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Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Urban Apologetics" (Christopher W. Brooks)

TITLE: Urban Apologetics: Answering Challenges to Faith for Urban Believers
AUTHOR: Christopher W. Brooks
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014, (176 pages.)

It is already hard enough for the majority to try to fix things. For democratic societies in which the majority usually gets their way, the challenges for fixing the problems in society still exist. If such is the case, then what hope is there for minority groups? Worse, how can well meaning Christian groups (in the minority) bring meaning and encouragement to share the gospel of truth in a difficult secular climate? Senior Pastor of the Evangel Ministries in Detroit, Christopher Brooks believes otherwise. Focusing on the urban Christian and the apologetics student, three things are essential for what Brooks call, "Urban Apologetics" or standing up for the gospel in the city. Firstly, it is not a mere intellectual issue that requires belief but demands practice. It must mean something to the contemporary realities and challenges of every age. Such a intellectual-practice will be necessary for deal with the "dual challenges" of society: Connecting and Conversing. Secondly, we must engage culture and not be easily buried by the apathy and aggression non-Christian groups aim at gospel people. The Church simply cannot remain indifferent or discouraged. Thirdly, they must recognize the opportunities to present the truth and reality of the gospel in a world that is seeking it. Arguing for a strategy of "One Message, Diverse Methods," the way to counter postmodernity is to go beyond didactic approaches or scientific arguments. Try what Brooks called, "preacher-poets" where the gospel is embodied in what we say and do, but also in what we can incarnate the gospel by not giving easy glib answers, not surrendering to the tough questions of life, but to embody the reason and hope of the gospel. This book is essentially about how Brooks go about presenting the gospel in meaningful ways in an urban culture.

First things first, before making major decisions, one needs to consult God. One needs also to consult one's spouse in discerning the will of God. One needs to be convicted that the gospel is not something intellectualized but incarnated. The big question Brooks gives us is this: "Is Christ still relevant in our urban centers?" He points out a new category of people called the "apatheist," that asserts nothing and denies nothing. It is a modern expression of indifference. The problem is the disconnect between how people view the Bible and how they see it relate to the issues of our age. He shares about the gospel story of three travelers: the priest who represents the religious establishment; the Levite who represents the race of people; and the Samaritan who was despised by both Jews and the religious establishment. Yet, it was the third that did something good. Truth must be accompanied by love. It is not enough to convince a person. One needs to relate to the person about his/her struggles.

Readers are reminded that apologetics and evangelism are two sides of the same coin: The Great Commission. Apologetics try to clear the rubble and the barriers to belief. Evangelism gives it "meaning and direction." The key to effectiveness is to learn to answer the questions people raise, but to relate to people where they are, and not from our ivory tour positions of arrogance. I like the three B's of relational evangelism: 1) Boulevard strategy that learns and understands the unique inroads of a person's spiritual life; 2) Beliefs strategy that gets people to talk about themselves to go beyond labels; 3) Barriers strategy that combines both apologetics and evangelism to deal with why people are stuck against Christianity in the first place. Brooks show us that there are many ethical issues in our world in which Christian principles can speak into, even when the relativist, the postmodernist, and groups tend to be dismissive of Christianity. The urban apologist must stand their ground, not to be easily deterred but to remember that most unbelievers reject not the Christian Message but the lifestyle of imperfect messengers of the gospel. The Christian needs to know that true ethics is grounded in the gospel.

In the gospel, we see the beauty of life often pitted against importance of rights. We need to show compassion to those who choose abortion. The key is not right arguments but "ethical guidelines" of Scripture. Intellectually, it boils down to the definition of what point does life first began. Connect Christ's love to the person struggling with the question of abortion.  Brooks tackles the difficult issues of our culture such as gay rights, religious pluralism, social justice, the broken family, and many more. In Christ, we concern ourselves beyond conversionism toward commitment to discipleship. We learn about the five fundamental pillars of family that honours marriage, children, covenant, reflecting God's glory, and playing our roles respectfully. I appreciate the thought about teens leaving their Christian heritage not because of the church doing a poor job, but because the family has absconded on her responsibilities to bring up children in Christlike ways. The Church can do her part by helping family members understand the narrative of each family. Brooks laments the state of marriages in minority communities saying that they are on "life support." Modeling comes before messaging. On religious pluralism, we have been very successful in promoting inclusivism, and the diversity of multiple beliefs, allowing individual beliefs to flourish. The challenge is on how to navigate truth in a pluralistic world without infringing on the basic rights of people. Christians need to know what they believe. They need the conviction of faith, the compassion of Christ, and the commission of the gospel. Brooks list the four major uncertainties of our age to get us going:
  1. Is there a God and if yes, what He looks like?
  2. What does it mean to be human?
  3. What's wrong with the world and why is it so wrong?
  4. What is the solution?
Likewise, he mentions the four major objections used by skeptics and gives tips on how to approach them. On social justice, Brooks gives us six major contemporary issues to keep in touch with.
  1. Economic fairness
  2. Educational equality
  3. Immigration reform
  4. Sanctify of life
  5. Women's Rights
  6. Religious Equality
Passionately written, Brooks is concerned primarily with the minority black position and aims to speak into the needs of this community that is increasingly feeling hopeless about their future and faith. Readers from other communities need not fret even though Brooks devote large chunks of the book to deal with issues unique to that community, like how to respond to advocates of the "Moorish Science Temple of America," the different branches of Islamic religions, "Black Hebrew Israelites," and so on. We can participate in supporting the minority communities Brooks speaks about by understanding their predicament and to pray with them. The Christian community is already a fragmented into many groups, and the last thing we need is further dispersion. What we need is the common love of Jesus being incarnated in diverse ways. Though Detroit is some distance away from where many of us live in, the principles of engagement, of encountering, and of encouragement remains the same. For this to happen, not only must the Christian be anchored on the foundational promises of Christ, he/she needs to incarnate the gospel in contemporary ways. The Church and the Christian community, and the individual need to work together in parenting, partnering, and praying. Whether it is Detroit, London, Tokyo, New York, Hong Kong, or any other major cities in the world, the Great Commission needs to be obeyed. What Brooks has done for Detriot, the Holy Spirit had first initiated in Jerusalem. In the book of Acts, we see how the gospel moved to Judea, Samaria, and the outer parts of the Roman Empire. Many of these places in the first century are major cities. We need to wake up to do our part, and with Brooks' work in the MidWest as an example, may we all learn to shine in our respective cities we live in. The specifics may be different but the principles are the same. Read this book and be the "preacher-poets" that we are called to be. For some of us, urban apologetics may very well be urgent apologetics.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Academic in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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