Thursday, October 13, 2005

Highest Recommendation: John Martignoni's "Apologetics for the Masses" (Solid Apologetic Strategy and Demeanor)

My distinguished associate in apologetics, John Martignoni, founder and president of the Bible Christian Society, has begun a new newsletter, entitled Apologetics for the Masses. John offers a free subscription to the newsletter (see also his free audio tapes and CDs offer):

Issue #1
Issue #2
Issue #3

What I think is really cool about this endeavor is John's unique, fresh approach: a sort of "practical apologetics" or "apologetics by example." He describes it as follows:

This E-Newsletter will have actual apologetics exchanges that I have engaged in or am engaging in. You will see the questions asked, and the comments made, by non-Catholics about all the various aspects of the Catholic Faith, and you will not only be able to read my responses, you will be given the strategies behind what I said and why. Strategies that you can use to engage in apologetics discussions with the folks you come in contact with.
In the first issue, he elaborates further:

There will be an introduction, then the "Question/Challenge" and "My Response" to the question/challenge. The "Strategies and Tactics" section will correspond to the "My Response" section. It will go paragraph by paragraph in giving you the thinking behind my response. Then there will be a short closing note.
And again:

There are four main apologetics strategies that I teach people to use: 1) The Ignorant Catholic, 2) Being Offensive (Aw-fensive) Without Being Offensive (Uh-fensive); 3) It's the Principle of the Thing; and 4) But That's MY Interpretation.

I will be talking about all of these off and on in the coming newsletters, but for this newsletter, the strategy I use most is #2 above...Being Offensive (Aw-fensive) Without Being Offensive (Uh-fensive). (In fact, this is my primary strategy in all of my apologetics discussions.) And, the best way to be aw-fensive without being uh-fensive is to ask questions. Be a student of what the other person thinks and believes. Ask as many questions as possible about their beliefs and the Bible passages they cite. Try to ask more questions than you answer.

I couldn't agree more. This is very similar to my own Socratic approach, which involves asking many questions and especially, examining opposing (oftentimes false) premises. John then mentions the next key to good dialogue and apologetic critique:

At the heart of this strategy is my contention that many non-Catholic Christians do not have a comprehensive, logical, and consistent system of theology. In other words, their theological system has any number of inconsistencies, but these inconsistencies are never brought out by Catholics, because we're too busy answering the other guy's questions. Well, we need to ask some questions of our own so that we can expose these inconsistencies and hopefully plant some seeds of truth.
Amen! Don't get taken in by the "10,000 questions" or 642 rabbit trails" routines. Keep on the subject and go right to the heart of your dialogical partner's belief-system. That's great apologetics and dialogue both. And do it all without being "Uh-fensive."

Typically, he also offers a related free tape or CD:

Also, for more on the apologetics strategies I've mentioned here, please listen to my talk on Apologetics for the Scripturally-Challenged. It's available for free on CD or cassette tape at the website, if you don't already have it.
John goes about these things in exactly the right way, in my opinion, but apologetics is not without its frustrations. For those of you who have tried to do apologetics, see if the following scenario sounds familiar. We are seeing it again in the thread immediately below this, right before our eyes, where John carefully answered his opponents' questions, even though they were utterly off-topic, while the other person continues to ignore the issue at hand - that he brought up in the first place!:

Okay, for all of those who were anxiously awaiting Phil's response to the questions I asked in the last newsletter, I hope you're not too disappointed. He didn't answer a single question...not one! But, if you're going to be discussing the Catholic Faith with others, you need to get used to that happening. This is quite common in almost every single exchange that I have with non-Catholic Christians. I answer their questions, they rarely answer mine. The fact that this happens, that you rarely get direct answers to your direct questions, should not, however, be a source of frustration. It should be a source of confidence. They have no answers to your questions, because to answer them consistently, logically, and in accord with God's Word, would poke big holes in their theology. Which is exactly why you need to learn how to ask questions.
A good friend of mine is fond of saying: "You can be the greatest lawyer in the world, but if you have no case . . . " Or in common expression: "you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." There is much that is good in Protestantism, and we rejoice in that as Catholics, but there is also much distortion and falsehood and misrepresentation of Catholic beliefs (particularly among anti-Catholic Protestants).

This invariably comes out in discussion, and we often find that discussion breaks down because the Protestant is brought to the place where he simply has no more plausible, coherent answers to give anymore. How the discussion then ends is one of the more fascinating and frustrating things that I have repeatedly experienced in Catholic apologetics. There are a number of excuses used:

"I don't have time to continue." [when they had plenty of time previously]

"You're closed-minded, so there is no point going on."

"You are [any number of personal insults]"

Or the topic is switched to something else so as to avoid difficult questions and areas of controversy.


How often I have thought that it would be so refreshing to hear someone "bow out graciously" by saying: "you know, you have made some good, challenging points, and I need to do more study in order to come up with better answers, or any answers at all, at this point. Let me think about that and I'll get back to you and we can continue this discussion."

