But I want to emphasize the need for what can be called a "cultural" or "missional" apologetic. These work on two intellectual fronts. The first front addresses the ideas or ideological influences common to a given culture. These ideas surreptitiously shape our thinking in an osmotic fashion, like the water in which a fish swims: The fish doesn't give the water the slightest thought; it simply takes the water for granted. Such is the case with the ideas common to our culture. They are the air we breathe, and thus we scarcely give them a thought, but their influence on our thoughts, if unchecked, is formidable.

The second front pertains to social issues and their underlying ideas or worldview. These are most often expressed in the cultural debates over moral and ethical questions such as abortion, same-sex marriage, feminism, and homosexuality, to name just a few. The respective positions often represent opposing views of reality and the nature of man, yet whichever moral perspective—and its underlying worldview—gains social acceptance tends to form the consensus view of reality.

Sent Into the World on a Mission

It is not enough to simply understand these two ideological fronts; a cultural apologetic ultimately relies on a missional approach to culture in order to effectively confront and subvert these ideas. Currently, we toss "Christian hand grenades," occasionally entering the culture to present our one-sided arguments for the truth of Christianity and then retreating to our churches as soon as we are done. Being missional means we act more like a rescue force that is determined to stay until all are rescued than like a commando unit that occasionally enters hostile territory to harass the enemy! Being missional means we endeavor to develop real and meaningful relationships with those who God, in His providence, has brought into our lives —to first demonstrate the love of Christ and then be ready with an answer to explain the hope that is within us. It means we listen more than we speak; we ask and answer questions and expand our conversations to include more than just religion; and when we speak—for goodness' sake! —we speak in normal language and not "Christianese."

The missional Christian presses into the world wherever he or she is and pushes back the darkness with the love of Christ. The missional Christian works at really getting to know and love his neighbor, not because he has to but because he loves people as Christ commanded. This includes those neighbors who are different, difficult, or just downright unlikeable. And, yes, this includes those neighbors who share very different political views and lifestyles. In other words, we really seek to interact and develop real relationships with the lost. It means we invite sinners into our life. It means we put up with their profanity and coarse talk. It means we love them as Christ loves them, without reservation. This is what it means to be missional. If you claim to be Christian, it is what you already are: a follower of Christ left on mission in hostile territory.

If you are armed with an understanding of the cultural and social barriers that inhibit the reception of the gospel and employ this missional approach, you will go a long way toward demonstrating the relevance of Christ and His message to the unbelieving world. It is the true mark of the Christian: love. It will also align your life with Christ's commandments.

A Missional Example

I want to share an experience I had several years ago when speaking at the University of California-Berkeley that illustrates this missional approach. I had been invited by the student chapter of the ACLU to participate in a debate on same-sex marriage. Lucky me!

Now, let me be honest: UC-Berkeley was the last place on earth I wanted to go to defend the biblical perspective on marriage. However, God is providential, and I believed this was precisely where He wanted me to go, so I agreed. I would be joined in the debate by another Christian from a large pro-family organization, and we would be facing two gay activists from two organizations working to advance same-sex marriage. As I was flying from Dallas to Berkeley, I was praying for courage and wisdom. I confess there was an element of fear and I was not particularly enthusiastic about what awaited me later that evening.