apologetics

A Suggested Agenda for African American Apologetics

BY: CAM TRIGGS

The task of effective apologetics demands contextualization. We are called to defend the faith by giving positive arguments for the existence of God and the exclusivity of Jesus Christ (1 Peter3:15). We are also called to cast down every argument and worldly philosophy with the scandalous good news of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). However, without knowing our audience, their questions, and objections we will give answers to questions not being asked and reasons that don’t persuade the heart. Let me be clear, I am not calling for an apologetic agenda that is captive to the culture nor am I suggesting an apologetic that merely syncretizes with cultural values. I am calling for an apologetic that engages the culture, challenges the culture, and persuades the culture. This apologetic agenda cannot happen unless indigenous and sincere apologists are willing to enter the task of apologetics with a cultural lens to observe the city and its idols first (Act 17:16). Afterwards, a missional strategy must be employed to reform the church and captivate the community. In Acts 17, Paul engages the religious of Athens in the synagogue and then captivates the marketplace of ideas at the Areopagus. In this article, I would like to suggest an agenda that would engage our urban and African American context with the task of apologetics and the message of Jesus Christ.

Curriculum – Apologetics cannot happen in a vacuum disconnected from the local church. Jesus died and purchased the sheep. He is the bridegroom and the church is His bride. The local church is God’s program for evangelism of sinners and the edification of saints. Biblically based curriculums within the context of urban America are desperately needed for the church in the areas of apologetics. Why? Once again, we must address the issues, questions, and obstacles within those contexts and present them persuasively in the cultural vernacular that articulates the Gospel of Christ persuasively.

Church Planting and Revitalization- I do not have the time nor space to give an apologetic for church planting. However, it is clear that the Bible demands it and the apostle Paul modeled it (Matthew 29:18-30, Ephesians 1:3-14).  Church planting allows the people of God to engage unreached communities with the Gospel and transform communities by incarnating spirit-filled image bearers next door. Church revitalization is also pivotal.  We need urban and African American leaders to stay within the context of traditional churches to help reform, supplement, or simply contribute to this beautiful expression of the body of Christ. Let us realize both are equally important and we should not emphasize one without the other.

Theodicy- Theodicy is classically defined as the defense of God, typically relating to the Problem of Evil. The Problem of Evil poses logical, emotional, and theological reasons to refute the benevolence and omnipotence of God. With the African American tradition, this issue is extremely important and pivotal. Considering the history of our ancestors, the injustice in the past, and the injustice that still occurs today it is truly relevant for us to winsomely address the doubts, hurts, and disbelief caused by the evil we have absorbed in our communities through the weary years. As apologist, we must engage the poetic objections of James Baldwin and the scholarly work of Anthony Pinn who sincerely wrestle with not only the problem of evil but its pain as well.

Black Liberation Theology- Liberation theology is not confined to the black church, but it is prevalent. That is not to say it is more prevalent than other communities. Liberation Theology itself is found in different manifestations across denominational and institutional boundaries. Through the work of James Cone, liberal seminaries, and popularizers such as Jeremiah Wright, Liberation Theology has been present amongst the traditional black church with recognizable force. Though Black Liberation has many contributions and challenges to offer to the African American apologists, it does propose several dangers that must be addressed. For further study I highly recommend Anthony B. Bradley’s work entitled “Liberating Black Theology”.

Prosperity Theology- Again, let me be clear. The prosperity gospel is not confined to the black church; nor did it originate in the black church. Nonetheless, it sadly cannibalizes our urban and African American context. Many of the most prominent preachers and teachers in these contexts are promoters of the prosperity Gospel.  As apologist, we must expose these false teachers and false teaching with love, respect, and courage.

Cults and Religions- There are cults, religions, and even religious philosophies that exist within Hispanic, black, and urban communities that are largely overlooked by the contemporary apologetic agenda at large. Apologists committed to this context should study the doctrine, beliefs, and practices of these cults and religions while also presenting the subversive impulses found within them that are ultimately fulfilled in the Christian worldview. An African American agenda must address the religions and cults of The Five-Percent Nation, The Nation of Islam, and Black Hebrew Israelites to name a few.

Books – We need literary contributions and analysis of apologetic material from an African American and urban perspective. May the Lord raise up more African American apologist, scholars, and theologians like Carl Ellis Jr., Anthony Bradley, Bruce Fields, Jarvis Williams, and Vincent Bacote. May God grant us apologists who will engage Delores Williams, Dwight Hopkins, bell hooks, and J. Deotis Roberts.

Justice – One unique contribution African American apologetics must gift the church with is its physical and intellectual commitment to social justice. Art Lindsley stated it best “Love is the ultimate apologetic.” By loving others through the vein of social justice, the apologist gives tangible expressions of the existence and ultimately the love of God. An urban agenda of apologetics would be wise to tackle the issues of mass incarceration, mass abortions in our neighborhoods, and systemic racism. These issues are not exhaustive but they are urgent.

Historical Theology – A blazing ignorance of the rich, intellectual, and soulful African American Church tradition exist within the confines of evangelicalism. This is sad because with it, many lose sight of the primary means intellectual and theological contributions have been made to God’s Kingdom. Evangelicals often presuppose that such contributions do not exist from these traditions because they have not come through the vehicles often accepted within their tradition. By doing so, the apologetic contributions of Gardner C. Taylor, SM Lockridge, Richard Allen, and Absalom Jones are not evaluated, quoted, or adopted. One must realize that the primary theological and apologetic vehicles in our past was the sermon. Due to other systematic obstacles and cultural manifestations, the sermon was the book, lecture, and scholarly article for the African American tradition. That does not make the robust content found in these sermons any less helpful to our apologetic agenda. Our souls would be blessed to resurrect the intellectual power found in these homiletical gems.

Youth Ministry- Any agenda worth its salt must have an eye toward longevity and generational impact. Honestly, this is an area that must be improved across the spectrum of evangelicalism. We must do better at reaching students with the gospel and equipping students to reach their peers. I am not calling for more pizza parties, isolated youth ministries that generate a fractured culture in the church, or a continued juvenilization of corporate worship. But I am calling for more youth conferences, more youth books, and more material to help parents and guardians to disciple their teenagers while addressing the multiple challenges they encounter against their Christian faith.

