The Challenge of Defending the Faith in the Inner City

Traditional apologetics has struggled to address the theological issues of my urban community.

It was hot in Camden. Our church’s evangelism team had stopped on a street known colloquially as the “Heroin Highway” because of its reputation for attracting drug addicts, prostitutes, and violent crime. Hoping to keep our neighbors cool on a recent humid afternoon, we had packed coolers with Italian ice and chilled water to distribute to passers-by. Eager to start conversations with residents about faith, we set up our refreshment table just a few blocks away from our church. Within minutes, residents began flocking to our makeshift refreshment stand.

One older gentleman was particularly friendly. After reaching into the cooler for a beverage, he walked towards me and we shook hands.

“What brought y’all out here today?” he asked me.

Sensing the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I began to share about the faith which had inspired our church’s visit. But as I continued, his friendly demeanor became contentious.

“This is why I can’t stand you stupid n***as,” he stepped forward, and gave me a poke in the chest. “You don’t know anything about your history. Don’t you know that Christianity is a white man’s religion? You’re just regurgitating his racist rhetoric!”

I listened to his frustrations for several minutes before I pushed his hand away.

“You’re wrong,” I said. (I’d heard these claims before and had grown accustomed to hostile exchanges.) “Christianity started in the Middle East, and the gospel traveled to Egypt and Ethiopia the same year that Jesus rose from the dead. Frankly, many of the earliest theologians were from Africa.”

Unsatisfied with my answers, he pelted me with questions for the next 30 ...

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