Restoring God-Confidence among Youth
by Joe Gorra
What is the Holy Spirit doing among youth and young ministries? One example seems especially clear to me. The Spirit is helping to restore God-confidence through the ministry and practice of “Christian apologetics”! Perhaps we might think this an unexpected move. On the other hand, since when has the Spirit’s movement conformed to the niceties of our expectations? In this article, I briefly offer one “local” and one “global” example of this phenomena and suggest how and why Vineyard youth leaders can cooperate with what the Spirit is doing in this culturally-relevant area. First, a local example.
Apologetics in the Local Church
Wes Watkins is the Director of college-age ministry at Vineyard Anaheim. A sharp and caring leader in his mid-20s, Wes shepherds his flock through that delicate, transitional phase from being a senior in high school to a freshman in college.
Wes rightly wonders how his seniors will survive. Will they survive? Will the pressures of secularism in college, or the overwhelming pluralism of competing worldviews, zap them of confidence in God? Wes is not waiting around to get a “body count.”
What is Wes doing to deal with this problem? Clearly stirred by the Spirit, this year Wes is endeavoring to educate and help enculturate his ten seniors and their leaders in a strategic way. How? Well, for one thing, he is having them study and discuss Dallas Willard’s award-winning book, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (Dallas came to the Vineyard Anaheim in April 2010 and did a conference around this theme). Wes told me that Dallas’ book “has been important because these young minds are about to be surrounded by secularism and skepticism when they enter the university” and the book knows how to speak directly to these challenging issues.
To help his seniors become directly acquainted with some of the pressures of a non-Christian college and university setting, Wes has strategically brought in a Christian professor who teaches in a non-Christian environment to come and help his seniors get a feel for the worldview challenges in that setting. William (Bill) Jeynes teaches at California State University-Long Beach and is a member of our church. He is an accessible communicator that helps students realize how to articulate public reasons for their worldview beliefs.
Finally, Wes is helping his seniors learn to interact with the various arguments from “New Atheists” like Richard Dawkins, by exposing them to some interviews with Dawkins in order to show how passionate atheists might argue.
“I believe the experience has been both challenging and rewarding for both me and the students,” observes Wes. “The reading is heavy and at times must be explained … but I have thoroughly enjoyed it and found it most rewarding.”
Wes gets it. He sees first-hand how the Spirit is “on” this learning endeavor. “Apologetics is important because it addresses what the students are experiencing,” Wes tells me. “Students are constantly told that their beliefs are not and cannot be based on knowledge and they are constantly told how many ‘good’ reasons there are to not hold those beliefs.” But here is how apologetics is serving his seniors: “Apologetics addresses the youth where they are at,” Wes notes. How? “It helps make sense of a worldview that they know to be true, but are told it cannot be.”
But is apologetics just about heady ideas?
How Apologetics is Practical
“Apologetics” (from the Greek word, apologia) is the semi-technical term that refers to the ancient Christian practice of articulating answers to questions that concern “the faith” (you can see this at play when Jesus answers some of his questioners or when Paul addresses non-Christians on “Mars Hill” in Acts 17). Different people and different generations have asked different questions. So, apologetics is a life-long, question-answering kind of ministry. Always a demand (especially if people are permitted to be open and honest with their concerns), yet always a disproportionate amount of laborers to serve…
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