Who Needs It?

Have Evangelical leaders brought the church into a place where non-Christians are more accepting. Isn’t teaching apologetics to youth only something that will alienate unbelivers from the gospel? Chris, Tonbridge from Kent, UK asks:

How would you encourage young people to develop their apologetics?

Greg Koukl’s Answer:

I’m not sure if your question is “How do Christians who are young and therefore less knowledgeable in theology, apologetics, philosophy, etc. develop their apologetics,” or “Young Christians engage a different audience than older Christians (e.g., more postmodern), so given their audience, how should they develop their apologetics?” (Even in conversation with Christians you can see how important the first Columbo Tactic question is: “What do you mean by that?”)

If the first, the simple answer is to commit yourself early on to engage life as a student. Cultivate a life-long posture of learning through reading, study, reflection, and thoughtful interaction with others, especially those who know more than you do and are better at the skill of thinking than you are. This has been my approach and it has paid huge dividends.

If the second, I think there may be some stylistic concerns (more laid back, less dogmatic, more narrative, etc.), but the substance should be the same. One liability for younger people you may talk to is that they tend to be massively imprecise and have a very difficult time actually following an argument. They are image and feeling driven and both habits weigh heavily against thoughtfulness. This means you must press your first two Columbo questions (“What do you mean by that?” and “How did you come to that conclusion?”) graciously, but persistently. Otherwise you’re likely to get nothing more than sentimental confusion.

Jump right in with questions for Greg! Thanks Greg for being with us.


Who Needs It? — 8 Comments

  1. Greg,
    I’ve found in the academic circles (especially philosophy) that I get much more friendly response by adjusting my apologetic to the historical argument for the Resurrection rather than concentrating on the evidences for God. Is this your experience as well?

  2. Greg, I am delighted with your work in promoting good ambassador skills. I’ve been on a college campus for almost ten years now, and it always seems to be that unbelievers get the strongest impression of Christianity from loud, outspoken Christians who just don’t care for diplomacy and simple courtesy.

    How do you suggest a Christian, who cares about speaking the truth in love, should deal with such people? It’s frustrating because, even though the Gospel is preached, it feels like some approaches are actually undermining the work of the Great Commission.

  3. Greg, William-Lane Craig said (something to the effect of) that there is a misunderstanding as to the level of post-modernity amongst our youth, and that ‘our’ diagnosis of them may be being overemphasized…. Would you say that is somewhat true? Being youthful myself, I do unfortunately hear ‘well, that doesnt work for me’ a bit more often than I should.

  4. Jonathan,

    Unfortunately, I don’t have enough experience with that specific circumstance to answer. My suspicion is that philosophical arguments would appeal to philosophers, but apparently I’m mistaken, if your own experience is the measure.

    I get asked the question about apathy all the time, especially from those in the Bible belt. I do not have a solution to this problem. As a strategic issue, I don’t spend much time with them. If they simply don’t care about what I have to say, I generally look for greener pastures. Here’s the way I put it in chapter 2 of Tactics:

    When I was a young Christian, the wife of my mentor gave me some solid advice from John 10. In this chapter Jesus uses a “figure of speech” (v. 6) to describe the work of the Holy Spirit drawing someone to Christ. “My sheep hear My voice,” Jesus said. “I know them, and they follow Me, and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish” (John 10:27-28).
    This has very practical application for evangelism because it helps explain something you might have encountered in conversations with others. Have you ever noticed that sometimes your comments seem to fall on deaf ears?
    “When I share my faith,” Kathy told me, “I pay attention to how the ‘sheep’ respond. Most will keep on eating grass. But once in a while you’ll notice that some lift their heads. There is a moment of recognition as they ‘hear’ the Shepherd’s ‘voice.’”
    Kathy understood that it was Jesus’ job to change the heart. Since she was confident the Holy Spirit was going before her, she was simply looking for the people who were looking for her, so to speak. She was looking for those already hungry for the Gospel, those whose heart was already being softened by the Spirit. Those were the people she spent her time on. She left the rest alone.

