Who's waiting for your students? When they leave the relative safety of your home, youth ministry or church, who is waiting for them at school, the university, in the culture or at their workplace? What contrary ideas will they encounter, what challenges to Christianity will they face? And are they ready?
According to the National Study of Youth and Religion, the typical Christian kid does not know what they believe or why they believe it. In the words of the researchers, our students are "incredibly inarticulate about their faith." In other words, they're prime targets for an aggressive secular culture looking to take them captive with false ideas (Colossians 2:8). Stand to Reason wants to partner with YOU to change that. That's why we've put together the Rethink Conference for junior high, high school, and college students, this coming October 25 & 26, in Orange County, California.
I'd love to sit with you, give you a vision for the conference, and answer your questions, so we've also put together a special pre-conference luncheon on Tuesday, June 4, from 11:30 AM until 1:00 PM, at Crossline Community Church (address: 23331 Moulton Parkway, Laguna Hills, CA 92653). The luncheon is for youth leaders, Christian educators, pastors, parents, campus leaders, and anyone else who works with students. Of course, the catered lunch is our treat. In addition, you'll receive a free signed copy of the new book, Cold Case Christianity, by homicide detective J. Warner Wallace, one of our conference speakers. So don't miss out.
We just need to know by Friday, May 31st, if you'll be able to join us. Please RSVP with Dawnielle Hodgman at [email protected]. And please, pass the word along and invite other leaders.
I can't wait to partner with you, to raise up a new generation of students who will stand confidently and graciously for the truth of Jesus Christ.
Was I nervous? Yes, absolutely. Of course, this wasn't my ordinary speaking event. On April 5, about 170 people packed a room at Weber State University, to watch my formal debate with professor of philosophy Dr. Richard Greene. The question: Can there be objective moral values and obligations without God? Each debater had 20 minutes for opening arguments, a 10-minute rebuttal, about 40 minutes of joint Q & A from the audience, and a 5-minute conclusion.
Dr. Greene had home field advantage. He has been teaching classes at Weber State for about eight years and a number of his students came out for the debate. About 65% of the attendees indicated on a pre-debate survey that they held Dr. Greene’s view, that morality is best explained without God.
I won’t rehearse all the details of the debate here as I've posted the video below, but it was a lively give-and-take and I thoroughly enjoyed it (particularly in hindsight!). Certainly, as a rookie debater--this was my second formal debate in my ten years of work at Stand to Reason--there are areas I can grow in and arguments I can improve. Indeed, I knew I would make some mistakes and drop some balls, and in my immediate post-debate reflections, it was difficult not to obsess over those things. The experience reminded me of what rookie NFL quarterbacks say about the speed of the game and how fast it seems to be moving during their rookie year. However, seasoned veterans will talk about how the game has "slowed down" and how they see so much more now, after years of practice and game experience. Well, as a rookie debater I definitely felt the "speed" of the debate. Lots of things were said, I had organize my thoughts quickly, and then figure out what to respond to and how best to respond.
As I've reveiwed some of the "game film," there are several things I need to work on and improve. First, I needed to address more of the details that Dr. Greene discussed. In particular, Dr. Greene threw out a few possible ways he thinks we can have morality without God, mentioning Plato's view and utilitarianism as examples. I responded to his claim that all he had to show were mere possibilities, but I also I needed to spend a few moments showing how Plato's view is inadequate to ground morality. In regards to utilitarianism, I needed to distinguish between the meta-ethical foundations of ethics (which was the topic of our debate) from normative systems of ethics. Second, during the Q&A there was a question regarding free will and after my response, Dr. Greene claimed there was no free will (around 1:30:45 in the video). Unfortunately, I failed to hammer him on the incompatibility of determinism and moral action. Third, I really needed to draw the audience's attention to the fact that Dr. Greene did not knock down my contentions, nor answer a number of the arguments I raised. I think I needed to push him much harder in my responses. Well, I plan to go back and watch the entire "game film" a few times and also have some folks help me evaluate. I can and will learn from my mistakes in attempt to improve my debate skills and master the arguments.
For me, the highlight of the debate came from an unexpected source—a group of high school students. The debate was scheduled at the tail end of a Utah Mission trip I was leading for Upland Christian Academy, a Christian high school in Southern California. We had spent the previous four days sharing Christ with Mormons around the Salt Lake Valley. However, all week I was regretting the decision to coincide the mission trip and debate, feeling like my attention was torn between the two. In contrast, the high schoolers kept sharing their excitement about the debate. “That’s nice,” I thought to myself, “but I’ll never do this again!” God needed to change my perspective.
