Thoughts on apologetics and theological discussions

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Mon, Mar 22 2021 9:11 PM | Locked

As a result of several threads in these forums, I realized that my understanding of the definitions of these two topics are not necessarily shared  I think it worthwhile to share my understanding of the terms with some genuine curiosity as to others' understanding.

Apologetics:

My understanding of apologetics is that of defending one's faith in the face of a different point of view. To me, apologetics against another group is non-sensical -- apologetics would be how to explain one's own faith to someone of that faith NOT how to show someone of that faith why they are wrong.

from Wikipedia:
Apologetics (from Greek ἀπολογία, "speaking in defense") is the religious discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse.

Theological discussion:

I distinguish between a discussion about theology in which the focus is on the content of a particular view with no regard as to the accuracy of that view (factual subject to "standard' logic) and a discussion of theology where the focus is on the accuracy of a particular view or a comparison of multiple views to ascertain which theological belief is more accurate (subject to "belief revision" logic). This distinction seems more blurred in the current forums  - not only in how information is presented but also in the response of the forum membership.

Occult

A third item that I find my vocabulary seems at odds with other users is "occult" ... I use the same distinction for magic and for occult -- they are broadly religious practices based on the belief that the actions of the practitioner can force/compel a specific response from gods/spiritual world. This is in contrast to the spiritual disciplines where the actions of the practitioner prepares the ground to invite a response from God -- where the initiative remains with God.

No, I would not defend any of the above as a formal definition but they are accurate representations of how the terms are used in my normal social circles and with some, but definitely not all, forum users. At the very least, they should serve as reminders that we need to know what an individual means by a term before getting in a tizzy.

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Greg Dement | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Mar 22 2021 10:04 PM | Locked

This topic is interesting to me. Would you mind giving an example of how “apologetics“ was used non-sensically so that I could follow your thought process? If I am understanding correctly, you mean when it is used offensively? Some of the systematic theology guys, like Frame, include refutation/offense as a function of apologetics. Some don’t though.

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David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Mar 22 2021 10:08 PM | Locked

Regardless of what you or anyone else may think about proper definitions, due to verses such as Acts 4:12 & 2 Pet. 1:20, there will always be those who turn "this is what I believe" into "and so that's why you are wrong".

Not without irony is the ESV version (the Logos default) of 2 Pet. 1:20, which completely fails to get the gist of what is being said, though it parrots the prevailing misunderstanding pretty well. The comment has nothing to do with people reading prophecy. It has to do with how the prophet wrote his prophecy. Summarized, prophecies of Scripture are dependable because they are revealed through inspiration, not made up by the prophets.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 12:07 AM | Locked

Greg Dement:
. Would you mind giving an example of how “apologetics“ was used non-sensically so that I could follow your thought process?

Is the Mormon My Brother? by James R. White would be a book that was referred to as if it were apologetics that in my understanding of apologetics, it clearly is not. When phrases like "It brings Mormonism's unstable, changeable truth clearly into view, " is used in it's Amazon blurb, it is clearly an anti-Mormon book -- not a book about how a Mormon might critique, for example, a Southern Baptist's position written so a Southern Baptist would be better prepared to defend his position.  The latter would be apologetics. After a series of pamphleteers placing anti-Catholic nonsense on car windshields during Mass, our parish responded with a six week class on apologetics using a fair amount of Karl Keating's Catholic Answer's material (see Catholic Answers Collection (21 vols.) - Verbum). Most of the time was spent on learning how Protestant denominations used words -- and how foolish either side could make the other look because of the lack of a common understanding of basic terms. So our apologetics class taught us (a) what we believed (b) what we meant by our terms (c) how to insure the person we were talking to had the same understanding of the terms ... or understood the differences in our understanding of the terms.

I rarely look to anyone as recent as John Frame for a definition of apologetics. To know what apologetics is, I would turn to resources such as these in Logos:

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Olli-Pekka Ylisuutari | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 12:11 AM | Locked

MJ. Smith:

I realized that my understanding of the definitions of these two topics are not necessarily shared

In broad lines I, at least, think in similar terms.

MJ. Smith:

To me, apologetics against another group is non-sensical

I think that many of us differ in this respect. What role do we ascribe to reason, while doing apologetics (= should apologetics be rational)? What role do empirical facts play in apologetics? Does apologetics leave any room for paradoxes of faith? How about revelation: what is it’s role (general, biblical, ecclesiastical)?

