Apolo-what? Apologetics. In 1 Peter 3:15 the Bible tells Christians that part of our sanctification is being “ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with gentleness and respect.” The word Peter uses for “defense” is the Greek word “apologia,” from which we get the word apologetics. So apologetics is the discipline of giving a reasoned defense of what you believe.
Here is an amazing clip of Stephen Colbert actually attempting apologetics in a somewhat humorous way to defend the faith against agnostic scholar Bart Ehrman! While I think Colbert scores a point or two, I do believe that there are far better apologists who can dismantle Ehrman’s ideas, and I’ll get to them later.
My wife and I know from personal interaction with people that there are Christian students who “lose their faith” in college or once they are out in the workforce. How many? We don’t know for certain. Here is an article that examines some data from George Barna.
We did not want our kids to walk away from the faith we hold dear. They will be confronted by friends from other beliefs, and we want them well-prepared to explain what they believe and to defend it. And if learning and teaching this isn’t important to us, it sure isn’t going to be important to our kids. It is the job of pastors and other spiritual leaders (Sunday School/Catechism teachers, VBS leaders, Youth ministers) to teach our kids. But it’s not their job alone.
Just as God instructed Israel in Deuteronomy 6:7, and the church in Ephesians 6:4, it is primarily the parents’ responsibility. We are not “experts” and we did not do everything perfectly, but here is what we did and here are some of the resources we used in teaching apologetics to our teenagers.
1. Teach what you believe.
First we taught WHAT we believed. If someone asked you what you mean by “the Trinity” could you tell them? And give scripture? How about the virgin birth of Christ, or the inspiration of scripture? Can you quickly explain what you believe about hell, angels, final judgments, and the Second Coming of Christ? If you can’t, probably your teens can’t either.
Maybe you have a doctrinal statement in your church. Start with that and teach it point by point. It shouldn’t be a half-hour lecture.
Do you recite the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed on Sundays? We used those creeds to explain how the ancient church struggled to explain precisely what they believed and what they did NOT believe.
Dr. Ryan Reeves of Gordon Conwell Seminary has produced dozen of outstanding lectures on Church history. They are all brief and interesting, and a parent could watch one, boil the info down to something “digestible” for the student, and then teach. Here are two of his videos on the Trinity and the Council of Nicea:
So, hopefully if someone asks one of my kids “so what do you believe about Jesus?” our kids, knowing what they’ve learned from the Bible and the creeds, can give a concise, accurate summary of the essential truths of orthodox Christianity.
2. Teach why you believe it.
But it isn’t enough to know what you believe, you must also know why you believe it. Why do you believe the Bible is historically reliable? Why do you believe in the existence of a Creator? Why do you believe in the Resurrection of Christ? Are there good, solid, logical reasons to believe?
We have used these videos and others to teach our kids. Here is the venerable Dr. Peter Kreeft of Boston College giving a quick, entertaining 4 minute lecture on how belief in God is more rational than atheism:
And here he is dealing with the issue of God and human suffering:
One of the best books on the market today is The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: Or the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments by Andy Bannister. His book politely and with great humor dismantles the best arguments of the “new atheists” (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, et al).
Bannister does not make fun of the atheists; in fact he has great respect for them. His humor is directed against their arguments, and with searing logic he dissolves them. I gave copies of the book to my kids and they love it!
Another book that decisively answers questions about the Old Testament and some of the “unusual” goings on there is Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the God of the Old Testament by Paul Copan.
I am glad that recently there has been a spate of pretty good Christian movies that have taken on the arguments of the atheists and other modern critics. For example we have seen God’s Not Dead (2014) (PJ Media review here) and God’s Not Dead 2 (2016) (PJ Media review here). Both pretty good stories with good arguments (however, the atheist professor becoming a Christian in his dying moments was kind of a stretch for me).
More recently, my family thought the movie The Case for Christ (2017) (here’s the PJ Media review) was impressive for this genre. It had good acting and presented solid evidence that is also laid out in Lee Strobel’s book by the same name. I highly recommend his book as a primer for high school students who are just getting their feet wet in apologetics. Josh McDowell’s book Evidence That Demands A Verdict is a classic. (The original edition that came out in 1972 and was a major factor in my conversion to Christianity.)
Another series of good videos you can use to explain the “why” of things to teens are by Ray Comfort. His video The Atheist Delusion is terrific. In typical Ray Comfort style he politely interviews people on the street (often on a college campus) and then engages them in a discussion about the reality of God and the necessity of salvation in Christ. Here is the trailer:
Here is another trailer, this time for the film 180 by Ray Comfort. It raises many thought-provoking questions and is a window into the soul of our nation. But it shows how a Christian can graciously interact with today’s culture:
3. Teach how to engage bad arguments.
I have also personally interacted with the so-called journalism of Newsweek and their hit-piece “The Bible — So Misunderstood It’s A Sin” by Kurt Eichenwald (published in December of 2014).
In this amazing work of sloppy history, half-truths, convoluted thinking, and a complete disregard of conservative biblical scholarship, Kurt Eichenwald tries to take apart the essential beliefs of Christianity. I have answered him, mostly point by point, in a series of 48 articles I wrote on the website of The American Policy Roundtable. Here is the first one to refute him.
I have used the information from the rest of the blogs to teach my kids.
Remember Bart Ehrman? He’s been making quite a name for himself lately. He is a true scholar of New Testament literature, although he is an agnostic. In my home we are not the least bit intimidated by him or his conclusions. Here are two good articles, one by a Protestant, one by a Catholic, that I think handily refutes some of Ehrman’s contentions.
And here is a video of Bart Ehrman in a debate with conservative biblical scholar James White (anything by New Testament scholar Dr. Dan Wallace discussing Ehrman is good too):
Of course, these articles or videos may be over the heads of some people with their technical language, BUT they are not too difficult for parents to watch and summarize the basic ideas to get across to the kids. And I encourage people to watch them! How else are we going to learn?
4. Encourage discussion and debate.
I do not want to live in an echo chamber. I have friends who are atheists, agnostics, Muslims, and almost anything else you can imagine. When my kids were teens they had friends who were unbelievers.
We would talk around the dinner table about the discussions we’d had. “So Daddy, how DO you handle the problem of evil?” “What about election and predestination?” “Does the Bible say anything about socialism?” “Would you go to a gay wedding?” Yep, it was (and still is) pretty lively. All questions were valid.
Sometimes we did not have an answer. We just had to say, “I don’t know; I’ll get back to you on that.” And my wife and I made every effort to do so. I guess, the main attitude we wanted to foster is that Jesus welcomed honest questions; honest doubters. No one was shamed away. We have nothing to fear from the truth. We are to pursue it and embrace it with joy.
Here is a Prager University video about God and science, hosted by Eric Metaxas.
5. Ya gotta live it.
Lastly, apologetics is no good if we are not living it out. So what if the Bible is true? If I don’t live it out, if I am not daily embracing the love and grace of the risen Lord and giving out that love and grace to others, my kids will see that. And whatever it is that I say I believe, they will reject it. If it’s not important to me, it sure is not going to be important to them.
“Be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).