Why We Need Urban Apologetics
JUNE 19, 2021
by Eric Mason
Urban apologetics is doing the work of sharing the gospel by giving an answer and a defense of Christianity to Black people in light of the intellectual, emotional, and ethnic identity concerns of minority communities. It is giving Black people a reason for the hope of the gospel amidst the cultural, historical, spiritual, and theological barriers Blacks have to the Christian faith. And at the core of urban apologetics is a restoration of the imago dei. Racial injustice and inequity have created a complex need to affirm humanity while challenging human sinful pride. Scripture demands that we treat all people as bearers of God’s image (Gen. 1:26–27; James 3:9).
Urban apologetics also seeks to speak truth into a world that has become characterized by lies. We live in a world of bootleg truth where Black Religious Identity Cults (BRICs) peddle pieces of the truth or promote material they try to pass off as truth. Because many people haven’t learned to recognize truth from error, the real from the fake, they believe the lies. They have nothing to compare it to. Most of the ideologies or cults out there have a foundation in the Judeo-Christian worldview. They approach their rejections of Christianity and their framing of so-called truth in light of the Christian story; urban apologetics seeks to demonstrate that only Christianity proves to be reasonable and true as a worldview.
Urban apologetics also dispels and addresses the multitude of urban leg- ends, historical myths, theological fallacies, exegetical improprieties, scientific misnomers, sociological revisionism, spiritual synchronism, and reductionist views of Christianity that exist in the Black community. Much of what we combat in urban apologetics are arguments that were once popular in previous generations and are now reemerging with an ethnic slant. For example, we’re seeing a reemergence of the theory that Christianity is a copy of an Egyptian religion—an issue that was addressed and dispelled decades ago.14
Because the Black community deeply distrusts white people and European ideas, many Blacks tend to be easily swayed by any suggestion of white corruption, and Christianity is an easy target. When BRICs suggest that Christianity is a white religion instituted by white Europeans, many Blacks believe them. Yet in reality, Christianity spread from Jerusalem to Africa and then to Europe. Christianity’s headquarters were in Alexandria, Egypt well before Christendom formed in Rome.
The willingness of people to believe that Europeans spread Christianity to Africa highlights an even bigger issue. As Thomas C. Oden explains in his book How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind,
Modern intellectual historians have become too accustomed to the easy premise that whatever Africa learned, it learned from Europe. In the case of seminal Neoplatonism, however, its trajectory from Africa to Europe (a south-to-north movement) is textually clear. But why is it so easy to forget or dismiss this trajectory?
Erroneous beliefs about the origins of Christianity in Africa can be traced to the undercurrent of racism we see in both secular and Christian scholarship. As more Blacks were educated in the Western world, it wasn’t long before that prejudice began to be exposed. As I mentioned earlier, in my own historical studies of Cush (the Black African kingdom along the Nile to the immediate south of Egypt) and the role that the Cushites played in the biblical world, I’ve encountered a lingering racial bias within the academy, which is still dominated by white scholars. What do I mean by a racial bias? I am not referring to the blatant racial prejudice that was relatively common in the historical/religious scholarship of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although many of these works are still in print and being used. Instead, what we encounter today is a subconscious or subtle racial bias—often unintentional, but real nonetheless. This racial bias is something that permeates all facets of society, including Christian historical scholarship, and it has created great challenges for African Americans’ efforts to share the gospel with other Blacks. Subconscious and complicit racism has blighted the fields of harvests in the Black community. Today we fight racism in the world and in the church, contend with Blacks who play into whiteness by denying racism, and resist the mystery cults and Black ideologies that are destroying our communities. Urban apologetics is not an easy task. We have our work cut out for us!