Here’s another post from Pastor Matt that I think offers some more helpful insight into how we should approach young people with Christianity. The point of this post is that relationships matter.
When I was attending North Hollywood High in the fall of 1990, there was a kid in one of my classes who often followed me on my walk home to my apartment off of Magnolia Boulevard. He did the Four Spiritual Laws and Roman Road presentation. He spoke about he and his family’s faith in Jesus and wanted to know if I would come with them to church. But he never asked a single question about me personally. I always declined his invitations and eventually he moved on to someone else.
[…]Looking back, I had a very fuzzy understanding of the Gospel. I (and I think many people who call themselves Christians) are what theologians call “semi-Pelagians.” I believed anyone could come to the altar but if they wanted to continue to be welcomed in the pews, they had to clean up their act and do so almost overnight. The culture of Christianity at large appeared to me to be that if you came to faith and continued to struggle with lust, a foul mouth or whatnot then there was just something wrong with you. I felt the church was more about behavior modification than grace.
I needed someone who I knew loved me to sit down with me long before all of these problems arose, look me in the eye and tell me how easy and how difficult it is to be a Christian. I needed someone cared for me to unpack 2 Corinthians 5:21 and point out that by being “in Christ” I would be judged by Christ’s perfect life instead of my own. I needed to know that the faith is not about “keeping the rules” but about doing things and not doing certain things to show my love and gratitude to God for what He did for me. I needed to be able to read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, in a way that always pointed to Jesus Christ. I needed to understand that God has graciously given us the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, serving the poor, worship, etc. to help me grow. I needed to hear that all Christians struggle with sin and will, to a certain degree, until they go to be with the Lord or He returns to be with us.
I needed good theology, good spiritual practices, good apologetics and good relationships. I needed knowledge and it needed to come from someone who I knew loved me even though I was thoroughly unlovable. You can’t just leave this to the church staff because they do not have to time to meet with everyone and people with a chip on their shoulder about the church (like I had) feel like they are just doing it as part of their job. All young people in the church, especially the “troubled kids” need this. It is a lot of work but anyone’s eternity is worth it, isn’t it?
I think that I do my best work away from the blog when I take on atheists or new Christians or Christians who want to grow one on one and focus on them for long periods of time. Sometimes, it’s talking to them on Skype. Sometimes, it’s rewards for doing well in school or in their Christian lives. But all the best work is done one on one. That’s when you really get a chance to get to know people and to care about them.
I think the most important thing you can tell a young Christian is to focus less on mere following of the rules. I always ask them more about making a plan for their lives that achieves something amazing for God’s kingdom, while still not breaking any of the rules. The following the rules is not the key thing to focus on. The key thing here is your relationship with God. So you should find out what needs doing, and just do it. If it’s intelligent design research, then do it. If it’s finding early NT manuscripts, then do it. If it’s working for the ADF defending religious liberty at the Supreme Court, then do it. If it’s becoming a Christian professor at a secular university, then do it. If it’s debating an atheist cosmologist, then do it. If it’s promoting the free market system which alleviates poverty, then do it. If it’s protecting democratic countries from aggression by being a soldier, then do it. Stop making Christianity a dull prison, and start making it a blank canvas for a masterpiece.
Don’t worry, he was an atheist then, and now he’s pastor Matt, thanks to God’s grace.
In this post Pastor Matt talks about why he was once an atheist.
I am sometimes asked, by both skeptics and believers alike, why I was once an atheist and what convinced me to become a Christian. I will answer the latter in another post but let me deal with the former now.
I am a “PK” or “preacher’s kid.” My father served as the founding pastor of the largest church in southern Ohio. It is a non-denominational, evangelical congregation that grew very quickly.
As a PK, I was privy to a lot of “inside information” and it was not encouraging. I learned men and women who sang hymns with passion and shouted “Amen!” with gusto during the sermon were cheating on their spouse or on their taxes.
By the time I was a teenager I understood why those who called themselves Christians lived secret lives–they wanted to believe but really didn’t. I understood because I became one of them.
