With this distinction in mind, I read Francis J. Beckwith's "The Perils of Intra-Christian Apologetics" (The Catholic Thing, October 1, 2010), from which I now present just a few excerpts:
In March 2006 one of my graduate assistants, a Baylor doctoral student, visited my office to discuss with me his personal journey in the direction of Catholicism. An alumnus of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an ordained Baptist minister, this student, I’ll call him Joseph, told me that he and his wife were on the brink of choosing to seek full communion with the Catholic Church. He wanted to know from me, President-Elect of the Evangelical Theological Society, if I could give them any reasons why they should not make the move. Much to Joseph’s surprise, I said “no.”Read more.... and see what you think.
Although I was a year away from my own Catholic moment, I had reached a point in my Christian journey where I began to see more peril than promise in intra-Christian apologetics....
There is a question here that many Catholics eager to evangelize other Christian brothers and sisters may not appreciate. As someone who now has been on both sides of the Tiber, I need to explain precisely what I mean. I could not in good conscience provide what Joseph requested. For I did not know whether, at that time in his journey, Catholicism was becoming to him the only Christian tradition that he thought plausible to believe. Because he was a follower of Jesus and cared deeply about his walk with Christ, I had to treat Joseph’s inquiry with a certain delicacy, making sure that I did not place in his path a stumbling block. Months after meeting with me, he and has wife were received into the Catholic Church, and I soon followed.
But we often forget that no one comes to the question of intra-Christian dialogue and disputation with a blank slate. Consider, for example, the poorly catechized cradle Catholic who finds herself confronted by one of the many itinerant and irascible “Protestant apologists” whose polemical and superficial tomes are published for the very purpose of shaking the faith of such Catholics. The goal, of course, is to get the papist prey to “accept Jesus in her heart” and to become “born again.” But what if the Catholic, overwhelmed and ill-equipped, thinks of Catholicism as really the only legitimate Christian option, even though she does not know it very well? And what if the arguments against the Catholic Church simply destroy all of Christianity for that person? In that case, the Protestant apologist, though winning the argument, cooperates in the loss of a soul.
Similarly, imagine the case of the prodigal Protestant, an Evangelical college student who encounters on campus young and enthusiastic Catholic apologists. They spend most of their time with their Evangelical friend trashing the Protestant Reformers and contemporary Evangelicalism in such a way that the student, rather than entertaining Catholicism, considers abandoning his Christian faith altogether. This is because the student grew up an Evangelical Protestant in a vibrant ecclesial community that was the center of his family’s social, cultural, and religious life for generations. For such a person, Catholicism is not even on the conceptual radar. Thus, his Catholic friends, though intending no harm, contribute to his loss of faith in Christ.
[Hat tip to J.M.]