It has been my observation that the next generation of Christians commonly finds themselves between a rock and a hard place. We’ll call the rock Nominal Christianity. We’ll allow the hard place to be Skepticism.
Nominal means in name only. Nominal Christianity then is an inauthentic faith that is only associated with Christianity in name only. Nominal Christianity is in attendance most Sunday mornings if it wakes up on time, or wasn’t out too late the night before. Nominal Christianity never deals seriously with sin, hasn’t opened the Bible in years, hasn’t shared the gospel, well, probably ever, and almost certainly would never be a part of any intimate fellowship with other believers. Its faith is privatized and kept at arms length.
Unfortunately, this has been the model for many, if not most young Christians from what I can observe. It seems so common place that Nominal Christianity simply is authentic Christianity in the eyes of many, including the next generation.
However, the next generation believer cannot maintain this image of their faith for long. One of two things will happen. Preferably, they will come face-to-face with a genuine faith that takes Jesus seriously and actually has the power to transform a life. That is what I hope for. However, it seems pretty common instead for a young believer to come face-to-face with skepticism.
Skepticism isn’t necessarily bad. It is good to be skeptical and it is good to ask questions. What isn’t good is being faced with skepticism and having no idea what to do. This is the problem a nominal faith creates. The young Christian has never seen faith taken so seriously that it can actually withstand skepticism. The nominal Christian doesn’t seek answers to difficult questions, they simply “take it on faith” (whatever that means). Their Christianity doesn’t stimulate the intellect, it merely panders their emotions and makes them “feel good”. This pseudo-faith isn’t serious enough to answer any objections.
So what does the young Christian do? Well, hopefully they have enough sense to look for answers. However, they are surrounded by a nominal faith, so who will they turn to? They must reach outside of their immediate context, something not all are willing to do. Luckily, with the growing interest in apologetics (it seems to be growing anyway), a simple Google search could land you on a good apologetic website. Nonetheless, you see the problem. The young Christian’s nominal faith is challenged, there are no answers in the immediate context, and they are left to make a decision. If the statistics are any indication, many choose to walk away.
Enter: apologetics. Apologetics is the area of theology that seeks to provide rational answers to common objections of the Christian faith. At least, that definition will work for now. I’m proposing that apologetics can help fix the above dilemma. There are many reasons young people are walking away from their faith and they aren’t all intellectual reasons. For that reason, I’m not saying that apologetics can save the day and keep all young Christians from walking away from their faith. However, it can help.
Apologetics obviously takes the faith seriously, so it is immediately juxtaposed to Nominal Christianity. Where nominal Christianity keeps the faith at arms length, apologetics is a welcoming embrace. Learning rational reasons for the existence of God, resurrection of Jesus, and validity of the Bible as God’s word causes a young Christian to realize the reality of it all. They no longer have to “take it on faith” which I guess really means “blind faith”. There are actually reasons to believe these things and that makes it real. It makes faith more personal. I suppose this is what we mean when we say, “My faith became my own.” This is the effect apologetics can have on a young believer.
Apologetics also serves to fend off skepticism. I would say that someone familiar with apologetics, and more so philosophy, becomes skeptical themselves, but in a way that serves a good purpose. Perhaps, the correct word here is actually critical, and not skeptical. It is good to think critically and someone who is interested in apologetics and philosophy learns this early on. But in the case of being faced with difficult objections by skeptics, apologetics exists for this very reason. It is the very purpose of apologetics to answer the critic.
In summary, if the next generation finds themselves between the rock of Nominal Christianity and the hard place of Skepticism, apologetics is a tool that can help. Apologetics takes the faith seriously and serves the purpose of answering tough questions. Strengthen the believer. Answer the critic.