When Lisa Fields started college, she was a preacher’s kid who’d grown up inside of the church and never encountered opposition to her faith. That changed in her first New Testament class when she studied a textbook by Bart Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who argues against the inerrancy of Scripture.
“I’d been in church my whole life,” says Fields. “I was in a Christian bubble. I thought the class would be like Sunday school, I thought it was going to be an easy A, but I really struggled. Through that experience, my dad introduced me to Ravi Zacharias and that helped me start thinking critically about my faith.”
In the years since then, Fields has founded an organization called the Jude 3 Project, which uses apologetics to address the unique “intellectual struggles of Christians of African descent in the United States and abroad.” The organization offers lectures and seminars, training courses, podcast discussions, and a conversation forum called Courageous Conversations, which pairs black scholars and pastors trained in both conservative and progressive seminaries.
Fields is currently spearheading an event in St. Louis, Missouri, called African Americans in Theology, hosted in partnership with Covenant Theological Seminary. She’s also undertaking an apologetics tour that travels across the country to historically black Christian colleges and universities.
CT spoke recently with Fields about the first fruits of her project and why black suburbia is one of her main areas of outreach.
Why did you decide to specifically focus on African Americans?
I realized that all of the apologetics books I was reading were written by white men, with the exception of Ravi. I thought, “A lot of this material wouldn’t appeal to a lot of people in black churches because the illustrations aren’t relevant, and some of the issues aren’t as relevant. There needs to be a bridge builder.”
I wanted to see myself in that space, and that’s why I started this project for the African American community.
Christopher Brooks, author of Urban Apologetics, is working to bring apologetics to the urban black community in Detroit. How does your work align with his, and where does it differ?
Chris and I are dealing with some similar issues as far as cults and the black identity group Hebrew Israelites, but one of the things I try to highlight about the Jude 3 Project is that we don’t just do urban apologetics. When I go into white evangelical spaces and tell white people that I’m doing apologetics for black people, they immediately think “inner city” because they’ve pigeonholed black people. I’m a black girl who didn’t grow up in the inner city. I grew up in the suburbs of Jacksonville in a predominately black neighborhood. When people ask, “Do you know your dad?” my answer is, “Yeah. My parents have been married for 32 years. I grew up in a family unit. My grandparents have been married over 60 years.” I’ve seen wholeness in black spaces.
Black people in the inner city do need apologetics, but black people in the suburbs do, too. We offer apologetics for black people across socioeconomic statuses. So that’s where I would say Jude 3 is a bit broader. While I want to connect to the black person on the corner, I also want to connect with black people on the Hill in DC who have brunch every Saturday.
What are the unique challenges facing the black church today, and where does apologetics fit in?
Millenial retention. A lot of millennials are leaving religion because they feel like church is not relevant. Millenials are the most well-educated generation of African Americans, and as they’re becoming more educated, they’re asking different questions and being exposed to different ideas. In the ’60s and ’70s, many black churches thought classical apologetics was irrelevant to them because most black people weren’t questioning the existence of God and Christianity. But many in this generation are, and that’s in part why they’re going to the Hebrew Israelites and to syncretism.
What are the main objections to faith that you’re hearing from these black millennials?
I think identity is one of the main differences between black millennials’ and white milliennials’ questions. Black millennials see Christianity as something that was given to them by white evangelicals, and they have so many negative connotations with white evangelicals that they’re just rejecting it all. So I see a lot of black millennials across the socio-economic spectrum questioning “the white man’s religion.” Some people go toward radical black cults and others say, “I’m just spiritual.” There’s a lot of talk about “the universe.”
The hypocrisy of the church is also a real obstacle for many people, too. There’s hypocrisy within white churches and hypocrisy within black churches. Some are critical of religion being overly emotional and not having enough reason, and some are critical of the fact that when they do get more in-depth teaching, it’s usually done by whites. So it just depends on whom you’re asking. It also depends on the part of the country you’re in. That goes back to the importance of listening: You can’t talk to five millennials and think you have a handle on millennial issues.
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Source: Christianity Today