How do we preach in the church when we know we exist as a minority culture?
There was a time when this wasn’t a question, a time not all that long ago. But the truth is that this is not the culture in which we, the American church, live. Some lip service is paid to religion. A majority of the population still self-identifies as Christian. Church attendance is still high relative to other places in the “Christian” West. But the culture-forming and worldview-forming mechanisms of culture are not merely neutral toward Christian beliefs, but are decidedly unfriendly toward them.
This is not to say that “everything is against us,” but it is to say that the culture-forming mechanisms of our culture – primary and university schooling, media outlets, political discourse, public and popular art (including movies, TV and music), etc. – have assumptions built into their way of talking and thinking that, by their very nature, rule out biblical Christian faith.
When culture presumes non-Christian conclusions, then biblical Christian faith can be constantly undermined without ever being directly referenced. The result is a population that knows they do not find the claim of Christ persuasive; they feel they could never find it persuasive, but they hardly know why. And rather than knowing an argument against it, they tend merely to label Christian faith in accordance with the cultural messages they hear. It is labeled: anti-scientific, anti-intellectual, passé, misogynistic, homophobic, fundamentalist, close-minded, and so on.
So what does this mean for preaching? It means that these presumptions that make Christian faith unthinkable and unpersuasive need to be dragged out into the open. Preachers must first acknowledge the feeling, the vague sense of persuasiveness. Then they must deconstruct how the feeling comes about – psychologically, sociologically, scientifically or philosophically. They must deconstruct those reasons and construct biblical reasons.
This is the only normal way people come to believe things they thought were unthinkable and unpersuasive before. And this is why modern sermons in the United States, if they are going to be evangelistic and build deeply persuaded Christian believers who live out of conviction, must contain apologetics.
Apologetics simply comes from the Greek word apologia. It is the word used to describe giving a reason in defense, usually in a court of law. It is giving reasons, a defense, of what we believe in the gospel, and that verbal defense is meant to go along with the example of a Christ-motivated life.
This is why the normal churchgoer in our present day must not only tolerate but embrace and encourage the presence of apologetics in the Sunday sermon. With apologetics present, the church can be an especially meaningful place to bring people who do not believe. Where else will they hear a rational defense for a Christ-centered view of the world? There is almost nowhere else in our culture where this is found, and here, in the community of Christ, it must be done. It must be done as an act of evangelism itself. It must also be done to equip all believers to give a reason for the hope in Christ that is within them.