In his book The Younger Evangelicals, Professor Robert E. Webber makes an attempt to capture the paradigm shifts occurring in our generation. While reading, I was amazed at the accuracy in his description. The way our generation works is drastically different from even the generation just prior to ours. The way we evangelize, worship and lead differ from the models of previous ages.
Webber also caught the essence of our generation. It is an attempt to fulfill our mission as the Church in a way similar to that laid down by the apostles. It is a desire to experience God in more than just a text book form. We want it new, fresh, organic and filled with mystery. Unlike the generations before, where everything rested on scientific verification and rationalistic argumentation, we desire to experience a God that we cannot put in a box. We want something alive with power. We want a God that is interactive in even the smallest aspects of our lives. We want a God that keeps us in awe, yet at the same time is not overwhelming. This is exactly the God that the Christian faith gives us and this is what we are trying to recover.
Please do not mistake me. I am not promoting an ignorant Christianity, nor am I asking for some sort of hosh-posh collaboration of religions that will make Christianity appeal to the masses. I do believe Christianity is coherent. I frequently read authors such as Ravi Zacharias, Lee Strobel, J.P. Moreland, William Craig and Norman Geisler. I enjoy the study of apologetics (the defense of the Christian faith) and I am hoping to some day have a doctoral degree in philosophy. With this in mind, I am saying that logic has its limitations and we must find a balance if we are going to experience God in a holistic way that captures the totality of our humanity.
About a year ago, one of my professors at Bible college asked me if I would be interested in helping at his church in San Francisco. He had just recently been placed as the pastor and I would join him in the city by the Bay without much knowledge of what I was about to face. We both had grown up in conservative fundamentalist churches. I must say I am thankful though for my upbringing. I realized the importance of God’s Word and because of my strict upbringing, I became fully aware of what grace really is in essence because I had lived so legalistically. Unfortunately, my upbringing and the conservative college I have been attending could not provide me with the tools for bringing the Gospel to a place like San Francisco where Christianity is very much taboo and seen as intolerant—maybe rightfully so.
I was appointed as the young adult pastor at the time. There wasn’t much of a young adult group to begin with, so it would have to begin from scratch. I began passing out flyers at the campus of San Francisco State University (SFSU). These flyers invited the students to attend a weekly discussion group that actually turned into an hour of me using rational arguments to defend Christianity. Near the end of my first nine months there I hadn’t even made a dent in the university. Because I was elected to hold the office of student body president at my college, I resigned as young adult pastor and my close friend took the ministry. Suddenly it started to grow. The difference in methods was evident.
We had been making an attempt to bring people to Christ through empirical evidence and rational. This may not be the case in places within the Bible Belt, but San Francisco is not the city for this method. The slow but steady growth that began can be attributed to what Robert E. Webber calls “embodied apologetics.”
Embodied apologetics is not a denial of truth as some may see it. It doesn’t even water down truth, and yes, truth is still important. The difference between rationalistic apologetics and embodied apologetics is that rationalistic apologetics attempts to bring people to Christ through a scientific method using empirical evidence. Embodied apologetics on the other hand “embodies” or “takes on” the truth of Christianity and lives it out. This is especially appealing when done in community. My friend Josh, though he still has many doubts about Christianity, was attracted to our group because he sensed that our lives had “stability.” We had something constant and absolute in our lives—Jesus Christ. Furthermore, our community of young believers began creating an atmosphere for growing and knowing Christ despite differences, faults and doubts. Christianity embodies the whole human experience including intellect and emotion and in a post-modern world the opportunities are many.
Once again, I strongly believe there is still a place for rational evidence supporting Christianity and some will only be able to come to faith in Christ if they have an intellectual barrier removed for them. What I am attempting to convey here is for us to not make the mistake of the past and limit Christianity to logic. The same principle applies in our current cultural situation. We must live out what we believe but simply arguing and fighting will hurt our cause especially considering we are not here to create a culture but to grow the church. We must embody truth, live it out, and show how real Jesus Christ is in our lives.