What is Bad Apologetics?
On a cloudy evening, Meno and Aquinas discuss the nature of apologetics, how it is good how it is bad and how it might be improved.
Aquinas: Meno, are you suggesting that omitting words or replacing them completely with new words in a bible translation, would be a example of bad apologetics?
Meno: Yes, Aquinas. You’re assuming that all apologists are honest and informed well enough to never mangle a translation or definition.
Aquinas: Perhaps we can make this a criterion of good apologetics, that in the defense of our position, we would not change any of the words to support our position?
Meno: No, that’s an example of what not to do. There needs to be some things that one ought to do in an offense. To attack someone else’s position.
Aquinas: Is that the goal of apologetics? To attack someone else’s position?
Meno: It depends on the apologist. Apologetics means ‘toward a defense’ and originated as men defending their positions against attacks. But as they say, the best defense is an offense. If you prove wrong contradictory views, you no longer have to sit in a defensive position.
Aquinas: Is it possible to explain your position in a reasonable way, without ‘attacking’ someone else’s position?
Meno: I make no distinction between explaining why my view is correct in a reasonable way and attacking someone else’s position. An ‘attack’ need not be disrespectful and unreasonable.
Aquinas: Is the goal to explain why a view is correct, or to actually explain why the view makes sense to you?
Meno: The goal is the former, since subjectivism is inherently wrong.
Aquinas: I think a form of bad apologetics would be to try to attempt to prove the correctness of your view. I don’t know of many examples where this works in real life.
Meno: I know many places where it does.
Aquinas: Could you offer an example? So we may inquire into it.
Glaucon joins the conversation and Meno begins an analogy.
Glaucon: I’ve been observing your conversation and if memory serves, one of the requirements for an elder is that he be able to refute those who contradict sound doctrine (Titus 1:9, I believe).
Aquinas: Glaucon, you are using Titus 1:9 to defend which position?
Glaucon: To defend the position that attacking positions are sometimes necessary.
Aquinas: Inside of the church, correcting false doctrine is, as Paul points out, the responsibility of the elder. I would agree with that. Of course, the question is whether this is necessary outside of the church as well. I suppose one could do this all the time and look for people who disagree with them doctrinally outside the church and spend their whole time doing this. However, I don’t know if that is what Paul desires or intends. And it seems to me that the audience of the apologist is not those of the same faith, but in particular, those of a different faith.
Meno: Aquinas, I think you’re experiencing ‘the apologist’s guilt’ we all know about that.
Aquinas: In other words, the apologist has as his audience not his own congregation, but those outside his congregation.
Glaucon: If it is permissible to attack positions inside the Church, I don’t know why (unless perhaps it was forbidden by Scripture, and it does not seem to me that it is) it would be wrong to do so outside of the Church when such false doctrine was confronted.
Aquinas: It just seems to me that if all the elders were to refute doctrine outside the church, then that would occupy every waking moment of their lives.
Meno: If a mason is building a house wrong, his partner can come to him and explain why the first man’s view on the building is wrong and why his view is correct. The first man takes heed, and the job gets done correctly. That’s an example of correction working in real life.
Aquinas: Meno, to be sure in real life there are masons who construct buildings but you’ve offered an analogy. You have offered a situation where correction works in the case of masonry, however I would like to see an example in the case of apologetics, preferably one which has actually occurred. Do you have one of those?
Meno: Sure. I’ve met several people who felt that there was no reasonable points in favor of theism. I explained to them some things about epistemology, and they changed their minds. The same with “Calvinism.”
Aquinas: Meno, when you were explaining points of theism, would you be more specific of how you tried to offer points and then what the reaction was? That is what we would need to see in order to inquire into the benefits of the approach.
Meno: Is your point that apologetics is immoral?
Aquinas: Meno, no. But thank you for asking me a question.
Meno: Ok. Forbidden or not advised by scripture, perhaps? Aquinas, if we are told to defend the faith, and we are, and a good defense is an offense, and there’s nothing in scripture against being on the offensive as a defensive tactic, then it follows that obeying the scriptural advice to defend true doctrines by way of ‘attacking’ other’s positions is an acceptable option for the apologist. It’s not forbidden or advised against in scripture. And personally, it has worked many times in ‘real life.’
Aquinas: Meno, is there scripture which says a good defense is an offense?
