If you are going to have a successful apologetics ministry in a small rural church, you must overcome the anti-intellectual spirit found in many of them. To treat it, you must first diagnose it. For our purpose let’s label the first problem in rural apologetics: common sense vs anti-intellectualism.
One of the first distinctions that might go unnoticed in rural apologetics is common sense vs anti-intellectualism.
Anti-intellectualism, the resistance of loving the Lord with our minds, is prevalent in the American Church as a whole. It’d be easy just to assume that all churches suffer from this in the same way. But, that’d be false. Anti-intellectualism looks different in rural churches than in their sister churches in metro America.
The reality of rural anti-intellectualism
It’s true that anti-intellectualism is just as real in rural American churches though. Emotionalism replaced Biblical faith a long time ago in many middle American churches.
Emotionalism skips the first two steps in favor of experience. The truth is that truth has taken a back seat to emotion and experience, even in rural churches. That change occurred after the 2nd Great Awakening and the influence of Finneyism to an otherwise orthodox Southern Church.
Before the 2nd Great Awakening, the churches of the South were mostly conservative, confessional churches that placed emphasis on Creedal Christianity. For them, their faith was at least propositional and was based on knowing what was true about Christ. But, as the United States grew westward into and past the Appalachians, it became more difficult for the circuit riding preachers to make their rounds. It was also difficult for the people in this vast frontier to pay them. So they began using their own, less educated preachers. The became Baptists and Methodists by necessity because the more rigid denominations encouraged educated preachers.
The 2nd Great Awakening began in the late 18th century and continued into early to mid 19th century. Most of its ‘theology’ emanated from a person named Charles Finney.
Finney preached what we now call anti-intellectualism. He intentionally replaced confessional Christianity with emotional Christianity. Read more about this from Michael Horton.
The nuance of anti-intellectualism in rural churches doesn’t rest completely on Charles Finney though. It lies in an understanding of common sense.
The virtue of Common Sense
In rural America common sense is a virtue. It is a guide to truth and a measure of it as well. People with common sense are regarded as wise while people without it are not.
Common sense is inherent, as far as most rural folks are concerned. You either have it or you don’t. It is usually viewed as sufficient as well. If you have enough common sense, you can do just about anything, they might say.
Common sense prohibition
Although those things may be true about most people, this attitude prohibits the desire to learn difficult concepts like those found in apologetics. Wise folk already posses enough knowledge due to their grasp of common sense, right?
In fact, the preference of common sense over learning spiritual truth shows up in a common axiom around rural communities. “He’s too heavenly minded to do any earthly good.” How’s that for anti-intellectual?
The way in
Obviously, that dog won’t hunt. But how do you get a person like that to buy into apologetics?
That’s easy. If you want someone to value apologetics enough to practice it or listen to it, make it common sense.
Now technically, common sense is background knowledge. It’s not necessarily transcendent. But, as far as most country folk are concerned, it ought to be.
Common sense transcendence?
Many apologetic arguments are arguments for transcendence. People have an innate sense of right and wrong. Concepts like non- contradiction are transcendent. People understand the law of causality. These things can be very loosely defined as common sense.
The trick is to make your arguments look that way. Rural folk will be more enticed by a common sense approach. It doubles the work but it also doubles the return. Turning highly intellectual apologetics into common sense for common folks is a worthwhile investment.
No Nonsense approach
Trust me. I made the mistake of disregarding that nuance in favor of drinking from an apologetics fire hydrant. I won’t do it again.
I forgot my purpose. Its easy for someone with a passion for apologetics to do that. When we do what we teach becomes nonsense.
We ought not intend to make everyone have the same passion for apologetics that we have. Our interest ought not be the creation of a classroom full of Classicists. We merely need to equip folks to be ready to give a reason for the hope they have in Jesus.
If that’s what you want for your church, remember the first battle of rural apologetics: common sense vs anti-intellectualism.