I was an active member of an ’80′s evangelical youth group. So, I rocked out to Stryper, had comedian Pat Hurley tapes and volunteered for the children’s ministry, which consisted of videotaping episodes of Superbook and The Flying House for the kids. However, I actually seriously doubted if God even existed.
I was struggling with the normal sins of a teenager and begged for help in prayer. I also petitioned God on a regular basis to feel His presence but that didn’t happen either.
I eventually came to the conclusion that Christianity simply didn’t work. I declared myself an atheist at age fifteen and remained an unbeliever for the next ten years.
I ran away from home at age fifteen as well eventually making my way to Hollywood. During those days I partied like it was 1999 (until 1997) and like Aldous Huxley is quoted as saying decades before, I came to not even want God to be real because even the possibility interfered with my desire to create my own morality.
Christianity is not something where you just profess it and suddenly you are automatically perfect. You get the gift of eternal life immediately by faith in Christ, but becoming more like Christ takes time. It’s easier to act consistently with the teachings of Christ if you have spent the time studying, practicing and growing as a Christian. You shouldn’t expect perfect behavior on day one – that is crazy. You should expect that as your beliefs become more solid, then your outward actions will change naturally. And often what you hear at home and in the church is not the best for finding truth through investigation and debate.
It would be terrible to have to put out “good” actions when you never settled the questions of what is true and how are we going to apply what is true in our own decisions. Sometimes, I think that young Christians face too much pressure to appear to be perfect when no one has been willing to help them work through the grounding for the behaviors they are expected to display. And I think a lot of the behaviors they are expected to display are either not important or not Biblical. Behaving like a Christian should be natural – it should proceed from free inquiry, not dogmatism.
Now I’m skipping a lot, but here is his advice for people who were in his situation:
I’ll get to my conversion later but keep in mind: (1) just because a person attends a church, even if they are a PK, that he or she truly comprehends the Gospel because I didn’t a full understanding; (2) pastors need to constantly remind their parishioners that sin is easy and living for Christ is difficult because believers are part of a cosmic struggle; (3) the spiritual disciplines are invaluable especially so for young people; and (4) there are many solid arguments for the existence of God and few for materialism and all Christians deserve to know them.
I’ve spent some time mentoring young Christians who had fallen away for some period of time, and I always make a point of asking them why. Their answer is usually something like this: “I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t care because no one else cared.” The first thing to do with a person who is rebelling is to get in there and start to ask them questions and get involved in helping them to succeed in their lives. People do bad things because they feel that no one cares. So you better start caring for these young people, whether they are smart, dumb, pretty, ugly, poor, rich, popular, unpopular – it doesn’t matter. They all have souls, and they were all made to know God. Get in there and be real with them before they make a mess of their lives.
So, this is just an advice post for doing apologetics.
Here are three situations I’ve run into while doing apologetics in the last month.
First situation. I was talking with a lady who is an atheist. I had a copy of “God’s Crime Scene” in my hand, and she asked me about it. I told her that it was a book written by the guy who solved the homicide case that I asked her to watch on Dateline. She remembered – it was the two-hour special on the woman who was killed with a garrotte. She pointed at the book and said “what’s in it?” I said, it has 8 pieces of evidence that fit better with a theistic worldview than with an atheistic one, and some of them scientific. Her reply to me was – literally – “which denomination do you want me to join?”
Second situation. I was talking with a friend of mine who teaches in a Catholic school. She was telling that she got the opportunity to talk to her students about God, and found out that some of them were not even theists, and many of them had questions. So she asked them for questions and got a list. The list included many hard cases, like “what about the Bible and slavery” and “why do Christians oppose gay marriage?” and so on.
Third situation. Talking to a grad student about God’s existence. I’m laying out my scientific arguments for her, holding up the peer-reviewed papers for each discovery. I get to the Doug Axe paper on protein folding probabilities, and she holds up her hand. One question: “Am I going to Hell?”
