Many youth pastors are hesitant to train their youth in apologetics, philosophy, and logic, because they fear that it will train the kids to be combative and belligerent, that their students will arrive on college campuses with a mind towards “taking out the opposition,” training their “evidence guns” on others.
These pastors don’t want anyone under their charge becoming “that guy,” so they might do a limited series or so, skimming the surface of apologetics, but they avoid thorough training in it.
This is a common objection, so let me address it here.
First, there is a grain of truth to this. Students who delve into apologetics and the like can develop combative attitudes, but it need not be this way. There is nothing intrinsic in apologetics training that leads to this so youth pastors should not be hesitant to thoroughly train their student’s intellects.
As an analogy, think of most other worthwhile endeavors. Take science, for instance. Scientific discoveries have been abused by unscrupulous actors to bring harm on other people, but very few people would take that as reason to steer their children away from study of STEM. Martial Arts skills can be used in the service of bullying, but if there’s anything we learned from Mr. Miyagi, that is no reason to avoid Karate. It served Daniel-san quite well. Yes this is sort of a joke, but I have a point: Karate doesn’t intrinsically turn a kid into a bully. Take it from Miyagi: “no such thing as bad student..only bad teacher.” If used in the right way, Karate brings out the best in youth. It is the same with apologetics and philosophy training.
Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, et al were apologetical gurus
There’s no one more Christ-like than Christ, so if apologetical knowledge didn’t sour Him and those He trained, there’s no reason why it should sour our own kids.
It is the same with early church fathers like Justin Martyr. An apologetical approach was central to his interaction with the outside world. The same goes today: if you spend any time with our “happy warriors” like William Lane Craig, JP Moreland, or Justin Brierley, one thing that will stand out to you is how warm and joyful they are. That being said, its all in the approach. The proper attitude and heart posture must be taught alongside the apologetics training, and it must be taught thoroughly and often. Students must not only be taught the importance of love and compassion, but must be taught what that looks like concretely, and must be given the social skills to exercise that compassion. It’s not about defeating the enemy in mental combat or mockingly owning the libs. In a sense, other people aren’t the enemy anyway--Satan and his lies are the true enemy. To this end, conversational evangelism and listening are two social skills that also must be taught. Learning to ask good questions and disagree well are essential. If you’re engaging in a monologue with your college roommates, where you overwhelm them with your superior facts and logic, “well, actually-ing” everything, you’ve probably lost them and are doing it wrong. What’s more, while there is an evangelistic, outreach focused goal for apologetics training, to me, perhaps an even bigger goal is to help students assuage their own doubts and develop their own fortitude and resilience against an aggressively oppositional culture. It is a defense against lies that the student can use to stay faithful rather than capitulating like so many do these days.
My own life is a testimony to this. When I arrived on the college campus (mostly because I was a brand new believer), I was completely unprepared and overwhelmed by the challenges of that environment. Thankfully, God put the right strong men in my life at the right time, who took my questions seriously and pointed me in the right direction to some excellent resources. Apologetics training was an absolute life raft for me in a turbulent time. Without it, I would have walked away, easily. I would have been a number. The only bummer is that I didn’t get this sort of training earlier.
That is, the primary goal of apologetics training shouldn’t be to own anybody; the primary goal is a defense--when bullets are flying by, you need to know how to put on your body armor and helmet. Too many students today don’t even know those helps exist, and for youth pastors to act like the bullet-like fizzing sounds the kids keep hearing and feeling are just phantasms, because some kids might get the wrong idea, doesn’t do anyone any service.
Putting thorough training in apologetics on the backburner leaves your students vulnerable. Don’t let concerns of overly aggressive apologetic nerds or political junkies steer you away from the necessity of this kind of training.