Cultural Engagement and Apologetics
In this episode, Mikel Del Rosario and Drs. Darrell Bock and Josh Chatraw discuss cultural engagement, focusing on how to strategically interact with a variety of cultures while defending the faith.
- Chatraw’s work at the Center for Public Christianity
- What is cultural engagement?
- Reacting to hot-button issues
- Inside-out approach to apologetics
- Engaging with a post-Christian culture
- Engaging with world religions
- Principles of engagement
- Importance of listening
- Relationship of apologetics to cultural engagement
- Importance of cultural awareness
- Importance of relational dimension
- Advice for leaders in this area
Welcome to The Table Podcast, where we discuss issues of God and culture. Brought to you by Dallas Theological Seminary.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I'm Mikel Del Rosario, cultural engagement manager here at the Hendricks Center. And our topic today is one that's near and dear to my heart. Its cultural engagement, and Christian apologetics.
I have two experts in both areas with me, joining me today via Zoom. First guest today is Josh Chatraw, the director of the Center for Public Christianity, and the resident theologian at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Welcome to the show.
Good to be here. Thanks for having me.
Mikel Del Rosario:
And second guest is somebody who you know well if you listen to The Table often. It's Dr. Darrell Bock. Darrell is the executive director of cultural engagement, and senior research professor here at Dallas Theological Seminary. Welcome, Darrell.
My pleasure, Mikel.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Now, what's really cool to me is that you guys have both worked on both apologetics, and cultural engagement books, and some of them together. So that's pretty awesome that you've joined us on the show today. One of the first ones that I ever read that you guys did together was this, Truth in the Culture of Doubt. And of course, there's the green one, the Truth Matters as well, which is a similar kind of book.
But that got me interested in what you're doing, Josh, when I saw you were working with Darrell in this area of cultural engagement. Tell us a little bit about the Center for Public Christianity, and what that's all about.
Yeah, well, the heartbeat of the center is actually a fellows program, which is a nine month program where we work with people, typically late 20s, 30s, early 40s, who are young professionals in the city here in Raleigh. And it's really a discipleship program for post Christianity. For folks who are future leaders in the city working secular jobs in various fields, and they're trying to put their Christian faith together with that, and dealing with cultural issues, dealing with work faith issues.
And so it's this nine month CrossFit version of a discipleship program. And then the center is an outgrowth from that, where we're really hosting, through our alumni, we're at about 100 now, people who have gone through the program over the last five years, who are hosting big public conversations within the city. We're trying to connect up networks of Christians as well, who are trying to do this in different areas. So we're taking that fellows program, and then opening the door up to the city, and inviting non Christians as well as Christians into what we're doing by having speakers, and conversations on different cultural issues.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Wow. That interesting. Yeah, not your typical thing that people think about. Actually, people have a lot of interesting ideas about what cultural engagement is. All three of us work in cultural engagement, but I'm really interested to hear how you would explain what cultural engagement is to someone who asks you, "What is that, Josh?”
Yeah, well, a lot of my … I don't know if you guys have had this, I've had the experience where a lot of my colleagues, and friends don't actually like the terminology too much. So I have to do this quite a bit. It's almost I have to give an apologetic for that terminology. And I think … And maybe I'll start with what sometimes people ask me is, "Hey, Josh, culture is like the air. So what does it mean to engage with the culture? I mean, that's like engaging the air we're all breathing."
And I can understand that critique, and that question. What I say is, first we need to understand what culture is. And culture, I define it with three levels. One is, within culture, people have worldviews, things that they articulate within particular cultures. On the other hand culture can work like air, which is, culture gives us a framework that we don't normally think about. It's not ideas we've articulated as much as we just take for granted. It seems like common sense.
But then this third component of culture are institutions, and artifacts, the things we make, the material parts of culture. And so when I'm talking about cultural engagement, I'm talking about thinking through these different areas, the ideas, the artifacts, the institutions that make up culture, the worldviews that make up a culture.
And just like a missionary would when we send missionaries out to foreign places, we say, "Go understand the culture as Paul did in Athens, so you can speak to it, and interact with people." We have to do the same thing, especially as culture is shifting in America. And so it's understanding these three different dimensions, and then being able to speak the Gospel, and then speak from a Christian understanding of different issues in light of where the culture is.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Darrell, how would you explain what cultural engagement is, maybe with more of an emphasis on the engagement part? What's it mean to engage?
Well, I'm not going to leave the culture part, because part of the challenge here is, is that culture as a singular, is probably a misnomer. What we have are cultures. We have a combination of cultures, we have different worldviews, we have different institutions that represent different positions.
And so the idea that our culture is singular is actually a little bit misleading. It's a diversity that we're dealing with, it's pluralism that we're dealing with. So when you're talking about cultural engagement, you're talking about engaging these variety of cultural perspectives that are differently framed, and being aware of how to move with alacrity, with skill between them as you move.