Sometimes this happens, but not too often. Human pride dictates that we (ALL of us; no exceptions that I have seen) find it very hard to admit that we are wrong. Yet it is no disgrace at all to admit that someone knows more than we do. It ought to be a great opportunity to learn, rather than play games and act as if we have all the answers, whereas in reality we clearly do not.

This tendency, again, is one of general human nature, and happens on all sides of debate. John and I just happen to be in a place where we often observe Protestants refusing to answer and using various tactics to try to cover up the fact that they have no answer and have had their own false premises and/or conclusions exposed. John gives a specific example of such unworthy tactics in his second newsletter:

Now, to paragraph C1, you see what he says, "I could answer your questions, but again they are carefully worded to get the answer you want." In other words, he has a problem answering my questions. I just asked straightforward questions about the Bible...why can't he answer them? And see how he responds to my answer to his question about celibacy, he just dismisses it out of hand. No explanation about why it's wrong, or how I've misinterpreted Matthew 19...nothing like's just wrong based on his "opinion." You've got to call folks on it when they do things like that. You need to remember Strategy #4, "But That's MY Interpretation!"

So, I responded in my first 3 paragraphs by saying that he basically has no room to talk about Catholics not answering his questions (see C7), when he does the exact same thing. And I pretty much repeated that theme throughout my response. If you allow folks to ignore your questions and they just keep firing new questions at you, you will rarely make any progress in a discussion. You have to call them on not answering your questions, and basically not answer any new questions until they've answered yours. If they won't (or can't) answer your questions, then the dialogue may end fairly quickly, but I can guarantee you that you've planted some seeds.

. . . And then I close out the email by asking him to please respond, point-by-point, to the questions in my previous email. And, I make it a point to tell him that if he can't answer my questions, or if he's afraid to answer my questions, then maybe that should give him pause...and maybe he needs to look at the Church a little more closely. And notice, with one exception, I didn't respond to any of the new issues he brought up...Martin Luther, Catholics adding to the Bible, etc. I'll get to those after he answers my questions.

Superb! This is how to do it, folks. I hope you will subscribe to the newsletter. It's free! You have nothing to lose and lots of tremendous insight and wisdom to gain. One can't help but see some humor in apologetics (at least I do, with my warped, whimsical sense of humor). Note, for example, how John ends this newsletter:

Sometimes, probably most of the time, you're going to have to work to get someone to give answers to your questions. Don't let that discourage or frustrate you...let it embolden you. And, if you are asking one non-Catholic questions that are going unanswered, you might want to share your conversation with another non-Catholic and tell them you're trying to get answers to these questions, but this particular person either can't or won't give you answers, and could they help you get the answers? The more the merrier.

We'll see if Phil gives us any answers to the questions in the next go-round...stay tuned!

I do this sort of thing all the time, but I'm afraid my efforts are often a lot less charitable than how John does it, and I have considerably less patience than he does with some folks who could arguably be deemed (after long, sad experience) as "fools." He's a fine example for all of us to emulate. Yet he, too, gets a lot of negative feedback, which goes with the [apologetic] territory, as he notes in his third newsletter:

I quite often catch flak from folks who say I'm too combative or not nice enough or some such thing. Sorry, but I find nothing wrong with being direct and to the point. I was frustrated with him, and I simply told him so. As long as you're not ugly about it or uncharitable, I see nothing wrong with being direct with someone.
John makes the understatement of the century as to some rather common tactics of Protestants in discussion (especially anti-Catholics). He hits the nail on the head:

They are very good at asking questions, but they are not so practiced at answering questions. And, they generally do not expect to have to defend their theology in a rational and consistent manner.

And we see yet again the usual bait-and-switch, non sequitur tactics of someone who has run out of answers and a cogent defense of their position:

Now, regarding his list of books. Do you see what he's doing? He's throwing out a group of ex-priests, or those who profess to be ex-priests, and he's offering them up as authorities. He's trying to take me away from the Bible. So, I don't even go there. I simply discredit them by saying that a lot of these folks are undoubtedly just like him in that they profess to have believed Catholic teaching, but, somehow, they don't seem to understand Catholic teaching. Don't ever get caught up in a discussion about books by ex-priests or anything of that will get you nowhere.
You are strongly urged to subscribe to John Martignoni's free newsletter, if you engage in any apologetics with Protestants. The principles described here apply, however, to any apologetics-oriented conversation.

John Martignoni is a host (along with others) of EWTN Open Line, a live, internationally telecast call-in program of biblical apologetics (on Mondays, generally in the afternoon). You can download shows from EWTN's Audio Library (see also, podcast capabilities). Sirius Satellite Radio also carries EWTN programming. Check your local Catholic radio station for the schedule.

Lastly, here are some of John's published articles:

How to Be Offensive without Being Offensive, This Rock, Volume 15, Number 8, October 2004.

Apologetics Primer, This Rock,Volume 15, Number 3, March 2004.

Apologetics for the Scripturally Challenged, This Rock, Volume 15, Number 5, May/June 2004.

To Explain Infant Baptism You Must Explain Original Sin, This Rock, Volume 16, Number 2, February 2005.

1 comment:

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