Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Better to be an Evangelist Than an Apologist

Back in September of 2015 I found myself in San Diego for a few days. Each day I trekked up to the Cathedral for Mass. One day on my way back to the hotel I crossed paths with some non-Catholic street evangelists. I had an interesting experience talking with them.

The next day I wrote an email to Paul Flanagan of *Catholic Biblical Apologetics* asking him if he thought I should dig in and become another Catholic apologist.  The exchange is below, but to save you the reading I'll tell you the bottom line is his statement "
One thought that has grown for me over the past 30 years is that being an 'apologist' is much less effective than being an 'evangelist.'"

To: p d flan @
Subject: Am I to be a a Catholic apologist?

I've been praying for God to show me my mission as suggested by Fr. Robert Barron in his 7 deadly sins, 7 lively virtues talk. Yesterday I met some street evangelists who asked if I was a Christian.  I said "Yes, I'm a Catholic". One of the street evangelists said "I thought you said you were a Christian." I spent the next 30 minutes convincing a guy named Rick that Catholics are Christians. I told them all "After I walk away I never want any of you ever again to say, imply, or even think Catholics are not Christians." I'm now asking God if He wants me to be a a Catholic apologist.

You might be able to help me discern. I was a non-Catholic evangelical for 25 years. I have been a evangelical Catholic for the last 25 years,


To: L D Mihm @
From: P D Flan @
Subject: RE:Am I to be a a Catholic apologist?

Hi Larry,

I hope you found our web site useful.

Encounters such as you describe were an impetus for me to get into apologetics in 1985. Two good books for me then were :
·        Schreck, Alan (1984). Catholic and Christian: An Explanation of Commonly Misunderstood Catholic Beliefs. Servant Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
·        Boudreau, Albert H., (1983). The Born-Again Catholic. Living Flame Press, Locust Valley, New York.

It is good that you are discerning your life mission. One thought that has grown for me over the past 30 years is that being an “apologist” is much less effective than being an “evangelist.” In all my seminars, discussions, etc. I haven’t seen any number of people saying: “Oh! I see that now. I think I’ll change my faith community.” IT seemed as if apologetics was sterile.

Now, apologetics is certainly useful in reducing the misunderstanding and prejudice about faith. Most objections to Catholic belief are based upon misunderstandings about what the Church actually teaches. An apologetics can be an opening for evangelization. But, on the other hand, I have seen too many apologists (Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, atheist, etc.) who are mean, cruel, overbearing, arrogant, dismissive, etc. Everything but loving. That warned me that kindness and love needed to undergird all my apologetics efforts.

I agree with Pope Francis, who in “Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium) said that the Church grows by attraction, not by proselytizing. In my experience, in most cases, people initiate or develop a personal relationship (or encounter)  with Jesus not because they learn some truth, but because that want the joy and peace they see in people who are living the Gospel life. Of course, we all live that Gospel life imperfectly. But our joy and peace are what attract others to give their lives (and more of their lives) to Jesus.

A good recent book on this is “Love Wins” by Rob Bell. While I don’t agree with everything in the book, it is an excellent presentation of the primacy of love and kindness in our attractiveness to others.

I now spend my time more working on the New Evangelization Team at our parish. I don’t know where you are, so I don’t know what, if anything, is going on in your parish and diocese for the New Evangelization. Some people are taking this worldwide call for new evangelization to be just louder apologetics. (Doesn’t sound effective.) Others see this as an opportunity to use the witness of our lives as well as our speech to attract others to start or enhance their personal relationship with Jesus.

You asked me to help you discern. I would suggest you start by reading and praying over “Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium).

It’s also available in book form.

After that, please consider getting involved in the New Evangelization ministry of your parish or Diocese. If there isn’t one, start one. Here is a link to what we are doing in the Diocese of Richmond (Virginia) 

This site also has various materials available. ( )

There are evangelization meeting programs such as Alpha for Catholics( ) or ChristLife ( ) that are a great way to get started on evangelization in your parish.

Of course, by your Baptism you definitely have a mission to evangelize no matter what your state of life is. I would suggest you definitely keep your “day job” while you evangelize. (Saint Paul the Apostle did!) It gives you much better access to your target audiences. If God is leading you to full time evangelization, God makes that very clear.

I hope this helps. May God continue to bless you richly.

Paul Flanagan

No comments:

Post a Comment