And then you've got the institutional dimensions that Josh mentioned as well as just the framing, the air of what culture is that is moving and shifting in terms of what's being emphasized, what's highlighted, how things have changed, that kind of thing, which is undertaken such an accelerated movement in a variety of levels and layers that the church has been challenged.
It's gone from being … This is Duane Litfin, former president at Wheaton College's expression. The church has gone from being the home team in America to being, and this is a biblical image now, in exile, or being less than central, more marginalized. So how do you cope with that?
And then you've got the whole shift in worldviews between a predominantly Judeo-Christian backdrop vis-a-vis the more often secularized and non theological approaches to life that are surrounding us. How do you make those moves? And so engagement is simply being aware of how … I compare cultural engagement to plate tectonics, okay. In geography, you know how you get plate tectonics, and they rub against each other, and eventually the build up friction, you get earthquakes.
So cultural engagement is being aware of the tensions that the plate tectonics of life are throwing at us, because of these different combinations of views that are surrounding us because they are who our neighbors are, and where they're coming from. And engagement is simply the ability to be aware of that, to stay abreast of that, and to know how to address that.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. You've used the illustration of reading and reacting before, a sports metaphor. Explain how we need to be able to read and react in terms of some of these hot button issues.
Well, this'll be fun for Josh, because he's a soccer player. So I know he'll get this, although it's a football metaphor primarily. But reading and reacting is knowing on the one hand … I'll use football as an example. When you have a football play, it's drawn up in a certain way. You know that the guard is going to pull. And if you're the running back, you're waiting for the break to come to stop the hole to go through.
But when the play actually happens, you aren't going to run it the way it's drawn on the board. You're going to read and react to what's happening in front of you, and then you're going to respond based upon what's taking place. And so the ability of engaging is the ability to read and react, it's the ability to understand what's in front of you, and then know how to respond to it, how to engage with it.
And in particular, in cultural engagement, what's very important as a first step is the ability to listen, the ability to hear, the ability to sense what's going on around you. That's the reading part. And then the reaction has to do not just with what you bring in terms of content, but the tone with which you respond. All those things are important in engagement.
So engagement is a very challenging thing. And it's become more challenging the less monolithic our culture has become, as we become more aware, globally, what's going on, as we're connected globally. I like to say the world is bigger and smaller simultaneously. We are aware of more people, and there are more people here, and there are more views out there. But we're also more tightly connected to those views than we used to be. All of that impacts the way in which we engage.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Mm-hmm. Yeah, I'm part of a number of podcast groups now outside the Christian community. And when I explain what we do on the show, I say, "You know those things that you're not supposed to talk about at parties like politics, and religion, and stuff like that, we go there."
And that helps people understand what we're doing. And many of them are intrigued by it like, "Really? And you guys are Christians, and you're engaging in this way?" Especially since a lot of people feel like Christians don't understand them, and they wish Christians would try to take a step back and understand them before engaging.
When the Truth Matters book came out, Darrell, I like how you used to say, "Truth matters, but tone matters too." That was cool. Josh's latest book, Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age, talks about this inside out approach. Josh, could you explain that to us? What's this inside out approach to doing apologetics and cultural engagement?
Yeah, well, if I can … And this is going to be on the fly. But since we're using a sports analogies, I might try to work on in here, Darrell, just try to match you, is yeah, so one of the things I saw in evangelism is that it was like we were playing soccer games, but we were expecting to …
In a soccer game, right, you blow the whistle, and the coach is over there, and he's not really doing too much, right. In football, the coach, you huddle up, you give plays. And I think our evangelism was working with, "Here's the play, football." When we're actually playing a soccer game. Which means you need to know what you're doing. But if you're just going to try to run off a play sheet, you're expecting to call the coach just to give you a track, and that's going to work in a 21st century post-Christianity, it's not going to go too well.
And yet, at the same time, people need to learn a way to approach these evangelistic conversations. So we need apologetics. But a five steps to go from truth to the resurrection often times doesn't actually play out, because one of the challenges, as we've been alluding to, or Darrell has alluded to is that it's not just that people don't think Christianity is true, or irrational, that is still part of the problem. But the other part now is that they don't think it's good or beautiful.
So then how do we approach this knowing we can't just go, "Here are five arguments that proves Christianity." And then we can walk away. First of all, I don't think that's how arguments actually work. I don't think it's going to give us a course of 100% of proof anyway. But what it means is, how do we talk to someone who's coming from, as Darrell again has mentioned, very different framework. We're in a pluralistic society.
So to start with stepping inside their story. Asking them questions. "Hey, tell me your story." Is a great place to start. And if you listen closely, you will hear things, and ask good questions like where they're getting meaning, where they're getting their value, what they're living for, what their moral code is.
In other words, I think these are some of the core things of what it means to be human. And so we learn to talk to people about what it means to be human by asking them questions and entering their story. As we do that, what often comes out is, you hear some things that we can begin to dig deeper in, and ask questions on.
