophies, atheists included.
***I wholeheartedly recommend you check out the video of this exchange between Atkins and Craig. The debate moderator’s comment at the end of Craig’s rebuttal makes the three minute video even more worth it! (See the video here)
But back to the point: We must equip ourselves to show non-believers that it is completely rational and sane to believe in the Unseen. We can find fingerprints of God everywhere – signs that point to His infinitely power and love and wisdom – both in the immaterial world and in the natural world. Signs of God surround us, and are directly available to the mind’s eye if we have the lenses to see them. He says so Himself:
“Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20)