A couple of years ago, I was talking to a woman who grew up in a Christian home that was very focused on externals. There was a lot of bullying to get her to comply with expected Christian behavior, although the expected Christian behavior was often arbitrary, and had nothing to do with Christianity and more with just appearing “nice”. There was no discussion of the evidence, no talking through objections. No focus on truth at all. She was always very curious about me, and how come I didn’t drink, and how come I was able to stay a virgin through college, grad school, to the present day when so many people she knew who were raised in the church fell away from it in college. My answer was simple. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home so I was never bullied into acting like a Christian beyond what I was convinced of myself. I just took my time and proved everything out before I had to act any particular way. I was in the driver’s seat all the time, and that’s how Christianity ought to be. The truth-seeking comes first, and then the slow process of re-prioritizing comes after. Performing for your parents and church will not survive contact with college.
Growing up, I didn’t ever have to go to church. I didn’t go to church until I was comfortable going. If I felt bored in church, I read an apologetics book, and I did this openly. If I didn’t like the words of a song, then I didn’t sing. My first youth pastor, Grant, never tried to get me to be like the other kids. He asked me what I was interested in. I said “arguing with people”. He gave me books by E.J. Carnell and Alister McGrath. I read them, and that was how I acted like a Christian. When I met other Christians at the church who hadn’t read anything about God’s existence or the historical Jesus or the problem of evil, I didn’t feel pressured to be like them. In school, there were lots of people who never did any studying or lab work. They could talk a lot about things they knew nothing about. But because they didn’t know anything, they failed tests and they couldn’t put anything they learned into practice, either. People can sound so smart about things… until they actually have to take a test, or put something to use practically.
To me, if you didn’t like apologetics, you were a fake and you were faking behaviors of a worldview that you had never investigated. It was really obvious to me that there was more to Christianity than just God-hollering and Scripture memorization. I did swimming lessons up until the point where I got my lifeguarding certification. At the later levels, we always had written exams as well as a practical portion including activities like treading water, swimming long distances, and rescue simulations. People who could pass the written test often failed the practical. If you fail the practical, then you fail the course. Period. No exceptions.
Knowing the truth about God’s existence and character comes before acting as if God is real and God has a specific character and will for us. From the existence of God, we move on to the accuracy of the Bible, and on to theology, and then and only then do we start the outward behaviors of a Christian. If you skip to the behaviors, that is unnatural – like pretending to be a doctor when you have never been to medical school. Everyone who comes to Christianity from the outside, like me, knows how strange it is to meet people in church who talk about feelings and experiences as the basis of their worldview. Those people would never do anything serious, like making investment choices, on the basis of feelings. They would never think that merely having feelings about auto repair or Java programming enabled them to solve problems in those areas. But somehow, this is the standard operating procedure in the church. Which is why so many kids raised in the church dump their faith in college. For me, it was apologetics that made me so resistant to alcohol, sex and atheism in college. After all, if you win the argument, then why should you act like the person you defeated? They lost. That means they’re wrong. I didn’t feel any social pressure to behave like people who couldn’t beat me in an argument.
Every single day, children raised in intact Christian homes on a diet of piety and “the Bible says” come to an understanding of what Christianity is that is fundamentally different from the knowledge they are acquiring in school or at work. And that is the beginning of their loss of faith. There should be no separation between practical areas of knowledge (e.g. – mechanical engineering) and Christianity. Christianity should not be seen as easy or shallow. We should not praise people who don’t know how to talk about spiritual things intelligently to non-Christians, which is the real core “skill” that Christianity requires. Christianity is not a religion of being nice or feeling good – that’s what all the other religions are trying to do. Christianity is about laying hold of the truth, and adjusting your actions to it.
Every Christian ought to be trying their best to learn how to speak intelligently to non-Christians about their faith, to the best of their ability. Especially when they are confronted with educated non-Christians – which is most of us living in the Western hemisphere. No Christian should be better at something else, like sports or school or music or anything. They should put maximum effort into Christianity, and do other things in their spare time. There is no one in my office who thinks that I know more about computer science than I do about my Christian worldview. Computer science is my day job – I have a BS and MS and 18 years experience in it. But my co-workers know what comes first, and where my real interest and passion lies. When we go out to lunch, I talk about Christian things. That’s what I’m the best at. I’m not trying to impress my co-workers by being the best at computer science. I’m trying to perform for my Audience of One, and show him that his honor and reputation are my top priorities. That quiet, hidden vertical relationship is what Christianity is all about. Not my will, Lord, but your will, be done. Tiny little steps backward from selfishness to communicate to the Lord Jesus that his goals are important to me.
My friend Stephen Bedard tweeted this, recently:
“Frankly, I find it hard to understand how people today can risk parenthood without having studied apologetics.” – William Lane Craig
Typical Christian parents expect behaviors of their children but they put in almost zero effort to answer their questions. I hear from so many Christians who fell away in college about how they dropped their faith in high school but just kept acting to please their parents. And the parents had no idea. The parents are the ones who are closest to the problem. They are the ones who should be finding out what is in the culture and the schools, and discussing it with their children. Most pastors are in the business of saying things that people like in order to pack the pews, and collect offerings. They aren’t there to talk about uncomfortable topics. They’re no good at responding to non-Christian thought in the culture. So it really falls on the parents to do the work of answering questions and leading.
Christianity ought to be more like engineering or lab work if you want to appeal to young people – testable, repeatable, practical. Think back to math class, and how teachers would insist that students SHOW YOUR WORK, instead of just writing the answer down. Instead of just saying “the Bible says”, parents really need to show young people their work – how did they arrive at their worldview? That’s what parents need to be prepared to show their children. Not singing, not feelings, not community, not family time together. Facts and evidence. Because that is the only way we know to test knowledge claims to see if they are objectively true or false. Parents who get their worldview straight will also find it much easier to act in accordance with what they say they believe. Even when the pressure is on, they will know what is true, and be able to do hard things because they want to respect what is true. Coming through a test of your Christian convictions is much easier when you do the homework first. It’s just like any other test in that respect. It certainly worked for me in high school and college when I had to defend my faith to non-Christians. It also helped that I had no desire to fit in with people my own age, because they didn’t have jobs. I had no respect for people who didn’t work for money, which is almost everyone in high school and college.
In the church, we should respect people who are able to study these issues deeply, and then have conversations about their Christian worldview with people who don’t accept that God exists, and don’t believe the Bible. That is what followers of Jesus did (e.g. Acts 17). We should be especially respectful of those who are able to defend the Christian worldview using scientific evidence and historical evidence. Especially those who get PhDs and do research in testable areas of knowledge that matter to the Christian worldview. Jesus offered his own resurrection as evidence of his claims to people who didn’t believe him. He liked evidence, and he had a passion for the truth. And so should we, if we claim to be his followers.
Dr. Walter Bradley
By the way, the lecture that changed my life the most is this lecture by Dr. Walter Bradley, a fabulously successful professor of mechanical engineering. I got hold of this lecture from 1997, about the time when I first started working full-time. It changed my life. Our young people are being raised to look up to attractive athletes, entertaining musicians, fideistic theologians, charismatic pastors, etc. People who have never set foot in the lion’s den. Dr. Bradley is an expert in the scientific evidence relevant to the Christian worldview, and has lectured on HUNDREDS of university campuses. He is invited to speak on campus because he KNOWS what he is talking about. If parents could just start by understanding what it takes to have a career as an open, visible Christian professor on a secular university campus, that would be a good start.