So think about those three situations. In each case, the opponent is trying to reject Christianity by jumping way, way ahead to the very end of the process. When you do Christian apologetics, you do not take the bait and jump to the end of the process dealing with nitty gritty details until you have made your case for the core of the Christian worldview using your strongest evidence. Let me explain.
So, your strongest evidence as a Christian are the scientific arguments, along with the moral argument. Those would include (for starters) the following:
kalam cosmological argument
galactic and stellar habitability
origin of life / DNA
molecular machines / irreducible complexity
the moral argument
The problem I am seeing today is that atheists are rejecting discussions about evidence because they think that all we are interested in is getting them to become Christians. Well, yes. I want you to become a Christian. But I know perfectly well what that entails – it entails a change of life priorities. Both of the women I spoke to are living with their boyfriends, and the kids in the Catholic school just want to have fun. None of them wants to believe in a God who will require self-denial, self-control, and self-sacrifice. Nobody wants God to be in that leader position in their lives. Christianity is 100% reversed from today’s me-first, fun-seeking, thrill-seeking, fear-of-missing-out travel spirit of the age.
So, how to answer all these late-game questions? The answer is simple. You don’t answer any late-game questions until the person you are talking with accounts for the widely-accepted data in your list. These are things that have got to be accepted before any discussion about minor issues like one angel vs two angels at the empty tomb can occur. When we discuss all the basic issues where the evidence is the strongest, then we can go on to discuss issues where the evidence is debatable, then finally, in the last bits before the end, we can discuss these other kinds of questions.
How to explain why this process must be followed to the person who asks specific questions about minor issues? Simple. You explain that your goal is not to get them to become a Christian right now. That you want to let them believe anything thing they want. That’s right. They can believe anything they want to believe. As long as what they believe is consistent with the evidence. And what I am going to do is give them the evidence, and then they can believe whatever they want – so long as it’s consistent with the evidence.
So, for example, I’m going to tell them 3 pieces of evidence for a cosmic beginning of the universe: the expanding universe (redshift), the cosmic microwave background radiation, and the light element abundances. That’s mainstream science that shows that the universe came into being out of nothing, a finite time in the past. And I will charge them not to believe in any religion that assumes that the universe has always been here. For example, Mormonism is ruled out, they believe in eternally existing matter. See how that works? Hey, Ms. Atheist. You can believe anything you want. As long as what you believe is consistent with the evidence.
I think this approach of not letting them rush you to the end at the beginning is important for two reasons. First, we can get our foot in the door to talk about things that are interesting to everyone, in a non-stressed environment. Everyone can talk about evidence comfortably. Second, we show that we hold our beliefs because we are simply letting evidence set boundaries for us on what we are allowed to believe. We can’t believe not-Christianity, because not-Christianity is not consistent with the evidence. And you start with the most well-supported evidence, and eliminate worldviews that are falsified by the most well-supported evidence. Atheism actually gets falsified pretty quickly, because of the scientific evidence.
So, that’s my advice. Had a friend of mine named William try this out about a week ago. It went down like this:
William to me:
This guy I know messaged me and bragged for a while about how easy he can dismantle Christianity. He said: “present the gospel to me as you understand it. I’ll simply ask questions to demonstrate it is not worth your belief.”
WK to William:
First of all, he isn’t allowed to just sit there and poke holes in your case, he has to present a positive case for atheism. Second, don’t discuss Christianity with him at all until you first discuss the evidence for theism – start with the good scientific evidence.
And William wrote this to his friend:
The way I’m wired is that I process all competing theories and go with the best one. By doing a comparative analysis of worldviews I find that Christian theology easily explains the most about the world I find myself living in.
I’m pretty sure that a God of some sort exists because of the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe and the fine tuning in physics. From there I find it quite intuitive that if a God went through the trouble of creating and tuning a universe for life that this God likely has some sort of interest in it and has revealed Himself to humanity in some way.
From there I can look at the major world religions and compare them to see which one explains the past and the present the best. Christianity easily comes out on top.
