10 questions for one of Catholicism's
CB&G: What influenced you to take up apologetics?
DA: Initially it was exposure to C. S. Lewis in
the late 70s that pushed me in that direction. I read Mere Christianity,
The Problem of Pain, and The Screwtape Letters and enjoyed
them all very much. I was in college at the time and concerned, as an evangelical
Protestant, about being able to defend my faith in a rational manner against
all the secularism that one gets in colleges these days. I wanted to integrate
faith and reason, religion and rationality: to love God with my mind
as well as my heart, soul, and strength--as our Lord Jesus Himself commanded
us to do. But my Christian faith was still forming at that time, having
been very secularized and indeed almost nonexistent for the previous ten
or so years.
The next phase was to become acquainted with the historical
apologetics of Josh McDowell--his book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict.
The name of my old website, from 1997-2007, and current blog is derived
from that book: Biblical Evidence for Catholicism. I was also highly
influenced by the Presbyterian apologist Francis Schaeffer in the early
80s. I started reading a lot, doing "Bible research" projects like studying
the biblical rationale for the Trinity and deity of Christ, and also learning
about heretical sects like the Jehovah's Witnesses and doing outreach to
them along with street witnessing--particularly at the Ann Arbor Art Fair
all through the 80s.
"I wanted to integrate faith and
reason, religion and rationality: to love God with my mind
as well as my heart, soul, and strength."
Also, I got involved with Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship
in college. From 1985 to 1989 I did campus outreach and evangelism at the
University of Michigan, sponsored by my churches. So I was trying to cultivate
a "thinking man's evangelicalism" in those years. Once I became a Catholic
in 1990, it was natural to progress right along to Catholic apologetics
as well. I still do general Christian apologetics, but now I also defend
the teachings of the Catholic Church, and especially try to show that they
are as grounded in the Bible as any Protestant denomination.
CB&G: What is the hardest part about apologetics?
Easiest? The most satisfying? The most disappointing?
DA: The hardest part--and most disappointing--is
when you come up against a will or a mind that is immune to argument and
reasoning, as with the fringe group of anti-Catholics or many atheists,
and some other categories that I won't name! I find that very difficult
when I feel that a person has a closed mind because of the environment he
is in. It's immensely frustrating. I have seen many times the dynamic of
the old saying, "a man convinced against his will retains his original beliefs
still." Of course, the Holy Spirit has to break down the will that is opposing
the truth. But hopefully, He uses us apologists--weak vessels that we are--to
help "remove roadblocks" and eliminate groundless objections.
The easiest part of it is doing what I love and showing
how falsehoods are untrue. In other words, if the truth is on our side it
is a lot easier to defend that than to defend opinions that are false in
the first place. It's like being an attorney with a terrible case to try
to win, where the person truly seems guilty of the crime.
"The Holy Spirit uses us apologists--weak
vessels that we are--to help remove roadblocks and eliminate groundless
The most satisfying aspect of apologetics is to see people
come into the fullness of the Catholic Church and to observe the joy and
enthusiasm they have at that time and thereafter. I work part-time at
The Coming Home Network, on their forum, and this Easter we had at least
30 people enter the Church. That's why I do what I do. I wouldn't want to
be doing anything else. This is what God called me to do with my life. I
want to do my part to help Catholics be happier, more fulfilled, and confident
in what they believe, so that they can in turn effectively share their faith
and the "pearl of great price" with others. The harvest is ready....
CB&G: What is the most common question you
find yourself defending?
DA: The basis of Catholic beliefs in the Bible,
far and away. And, the basis of Catholic authority, which gets into
the areas of sola Scriptura--the Protestant notion of "scripture
alone" as the only infallible authority--and the papacy and various aspects
of Sacred Tradition. That's convenient for me because that has always been
my deliberate emphasis in my apostolate--showing the biblical rationale
for Catholic beliefs. One can see that theme in my books. The Bible is the
common ground that we share with our Protestant brethren, so if we wish
to persuade them, we have to argue from that ground. They don't accept what
"some pope said 200 years ago." That is not their authority. But if one
makes a solid argument from the Bible, they have to grapple with that.
They can't casually dismiss it as what they see as "arbitrary authority."
CB&G: What advice would you give to a person
who is struggling with accepting a tenet of their Catholic faith?
DA: I would tell them first to pray about it.