Seminaries and Universities- Seminaries and Universities are forming the worldview(s) of America. Without infiltrating the educational system, little progress can be made in the realm of apologetics. We must learn from brothers like Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson, who progressed through the best academic institutions and then ultimately influenced the larger culture. Of course, these men are highly gifted, but their training enhanced their analytical skills and provided platforms to impact academia and culture at large. An urban and African American apologetic should encourage young scholars to pursue degrees in evangelical and secular institutions. As they earn their doctorates, these scholars ought to teach in both secular and evangelical institutions as well.

This is no small agenda and I am more than sure it will be expanded upon as other apologists contribute to this context. By no means do I pretend that this list is comprehensive though I hope it is extensive. I have blindspots and limitations, but together we can press towards the mark and keep the faith. Please consider this agenda as a challenge and not a depressive dose of procrastination. What item captivates your passions, sparks your interest, or increases your heartbeat? This is not a time of passive peace but a season for strategic war. Pick up your armor and enlist in this battle. Don’t just keep the faith, fight the good fight; onward Christian apologist.

 

Bringing the Good News,

Cam Triggs


Cam Triggs loves Jesus. God saved Cam from wrath, sin, death, and Satan in 2005. He began studies at University of Central Florida as a Religious Studies major & continued his education at Reformed Theological Seminary where he earned a Masters of Arts in Theological Studies. During his time at RTS, Cam was privileged to study under the apologist John Frame. In the future,  he looks forward to further study in the areas of philosophy, theology, and African American studies. He now enjoys loving God & loving students at Shiloh Church. More importantly, he is married to his beautiful best friend Tymara Triggs and the proud father of Cameron Triggs II. Stay connected with him at camtriggs.com

Is God good when he takes your child from you on Thanksgiving?!

By: Branden Murphy (Originally posted as Branden's Facebook Status)

Is God good when he takes your child from you on Thanksgiving?!

I've believed in God all my life. I didn't live for Him all my life, but I certainly believed in him. During my freshman year of college, Jesus snatched up the affections of my heart and I began to truly live for him. I gave up music, sex, all that stuff. My roommates couldn't believe it.

The beginning of this journey was full of highs while discovering more about God, learning how to read the Bible and apply it to my life. I found joy in admitting my flaws and no longer feeling the need to be this "certain"'person in front of multiple groups. I was free to be me, who God made me. I even changed my facebook name to Branden "WalksbyFaith" Murphy so people knew it was legit 😉. There was something about finally feeling like I found "my thing." Also, the idea of discipleship and helping other people follow Christ, I was ALL IN.

Ironically, I may have set myself up because the years following were flooded with moments where I had to choose faith or worry. Whether it was money being low, to trying to go to a missions trip, to trying to get in-state tuition at FAMU. It was hard and a lot of times, it didn't get easier.

I didn't graduate from FAMU. My prayers to get in-state tuition kept being rejected. Instead, I went to do what I thought I was called to do all my life, full time campus ministry as a missionary. I figured, well since I'm choosing the path God chose, surely it will work out.

Wrong.

My wife and I got married the Summer of 2011 and we were pregnant with our son by spring of 2012. I knew we were growing a family but I was still trying to pursue what God had for us. We went to the school of ministry in 2013, but we just did not make it throughout the raising support journey. It was hard on a lot of fronts and it ultimately was hurting our family health and spiritual health. Why would following God's path end up leaving us worse off?! Even relationships with the leaders I respected were truly hurt during that time. I could not wrap my head around what was happening. I left school to work for the Lord and then that ended up doing more harm than good. I was borderline depressed and confused trying to figure out what to do next.

Fast forward to 2014, we move to Texas pregnant with our little girl on the way and I get a job making the most money I've ever made! But somehow, in that year we faced more financial hardship than one would like to deal with. Again, Lord, if you provided this job, WHY IS LIFE SO HARD! I've done financial peace twice, read books and all but I've struggled to apply every principle.

Now Reeeeewiiiiinnd!

I remember when I was little and there were times our hot water got turned off in the winter, electricity got turned off, 4 of us sleeping in a one room apartment, car getting repossessed, not being able to go to things because of "money." I HATED MONEY. However, my parents NEVER stopped trusting in God, NEVER stopped praising him. I would get SO MAD. 
"Mom, our lights just got shut off, why are you praising God?! Why is he doing this to us? You guys do everything in the church and this is what you get?!"
Something wasn't connecting for me. Also, the fact that they displayed joy amidst terrible moments, actually made me more mad.

Fast forward to 2016, easily the hardest year for us as a family. Constantly praying for a "break" or some type of relief as it just felt like everything was crashing in on us (and I'm not even talking about the pregnancy). We were struggling getting Court's business flowing and finding ways to pay for the kids to go to school, not communicating with each other well, it was just HARD. Oh yeah and from Feb til June we were living with a family from the church we had recently started going to. (Thankful for them but still not ideal)

Thennn Courtnee gets pregnant. At week 7, Court called me to the bathroom screaming and scared. We thought we just lost our baby. Turned out to be a blood clot. That clot turned out to be a subcnrionic hemorrhage. That hemorrhage turned out to be a huge blood clot on her uterus. Courtnee was JUST about to get a job annnd she had booked 4 weddings for the fall!! We were finally seeing light at the end of this dark dark tunnel.

Then, the doctors told her she cannot get a job and has to cancel the weddings (meaning we have to give people their money back or pay for replacements) for the safety of the baby. "LORD WHAT THE HECK!!! We ARE TRYING!!" I think we both said this many times during this season. It felt like no matter how hard we tried to "get it together," the more things fell apart.

Constantly trying to figure out how to keep Court on bedrest and afford life, I talked about getting another job OR maybe working overtime A LOT. Both would be sacrifices, but something had to give. We want family to be a top priority, but this seemed like it would crush that dynamic.

My birthday was approaching in September and my wife just wanted to give me a BREAK. I had been working overtime and it just felt like it was going nowhere. Actually, our lights got shut off, we ended up asking the church for help and it was not looking to get easier. She coordinated an expense free trip to Austin so I could hang with some of my best friends at least. The first night there her water broke at 26wks. "What the hell, Lord, seriously?!"

