I grew up in the rural Appalachians of Southwest Virginia. We lived, as folks like to say, “in the country”. We didn’t have much. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t poverty stricken but it was a different time and things weren’t as important to people back then. My dad worked as an engineer and my mom stayed at home to raise us until I was about twelve, old enough to look after myself and my little sister. There are lots of great memories I have of my childhood, growing up in the country. One of them is supper time. Many of those family meals were spent around a pot of pinto beans and a skillet of cornbread. That meal was a staple of our existence.
I still love beans and cornbread. That meal is what I call “comfort food”. It’s something I’m used to and it’s always there when I need it, especially when other food is sparse. As a young’un, we usually grew our own beans and my mom used corn meal and buttermilk for the cornbread. It was literally all from scratch. Since we grew the food and the cornmeal and buttermilk were cheap, we always had what it took to have supper. Between paychecks or if times got tough, we always had something to eat. Some of our best meals were in late summer, when we had fresh onions or even chow chow, and hot bowl of pintos over a big triangle of that crunchy, buttery, bread. Yum!
Country people are plain folk.
Variety was not our thing. I didn’t have ribeye until I was married and my wonderful wife introduced me to that awesome steak. As a child, the closest thing I had to that was pork or deer tenderloin. The greatest variety we experienced was the choice of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans, or on Sunday, fried chicken, gravy and biscuits. I’d go for a plate of that right now!
I guess by now you’re wondering what in the world this has to do with apologetics. Well, enough reminiscing about my childhood and Southern comfort food. I’m getting hungry.
As I struggle teaching adults in our apologetics Sunday School class, I have been reminded of the importance of comfort. I don’t mean the kind of comfort that incubates in churches and contributes to complacency when it comes to engaging their community. What I mean when I say comfort is finding a niche when it comes to apologetics.
I love apologetics, teach apologetics, and write about apologetics. I listen to, read about, and think about defending the hope I have in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and enjoy, as it were, a variety of apologetics suppers.
Because of that, it’s easy for me to forget that the folks who I am introducing to apologetics, the ones with the deer in the headlights looks, don’t.
They are not used to the variety. In fact, some of them may be intimidated by the vast world to which I am opening their eyes. Cosmology, biology, and philosophy teamed with a healthy plate of “mere Christianity” is like going to a buffet and being told you must eat from a coffee cup. Sometimes an intro to apologetics is the proverbial drinking from the river. Where does one begin?
In my opinion, what they may need is some comfort food. What they need is beans and cornbread apologetics.
Setting the table.
I encouraged my class recently, as I role played, talked to them about some practical applications, and listened to some of their attempts to defend the Faith, to pick out one argument and “make it theirs”. It’s a down-to-earth consideration that I think each apologist makes, even if they eat at the apologetics Pic-a-Deli.
There are some advantages to this beans and cornbread approach that are analogous to my suppertimes as a child. These advantages are true for children, young adults, parents, and older folks as well.
Grow your own.
An advantage my parents had by growing their own beans was independence. They didn’t have to depend on the grocery store, or their paycheck, to provide a meal. They grew it in their own dirt. It was an indigenous meal that fit our rural Southern life-style.
That is an advantage apologists, especially those serving locally or regionally, should exploit. There are arguments that fit your specific needs. In fact, in your “dirt” (local context), many times it’s difficult for visiting apologists to speak to the needs of the indigenous folk. Local apologists, especially in rural communities, are uniquely positioned for that. They can grow their apologetic to fit their need.
Growing your own food sounds great, but it’s hard work. So is growing your apologetic. It involves engaging your community in such a way that you get to know them and their peculiar needs. Most of the time though, the fact that you already live among them places you at an advantage. You already know them. You merely need to tend the garden, making your case by planting the seed, defending the truth by pulling up the weeds, and waiting patiently for the harvest.
Train your diet.
I suppose one reason that I loved beans and cornbread so much is that I didn’t know any better. I was raised on that meal. We didn’t venture out too far from what was comfortable. There was no McDonalds in my town until I was a teen and we didn’t eat out anyway. My diet had been trained to like certain foods. It still defaults to those meals with the occasional barbeque thrown in for special occasions.
It seems to me that that is a good way to look at apologetics, especially for those who are just beginning. Train your diet.
Take one argument, one you really enjoy, and make it yours, whether it be cosmological, moral, design, reliability of Scripture, or Resurrection. Pick one and focus on being as good an apologist as you can be at that argument. Narrowing your field of study trains your apologetic diet, if you will, and helps you focus. It’s hard to be a jack of trades when it comes to apologetics. Even William Lane Craig is known for his expertise in the Kalaam Cosmological Argument. Even though he is a great all-around apologist remember, he is a professional apologist!
As lay-people, we can never hope to have the time that Bill Craig enjoys perfecting his skills. But, we can discipline our diet so that we become practical experts at making a careful case. Our beans and cornbread apologetics can be a meal that people feed on when they have nothing else to eat. Bill Craig will likely not be on their menu.
Learn to garnish.
A peculiar enjoyment I had when we ate supper was the various condiments that were provided for our beans and cornbread. Sometimes we had fresh onions out of the garden. Other times we had homemade chow chow. More lean meals were spiced with salt and pepper. The point is that beans and cornbread didn’t have to be dull. It was rarely a disappointment to eat supper when that old pot and iron skillet were placed on the table.
Your beans and cornbread apologetics should be that way. As you become more comfortable making your comfort food argument, begin adding to the meal. Each little nuance you add becomes its own flavor enhancement to an old staple. Different aspects like new data, quotes, and applications help turn an argument into a brand-new meal. Even those who have sat at your table in the past will be impressed with these additions. They will strengthen your argument and enlighten your audience.
Another trick is to alternate the condiments and learn what people like. Don’t feed them the same line the same way every time. Don’t always have chow chow, even though it’s a killer addition to the meal. Most folks will appreciate it more if they have already had onions, if you know what I mean.
Finally, serve it hot!
The only time that I remember dreading beans and cornbread was when we had it as leftovers out of the fridge. For some reason, they just weren’t as good. But, if they spent some time on the stove heating up, they got a lot better. Also, if the beans were leftover then there was probably no cornbread. We usually ate the entire skillet the day before. The absence of that crunchy corner of baked cornmeal saddened my little stomach. Bless my heart.
On the other hand, when my mom took the time and effort to cook all day the food that we had each had a hand in growing, it was truly something special. Supper wasn’t just a meal. It was a scrumptious food served up on a big plate of love. My tongue would beat my brain to death!
The same is true for your beans and cornbread apologetics. It’s better served hot! It’s better because you have worked diligently to provide it and have served it with a passion for the truth and love the people who you serve.
If you do the work to make an argument yours and you have added all that you can, serve it up to folks with passion and love. It’s hard for people to hate a person who loves them and works hard to provide for their specific needs. You ought to argue that way. Have a passion for what argue. You do believe it don’t you? Love the people enough to be convincing and persuasive. They may disagree but they will appreciate your appetite for your arguments. Maybe when they’ve had so many bland apologetics meals, your home cooked comfort food served on your special dinner plates will fill both their stomachs and their hearts.
What’s on the menu?
Consider becoming a specialty chef if you’re learning apologetics. I am considering narrowing my menu as I learn to teach it well. Your small rural church is uniquely positioned to serve it’s starving community what it needs. When all else fails, times are tough, or the dairy in your small rural church is running a little low, try some beans and cornbread apologetics. It does a body good.
P.S. Don’t forget the fatback!