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Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Grace of Apologetics or Why I am an Apologist

In light of the recent 2008 FAIR Conference, I have been reflecting on what it means for me to be an apologist and why I believe apologetics are necessary in today's modern Church just as it has always been necessary in the Church of Jesus Christ. 

The Apostle Peter, in 1 Peter 3:15 gives us the admonition to "always be ready to give an answer[1] to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear[2]". Furthermore, Jude in Jude 1:3 tells us that we should be "earnestly contend[ing] for the faith which was once delivered unto the Saints". And finally, the Lord in D&C 71 instructed the Prophet Joseph Smith to "confound your enemies; call upon them to meet you both in public and in private..." and indicated that "...inasmuch as ye are faithful, their shame shall be manifest. Wherefore," the Lord continued. "let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord"(vs.7-8).

Thus we see that as falsehoods and lies about the Truth of God continue to spread and multiply amongst the children of men, we, as Saints of the Lord in these latter days, have been given a charge to correct these errors, put down these criticisms and engage in these battles between truth and falsehood. For these reasons, I am proud to call myself a Mormon apologist and am not afraid to identify myself as a defender of the Prophet Joseph Smith, his revelations, life, legacy and ministry as well as the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church today. 

Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia which means to "speak in defense" of a certain position or view. Anyone who defends a certain argument is an apologist. Even those critical of something, while simultaneously critics, are also apologists for their (critical) views. The most famous apologist, of course, was the philosopher Socrates, who famously defended his life against his accusers in his famous Apology of Socrates. In ancient Greece, the defendant in a court case was called an apologist for himself or his case, since he was arguing in defense of something. Therefore, the term "apologetics" or "apologist" does not have the same connotation as it does today in that apologists generally are not sorry about anything. 

It must be understood that the truth of the LDS faith and the claims of Joseph Smith, like any other religion, lies within the realm of spirituality and thus only a personal spiritual testimony can truly "prove" that the Church is true. Indeed, it is only by revelation, the Scriptures assure us, and not reason that can testify to us that Jesus is the Christ and that God lives. Just like Peter, who was told that it was not "flesh and blood" that revealed to him that Jesus is the Christ but instead "my Father which is in Heaven" (Matthew 16:17), so we as well are to gain a personal testimony by revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No amount of rational argumentation or evidence can prove that the Church is true, so anyone wishing to get involved in apologetics should understand that apologetics is not about "proving" anything.

What, then, is the intention of Mormon apologetics? I believe that it is three fold.

1. Correct falsehoods. There are some pernicious lies as well as sincere misunderstandings regarding the history and teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Apologetics helps in correcting these falsehoods and misunderstandings.

2. Silence criticisms. There are some loud (and sometimes obnoxious) critics of the Church who may tout some "problem(s)" with the Church's history, teachings or scriptures and dine to the ears of the public that these reasons alone constitute enough purpose to not join or even leave the Church. Critics often like to bring up topics such as Book of Mormon "anachronisms", Joseph Smith's character, the Book of Abraham, polygamy, Mountain Meadows Massacre or something similar and hail this "overwhelming evidence" as the final death nail for the LDS Church. Many of these criticisms, however, are unfounded and have been dealt with again and again by LDS researchers and scholars. Apologetics, therefore, helps in silencing these criticisms and giving answers to the objections raised by the critics.

3. Gain appreciation for the nature and splendor of LDS scripture. Hugh Nibley wrote in 1968 that "long experience has shown that the Latter-day Saints only become aware of the nature and genius of their modern scriptures when relentless and obstreperous criticisms from the outside forces them to take a closer look at what they have, with the usual result of putting those scriptures in a much stronger position than they were before."[3] With Apologetics, therefore, deeper appreciation for the Church or the Scriptures is sought in order to create an atmosphere that can enhance or encourage faith and progression. As the Prophet Joseph Smith said, "only by proving contraries can truth be made manifest."[4]

Furthermore, as the Church expands and continues to interact with the public at large, so too will the anti-Mormon[5] industry. Therefore, a call has been issued by Elder M. Russell Ballard for members of the Church to "shar[e] the Gospel using the internet" and that "we cannot sit on the sidelines while we allow others - including our critics - attempt to define what the Church teaches." Elder Ballard further explains that while "we cannot answer every question, satisfy every inquiry and respond to every inaccuracy that exists..." we should nevertheless "continually share the gospel with others."[6]

That is why I am an apologist and that is why I think that all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should continue to "contend for the faith" that has been delivered to them in the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times by the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord's anointed Prophet, Seer and Revelator. After all, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, we should never allow the critics of make "uncontested slam dunks" against the Church.[7]

Notes:

[1]: A more correct translation of the Greek would be apologia which, as was explained earlier, is the root for the word apologetics.

[2]: Or reverence, awe.

[3]: Improvement Era, Jan. 1968 pg. 18

[4]: Quoted by Kerry Shirts on his website Mormonism Researched

[5]: By "anti-Mormon" I mean those who actively and restlessly attack the Church with books, articles, tracts, websites and ministries (i.e. Ed Decker, Sandra Tanner and Bill McKeever). I do not mean, however, those who may simply have disagreements with the Church or still have questions as to the authenticity of the claims of Joseph Smith.

[6]: "Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet" by Elder M. Russell Ballard. Ensign, July 2008

[7]: As quoted by Hal G. Ferguson in "I have a Question". Ensign, January 1995.