Accountability and Apologetics

I occasionally engage in discussions on various intra-Christian blogs related to ecclesial apologetics. I have no problem with such apologetics. It is necessary that Catholics, Orthodox, and the varied Protestants defend their ecclesial stance and relate it to the average layperson. The problem is when the apologetic claims are untethered from what is known (or the related probabilities), which necessarily requires the work of scholars. If a Catholic claims that the “early Church” was under the juridical authority of the See of Rome, then something is wrong. That is akin to a Protestant claiming that scripture as canon and authority developed apart from a Church, with bishops, and an assumed tradition or rule of faith. That sort of ahistorical presentation may win converts to your church, but under a guise of misinformation (illusion).

The apologist, thus, must be held accountable to scholarship, as the scholars are held accountable by peer review (imperfect, to be sure). The apologist is, thus, a mediator between the scholar and the layperson. The typical layperson does not have the time or skill to engage with upper-level theology and historical research — nor should they, when responsibilities lay elsewhere. The apologist, however, must. If the apologist cannot or refuses to do so, he or she should not be an apologist. The average, inquiring layperson is, to some degree, at the mercy of the person mediating the information. We cannot expect the inquirer to fully adjudicate the information given, but we can expect the apologist to come under judgment from fellow apologists and scholars.

We cannot escape this need for the apologist nor the need for accountability. All truth is ultimately tested in the court of our subjectivity, but all truth inheres in reality — the real world “out there.” Attending to this reality is the only remedy for solipsism.



  1. I completely agree with Kevin’s point here. This is being classically demonstrated over at the (excellent) website, Called to Communion. Person “A” makes a universal assertion. I (and Kevin) have responded with scholarly materials that have (in my opinion) concretely refuted the original claim made. To respond to works cited by simply saying in effect, “I don’t agree, they have not rebutted my original claim – period,” without not a single example of how these works have failed or even by presenting counter (up to date) works is apologetical ignorance of the highest order.


    R. E. Aguirre

  2. Yes, it is frustrating, Aguirre. It is an odd form of arrogance, essentially saying, “I have never read the oppositions’ major works, but I’m still sure that they’re wrong.” And people actually dignify this sort of drive-by shooting.

  3. In the Roman church when a convert thinks that he is being called to the priesthood, he must wait three years before pursuing this potential call. I think this should be extended to converts who want to start a ministry, website, publish and do speaking engagements.

  4. Ah, Fred, are you suggesting that the Yoderians have a habit of seeing Constantinianism everywhere? Poor von B just wasn’t existential enough.

    I like that idea, Kepha.

  5. That explains not only Halden’s post but also Dave Belcher’s. It also explains why these points are rarely defended: they are self-evident to those who make them…

  6. The new medium of the blog may help to cure some of the problems caused by the babblers untethered from truth. I don’t expect much from the comments, but when I do find a spark of intelligence, I’m eager to hear more. I can click over to that commenter’s blog, and, behold! I’ve made a new friend. Linking up thinking people is as easy as ignoring idiots.

  7. Fred, I suppose you’re just loving the recent posts on “fetus fetish” and “culture of death rhetoric” on Halden’s blog. 🙂

    Very true, Scott.

  8. Ha. I hadn’t seen those. You know I previously learned to give a pass to those complaining of Constantinianism (which has little to do with the real Constantine as Peter Leithart’s site demonstrates almost every week!), but when a person reduces everything to this ideology I lose interest entirely (and apparently, ideology has replaced the term Constantinian these past several weeks). 🙂

  9. The reduction to ideology is an interesting point (and one which von B made in regard to Barth’s early existentialism — and Barth agreed). I also lose interest. Those who spend their time and gifts on subverting the projects (supposed idols) of, you name it, “neoconservative Catholics,” “mainstream evangelicals,” “the First Things crowd,” etc., are quite confident in their own “radical” projects, which have yielded a conspicuous absence of benefit for society. Guess who volunteers at the Crisis Pregnancy Centers, witnesses in front of abortion clinics, and tirelessly advocates on behalf of adoption? It’s those people with a “fetus fetish,” reading First Things or led by people who do.

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