And then a few days later, I got this from William:
I finally got the agnostic to tell me what he thinks about origin and fine tuning. When I started pointing out that his views were unscientific, he blew a basket, called me dishonest and told me he didn’t want to discuss anything further.
And that’s where you want to be. Cut off all discussions where the challenger tries to jump to the end and get you to debate the very last steps of your case. Present the strongest evidence for your core claims, and get him to account for this evidence within his own worldview. Lead the discussion with public, testable evidence. All warfare depends on picking the terrain, weapons and tactics that allow you to match your strength against your opponent’s weakness.
What started you on his journey of studying faith and reason?
How would you define the word “faith”?
Are faith and reason compatible? How are they related?
How can reasonable faith help us to avoid the two extremes of superstition and nihilism?
Who makes the best arguments against the Christian faith?
Why are angry atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens more well known than better-informed academic atheists?
Does the Bible require Christians to give the unbeliever reasons for their faith?
How does faith spur Christians to think carefully about the big questions in life?
Should the American church prod churchgoers to develop their minds so they can engage the secular culture?
When talking about Christianity intellectually, is there a risk of neglecting the experience of being a Christian?
Which Christian apologist has shaped your thinking the most?
Which Christian philosopher has shaped your thinking the most?
Does the confidence that comes from apologetics undermine humility and reverence?
If you had to sketch out a 5 minute case for Christianity, what would you present?
Can non-Christians use their reason to arrive at truth?
Are there cases where atheists must affirm irrational things in order to remain atheists?
Can the universe have existed eternal, so that there is no need to explain who created it?
Even if you persuade someone that Christianity is true, does that mean they will live it out?
There is also a long period of questions, many of them hostile, from the audience of students (55 minutes).
Haven’t you said nasty things about some atheists? Aren’t you a meany?
What do you make of the presuppositional approach to apologetics?
Can a person stop being a Christian because of the chances that happen to them as they age?
Why did God wait so long after humans appeared to reveal himself to people through Jesus?
Can a person be saved by faith without have any intellectual assent to truth?
How do you find time for regular things like marriage when you have to study and speak so much?
How would you respond to Zeitgeist and parallels to Christianity in Greek/Roman mythology?
Do Christians have to assume that the Bible is inerrant and inspired in order to evangelize?
If the universe has a beginning, then why doesn’t God have a beginning?
Can you name some philosophical resources on abstract objects, Platonism and nominalism?
How can you know that Christianity more right than other religions?
Should we respond to the problem of evil by saying that our moral notions are different from God’s?
Define the A and B theories of time. Explain how they relate to the kalam cosmological argument.
How can Christians claim that their view is true in the face of so many world religions?
What is the role of emotions in Christian belief and thought?
Can evolution be reconciled with Christian beliefs and the Bible?
When witnessing person-to-person, should you balance apologetics with personal testimony?
Is there a good analogy for the trinity that can help people to understand it? [Note: HE HAS ONE!]
How can Christians reconcile God’s omniscience, God’s sovereignty and human free will?
This is a nice introductory lecture that is sure to get Christians to become interested in apologetics. As you watch or listen to it, imagine what the world would be like if every Christian could answer the questions of skeptical college students and professors like Dr. Craig. What would non-Christians think about Christianity if every Christian had studied these issues like Dr. Craig? Why aren’t we making an effort to study these things so that we can answer these questions?
It is really fun to see him fielding the questions from the skeptical university students. My favorite question was from the physics student who sounds really foreign, (at 1:19:00), then you realize that he is a Christian. I do think that Dr. Craig went a little far in accommodating evolution, but I put that down to the venue, and not wanting to get into a peripheral issue. I’m also surprised that no one asked him why God allows humans to suffer and commit acts of evil.
If you are looking for a good basic book on apologetics, then I would choose “Is God Just a Human Invention?” by Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow. And you can even be part of a reading group that Brian Auten of Apologetics 315 just announced, that I will be participating in. We will all be reading the book together, chapter by chapter, and lots of people will be available to answer your questions.
