The following is a guest blog written for discipleshipresearch.com
It should be of no surprise that ‘Intellectual credibility’ is one of Ruth’s four suggested ‘on-ramps’, for how younger generations come to faith, given recent congruent findings and that the use of apologetics has a Biblical prescription (1Peter 3:15), alongside a rich Christian tradition. But what are the intellectual doubts that the younger generation hold? What are they asking?
There are numerous Christian apologetic books, many clearly targeted at the younger market, claiming to handle the most common objections to the Christian faith. However, not one of these books uses any empirical evidence for the objections they handle, being the most common.
As a church leader with many young people in attendance and a speaker at apologetic events on university campuses, I wanted to find out what the main intellectual barriers to faith really are, rather than what we guess they are. So, in September 2018 our team asked over 200 university students: ‘If you had to have one objection to the Christian faith, what would it be?’ The results were shocking.
We expected something along the lines of ‘All the suffering in the world’. While conceding how free of physical suffering younger generations are, comparative to history, there is a paradox at play: Andrew Wilson writes, ‘my generation struggles with the problem of suffering more, not less, than most of those who have gone before us’ as, ‘the less we have suffered, the less equipped we are to deal with it.’ But suffering was not the top objection.
If not suffering, perhaps ‘Just one religion can’t be true’. Recognising a new culturally pervasive form of tolerance, which according to Don Carson, ‘is the social commitment to treat all ideas and people as equally right, save for those who disagree with this view of tolerance’, the ultimate truth claims of Christianity were predicted to be highly objectionable. But exclusivity was not the top objection, even among the generation that had been brought up in this new tolerance.
If not exclusivity, perhaps, ‘Christian have put me off’. In 2013 controversial U.S. Pastor, Mark Driscoll undertook the only academically reliable study into the most common objections to the Christian faith; ‘The Resurgence Report’ (2013). The data was collated using a telephone survey of over a 1,000 responses throughout the U.S. and found that the primary objection to Christianity was: ‘The Christian religion and I have different views on social issues like abortion or gay marriage’, at 21%. Parallels between the U.S. and UK contexts are easy to make, however, Driscoll’s work could in some ways be distinctive to its context. For example, the UK Talking Jesus (2015) research, found the top 3 words non-Christians used to describe a Christian they knew were: ‘Friendly, caring and good humoured’, which is significant given that ‘two-thirds (67%) of non-Christian adults in England say they know a practising Christian’. It was comfortably confirming then, to find that ‘Christians have put me off’, was not the top objection either.
In fact, none of the above objections came close to number one. The primary objection to the Christian faith was (drum roll please): ‘There’s not enough proof’, which received 21.5% of the responses, around double all of the next three highest objections; ‘All the suffering in the world’ at 11.2%, ‘Christians have put me off’ at 10.7% and ‘Just one religion can’t be true’ at 9.8%.
This stand-out result was shocking because it suggests a need for analytical evidence for faith among the younger generation, which is a fly in the face to calls for a different approach. For example, McLaren and Compolo, argue that in the field of apologetics, leaders should transition from ‘Apologist’ to ‘Apologiser’: ‘Instead of defending old answers, the new kind of leader will often apologise for how inadequate they are… sincere apology is the new apologetic.’ Perhaps we should start engaging again in traditional forms of evidential apologetics among the younger generation, especially when we consider ‘40% of people do not realise Jesus was a real person who actually lived and that one in four 18 to 34-year-olds thinks Jesus was a mythical or fictional character’.
 Such as Group Publishing’s; The Top 13 Questions about God: Intense Discussions for Youth Ministry (2002).
 Such as McFarland’s: The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity (2007).
 Wilson, A. (2015, 23). The Life You Never Expected, Inter Varsity Press.
 Carson, D. (2012, 31). The Intolerance of Tolerance, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 McLaren and Compolo, (2003:147) Adventures in Missing the Point, Navpress Publishing Group.
 Talking Jesus survey. (2015) Available: https://talkingjesus.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Talking-Jesus.pdf