FIVE WEEKS my wife was stuck in Austin and I tried to be there and bring the kids there as much as possible. This 5 weeks felt sooo long but we finally were able to get Courtnee to Dallas on week 31, Yes! Let's get to 34weeks and have our precious Eden. Sure, we knew her heart looked a little bigger and they thought she might need stomach surgery but nothing too big.....

On the 4th day back in Dallas, October 27, my wife texts me and calls me from the hospital saying she's having an emergency c-section. I get there and everyone is shook. I didn't know what was going on but it didn't look good. Eden was born not breathing and had to be brought back to life. We fought we fought and had some ups and we looked negativity in the face and said "NOT TODAY SATAN, NOT TODAY!"

Then, Thanksgiving.....bittersweet because our baby girl wasn't having the best day, but sweet because we were going to hang with our kiddos and get some greens, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, ham and yams.

We got to the house and before we ate, Courtnee called the hospital to check on our sweet girl. Turns out her heart rate dropped and they didn't have the decency to call us!!! Our daughter died minutes after we were near her bedside. On freaking thanks freaking giving.

In the beginning, I questioned the goodness of God. I believe in God but this year during a leadership course at my church (Stonegate Church), my eyes were opened to a crucial flaw in my view of God. I realized that while I believe in God, I struggle to believe in his GOODNESS. I struggle to believe that God is for me like the scriptures say. Because a lot of times in my life when I've looked to him to be good to my family, it feels like I receive the opposite. And it hurts. Every. Time. Every time I muster faith to believe in the impossible and it doesn't happen, it hurts. All these years it's made me calloused towards the idea of his goodness.

But one thing the leadership at Stonegate helped me realize was that God's goodness isn't based on what he does or doesn't do for me. It's who he is. It's his character and nature. It's him knowing sin would be in this world and sending his son, Jesus. It's him allowing trials that force us to run harder to him and be made more like him. It's him having a plan for all lives of believers that's bigger than what we can see and serving of his Glory.

I can't say that this area of my life is fixed. But I can say, I will not allow myself to believe that God is not good simply because life is hard. If you wrestle with this idea, you're not alone. In trials, God is a GOOD FATHER. And as I will allow my son to endure things that help chisel him into a man, I will believe that God is molding my family into people that will run this race well.

“The only love that won’t disappoint you is one that can’t change, that can’t be lost, that is not based on the ups and downs of life or of how well you live. It is something that not even death can take away from you. God’s love is the only thing like that.”  -Tim Keller

Branden and Courtnee Murphy currently live in Midlothian, TX. The Murphys have been married 5 years and they have 2 children and recently lost one. They attend Stonegate Church where they serve the college students. 

Christ-Centered Apologetics

By: Cam Triggs

I have the worse sense of direction. If I don’t have directional guidance I can end up in the wrong state. In fact, its so bad I often travel to the same locations utilizing a navigation system of some sort. With a navigation system in place you are almost sure of finding the right location. I say almost because a navigation system is only as good as the address. To get to the destination you need a description of where you are going. If you don’t, how will you know if you ever got there? You could travel for days wandering around. Of course, you can see everywhere you travel but without an address your travel is in vain.

Navigation: Needs an address

The task of apologetics is to be a navigational tool in the hand of the Christian. It is an intellectual tool helping us navigate questions, objections, and challenges to the Christian faith. RC Sproul describes apologetics as “pre-evangelism”. I like that definition because it clarifies the address of every apologetic endeavor. Apologists must start with the head but should eventually and inevitably aim for the heart. In every conversation, ministry, lecture, and article we should aim to transform from apologist to evangelist. Ultimately, we must navigate the tough questions to eventually plug in the coordinates of Christ. Everyday apologetics will typically start with questions on ethics or observations about current events. Yes we may stop there to handle rational pit stops. Still we must remember the finish line will always be Christ.

Our main point is Jesus

The goal of apologetics is not merely to persuade one that a God exist. At minimum, if we succeed, then we have only acquiesced to convert humans into demons for even they believe that God exist (James 2:19).  As apologist we have many targets, applications, and contexts yet always one goal. We are winning people to Christ. We have intellectual focus but our main focus is to win people and not merely arguments. We do Christ and our mission great disservice if we answer objections in various realms and capacities yet relinquish a presentation of Christ. Will it always happen in the conversation at hand? No, but that should be our aim knowing tomorrow is not promised and that Christ may return at any moment.

Christ-centered apologetics must also be persuasive and winsome too. We should present our arguments with love and concern. If apologetics merely becomes an academic endeavor, we will lose all the pastoral care and compassion needed for the task of evangelism to become possible. Here are some practical tips for pursuing Christ-centered apologetics:

  • Defend the faith without being defensive. Defend the faith not your pride.
  • Share your need for Christ so others may potentially see theirs.
  • Don’t merely regurgitate arguments or points from your favorite apologist. Focus on the person you are speaking with and their particular needs.
  • Present the love and grace of Jesus so winsomely and illustratively that they think its too good to be true.
  • Do more listening than talking. Don’t interrupt. Don’t zone out on their objections and rehearse your irrelevant response.
  • Affirm positive aspects of their thoughts. What points of their religion or worldview is actually commendable? 
  • Before you use the Bible given reasons why you believe it as a reliable source.
  • Don’t merely quote scripture. Explain scripture and its context.
  • Lastly, ask to present Christ. Say something like, “Do you mind if I tell you why I think Jesus makes the difference on this matter?”

Dear apologist, never wander aimlessly. Plug in the coordinates of Christ in your presentation and within your heart (1 Peter 3:15).  Give a reason for the hope in your heart. That hope is the good news of Jesus not a three-point syllogism. After the arguments, rebuttals, and fact checks, bring Christ to the forefront. Don’t be ashamed, because the Gospel actually has the power to save (Romans 1:16).