William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.
Dr. Craig pursued his undergraduate studies at Wheaton College (B.A. 1971) and graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A. 1974; M.A. 1975), the University of Birmingham (England) (Ph.D. 1977), and the University of Munich (Germany) (D.Theol. 1984). From 1980-86 he taught Philosophy of Religion at Trinity… In 1987 they moved to Brussels, Belgium, where Dr. Craig pursued research at the University of Louvain until assuming his position at Talbot in 1994.
He has authored or edited over thirty books, including The Kalam Cosmological Argument; Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus; Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom; Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology; and God, Time and Eternity, as well as over a hundred articles in professional journals of philosophy and theology, including The Journal of Philosophy, New Testament Studies, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, American Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophical Studies, Philosophy, and British Journal for Philosophy of Science.
William Lane Craig is, without a doubt, the top living defender of Christianity. He has debated all of the most famous atheists, including Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc. as well as academic atheists like Quentin Smith, Peter Millican, etc. if you search this blog, you’ll find many debates posted here, sometimes even with snarky summaries.
Super-mom Lindsay sent me this article about by a former feminist who was once opposed to children, then had 4 of them in 5 years.
Up until my mid-20’s I was firm in my belief that I never wanted to have kids. A combination of events made me reconsider the issue, and by the time we got married I was open to the idea of having some pre-set, small number of kids and had begun thinking about the precise timetables on which I would have them.
[…]It would have been inconceivable to me to imagine that constantly having my plans derailed by pregnancies and not even having any idea when I’d be done changing diapers would be an improvement over my fully controlled, well-ordered life, but it has been.
[…]Lately I’ve been imagining what I would say to 2003 Jen if I could go back in time and give her a crystal ball to show her what her future would be like. I’ve been trying to imagine how I would talk her down from the balcony ledge after the crystal ball got to the “four kids in five years — and doing NFP!” part, how I could possibly convince her that this life is not only not a recipe for misery, but the true fulfillment of everything she thought she wanted.
I would love to tell you that I’d simply be able to explain that each child is such a joy and a blessing, but that would not have resonated with Old Jen; I might have agreed, but ultimately I would have said that those joys and blessing are just too much hard work. “I just don’t see how that kind of life could be anything but miserable for someone like me,” I would have said.
So how do you convince a woman that “hard work”, i.e. – self-denial, self-control, self-discipline, self-sacrifice – while caring for children could actually lead to a fulfilling life? And most importantly, that it should not be postponed in pursuit of something that appears more fun, more thrilling or more important (according to a feminist measure of fun, thrills and importance).
She makes 5 points in her post.
3. “It’s not what you do, it’s whom you serve.”
A product of secular society, I’d fallen into the common notion that the way to find true happiness is to focus on yourself more and other people less. It makes perfect sense, after all: doing pleasurable things for me is fun, sacrifice and hard work are not fun; ergo, the secret to happiness must be to live for myself as much as possible. Right?
How shocked I was to discover that I was wrong — dead wrong. Part of fully understanding the concept of vocation was understanding that a vocation is not to be thought of as “what you do” as much as it is “whom you serve.” It was nothing short of revolutionary to hear the concept that God has called every one of us to serve others, that living for yourself is not a valid option; that the key to deep fulfillment, to finding your very purpose in life, is as simple as finding out the specific way in which you’re called to serve. Do that, and you will find peace.
It sounded not only too simple to be true, but too difficult. As a spoiled only child the idea of living to serve sounded terrible. But once I actually took a leap of faith and tried it, I had no doubt that this was truth.
Next,I want to talk about one of the young Christians I mentor, and then about the woman I supported for President in the 2012 election.
I spent Friday night playing with one of the young women I mentor. This is the one who did the BS in computer science, and is now doing the MS in computer science. After playing a few rounds of “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes”, she mentioned the salary from her internship this summer. She asked me “what am I going to do with so much money? I think I had better stop thinking so much about myself and find some people out there to help”. And I was so pleased. Because this woman, more than any of the other young people I mentor, is my replacement.