And because I think you're going to hear things that are, on one hand, you will need to eventually challenge. But you'll also hear some aspirations that you can affirm. You can say, "Yes, that's good. You want justice in the world, that's a good thing. And yet, are we going to get it in the way you're going about it?" Or, "Yes, that's good that you value your relationships, but have you adopted a world view that actually undermines flourishing relationships?”
And then to be able to transition in conversations to say, "This is how the gospel, this is how Christianity makes sense of that. This is how the Christian story …" So we're taking them from … We're going from inside their story, to Christianity, and saying, "This is how Christianity actually leads to true humanity, to true flourishing."
So it's a way that says, "Hey, yes, we do need to challenge. But are there opportunities here where we can say, 'You know what? Christianity is actually what you're after, you're just going about it in all the wrong ways. You're going about life in the wrong ways.'?" It's an Augustinian approach where Augustine famously said, "We all have these restless hearts. And we're searching for God, but we're searching in the wrong places.”
And so I'm wanting to pick up on these existential things that people feel in order to get to, hopefully, the more traditional apologetics, yes. But I'm wanting to use inside out to deal with the questions of goodness, and beauty, and then come on the back door on cases for the resurrection and other things.
Now, sometimes you don't have to do that, you can go straight to making a case for the resurrection, and that's fine too, I'm very practical. If you can do that, if they're ready to listen, go for it. But often find that in a post Christian society, we have to start further back.
Let me introduce an analogy. You know how when you learn a foreign language, you go into the chapter and here's the dialogue, okay. And so here's how you order a hamburger in Spanish, or French, or German, whatever language you're … Okay. So you have taken the class, and you walk in, and you're very, very confident about what you're going to do, because you've got all the vocabulary and everything.
You walk into the restaurant, you ask the first question, which is exactly how your dialogue began. And then you get a response, and the response wasn't in your dialogue. The response is something else. And you're on your own. Now, you're on your own in the language. That's cultural engagement.
Cultural engagement is, you build, with your apologetics, et cetera, a toolbox of things that you're aware of, and that you've learned, and that is a certain way to respond. But in the actual conversation, it very rarely goes in the way, and in the sequence in which you learned it. And so you have to be flexible in dealing with that.
And you've got another obstacle, which Josh has already alluded to, but let me develop it a little more. And that is, if you're in a seminary, or you're in a church, or you're in a small group, theology is at the center of what you do. It's at the center of your world view, it's at the center of how you think. The moment you get in your car and drive away from the church or your small group, or your seminary, and you go out into the world, you're going to be interacting with people for whom theology may not even be a category. It may be nothing. There may be nothing there. "What is your theology?" "I don't have a theology."
So how do you have a conversation with someone who's starting place, who's world view is so differently oriented than your own? And how do you bring them into a world that they don't even occupy, or at least, they think they don't even occupy? That's a challenge of cultural engagement.
And so learning how to build that bridge, now there are two ways to build that bridge. I can build that bridge by insisting that there is a theological world that they need to come into. Or I can build that bridge by starting with wherever they're starting from, and then working to build those pieces back into a theology. That's what Josh is talking about in inside out. You start with where the person is coming from, what their aspirations are, how they see the world, et cetera.
And then you take your world view as a template against that, and you look for those things that allow them to step towards a theological world, and a way of theologically thinking. And introduce those as moments for pause for their reflection. And that's underneath what's happening in the conversations you're having as you engage.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Mm-hmm. Yeah, very true. I think there's a … Oh, go ahead, Josh.
I was just going to add, and for some who might be listening and think, "Well, hang on, why would we … Are we giving up the game by starting where they're at?" I think that could be an objection to what you hear me and Darrell saying. Are we giving up the game?
And I would say certainly not. We always have to start somewhere with somebody. And for me as I'm thinking about this, we have to have this deep and rich theology, rooted in the gospel, that we're … That's our framework, that's the center of this. And yet, when we're talking to somebody, I think that that same gospel drives us to step into their world, and say, "How do we make these connections?"
So the gospel is the center of this. And yet, certainly when we're talking to someone, we've got to step into their world. You've got to start somewhere. And so we're looking for places to start, which is different than saying, "Hey, we're just going to end where they're at. Or we're just trying to make this more palatable." That's not it at all. But we're trying to get them to understand. And that means we've got to, at least in a conversation, step into their world in order to be able to communicate.
So let me make a contrast in the Book of Acts with how this works, because I think you can see it pretty vividly. If you go to the speech that Peter makes in Acts 2, he's dealing with a Jewish audience. They know the Bible, they know the promises of God. It’s literally littered with Scriptural references. I mean, the whole speech in Acts 2 is one scripture reference after another. It's built around four Old Testament Hebrew scripture texts. Okay.
