Youth Ministry Should Be Unapologetically Apologetic

By Stephen Bedard

The faith journeys of young adults have been a hot topic in Canada over the past two years since the Hemorrhaging Faith research study was released.

The study, subtitled Why & When Canadian Young Adults Are Leaving, Staying & Returning to the Church, examines why young adults fall into various categories, including “engagers, fence sitters, wanderers or rejecters.” But there is almost no mention of apologetics.

Of course there is no role for apologetics in keeping youth engaged with church, you might say. You can’t argue people into the Kingdom of God! If young people want a spirituality that is experiential and relational, why focus on one that is intellectual? Apologetics was for an older generation.

This skepticism toward apologetics is based on a misunderstanding of what apologetics should be. Yes, apologetics can be ineffective and even hurtful when done badly. There are those who enjoy the argument more than they value the person. Some pre-packaged apologetic presentations bypass any engagement with the actual questions of the audience. Simplistic answers are sometimes offered for complex questions.

However, we should not reject apologetics based on bad examples any more than we should reject the family unit, which is so often dysfunctional.

Apologetics is not a barrage of arguments aimed at inducing intellectual assent. Think about something you value. Think about your favourite hobby or your first grandchild or the small town that you grew up in. Now tell someone why you value that and give the reasons for your strong feelings. You just did apologetics.

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The term apologetics comes from 1 Peter 3:15, which says “Always be prepared to give an answer (apologia) to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope you have.” Often this answer is in the form of demonstrating that Christian claims are reliable and intellectually defensible. But apologetics is not limited to this. Canadian-born scholar Ronald Sider argues in Good News and Good Works for a holistic apologetics that includes social justice as a defense against secular humanist attacks on the Church’s past failures.

Before looking at the practical ways of using apologetics in relation to the Hemorrhaging Faith study, we also need to acknowledge that many people today are suspicious of sources of authority. Many young adults will not accept a truth claim based solely on an appeal to the authority of a pastor, church or even the Bible.

Why are people so suspicious? Partly because so much evidence has come to light about ways that authorities of all kinds, including religious authorities, have used coercion. One major school of thought that emphasizes such issues is postmodernism. Hemorrhaging Faith explains: “Some of the cynical outcomes of postmodernism are that the assertion of truth is reduced to an attempt to coerce, and religion – with its comprehensive doctrine of truth – is reduced to organized coercion.”

But none of this means young adults are not interested in truth…

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Youth Ministry Should Be Unapologetically Apologetic | Stephen Bedard