Question: What are the risks of participating in apologetics?

Table of Contents

Question: What are the risks of participating in apologetics?

Impatience

Apologists often confront the same anti-Mormon arguments again, and again, and again!

It can be frustrating to see a new crop of anti-Mormon books, films, pamphlets, and websites trot out the same tired claims, without even attempting to address the LDS responses. Apologists must remain patient, and not become short or irritable with those who have sincere questions just because they have 'heard it all before.'

Over-reacting

Cautioned Elder Neal A. Maxwell:

The ability to create a climate around us in which people, as in the case of the man who approached Jesus, feel free enough to say the equivalent of "Lord, help Thou my unbelief," is a critical skill. If we can deal with doubt effectively in its nascent stages, we can assist people by a warmth and love which frees them to share the worries that they may have, and increase the probability of dissolving their doubt. But, if we over-react to dissent or to doubt, we are apt, rather than inculcating confidence in those we serve, to exhibit what, in the eyes of the rebel, may seem to be a flaw in our inner confidence in what we say.

We need to relax to be effective in the process of helping people who are building testimonies. Over-reacting and pressing the panic button when doubt first makes its appearance can render us ineffective. This is one of the reasons why parents are often in a temporarily poorer tactical position to deal effectively with a rebellious son or daughter—the anxiety is too real to relax. In these circumstances, bishops, teachers, and friends can be helpful—not because they are clinically detached, for their love and concern should be honestly communicated—but rather because third parties sometimes can listen a little longer without reacting, can prescribe with a clear-headed assessment, and most of all, can be a fresh voice which conveys care and concern, a voice which has risen above similar challenges. [1]

Pride

An apologist can decide (wrongly) that the issues which excite and concern him must excite everyone. There are many people for whom apologetic issues are of no importance. This implies no defect in them or in those who are concerned about a given issue.

C.S. Lewis remarked:

The intellectual life is not the only road to God, nor the safest, but we find it to be a road, and it may be the appointed road for us. Of course, it will be so only so long as we keep the impulse pure and disinterested. That is the great difficulty. As the author of the Theologia Germanica says, we may come to love knowledge-our knowing-more than the thing known: to delight not in the exercise of our talents but in the fact that they are ours, or even in the reputation they bring us. Every success in a scholar's life increases this danger. If it becomes irresistible, he must give up his scholarly work. The time for plucking out the right eye has arrived. [2]

And, any field in which one becomes something of an expert is ripe for pride. As Alma cautioned his missionary sons, "See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom, nor of your much strength." Alma 38:11 Such strength can be apologetic or mental as much as physical.

Spiritual Neglect

Apologetics does not substitute for faith, prayer, scripture study, Christ-like service, and spiritual renewal. Apologists must remember that their main task is to encourage others to seek a personal witness for themselves; the 'rational' part of apologetics is really a prelude to the important work of conversion. At best, apologetics 'gets someone's attention,' and may help them give a novel or strange idea 'the benefit of the doubt' sufficient to plant the seed of faith (Alma 32).

LDS apologists should never fall into the trap of assuming that logical argument can create belief, or that the 'case' for the gospel of Christ can be made rationally irresistible.

This applies to those for whom we write, but it applies to with even greater force to ourselves.

C.S. Lewis gave an important caution from his own work in Christian apologetics:

I have found that nothing is more dangerous to one's own faith than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of that Faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as one that I have just successfully defended in a public debate. For a moment, you see, it has seemed to rest on oneself: as a result, when you go away from that debate, it seems no stronger than that weak pillar. That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from our intellectual counters, into the Reality—from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself. That also is why we need one another's continual help—oremus pro invincem [Let us pray for each other]. [3]


Notes

  1. Neal A Maxwell, A More Excellent Way: Essays on Leadership for Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1967), 62.
  2. C. S. Lewis, "Learning in War-Time," in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 27-28; cited by James S. Jardine, “Consecration and Learning,” in On Becoming a Disciple-Scholar, edited by Henry B. Eying (Bookcraft, Salt Lake, 1995), 77.
  3. C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 103.