Cam Triggs serves as the Director of Urban Apologetics and Senior Blog Editor for the Jude 3 Project. He also serves on the Jude 3 Project speaking team. He loves Jesus. God saved Cam from wrath, sin, death, and Satan in 2005. He began studies at University of Central Florida as a Religious Studies major & continued his education at Reformed Theological Seminary where he earned a Masters of Arts in Theological Studies. During his time at RTS, Cam was privileged to study under the apologist John Frame. In the future,  he looks forward to further study in the areas of philosophy, theology, and African American studies. Cam currently serves as a Church Planting resident at Summit RDU as he prepares to start a new church in Orlando. More importantly, he is married to his beautiful best friend Tymara Triggs and the proud father of Cameron Triggs II. Stay connected with him at camtriggs.com.

 

To Quote or Not to Quote

"That's a white scholar, he can’t be trusted."

"Show me a black theologian that believes that..."

"That's an Edomite!" 

 

If you are engaged in urban apologetics you have heard these objections before, in one form or the other. Typically, defenders of black cults, radical black liberation theologians, or extreme pan-Africanist utilize these retorts. When so, they often are assuming we have been brainwashed by white Christians/Scholars and all the while forsaking the faith and teachings of our ancestors.

The basis of these objections are ironic to say the least. Two generic misnomers are made already at this junction. It is absurd to assume all African Americans have the same ancestry and even more absurd to assume those ancestors accepted the same worldviews as a whole. There are thousands of beliefs in ancient and modern Africa. Also, just because our ancestors believed it doesn't necessarily make it true. We know this reality all too well. Opening an umbrella under the roof doesn't guarantee any misfortune, putting your purse on the floor won't make you broke, and getting your clothes wet while you wash dishes doesn't guarantee you will marry a drunk. All superstition and jokes aside, our ancestors have been correct in some areas and incorrect in others.  We must be able to evaluate their claims against truth and do it with love. On the other hand, I believe there are three substantial points to be made against those who don't warrant the quoting of white theologians in dialogue or who request black scholars as puppeteer citations. 

 

Truth is truth regardless of whom it comes from

To say something is false simply based on the source is a logical fallacy. Specifically, the proper term is a genetic fallacy. That is a false logical conclusion that diminishes the truth of a statement based solely on its origins or history. These simplistic conclusions rarely determine the truth claim based on the merits of the claim itself. For example, a student is taught basic arithmetic in a school under a vicious dictatorship. Does that student have a warrant to then say 2 + 2 is not equal to 4? Of course not! Although suspicion would be warranted the truth claim itself must be evaluated on its own terms as well. As logical human beings we can condemn the vicious character of a teacher and still evaluate their teachings on the basis of truth. Yes, we should be cautious and hesitant to promote such teachers. But if they said anything true we should acknowledge it was true instead of delegitimizing those valid statements. Such is the case when consulting the written work of white theologians.  Facts are facts, regardless of their skin color.      

 

Requesting books by African American theologians of the past ignores the reality of educational oppression

When Black cultist or extreme pan-Africanist beg for books by African American theologians & scholars from the past to prove or disprove Christianity in the written form they often project the standards of privilege that ignores the educational oppression we faced. Due to these harsh realities, we have very few people of color in all of the major academic disciplines that have written extensively in our country. We lack people of color historically laying the foundation for modern physics in America yet I rest assure we still board airplanes that utilize such knowledge from "suspect" sources. Specifically concerning radical black liberation theologians I am especially confounded. They castigate "conservative" African American preachers for quoting white evangelicals. However, they too have hypocritically built their theologies on the backs of German liberals and neo-Orthodox theologians such as Karl Barth. 

These objections are sad because with it, many lose sight of the primary means intellectual and theological contributions have been made to God’s Kingdom. Black cult leaders & pan-Africanist often presuppose that such contributions do not exist from these traditions because they have not come through the vehicles often accepted within the prominent presentations of books. As a result, black cult leaders and pan-Africanist subversively acknowledge academic voices as more legitimate. Again, not realizing they are espousing a standard of privilege that should be challenged and critiqued itself. By doing so, the theological contributions of John Jasper, Lemuel Haynes, Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, & Phyllis Wheatley are not evaluated, quoted, or adopted. One must realize that the primary theological and apologetic vehicles in our recent past were the sermons, narratives, and spirituals. Due to other systematic obstacles and cultural manifestations, the sermon was the book, lecture, and scholarly article for the African American tradition. The spirituals were the canon of beliefs and relief. The narratives were the autobiographies of our spiritual heroes. That does not make the robust content found in these sermons, spirituals, or narratives any less helpful to our apologetic agenda. Our souls would be blessed to resurrect the intellectual power found in these homiletical gems, doctrinal melodies, and poetic narratives.  Brothers and sisters of brown and black hue should gladly accept them as historical evidence that we too have been believers. 

 

The formation of traditional Christian Theology is indebted to African Scholars

The prominent Christians of antiquity were in fact people of color. To simply make my point I will utilize two major pillars in Christian theology. Augustine of Hippo was an "African" bishop that articulated original sin, the bondage of our wills, and Christ's atoning death. That's before Muhammed & Islam hit Africa. That's before the Middle Ages and Medieval thought. In the essentials of the Christian faith, an African Bishop was the most influential theologian; perhaps the most influential outside of the Bible. In essence, much of traditional Christian theology is the product of African thought. Another African contributor that truly shaped the doctrine of Christianity was Athanasius. Through his zeal and intellectual capabilities Christians formally formulated the doctrine of the Trinity. His writings also demonstrate the circulation of New Testament writings in the early church. Though there are more examples, these two figures are more than enough to demonstrate that Christianity is deeply indebted to Africa. 

Some object that paintings of these writers are white so how could they be African? Regardless of the inaccurate paintings you have seen, many Christian church fathers were African. Remember, the paintings we often see are portraits not photographs. These portraits often came centuries later in other context. Therefore, we cannot discount Augustine or Athanasius though those painters erroneously depict their ethnicity. A modern day example would be the depiction of ancient Egyptians by only white actors in Hollywood films. We know that to be historically inaccurate but we don't write off the brilliance of our Egyptian ancestors, devalue their contributions, or white wash their ethnicity. 

