Knowledge of Apologetics Prepares Students for College, World

She stopped by our table on UDay at the University of New Hampshire. She was curious about our sign that described the use of reason and philosophy to explore the Christian worldview. She shared that she grew up in church and had been very active in youth group. However, since she came to UNH she had grown cold to Christianity and doubted that it was any different from any other religion. Her story is not unique. According to Lifeway, 70% of Christian students walk away from church during their collegiate years.[1] While a minority of them return, they often return jaded from their experience and with a shallow faith.  The top reasons given for their departure are the lack of answers to questions they have about Christianity before college and the lack of consistent Christian living in the home and church. Students are inundated with philosophical naturalism, relativism, and immorality at college. How do we reverse this trend and prepare students and families? One answer is to incorporate the study of apologetics in the life of the Christian, home, and local church. 

Apologetics, from the Greek word apologia, is the defense or science of answering questions and objections to Christianity. 1 Peter 3:15 exhorts Christians to always be prepared to have an apologia for the hope they have and to do this with gentleness and respect. There are four purposes for apologetics. The first is to validate Christian truth. This is exploring Scripture in light of philosophical and empirical historical evidences that support the truth of Christianity. God has left His fingerprints on the world and history that allows us to have a robust and rational understanding of His truth. With this, recognizing and refuting opposing worldviews is possible. The Apostle Paul used this line of reasoning in Acts 17:16-34. He used the Athenians own worldview and philosophers to lead them to the truth of God.

The second reason for apologetics is to reach the lost. There are so many competing worldviews that people can get lost in the noise. They have no grounding in Christianity and so they have no way to evaluate the truth of these competing claims. As Christians our aim is not to win the argument but to win the person and for them to come to Jesus. Well-known people such as C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and Lee Strobel came to Jesus through investigating their questions and finding answers that made them able to hear the Gospel and receive it. Students should be prepared to be bold evangelists on the campus and can be with apologetics training.

The third reason apologetics is essential is for the building up of the Church. Everyone has doubts at some point in their lives and in a world of Google and YouTube, finding truthful and sound answers to doubt is very difficult. Telling someone to “just have faith” is more harmful than helpful. Christians need to understand that faith is reasonable and there are logical and evidential truths that allow them to trust the Bible. The author of Hebrews challenges the Church to move on from milk to meat so that good and evil can be distinguished and mature discernment is formed. Apologetics is part of this meat. Lastly, apologetics is important for the Church to refute error in the public square. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”[2]  Paul writes that Christians and leaders need to be ready to answer opponents, with kindness and respect (2 Timothy 2:22-26, Titus 1:9). This means preparing our families to be able to respond to the Richard Dawkins of the world whether it is for personal reasons or to be a marketplace missionary in academia. Every pastor needs to be prepared to refute the error that comes into the local church from social media, YouTube, and literature.

So what is the strategy for apologetics? Many people do not want to return to school for a degree in apologetics. Families are looking for ways to incorporate these things for but do not know where to start. There are many resources for families and the church to equip adults and students. For example, former atheist Lee Strobel, author of the best selling book The Case for Christ, has made children and student versions of his books. A family can read these books together and view many of his videos online. There is a wealth of family and church curriculum for apologetics that can be incorporated in all ministry areas as well.[3] Thirdly, there are many organizations that help the family and church such as Ratio Christi, which equips and trains students in apologetics. Also, churches can instill the importance of apologetics by connecting with local and national apologists to host apologetics conferences for the community.

Not all the news about students is discouraging. Other research points to the traits of students who do not walk away. One is that they were truly equipped by both the church and their families. However, since the church only has students for one to two hours a week, the primary equipper must be the home. This is the second trait. Families that were truly Gospel centered, learning, serving, and living the truth together were more likely to have their children grow into active church members and lay leaders while maintaining their faith through college.[4] With the wealth of good resources there is every reason for the family and church to take a pro-active approach to equipping everyone – especially students. All Christians should engage in expanding their knowledge of God’s truth through apologetics and love the Lord with all their mind.

[1] Lifeway Research, "Reasons 18- to 22-Year-Olds Drop Out of Church," Lifeway Research, August 7, 2007, https://lifewayresearch.com/2007/08/07/reasons-18-to-22-year-olds-drop-out-of-church/ (accessed January 24, 2013).

[2] C. S. Lewis, "Learning in War-Time," in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Orlando, FL: Macmillan, 1980), 28.

[3] For more resources for family and church see: https://ratiochristi.org/blog/post/apologetics-resources-for-kids/610#.WpRUExPwaMI

[4] Jon Nielson, "3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church," Faith It, July 28, 2014, https://faithit.com/3-common-traits-of-youth-who-dont-leave-the-church/ (accessed September 19, 2014).

Lori Peters is the Regional Director for New England, Chapter Director at the University of New Hampshire and Community Apologist for Ratio Christi. Lori and her husband are also engaged in planting a collegiate-focused church at the University of New Hampshire.