Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What Is Aplogetics?

"In the beginning ... God." The first words of the Bible (Gen 1:1) affirm an essential teaching of the Christian faith: Before all else, God is. It's a reality that seems obvious to most Christians, yet many people doubt or deny it.

Challenges are often issued to other articles of the Christian faith as well, such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and to specifically Catholic beliefs, such as the unique authority of the pope. For this reason, Christians - and Catholic Christians in particular, often find themselves defending their beliefs in conversations with non-believers.

The Greek word for "defense" is apologia. Our English word "apology" is derived from it. In its classical definition, "apology" did not mean an admission of wrong, as the modern English word suggests. Rather, an apology was a defense or justification for a belief. For example, students of philosophy or of the classics are familiar with Plato's Apology: an account of Socrates' defense of his teaching.

In the present context, then, "apologetics" refers to the reasonable defense of the Christian faith. It is one aspect of what our Lord Jesus talked about when he urged us to love God with all our mind (Lk 10:27). Faith is not opposed to reason; in fact, reason, rightly understood, is a support to faith.

The foundations of Christian apologetics were laid by our Lord himself when he presented "many proofs" of his resurrection (Acts 1:3), including his appearance to skeptical, hard-nosed, "doubting" Thomas and the other apostles (Jn 20:24-29). The resulting apostolic proclamation of the gospel included eyewitnesses (legal or scientific) testimony as a central feature (Lk 1:1-4; Acts 2:32).

St. Paul likewise engaged in apologetics, trying to persuade both Jews and Greeks of the truth of Christianity. His reasoned style of evangelization is demonstrated in his sermon on the Areopagus, Mars Hill, in philosophy-dominated Athens (Acts 17:22-34) and in his determination to "become all things to all, to save at least some" (1 Cor 9:22). The apostle's approach to sharing and defending his faith should encourage Catholics today to follow his example.