Apologetics is something that many Christians scoff at. Anytime you bring up apologetics, you can be sure someone will remind you that “you can’t argue someone into God’s kingdom.” Others look down on defending Christianity because it involves argumentation and that’s is a bad thing (nevermind the fact that arguing and making an argument are completely different things). Furthermore, I have been told that apologetics is useless because it detracts from Jesus and can’t save anyone. Spending a lot of time learning the ancient history, biblical culture, philosophy and metaphysics isn’t very “profitable”. All that matters is Jesus. Just get out there and preach to people. That’s what we should be doing. Spending lots of time learning about extra-biblical things is a waste of time. As well-meaning as they might be, Christians who believe this are wrong… very wrong.
There is one major reason why I spend a lot of time learning about church history, ancient culture and all that stuff. It isn’t to convert others, although I don’t doubt that it’s possible. The reason I do it is for young Christians growing in the church. Many Christian teens don’t have a deep grasp of Christianity. They don’t know exactly what they believe or why they believe. A recent study of conservative, Protestant churches revealed that
most religious teenagers’ opinions and views… are vague, limited, and often quite at variance with the actual teachings of their own religion… The church in general, and youth ministry in particular, has demonstrated… more interest in how our young people feel than how they think. … But where are Christian teenagers learning basic tenets of the Christian faith? And if they don’t understand those basic truths or doctrines … then how does that impact their long-term faith? I’m concerned that too much of our teaching is reduced to what can … be communicated by a worship band illuminated by stage lighting and well-placed candles.”
The author’s concerns are legitimate and the statistics seem to back him up. Some time ago, USA Today reported that about 70% of Christian youth leave the church:
Seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 — both evangelical and mainline — who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23, according to the survey by LifeWay Research. And 34% of those said they had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30. That means about one in four Protestant young people have left the church
In his book, You Lost Me, David Kinnaman writes that “many of the enthusiastic teens so common in North American churches are not growing up to be faithful young disciples of Christ.” So why are teens leaving the church? A recent Barna study had this to say:
Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%)
More than a third of young adults with Christian experience see the church as hostile to doubts. Let that sink in for a bit. Furthermore, the teens view the church as intellectually stagnant. Frank Turek, founder of the Cross Examined ministry writes that
many [youth] leave because they’ve come to doubt Christianity. In fact, intellectual skepticism is a major reason cited by those who have left… We can lay the blame for much of this on ourselves — that is, on the church. While there are notable exceptions, most American churches over-emphasize emotion and ignore the biblical commands to develop the mind (1 Pet 3:15, 2 Cor. 10:5). In other words, we’re doing a great job performing for our youth with skits, bands and videos, but a terrible job informing them with logic, truth, and a Christian worldview.
Read that again; a major reason teens leave when they graduate is due to intellectual skepticism. Christian teens are distracted with concerts, pizza parties, missions trips, and “fun” outings, but they are never really taught to think about Christianity, to think critically and to interact with other perspectives that exist. I’m not saying these other perspectives are correct. But when Christian teens are fattened on emotion and feelings, their faith cannot possibly endure when exposed to other beliefs and perspectives. Once they leave the comfortable environment of their home church and faced with real hardship and doubts, those emotions and feelings will be useless. Furthermore, we cannot shield people from other perspectives and beliefs. Hemant Mehta, also known as the friendly atheist writes that “Christians can no longer hide in a bubble, sheltered from opposing perspectives, and church leaders can’t protect young people from finding information that contradicts traditional beliefs.” He is right and instead of preparing Christians for engaging with their surroundings, most churches try to shelter the teens and fill them up with feel-good music and emotion.
I remember taking a Bible class during my undergrad years. The professor had all sorts of interesting things to say. The Bible was written and rewritten over a long period of time. Various editors throughout history have revised passages of the Bible to make it say what they wanted it to say. The Gospels were not written by eye-witnesses; they were written years after Jesus and his disciples had lived and died. Furthermore, they weren’t the only gospels; we have the gospel of Thomas, of Judas of Philip, etc, and these gospels paint a very different picture of Jesus. This only scratches the surface of what I was taught in that class. Yet, the churches I grew up in never mentioned any of these issues. Luckily, I’m very curious and did my own research. I learned that this professor was wrong on a lot of issues long before taking the class. Yet, I am sure that someone without prior exposure to such beliefs would have begun to significantly doubt their faith. I’ve seen it happen many times.
What is the church doing about this? Here’s a snapshot. I remember going to an ex-girlfriend’s church once. It was huge and had a ton of teens. I come from a small church, so this shocked me. The teen program was packed, full of music, lights, cameras and a hip, cool youth pastor who encouraged teens to fall in love with Jesus. Many teens had their hands in the air and tears in their eyes; the passion was palpable. This didn’t last. After high school, most of these people stopped bothering with church or Christianity; many have completely renounced Christianity completely as far as I know.
This is the world we currently live in. A world where Christian teens will be exposed to all sorts of beliefs and views when they graduate and go away to college. Because of this, I spend a lot of time learning as much as I can about the honor/shame culture of the ancient world, the formation of the New Testament canon, different interpretations of Genesis and church history. I believe that Christian teens who are exposed to these views early on in a safe environment won’t be caught off guard when they see these views in college. They will be more willing to investigate for themselves without feeling like the church misled them.
I want those growing up in the Church to have a deep understanding of what they believe and why they believe it. Only then will these Christian teens grow up fully equipped to engage their culture instead of running away from it. I firmly believe that teens won’t be so quick to leave the church if they learned more about these sorts of issues instead of being injecting with increasing doses of emotion and being told to fall in love with Jesus.