Come to the Areopagus, come to Mars Hill, where the audience doesn't know shmots about the Bible. Now, shmots is a technical term, okay. It means they don't know anything about the Bible. They don't know Genesis from Malachi, they don't know anything about the promise of God.
And what happens there? Well, he takes them, he tells them a storyline that's based upon how they are worshiping. And when it comes to the crucial point to make his theological transition, he doesn't cite a Bible verse, he cites one of their own poets. And he makes his move into the theological word through an aspiration, an expression that comes out of their own culture.
I think that contrast teaches us a lot about how to approach people I their background. If they're aware of the Scripture, you're having one kind of conversation. But if they're not aware of the Scripture, you're having another kind of conversation. But both conversations are very much in touch with where the audience is coming from as they engage.
And developing that ability, which means that it's not one size fits all, that there is going to be variation in how you handle the approach, is really the key to developing wisdom in engagement. Developing what we have called in the center, cultural intelligence, not just cultural engagement. But actually doing it intelligently with the sermon, and judgment about how to go, and when to make your move. Go back to the sports metaphor, when you see the hole and cut up field.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Mm-hmm. Yeah. Darrell has a book called Cultural Intelligence as well, which we'll link to in the show notes, which you can check out as well. I was going to say earlier, Josh, that I think for us, who are seminary trained type people, maybe what really grabbed ahold of us was something theological, was something philosophical, say, for you, a classical argument for the existence of God moving from the Kalam argument, all the way up to the moral argument, and then the resurrection. That just really resonated with you.
But like Darrell was saying, for most people, that's not where they're at. And so it's almost the idea of loving our neighbors, looking out for the needs of others before your own, saying … As missionaries, if we were going to be missionaries like you were saying, Josh, we would be thinking like that. It's just natural to be training people in their cultural studies to think, "How would you engage with someone who's not like you?"
I guess sometimes we tend to forget that when we're at home, so to speak. One of the things we talk about at the Center too, that Darrell has mentioned is the challenge of turning your truth meter down. Not off, but down. So that when somebody says something that's different than what you believe, you don't feel like, "Well, now I have to defend the entire contents of the whole Christian worldview because somebody disagrees with something I believe." But we can actually hold it, save it, and then be good listeners.
A great example of this, Darrell, I think is what we did on the show with the whole world religion series, where you had a series of three questions that you asked people. Tell us a little bit about that, and how that cultural engagement looks in terms of world religious conversation.
Well, again, it's an illustration of trying start where the person is coming from. Let me tell you where the origins of these questions came from. I was in Chiang Mai, in Thailand. We were doing a tour of the town. And we had a day off. And when you walk through that town, it's full of Buddhist temples.
I knew next to nothing about Buddhism. And so I'm walking these temples, and I'm watching people engage in their worship. And all of a sudden, the idea hit me, "I wonder what these people think they're doing. And I wonder why they're attracted to this." It was a straight question of curiosity.
And so when I came back, I said, "Let's do a series on world religions. But let's not do it the way it's normally done." Which is to take … Usually, the Bible says about religion and God, and here's what this religion says about religion and God. No. That's valuable. I'm not undercutting that. That's very valuable stuff.
I said, "Let's go at this a different way. Let's ask three questions." The first is, what does this religion believe? Is it even a religion? Because in some cases, we were dealing with Eastern philosophies that aren't really religion, although they tend to have a religious devotional element to them. Okay. So what do they believe?
And then secondly, what's the Velcro factor? What I call the Velcro. What makes someone attracted to this? What do they think they get out? What is it that they believe it gives them that makes them dedicate their life to it? And this is something more than, "I was born in the part of the world where this religion appears." No, this is what caused them to adhere it? What's the Velcro factor?
And the third question is, how does the gospel speak to that Velcro factor? How does the gospel speak into the spiritual space that they're already occupying? And what does it have to say about it? And that's where the contents that we didn't pursue tend to come into the conversation.
But pursuing those three questions means that you're trying to understand what someone else's spiritual makeup is. What their spiritual GPS is. I call it getting a spiritual GPS reading on someone. And if you'll understand that, then you know how to speak into that space.
And so a lot of what Josh is doing in his writing is helping us understand how and where that person is coming from. What their spiritual story is. What he's calling their spiritual story, I'm calling their spiritual GPS reading. We're pursuing the same thing, fundamentally.
And when you do that, you're looking for … It's really important in listening to make this distinction, which Christians sometimes confuse, which is, it's one thing to make an effort to understand someone. And in your effort to understand someone, and have some level of empathy in that understanding, that is not the same as agreeing with them. We often mix the two.
