A primer: Cultural apologetics…

Mars Hill Audio--Vol 118

Living in a post-Christian culture comes with a host of challenges, many of which are not easily noticed.  This is our native habitat.  It’s what we’re used to.  But the “taken-for-granteds” of contemporary culture may not be as innocent or neutral as we might imagine, even when we do notice.


Guarding against the cultural conformity that the apostle Paul warns of in Romans 12 requires the ability to see—the ability to see and to understand the cultural encroachments of everyday life.  But seeing and knowing aren’t enough!


Cultural commentator Ken Myers is an invaluable resource for helping us with the seeing and the knowing.  He also encourages us to “live more deliberately” so that we can avoid “being tossed by every new wind of cultural fashion.”


Christian cultural engagement is not simply a matter of product placement, of making sure we get our message out. We are interested in how life is lived, not just in what people believe, and so we should be attentive to how the Gospel fully lived out would result in certain patterns of cultural life rather than others. Because the Gospel calls us to total discipleship, thereby regarding all aspects of our life as occasions to honor God’s order in creation, we cannot afford to conform to cultural disorder. …


“Cultural apologetics” is the term Myers uses for summing up the Christian’s task of seeing, understanding, and living deliberately in a culture that would shape us in ways contrary to Scripture.  In June 2005, in his role as host and producer of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal, Ken wrote a wonderful short essay on cultural apologetics—an essay that doubled as a fundraising letter for Mars Hill Audio.


Here are a few excerpts that helpfully clarify the challenge of cultural apologetics.


The term “cultural apologetics” needs a little … explanation. Traditional apologetics is concerned with making arguments to defend Christian truth claims, and has often addressed challenges to Christian belief coming from philosophical and other more intellectual sources. The term “cultural apologetics” has been used to refer to systematic efforts to advance the plausibility of Christian claims in light of the messages communicated through dominant cultural institutions, including films, popular music, literature, art, and the mass media. So while traditional apologists would critique the challenges to the Christian faith advanced in the writings of certain philosophers, cultural apologists might look instead at the sound bite philosophies embedded in the lyrics of popular songs, the plots of popular movies, or even the slogans in advertising (“Have It Your Way,” “You Deserve a Break Today,” “Just Do It”). …


It is from the apostle Peter that the Church receives the most succinct mandate for the general vocation to apologetics. In the third chapter of his first letter, Peter urges believers to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” The Greek word in that verse for “defense” is “apologia,” which is, of course, where we get our word apologetics. Peter is concerned that we are able to offer a reason for hope, which has led some Christians to embrace a more rationalistic form of defending hope than the apostle might have had in mind.


It is useful to remember the context in which Peter urges us to be ready to defend our faith. It is part of the concluding passage of this first epistle, in a section of the letter that begins by urging readers to exhibit unity in thought, sympathy for one another, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Peter warns us not to be vengeful, and to be willing to suffer for the sake of righteousness. And when we offer a defense for our faith, we are to do so “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”


The task of apologetics is not, then, just a matter of better arguments, but it is also a matter of the right sort of character. The faith is to be defended not because we deserve to be vindicated and delivered from the world’s mistaken mockery, but because Christ deserves our witness. Not only is our message Christocentric, but so is our motivation, our method, and our manners.


When we are defending the truth of the Gospel, we are not lobbying on behalf of an abstract philosophy or ideology. We are not simply commending a body of ideas to our contemporaries. We are instead revealing the deepest reality of the cosmos, a reality that is the touchstone for all of life. This is not simply the truth that we affirm, but the truth we strive to live by, indeed the truth all human beings were created to live by. And so Peter admonishes us to make sure that the pattern of our living is at least as sound as the shape of our arguments. …


The task of understanding our culture is absolutely essential so that we can defend the Gospel. We need to know from what direction attacks on the credibility of our beliefs are coming. But understanding our culture is even more important for life after evangelism. In addition to the obstacles it presents to basic Christian belief, our culture also conveys pervasive and subtle challenges to Christian faithfulness. So it is important for us not simply to be able to rebut the errors of bad thinking, but to identify the ways we believers have unwittingly conformed the shape of our lives to the patterns of practice and affection encouraged by the culture around us, and thus have come to embrace a mentality, a sensibility, an array of deeply held assumptions about God, about Creation, and about human well-being that are contrary to those found in Scripture.


“The culture” is not simply something “out there.” Unless we live in a cave, the culture is something within and about us, in our heads, hearts, and homes. If the Biblical account of life is more than just fire insurance or a self-help system, if the Scriptures present us with a cosmic picture of all of reality that is increasingly denied by modern culture, then life after evangelism means that we have to ask ourselves how many of our own assumptions about life are the product of modern confusion or disorder instead of the product of the renewed minds that Paul commands us to pursue in Romans 12. It is tempting for believers to live with a small package of Christian assertions on top of a huge foundation of anti-Christian assumptions. We want to make Christian claims about a few things without doing the hard work of reforming our conscience and our consciousness in ways that fully honor God.


Cultural apologetics in its richest form acknowledges the symbiosis of belief, character, and cultural practice. There is a wholism about the abundant life that involves the deepest spiritual realities and the most mundane aspects of life in the body. The new creation that is breaking into the world concerns the individual’s personal communion with the Triune God as well as the formal, institutional ways of shared life in fitting patterns of work and worship, of play and commerce, of art and eating. …



Unfortunately, this essay/letter is not currently available online.  However, another of Ken’s essays on cultural apologetics is available.  In “More than Meets the Mouth Or, the Meaning of Meals,” he discusses the disordered ways our culture thinks about food and eating as a way of clarifying the task of cultural apologetics.


But the best resource for cultural apologetics is the remarkable MARS HILL AUDIO Journal.  As host and producer, Ken writes that the purpose of his work is to provide assistance to “Christians who desire to move from thoughtless consumption of contemporary culture to a vantage point of thoughtful engagement.”




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One Response to “A primer: Cultural apologetics…”

  1. Mike, Thanks for this blog. I really like the way Mr. Meyers put it when he said,

    “It is tempting for believers to live with a small package of Christian assertions on top of a huge foundation of anti-Christian assumptions. We want to make Christian claims about a few things without doing the hard work of reforming our conscience and our consciousness in ways that fully honor God.”

    Well said Mr. Myers!! My the Lord help me to examine my “foundation” for anti-Christian assumptions.