Would-Be Clashes and Resonances: Apologetics to Gen Z
As I was scanning my notes in preparation for writing this blog post I realized the dizzying array of options available to me. I thought it was comforting and reassuring that I’d get this piece quickly written, given the wealth of source material available in Stephen R.C. Hicks’ Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. I briefly considered writing about the self-stultifying nature of the relativistic claims of postmodernism, that if left unchallenged leads to solipsism. Would it be strange to ask that if searching for meaning is pointless on postmodernist ground, then why any such effort is expelled to convince anyone of anything to begin with? After all, “if there is no world or self to understand and get right on their terms, then what is the purpose of thought or action?”1 Then there was the option of writing about the murderous consequences resulting from the influences of the unholy trinity of Marx, Marcuse and Mao.2 Clay Jones, in his book Why Does God Allow Evil? in which he compiles a list3 of atrocities in the hundreds of millions at the hands of communist regimes includes this quote from Mao Tse-tung in one of his speeches to the politburo in 1958: “What’s so unusual about Emperor Shih Huang of the Chin Dynasty? He had buried alive 460 scholars only, but we have buried alive 46,000 scholars.”4
Any one of those options would have been interesting and perhaps deserves its own post someday. So instead of being distracted, I decided to write something pertinent to my dissertation. It may change a bit but for now I am asking the question: What are new contextualized, Gospel-centric concepts of learning and practice that Evangelical leaders and pastors can adopt to train and disciple Generation Z Christians in the United States? If we believe the polls, Gen Z Christians are leaving the church or identifying as either “none” (those who check “none” on forms asking for religious affiliation) or atheist in increasing number over the last few years. What is causing this? There are at least two reasons for this. One is that when it comes to answering “tough” questions about Christianity, God or the Bible, one in five engaged Christian parents say they do not feel prepared to help their Christian teenager with these tough questions.5 Another reason could be the fact that more than half of youth pastors self-profess their ill-preparedness when it comes to discussing science and the Bible with their youth group.6 In this social media-driven culture young people are in, it is vital for youth pastors to be trained in Christian apologetics. The study shows that teenagers are not bashful in asking the tough questions. So church leaders must acknowledge this knowledge and skill gaps in youth ministry and marshal resources such as training to help youth workers be more effective in discipling young people not only in spiritual formation, but in the life of the mind as well.
The study by Barna Research reveals a curious discrepancy between what youth pastors report about their teen’s preparedness to tackle challenging issues (e.g. moral relativism) and what engaged parents report about their teen’s preparedness to tackle the same. The difference is at least 20 percentage points in the direction of the parent’s more favorable evaluation of their adolescent child’s preparedness to deal with tough subjects. This same gap is seen in Christian teens’ self-reported confidence in their ability to support their views on a specific topic: the existence of God.7 This confidence must be buttressed by solid Christian apologetics training. We always hear about de-conversion taking place when a closely held doctrine is challenged. Richard Dawkins, perhaps the most famous atheist today, was confirmed in the Anglican church as young boy and was a believer. He started doubting his faith at 9 years old when he learned about the many religious options available growing up in England.8 He concluded that had he been born in India for example, he might have adopted its religion, thereby negating his Christianity. Could Dawkins’ faith have been nurtured had there been someone to help him through his doubts? More than likely. The answers would not have been difficult to supply.
There is hope however because according to Barna, Gen Zers for the most part still holds to traditional Christian beliefs.9
“In some ways Gen Z’s generational ethos naturally resonates with a life of Christian faith, and in others their collective worldview clashes with the Church’s traditions and beliefs. By looking squarely at both would-be clashes and resonances, those involved in making disciples among the next generation can be most effective.”10
That is the key in shining the truth claims of Christianity on Gen Z, finding common ground, the looking at both “would-be clashes and resonances” that seeks to connect their innate hopes and dreams to the Gospel.
1 Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (S.l.: OckhamS Razor, 2011), Kindle, Loc. 469.
2 Ibid., Loc. 3314.
3 Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2017), 50—56.
4 R.J. Rummel, Encyclopedia of Genocide: A-H. “China, Genocide In: The Chinese Communist Anthill” (Jerusalem: Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide, 1999), 151.
5 Barna Group. Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the next Generation.
(Ventura, CA: Barna Group), 2018. 84.
