Bernard Lonergan and Apologetic Methodology

In the Post-Reformation era theology, which had once been standard curriculum at universities, was pushed in the seminaries.  One of the unintentional results was that theologians began to only spoke with those in whom they were already in agreement.  In his essay Theology in its New Context, theologian Bernard Lonergan gives a critique of classical apologetic methodology.  The differences between a classicist mentality and historical consciousness will also be given.

The classicist mentality regarding apologetics has a starting point with proving the existence of God.  One with this mentality will employ classic argument such as the cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological arguments to prove God’s existence.  The classicist mentality relied on things that had always been assumed, and sometimes it continues to do so even considering new scientific discoveries or developments.  Regarding this Lonergan writes, “The classicist thought standardized, but tended to overlook, that modern studies have brought to light, thematized, elaborated, illustrated, documented” (Lonergan, 413).  In this form we see that God becomes known to us through divine revelation (i.e. Scripture and Tradition), and in the material universe.  This approach falls into the category of Dogmatic theology as they were considered “considered settled beliefs of the universal Church” (Lecture notes).

In the 19th and 20th centuries a movement call historical consciousness began to creep into the church.  It raised a series of questions, with one of those being how traditional texts and teachings to be interpreted in the contemporary church?  This method became even more popular after the second Vatican Council, as the church began to seek unity among other Christian groups.  They seek to see historical Christian writing as something that can be applied the same way as they were when originally written.  Regarding this Lonergan writes, “One type of foundation suits a theology that aims to be deductive, static, abstract, universal, equally applicable to all places and to all times” (Lonergan 415).

Though both methodologies have their place in apologetics, it is important to make way for new developments or discoveries.  This is not to say that some new doctrine will be unearthed, but our knowledge of apologetics is growing more by the day.  One example is when dealing with those who identify with the new atheist movement.  This movement seems to be more a religion than anything else, but they know all the arguments from classical apologetics.  The firmest adherents have taken the time to answer classical methods of proving the existence of God.  In is my experience in interracting with them, that they shut down when these arguments are brought up.  This is similar to what Lonergan describes when he discusses arguments being the same in all times.  We must be able to adjust and make room for new developments in physics and science when arguing for the existence of God.  In addition to presenting those facts from science and reason, it is also important to live a life that has been transformed by the Gospel.  This has been my experience when applying ideas classicist assumptions in apologetics.



Lonergan, Bernard J. F., et al. The Lonergan Reader. University of Toronto Press, Scholarly     Publishing Division, 1997. Lonergan Studies. EBSCOhost, accessed December 10, 2017.


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