The following is a condensed excerpt of the final paper I wrote in the Apologetics class I took at Dallas Theological Seminary. Essentially, you will read my attempt to convince church leaders (whether staff or dedicated volunteer) that apologetic teaching is necessary for our children and youth ministries today.
Part 1 of "An Apologetic for Apologetics: Children and Youth"American teenagers seem to be leaving the faith in which they were raised in great number. Teenagers are finding alternatives which seem more attractive or compelling than the Christian faith. Some of these youth are going to college and becoming convinced that their faith is unfounded because they encounter arguments they have not been exposed to before, and many become atheists or find something they feel is more compelling. Others simply quit going to church and hold to a vague spirituality. For instance, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, authors of Soul Searching published in 2005, interviewed youth and studied research from the “2002-03 National Study of Youth and Religion” study where they found many teenagers have a similar set of beliefs. They call it “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” (MTD) They hold to a religion that treats people well (moralistic), makes them feel good (therapeutic), and where God is involved just enough to keep things spinning (deism). This is not the only alternative youth are turning too, but it is one that seems pervasive. 1
Some may say that if children and youth are turning away, it is because there are genuinely better options out there. However, if these young people saw the beauty of the gospel, then nothing would be nearly as appealing. If they saw the evidence supporting the truth claims of Christianity, they may not disown their faith. If these young people knew of the goodness and justice of God, they may not fall prey to the MTD worldview. It is not that the other options are better. The issue is that the church is not equipping its members in general or its youth in particular to face those options head on. The church as a whole is not teaching the beauty of the gospel or the evidence for the validity Christian faith.2
Apologetics is the answer to this information deficit. The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics says, “Apologetics is the discipline that deals with a rational defense of Christian faith.”3 Apologetics is the answer to this fast growing dilemma of the Church. If the young people of the church were more equipped to handle the objections and alternatives the world throws their way, far fewer would leave their faith. Christian apologetics is necessary in order to nurture strong faith in the lives of children and youth; families and the church both have parts to play in this nurture.
It has already been mentioned that youth are leaving their faith in great numbers. The National Study of Youth and Religion, 2002-03 conducted a study of teens ages 13-17 who are now no longer religious but were previously religious in some way. It is worth noting that 64% identified as Catholic, Christian, or part of a Protestant denomination. 32% left for “intellectual skepticism and disbelief,” 22% “don’t know why,” 13% “lack of interest,” and 12% “just stopped attending services.” The other 21% were for other reasons. In other words, nearly a third claimed they left for intellectual reasons and almost half (47%) say they left due to some form of apathy. This means nearly three out of every four youth who have left the faith say they have done so for one of those two reasons.4
Apologetics seeks to give sound, evidence-based reasoned arguments and answers to the 32%. Apologetics shows them that we have good reasons to believe the Bible is reliable and true because it is internally cohesive despite being 66 different books written by about 40 different authors over a period of perhaps 1,400 year and externally consistent historically, geographically and archaeologically with other ancient documents of that time. Apologetics can show them that there is great historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Or young people can learn that the Theory of Evolution does not come anywhere close to disproving God’s existence. Others can learn that just because horrible and evil things happen in the world, it does not mean that there is not a God of love, goodness, and justice doing something about it. All of these are a few classic apologetic topics (the historicity of the Bible, the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, the supposed conflict between faith and science, and the problem of evil) which can be used to show that there are many reasons and evidences to believe what Christians believe.
As for the 47% who left for varying reasons of apathy, apologetics also has something to offer here. Anyone who has worked with children or youth will be able to say that both get bored easily. They want to have fun and they have to be actively engaged or their minds will wander off to find something more fun and engaging. Teaching kids the “classic” Bible children’s stories such as Jonah and the Whale, Noah’s Ark, the story of Adam and Eve the way they have been typically taught is not engaging to the students in any given class. Even if they are entertained enough to follow along with the lesson and story the first time, after hearing the same stories over and over again, they become nothing more than church fairy tales. I believe this is why most of those 47% become apathetic and leave their faith.5
There is nothing wrong with the stories mentioned above. They are part of the inspired word of God, but they are more than just cute stories. The Christian faith when studied is fascinating. For example, there are many viewpoints on the stories in Genesis including the Creation story. Rather than just walking them through the days of creation, compare it to what has been discovered through science. Let them talk about whether they believe it was created in seven literal days or over many millions of years and allow them to clarify why they hold their particular view. After a guided discussion the youth should not only be more engaged, but they should have a better understanding of their faith. Others may wonder if miracles are possible. Explore some of the miracle stories of the Bible. Let them question without fear of chastisement whether miracles are possible at all. This type of environment should grasp the attention of more children and youth alike rather than simply telling stories. It is worth noting, however, that no technique or environment will work 100% of the time since each young person is different, so the environment should be tailored for those participating.
1 Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, (Oxford University Press: New York. 2009), 118-171.
3 N. L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999) 37, Logos Bible Software.
4 Ibid., Smith and Denton, 89.
The blogs in the "Apologetic for Apologetics: Children and Youth" series are based on a research paper written by Leah Chapman at Dallas Theological Seminary during May 2016. Footnotes will be included in each post and a full bibliography will be published on this blog at the conclusion of the series.