Meno: No, but why does there need to be? That’s just how things logically work out in reasoning.
Aquinas: There doesn’t need to be, but if you are trying to support your position with scripture, then we should see scripture. If you are supporting it with something else, then that is fine as well, but it shouldn’t be claimed to be scriptural. I understand that you believe there are many cases where attacking has ‘worked’ for you, but unless you describe such a case to us then we cannot proceed.
Meno: I’m not in the business of writing a dialogue of a debate or conversation I’ve had.
Aquinas: Unless I know what they said, and then what you said, back and forth, repeating the dialogue, then how can we examine this approach? When I ask for an example, that is what I am looking for.
Meno: What I claimed was scriptural was that we are told to defend the truth. 1 Peter 3:15.
Aquinas: Doesn’t 1 Peter 3:15 say to stand ready when a person asks you for the reason of your hope? In other words, be ready to answer when someone asks you a question about your beliefs. I do not see any command to ‘go on the attack’ in this verse.
Meno: That sometimes requires defending doctrine.
Aquinas: But would you agree that the scripture says to be ready to answer when asked a question?
Aquinas: And would you agree that this is a different meaning from ‘attack the beliefs of others’?
Meno: No, I would not. A reason could include a statement that ‘attacks’ someone else’s belief. In fact most of them do.
Aquinas: I see. Let me ask the question another way. The scripture assumes that a person is coming to you to ask a question. In other words, suppose someone does not come to you, should you go to them, and attack their beliefs? Is this the commandment?
Meno: No, and I never supposed that it was.
Aquinas: And say we agree that this is not the commandment, should we still advocate this action of going to someone who has not approached us, and attacking their beliefs?
Meno: Did I advocate that?
Aquinas: Meno, that is my question to you.
Aquinas: Very well.
Meno: We should not.
Aquinas: Meno, so we should leave them alone if they have not approached us?
Meno: Actually, preaching the gospel ‘attacks’ someone’s beliefs.
Thrasymacus: Aquinas not necessarily.
Thrasymacus joins Aquinas, Meno and Glaucon and the discussion is turns to a contrast between Apologetics and Proselytizing and the nature of conversion.
Aquinas: Meno, is there a difference between apologetics and proselytizing? Are they the same or different?
Meno: One leads to the other in some cases.
Aquinas: If one leads to the other in some cases, then these cannot be the same things, correct?
Meno: No, but related.
Aquinas: Agreed. So if they are not the same thing, then how are they different?
Meno: One asserts, the other proves.
Aquinas: Are you saying one asserts without proof, and one asserts with proof?
Aquinas: So then would you say that apologetics is superior to proselytizing? Since it asserts as well as proves?
Meno: No. More people convert from assertions than arguments.
Aquinas: Why is that the case?
Meno: Differing factors. The hearer may have already been tempted to believe, and the assertion makes them feel comfortable in joining another person in that belief, or someone might see an assertion maker as more confident than a debater.
Aquinas: Meno, you do not believe apologetics to be superior to proselytizing, because more people are converted through proselytizing than apologetics, correct?
Thrasymacus: Few are converted through apologetics.
Meno: It terms of conversion numbers, I grant that.
Aquinas: Then would you say that proselytizing is superior to apologetics?
Meno: Yes, in terms of winning converts.
Aquinas: If the fruit of proselytizing is winning coverts or souls, then what is the fruit of apologetics?
Meno: Meeting the needs of those who desire more than assertions, and silencing the hostile.
Aquinas: And would not this suppose that these people are coming to you? If they want more than assertions or are hostile? Then they are seeking you out, correct?
Meno: Many times you preach the gospel to them, and then they show to be of those two types. And then you do apologetics.
Aquinas: All right. Let’s discuss those who desire more than assertions, the first type you mention. If they come desiring more than assertions, then would not the goal of the apologist be to provide them with the thing they are desiring?
Meno: It would be.
Aquinas: In other words you are giving them something they lack, correct?
Aquinas: In which case, the goal of the apologist isn’t taking away something from the seeker, but giving something to them, correct?
Meno: Many times you have to take something before you can replace it with the piece of true information. Otherwise the false information repels the true.
Aquinas: I see. Then the apologist must discern whether someone lacks the proof or whether some kind of false knowledge is hindering them from belief?