 

Finally, consider this:

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” Isaiah 40:8 ESV

We are faced with many different “winds of doctrine”. Many have disputed Christianity and it’s place in the black community, nonetheless the one source that remains to be true and unchanged is God’s Word.  That being said, the Bible is the only source that has the final say on any matter.  Without the Bible we do not have sufficient authority to determine truth. We need divine inspiration, a supernatural absolute personality to clearly communicate truth and hold us accountable. Without this, we are left with autonomous reason that cannot adequately answer authoritatively nor explore options exhaustively. Instead of relying on quotes from people we trust or distrust due to color or ancestry we should indeed align all statements up to the ultimate standard: God's Word. We must do that utilizing proper context while understanding the grammar and historical background of the text. Let every person we quote align himself or herself with the Book. 

 

For God's Glory, 

Cam Triggs

 

 


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Cam Triggs loves Jesus. God saved Cam from wrath, sin, death, and Satan in 2005. He began studies at University of Central Florida as a Religious Studies major & continued his education at Reformed Theological Seminary where he earned a Masters of Arts in Theological Studies. During his time at RTS, Cam was privileged to study under the apologist John Frame. In the future,  he looks forward to further study in the areas of philosophy, theology, and African American studies. He now enjoys loving God & loving students at Shiloh Church. More importantly, he is married to his beautiful best friend Tymara Triggs and the proud father of Cameron Triggs II. Stay connected with him at camtriggs.com.

WHO ARE THE HEBREW ISRAELITES AND WHAT DO THEY BELIEVE?

By: Vocab Malone of Urban Theologian Radio

Hebrew Israelite groups gather and proselytize in metropolitan areas. This group is usually made up of black and brown Americans who claim to be the true Israelites and that modern day Jews are impostors. Their presence in America has increased over the past decade. They have stepped up their efforts and are growing - both online and on the streets. This is a current cultural issue, especially in the urban community.

If you live in a major city and haven’t met a Hebrew Israelite yet, give it time – you will. Whether clad in camo or purple and gold, the Hebrew Israelites go where you go. Yelling, swearing, debating, pointing, and loudly pontificating; they go hard. They usually pick a favorite spot and post up every Saturday. In Phoenix, I’ve seen them at the light rail station, the State Fair, Super Bowl XLIX, Arizona State University and the Occupy Phoenix protests. They’ve even been known to storm in churches and disrupt services. 

Some think this group is obscure and irrelevant. Amar’e Stoudemire disagrees. The former Phoenix Sun and NBA star identifies as a Hebrew Israelite. When SB1070 (a controversial immigration bill) was the hot topic in Arizona, Stoudemire tweeted out his disagreement with the legislation. The reason? The “Latin community” is part of “the 12 tribes of Israel,” which is, “one nation under Yah.” Stoudemire is an executive producer of “Village of Peace”, a documentary about Chicago-based Hebrew Israelites moving to Israel in the 60’s. He’s applied for Israeli citizenship and is part owner of an Israeli basketball team. I could go on: St. Louis rapper Chingy of “Right Thurr” fame and Antoine Dodson of “Bed Intruder” fame both came out as Hebrew Israelites. Boyz II Men crooners Shawn Stockman and Wayna Morris claim this faith. Whitney Houston visited a Hebrew Israelite leader when she went to Israel. Hebrew Israelite influence outweighs their numbers.

If you run into a Hebrew Israelite, you’d be wise to know what they believe. Even though they often yell and curse, knowing something about their ideology can assist you in having a more productive dialogue.

10 Hebrew Israelite Beliefs

  1. Hebrew Israelites believe those whose ancestors were put in bondage during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade are the true descendants of Biblical Israel.
  2. Hebrew Israelites believe modern day Israelites and Europeanized Jews are impostors and not the real descendants of true Israel.
  3. Hebrew Israelites usually hold the King James Version of the Bible as authoritative. Some only hold to the Old Testament. Most hold to the Apocrypha as well.
  4. Hebrew Israelites believe the “time of the Gentiles” means “the time of the white Europeans”, whom they refer to as Edomites or Esau. They believe this time is almost over; America and its allies will soon be judged.
  5. Hebrew Israelites believe righteousness is achieved by law keeping. Strict Sabbath-keeping, dietary restrictions and a certain physical appearance is important (e.g., fringes and beards are good).
  6. Hebrew Israelites believe Jesus Christ (although they use a different name - “Yahshuah” - or some other name) was a black man.
  7. Many (not all) Hebrew Israelites believe “Edomites” (white people) can’t be saved. They are destined to be killed or slaves for Hebrew Israelites after the Messiah returns. Others believe “Gentiles” (non-Hebrew Israelites) can be grafted into the Kingdom if they keep the law and are under the authority of a Hebrew Israelite.
  8. Hebrew Israelites believe both heaven and hell are conditions – mere “states of mind”. Neither are viewed as metaphysical realities as they are in orthodox Christianity.
  9. Hebrew Israelites are usually part of the Sacred Name movement: they believe you must refer to God as “Yah” (or some other name). Their preference for God’s name usually depends on their individual sect (which they call “camp”).
  10. Hebrew Israelites believe by spreading their message they are gathering the scattered Israelites who do not yet know their true ancestry and heritage. In essence, their mission is to build a nation.

Five Common Practices/Characteristics

  1. On the street, Hebrew Israelites tend to be boisterous, belligerent and bold. They blurt, blare and bellow. If you engage a member on the street, be prepared for a noisy encounter. They often enjoy shouting obscenities at pedestrians and onlookers, especially those whom they deem to be morally repugnant (e.g., women wearing pants, black-and-white couples, etc.).
  2. Hebrew Israelites craft their own signage. Common images include politicians with devil horns, “white Jesus” portrayals, images of slavery (men with scarred backs, slave ship diagrams, etc.) and the all-important 12 Tribes of Israel genealogy chart. For example, the Tribe of Judah is said to be the ancestors of black Americans, Isaachar for Mexicans and Gad for Native Americans.
  3. Hebrew Israelites travel in groups. I’ve seen anywhere from three to a dozen congregate.
  4. Hebrew Israelites members love to carry tattered old Bibles. Their messages include heavy doses of Scripture. Usually, there is a primary speaker and then a Scripture reader. The speaker will shout a verse to the reader - “Give me that Deuteronomy 28!” – and then the reader yells it out – loudly.
  5. Most Hebrew Israelites will engage you – to a certain extent. If they view you as “having a demon” (a common accusation they make against opponents), they act dismissive and aggressive. If they see you as interested (but not too “talky”), they love the chance to lecture and even “cross-examine” you (“What does ADAM mean?” “What does Judah mean?”).

