Accountability and Apologetics
March 9, 2009
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.