Southern Culture can be summed up in one word - Church. The communities in the south are centered around the local Church. During the civil rights era, leaders met at local African American churches and many of the civil rights leaders were pastors.
In the 21st century, it is still the case that the culture in the south is centered around going to church, though this is changing. But this being the case, it may come as a surprise that Apologetics is not something often discussed or taught from the pulpits or the Sunday School classrooms. I have often asked myself why this is the case. As I peruse the schedules of many apologetics speakers, I see dates on the west coast, east coast, and the mid west, but few if any in the southeastern US.
There are many possible reasons for this, but we will talk about just a few. I conducted an very informal poll asking how important the evidence for Christianity was to southern Christians. Overwhelmingly, those polled believed it was very important. So what gives?
The church takes its' marching orders from the top. If members aren't hearing apologetics from the pulpit, they will assume it's not very important or may not even know there is actual evidence for our faith. If a particular pastor doesn't believe apologetics are necessary, the congregation will usually follow suit, which brings us to another point:
Christianity is an historical faith. It is based on a real historical event - the resurrection of Jesus. But many see faith as a blind endeavor. But it becomes obvious that faith isn't blind faith or it wouldn't need the qualifier. Faith comes from the Greek word pistis 'belief' while the verb is pisteo 'believe'. It basically means to be persuaded to trust. Yet most Christians think they are simply to trust without any reasons. Many take the story of Thomas to mean you don't need evidence.
24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” - John 20:24-29
When we read the words of Jesus to Thomas, we often do not read it in its' full context.
A biblical understanding of faith should bring us to realize that we put our trust in Christ based on being persuaded by the evidence, though as J. Warner Wallace has stated, many of us are accidental Christians.
3. Emotional response
The 20th century saw an end to the intellectual leadership of the faith and a beginning to a purely emotional response to Christianity. Think about many of the services we attend. You will hear things like "we just want to feel your Spirit LORD" or "LORD, let us feel your presence". Many of us talk of feeling the LORD moving in our lives. But our faith no longer seems to appeal to our intellect as well. Jesus said to:
"Love the LORD your God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength".
Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias said "What I believe in my heart must make sense in my mind". Christian apologetics is nothing new. The first apologists were students of the apostles and their students. Irenaeus - who was a student of Polycarp - wrote Against Heresies in response to Gnosticism. CS Lewis was stated "Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered". Tertullian wrote in the early 3rd century that Christians were called "haters of mankind". Haters gonna hate, right? It seems there truly is nothing new under the sun - including Christians use of apologetic arguments to deal with objections to the faith. Yet the purely emotional response to our faith has lead to bad and heretical teachings that have become part of the popular Christian book sales we see today.
This is the part that makes us uneasy. Apologetics requires study. It doesn't necessarily require a Christian to go to seminary (unless the LORD has so called you). There are a plethora of books on apologetics from very great and learned authors designed to help the average Joe Christian understand and navigate the objections they hear from their non Christian friends while strengthening their own faith. But, as will all Christian disciples such as prayer, bible reading, etc. - it requires effort. I have heard many say that it's too hard or they just don't understand that stuff. But most of us didn't understand Math until we went to class and did our homework. We must remember that we are commanded to give a defense of Christianity when asked.
"but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" 1 Peter 3:15
It's not an option. We must be prepared to give a defense.
Christianity in the south is slowly becoming a minority as more and more people move south who have very different worldviews. If we as Christian southerners hope to affect the culture for Christ, we will have to begin putting our noses to the grindstone and begin studying. How can we begin doing this?
This year, instead of doing the typical youth conference, invite an apologetics speaker who is gifted in the area of youth such as Sean McDowell or Brett Kunkle.
At this year's women's conference, invite speakers such as Mary Jo Sharp, Alisa Childers, Natasha Crain, or Claudia Kalmikov.
Host an apologetics conference of your own with some great speakers such as J. Warner Wallace, Greg Koukl, Frank Turek, Bobby Conway, Alan Shelmon, Richard Howe, Scott Klusendorf, and a host of others.
There are more available apologetics resources than every before and there are probably gifted people in your local church who would love to head up such a project.
Well, what are you waiting for? Get started!