If you are a Christian, you should engage Hebrew Israelites when you see them. Why? They will benefit from well-informed brothers and sisters in Christ dropping knowledge. If you call yourself a Christian but don’t know your stuff, study up and come back – they eat the biblically ignorant alive!

Remember, it’s not just knowledge they need; the Hebrew Israelites need to see authentic love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control and patience. If you are going to converse with them, ask the Lord for a double-dose of the last one – patience.

If you know the Bible well and are quick on your feet, they may show some extra respect to you, but then again, they may become more irritated than usual – it all depends on the makeup of the group and the nature of the crowd. As you can imagine, engaging a Hebrew Israelite in this environment can be intimidating.

My main goal in this piece was to give the reader the basics about the Hebrew Israelites. It is not intended to be an all-out rebuttal; I’m writing more in the vein of “heads up, coming at you.” In the future, I’d love to tackle some of the truth claims Hebrew Israelite adherents make.

For more information about Black Hebrew Israelites, check out Vocab's interview with the Jude 3 Project below:


Vocab Malone is a Christian hip hop artist and slam poet as well as Pastor of Teaching and Outreach at Roosevelt Community Church. He obtained a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary. Vocab is currently enrolled at Talbot School of Theology, working on a doctorate of ministry under philosophers Garrett DeWeese and JP Moreland. Vocab loves to geek out with his wife, Nicole. Together, they have four children who have been adopted.

Block Apologetics 101

By: Ernest Grant, II (Originally posted on www.iamernestgrant.com)

After waking up in the middle of the night to the signature high-pitched cries of my sweet daughter, I rolled out of bed to warm a bottle of milk and reached for my iPhone.  When my blurry sight cleared, I saw that I received a text message from a pastor at my church; it was a link to a recent interview by the hip-hop and social media phenom Kevin Gates.

His interviews always provide cultural insight. With over a million people following his Instagram account, he has a cult-like following that adhere to his words and rhymes like he’s a modern hip-hop prophet. So, after putting the baby to sleep, I popped in my headphones and listened to the controversial Baton Rogue rapper open up about his marriage, new album, and belief in God.

He was very upfront about his beliefs. It was a combination of Islamic and Christian thought laced with rawness and profanity. He believed that each religion served the same God and could be reduced to three principles: love God, love your neighbor, and love everyone around you. Because of his worldview, it wouldn’t be uncommon for him to pull the tour bus over to pray to the east, get religious tattoos, or be seen reading the Bible.

Before falling into an exhaustion-induced coma, I thought about how Gates’ philosophy of religion was not much different from the people that we encounter everyday in the inner city. He confirmed what inner-city missionaries have long known–many people in the urban context have complex, ever-evolving pluralistic religious worldviews. They combine different, often contradictory, spiritual elements and blend religious practices to form a personal pseudo-religion that suits their lifestyles and passions. It’s urban syncretism in its purest sense.

I probably shouldn’t be, but I’m always surprised by the number and variety of worldviews masquerading as truth, especially in our inner cities. So how is the Christian to engage the multiplicity of religious viewpoints? How do I combat heresy in a way that conveys God’s truth in a faithful manner? The answer is simple, but not easy. Be a block apologist! Drink deeply from the Scriptures, live dependently upon the Spirit, and contend for the faith with coherent responses to skeptics.

Here’s a crash course in what I like to call “Block Apologetics 101.”

Apologetics is “the art of explaining the faith in such a way as to make a reasoned defense against its detractors.” [1] It’s was originally used as a speech of defense in a courtroom as part of the judicial system, and a classic example of this is Paul’s verbal sparring match in the Areopagus (Acts 17). He observed, listened, reasoned, and disputed pluralistic claims of the philosophers.

With this in mind, I want to give you 3 helpful tidbits about being a Block Apologist in your context.

1) Develop a Robust Foundation

This may sound rudimentary, but it’s essential. Relieve yourself of the pressure to know everything about all of the convoluted worldviews in the inner city. You should definitely know about competing religious views, but you can accumulate your knowledge progressively. That’s one of the biggest pressures we face. Know the Gospel cold! Nail down key doctrines like the Trinity, deity of Christ, and defending the authority of Scripture, specifically the accurate transmission and translation of the Bible. This is your sure foundation! (Acts 18:28, Eph 2:20) Memorize some scriptures location and have a quick reference key in your bible with a list of go to verses. This will aid you in your engagement.

2) Don’t Be Afraid to “Catch an ‘L’”

Few things are more humbling than “catching an ‘L.’” You’re not always going to have the answer to obscure bible questions, and sometimes you’ll get tripped up while evangelizing. I was evangelizing once and a young lady flipped me like a pancake when I explained the Trinity. It was embarrassing, but it turned out to be one of the most fruitful experiences of my spiritual life. The Lord used the event to spark fervor for the study of the Scriptures. So, when you’re on the block and get stumped by some confusing line of reasoning, simply tell the person you want to do more research, grab their contact information, and reach out to them once you’ve studied more. God uses little experiences like this to build relational bridges and sanctify us.

3) Earnestly Desire the Salvation of the People You Engage

Finally, when I hit the block, I keep in mind that God has sent me as his witness. I’m not out there to win debates or be a theological bully. I’m there to display the excellence of Christ in my witness and to invite people into a relationship with Him. Every time I get on the street I ask God to help me earnestly desire the salvation of people. I believe that many of the people that He is drawing near to Himself are in those streets, and I want them to know the power of the atoning work of my Lord! I always pray through 2 Thessalonians. 3:1 “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored.” I want the Word of God to be honored and I’m praying that he does the work before I hit the block.

What are some helpful ways you’ve sought to share Christ in your city?

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the section below.

Grace and peace!

 

[1] Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.


