GUEST POST: OUR CULTURE NEEDS A NEW APOLOGETIC
GUEST POST: OUR CULTURE NEEDS A NEW APOLOGETIC
The summer after my sophomore year of high school, my world was rocked at summer camp. My best friend spoke to our youth group and encouraged all of us to start figuring out what WE believe and quit living out our parent’s faith. I returned from camp having decided I was ready to put my stake in the ground and own my faith; read and learn about other religions and have logical answers for some of life’s tough questions. I spent a good chunk of my free time with my nose buried in books written by Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, and other Christian apologists.
Apologetics was very helpful for me in discovering a deeper faith, but I soon learned that it was not very effective in reaching my non-Christian friends. Too often the things that I had learned were used as ammunition in heated discussions.
I believed what 1 Peter 3:15-16 says: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” But if I am honest, I often totally missed the second part of that verse! “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
After reading a great blog by Ryan Reed, a Youth Pastor and motivational speaker from the Bay Area, I was forced to question the role of apologetics in our current culture and context. I hope you take a moment to read his thoughts and ask the question: What is the role of defense in culture where nobody seems to have questions or even care?
Perhaps instead of defending our faith to a culture that already could careless about it, we need to begin a new conversation. It is no secret - or at least it should not be - that American culture has moved past a Christendom mindset into a post-Christian (or some would even argue pre-Christian, depending on the context.) If these words are new you to you, then Google "Christendom" and "Post-Christian" to learn more about it. Several theologians and philosophers have written valuable articles for the church on this topic since the 1970s - nearly 40 years ago! Essentially, Christendom connotes the perspective that generally-speaking a given culture holds the values and standards of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus in high regard, including specific tenets, morals, and generally held truths.
The terms "Post-Christendom or Post-Christian" allude to cultures that have decidedly moved on from Christianity as its foundation for moralism and truism, even in some instances rejecting Christianity all together. These terms mostly get used within academic settings, but many Christians have intuitively sensed the shifting tides of culture for the past few decades. I often hear people in my sphere of influence tell me that "it's harder to believe these days" or "culture seems much more insensitive to what I believe than it used to be" or "our government doesn't value my beliefs anymore as a Christian." Each of these phrases point to a post-Christian culture. Now, this is where apologetics comes into our conversation. As a result of shifting tides of culture, more and more evangelical Christians - who once resided in the majority thought of culture - witnessed power and thought transfer from the locus of Christianity to pluralistic thought, which includes the belief in other religions, worldviews, philosophies, and so forth. These perspectives now dominate our trends of thought in culture. This correlated in an upswing of apologetic study, which is a fancy term for "defending the faith."
Whereas Christians could assume before that society understood and believed in certain presuppositions about Christian faith (everyone has faith, right?), now the dominant thought patterns of culture devalued Christian presuppositions for radical inclusion and consideration of all presuppositions. And perhaps for a season, apologetics and defending the faith against the changing tide of culture warranted a position in the church. But now the tables have turned, which leads me to my question: Currently, as Christians living and working within communities deeply rooted in pluralistic, amoral, atheistic cultures, how does one defend the faith against a culture who could care less about the core tenets of Jesus Christ?
Moreover, given the reduction of Christ-followers in our communities over the last decades, not only have Christians become a minority voice, but in some contexts - much like the Bay Area - they have become a negligible voice. Case in point, there are a little more than 11,500 middle and high school attendees who live in Marin County, as recorded by the Lucille Packard Research Fund for Children's Health. According to the best estimate of youth workers in Marin County, only about 600 students (a generous estimate) - both middle and high school - are plugged into a church. That amounts to 5% of the entire teenage population, which trends with adult attendance, hovering around 10-12%. These numbers do not represent a minority; they represent negligibility.
I want to propose a new apologetic. What if Christians whose voice represents a negligible presence within a culture first own their new role as such and then shift the conversation from an argument to one of redefinition? The power of negligibility is such that our voices - albeit with the power of the Holy Spirit behind us - could not even get loud enough together as a chorus to reach the ears of the powerful. Furthermore, no matter how truthful and life-giving our claims, the power of an argument rarely defers to the minority. But displays of risk, vulnerability, and courage speaks louder and volumes more than an argument against the claims of another. The kind of apologetic I want to propose takes the element of 'doubt,' which so permeates our cultural values and replaces with the 'courage to believe.' Any fool can doubt. Any person can simply say, "I disagree," "I don't believe you," or "I think you're wrong." Since living in the Bay Area, I've heard so many people say to me that they do not believe in God because they believe in science. Any one gregarious enough to do about an hour's worth of research can see the multiple fallacies in that argument. Plus, generally-speaking, these people believe certain characteristics about God that are not present in the person of Christ. But, they value the objective observations of our natural world and have assumed that prior Christendom values negate those beliefs. Let's redefine the conversation. What if we redefined faith, shared a true image of Christ with our lives, and put our stake in the ground? Doubting is easy. Everyone can doubt and question. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need strong critical thinking skills to doubt. To believe, on the other hand, requires courage, conviction, and a willingness to lay your life on the line for the sake of the cause. I think our new apologetic for the negligible Christian voice ought to be a celebration of belief, rather than a disputed claim. Let's stand in the river together and proclaim with our very lives what it means to live with abundant life and peace that transcends all understanding. I think that gets closer to the life of Jesus than any other kind of apologetic.
QUESTION: Will you join me and stand in the river?