Okay apologist, so you want to go out there and engage people – discuss, dialogue and debate. I think the number one pitfall of zealotry is losing sight of the end goal – trying to win an argument instead of trying to bring souls to the Lord. As much as some explanations we find from various catechisms to be satisfying, especially from Q&A style ones such as the Compendium or the Baltimore catechism, I would not suggest these to be good starting points, lest your evangelization become proselytism.
We don’t want to impose points of view uniformly onto people, yet at the same time we want to avoid the contentiousness and dissatisfaction of mere dialogue. An unpleasant dialogue will end abruptly and we would be responsible to the Lord for our own shrillness for such a loss.
Ultimately we want to bring each other closer to the Truth, and thus closer to God. The fullness of the Truth will be experienced in Heaven, but the truths expressed by the Church prepare us from any rude surprises when we get there. The starting point with any individual is really to approach them remembering they have their own unique story to bring. Listening will allow those of us working in the “field hospital” to try to bring God first and foremost to the right areas of pain to begin the relationship. Here are some ground rules for dialogue to mutually agree on in order for fruitful discussion:
- We agree that something is true, and something is false. The world is sustained on an objective existence, most identified with Science. Our very existence is an objective reality. God desires us to be One and therefore Truth is to be found among the various contradictory points of view.
- We agree that some things like circumstances, ideas, and opinions are subjective, but that our actions based on these subjective things have implications on others.
- We agree that the greatest good is happiness – the fulfillment of both our individual and common desires, and that we are motivated by Love – the intention for the Good of the other.
- We must agree that we when we disagree about something, we respect the integrity of the other person
When dialoguing with Protestants, we particularly need to agree to the following:
- We agree that we strive to Love Jesus more and honour the Will of the Father
- We agree that we do our best to interpret the scripture as the divinely inspired Word of God and honestly attempt to respect its intended meaning. We also agree not to look for legalistic ways to twist meanings in our own favour.
- We are honest about the non-divinely inspired aspects of our respective historical traditions that cause division among the faithful
- We agree that our unique point of view is a gift from God which is a revelation about some truth about the way things are and it does take a certain amount of grace to cross the threshold into realization with certain teachings.
If someone is not ready to agree to these basic principles, dialogue would be quite frustrating – not that you have to explicitly sign off on these before talking, but if things get contentious, remember to back off of that point and return to a common point of departure to re-establish consensus there before proceeding. Unless someone is a true relativist or nihilist, you should be able to agree with most about the weather, basic Christian precepts, and the desire for happiness. Navigating reality in darkness is like figuring your way out of a Maze. With God’s guidance and with the Grace of patience, the light will be found.