Teach your children
What is behind the growing exodus of Christian youth from the church? Depending on which studies you look at, the drop out rate is between 75% and 86%. If you ask Christian parents why this is, they are totally puzzled. They will tell you that they brought their children up to know the Lord. Their children memorised scripture, went to youth group and were largely sheltered from the ways of the world.
When their children had questions parents said, “Just have faith and believe.” Or parents would point them back to the Bible and say, “The Bible says it, so it must be true”. If they asked about things in the secular world that clashed with the way they were brought up, parents told them, “Have faith…Just believe it. That’s enough to understand.”
If you ask young people themselves why they have abandoned their faith, the most common reason given is that when they left home and went to university, their eyes were opened to the truths of science and philosophy. They were confronted with new ideas and worldviews, prompting questions and doubts about their faith. And the secular, atheist professors had the answers that parents and pastors lacked - answers that relegated Jesus and the Bible to the category of myth, and elevated science and naturalism as the source of all truth and authority.
Generally Christians are ill prepared to answer questions about their faith. When someone asks the reasons why we believe Christianity is true, the most common answer is something like, “We don’t need to have reasons - we just have to believe and have faith.” This is circular reasoning - we are effectively saying, “I have faith because I have faith,” or “I believe because I believe.” It is not giving a reason for why we believe. Our answer should be, “I have faith in Christianity because it’s true.” And we should also be able to give evidences to support our position.
Can we effectively explain what evil is and why God allows it? Can we help a physics student see that science cannot disprove God? Can we answer the challenges we hear about gay marriage? Do we know any historical evidences supporting the authenticity of the Bible? Can we recognise and refute a fallacious argument?
Because we can’t address these questions, we have gradually fallen back to a point where we now have a distorted understanding of ‘faith’. ‘Faith’ has come to mean believing in something without evidence of any kind. If we think for a moment about how we develop ‘faith’ in other things, we’ll realise how wrong this understanding is.
Why do we put faith in anything at all? We put faith in something after it proves itself to be true. For example, we exercise faith when we sit in a chair, because our life experience shows us that whenever we sit on one of these four-legged structures, it supports us. Chairs have proven themselves to us. I’m sure those who are married will agree that when you first met your spouse, you may have been impressed with what you saw, but I’m sure you didn’t immediately have faith in them as a suitable spouse. That needed time. Your spouse ‘proved’ himself or herself to you before you took the step to commit to marriage. Your faith was based on substance and evidence. So we put faith in things because of substance and evidence to support it.
Hebrews 11 tells us that faith is the ‘substance’ of things hoped for - the ‘evidence’ of things not seen. What is the substance and evidence of our faith? Christ is certainly its object, but can we give any evidence for the fact of Christ or the resurrection? Can we explain why the Biblical documents are reliable? Can we defend miracles? Can we explain how scientific discoveries support creation? As Christians, we have faith in the very ‘Logos’, or source of Logic, Himself, but we are ill equipped to recognise the misuse of logic or apply it effectively ourselves. That is tragic when we pause to consider that we are made in God’s image, and that 1 Corinthians 2:16 tells us that ‘we have the mind of Christ.’
In the past, Christians were taught to love God with their hearts, souls, strength and MINDS, with reason and logic being a staple of good education. Today Christians tend to love God with all their heart, soul and strength but have neglected the mind, being suspicious of intellectual pursuits. Using the intellect instead of the heart is considered anti faith. As a consequence, we are growing Christians who lean on emotional experience as proof of faith, with the term ‘blind faith’ now commonly accepted as being truly descriptive of what faith is supposed to be. It is certainly not the Biblical understanding.
It is clear from scripture that giving evidence for our faith is something Christians are called to do. 1 Peter 3:15 says: “But in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”.
