Monday, November 4, 2013

Why apologetics is critical for youth ministry

In our church's youth ministry, most of the school year is built around Bible study and small groups rather than traditional sermons. (On Sunday mornings, the youth group worships corporately with the rest of the church, not in their own service; so they get their sermons, don't worry!)

But during the last two summers, we have done topics on apologetics, which you can see here.

Why do we do this? Very simple:  we live in the most aggressively atheistic society in the history of the world.

Don't take this lightly: some studies show as many as 60% of regular youth group attendees in Protestant churches will leave church during their college years. Many will never return. Atheism--which really began to rise in the West after the Enllightenment--remained a small percentage of the population for a long time. But now, it is quite popular.

The New Atheists like Sam Harris, Penn Gillette, and Richard Dawkins are actively evangelizing, in attempts to create a movement. They are not satisfied to disbelieve in God; they rather believe they have a mission to "fix" those who disagree with them.

Don't believe me? Think that only people overseas are really struggling in their pursuit of Christ? Read stories like this one, from the New York Times a few months back:  in Louisiana they have actually started an atheist church to make it easier for people to transition from Christianity to atheism. That way they can get together and sing, hear a sermon...just without God. In fact, specifically anti-God.

I've written before about how some Christians complain about their suffering, when the government calls Christmas trees "holiday trees"; this kind of first-world problem seems absurd to me when Christians overseas are having churches bombed.

However, that is not to say we do not have our struggle in our culture today! We definitely do. We may not be physically at risk, but--much like early Christians in Rome or Greece--we are under massive intellectual attack. The Western Church is dying. In the Middle East and Asia and Africa people physically oppose Christianity, but they too believe that there is a spiritual reality. Here in the West, we have a danger which is no less real, just more insidiously subtle:  our culture simply believes that there is no God.

Our kids are surrounded by the message--once subtle, now overt--that: (1) intelligence is the highest virtue, and (2) all intelligent people are atheists.  Neither of those two is true, but it is shared so widely that it becomes assumed.

Our brothers and sisters overseas are physically attacked for their beliefs: we are spiritually attacked for our beliefs. Both are legitimate and powerful and dangerous.

Do not be idle, parents. Do not allow your children to go into the battle blindly. Arm them with truth, with righteousness, and with faith. Teach them--as 1 Peter 3:15 says, always be prepared to give an answer to those who see the hope within you.


  1. Where in Louisiana is the atheist church?

  2. There are a lot of assertions here, but not much evidence provided to support your thesis that we are an aggressively atheistic society. Consider the following:
    1. People have attacked the legitimacy of President Obama since before he became president, on the grounds that was supposedly a Muslim and not a Christian as he claims. He was accused of believing in the wrong god, not in believing in no god.
    2. Hobby Lobby has a lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court in which it claims that the corporation qua person has religious views. The court seemed to credit that. The court is giving tremendous respect and deference to religion.
    3. Our currency says "In God We Trust," our political leaders end every public address with "God bless you" and "God bless America." If we were aggressively atheistic as you claim, that would be the death knell of a candidate's prospects.
    4. Also, the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled that overtly sectarian prayers are OK for local government meetings. Given the direction the Roberts court seems to be headed in, this almost certainly can lead to things like prayer in schools again. Even if doesn't go that far, that's still hardly agressively atheistic.

    There are some aggressive atheists, it's true; but I don't think the danger is where you're seeing it. I attended a liberal arts college where my views were challenged and stretched, but I was never derided or discouraged from my beliefs by any professor; in fact, they welcomed and respected my beliefs, and I learned to understand and to articulate them better as a result.

    The difficulty I think lies within the church itself, and our insistence on walling ourselves off from the greater society. Children who are raised in a bubble where they learn that society is evil, corrupt and immoral, once they discover life outside the bubble is not nearly as threatening as they were taught, are going to start critiquing everything else they were taught, with greater suspicion.

    Yes, let's learn apologetics. But let's also rescue our faith from our religious (and political) leaders who want us to live in fear of people who are different from us.

  3. Michael, thanks for taking the time to write & share this post. I encountered it this morning on The Poached Egg via Ratio Christi. I couldn't agree more about the importance of youth ministries teaching and training students and their parents on Christian apologetics. One of the things that we encounter where I serve at Impact 360 is the reality that students have been convinced that they can't have knowledge of Christianity. All of their beliefs are reduced to opinions and desires, nothing that they can provide evidence for or make an argument about with their nonbelieving friends. I am hopeful that with careful training we'll see students in the rising generation with the ability and desire to live authentically Christian lives and defend their faith in the marketplace. Thanks again.

  4. Great article Michael. My wife and I have been in youth ministry, a combined 30 years, and have seen this trend coming. Being on the front lines with you, here in the "Burg" we are trying to get our youth minister at our church to get cracking in implementing an apologetics track into the youth ministry. Any time I get to speak with our students I always speak from a biblical apologetic context. We have to do it this way, since our kids struggle to navigate through the materialism, hedonism, and nihilism that permeates the culture and confronts their understanding of the Christian faith.

    Keep up the great work.