Christopher W. Brooks. Urban Apologetics: Why the Gospel is Good News for the City. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014. 176 pp. $16.99.
I have had a passion for apologetics for as long as I’ve been a Christian; this is probably mainly due to the fact that I was a staunch atheist my whole life prior to the Lord radically saving me during my undergraduate studies. I had to wrestle immediately with all the intellectual problems I had personally had with theism in general and Christianity specifically, and coupled with my immediate passion for evangelism, I soon found that my own inquiries were very helpful for my witnessing relationships. I didn’t realize at the time that this is because I was in a highly intellectual environment (which had been my general context my whole life). I know how to navigate conversations with explicitly non/anti-Christian people who bring up the expected objections concerning cosmology, the veracity of Scripture, the deity of Christ, etc…but how do you do evangelism in a context in which most profess to be Christian, where intellectual/philosophical objections are generally absent but a whole host of Lordship issues are present that have you wondering whether someone’s really “saved”?
Given this background, I’m sure it’s entirely obvious why I gravitated toward this new book, Urban Apologetics. Every book I’ve ever read on apologetics, every lecture I’ve ever heard on the topic, every conversation I’ve had on apologetics has had an academic bent, addressing the defense of the Christian faith from classical, evidential, and presuppositional perspectives. Urban Apologetics is entirely unique, as Carl F. Ellis Jr. notes in the foreword: “Traditional apologetics has largely remained silent on many forms of controversy and unbelief associated with contemporary realities of the ‘hood.’ Urban Apologetics is a welcome contribution to filling this gap” (8). Christopher Brooks wrote this book to debunk the myth that there’s no audience for urban apologetics and no space for urban apologists in the conversation, and to “bring about a greater connection between urban Christians and those who do the work of apologetics and theology” (15). He wrote this book both for urban Christians desiring to evangelize their own communities, and those outside that culture who desire to reach inner cities with the gospel.
For those of us who are entirely foreign to life in the inner city and the unique challenges and objections to Christianity therein, the following is very illuminating:
Certainly, there is a need for Christians who are trained in the academic disciplines of theology, archeology, and textual criticism, but the vast majority of situations one encounters in urban ministry settings have to do with the moral reservations many struggle with concerning their faith. In the inner city, there is a collective heart cry that questions if God is just and if He can be trusted. There is also the brute utilitarian skepticism that questions the viability and workability of Christian ethics. Simply put, many have come to the harsh conclusion that if it doesn’t work, then no matter how smart and systematic our answers are, they are a waste of time. This means the message urban apologists present to their audiences must be biblical, relevant, and workable.
Urban Apologetics proceeds to give an introduction to several issues in the context of the inner city: ethics, abortion, sexuality, family, religious pluralism, and social justice. Brooks illuminates the situation in the inner city, provides a biblical view of the issue, and gives suggestions for engaging the issue in an inner-city context. While the issues highlighted are more prevalent in the inner city, they are generally relevant everywhere in our culture. Therefore, while this book is especially helpful for those seeking insight into how to connect with people for the sake of the gospel the inner city, it’s enlightening for all as a primer on the cultural/ethical issues of our day.
My only quibble with this book actually has to do with the title, and maybe this is just because of my cultural background (intellectual, “white suburbia”) and the issues I’ve always associated with apologetics. While I think all the insight and issues addressed in this book are helpful, I see them as issues of biblical ethics and worldview, not apologetics. I firmly believe in the importance of the social/cultural issues highlighted in Urban Apologetics and the need for Christians to be able to speak biblically and convincingly on these issues, engaging not just the mind but also the heart. I believe all the issues addressed can and should be connected to the gospel. However, I just think that labeling the book with “apologetics” is misleading because issues of sanctity of life, sexuality, etc. are discipleship issues for Christians, not barriers you have to get over in order to share the gospel with someone (this is ignoring the dimension of cultural engagement and only speaking from the perspective of apologetics and evangelism. this is also not saying that these cultural/ethical issues should be ignored if they come up in evangelism). Apologetics should exist for the purpose of evangelism, and a biblical ethic/worldview cannot be formed before someone is born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Again, I think this book is very helpful for Christians who are familiar with traditional apologetics but are looking for an introduction to addressing the cultural/social issues of our day, and especially for those looking for a window into the inner city. I also recognize that perhaps my discomfort with labeling this book and these issues with “apologetic” has to do with my personal tradition and convictions in the area of apologetics and theology. For those who disagree with me, please know that my heart is to keep the main thing the main thing, and for the gospel to not be lost in our apologetic endeavors. Then again, traditional apologetics has this problem too; you can talk theodicy theoretically until you’re blue in the face, and never actually share the gospel and call someone to repentance. So in the end, may our goal in all our apologetic endeavors be for the sake of the “simplicity” of declaring the gospel, for faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of Christ.
Thanks to Kregel Academic for providing a copy of this book for an honest review!