Ask God to reveal to them that it is true--if indeed it is, and they already
suspect that it is or they wouldn't be struggling. Faith is not merely
about reason. It is supernatural and a gift from God. Therefore, we have
to exercise faith and pray. Secondly, I would direct them to resources--including
my own--that can explain exactly what it is we believe as Catholics
(catechetics) and how and why we believe it (apologetics). And I
usually direct them to free information on the Internet. If they are mightily
struggling with one particular thing, then I recommend books that I think
can help them to reach certitude, in faith. I feel that solid answers can
be given for anything to do with the Catholic faith--if not from my own
body of work, then certainly from someone else, including the great saints
and Doctors of the Church.
"Faith is not merely about reason.
It is supernatural and a gift from God. Therefore, we have to exercise
faith and pray."
CB&G: What are your thoughts on recent events
in our Church, namely with the attacks on Benedict XVI and healthcare?
DA: I think the Holy Father is being treated abominably.
The sexual scandal is not his fault at all. He is probably doing more than
anyone else in the Church to stop this horrific abuse from taking place.
Yet he is the target. I think the enemies of the Church know full well who
to attack if they want to minimize the impact of the Church. It reminds
me a lot of how Pope Pius XII is treated over the Holocaust issue. It is
estimated that he was responsible for saving 800,000 Jews--a lot more than
any secular group for sure. Yet he is the one who is lied about and pilloried.
It is a gross injustice. We need to defend our popes when they are innocent
of these absurd charges.
The Church's position on health care is exactly right,
in my opinion. It is concerned for availability of health care to all--providing
for the poor--but in a way that does not promote either abortion or socialism.
The Church favors subsidiarity--things ought to be run on as local a level
as possible, and truly helping all people, including the smallest and oldest
and weakest among us. The Church, as so often, teaches and preaches a "third
way" that is neither conservative nor liberal, in political terms.
CB&G: What are you working on now?
DA: I've been doing some writing on Calvinism,
preparing some audio collections on themes--basically reading of Internet
papers--and will soon be working on a revision of my book on sola Scriptura
for likely publication with a major Catholic publisher. In the next six
months I'd also like to compile books on the biblical evidences for Catholic
soteriology (theology of salvation) and Mariology.
CB&G: What are your hobbies? What do you enjoy
when not writing books?
DA: I absolutely love the outdoors and travel.
We are planning a family trip out west, which will be our third such trip
in five years. It is no small project, starting from southeast Michigan.
We camp and take a lot of our own food to save money, and avoid expensive
museums! I'm a nature freak and also an avid music lover and collector--many
kinds of music, including classical, and I can play about nine instruments.
My third great non-theological love is sports. I still play softball, tennis,
ping pong, pool, basketball, swimming, and have taken up bowling recently.
I once went hang gliding and have been in gliders, small planes, and a helicopter.
I also did whitewater rafting on one occasion. I have a daredevil aspect
of my personality. I love good movies and documentaries. We watch
TV as a family almost every night--strict quality control of what we watch!--and
playing chess. I like group discussions and "heavy" dialogues, not just
about theology. I love history and philosophy and they often tie in with
my work. And of course, I love books of all sorts!
CB&G: Who is your Confirmation Patron Saint,
and why did you choose him?
DA: It was a little different. I chose John Henry.
By that I meant Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, because he was the
biggest intellectual and theological influence on my conversion. I had read
his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and that put me
over the edge. Development remains one of my very favorite subtopics in
apologetics, but it is generally very difficult to discuss since people
often have a poor understanding of it, and confuse it with the heretical
"evolution of dogma."
CB&G: What is your favorite book in the Bible?
Verse? Biblical figure?
DA: The book is probably John. I love Isaiah in
the Old Testament--sweeping, majestic language. My favorite verse is Romans
8:28: "all things work together for good"--that's wonderful, a whole philosophy
of life right there. My favorite biblical figure--after our Lord and
the Blessed Virgin Mary, I suppose--is the Apostle Paul. I love him and
I am constantly thinking about his reasoning and writings in doing apologetics.
It is said that Paul could have been the greatest philosopher of his time
if he weren't an apostle. I think he is one of the most extraordinary thinkers
who ever lived. He's amazing.
CB&G: Name a Catholic person you admire who
provides a positive and inspiring model of our faith, and why.
DA: St. Francis of Assisi. I immensely admire
him because he was totally committed to God and had such a beautiful approach
to life--a gentleness and holiness and simplicity of exactly the right sort
that is immediately striking and "draws one in." That kind of complete dedication
has always appealed to me and I hope to have one-tenth of the zeal that
Catholic Books and Gifts Interview
with Dave Armstrong
23 April 2010