J. Warner Wallace likes to talk about training your replacement, and I have several replacements, but none better than her. I remember when she was younger, she was a bit more selfish than now. She still organized events, like bringing Frank Turek, Tim McGrew, etc. to speak on her campus. But she never showed much interest in one-on-one care for others. It was my hope that just like me, she would react to computer science salary with a sense of obligation to others, and so she has. And that’s how I think women ought to be. They should be educated, they should be successful – but they should be open to the needs of others.
The woman I admire the most in the world is former GOP Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who was my first choice for President in 2012. I had been following her for many years before that, when she was just a state senator. I liked her because of her interest in apologetics, as well as her focus on her family.
Nearly two decades ago, a stay-at-home mother and onetime federal tax lawyer named Michele Bachmann felt a spiritual calling to open her clapboard home here to troubled teenage girls.
“We had our five biological children that God gave to us, and then he called us to take foster children into our home,” Mrs. Bachmann told a Christian audience in 2006. “We thought we were going to take unwed mothers in,” she continued, adding, “We took 23 foster children into our home, and raised them, and launched them off into the world.”
Today Mrs. Bachmann is Representative Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican, first elected to the House in 2006, and now a candidate for her party’s nomination for president. In Washington, she has grabbed the spotlight as a staunch fiscal conservative and brash Tea Party leader. But a look at her life here shows that it was her role as a mother, both to her biological children and to her adolescent foster daughters, that spurred her to seek public office.
[…]Mrs. Bachmann’s political awakening began with her deep disenchantment with the public school system.
[…]By the late 1990s, with her own children enrolled in private Christian schools, Mrs. Bachman was upset by the education her foster children were getting in public school. Teachers gave them “little special attention,” and many were “placed in lower-level classes, as if they were not expected to succeed,” she told a House subcommittee in 2007.
One brought home “an 11th-grade math assignment that involved coloring a poster,” she testified. Another “spent an entire week watching movies.” A third “remarked to me once that she was in ‘stupid people math.’ ”
So Mrs. Bachmann immersed herself in the minutiae of Minnesota’s graduation requirements. She worked with a conservative researcher and began giving talks in church basements.
[…]The Rev. Marcus Birkholz, the pastor at Salem Lutheran Church, which Mrs. Bachmann attended for years, calls her “a lady with energy and a heart” whose uncompromising “support for the unborn” extends beyond fighting abortion. “She sees the whole picture,” Pastor Birkholz said. “It’s not just bringing a child into the world; that child has to be nurtured and educated.”
[…]Mrs. Bachmann, whose biological children now range in age from 17 to 29, worked until her fourth child was born. (Her youngest, Sophia, is headed to college this fall, while the eldest, Lucas, is a medical resident at the University of Connecticut, pursuing a specialty in psychiatry.) Friends remember her planning neighborhood picnics and organizing bicycle parades.
“I had all these balls in the air that I was juggling,” she said in an interview with Minnesota Monthly last year. In choosing to leave work, she said, “I finally realized my dream, which was to be mom of a big, happy family.”
What does it mean? It means that women ought not be horrified by husband needs or children needs. They should not be opposed to responsibilities, expectations and obligations in relationships. Sometimes, the path to greatness means taking a few years off from work to homeschool your kids. After all, isn’t it better for God to have FIVE Christian kids who will surpass you in influence? Michele didn’t get involved in politics by thinking of herself. She got involved in politics by thinking of her children, and her 23 foster children.
Here’s my advice to young women: 1) Study something hard that pays. 2) Work a few years and get debt free. 3) Marry a good provider in your mid-to-late 20s. 4) Have as many children as your husband can support. 5) Be actively involved in the education of your kids (with apologetics, too). 6) Open your home to kids who don’t have a mom or a dad. 7) Teach your kids the importance of caring for others. 8) Run for President (as a Republican).