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.