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
I love the moment in the game of hide and seek when my son is clearly visible but I’ll pretend not to see him; like the time he sat on the kitchen floor with a tea towel on his head. In order to prolong the game I’ll usually pretend to check highly improbable hiding places; “the microwave…. no, not there”, “in the teapot… no, He is not here.”
It struck me today as I read through the story of the first Easter again, that there are definitely some parallels:
“The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
For all intents and purposes, in this admittedly more sombre game of hide and seek, the tomb was the right place to look for Jesus;
1. He was dead. A spear in the side had confirmed that.
2. It was definitely Jesus that died. His mother among other close friends were present at the crucifixion to identify him.
3. It was the right tomb. The one with all the Roman soldiers outside is pretty hard to miss.
Yet from the angels perspective the tomb must have felt like a teapot when he told the two Mary’s; “He is not here“, which I’m convinced was said in a similar jovial tone to my: “No… He is not here” when I search the microwave and the teapot for my son.” You see from the angels perspective;
1. Jesus had risen. The tomb was empty.
2. Jesus had said this was going to happen. More than a few times.
3. Death didn’t stand a chance. At all.
So where was Jesus?
“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said.” Matthew 28:8-9.
Right in front of them. Right in front of us.
Batteries get recharged. Cars get pumped. Fields get fallowed. But what about us? How do we get re-energised, refuelled and rested? If you’re anything like me you attempt to press your pause button with either escapism or alternative activity.
For escapism I’ll drift away from the restlessness I feel by diverting my attention onto other people’s stories, real life or make believe, it doesn’t really matter, as long as they’re not mine. Media screens provide easy doorways into illusions of reality. And I enter, convincing myself with lies like; “it’s important to always stay up to date with what’s going on” or “I’ll feel rested after a good film”. Yet it isn’t and I don’t.
On better days I’ll try in vain to press my pause button with some alternative activity. Ill fill my spare time going from one errand to another. Maybe I can’t sort the burden I feel but I can sort the lawn or the dripping tap (sometimes!). And when I do, that elated feeling of having achieved something stills my mind… for the best part of 30 seconds, until that familiar weariness creeps back in.
Yet there is another way. There is someone who offers to press my pause button for me. He doesn’t need me to work myself into His rest, just acknowledge my need for it. He wants me just as I am; weary and burdened, no pretenses. Then it arrives. An awareness of his gentle and humble heart enveloping mine, loving out the striving and stress and loving in the rest my soul was thirsting for.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29.
Although we may no longer be a Christian culture in the UK, there are still remnants of it remaining, not least in the whole area of our language. Please “bear with me” (“Bear with one another” Galatians 6:2) as I take a tour of a few sayings that have stuck, and unpack some of their original meaning.
“You can’t judge a book by its cover” would seem to be rooted in Jesus’ comparison of the religious moralists of his day to “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead” (Matthew 23:27). Doing so, He pointed to the need for everyone to find forgiveness.
Whether you’re going to or you just want to “Wash my hands of this”, you may not know it was Pontius Pilate who made this expression famous when he was requested to crucify Christ; finding no fault in Jesus’ life “…he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood” he said.” (Matthew 27:24.)
Have you ever had a “Damascus road experience”? The original was had by Paul when, “as he neared Damascus on his journey” (Acts 9:3), saw and heard the resurrected Jesus speak to him, turning him from a Christian hunter to a Christian hunted.
The experience lit in Paul an extraordinary missionary zeal, so much so that he went on to write “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22). A few hundred years later that verse undoubtedly led St. Ambrose to encourage St. Augustine for his efforts in Milan, along the lines of; “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”.
As a result of Pauls and Augustine’s witness many have kept their “fingers crossed” or sought to “touch wood”; both suggested to have been early Christian expressions of confessing a trust in the cross of Christ.
Can anyone think of any others?
3 concepts and 5 Pointers for preaching and teaching
The rules of eloquence can be used in connection with true principles as well as with false, they are not themselves culpable, but the perversity of ill using them is culpable.
(Augustine – On Christian Doctrine, 73)
3 Concepts to ponder
1. Content – the words you use
Structure – the order you give them
Delivery – the way you communicate them
2. Identification – Meet them where they are
Persuasion – Challenge where they are
Invitation – Move them to where God wants them to be
3. Expounding Biblical Truth + Engaging Contemporary Culture = Kingdom advance
1.Take off (funny story related to talk, provocative statement, visual aid, arresting action, never apologise) and landing (with a bang like a challenge to action, heartfelt prayer, a question, or a punchy summary) are critical.
2. Opening our hearts. Letting us into your world; what are you wrestling with at the moment? How does this truth affect you?
3. Passionate preaching. Schaeffer said: “Am I provoked? If not I should sit down.”
Jonathan Edwards eloquence was: The power of presenting an important truth before an audience, with overwhelming weight of argument, and with such intenseness of feeling, that the whole soul of the speaker is thrown into every part of the conception and delivery; so that the solemn attention of the whole audience is riveted, from the beginning to the close, and impressions are left that cannot be effaced. (Dwight, Memoirs)
Someone asked Spurgeon once, “What is the secret of great preaching?” He replied, “Get on fire with the Gospel and people will come to watch you burn.”
4. Arresting attention. Using space. Thinking about the lecturn not becoming a block between you and the congregation. Varying tone and pitch.
5. Using powerpoint Jesus used it: Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air”. 19 of 32 parables came from Galilee and he therefore used imagery from fishing and farming.
Questions for personal appraisal after a talk:
Passion. Did you present the truth with some conviction?
Practical. Did you give specific application that can be applied to life this week? Did you teach for a verdict?
Humor. Were there points when people laughed?
Personal. Were you open about where you are at?
Involvement. Was everyone interested and with you?
Preparation. Were you well prepared enough to present with confidence?
Background. Did you bring some interesting background not evident from the casual reading of the text?
Introduction and end. Did you grab their attention in the beginning?
Inspiration. Did you leave them with something to ponder on?
Focus. Did you have one or two “big ideas” that you attempted to drive home throughout the lesson?
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