6 Ibid., 90.
7 Ibid., 95.
8 YouTube (YouTube), accessed February 7, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zF5bPI92-5o)
9 Barna, 78.
10 Ibid., 103.
10 responses to “Would-Be Clashes and Resonances: Apologetics to Gen Z”
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Harry, your statement that youth pastors should be better trained is so fantastically imperative. In my tradition usually the youth pastor (blanket statement here, but the gist is true) is the job that someone may get right out of seminary, or is the job given to a “young” candidate because they can form a relationship with a youth. They may have been trained in school, but often they lack the practical theology and experience to answer “tough” questions. I feel like this reality is greatly hindering the church. Thank you for lifting this up so poignantly in your post.
Hey Jacob. I’m glad this resonated with you. I firmly believe church leaders ought to see this as a critical need in the church. If that stats are true, which I read are at least a 50% (conservative number) attrition rate, then we need to be alarmed that this is happening right under our noses.
Thanks for drawing the Hicks conversation down to your area of passion and research. What would it look like to have youth pastors get the training to respond more appropriately to the complex and difficult questions of today’s youth? Where would you start?
Hey Harry. Thanks for your comments. I thought about your question and it be so easy for me to just say “get an MA in Christian Apologetics.” But I can’t think of anything else to offer except to say get an MA in Christian Apologetics. Hahahaha!
Seriously though, if one can do it, it would be worth it. For any aspiring youth pastor going to seminary, I’d recommend them taking all their elective units on apologetics. There are also good books out there for anyone interested in being better equipped. A point of caution might be appropriate here though. Studying apologetics will raise a lot of questions. And if there is no guidance from someone who has more knowledge and experience, the learning could get frustrating.
Great post. I’m with you in that the obstacle of Gen Z leaving the church can also be seen as the opportunity to speak to them in new (old) ways. What I mean is that the commodification of church which led to quick and simple answers has brought us to a point where Gen Z are asking different questions and pastors are not prepared to answer them (especially younger ones). Your research will be of great value to those coming into ministry positions and parents.
Thanks Mario. I hope and pray to make a contribution to the church by helping others, especially Gen Z, realize that what has caused a lot of their despair and hopelessness is a result of what postmodernism has successfully done. That is put God, truth, goodness and beauty out of reach. That’s what we long for and if truth is unknowable, then make hopelessness and despair is the logical conclusion. In fact this idea is so maddening that if postmodernism is true, we can’t even know what I just wrote. It’s no wonder suicide rates among members of GenZ is the highest compared with previous generations.
Love the direction you are headed in for your research, Harry. The need for training and equipping Gen Z – and their youth pastors and parents – is critical. Have I already mentioned Axis Ministries to you? I get a weekly newsletter (Culture Translator) from them that has helped me so much with my kids in the way of their culture and how our faith speaks to it. Of course it is not the full solution but I am encourage by them and people like you who are trying to do their part to connect the Gospel to our youngest.
Thanks for mentioning this Andrea. No, you have not and so I’ll definitely check it out.
I have this theory that Gen Z has only “assumed” postmodern ideas and its influences, while the previous generations have “asserted” these bad ideas. The former has hope because they’re just lost and we need to help them get on the right path. The latter willfully rejected truth, God, civility, etc. and will need more persuasion and of course the work of the Holy Spirit to help them see the light.
I also believe that the intensity of postmodernism has decreased since the 1960s. I can go on and on about this, but I’ll stop here.
Harry, as a children and youth minister, I agree with the training needed by those working with the youth to answer theological questions. I think their needs to be more work in Apologetics broken down for youth at the high school level. If you have resources, I would love to check them out.
Hey Harry. I just got round to reading your post. I have a brewing question about gen Z or Y or boomers and church decline. I am finding the numbers just don’t add up in New Zealand. I wonder if the greatest area of decline has been in people under 60, which is tail-end boomers and gen X (my lot). In New Zealand there are literally thousands of them who no longer attend church, refer to themselves as progressive Christians and have a fairly tarnished view Christian institutions. They have children who have little connection with the church either and have been generationally jaundiced. So, I am left wonder how apologetics works in a postmodern context when pomo panders to the variable spiritual wants and needs of individuals? Because my thesis is about leadership in an identity political context, I am straining over similar issues.