In the deeper level and philosophically speaking it may be a question of defining truth: is truth coherent (only internally?), correspondent (to some outer reality?) or practical (“it must be true because it works”)? These are questions that even many apologetes differ on – let alone philosophers.

In the more surface-level it may be a question of the relationship between argumentation and rhetoric. I think that the experience as to feeling something as non-sensical may many times be due to the fact that argumentation and rhetoric blur and mix up. Good rhetoric always includes logia, but many times pathos takes over and replaces whatever logical weaknesses one may have in one’s apologetics.

MJ. Smith:

I distinguish between a discussion about theology in which the focus is on the content of a particular view with no regard as to the accuracy of that view (factual subject to "standard' logic) and a discussion of theology where the focus is on the accuracy of a particular view or a comparison of multiple views to ascertain which theological belief is more accurate (subject to "belief revision" logic).

This brings into my mind the question of history in regard to theology: what role do historical (descriptive?) facts have on assessing theology (if any)? What defines accuracy, that is to say: accurate in relation to what?

MJ. Smith:

"occult" ... I use the same distinction for magic and for occult -- they are broadly religious practices based on the belief that the actions of the practitioner can force/compel a specific response from gods/spiritual world. This is in contrast to the spiritual disciplines where the actions of the practitioner prepares the ground to invite a response from God -- where the initiative remains with God.

This may be a true definition of magic inside Christianity. For me hearing the word magic brings out the word "manipulation" naturally. But nowadays you encounter very aggressive criticism of religion not from within Christianity but from without, from the outside, from the neo-Atheists and the like, who would not endorse your distinction between magic versus prayer/religion/spiritual disciplines. To them all these lump together as magical behavior.

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Sean | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 12:56 AM | Locked

MJ. Smith:
To me, apologetics against another group is non-sensical -- apologetics would be how to explain one's own faith to someone of that faith NOT how to show someone of that faith why they are wrong.

Polemics--although it is a rather broad term.

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Jan Krohn | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 1:53 AM | Locked

Sean:
Polemics--although it is a rather broad term.

Polemics is a type of apologetics, but it shouldn't stand on its own, so that faith in Christ can fill the void that's left after refuting false beliefs.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 3:33 AM | Locked

Or is polemics part of dogmatic theology?

POLEMICS

A sub-discipline of confessionally oriented *dogmatic theology intended to defend the doctrinal truths of specific Christian denominations or of various branches within them, over against others. Thus polemics are essentially inter- and intra-confessional. The discipline flourished in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, as each new denomination sought to define itself as precisely as possible, but the polemical approach to theology has been present throughout Christian history. Examples of significant inter- or intra-confessional theological debates include those between Catholics and Orthodox (over the filioque formula; see *Creeds), Lutherans and Reformed (over the Lord’s Supper; see *Eucharist), and in the Church of England between conformists and Puritans (over *church government).


Bibliography

G. R. Elton (ed.), The New Cambridge Modern History II: The Reformation, 1520–1559 (Cambridge, 71976); C. Lindberg, The European Reformations (Oxford, 82002); R. A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1: Prolegomena to Theology (Grand Rapids, 22003); R. E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, 2006); J. Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, vol. 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma, 1300–1700 (Chicago, 1984); C. R. Trueman and R. S. Clark (eds.), Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment (Carlisle, 1999).

C. C. SIMUŢ


C. C. Simuţ, “Polemics,” ed. Martin Davie et al., New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (London; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press; InterVarsity Press, 2016), 683.

From the same source:

