Step #2: Master Cultural Apologetics and Know the Law
Master Cultural Apologetics
As you engage your community, you will encounter common questions and misconceptions about the Christian faith. You should be prepared to confidently and persuasively answer them.
Here’s what I mean by the term “cultural apologetics”: a knowledge of and skill around communicating Christian truth that creates confidence and sparks winsome engagement with our neighbors and communities. Our focus is on giving church leaders and committed Christians talking points that they can use when they interact with non-believers in their communities.
Five Common Questions
- The Church and the Crusades, Slavery and Discrimination. I often hear that the church should just shut up about anything moral because of the church’s complicity in the Crusades, slavery and systemic discrimination in the American South. I sometime refer to this problem as the “60s problem” because these events occurred, at least in part, in the 1260s, the 1860s and the 1960s.
- The Christian Sexual Ethic. This one needs little explanation. Christ’s teachings concerning marriage, sexuality and gender are under deep scrutiny in broader culture. However, I have found that many people are unfamiliar with or have significant misconceptions about the Christian sexual ethic.
- The Problem of Pain, Suffering and Evil. In a recent national survey, Americans were asked this question: “If you could ask God only one question and you knew he would give you an answer, what would you ask?” The most common response was this: “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?” We must be prepared to answer this question.
- The Pseudo-Clash of Science and Religion. Science is the state religion these days, and scientists are the new priests. For example, whenever someone in the post-modern world needs to say something with authority, they cite science and scientists. Unfortunately, one of the chief dogmas of this new state “religion” is that the Christian faith conflicts with it. We should be prepared to rebut this misconception.
- Christ’s Exclusive Claim. Nothing sets off a firestorm faster these days than making an exclusive claim. We have all been trained to accept the relativistic argument over the exclusive claim. Something can be true for you, but you better not claim it is true for everyone. That, my friend, will merit you a spoonful of censure from the cultural nannies. We should be prepared to explain the essential benefits of Christ’s exclusive claim.
For a full discussion of these topics and talking points, consider picking up a copy of The Bold Church Strategy: Serving Our Way Back to the Center of the City, which is available in print and Kindle versions.
Know the Law
The church in the United States still enjoys significant freedoms and is largely unregulated in its ministry activities. So, we need to shift our mindset from quietly “chilled” to vigilantly confident. That said, we should be informed and vigilant about legal standards affecting the following (these areas affect efforts to live out the Gospel in local communities and the public square):
Five Common Issues
- Land Use. First, land use is consistently ranked as one of the top five reasons churches end up in court. As our society secularizes or at least pluralizes, cash-strapped municipalities are taking a hard look at tax-exempt churches and questioning whether they are necessary for vibrant economic growth.
- Tax Exemption. We should be concerned about tax exemption—but not in the way that is commonly discussed. I often hear questions about tax exemption in connection to “political” speech, but churches are generally free to speak about the cultural and “political” issues of our day. Instead, I am concerned about the housing allowance and property tax exemptions.
- Education. Legal restrictions in education act as a bar to a comprehensive witness inside the walls of the public high school and university. There is no way to sugar coat this eviction-in-principle from the all-important area of education. And, in an increasingly plural society, there is little chance that these rulings will be overturned. So, we must learn how to navigate these legal standards.
- The Church’s Role as Conscience. Legal restrictions affect the church’s role as conscience. There are two sub-issues here: (1) the influence of the church on government and (2) religious speech. Legal standards sometimes prohibit or at least “chill” the church from carrying out its historic role as the nation’s conscience.
- The Marketplace. Legal restrictions in the marketplace also affect the church’s public witness. The marketplace is critical because it is the place where most Americans spend most of their time. If we are not free to live out our faith at our work, then we are not truly free.
For a more detailed analysis of these five topics, I explain them in detail in Chapter 6 of The Bold Church Strategy , which is available here.
Attorneys often call their work the “practice of law” because it is skill that is honed and developed over time. The same is true with legal confidence for church leaders and other Christians. I am not advocating that you attend a one-time seminar (though that is helpful). Rather, I encourage church leaders and other committed Christians to develop a habit of staying informed about the latest relevant legal developments so they can confidently impact their communities and the public square.
On to Step #3:
Step #2 is to master cultural apologetics and to know the law. Step #3 is to build relationships with elected officials. On to Step #3!
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