The Beginning of “Beginning Apologetics” – An Origin Story

Beginning Apologetics SuperSet

The Complete Beginning Apologetics Series by Jim Burnham and Fr. Frank Chacon

How it Began

They say everyone loves an origin story. The Beginning Apologetics series of booklets began in 1993. For me, that was a big year for little things. I had my first little child, bought my first little home, and accidently self-published my first little volume: Beginning Apologetics.

It was meant to be a study guide for an apologetics course Father Frank Chacon and I offered at his local parish. At its conclusion, the enthusiastic attendees pestered us for copies of our lecture notes. So I gathered up our material and organized it into a single, thin 32-page booklet. We had a local copy place print up a few dozen copies. That’ll be that, I thought. Then demand exploded.

In the Beginning...

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story really began 8 years earlier, in 1985, at my freshman orientation at Hillsdale College. Impressed by its conservative reputation, I had applied to and been accepted at Hillsdale, but because it was 1700 miles away from my New Mexico desert, I hadn’t even visited it. My first day was a blur of forms and dorms and GREEN everywhere. The various campus groups held mixers, the better to introduce the freshmen to the dizzying array of activities. Campus Crusade was there, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Pretty girls abounded, so naturally I attended. These evangelical gatherings had a formula: a little guitar, a little testimony, and then—the best part—a little discussion in small groups where I hoped to get some face time with the ladies.

The Questions I Couldn't Answer

But a curious thing kept happening. When we would introduce ourselves and our denominational backgrounds, upon hearing I was a Catholic, my group would form a little semi-circle around me and start peppering me with questions: “Why do you Catholics call your priests ‘father,’ when Matthew 23:9 says ‘call no one on earth your father’?” “Why do you Catholics pray to Mary and the saints, when 1 Timothy 2:5 says Jesus is the ‘one mediator between God and man’”? “Why do you Catholics worship Mary?” I felt like a human piñata being pummeled in turn to explode all the childish fancies and saccharine lies inside.

I Was Raised Catholic 

Although my parents were very Catholic (they had 10 kids after all!), and though I had attended 12 years of CCD (and mostly paid attention), I was completely unprepared to answer these basic objections about my faith. I stuttered and stammered. To my shame, I didn’t even recognize the question about worshiping Mary as a “loaded” question, one with a false assumption baked into it, similar to, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” At the time, I didn’t even know enough to say, “But we DON’T worship Mary.”

I Began to Learn for Myself

My embarrassment led me to question my faith. My evangelical classmates seemed to know their Bibles back-to-front. They seemed so in love with Jesus. By contrast, I felt uneducated and unserious as a Christian. Were my evangelical friends, as many of them became, right? Was Catholicism filled with man-made doctrines and unbiblical errors? Was my childlike trust in my family and their Catholic faith a fiction, a childhood tale like the Easter Bunny?

Wisdom From My Dad

Then I remembered something my father told me before I jumped into my little Datsun truck and drove to Michigan. He said two things that quite literally saved my faith. He said something like: “You’re going to hear lots of new idea, lots of claims about the Church. But I want you to remember two things: (1) the Catholic Church is Christ’s Church. It alone can prove 2000 years of historical, doctrinal, and apostolic continuity. (2) Therefore, AS Christ’s Church, it must be true. And you can never prove something true to be false. Never.” That’s right, I thought. The truth will come out. If the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ, it cannot be false. It cannot be proved to be in error. So there must be answers to these objections. I’ll put my dad’s claims to the test. I’ll put the Church to the test.

I Searched, I Questioned, I Learned

So I started to look for answers. I found my Bible and broke out my Baltimore Catechism, which had more Bible verses than I remembered about these topics. I came across an audio of Scott Hahn’s powerful conversion story. I devoured Karl Keating’s excellent Catholicism and Fundamentalism. I discovered Frank Sheed in our local library, and my education in apologetics began in earnest.

A New Apologist

I saw that, time and time again, objections against Catholicism could be clearly and convincingly answered by appeals to scripture, history, and common sense. As my evangelical friends hit me with questions, I’d research the topics and come back to them with answers. So they’d load me up with new questions.

This thrilling cycle continued for 4 wonderful years. And I’m forever grateful to my evangelical friends for their love, zeal, and patience. Yes, I got a degree in Philosophy, but my true “major” was rediscovering the truth, beauty, and reasonability of my Catholic faith. The more I learned about my faith, the more I burned to live it well, and share it charitably.

San Juan Catholic Seminars was founded

My zeal for apologetics continued after graduation. I wanted to do more, share more. My dad and I founded a group, San Juan Catholic Seminars, to bring in out-of-town apologists like Steve Wood and Patrick Madrid for talks. Local interest skyrocketed. When a newly-ordained, apologetics-loving priest, Father Chacon, came to town, he and I decided to offer a joint seminar at his local parish. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The First Book

Those first few dozen copies were immediately snapped up. So I printed a couple hundred to give away. Those lasted mere weeks. I decided to at least charge enough to pay for printing, so the next version cost the princely sum of $1.50. We included a phone number and P.O. Box. Demand kept growing. At first, my wife Lisa and I would ship them out in any old box we could find in our home. Then we switched to a home office where my mom and younger siblings still lived.

The Early Years

Those first few years, my mom Peggy would help answer phones and mail out booklets. Father Chacon and I continued to offer seminars, and then we’d turn our handouts and notes into the next volume in the series. Before long, our booklets were in hundreds of Catholic bookstores all over the country, including Catholic Answers, Leaflet Missal and many more.

The Beginning Apologetics Series

I describe these booklets as “everything I wished I’d known about Catholicism before I went to college, but didn’t.” For years, our only advertising was word-of-mouth: bookstore-to-customer; family-to-family; friend-to-friend. That’s a credit to the simplicity and clarity of the booklets, something Father Chacon insisted on. My favorite review was from a wife: “Your booklets are so simple and clear, EVEN MY HUSBAND will read them.” Over the years, a few things have changed. We’ve had to charge more. We’ve included pictures and full-color covers. We moved from distributing them ourselves in a home office to distributing them through Catholic Faith Store, an online Catholic Gift store owned by my sister Caroline and her husband Rich. But as long as there are questions—and there will be until the Second Coming—we’ll try to equip you for your adventure of Beginning Apologetics.

Matthew 28:19-20 (The Great Commission)
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

About the Author

Jim Burnham Apologist and writer

Jim Burnham

Writer & Apologist

A cradle-Catholic evangelist, the second oldest of ten children. He graduated as valedictorian from Hillsdale College in 1989 with a degree in philosophy. Later he attended Thomas Aquinas College where he met his wife, Lisa. They have been married since 1992 and have six children. Jim has given hundreds of seminars to teach Catholics how to charitably and effectively defend their faith. He is the co-author of more than ten publications, including the popular Beginning Apologetics series.  Jim has been a guest on the radio program Catholic Answers. Catholic Faith Store is the official distributor of the Beginning Apologetics series.

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