Since finishing my debate with Rhology, and even for some time before the closing, this thought has been on my mind. I'm not completely unrealistic; by no means did I expect fireworks and a confession of Orthodox Faith out of anyone, especially not Rhology himself. But something about the entire endeavor makes it seem to me that it was all a waste of time. Everybody who was for Sola Scriptura when the debate began walked away still for it and everyone who was against at the beginning walked away against. I've tried to console myself with some vague thought about some "lurkers" who were persuaded by my less than stellar arguments, but I think we all know that isn't true. No one was convinced who wasn't leaning that way to begin with.
Things pretty much go the same way over at YouTube with my videos, which aren't intended to be excursions into apologetics but always somehow end up that way. I've had several rather lengthy exchanges with people of various backgrounds, including Calvinists, Muslims, atheists, and, believe it or not, even a self-proclaimed Ebionite, and they all seem to go the same direction. In the end, we either both walk away shaking our heads and wagging our tongues about how stupid and misled the other is or, occasionally, we part amicably with a "you haven't changed my view at all, but now at least I understand the other side a little better." I've had quite a few people who watch my videos send me messages or post comments along the lines of "I think the Orthodox Church is the greatest thing next to sliced bread -- it's got the Apostolic Faith, beautiful worship, and an amazing history -- but I'll never convert because..."
Like I said, I didn't get into apologetics expecting masses of people to come from all around with a burning desire for immediate entry into the Church, but I can't help but feel a little frustrated. I'm not sure what I expected, to tell the honest truth. I first started delving into apologetics back about this time last year, while I was still in Iraq.
What first motivated me to start doing it was watching Zeitgeist, The Movie (for those who don't know, part one of the movie attempts to prove that Christ was a pagan/gnostic deity and that Nicene orthodoxy was a political move by the Roman Empire). As I sat and watched this movie for the first time I kept thinking over and over how much I'd like to get the truth out there -- that if only people knew the facts they wouldn't buy into such horsehockey. Well, I was wrong, as it turns out. Since then I've had my share of run-ins with Zeitgeist supporters and I have yet to see one persuaded to abandon his support no matter how much historical documentation and logical argumentation is used to undermine and disprove Zeitgeist's claims. Perhaps I've been sowing the seeds of doubt in their heads? Sure -- why not ... ? I doubt it, though.
I think that even the Fathers hit the point, in their dealings with the Marcionites and Gnostics, of concluding that apologetics is ultimately futile in persuading anyone but those who already want to be persuaded. This always seemed to me to be the point of Tertullian's Prescription Against the Heretics. The prescription he offers is to say to the heretics, essentially, "here's the Church -- it was founded by the Apostles and it preserves their Faith: take it or leave it." Perhaps this is also what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote to St. Titus (3:10) to "admonish a divisive man once or twice, then have nothing more to do with him."
I think that this point is often overlooked in commentaries and essays I've read on the interactions of the early Lutherans with Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople. They sent to him a highly-edited Greek version of the Augsburg Confession. He then responded with a letter, in some parts lifted word-for-word from the Fathers and earlier Orthodox writers, which expounded the Orthodox Faith, following the same order as the Augsburg Confession, but never really interacting with it. They wrote back to him defending their position and he wrote again, doing basically the same thing as the first time. His response to their response essentially followed the same order as their response but expounds on the same topics from the viewpoint of the Apostolic Faith. They wrote again, trying to convince the Patriarch to accept their new theology. The Patriarch responded one last time, this time telling them to write no further unless it were in a spirit of friendship and on matters other than religion. I think he also understood the ultimate futility of apologetics. He had responded to them twice, thoroughly expositing the Orthodox Faith from both the Fathers and the Scriptures, refuting, while all throughout being careful to speak in a spirit of friendship, the ideas of the Lutherans. They twice refused to accept the Orthodox Faith. They were twice admonished and, finally, the Patriarch had to have nothing more to do with them, on that topic at least.
So, if apologetics is ultimately futile, what is the point? I don't know. Maybe someone here can provide me with the answer to that. Is it really useless to debate with heterodox and others or to try to correct their errors?
I think that, perhaps, the best course of action is to let the interested come to you. For that reason, I will continue to provide information, to the best of my abilities, on the Orthodox Faith, including both what we believe and why we believe it as well as what we don't believe and why we don't believe it, praying that someone like myself five years ago will come across the information that he needs to convince him to finally come home. But I think my days of debating and arguing are over.