When Daniel C. Peterson years ago became involved with LDS apologetics (the academic defense of the faith), it was with the intent "to help faltering Church members and to help interested observers see enough plausibility in the Church's claims to take the gospel seriously or to overcome their doubts."
But, speaking Aug. 2 at the FAIR Conference, he said, "We have to beware, because other goals can substitute themselves for the principal goal of bringing people into the Church, helping people to maintain and retain testimony."
Worthy goals, he said, "can slide into the unworthy. For example, ego gratification, revenge satisfaction, 'righteous anger,' all of those things are temptations along the apologetic path, and they're very ineffective. They don't accomplish what you initially intended to do."
A professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at BYU and a founder of the year-old online publication Interpreter, a Journal of Mormon Scripture, Brother Peterson addressed the topic "Toward a More Effective Apologetics."
Brother Peterson said people accept the gospel because for them it fulfills a "deep, spiritual hunger," though it has to make sense to them as well on an intellectual level."That's the kind of person we want to find," he said, "the person who wants to have faith to believe."
Posing the question "How do we find those people?" he contrasted the age-old missionary activity of door-to-door tracting with the more promising endeavor of interacting with those who come to a Church visitors' center, those who are "self-selected" as being interested in the message of the Church.
"It seems to me we need an army of people going out to preach the gospel, and it doesn't always mean apologetics in the conventional sense," he said. "A lot of it is about just presenting the gospel as an option that makes sense in your life."
As "an exciting new avenue for doing some of that," he introduced the audience to a new Internet message board called The World Table, sponsored by a group called the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. Soon to be beta tested, it is unique in a number of ways, including accountability and the fact that participants rate one another on civility. The hope is that visitors will come to the forum with mutual goodwill and willingness to learn and converse productively.
"We are called, all of us, by virtue of the covenants we have taken upon ourselves to bear record to the world, and we should avail ourselves of every tool we have," Brother Peterson testified in conclusion.