The afternoon of the debate, students helped with set up and created signs to post around campus. During the debate, they sat at the individual tables, collecting surveys from attendees and facilitating questions for the Q & A. Afterward, they helped clean up. When it was all said and done, we returned to our host church for a late night debrief.
But rather than being worn out from a long day, the students were beaming. Their excitement was palpable. They couldn’t wait to discuss the debate.
As they shared their thoughts and feelings, it was clear this event was a huge faith-builder. They didn’t just get a behind-the-scenes peek at my debate preparation and nervousness. They didn’t just get to help with debate details, like room setup. They felt like they had just walked side-by-side with me, into hostile territory, and then watched as one of their own Christian leaders stepped up in a public venue to defend the truth of Christianity. And from their perspective, our arguments won the day. Here’s how sophomore Micah summarized it:
[L]ately, the secular world seems to dismiss Christians and Christianity, and theology in general, as an outdated form of science or philosophy. Brett totally proving them wrong was a very fun thing to see. Dr. Greene, the atheist professor, made bottomless and obviously last-minute mocked-up arguments that held no weight. He simply displayed possibilities, rather than giving a real objective moral basis without God.
After hearing from students, I realized the entire endeavor was worthwhile. Studying for countless hours was worth it. Balancing the trip and the debate was worth it. Constantly fighting back my nerves was worth it. It was all worth it to build the God-confidence of those 20 high school students.
need space to share their doubts. We all do. If serious questions
about Christianity and uncertainty toward God are not recognized and explored,
they remain in the heart and mind, only to surface farther down the road and
often with greater force. Simplistic Christian responses will not
suffice. “Do extra devotions” or “just have faith” don’t do justice to a
student’s real struggle with doubt.
encounter student doubt all the time. My work actually helps to surface
doubts, as I raise challenges to Christianity and then explore answers in my
talks. I remember when Helia, a freshman at a Christian college in
Southern California, approached me after the talk I gave at a Summit Ministries student conference this past summer and shared her struggle with doubt. I was
glad for her honest questions and told her as much. Why? I want
students to get their doubts on the table while they’re with me.
So I always allow space for questions, the starting point for dealing with
what’s the next step? How do you help a student move from doubt to
confidence in God’s truth? Here’s where some prominent voices in youth
ministry are doing more harm than good. Andrew Root, coauthor of the
Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, has an entire chapter on
doubt titled, “Doubt and Confirmation: the Mentor as Co-Doubter.”
Root seems to suggest that doubt is not something to eventually overcome.
Rather, it is an end in itself: “But what if the objective of the
confirmation teacher was not to work to pass on anything but was rather to be a
partner and companion in doubt? …what if the best way to actually pass on the
faith was not through lessons, certainty, and knowledge, but through
doubt?" (p. 194) Here's more of what Root has to say about the role of doubt in
recent youth ministry article entitled, “I Doubt It,” begins
well, discussing the need to create safe places where students can share their
doubt. But after that, what? The authors seem to recognize
that “students need to understand the basics of Christian faith in order
to discuss their faith with others, and training in core beliefs (sometimes
called apologetics) can be helpful.” Alright, sounds great. I’ve
seen confident faith emerge in many young lives as a result of good apologetic
training. But in the next sentence, they undermine the very thing they’ve
just suggested. “However, learning to argue about faith may not be
the most helpful approach.” So, apologetics “can be helpful,” but since
it really amounts to arguing about faith, it “may not be the most helpful
approach.” With that, apologetics gets a quick dismissal. And
parents and youth leaders lose a valuable tool in dealing with doubt.
Jesus offers a different approach. In Mark 9:14-29, the father of a
demon-possessed son pleads with Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”
What an honest expression of doubt. And how does Jesus respond? He
casts the demon out of the boy. Jesus provides evidence in the form of a
miracle, confirming His claims about Himself.
is Jesus’ response to “Doubting Thomas?” Before seeing the resurrected
Jesus, Thomas declares, “Until I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and
put my finger into he place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will
not believe” (John 20:22). When Jesus first appears to Thomas, He offers
evidence: “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here
your hand and put it into My side; and do no be unbelieving, but believing” (v.
Jesus offers the way
forward for students struggling with doubt. Don't shut down your
students' doubts. Give them all the space they need to share them openly
and honestly. Listen to them. Seek to understand them. Even
cry with them. But then patiently, lovingly, diligently, and
intelligently guide them to the truth. Yes, offer them apologetics.
When students are given sound apologetic instruction, they discover the
rich storehouse of evidence confirming the truth of Christianity. Such
evidence can move them from unbelief to confident faith.