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 Ernest Grant, II is an inner city missionary with a heart for the urban context. He’s served as the Connections Pastor at Epiphany Fellowship of Camden for the past 5 years, and his role focuses on community outreach, civic engagement, the assimilation of new converts & disenfranchised Christians into the life and mission of the church, and discovering new & innovative ways to reach people in his city for Jesus. He graduated with a degree in Earth Science from Kean University and worked at a large Environmental Investigation/Remediation firm before completing his Master’s at Reformed Theological Seminary (D.C). He’s currently pursuing his Doctorate of Education in Organizational Leadership at Richard Stockton University and is  privileged to be married to the love of his life, Sarah. The two have a beautiful baby girl named Amaela Folasade.

3 Reasons Why We Do Apologetics

BY: JOSEPH TORRES

If we love Jesus and take what he said seriously we’ll listen to his spokesmen, the apostles. And the passion of the apostles was twofold. First, they wanted Christians to know the riches of God’s grace.  Grasping the gospel was of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15). Second, they wanted Christians fueled by the grace of the gospel to go out and tell people about it.  King Jesus, welding his unique authority as the risen and rightful ruler of creation, commanded his people to spread out and fill the earth with disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). Jude 3 urges us to contend for the once-all-all delivered faith. Paul modeled for us what it looks like to tear down strongholds and every lofty opinion raised up in opposition to God (2 Cor. 10:4-5). And lastly, Peter provided God’s kingdom people with the directive to always be ready to give an account for the hope they have within (1 Pet. 3:15).

Taking these words seriously, both in theory and practice, gets to the heart of Christian apologetics. But is there any motive greater than mere duty in defending the faith against all would-be contenders? Let me suggest three benefits to studying and practicing apologetics.

First, apologetics encourages the believer to develop a distinctively Christian theory of knowledge. Apologetics deals with defending and commending the Christian faith. As a result, it deals with knowledge claims. We claim to know multiple things, things like God exists, that he is a trinity, that humans are his fallen image-bearers, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, and that this Jesus rose from the dead, etc. We don’t have faith in faith. Apologists are commending a concrete faith arising from a concrete source (the Bible).

When we’re talking about knowledge claims (religious or otherwise) we’re dealing with issues in the field of epistemology. Epistemology is the subdivision in philosophy that explores knowledge and the questions that come along with exploring what that means. These are some epistemological questions: How do we know things? How we determine true knowledge from opinion? How do we know truth? In the history of philosophy many schools of thought have put forward their epistemologies, but the Christian apologists shouldn’t be tossed back and forth with each passing philosophical fad.  We can only embrace an approach to knowledge that conforms to the Bible.

Apologetics should ask the standard epistemological questions (how do I know? etc.) and look for their answers with an open Bible. By doing this we demonstrate a submission to God’s word as our ultimate standard not only for so-called “religious” knowledge, but for all knowledge. Likewise, in doing this we “love the Lord our God with all… our minds” (Lk. 10:27). Scripture is filled with passages that address our thought-life. We are to “take every thought captive” (2 Cor. 10:4-5) to Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). It also speaks of the saving knowledge of God that Christians have, as well as the paradoxical nature of the unbeliever’s knowledge of God.

Second, apologetics strengthens, confirms, and emboldens Christians in their faith. When Christians follow the 1 Pet. 3:15 command to defend their faith several things happen. First, their faith is confirmed. Those who have professed Christ for any length of time know that doubt occasionally creeps in and can cause them to second guess the truth of Christianity. The careful study of apologetics brings encouragement to the believer, reassuring them that their commitment to Jesus is not based on myth, speculation, or fairy tale, but instead is grounded in real history. Furthermore, when we see that only Christianity provides a true understanding of the world we come to trust our Creator and Lord with renewed vigor and strengthened faith.

Finally, the study of apologetics emboldens us for engagement with non-Christians. Here I’m not simply referring to apologetic debate, but also for personal evangelism and other venues of Christian/non-Christian dialogue. If the message of creation-fall-redemption in Christ is true, and the goal of apologetics is to demonstrate the truth of the Christian worldview, then pouring time into knowing how to handle objections, unbelieving philosophies, and various other unchristian ways of thinking is a vital means the Holy Spirit may use in communicating the gospel in a sin-sick world.

Third, apologetics serves as a vital aid in the work of missions, evangelism, and cultural engagement. How is this different from what was written in the paragraph above? There I was addressing the emboldening Christian confidence in encounters with non-Christians. Now we’re switching our emphasis a bit and focusing on the help apologetic provides in Christian understanding.

Evangelism. In the course of familiarizing oneself with the case for the Christian worldview we must familiarize ourselves to common misunderstanding, misrepresentations, and objections to the faith. This is a matter of love, since knowing what weighs most heavily on the minds and hearts of unbelievers demonstrates that we take them seriously. More often than you’d imagine, you’ll encounter the same objections and questions repeatedly. We should take stock of such common objections. Knowing these objections greatly reduces the chances of being caught off guard. It will also communicate that we’ve put some serious thought into our faith commitment. Many unbelievers haven’t ever heard an informed, rational defense of biblical faith. Here are some more specifics on how knowledge of apologetics aids relating to non-Christians. We should know why we believe the Bible is God’s book, why Christianity is different from other religions, and what practical difference does it make for the potential convert.

Missions. Apologetics also helps in the work of missions. Those to whom we commend the faith may be under serious social pressure to remain as they are, whether in intensely religious countries or secular nations. They need to know why they should risk persecution for committing their life to Christ. Are they committing social suicide? Are they committing intellectual suicide? Another major issue for a theology of missions is the question of religious pluralism. Are all religions the same? Are they all legit pathways to God?[1]

Cultural engagement and the final apologetic. Christians are to be “in” the world, yet not “of” the world (Jn 17:14–19). We live among unbelievers as spiritual ambassadors for Christ’s kingdom. We shouldn’t live in step with the agenda of unbelief. Apologists must be counter-cultural, developing a distinctively Christian critique of cultural trends as well as positively commending biblical alternatives. This takes a lot of study, effort, and prayer. Lastly, non-Christians need to see how we love one another. They need to see and experience for themselves that we, like the Master, come not to be served, but to serve (cf. Mk. 10:45). The manner with which we speak, both to other Christians as well as to non-Christians, conveys a lot. The church is Christ’s body on this earth. Do we reflect His character? Non-Christians aren’t naive. They notice insincerity and pride. But both are reasoned responses as well as our observed behavior we convey a powerful message: This is what God is like.