APOLOGETICS

The word ‘apologetics’ derives from a Greek term, apologia, and was used for a defence that a person like Socrates might make of his views and actions. The apostle Peter tells every Christian to be ready to give a reason (apologia) for the hope that is in him (1 Pet. 3:15). Apologetics, then, is an activity of the Christian mind which attempts to show that the gospel message is true in what it affirms. An apologist is one who is prepared to defend the message against criticism and distortion, and to give evidences of its credibility.
Unfortunately, today the term apologetics has unpleasant connotations for many people. On a superficial level it sounds as if we are being asked to apologize for having faith. At a deeper level it may suggest an aggressive or opportunistic kind of person who resorts to fair means or foul in order to get people to accept his point of view. Such misunderstandings of apologetics are regrettable in view of the importance of the subject. A sound defence of the faith was important in the NT as it also is today.
The book of Acts presents the apostles engaging non-Christians in debates and arguments concerning the truth of the gospel (Acts 17:2–4; 19:8–10), and it is no exaggeration to say that most of the NT documents were written for specific apologetic reasons. They were written to commend the faith to one group or another, and to clear up questions that had arisen about the gospel.
Apologetic activities were vigorously pursued during the period of the early church and indeed throughout most of the church’s history. In the beginning it was necessary both to define what the church believed in the face of heretical tendencies, and to offer an explication of its basis in rationality to enquirers and critics of different kinds. Since many of the *apologists were converts themselves—men such as *Justin, *Clement and *Augustine—they knew what was needed to commend the faith to outsiders. Believers also needed to be strengthened against the impact of hostile criticisms. It would be true to say that apologetics stood proudly alongside *dogmatics as two indispensable responses to the challenges of the age. It cannot be otherwise in a period of missionary expansion.
Early apologetics were generally either political or religious. The political apologies were designed to win acceptance, as well as a measure of toleration and legitimacy for Christianity in society, while the religious apologies were intended to win converts from both Judaism and paganism. Of necessity, such writings had to be flexible and respond to specific issues just as they do today. Among the practitioners of the art of apologetics we may number some of the finest minds and personalities: Augustine, *Anselm, *Thomas Aquinas, *Pascal, *Butler, *Newman and C. S. *Lewis. Their work contains a great variety of approaches and styles of argument, but what characterizes it all is boldness and confidence in the truth of the biblical message and its relevance to human history and philosophy.
In the modern period, however, apologetics has suffered a severe setback. It encountered in the European *Enlightenment a spirit of scepticism towards theology and metaphysics and a wholesale assault upon Christian beliefs. The apologetic arguments of earlier centuries were subjected to withering critique by men like *Hume, and many came to feel that the whole of Christianity needed to be revised and reworked. *Kant declared that the human mind was incapable of knowledge beyond the phenomenal realm. In future, he said, theology would have to be content to function within the limits of reason and reduce its claims to knowledge. A gauntlet was thrown down in the path of apologetics. Religion can be practised in the realm of existence or morality, but it cannot be advanced, as previously, on supposedly rational grounds.
The Enlightenment created a severe crisis for Christianity. In its wake, religious *liberalism sought to operate within the limits Kant had indicated, accepting the implications which this would have for Christian thinking. This led to the kind of revisionism which is familiar from the work of Paul *Tillich, Rudolf *Bultmann and John A. T. *Robinson. Even among classical Christians, the effect of the Enlightenment critique was clearly seen in a new hesitancy towards apologetics. In *Kierkegaard and *Barth one sees a kind of orthodoxy which does not rely upon apologetic arguments at all, but seeks to rest the claim of Christianity solely upon the faith-commitment.
But there has also been a resurgence of apologetics. Most widely read have been the writings of C. S. Lewis, but others such as Francis A. Schaeffer and Timothy Keller have stimulated popular interest in defending the faith. Others who have contributed at a more technical level include E. J. Carnell (1919–1967), Basil Mitchell (1917–2011), Alvin Plantinga (b. 1932), Richard Swinburne (b. 1934) and Keith Ward (b. 1938). John Polkinghorne (b. 1930), Francis Collins (b. 1950) and Alister McGrath (b. 1953) are among those who have taken up the specialist area of Christian apologetics in the light of modern science.


Bibliography

C. Brown, Philosophy and the Christian Faith (London, 1969); idem, Miracles and the Critical Mind (Grand Rapids and Exeter, 1984); E. J. Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, 1952); F. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York, 2006); A. Dulles, A History of Apologetics (Philadelphia, 1971); C. Campbell-Jack and G. J. McGrath (eds.), New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics (Leicester, 2006); N. L. Geisler, Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, 1988); idem, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, 1999); T. Keller, The Reason for God (New York, 2008); P. Kreeft, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, 1994); G. R. Lewis, Testing Christianity’s Truth Claims: Approaches to Christian Apologetics (Chicago, 1976); A. McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism (New York, 2004); J. Polkinghorne, Faith, Science and Understanding (London, 2000); R. Swinburne, The Existence of God, 2nd edn (New York, 1991); C. van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia, 1955); K. Ward, God and the Philosophers (Minneapolis, 2009).