Okay, when we mix the two, we get into trouble, because I really can't assess where someone is until I understand where they are coming from. This is why listening is so important. And so a style of engagement that has listening as a very important core component is fundamental to doing a good job of engaging when you've got the variety of worldviews that we are coping with in a post-Christian, in a post modern world.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Mm-hmm. Well, yeah, there are so many places we can go with that. These places where we do try to engage … These are hot button issues where people are just afraid to go, just because they're afraid it's going to blow up. What are some principles that can guide us in engaging in some of these hot button issues. And, Josh, if you could just maybe pick one. Here's an area where Christians are typically afraid to engage, or they've tried, and it's just blown up, and they don't know what to do. What's one of those areas? And what are some of the tips you would give someone as they walk into engagement.
Yeah, well, obviously the one that's been huge recently, and has been an issue for a long time, but has become more tense in the last six months has been race. And so there's a variety of reasons that we're not very good at talking … For the most part, why evangelical church hasn't been very good at talking about this. And right now, part of the issues is, we want to label things so we don't have to think about it.
So instead of listening, well, we can create a label, we can cast them off as not Christian, because they are X, Y, or Z, and then we don't have to listen, and maybe do some evaluating, and self evaluation.
I think some principles is, number one is treat other people how you'd want to be treated. I mean, we typically don't like to be labeled. We typically want people to hear us out when we speak. And yet we often times aren't very good about doing the same to others. I suggest to my fellows that … I'm borrowing this from Alan Jacobs at Baylor, over there near you guys. But he calls it the five minute rule, which he says, "Give it five minutes."
And I think that's a good principle. Before you … He makes the argument that, if you're really smart, you're going to have a lot of trouble with what me and Darrell are talking about. Because what happens is, when someone is talking, if you're really smart, what happens is, you're already thinking five reasons they're wrong, and why my view that I've always had, or I'm at least coming into this conversation with, is right.
And when you do that, you shut down, and you're just in self protection mode. And so if you can give it five minutes, and know that you are prone to do that, you might just learn something. And you might actually find out that you are right, or you haven't changed your mind, and be more persuasive in the end to this person you're talking to, because at least you understand them, and haven't written them off, and assumed, "Oh, I've heard this argument before." So I think the five minute rule is a pretty good rule. Some of us might need 10 minutes. I probably need 10 minutes. But just the five minute rule.
I think another rule is, before you post it, before you go public, talk to somebody who is fair minded, who is likely not to agree with you. And if you don't know anybody like that, go spend your time finding people out, and finding a community, or other people out like that before you post something. Because if you don't know people like that, you're probably just posting it to your own crowd, and they're going to affirm you, and you'll get likes, and you'll feel better about yourself. But you're not really persuading anyone.
So why don't you go, before you post it, and run it by somebody else, and see what they think. I think that's a good rule. And then cultivate those types of relationships so that you actually have people who disagree with you, that you can run things by.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. I was a communication major as an undergrad in college. And the more I work in cultural engagement, the more I think, "You know what, we're communication coaches in some way." Just the idea of listening to somebody so that you're not formulating your rebuttal while they're talking, but you can actually listen to understand, which is a huge, huge thing to teach people, just because we've forgotten how to do that.
And then you bring the whole social media aspect to this by talking about posting. It's a knee jerk reaction that so many of us have to post things. And sometimes you see people just totally ripping on other people, and they don't even know them or where they're coming from on social media. But that's the world that we've seen recently. Again, so many places we can go with this.
Can I add something? Because I think there's … Besides the five minute rule, which is a great idea, here's another test. I tell people it's pretty easy to determine instantly whether you're what I call a rebutter or a listener. And that is, what are you doing while someone is talking to you? Are you formulating that rebuttal? Okay. This is where the turning the doctoral meter down comes in.
Okay, that's not going away. You're going to be thinking while you're hearing, "I'm not sure I agree with that. And here's why." But here's the test. The test is, are you able, after you've taken your five minutes, and you've listened, or in Josh's case, 10, okay, and you've listened, are you able to reformulate what has been said to you in different words, but in such a way that the person who said it to you can say, "Yeah, you heard what I was saying."?
Okay. That is the pursuit of understanding, okay. Remember, understanding is not necessarily agreement. That's just saying, "You heard what I said to you." And I want you to notice what goes on in the dynamic. You're actually engaged in a conversation when you do that. When you rebut, you're not engaged in a conversation. You think you're engaged in a conversation, but you're actually not engaged in a conversation. You're only interested in getting your point across, okay. That's actually not a conversation.
So what you want to do is, you want to be able to mesh the assessment skills which come to you naturally, and the conversational skills, which will actually advance a conversation, and give a … When you show the respect of someone, of communicating to them, "I'm working very hard to listen and to try and understand you." You open the door for them to do the same to you. You lead by example.
And so it changes the dynamic of the conversation when the pursuit isn't simply, "Well, I want you to agree with me." But rather the pursuit is, "I want us to make an effort to understand one another." Two completely different ways to pursue a conversation. And then once you get everything on the table that you have achieved an understanding about where each of you is coming from, you're actually in a much better position to assess the nature of the differences that you have.