    If you’re dealing with someone who is a regular part of your life (a family member, for example), keep your eyes open for opportunities of emotional vulnerability, a chink in the armor where you can find some room to move. My own father seemed impervious to the Gospel message until he faced a risky open heart surgery at 70. That was the chink. He is now with the Lord.

    And never underestimate the power of prayer.

  5. Jesse,

    You might ask any particular Christian friend who seems to be guilty on this score: “Do you think that the way you are communicating the message might be pushing people away, and not the message itself?”

    Now, this is a bit direct, but fair. They will probably ask if you think that’s true, and then you can give your candid opinion in a gracious way (Well, I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but it does seem that way to me, at least sometimes. Do you mind if I give you a few examples?”).

    Two other things. Get them a copy of Tactics (or maybe lend them yours) and have them read the first two chapters. At very least have them read the Ambassadors Creed at the end of the last chapter (also available online at str.org). Then ask them what they think about those 10 virtues and how they think they are living up to them.

  6. Clone-Greg,

    Some version of this question has come up on almost every blog this week. I think Bill Craig is correct in a qualified sense. Here’s my qualification, as I shared in other blogs.

    I realize that the prevailing worldview among young people is a kind of reflexive postmodern relativism. They are very skeptical about truth claims and the kind of “rationality” that moderns have used to justify views that have led to oppression. But that is only a part of the story, the small part.

    There is something else that is almost always missed with challenges like this one. Bad worldviews, even if deeply believed, cannot undo reality. God has given every human being the ability to know truth about their world. Our convictions as Christians include that God exists, that this is His world, and that man is made in His image. That’s the rest of the story. If we are right, then reality turns out to be structured in a very specific way and no unbeliever can escape it. Reality becomes our ally, even with postmoderns.

    Note these comments from the Tactics chapter on “Taking the Roof Off.”

    When I was a young Christian, I read Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There. Schaeffer argues that Christians have a powerful ally in the war of ideas: reality. Whenever someone tries to deny the truth, reality ultimately betrays him… Although culture shifts, human nature remains the same. Ideas change, but reality does not….

    Every person who rejects the truth of “the God who is there” is caught between the way he says the world is and the way the world actually is. This dissonance, what Schaeffer called the “point of tension,” is what makes Taking the Roof Off so effective. Any person who denies the truth of God’s world lives in contradiction. He says one thing, yet deep down he knows the truth….

    Regardless of our ideological impulses [e.g., postmodernism], deep inside each of us is a common-sense realist. Those who are not are either dead, in an institution, or sleeping in cardboard boxes under the freeway. Knowing this gives us a tremendous advantage. The key to dealing with moral relativism, for example, is realizing that for all the adamant affirmations, no one really believes it, and for a good reason: If you start with relativism, reality does not make sense.

    Unless a person is truly pathological, he cannot escape these truths even if he tries. His language and his behavior will always betray his deepest beliefs about the world. Emotions, prejudice, and bull-headedness may cause him to deny what would otherwise be obvious except when he is defending his ideological turf. But when his guard is down, every person understands that the basic structure of the world is the way the Bible says it is, at least in the broad strokes. Simply put, reason and rationality still matter, even to the postmodernist regardless of his claims to the contrary.

    Recent studies (in addition to our own anecdotal experience at STR) bears this out. For example, sociologist Christian Smith in his book Soul Searching reveals that one of the primary reasons students abandon their Christian convictions is because of “some version of intellectual skepticism or disbelief.” Some typical responses: “It didn’t make any sense anymore,” “Some stuff is too far-fetched for me to believe,” “I think scientifically and there is no real proof,” and, “Too many questions that can’t be answered.”

    There is no good reason, then, to think that appeals to good thinking will fall on deaf ears in an allegedly postmodern era, especially if we are sensitive to the prevailing ethos in the way we make our case. Unjustified dogmatism is out. Lecturing is out. Head banging is out. I think, though, that the tactical approach as part of the kind of ambassador model we promote at Stand to Reason is just the kind of thing that will catch people’s interest if they are fair-minded.

  7. Thankyou for your response greg!! How you became so brilliant is a question that may never have an answer! Ive always kinda thought that too, that even if you claim to be a relativist, you just cant get away from reality.

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