Encouragement, Style and Substance: A Review of ‘Blue-Collar Apologetics’
How to Explain and Defend Catholic Teaching Using Common Sense, Simple Logic, and the Bible
By John Martignoni
EWTN Publishing, 2021
336 pages, $19.95
To order: EWTNRC.com
Back in my college days, our Catholic apologetics professor advised us students, “Don’t argue on someone else’s playing field. Argue on your own.” It’s great advice, and it is very much a message in John Martignoni’s exceptional new book, Blue-Collar Apologetics: How to Explain and Defend Catholic Teaching Using Common Sense, Simple Logic, and the Bible.
As the founder and president of the Bible Christian Society, Martignoni has conducted hundreds of talks, seminars and interviews in various radio and television media, including EWTN. It is clear that his book is the fruit of much research and thousands of conversations and, yes, arguments.
While the book contains chapters addressing Eastern Orthodoxy and atheism, the majority of the book regards Protestantism. It is a simple read, yet one of the most comprehensive refutations of the errors of Protestantism I’ve ever come across.
We Catholics can be reluctant to engage in theological discussions with Protestants because we’re afraid of not knowing all the right answers. Martignoni advises his readers to engage anyway. What’s not acceptable, he writes, is to “wing it.” He cautions, “Don’t ever ‘wing’ it. Quite literally, a soul could be on the line here. So, the stakes are too high for you to give it your best guess just because you don’t want to be embarrassed by not knowing the answer to a question about your Faith.”
When faced with a tough question, Martignoni suggests this response: “You know, that’s a good question. And right off hand, I have to be honest and admit that I don’t know the answer. But I know there is an answer. So, I tell you what I’m gonna to do. I’m gonna go and find the answer, and I’ll get back to you on that.”
In effect, this is a powerful argument that illustrates humility and charity. After all, if truth sets us free, finding the truth for another is an act of charity. Martignoni encourages us that “no matter what question you’re asked about your Faith, there is an answer out there; you just sometimes have to go looking for it.”
Many apologetics books offer excellent arguments against Protestant errors, but no advice about how to argue in real-life situations. This book offers both. In personal debate, proper rhetorical style proves essential. In that regard, Martignoni lays out six rules of engagement, beginning with “ Pray. Pray to the Holy Spirit that He will give you the courage to share your Faith and the wisdom to choose your words carefully and profitably.”
In defense of our faith, we can sometimes be so concerned with “winning” arguments that we forget about the role of grace. Martignoni stresses that evangelization is not about winning arguments. As he reminds us, “ It is the Holy Spirit Who tills the soil and makes the seed grow and bear fruit. It is the Holy Spirit Who changes the heart and the mind. It is the Holy Spirit Who converts.”
He views that “apologetics is about presenting the evidence for our Faith, it’s not about trying to ‘prove’ anything.” He writes, “ Basically, that’s all this book is about — planting seeds.”
And planting seeds must be done with charity. Martignoni points out that we Catholics can be “Offensive (Aw-fensive) without Being Offensive (Uh-fensive).” That is, we can charitably go on offense (as opposed to playing defense) without being unkind.
Martignoni writes that Protestants are often surprised when Catholics knowledgeably defend their faith. He observes, “ Most non-Catholic Christians are simply not prepared to deal with a Catholic who can answer their questions — I mean, why should they be, when it’s only a relatively small percentage of Catholics who know how to defend their Faith?” Thus, much of apologetics is about substance, and this book provides that substance. Throughout the book, he uses examples of Protestant objections and numerous logical, Scripture-based responses.
Many topics are addressed, including an insightful discussion of “authority.” Martignoni writes, “All of Protestantism is essentially built on the belief that God gave us no authoritative means by which we are able to have a certain knowledge of the truth of His teachings.” He illustrates how the Protestant notion of authority is logically incoherent.
He continues with a defense of the sacraments, including explaining the link between the Eucharist and marriage. He provides a scriptural defense of dogmas regarding Mary, the Pope and purgatory. His arguments are not only astute, but usable in real-world conversation.
In this regard, while it is certainly interesting as a cover-to-cover read, the book’s ongoing value will be as a reference text. It is something that Catholics can turn to when they find themselves in theological debates with Protestant friends and associates. I would guess that many of those “I’m gonna go and find the answer, and I’ll get back to you on that” responses will be followed by going home and opening the pages of this book.
This book deserves a place on the shelves of the Catholic family library — or, better yet, on the coffee table, where it can be often referred to. In fact, my wife and I plan on using it in our home-school curriculum. It’s important to note that Martignoni wrote this book to be readable by high-school age students or even younger children.
As a Catholic father, I appreciate that, because the first school of apologetics is the family. Apologetics has tremendous value in our own hearts and souls; it is vital to strengthen our own faith. As Martignoni puts it:
“I use apologetics as a tool not, first and foremost, for the evangelization of non-Catholics but for the evangelization and catechesis of Catholics. As you learn to explain and defend the Faith, which is what apologetics is all about, you are actually learning about the Faith in a deeper way. You cannot explain what you do not know. You cannot defend what you cannot explain. Through apologetics, you are learning not just the what of the Faith but also the why. Blue-Collar Apologetics is, if it accomplishes its purpose, a first step, an introduction if you will, in helping folks — Catholic and non-Catholic alike — to better understand the why of the Catholic Faith.”
In this goal, Blue-Collar Apologetics succeeds admirably.