Meno: It’s the same thing. No person’s thoughts are neutral. They are either in favor of or against the truth. Right or wrong.
Aquinas: So in the case of proselytizing are you suggesting that those who convert were already in the right?
Aquinas: And they converted because they were already in the state of being right?
Meno: They are wrong, then you assert, and then they convert to being correct and drop their false notions.
Aquinas: And they drop those false notions without proof?
Meno: Yes. Not proof in the form of an argument, which is what I mean. The converted have internal proof before they convert.
Aquinas: What is the source of this internal proof?
Aquinas: Why is it that some have this internal proof and others do not?
Glaucon: (starts paying attention)
Meno: Because God uses apologetics on some people before He gives it to them, and gives it to others without apologetics.
Aquinas: So then it has nothing to do with the choice of the people, but the choice of God?
Meno: Yes. As for the broader question of why some are given faith and others not, that’s God’s choice. I’m not of the camp that says someone can put faith in themselves. God has to put it in people.
Aquinas: Then apologetics does not provide anyone with this internal proof, no matter how good it is?
Aquinas: And without this internal proof, no one is converted?
Meno: Right. Even preaching the gospel doesn’t provide the inner proof.
Aquinas: Then it would seem to me that apologetics is unnecessary. It is inferior to proselytizing, and it cannot convert or supply the internal proof to the listener.
Meno: Only God does. But he uses gospel preaching and apologetics before he causes someone to believe. Gospel preaching doesn’t provide the inner proof either. Gospel preaching doesn’t convert. God converts. But God USES gospel preaching and apologetics.
Aquinas: Then how do we account for the fact that more people are converted by proselytizing than apologetics?
Meno: Because God chooses to use apologetics less frequently (before converting someone).
Aquinas: In other words you are suggesting it has nothing to do with the structure and nature of apologetics or the differences between proselytizing and apologetics, but rather it is by divine fiat? Are you suggesting that God could just as well make it the other way around? If this is your position, it would then seem to me that inquiring into what apologetics does and what proselytizing does is meaningless.
Meno: What IT are you referring to? Whether the person ultimately converts? God uses apologetics and preaching. So it’s obviously not meaningless.
Aquinas: And you are suggesting that God has decided that proselytizing is to be more powerful than apologetics, in most cases?
Meno: He prepares the soil before planting the seed, so to speak. Depending on the person.
Adeimantus joins the dialogue and is greeted by Thrasymacus and the discussion turns to the God’s sovereignty and the responsibility of the apologist.
Thrasymacus: Hail Adeimantus.
Meno: God uses proselytizing alone more often.
Aquinas: And if apologetics doesn’t “work” on someone, we can be assured that it’s because God has decided it?
Adeimantus: Hail Thrasymacus.
Aquinas: And suppose you use bad apologetics, and I use good apologetics, it is because God has decided you will use bad apologetics and I will use good apologetics?
Aquinas: I see.
Meno: I tend not to waver from the doctrine that God controls everything. So test me all you want.
Aquinas: Meno, I dare say that any test would be a fruitless endeavour.
Adeimantus: God is sovereign, but I am still responsible for good exegesis in my preaching, and good argumentation in my apologetics.
Thrasymacus: I would agree more with Adeimantus.
Aquinas: Friends, according to Meno, the reason why Thrasymacus prefers Adeimantus’ views more over his own, is simply because God has decided it. It has nothing to do with the apologetic skills of Meno.
Meno: God is sovereign. Therefore he will cause me to perform proper exegesis and argumentation. That has a better ring to it, Thrasymacus.
Thrasymacus: Meno, I’m more interested in what’s true, than what rings better.
Meno: Thrasymacus, it rings better because it’s true.
Aquinas: We should like to put Meno’s apologetic skills to the test in persuading Adeimantus, Thrasymacus and I, of his views, in order to examine an example where an attack changes the position of another, which Meno still has not benefited us with. But I’m afriad this too would be a barren enterprise. Whatever happens, Meno has assured us that it could not have happened any other way.
Adeimantus: Aquinas, indeed.
Aquinas: If in the end, we find that Meno is unsuccessful to ‘attack our false information’ or correct our views, the only conclusion for us to draw is that God has decided it thus. In which case, Meno is not responsible for good or bad apologetics.
Meno: God does it all.