And again, you have a conversation. But now you've had it in a sequentially … How do I say this? Functional way that actually gives the opportunity not just for you to dig in, but actually perhaps even to learn some things in the process which are helpful to you. Things that may help you understand how to make your own argument, as well as things that you need to understand because you have blind spots.
Because the other thing that we all need to realize as we enter conversations is, none of us has the gift of our missions. So there are things for us to learn in the conversations that we have.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Mm-hmm. Yeah. Well, my head is just spinning with all kinds of different ways we could go with this. When I was first introduced to what we were doing at the Center, Darrell, in 2012, you had just started this podcast. And there was a concern that we would run out of topics, if you remember that. But as you've seen, people who have been listening for the past eight years now, there's a lot of places where we can still be engaging and helping people learn how to engage.
One of the troubles that people have, especially those who are trained in theology and apologetics is, we're trained often to respond to objections. Someone says, "There's no evidence for God." Or, "How could there be a God when there's so much evil in the world?"
We can respond to that because there's an objection. If someone's objection is, "I don't really know what Christianity is all about, I just don't like it for some reason." We don't know where to go with that unless we what? Unless we listen, unless we draw them out, unless we engage in that conversation, not a debate, right.
And so another question to throw out to both of you guys in terms of apologetics is, is it helpful to see apologetics as one little area underneath this umbrella of cultural engagement? Is it a subsection, like it's a subsection of theology? What would you say to that, Josh?
Yeah. That's a good question. Well, I see apologetics as a culminating discipline. That's the way I'd put it. And what I mean by that is, it really incorporates … It’s kind of like preaching in that, in preaching, you're taking church history next to Jesus, and theology, and philosophy, and preaching, well, goodness gracious, is such a challenge. But it has this practical, "Hey, you got…" In the church I'm at now, because it's Anglican right now, it's 25 minutes, right. They don’t even give you the 40 minute Baptist. I give you 25 minutes. Here you go.
And I think apologetics is … It's very similar, because you need to have church history, you need to have philosophy, you need to understand sociology, and culture, you need to have a working anthropology, how are people persuaded? So much of that goes into preaching as well. Except, you can't script it out.
Mikel Del Rosario:
So you can't have a manuscript in your hand. And so I view it as a culminating discipline that certainly needs to include cultural analysis. And so that's not a neat answer of maybe of how it relates to cultural engagement. I will say this, in certain ways … I'll throw this out there, and then you guys can tell me I'm wrong. But in certain ways, I think all apologetics is cultural apologetics.
And what I mean by that is, I'm never talking to someone in the abstract. I'm never talking to someone in the abstract. I'm always talking to someone with particular objections, whose part of a particular culture, who has a narrative and a backstory that is embedded in a particular time.
Mikel Del Rosario:
So I'm talking to either a non-Christian Buddhist, or a non-Christian new atheist, or … So there's always, we're cultural beings. And so that is inescapably part of apologetics. And so there's been some kind of … Lots of discussion on this thing called cultural apologetics. But I'm wanting to say really all of apologetics is cultural apologetics in that sense.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Yeah, that's a really good point too about, there's no cookie cutter way to approach someone. And you see this a lot in world religion, where people say, "Okay, I just read the textbook on how to engage with Muslims." And I meet a Muslim person, or a meet a Buddhist person, right.
But I mean, how many different versions of Buddhism are there is dependent on how many people you meet pretty much, right. So I'm not engaging with a Buddhist, I'm engaging with my friend, Liam, my friend John…
We're back to my foreign language illustration. I mean, basically. I mean, if you think about the point, apologetics, at least the way it's normally taught is, it's by chapters and topics. Here's the list of facts that go under whatever topic I'm looking at, that you need to be aware of and realize. Here are the four arguments for the existence of God. Here are the three reasons why the resurrection is true, et cetera. It's a nice cookie cutter list.
But when you get into a conversation, it doesn't work that way. It just doesn’t. So apology … You think of apologetics, on the one hand, it's as the content, which is what your question presupposes, I guess. But then there's the whole other element about how apologetics functions. Apologetics functions like a toolkit that you have in the background. And then depending on the problem that you have … I'm going to use a car analogy. Not that I fix cars on a regular basis. But you're trying to fix a car, and you've got your oil needs changing or whatever. Well, okay, then I know I'm going to need a certain kind of tool in order to deal with that particular circumstance that I'm faced with. And if I've got a problem getting the lug nuts to work, or whatever it is that I'm trying to work with my wrench, then I've got to think about what plan B is, that kind of thing.
So you're always … And I'm back to another image. You're always reading and reacting to what's going on around you. And as you read and react, which is an expression of cultural awareness, and cultural sensitivity, and the deeper your cultural awareness and sensitivity is, the more maneuverability you give yourself. You know how to draw into that toolkit for the particular set of combinations of things that need to be said at that particular moment, at that particular time, with that particular person.
