By: Sean McDowell This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 30, number 1 (2007). For further information or to subscribe to theChristian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org
Most Christian teenagers today are rolling through life without much thoughtful reflection about their faith. They have deep confusion about the nature and character of the Trinitarian God, other essential Christian truth claims, and the nature of truth itself. Most of their worldviews are shaped by a pluralistic culture rather than biblical literacy, so, naturally, their beliefs diverge widely from biblical standards. As a result, many teens are leaving the faith they grew up with, and of those who remain in the fold, few are living as bold witnesses for Christ.Dedicated teenagers who embrace an authentic Christian worldview, however, not only are less likely to abandon the faith, but are more likely to practice it in their daily lives. This is why apologetics training is such a critical component in the discipling of youth. If we can help them to internalize the truth and beauty of Christianity, they will be far more likely to live out its goodness.History has shown that people act on what they believe—not what they say they believe, or want to believe, but what they really believe. People who believe that God truly has spoken through the Bible are far more likely to follow its guidance and are much bolder in their witness for the truth of Christianity than are those who are not so convinced. We must lovingly train young people to be able to defend their faith with confidence and authority.
The lunch bell rang and Mike sheepishly slipped into my classroom, slouched into a desk, and buried his face in his folded arms. As a typical high school sophomore, he didn’t want to appear “uncool” in front of friends, so he came to talk to me when no one would be around. As I approached, he sat up, looked me in the eyes, and said abruptly, “Mr. McDowell, we need to talk. I think I am losing my faith.”Like many young people, Mike was caught up in his day‐to‐day routine, without much thoughtful reflection about his Christian beliefs. The night before we talked he came across an atheist Web site that raised difficult questions about his beliefs. Lacking the intellectual tools and the confidence to answer the challenges, he started to wonder: Is the Bible really true? What about evolution? How can I believe that Christianity is the only way to God? How could a loving God who is all‐powerful and who could prevent evil allow it to happen? Doubts such as these came crashing down like bricks to assail and overpower his confidence in God.Fortunately, Mike trusted me enough to enlist my guidance during this challenging part of his faith journey, and over the next few months we spent many lunch hours exploring crucial apologetics questions. We examined the Bible’s authenticity as well as extrabiblical evidence for Christianity’s truth claims in history, philosophy, and science. Mike appreciated having a knowledgeable adult to help him through the hard questions, and later shared with me that had I not been there, he likely would have jettisoned his faith.
THE APOLOGETICS DIFFERENCE
As Mike demonstrates, apologetics training is (or should be!) a critical component in the discipling of youth. All young people inevitably will have their beliefs directly challenged, whether while they are in high school, during college, or when they get out in the “real world.” We must train young people to love God not only with their hearts and souls, but with their minds (Matt. 22:37) as well, and to be able to offer a defense of their faith to all those who ask (1 Pet. 3:15).For the past decade or longer, the Christian marketplace has been flooded with books about how to do ministry in a postmodern world. Their authors rightly have pointed out many cultural changes due to postmodernism, but often have failed to realize how much has actually remained the same. I am perplexed when I read contemporary writers, particularly some in the “emerging church” movement, who question the need for apologetics in ministry to postmodern youth.Sociologist Christian Smith, who has conducted one of the most extensive research studies of culture and contemporary youth, points out that youth today are not in need of a “radically new ‘postmodern’ type of program or ministry.”
1 Smith believes, instead, that one of the key things young people need is to be challenged to consider why they believe what they believe and to learn how to articulate their faith. It is certainly true that living the Christian life with consistency and conviction can be an attractive witness toteens, but this must not deter us from making a rational apologetic for the knowability of truth, or the coherence of Christian truth claims with reality.My experience has been that, especially when given the privacy of a note card to respond, students often ask the tough questions, and are interested in reasons for belief in Christianity and its claims. In speaking engagements throughout the United States, I have collected thousands of these questions from curious students. “How can I know God is real?” “How can there be only one right religion?” These types of questions demand an apologetic response by an adult mentor or leader who is well versed in apologetics issues. We need to give our youth reasons why Christianity is objectively true, why the Bible is God’s inspired and infallible Word, and how we know Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is more than mere mythology or an elaborate hoax. If we cannot rise to the task, we run the risk of losing our children and generations to follow. One might argue that such a disturbing and tragic loss already has begun.
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