One of the great things about working in an area like ours is that there are certain issues that require almost no defence whatsoever. Many middle class churches struggle when facing some of these issues because they know that those they meet will find them problematic. When working with South Asian Muslims and working class white Brits, some issues are much easier to address than others.
For example, our Muslim friends believe that there is such a place as Heaven (Paradise) and its counterpart, Hell. They happily affirm that there will, indeed, be a judgement. They recognise that Jesus is, at least, a prophet and readily acknowledge that he will come again. They affirm that he was crucified (sort of) and that he is still alive now. There is an acceptance in Islam that sin is a problem and that God is both just and merciful. There is, to some degree, an acknowledgement that the gospel (injil) is reliable as a record about the person of Jesus.
The major apologetic questions with our Muslims friends revolve around the reliability of the Bible (it’s been changed), the deity of Christ (how can God have a Son?) and other trinitarian issues. Often, these things are not brilliantly thought through.
I remember having a conversation with a Muslim man who randomly threw out the line, ‘the Bible has been changed.’ I asked him why he was saying that and he simply shrugged his shoulders and told me, ‘it’s something we’re told to say.’ Regardless, it is interesting that there is often minimal dancing around the main issues. There are certain assumptions that make it much easier to share the gospel.
The other group we meet are white working class Brits. Very few of these guys deny the existence of God and I’ve not met m/any who aren’t looking for a saviour of some sort. The saviour they trust isn’t necessarily Christ but they are conscious they need one. We have very little need to defend the existence of God or their need of a saviour when we speak with them.
The major apologetic questions we get among these guys tend to be about the seriousness of sin and the reality of Hell. Often it revolves around excuses for sin, whether God takes it all that seriously and a vain hope that Hell doesn’t exist. In practice, this means we may tackle the issue of Hell directly in a way that would be verboten in more middle class circles.
But these things have a tendency to make evangelism a lot easier. There are more shared assumptions than we often realise and so the starting point for gospel discussion is often much further along than we may find among our middle class friends.
Most of the middle class people of my generation are de facto secular humanists who – if not overtly Atheistic – are certainly functional Atheists. Most have never really given any consideration to the question of God’s existence and there is a basic assumption, if not a settled conviction, that he probably doesn’t exist. Even if he does (and he probably doesn’t) he would be happy enough with me because I am essentially good. With such people we must begin answering questions that the Bible itself, even in its very first sentence, simply assumes as self-evident (and states as such later on). We are dealing with people who typically don’t believe in God, certainly live their lives as though he is not there and believe they are good enough to not have to worry about him at any rate.
In deprived areas like Oldham, there is a recognition that life is hard and a hope for better things. In middle class areas, there is a sense that life is alright and self-sufficiency is readily attainable. The people we meet in deprived communities are keen on community and they are ready to receive help. The middle classes are more concerned with keeping their distance and doing their own thing. Deprived communities have people who are willing to talk, who want genuine community and who share many of our assumptions already.
You tell me, which is the real hard area?