And that's a skill that just takes time. Just like learning a language. When it goes off script, you've got to have enough in that toolbox to know how to adjust. Apologetics works the same way. So I don't know what umbrella it belongs under. I just know it's there, okay. And I need to be able to draw on it.
And I would just add to that, to use that tool analogy, I think what sometimes happens is, you can get trained in seminary by someone with a specialty. In other words, they learned how to swing a hammer. And so then everything looks like a nail.
Mikel Del Rosario:
So everything … Or well, that hammer really worked good for me … Mikel, you had referenced this before. That argument really helped me, and so I'm going to use it on everyone. And so every issue becomes a nail, and this is how we approach it. And seeing … I was using the language of cultural apologetics as … But using the … Recognizing, no, actually we need all of these tools.
So by making that proposal, I'm not saying the classical arguments can't be useful, I'm saying those are tools that we can have in our box. But learning when to pull out which tool, you have to have apologetic virtue. You have to be the right type of person, you have to have wisdom. And that's why we can't just say, "Learn Aquinas' five proofs, and there you go." Because then you're just repeating those proofs that, by the way, weren't formula … Might not play as well to somebody on the street who isn't working with the same … Who doesn't know what the cosmological argument is, or these different kind of big… Or even care.
They can't even spell the word ontology. I mean, it's a little bit like taking a … You ever try to do a Phillip screwdriver when you have a normal screw? It doesn't work. If you use the wrong tool for the situation that's in front of you, it doesn't take you anywhere. And so that's … There's a relational element. What we're saying, probably the most important thing we've been saying all the way through this time. There's a relational element to engagement that you cannot do away with. It's at the center of being effective. And if you approach these conversations without thinking about that relational dimension, you will almost surely misstep.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Yeah. I like to say that our apologetic engagement, these arguments aren't heard in a vacuum. They're not just an argument sitting there in a book. They're coming from you. And so they're wrapped up in this wrapper of your life, and who you are. And how do we engage with people? How do they see us? Do we stand for-
And you're trying to build a bridge to the other person who may or may not appreciate everything that you're bringing while you're saying it. And so if you haven't built some level of just interpersonal credibility for example, I mean, we haven't even talked about that. The ability where they will trust you.
The thing I often say in dealing with apologetics is, if people don't know you care, they won't care about your critique. I mean, its just something as simple as that. So there are relational bridges that have to be built. So the person will take on a suggestion, "Here, have you thought about this?" Well, if you haven't built a relationship, why should I think about that coming from you? I don't even know you from Adam. I don't sense you care about me, all you care about is making your point. How's that going to be effective? It isn’t.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Which ties into, again, these evangelistic, or apologetic conversations are now tied into a bigger milieu of, well, just to say it, culture war mentality, or it's an us versus them mentality. So in cultural engagement going wrong is us versus you, cultural war, and then we're coming along and saying, "Oh, yeah, but let me give you the gospel, and let me tell you why you should believe this Jesus guy."
There's a huge disconnect with that. And I think that's why the cultural issues that you guys are discussing on the show, and that we're engaging with at the center here in Raleigh, are relevant also to the evangelistic issue. If we don't care about the oppressed, and the downtrodden, and the poor community, then we're going to lose a lot of credibility to saying, "Hey, let me tell you about Jesus who cares for you." There's going to be a disconnect.
So there is a, as you just said, Mikel, this doesn't happen in a vacuum. These conversations don't happen in a vacuum. And it's why we have to be, as the church, a hospital for sinners, and care for our communities.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Josh, you mentioned earlier, right, this is a sensitive area. And a series of passages I like to draw people's attention to, they're in Isiah 1, Isiah 56, Isaiah 58, Amos 5, Micah 6, I can go to the Sermon on the Mount. They all say basically the same thing, which is God saying to his people, "If you do not care about justice, I do not care about your worship." Which tells me that that, caring about justice, is a pretty important category.
And then I like to point out, all those texts were written long before there was red, blue, or a guy named Marx, okay. And so coming centuries before that. Now, obviously we've got to get into a definition of what justice is, and how the Bible sees it, and all those kinds of questions. But the idea that we care about people made in the image of God, regardless of their nation, regardless of their race, because they're made in the image of God.
If we root our theology in Genesis 1, we are in the conversation that is a race conversation. And we've actually been there since … Where does Genesis 1 begin? In the beginning. Okay. So that automatically should open a door that's to say to Christians, "This is something I should be aware of, and sensitive to, and open about." And then you start your conversations from there.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Mm-hmm. Well, our time is rapidly coming to an end. Josh, I want to just ask you one last question about what you do in the Center. You have the pastoral side experience, and then also in the academic side. How do you see churches and ministry leaders being able to equip Christians better to think about cultural engagement and apologetics? What advice would you give?
Yeah, and just so I'm understanding the question, you're saying as far as particularly for leaders as they're walking through this. Yeah.
Mikel Del Rosario:
How can we help our people with this?