C. H. PINNOCK


C. H. Pinnock, “Apologetics,” ed. Martin Davie et al., New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (London; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press; InterVarsity Press, 2016), 49–51.

It appears that there is inconsistency across theological streams.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 3:51 AM | Locked

Olli-Pekka Ylisuutari:
But nowadays you encounter very aggressive criticism of religion not from within Christianity but from without, from the outside, from the neo-Atheists and the like, who would not endorse your distinction between magic versus prayer/religion/spiritual disciplines. To them all these lump together as magical behavior.

I enjoyed your response as giving food for thought. For this particular issue, I find it easy to disarm these people by insisting that the conversation begin with human experience and perennial philosophy in its broadest sense. The issues look very different if you lift them out of a particular theological vocabulary and insist they explain the universal human experience. This is the level of apologetics I enjoy.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Gregory Lawhorn | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 4:45 AM | Locked

I thought that Logos provided a different forum for these sorts of discussions. In fact, I think that the first point in the guidelines specifically statements something like, "Please keep your discussions focused on Logos Bible Software: our software, products, websites, company, tools, etc." 

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David Ames | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 5:16 AM | Locked

Gregory Lawhorn:

"Please keep your discussions focused on Logos Bible Software: our software, products, websites, company, tools, etc." 

But then we need training on how to use those tools.  And we need to be reminded that the "dictionaries" used by two different "groups" have totally different "descriptions" of the same [or so called same] words. [so we need both "dictionaries" in our library]

For a (hopefully) safe example: what do you think of when you hear the words 'dog' or 'cat'?

And how many different dogs and cats are there? 

I see the reason for this thread as a warning that words do not mean the same thing to different "groups" when they talk AT others rather than TO others.  [and that is why my Logos library is 1/3 'X', 1/3 'Y' and the rest 'Z'.  I like to hear what  'X' has to say rather then what 'Y' says about 'X']

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GregW | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 5:29 AM | Locked

Sticking carefully to the guidelines! 

There are a couple of books available in Logos that I've found very helpful.

The first, by Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman, deals with the various approaches to apologetics. This is probably more oriented towards the Protestant world, but sets out (from memory) four different approaches to apologetics.  

Faith Has Is Reasons: Integrative Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith, Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman

The second, by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli is broader, but might be of more interest to you, MJ, as Kreeft is a Catholic convert. It's quite a tome, but one that I enjoyed greatly when I read it eight or nine years ago. 

Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli

There's also a wider debate going on (at least among Protestants) about what apologetics should look like (if anything) in the culture we inhabit now. I had an interesting evening where I played videos of William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel and John Lennox to a group I was leading. The older ones loved William Lane Craig's very combative and logical approach, while the younger ones loved Lennox's avuncular and irenic approach but couldn't abide what they saw as smugness from Lane Craig and were somewhat put off by Strobel. 

There are also other resources available in Logos by Norman Geisler and Gary Habermas that I've found helpful in the past. 

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Ken McGuire | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 5:36 AM | Locked

MJ. Smith:

Even a well behaved Apologist like Justin Martyr can go into an attack on Paganism in 1 Apol 21. And he has biblical example of this going back to at least Isaiah 40's attack on idolatry, and Philosophical examples of this going back to at least Socrates. The thing is that the Roman Emperor for whom this work is said to be written would have recognized the Philosophical examples - and this even fits into Justin's portrayal of Christianity as bringing the wisdom of the Philosophers to the people. Not all the Apologists in those collections seem quite as well behaved though.

Back when I was in school I was taught that discussion really begins when you can state what your opponent believes in a way that they will say, yes, that is what I believe. And so you need to make at least a good faith effort to do this before moving on to state why you find that objectionable. It saddens me when too many modern "apologists" don't even seem interested in the process, and instead just go to the "gotcha" moment. We are supposed to follow a more excellent way...

That is why I edited the quote in my signature here years ago. The original is an attack on John Calvin and Calvinism - and while the passage says something I find important about the Lutheran understanding of the Gospel, it is not appropriate to go into theological warfare with guns blazing in my signature...

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Bruce Dunning | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 5:56 AM | Locked

MJ. Smith:
So our apologetics class taught us (a) what we believed (b) what we meant by our terms (c) how to insure the person we were talking to had the same understanding of the terms ... or understood the differences in our understanding of the terms.

