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by Blake Anderson
Winding through a town north of north and mostly forgotten, I was reminded that New England is all that it's cracked up to be . . . including the roads: potholes and all. The scenic views, rustic streets, and refreshing chill in early May was a reboot of my youth and early married years in New England. But this wasn't just New England. I was in Bangor, Maine for the Why Jesus? 2016 Northern New England Conference on Evidence for Christian Faith.
The small town felt evaporated upon entering the convention center that quickly filled with about 6,300 people. That's not a typo. The proof is in the "pews."
Lee Strobel wrapped up the morning that had started at 8:30 a.m. making a case for the historical Jesus, and Ravi Zacharias brought it home about 9:00 p.m. presenting on "Why Should Anyone Follow a First Century Religious Figure?"
Now, THAT . . . is wicked cool!* And if you are from around here, you know I'm not talking about an evil winter.
That's six thousand three hundred living breathing persons for an apologetics conference in a sold out arena in a region of the country that is considered by some missions organizations to be "an unreached people group." No kidding. I received a letter from a Ratio Christi student a couple of years ago fundraising for a summer mission project to an area with only about 2 percent evangelical Christians: Boston, Massachusetts. The whole northeast is the most unchurched and under-evangelized area in the U.S. With a rich Christian intellectual and missions heritage in the distant past, it is now much closer to the secularism pervasive in Europe than a former seminary-rich training ground and launch pad for missionaries. Harvard, Yale, and many more great universities started as training centers for Gospel outreach. No more. The "frozen chosen" is an apt phrase for the few dear Christians isolated among the universalist churches, hip communities, and industrious people of the area. Some baptist groups from the Bible belt have called the northeast the "church planting graveyard." A quickly put together praise band and a swanky preacher doesn't a church make like it might below the Mason-Dixon. The people are strong and strong of mind, well educated, and used to thinking for themselves. Religion has been tried and found wanting or not tried at all. The Christians that are there are so because they mean it and not because it's easy. The few small churches--with a lot of distance between them--are full of serious and good people. Yet there are so very few.
A part of my heart has always remained in New England and with my friends and family there, though I'll admit I don't miss the dreary snow filled winters. I want to see a great multitude from this needy place coming to their Savior. I've hoped that God would once again use this tucked away land and it's people in a powerful way. If ever a place needed a Renaissance of Christian thinking, it is here. Ratio Christi launched efforts in New England some four years ago and the work is hard, requiring leaders with patience and fortitude--and Ratio Christi has been blessed with such leaders. In the hard soil of the heart from Connecticut through Vermont, evangelism and discipleship take the exhortation of "put your hand to the plow and don't look back" to a whole new level (Luke 9:62). I've often thought that apologetics was even more needed in New England--similarly in the northwest--than in most other U.S. locations where we might put our hand to sharing the Gospel. It's the same reason by which I think re-spreading Christianity in Europe will only see limited results until the church discovers apologetics in its tool bag.
So, imagine the joy in seeing over 6,000 followers of Christ gathered to better understand how to explain and defend the truth of Christianity in a small city north of north. Lee Strobel said,
[Why Jesus? 2016] may be the largest event of Christian apologetics or evidence for the faith ever done.
The atmosphere was electric and many--including myself--were rather dazed that so many had traveled so far from around the region to attend a long day of intense training. It was an oasis experience and…
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