Evangelization Trumps Apologetics

I like Father Robert Barron’s filmmaking. I’ve enjoyed his books even more, but then I’m biased toward the written medium over video.

I received an e-mail notice yesterday that read, in part:

Don’t miss out on Fr. Barron’s new DVD, The Mystery of God: Who God Is and Why He Matters, along with its accompanying study program.

In this film, Fr. Barron explores what Christians mean by “God” and teaches how you can respond to the most common objections put forward by atheists and skeptics. Leaning on the wisdom of thinkers such as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Pope Benedict XVI, Fr. Barron uncovers the truth about who God is and why he matters.

This presentation, filmed in high-definition video by Spirit Juice Studios, is accompanied by a study guide by notable Catholic writer and apologist, Trent Horn, written under Fr. Barron’s direction.

I think Fr Barron does a great service to the Church with his passionate and thoughtful appeals to beauty. But I wonder about the focus on teaching people to respond to atheists and skeptics. I recall a quote from Cardinal Newman:

(The truth of the Gospel) has been upheld in the world not as a system, not by books, not by argument, nor by temporal power, but by the personal influence of such (people) …, who are at once the teachers and the patterns of it.

How does one become a “pattern” of the Gospel?

Delving a bit more into how we are influencers among our friends and acquaintances, it is certainly true that arguments can be persuasive. But even in our celebrity-saturated culture, how often do we hear people who desire to think like their heroes? It happens, sure. Business people. Coaches. The earliest impulse I remember is among my peers who wanted to be like the people they admired. They noticed a pattern.

While a person isn’t defined by her or his actions. Those actions and deeds–part of a pattern–are what get noticed. I think of athletes who today are admired not only for their abilities in competition, but also how they carry themselves off the field, how they inspire their teammates beyond skills, how they lead and urge others to follow.

I think the evangelization impulse is one of leadership. And when good leaders are out in front, showing the way, they inspire people to follow.

Drawing upon thinkers like St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Pope Benedict XVI tends to impress the already-converted. They’re the masterminds in the locker room or on draft day, already convinced, and with followers already faithful.

The English word that comes to mind as essential in this enterprise of evangelization is inspire. Augustine inspires me not because of his theology, but because of his life’s witness and how elegantly he framed the longing for God. He was a smart guy before he became a Christian. He had all the answers–even delaying baptism so he could continue to sample life’s diversions. But something deeper happened to the man who could not find rest until he rested in God.

Thomas Aquinas was single-minded n the exploration of knowledge. In his final years, he moved in a vector toward mysticism. Knowledge was a means to an end for the man. Summa Theologica isn’t really straw. But it is fodder for the already-believing.

As for the Trent Horn study guide, I hope it involves some deeper reflection on the images Fr Barron presents in his film. Me, I’m more inspired by rose windows, great music, and the settings in which we find Church architecture in these films. If I knew him, Fr Barron would probably impress me even more by the way he treats seminarians and faculty under his guidance. Or write another book like this one.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to Evangelization Trumps Apologetics

  1. Devin says:

    An atheist friend firmly believes that religious people who live inspiring are still under a spell of an irrational delusion and I suspect many atheists share similar views. If he ever were to approach faith in some manner, it would in part be through rational arguments. Of course, it couldn’t or shouldn’t end there. The Gospel calls us to evangelize all aspects of ourselves including our habits, emotions, goals, and values (i.e. the pattern of our lives). Evangelization trumps apologetics because the whole trumps anyone of it’s parts.

    Can apologetics be abused? Yes, if one is solely focused on content and not discipleship. And if the apologist answers questions that nobody asked. As for whether or not this new video series will help in the conversation between skeptics and believers, we can only hope. I have not checked out much of Fr. Barron’s videos in the past, but I am interested to see his take on the subject.

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