Let’s not give false testimony.

 

 

 

 

[1] Of course, the answer to this question is “no.” It’s both philosophically wrong (because so many religions make contradictory claims), and biblically dangerous (Jesus is the only way to God, cf. John 14:6, Acts 4:12). But the point is that as we study apologetics we learn both how to develop this claim (so the unbeliever sees the Biblical rationale for it), as well as how to persuasively communicate it.


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Joseph E.Torres is the editor and co-author with John M. Frame of Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief (P&R Publishing, 2015). He has served as professor for Adult Studies at Belhaven University in Orlando, Florida, as well as an adjunct in the department of Biblical and Theological studies at Nyack College (in his home town of New York City). He earned an M.A. in Christian Thought at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida and his B.A. in Biblical and Theological studies. He has been blogging at KINGDOMVIEW (apolojet.wordpress.com) since 2007.

When Memes Lie

BY: CRYSTAL CHARLEY

Social media is flooded with pictures that include pithy statements called memes. We are constantly liking and reposting them.  However, many of us like and repost them without critically thinking through them. It’s easy to like or share posts that co-sign our emotions at the moment, but it’s important to seriously think through what we endorse. Many of the memes we share conflict with the scriptures we claim to believe. For example…

While it sounds good, is it really true that we only need ourselves? The bible stresses the importance of community. Community involves more people than “me, myself, and I.” God says in Genesis that it is not good for man to be alone (this doesn’t solely refer to marriage). We need people. As the saying goes, “everyone needs somebody, sometime.” You cannot be productive in life by constantly isolating yourself.

 Or…

In other words, if you don't appreciate me, then I don't need you. So my need for you is only based on your need for me? Unfortunately, that is a conditional relationship. Is this the way of life? Doesn’t that seem a bit self-seeking? I know some may be thinking, “Well, it depends on the relationship level”. Let me ask you this, does unconditional love depend on the relationship “level”? Can I choose to appreciate others without it being reciprocated? A conditional relationship is like a contract; as soon as someone is not meeting our terms, we write them off. How can we love others as Christ has loved us if we have this mentality? 

There are tons of memes that promote selfishness and conditional love, but I think you get the point. Our culture promotes selfishness, and it is not surprising that our memes do, too. However, the bible teaches selflessness. Philippians 2:1-5 shows the attitude of selflessness and then commands us to do away with behavior that is in opposition to that state of mind… the mind of Christ.  Ephesians 4: 2-3; 32 commands us to walk with all humility, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity, being kind and forgiving. The fight for unity is the battle of building community, for which many are not willing to strive.

Many elements face us. Galatians 5:19-20 mentions most of them, but selfishness is the center of it all.  Combating our selfishness requires humility. Humility requires a truthful view about ourselves in relation to God (Romans 12:3). However, we often view ourselves in relation to our feelings, others, what’s around us, or our own ego. Humility seeks to grow and restore relationship where selfishness divides.

So, to my sisters and brothers, the next time you see or even want to post this:  

Ask yourself… What is the motive? What is the root? What does this say about me? Could it be that I’m building a destructive wall of isolation? Am I afraid, hurt, seeking revenge, lonely, regretful, or jealous? Make sure what you’re sharing, posting or reposting honestly speaks to your BIBLICAL convictions and is NOT the result of you being “in your feelings.”


Crystal Charley is a ministry student and servant leader. She is currently at student at Palm Beach Atlantic University. She is devoted to the work of the ministry as a teacher, advisor, and disciple maker in her local church and community. She will marry her best friend Alex West in December. Crystal is currently developing Redeemed Creation (birthed from Galatians 2:20), a ministry that desires to capture and redeem women and children to a life of restoration in Christ. 

Excellent Work is Ministry

BY: TRAVIS WILLIAMS

Photo:  Alamy

Photo: Alamy

The marketplace is where the majority of believers spend their time. However, many believers do not see a connection between their ministry and their workspace. When many think of ministry, they think of a local church, a pastor or a missionary. For many Christians, ministry is limited to the four walls of the church and positions they deem “sacred”.  The misinterpretation of ministry causes many to diminish their role in the marketplace.

The dictionary defines ministry as “the work or vocation of a minister of a religion”.  However, in Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor- Connecting Your Work to God's Work, he notes that every work or job that we do, is connected to how God works in the earth. What if every believer saw his or her work as a calling from the Lord?  Scripture is clear; we must work as though we are working for the Lord. Paul states in Colossians 3:23, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people."

The Lord has given us all different gifts and they are not limited to “sacred” spaces, but also, work places.  God wants us to use our gifts in the marketplace; whether we are doctors, attorneys or house keepers. We are called to use our God given gifts in every area of life. If God has blessed us with a job that means He has called us to that place. Keller explains, “A job is only a vocation if someone else calls you to it and you do it for them, rather than for yourself." Therefore, your job does not have to look sacred to be sacred. Everything we do is a calling and not just a job. Whether in business, art, medicine, law or government, as believers, we should be actively sharing the love of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in addition to doing our job with excellence; that is our ministry- that is full time ministry.

The word of God encourages us to let our light shine and let our good works point people to the Father. The word good can also be interpreted as excellent. Excellent work in the marketplace is necessary in order to be a light in our workspaces. Always remember, people pay more attention to what we do than what we say. Therefore, we cannot be effective in marketplace ministry, if we are not doing our job with excellence. I know it’s hard sometimes to do good work when you dislike your job, but we are not just doing work for a check, we’re doing it for the Lord. Our job is more than a means to provide, but it is a means to minister and defend the Gospel through our words and our lives.


Travis Williams attended the University of North Florida where he earned two undergraduate degrees in Finance and Financial Services. He currently runs a financial services practice and has a strong conviction about Christians and their role in the marketplace. He married to his college sweet heart and best friend, Kristin Williams.