There is some great wisdom here. Definitions are critical and understanding one's own definitions is the first step, followed by trying to understand how a different point of view defines a term. If we would only take more time to clarify definitions we would communicate much better.

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Norman Cubbage | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 6:47 AM | Locked

Amen to that brother

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David Wanat | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 7:48 AM | Locked

It seems to me that polemics can be a a valid tool within apologetics when used properly. But to use it properly, it needs two things:

1. An accurate presentation of the material one believes to be in error.

2. A charitable response in refuting it.

Unfortunately, neither tends to be present in the average internet discussion, so the FL guidelines against theological discussion seems wise.

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DAL | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 8:36 AM | Locked

Maybe Lexham Press could produce works like “What Mormons Believe,” “What Jehovah’s Witness Believe,” “What Muslims Believe,” etc., but not have me or someone who has done research write about it, but an actual leader or renowned scholar from that particular group.  That way they can write what their core beliefs are and present them more accurately to people.  By doing that, we could have several resources that can inform people as to what each group believes based on someone who can share what they actually believe and not the usual, “They told me this is what they believe.”  It’s better to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. That would help a lot.

I think FL/Lexham Press could sell a lot because it would be different from the so called “Apologetics” books we currently have (e.g How to talk to a Mormon, How to Talk to a Jehovah’s Witness, How to talk to a Muslim, etc. without actually hearing the other side of the story).

Maybe they can hire someone from each group like they hired someone to do the Hebrew Pronunciation Addin.

My 2 cents!

DAL 

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David Wanat | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 9:37 AM | Locked

DAL:

Maybe Lexham Press could produce works like “What Mormons Believe,” “What Jehovah’s Witness Believe,” “What Muslims Believe,” etc., but not have me or someone who has done research write about it, but an actual leader or renowned scholar from that particular group.  That way they can write what their core beliefs are and present them more accurately to people.  By doing that, we could have several resources that can inform people as to what each group believes based on someone who can share what they actually believe and not the usual, “They told me this is what they believe.”  It’s better to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. That would help a lot.

I think FL/Lexham Press could sell a lot because it would be different from the so called “Apologetics” books we currently have (e.g How to talk to a Mormon, How to Talk to a Jehovah’s Witness, How to talk to a Muslim, etc. without actually hearing the other side of the story).

Maybe they can hire someone from each group like they hired someone to do the Hebrew Pronunciation Addin.

My 2 cents!

DAL 

I guess the potential pitfall is who do they ask and what standing would they have within the denomination in general. If the person chosen is a known dissenter from the group, that would stir up controversy. I would NOT be happy if—for example—an FL resource had Hans Küng writing a "What Catholics Believe" work. I imagine members of other religious groups would have similar objections.

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Bob | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 1:14 PM | Locked

Primarily I agree that apologetics is first to explain one’s own faith, but secondarily I think it includes contrasting your beliefs with another group’s beliefs, in a respectful manner.

Systematic argumentation and discourse, to me, includes, secondarily, contrasting one’s beliefs with another’s.

That means, first, we have to know our own faith well enough to define it, but also to have some correct understanding of another’s belief system, that we are talking to.  This works better face to face, rather than online.

Our different groups use the same words but sometimes the meanings behind those words are different.  To me, this is the biggest hurdle to overcome.  Understanding what each of us mean by certain words/concepts/ideas in our own belief system.  The words are the same, but the meanings are different.

We write too fast online (myself included), and reader’s can have their own interpretation that the originator did not mean (myself included).

Bob

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SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 23 2021 1:54 PM | Locked

DAL:
Maybe Lexham Press could produce works like “What Mormons Believe,” “What Jehovah’s Witness Believe,” “What Muslims Believe,” etc., but not have me or someone who has done research write about it, but an actual leader or renowned scholar from that particular group.  That way they can write what their core beliefs are and present them more accurately to people.  By doing that, we could have several resources that can inform people as to what each group believes based on someone who can share what they actually believe and not the usual, “They told me this is what they believe.”  It’s better to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. That would help a lot.

That kind of project is one I would be pleased to see, as long as it was done well.

(Incidentally, for those looking for "What Catholics Believe" and not wanting to wait for DAL's proposed project to come to fruition, I strongly recommend https://verbum.com/product/29612/youcat-youth-catechism-of-the-catholic-church.)

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