Too often, well-intentioned Christian thinkers try to offer apologetic arguments that are related to questions few people are actually asking today, especially young people. These older apologetic arguments remain important as part of the overall network of beliefs and evidence for belief. Nonetheless, if we wish to treat apologetics as a practical endeavor for concrete engagement with people who ask about Christianity, it seems best to start with the questions young people are actually asking. I’ve been working with adolescents and young adults in the context of congregational and university education for two decades. I, or someone, needs to take the time to do a formal, rigorous study of these questions. Check this page out if you want a summary of the studies that have explained how and why many young adults leave the faith of their youth.
In 2007, Rusty Wright listed several common issues. Allow me to list them and then indicate whether these seem to be low, moderate, or high-level concerns for young adults that I’ve known:
- How can there be a good, powerful God with so much evil in the world? [High]
- Doesn’t the Bible contradict itself? [Low]
- Do the un-evangelized go to hell? [High]
- Is Jesus the only way to God? [Moderate]
- Isn’t Christianity a crutch? [Low]
- Isn’t faith a blind leap? [Low]
- Can’t we believe whatever we like so long as we’re sincere? [Moderate]
In the meantime, permit me to offer my list of the seven most common questions, concerns, and objections I’ve heard from the mouths of young people.
- If theologians from various denominations can’t even agree on the basics, how can I ever hope to sort out truth from falsehood when it comes to religious belief?
- Does the older generation really believe, or are they just coping with a stressful world and making friends?
- The Old Testament and many preachers seem to describe God as pro-death and pro-suffering; how does this fit with belief in a loving God?
- God seems too silent in my personal life about which religious path to take; why does God remain so hidden from my immediate experience?
- Does joining the church require me to reject my gay and lesbian friends, and wouldn’t joining the church require me to leave the ethics of Jesus (unconditional love) for the name of Jesus applied to a culture of condemnation and conditional love?
- Religion is supposed to promote ethics, but it seems that Christianity re-enforces patriarchy, anti-semitism, environmental disregard, and sexual repression. Isn’t this diametrically opposed to what the common consensus is about ethical behavior today?
- [This last one is an anti-question, but perhaps most common.] Sorry, but I don’t care enough about the strange claims of Christianity to care about asking any difficult questions.
As you can see, I offer no answers here. Rather, I hope to encourage a process in which we find out what the young people in our actual circles care about, and then join in a shared search for answers. Maybe other Thinking Fellows might pick up one or more of these for a future essay contribution.
In any case, the process of going through questions like these with students is effective, wholesome, and transforming. I can suggest a way of proceeding, however, and it is one I’ve found to produce superb conversations and realizations. First, listen. Second, admit to young people when you are perplexed yourself. Third, offer a sincere, thoughtful response even if it requires you to go back and do more thinking and research.
May your days and your conversations be rich and rewarding!