We regularly receive books from publishers for possible reviews. Many of them are good and by authors we are familiar with on topics we know well and can commend the new resource. On rare occasions we receive a book that is something more. As I sat down to read Urban Apologetics: Answering Challenges to Faith for Urban Believers by Christopher W. Brooks (Kregel Publications, April 2014, 176 pages, $13.99) I have to admit, I was expecting something quite different than I discovered as I read. Apologetics tends to operate on the periphery of the church. It is, as I have written in the past, the ugly red-headed step child of the church. It is difficult to interest pastors in bringing apologetics into the life of the church and difficult to help those involved in apologetics to understand the plight of the pastor or recognize that apologetics is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Christopher Brooks is a pastor-apologist. It is not a long book. At 176 pages I was able to read it in a day. It is profound in its implications. There is nothing Christopher has said that we haven’t written about in our Journal or blog but it was carefully and soulfully written. Although it the target audience has with urban ministry in mind, it is applicable and adaptable in suburban ministry as well.
Not being a fan of Carl Ellis, Jr. who wrote the Introduction, I was somewhat apprehensive as I began reading. I think that was good for I began each chapter with skepticism and was relieved to find a very biblically balanced, simple and well-articulated presentation of the issue and answers to difficult questions in 9 chapters:
1. Christ & the City: Is the Christian Message Still Relevant?
2. Christ & Apologetics and Evangelism: The Two-Sided Coin
3. Christ & Morality: Ethics
4. Christ & Life: Abortion
5. Christ & Sexuality
6. Christ & the Family
7. Christ & Religious Pluralism
8. Christ & Social Justice
9. Christ and the Role of Urban Apologetics in the Local Church.
In chapter 2 Christopher Brooks addresses the disconnect and/or tension between apologists and pastors:
When I first became active in apologetics, I quickly realized that in the minds of most urban pastors this type of ministry was an unnecessary pursuit. To many of my peers, apologetics seemed far too detached and abstract from the church work they were doing on a daily basis. Although I disagreed with their assessment, I did see some genuine concern in their critique. I eventually came to understand that the heart of the problem lies in the fact that, in our day, apologetics has unfortunately been stripped from its broader biblical purpose, which is evangelism.
In a way these leaders were right; if apologetics is disconnected from evangelism it is nothing but a waste of time. Apologetics and evangelism act as two sides of the same coin. From a biblical perspective they are inseparable. In order for apologetics to have any virtue or spiritual value, it must be intentionally and eternally tied to evangelism. This applies to both the full-time apologetics speaker and the urban pastor. Apart from evangelism , apologetics is aimless and potentially dangerous because it lacks the heart of the gospel, which it to being people to Christ! Apologetics for purely academic purposes should be avoided at all cost.(p. 40)
It was good for me to hear what we at MCOI (and ministries we work with) being articulated by a different voice, in a compelling way. His chapters on ethics, abortion, sexuality (homosexuality in particular) are kind and understandable with suggested resources for further research.
I was most apprehensive as I turned to his chapter on Social Justice (chapter 8). It is an emotionally charged topic which tends to send opposing sides into armed encampments with little desire for compromise. That includes yours truly. Again, Christopher Brooks navigated the mine field of the issues involved. He hit the nail squarely on the head when he wrote:
Economic justice in America over the past 150 years has been deeply influenced by the doctrines of socialism and communism. Some have gone so far as to say that their resistance to being more involved in the fight for economic equality is due to the fact that when they hear the term “social justice” they feel that what is really being said is “socialist justice.”(p 139)
I have not heard it put so clearly before but he is exactly correct. His overview of the problem and comments on the solution are a good preliminary starting point and again, he suggests additional resources.
As you might guess, the last chapter is my personal favorite. “Christ and the Role of Urban Apologetics in the Local Church.” It could easily be a recap of many of the articles MCOI has written over the past, nearly 2 decades. Chapter 9 begins with a bit of historical discussion regarding the ministry of Martin Luther that is, as Brooks points out, “…often gets overlooked…”
In The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther, we learn what made Luther’s ministry and his local church so special: “Besides his academic work, Luther and had also assumed responsibility for the parish of Wittenbeg as a preacher. In their inseparable connectedness these two, lectern and pulpit, formed together the decisive continuum of Luther’s theological existence.” Put another way, what made Castle Church so special was Luther’s commitment to training believers to become theologically proficient and practically equipped to live out their faith in the Wittenberg context. It is precisely this type of commitment to discipleship and contextualization that is needed in every local church and in the life of every apologist.(p. 146-146)
The very next sentence is worth the price of the book:
That is to say that, every apologist needs a church and every church needs an apologist. (p. 146)
This is a book that every pastor and elder/deacon/Board of Session and every apologist and budding apologist should read!