Yeah, what I tell leaders is, don't see apologetics and cultural engagement as this other thing over here, but tie it into spiritual formation. And what I mean by that is, at the heart of what's going on is, for all of us, we're swimming in this thing called culture. And culture has certain narratives that are shaping and forming us, and certain practices that are shaping and forming us.
And they're forming us, if it's not the Gospel narrative, it's forming us in ways that go away from God. Whether it's achievement culture, meritocracy, or if it's consumerism, or it's sex. And these things that aren't, in and of themselves, bad, but when they're made ultimate, and we get on the narrative that, "Hey, these things are going to ultimately satisfy me." Then even as Christians, these things become God, and they have all these impacts us and our spiritual formation.
And so what I tell leaders is, you need to not just teach people that spiritual formation is about following a bunch of rules, but about who we're worshiping, and seeing how these other kind of narratives and Gods aren't going to deliver. And make sure they see that, and they see that in a myriad of ways in culture, and how they buy into that. And once we do that, once we teach spiritual formation in this way, then we're already, or halfway there. In many ways, we're all the way there, of them being able to turn to the city now, and say, "Oh my goodness, the same things going on with my neighbors."
It's not just that Christians are obviously buying into these false narratives, and these false Gods. It's what our neighbors are doing too. And so being able to do that, to deconstruct, and be self critical is both going to make us humble as we go to our neighbors, and also we've wrestled through these things ourselves, we've seen the dead ends, and we're going to be able to talk to them about those dead ends.
So I actually see these things as something we need to tackle together, not attack on. Like, hey, grow with the Lord, and then go talk to other people about Jesus. But seeing actually, you're going to be equipped to change how people actually change is also how we change is how other people change. The Gospel is for everybody. So that's how I … The vision I want leaders to have for how to approach this.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Yeah, the humility piece is so important. That takes it away for this culture war of, let's fight everyone, to, we're in a spiritual battle actually, and our enemies are not other people, and we demolish arguments, and we get around to that. But not other people. Darrell, I'm going to give you the last word on this. How can churches help people better think about apologetics and cultural engagement?
Well, I think a first step is they need to teach them how to be good listeners, and how to listen and hear things that they may not be comfortable hearing. And then how to respond.
So I mean, a lot of what we've been talking about is this relational dimension of what we're dealing with. There's content for sure. And there's plenty of content out there for people to get their hands around, and get their minds around. That's not a problem.
The place where the church struggles is how to relationally handle that material in a context in which people don't have the categories that we are arguing are very important to possess in order to understand what it is that's being said.
And so the ability to build those bridges, teaching how to build those bridges, and how to think through that, and how to engage, not wall ourself off from hearing that stuff, or thinking about it, but actually learning how to engage it is a very, very important step. And it's challenging, because it's uncomfortable for people. And one thing people don't like is to be uncomfortable. But unfortunately, part of the calling is, I like to say, the great commission is not go into the church and make disciples. The great commission is go into the world and make disciples.
And so that is part of our most fundamental call as people of God, to be engaged with those around us who don't agree with us, and who need what we're offering. And our belief, our deeply held belief is, is that if they will embrace what is that's being offered, God will do a work in their life to really make their life infinitely better. We can never forget that.
Mikel Del Rosario:
That's awesome. Well, thank you, Darrell, and thank you, Josh, for being on the show as well.
Mikel Del Rosario:
Darrell and I authored a series of articles on dialogical apologetics, and difficult spiritual conversations in Bibliotheca Sacra. We'll link to those in the show notes as well. Thank you so much for joining us today on The Table Podcast. We hope that you will subscribe to the show if you found this helpful. And we hope to see you again next time here on The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture.
Thanks for listening to The Table Podcast. For more podcasts like this one, visit dts.edu/thetable. Dallas Theological Seminary. Teach truth, love well.
About the Contributors
Dr. Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including well-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus, and work in cultural engagement as host of the seminary’s Table Podcasts. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) from 2000–2001, served as a consulting editor for Christianity Today, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College and Chosen People Ministries. His articles appear in leading publications. He is often an expert for the media on NT issues. Dr. Bock has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas. When traveling overseas, he will tune into the current game involving his favorite teams from Houston—live—even in the wee hours of the morning. Married for over 40 years to Sally, he is a proud father of two daughters and a son and is also a grandfather.
Joshua Chatraw is the Director for New City Fellows and is the Resident Theologian at Holy Trinity Church in Raleigh North Carolina. He is also a fellow with the Center for Pastor Theologians. Before his current positions, he served in pastoral ministry and as full-time professor of theology.
Mikel Del Rosario (ThM, 2016; PhD, 2022) is Associate Professor of Bible and Theology at Moody Bible Institute. While at DTS, he served as project manager for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center, producing and hosting The Table podcast. You can find him online at ApologeticsGuy.com, the Apologetics Guy YouTube channel, and The Apologetics Guy Show podcast.