Jesus said go unto all the world. It looks like that’d be golden. But, for some folks it needs explication. Its become passé to describe American culture as something other than monolithic. But don’t ignore what seems to be obvious to many of us. There are at least two Americas. Each represents several micro-cultures and a one size fits all apologetic doesn’t work. That’s why I say, don’t move to the city. Stay rural!
City to city?
The Gospel Coalition has been effective at refocusing churches on the Gospel. Praise God for what they’ve accomplished. But, when it comes to how to contextualize ministry to effectively speak truth to culture, there has been a significant amount of tunnel vision.
Tim Keller likes to plead, “move to the city and stay in the city”. The foundation of their approach is based upon the proposition that American culture emanates and incubates in metropolitan hubs. Therefore, to reach America we must work from inside those hubs using a message that’s geared toward them.
I can understand why they think that way. If you live in a place long enough, it begins to become the lens you see everything through. The culture around a person often takes on an aspect of reality while other cultures become less real.
I’ve lived in the same general region all my life. Its easy for me to misunderstand or even discount the cultural differences of other regions. Even when I’m aware of that, it’s still hard to walk a mile in a pair a Manhattan shoes.
I also understand the love they have for their neighbors. They have a passion to reach the people who actually live adjacent to them. After all, isn’t that what a neighbor is?
I feel the same way about the people I live near. It just makes sense to have a certain degree of love for people you might know that’s distinct from the love you have for people who are less knowable.
There are differences in regional cultures inside of the US that dictate differences in an effective apologetics approach.Regardless of race, socio-economic differences, or gender, people in middle America approach life differently than do coastal and metropolitan Americans. The idea that the metropolitan culture of NY City or either of the left-coasts is predominant ignores the evidence. As the coastal and city cultures move leftward, the middle is becoming more entrenched. Its not slowly amalgamating.
To say that the Bible promotes an evangelistic effort with a preference to the city takes a lot of hermeneutical gymnastics and doesn’t seem to consider the Great Commission and the story of the Early Church. All the world must include the middle and although churches were established in metro Roman Empire, it’s not as if the Apostles were silent as they traveled between cities and/or continents. It is not appropriate to neglect middle-American culture(s) in favor of the culture(s) of the coasts or cities. Both are worthy and in need of the Gospel.
Now, I’d like to encourage you who live in rural America but dream about turning your rural ministry into a metro focused hub. Stop! You’re wishing for something God has not given you. As Allistair Begg said once, start preaching to the congregation you have and stop wishing for the one you don’t.
The same goes for apologetics. We ought not pretend our rural, agrarian congregations share the same questions, conversations, or encounters as our metropolitan brothers and sisters. They’re challenged in very different ways than their metropolitan counterparts. If you’ve been assuming otherwise, it’s time to get in the trenches and expose yourself to their world.
In my experience, simply asking folks what their encounters are like can give you a new perspective.
Recently, I found a group of adults had encounters that were mostly focused on misunderstandings of Christian doctrines rather than God’s existence. After we used RC Sprouls primer on apologetics Defending Your Faith, we didn’t really scratch their itch. But, now they have a springboard to converse about why the Bible ought to be our final authority. That settles many theological questions, especially matters of orthodoxy.
It also segues nicely into my next point.
Move from the foundation to the more difficult.
Apologetics uses arguments to convince folks that certain things are true about reality. Polemics is a branch of apologetics that argues for the truth about doctrinal and theological truths.
But, even theological arguments depend on certain basic apologetics truths. Simply put, no theological argument holds water if God does not exist or the Bible is not his word. Who cares what the Bible says about theology or ethics if it is merely men’s opinions?
On the other hand, if God exists and the Bible is his revelation, its message is infinitely valuable.
One, two, ?
Now, there’s two things you can practice in the country (or anywhere) that will help move your rural church to a more successful apologetics ministry. Get to know the people and begin with the basics.
That is not the end. To consider that the end is an empty practice. The next problem highlights a difficulty unique to rural apologetics.
Engaging Rural Culture
How do you get people to use what they’ve learned in apologetics when they live in rural areas? Rural folk often keep to themselves. Privacy remains paramount in rural America. Manners are also practiced. They are the liturgy of community and a dance that must be learned to be an effective communicator.
But, the first thing rural folk have to learn is apologetics is not an academic exercise only profitable for so-called intellectuals. Rural communities are similar to suburbs and metro communities. Both are made of believers and non-believers. All of whom have questions and none have all the answers.
But we are called to be ready for them where we are not where we wished we were.
So, even with its differences and unique challenges, apologetics in the country is needed. So stay rural my friend. (Corny)