The word “defence” (reason/answer in other versions) is the Greek word “apologia,” which is a legal term. In a court of law, lawyers gather a variety of evidences to defend their case, intending to convince a jury of the truth of their case. This verse says we need to be able to do the same for Christianity - we need to be able to give reasons for why Christianity is true by appealing to a range of evidences. Note that we are to give a reason for our hope - not just say that we have hope because we have hope.
‘Apologia’ is where we get the word, ‘apologetics’ - a term largely unknown today. It doesn’t mean apologising for being a Christian, or being defensive about being a Christian. Rather it is making a case for the truth claims of Christianity. It’s not about defending Christ himself, but it argues for why people should believe Christianity is true, rather than Buddhism, Hinduism or any other ‘ism’.
There are other passages in scripture that support the idea of defending the faith and using evidence-
Jude 3 - I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.
Colossians 4:5,6 - Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Titus 1: 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
2 Corinthians 5: 10 - ‘We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God…’. Colossians 4:5,6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
There are also numerous Biblical examples of apologetics in action, as the authors of the New Testament specifically laboured to convince or persuade readers through the evidence they presented.
- Paul certainly believed the Christian faith should be defended. He spent much time defending the gospel and reasoning with the Jews from the scriptures (see Acts 17:2-3; Acts 9:22; Acts 18:4; Acts 19:8-10 and Acts 17:16, 17).
- Peter’s most common strategy was to direct readers to eyewitness accounts, knowing that these would verify the truth (see Acts 2:32; 3:15; 5:30 - 32 and 10:39,40).
- John says that the purpose of his gospel was to present evidence to persuade the readers - namely, the miracles and resurrection (see John 20:30-31).
- Luke explains that he wrote his Gospel and the book of Acts to persuade readers of the truth of the Gospel. He says he carefully investigated everything from the beginning and wanted his friend, Theophilus, to know the certainty of what he had been taught (see Luke 1:1-4).
- Apollos - Acts 18:28 says that he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah.
Jesus was the first in the New Testament to use apologetics. As the ‘Logos’ Himself, he was able to recognise and refute arguments designed to trap him. He also appealed to fulfilled prophecy, his own miracles, and his resurrection to back up his own personal claims (see John 14:11 and John 10:36-38). Paul says that these works were the very things that God used in accrediting Jesus to us (Acts 2:22). His miracles, wonders and signs were what proved Jesus and who He was.
Some people refer to John 20:29 to justify ‘blind faith’ -Then Jesus told him (Thomas), ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ People read this verse as if it says, “Blessed are those who have believed that I rose from the dead without looking for any evidence.”
However, Jesus isn’t saying we shouldn’t look for evidence for the resurrection. He is merely acknowledging that it will be more difficult for future believers to believe something they did not see for themselves. Because this would be difficult, Jesus proclaimed we would be blessed for believing this way, but there was no implication that it would be wrong to ask for evidence. If it were, Jesus wouldn’t have let Thomas touch him and feel him as He did. Believers after that time would not have that same opportunity.
Just because we haven’t seen something happen doesn’t mean we can’t look for evidence to prove it – in fact, that is what we usually do. And the writers of the New Testament took great pains to leave the best evidence for those of us who ‘haven’t seen’ - hence the Bible and its testimony through eyewitness accounts.
Those who object to apologetics think that it is anti-Christian because of its emphasis on proofs and evidences rather than faith, but we have seen that the word is in the Bible itself, the Bible commands us to do it, the writers of the Bible preached apologetically themselves, and the books and writings of the Bible themselves are self-contained apologetics volumes. Even the Old Testament has much that is apologetic in nature. Apologetics is best seen as another form of evangelism.
