Urban Apologetics: As Culture Evolves, So Does Our Approach
Here at the Summit, we have an audacious goal of planting 1,000 churches by 2050. (By God’s grace, we have already planted 298!) One of the most bittersweet realities of planting churches is sending out your best leaders. One of the greatest benefits is getting to learn from them along the way. So we decided to ask some of our Summit Network pastors to give back a little and share some of what God has taught them.
Every Monday throughout the summer, check in here for a dash of wit and wisdom from some of our Summit Network church planters. To find out more about how the Summit Network equips leaders to plant, grow, and multiply gospel-centered churches, visit thesummitnetwork.com. Next up: Cam Triggs!
–Chris Pappalardo, Editor
As a new Christian at one of the fastest-growing universities in one of the most influential cities in America, I felt a strong urge as a college student to share my faith. I naively switched my major to religious studies and found many academic challenges to my Christian faith. I began to arm myself with introductory apologetics books that equipped me well for classroom discussions and research papers. My friends and I began to share our faith with our friends and eventually gravitated to downtown Orlando to look for opportunities for evangelism.
What happened next was an awakening. I encountered so many alien reactions to the gospel that I was blown away. One of the first men we spoke to was not sober and cursed us out because he had been hurt by hypocritical Christians. Another gentleman was a KJV-only cult member who aggressively condemned us for praying with people in public and using the ESV. I began to notice a widening chasm between my classroom discussions and street-level apologetics. Much of the content in my books proved to be useful; still, it was insufficient. I returned home from downtown Orlando to search their indexes and eventually turned my research to Google.
Now, as the pastor of an urban church in Orlando, I find myself confronted again with the tension of a rapidly evolving and expanding culture and the need for our apologetics to do the same.
An amazing response to this tension has been an emergence of urban apologetics. Apologetics is the persuasive defense of the Christian faith. We are commissioned to spread the faith (Matthew 28); we are also commanded to defend the faith (1 Peter 3:15). Urban apologetics is living, working, and reaching people in urban communities that are often dense and diverse.
Due to the vicious sins of slavery, racism, and classism, these urban communities are also often deprived of identity and destiny. As a result, many philosophies, cults, and false religions arise to defeat the hopeless nihilism that threatens urban existence.
In response, urban apologetics doesn’t need to merely generate new content; we must also generate contextual methodology that effectively communicates the truth of the gospel, that fuses worldviews with doorsteps.
To aggressively take the gospel to our evolving cities, we need these four essential components:
1. A Contextualized Approach
We must pursue apologetics that speaks to the core concerns and objections within our new urban areas. Much of the apologetic material neglect important religious movements within our cities that are not properly addressed. Where are the apologetic encyclopedias and handbooks with heavily cited articles addressing Black Hebrew Israelites, Nation of Islam, or the Moors? We must do the heavy lifting of researching and writing toward the normative perspectives of how to combat these worldviews and false religions.
2. Compassionate Apologetics
If a primary objection towards Christians has essentially been “Christians behaving badly,” then we need a robust demonstration of love in action flowing from our churches into the cities we love. Here we must defeat the enemies of the heart. These objections are emotional and often internal. We must be reminded we are called to win the person and not the argument. We must address gospel issues and simultaneously be gospel people. Gospel people are rescued people drenched in God’s grace. As a result, gospel people are bold yet loving, clear yet understanding, and compassionate yet courageous. Gospel people are not cold-hearted logicians, absent-minded characterizers, or calloused debaters.
Gospel people are bold yet loving, clear yet understanding, and compassionate yet courageous.
This is the essence of 1 Peter 3:15: “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (NASB).
God uses Peter to remind us that this defending the faith venture must take place without us becoming defensive, offensive, and utterly reprehensible to the watching world.
3. Communal Aesthetics
The Christian community has always been successful at creating a culture of arts that draws surrounding communities to behold the glory of God. Whether it is the amazing architecture in our sanctuaries or the rich tradition of gospel music in the black church, the people of God have created amazement, enchantment, and ultimately belonging. Hopefully, this apologetic approach will be subversive to the herd mentality we often see in our culture. When we actually create, inspire, and commune with one another, we overpower the persuasion of social media and the half-truths of mass media.
4. Christ-centered Activism
As our communities become increasingly isolated, we need Christians that are actively present and pursuing justice. There is an increasing demand for urban apologists to engage the ethical tensions in America. We must provide an apologetic that addresses issues such as abortion, sexuality, and oppression with winsome engagement. This Christ-centered activism must urge us to forge relationships and extend hospitality to those who disagree with us. In this way, the gospel will be served by hands who have touched hearts and proclaimed from lips who have also listened.
Dr. William Edgar says, “There is a credibility gap between the gospel and our culture.” May our generation be the one to bridge that gap with grace and love.