Pop Apologists, Why You Should Avoid Them(The Authors and Books You Should Read)
In today’s day and age anyone can promote themselves as a Catholic apologist. I have never claimed to be an apologist, yet I have engaged in apologetic discussions at times on my blog. I have never been paid to defend the Catholic faith, and I do not intend to make a living doing so. There are many Catholics today who are making a living off of what I consider to be ‘pop-apologetics’. Most of these men are not well educated in proper theology or patristics, and yet they market themselves and pass themselves off to Catholics, many who are starving to learn their faith. As a result these pop-apologists are invited to speak at Catholic parishes or at conferences where they pass off their shallow amateur quackery. The sad fact is that many Catholics do not know any better, and they ingest this material as a regular part of their Catholic diet.
What many Catholics need learn is that pop-apologetics does not pay off.
You may have noticed that the theme of my blog has change over time, to focus on promoting Catholic material from solid scholarly sources, much of it grounded in classical Thomism. If you want to learn how to defend and explain your Catholic faith, then you should invest your time to learn from reputable theologians and historians. For example, if you want to learn about Catholic moral theology, you do not go to Mark Shea’s blog to get an answer. All you are going to get is an amateur opinion, and a snide one at that. We all remember the recent controversy that erupted over the Catholic blogosphere on lying, when the Planned Parenthood scam was uncovered by a lady who apparently lied to get inside information. There was no shortage of opinions floating around on the blogs by self proclaimed experts of moral theology, most of whom have never cracked open a scholarly journal on the subject. There was little attention paid to those reputable moral theologians like Fr. Lawrence Dewan, OP, and others, who have written on this very subject in great detail, and with great depth.
Catholic bookstores are full of pop-apologetics books that are easy to read, yet contain little substance.
We all have seen the same Catholic apologetics book reproduced 20 times over again, with the same patristic quotes cut and pasted off the internet to support Catholic doctrine. Not one of them are written by real theologians or patristic scholars. Most are written by laymen who have marketed themselves well, and who have connections to the few large Catholic media organizations that are out there. Hence we have the circle of pop-apologist clones who all parrot each other and defend each other no matter how bad an argument they may have. The ‘Catholic Answers’ crew has no problem booking cruises. If you want to hang out and sip a few cocktails and have a rollicking good time with some fellow Catholics on the high seas, that is all well and good. We all need a nice vacation. If you want to actually learn something, save your money and find out where there is a good Thomistic conference, such as the one held this past year at Ave Maria. Or you could save your money and buy some books that are worth your time reading, like Dr. Steven A. Long’s book ‘The Teleological Grammar of the Moral Act. Then you will be equipped to answer some of the tough moral questions that arise in today’s chaotic world.
Unfortunately the only authors and speakers many Catholics have been exposed to are these pop-apologists. They accept the false notion that this is as good as its gets, because these are the best marketed authors and speakers around. The quality of work however is much to be desired. I read through many Catholic blogs and I see the same books being promoted as if they are the golden standard in Catholic apologetics. Books by Steve Ray, Patrick Madrid, Jimmy Akin and Mark Shea fill the bookshelves at most Catholic bookstores, yet there is little that is worth reading in their shoddy, shallow work. There is little documentation to back up their writings, there are usually no notes or references to back their research, and most of the we see the same cut and pasted quotes that we have all seen over and over again.
The writing style of these books is usually on par with a 5th grade reading level. If you read something that you do not agree with in their books or on their blogs, and you want to challenge them, forget about it. They will not bring any substance to back their claims. Once you do that however, you are on the outs. If you notice, most of these guys are all part of the same click. I for one would avoid all of these guys.
It is my hope to start a grass roots movement to garner more attention for the real theologians who are actually able to defend their work in public forums, and who are able to withstand formal criticism from their own piers. There are reputable theologians who have spent their entire lives devoted to their work, and I must say, these pop-apologists are not even in the same league. Do you remember when you were a “know it all” teenager, and you were told to sit down and let the adults talk? That is what we need to start asking these pop-apologists to do. “Sit down, and let the adults speak.”
Another catalyst that fuels these pop-apologists is that fact that many people want to be spoon fed the Catholic faith. They look for the easy answers to complex moral and theological questions. They want the American fast food service, yet theology requires more than paging through Jurgens or Googling a few quotes. This is what these pop-apologists have to offer. They love one line quotes from the Church Fathers, or the one liners quoted out of Scripture. The real theologians understand that in order to give a professional opinion on such important theological matters, you have to invest in some serious theological education and study. We should also realize that most people are not called to teach the masses the Catholic faith. In fact, this serious task should be left largely to good priests, bishops and reputable theologians, and not left to the upstart self proclaimed apologists. The last twenty years or so have been plagued with this fast food, pop-apologist mentality, and it has grown old quickly.
Below I have compiled a reading list of solid books written by men worthy to be called theologians, or historians. I know, some of the books are a little on the expensive side, but remember, you get out of your faith what you put in. Don’t look for the one stop shop do it yourself upstart apologists to give you solid answers to difficult theological questions.
Remember the old Earl Sheib car painting company? Get your car sanded with a brick and painted with a broom, in and out in one day! “Scheib's policy of one-day service and production line techniques flew directly into the face of state-of-the-art professional Auto Body standards and caused the company to become a national joke at the time.” The pop-apologist overnight upstarts also fly in the face of professional theologians and their standards of academic excellence. They are also being recognized as being a joke to Catholics who want to be well educated in their faith.
I have broken the books down into categories to make it easier to find what you are interested in. I will also make a separate post with these books recommendations and put it on the side bar for easy reference. It will also make it easier to make additions to it in the future. I have now added 3 letter codes to make it easier to decide what books you may want to buy first. (B) Beginner, (I) Intermediate, (A) Advanced.