Some people also object because apologetics uses knowledge from outside the Bible. But God left us two kinds of revelation - the special revelation of the Bible and the general revelation of nature, as supported by Romans 1. God has declared his hand in nature and we can discover Him through it. Science, geography and philosophy, for example, are areas of knowledge that draw from studying God’s general revelation. People might draw faulty conclusions as they study these things, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study them. We make mistakes in all areas of study, but good teachers will correct us, as with any other area of study. Some mistakenly think that the Bible is the only source of truth, but this understanding neglects God’s voice and hand in the created world. The Bible is all truth, but it is not the only source of truth. There are philosophical arguments that support the existence of God. History supports the reliability of Biblical manuscripts. Many scientific discoveries better support creation than evolution.
Two men who gained wisdom from outside the scriptures are Solomon and Daniel. 1 Kings 4 tells us that Solomon carefully studied the plants and animals in his quest for wisdom. Daniel studied the culture and ways of pagan Babylon, rather than protecting himself from exposure to their ideas. He studied their ideas and learned how they thought, while still remaining faithful to God. We will not build up strong Christians if we shelter them from the world and its ideas. We need to know how others think - to grapple with their ideas and understand them before we can hope to refute them. How can we have a meaningful conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness if we don’t understand why he is wrong?
For many people, including our children, the Bible is no longer their authority, if it ever was. They’ve given it up. Apologetics is a form of evangelism designed to make them doubt the ‘authorities’ they now trust and respect, which must happen before they’ll consider coming back to the Bible. Apologetics seeks to knock-out these so called authorities and dismantle their arguments - to show their inconsistencies.
The Lord has led me into Christian apologetics in recent years. I work full time but in every spare moment I’m reading and studying how to give rational answers for my faith. Sometimes I fret that it’s too late. You may have already seen your children walk away from faith, as I have, and my call to learn to defend the faith has come after the horse has already bolted. However, when it comes to the Lord, everything happens according to His perfect timing. Nothing is ever too late.
However, if you still have younger children at home, heed the call now, and start to educate them and yourselves. If you’re a pastor, it’s time to start teaching yourself and your people. Let’s not be scared of our intellects. They are gifts from God and we neglect them at our peril. Hosea 4:6 says ‘my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge,’ and in Isaiah 1:18 the Lord calls Isaiah and us to come and ‘reason’ with Him.
The ability to ‘reason’ is desperately needed in today’s climate with many ‘hot topic’ issues such homosexuality and gay marriage. When these topics come up in conversation are you able to address statements and claims such as the following -
- Science has proven that people are born that way.
- Homosexuality is natural - animals do it, so it has to be alright.
- Homosexuality is normal.
- No one would choose to live that way and incur the resulting social stigma.
- It’s wrong to discriminate against homosexuals.
- There is no absolute standard of right and wrong for all - we decide what’s right for us.
- Who are you to judge others?
- What does it matter if two people love each other?
All of these statements/questions can be effectively addressed apologetically. I did my research over several months, looking for the answers to these questions and then built a Bible study around it, which I ran over about two months. While I was leading this study I was doing my research for a similar study on abortion, which we did straight after the homosexuality study. Anyone who is motivated can do this. I have no theological degree or formal training. I did it by giving my mind to Christ. You can too.
Unfortunately some people in the group didn’t understand the need for such a study. Each week, they would ask, ‘Why can’t we just read the Bible and study the Word.’ If you are leading a study in apologetics, you must be clear that the majority of your study will take place outside of the scriptures. It is about it is about examining the world of ideas outside of the Bible and demolishing those which have set themselves up as false authorities that blind people to God’s natural revelation as well as special Biblical revelation. But it is equally important to preface all your study and research in prayer, and not neglect the scriptures as you do wider research.
Many Christians today have adopted the ‘blind faith’ way of thinking - that faith apart from evidence is all that counts. Certainly, salvation is by faith alone. We can’t be saved without it. But apologetics is about paving the way to faith. It demolishes strongholds designed to hide the heart from the scrutiny of God. Until these strongholds are demolished and discredited, the heart issue will often stay tucked away behind the wall. Sometimes people are but one question away from that wall falling down. Apologetics is designed to smash down that wall and expose the heart to the penetration and healing of Christ.