Youth and Apologetics

I recently picked up a copy of the Christian Research Journal.  It is basically an Evangelical apologetics periodical.  While i’m not quite the Evangelical i used to be, i thought it was worth looking at.

I was particularly interested in an article about youth and apologetics by Sean Mcdowell.  If the name sounds familiar to you, Mcdowell is the son of the American Evangelical apologetics superstar, Josh Mcdowell

One of the most fascinating/provocative parts of his essay, Sean cites sociologist Christian Smith, who conducted at that time one of the most extensive research studies of culture and contemporary youth.  Smith’s findings suggest that youth today are not in need of a great new ‘postmodern’ approach to ministry, but rather they need to have an intellectual undergirding for their beliefs. 

Smith’s research is now in book form.  I actually read it a couple years ago, and i loved it.  I think that i will read it again soon now that i’m actually doing ministry to youth.  Here is a helpful discussion of his research.

Smith’s research found that the most common reason why kids with a religious upbringing later became ‘non-religious’ in their teens was because they didn’t believe it was true.  Mcdowell’s conclusion of this evidence is that “young people are leaving faith behind because the Christian community is failing to engage their minds as well as their hearts.”

Mcdowell proposes that youth pastors should engage their student’s minds.  Apologetics is a vital part of this process, because mcdowell believes that once youth know why they believe, they will be enboldened to live for Christ.

I find this article interesting.  I find the idea that what sixth graders crave isn’t a snickers bar & a dodgeball, but an explanation of the anselmian proof for God’s existence laughable.  Strawmen aside though, i find the study’s findings fascinating, and challenging.  Should one teach apologetics to youth?  Is the need that vital?  If so how do we do it? 

Anyone have any thoughts? 


7 responses to “Youth and Apologetics

  1. In certain ways, this is not far from the approach of Fr. Luigi Giussani. Here’s how he describes his approach. He says that he decided

    “to commit myself in a no- nonsense announcement of the Christian fact, peeling away all that seemed secondary so as to reveal its essential form. ‘Let us aim above all at announcing Christ, the all- embracing event in man’s life and the centre of history,’ as John Paul II’s first encyclical, Redemptor hominis, would clearly reaffirm. It was the essence of the Christian fact as a proposal of life. In fact, we began just like that, speaking of Christ.

    All this was happening when the traditional meeting places of young Catholics (parishes, youth clubs, etc.) were spending vast sums on entertainment equipment that they hoped would persuade youth to stay in touch” (The Journey to Truth is an Experience, p 6).

    This was 1950s Italy, for crying out loud!

    So, if you want me to vote for substance or entertainment, my vote’s for substance.

  2. Hey Derek — how’s school? Sean is a great guy and a friend of mine from Talbot. I think he’s right about youth leaving the faith due to a lack of intellectual engagement. I’m not sure I’d introduce Anselm in 6th grade, but I would probably be looking for those bright kids who need more. There’s a student in the grad program here who lost his faith in college (Christian college) — I think in part because he was just smarter than his teachers. These kids need to know that there is a rich, intellectual depth to their faith if they want to go deeper.

  3. Hey Chris, good to hear from you. School is going well for now. I have a 4.0, but if i don’t get on it, that may be dropping after this class. Either way i’m taking this summer off b/c i’m transitioning into a youth ministry position. How are your classes?

    Your views make sense to me. There isn’t a one size fits all approach here, but some kids (i was one of them) need apologetics. I suspect that if a student values understanding, then it will be important. Others will be fine without.

    However, i think a basic framework may be necessary for all, b/c at some point they have to enter either college or an unbelieving world.

    As an aside, i have a tougher time with valuing apologetics b/c i’m starting to side more with Anselm (faith seeking understanding), than Aquinas (faith and reason are on roughly the same level of importance). My classes on Barth have been challenging me. All that to say that a part of me is questioning the necessity of apologetics, at least for evangelism. I’m not entirely sure where i’m headed with that at this point.

    Anyway, thanks for the comments and take care. I miss you man. May we wake up and be hanging out at Bluestem!

  4. Hey Fred, thanks for stopping by (again?). I think that many times we sell youth way too short. We assume that the best we can hope for is that they are moral, witness and have a regular quiet time.

    The ministry i’m stepping into has been run by my best friend before me. I’ve spent a lot of time watching him and his kids, and they have responded well to his refusal to let them stagnate. They are quite mature.

    I appreciate your visit. I think you are on target here.

  5. Derek,

    You know I’m big on apologetics (given that it’s my master’s). In my limited time working with the youth at Woodland Hills, I found that the junior high and high school students not only understood what we were talking about, but most of them appreciated it and found it helpful.

    I would also say that for evangelism, I have talked with some people who only need to connect the dots of the three intrinsic needs. Others, like a kid I’m meeting with in St. Paul who’s 20 years old, really need the apologetic approach. Furthermore, I’ve found that apologetics is far more helpful for me than it is for the people I’m talking with. I use apologetics in many, if not most, of my evangelistic conversations. I just don’t sit there and say, “Oh, so you’re wondering about the historical reliability of the New Testament. Well let me tell you about that.” Or, “You’re asking about epistemology. Well, let’s examine how we know things.” Yeah, I don’t relaly do that, but I do talk about all of those things, but in a fashion that is very non-technical. Unless, of course, the person is asking the questions directly.

    To your question, the beauty of all of this education you and I have is not so that we can pontificate with one another and praise our ability to use big words and understand complex concepts, but instead is how we take our knowledge and make it understandable to everyone. Teaching youth apologetics is great because it challenges us as pastors to figure out how to explain it better, make it interesting, and make it applicable.

  6. Sean,
    You are asking a great question, one that I asked several years back and one that drove me to develop a middle school apologetics curriculum. I have taught middle school at a Christian school for 14 years and I know what make them tick and how they learn. I developed an engaging apologetics curriculum that had some meat in it but was also fun. I actually taught it to 6th graders for 5years and they ate it up, especially the ones that had been in the Church for several years. Middle school kids love to argue. I just focused them on something good to argue about. Christian educators and youth pastors should check out my website for more details. I would love to help anyone interested in starting something like this at their middle school or church. There is a need to develop tough minded teens for Christ. We just need to be wise about how we do it.
    John Hellriegel
    PS. The program I developed one an award from ACSI. Check out the site for details.

  7. I’m assuming you’ve heard of Ravi Zacharias. I really enjoyed listening to him when I was in high school. I agree that apologetics and evangelism are two different things and that it’s rather difficult to mix the two. Apologetics often depends heavily on logical arguments, while evangelism must be based on the Bible. Recently, I heard Ravi Zacharias answer a question on whether God favored men over women. His explanation from the Bible of how God has given special privileges to women was beautiful!

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