Apologetics and Gen Y. Part 2: Challenging world-views
Written by Ruth Lukabyo, Lecturer Youthworks College
The search for Identity
The Gen Y survey and analysis by Mason et al (1) found that the majority of young Australians share the individualism of Alice of Wonderland (see previous article for more). They strongly believe that the individual is a self-determining centre of thought, feeling and will (5). Life then becomes a journey to construct your own identity, to “find yourself”. Smith in his qualitative work with Gen Y in America came to similar conclusions about American teens, the “self and social identity is seen with increasing frequency not as givens but as projects or goals we must strive to achieve. Just as truth and institutions do not seem to be given principles within a postmodern understanding, so, too, is the individual person viewed as something more fragmented and in need of unification.” (6) This fragmentation may be viewed as freedom, but a freedom that in the end often leads to confusion.
Finding true Identity
The Christian world-view challenges this radical individualism. In the Christian world-view, identity is constructed not by ourselves but by understanding who we are in God’s eyes, through the lens of God’s story. We are created beings, made in the image of God, rebellious yet redeemed to do good works. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). We cannot truly understand or “find” ourselves without first gaining knowledge of God. As Calvin states in The Institutes: “Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self. ......again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinising himself” (7)
True freedom then is living in light of the purpose for which we were made, not in asserting our independence. Tim Keller argues that society has misunderstood freedom and liberty:
Disciplines and constraints, then, liberate us only when they fit with the reality of our nature and capacities. A fish, because it absorbs oxygen from water rather than air, is only free if it is restricted and limited to water. If we put it on the grass, its freedom to move and even live is not enhanced, but destroyed. The fish dies if it does not honour the reality of its nature. In many areas of life, freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, the liberating restrictions.” (8) This is what we must be teaching our young people.
The search for truth
The most basic and foundational belief in our world-view is our view of truth and how we establish it; we need to challenge the secular world-view of truth in our teaching and ministry. Gen Y on the whole, share the world-view of Alice, that truths about religion and morality are subjective. They are not “truths” in the same way that maths, science and law are truths but knowledge about these things comes from within the individual. In the end they are matters of personal taste rather than truth. Because they are matters of personal taste, they must not be constrained or opposed. Andrew Singleton (from his research into the religious beliefs of Gen Y) concludes:
“Generation Y are what their parents and Australian culture have made them. They have taken strongly to two ‘late modern’ principles: that an individual’s views and preferences, provided they harm no-one else, should not be questioned or constrained, and that spiritual/religious beliefs and practices are purely personal lifestyle choices—in no way necessary” (9)
The danger of indifference concerning religion is very high in this world-view but so too is a kind of compartmentalised way of looking at religious beliefs. It is often observed that young people are not relativistic about everything. Brett Kunkle sees a huge public/private split within the different areas of knowledge. In the public sphere is the: “realm of knowledge, facts and objective truth. Doctors, scientists, corporations and the State conduct their matters here. In the private sphere are institutions- like family and Church- driven by personal preference, opinion and subjective (relative) truth. Matters of religion and morality are confined to this realm.”10
Finding real truth
How do we challenge these fundamental beliefs about truth?
As Christian believers we need to teach that there is access to real “truth” about God, the world and ourselves that is just as objective as science and maths. God has revealed this truth in the bible and we need to clearly teach this key pre-supposition to young people. The bible is the starting point of all our knowledge and truth.
There is a conflict that will be going on in each child’s heart, as a child is born in the image of God and knowledge of him is revealed in creation, yet that knowledge has become distorted and obscured by sin. We can appeal to this innate knowledge as we talk to young people.
We can also encourage the child to put themselves into God’s story for a time. To take up the glasses of the Christian world-view and see how it makes sense of reality. Alister McGrath argues that in our apologetics we need to argue but also supplement this with appeals to the imagination. We should use the teaching of Jesus as a model for us to follow:
“Arguments are precise, images are suggestive. We need to meditate on those remarkable words of some Greeks who came to Philip: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus (John 12:21) Here is our task: to help people see Jesus Christ with their own eyes. Let us learn from Christ who opened his parables, not with a definition (“The Kingdom of God is..”.) but with an image (“The kingdom of God is like ...”) The parables themselves are remarkably effective in inviting their hearers to step inside their narrative worlds and in stirring the imagination. The parables excite; too often, arguments dull” (11)
Long claims that we should spend more time in the Old Testament and the gospels rather than Paul and the prophets in order to stir the imagination with the wonderful story of God and his redemption (12). In your scripture lessons the teaching of the biblical story will play an apologetic role in presenting the Christian world-view just as much as answering tough questions.
Apologetics is for Christian kids too
We have established that apologetics should be concerned with communicating a Christian world-view and challenging false beliefs and presuppositions. You may have assumed that apologetics was for non-Christian kids, but I believe it is just as important for youth from Christian homes. We need to be preparing young Christians to the challenges that they will face, at school and then especially in higher education. Kinmann found that although in the US most teenagers consider themselves Christians and 2/3 have made a commitment of some kind, yet a decade later they have left their faith behind (13). Why would this be? One answer could be the compartmentalisation of religious truth that Generation Y is given to. Nancy Peacy argues: “It is a familiar but tragic story that devout young people, raised in Christian homes, head off to college and abandon their faith. Why is this pattern so common? Largely because young believers have not been taught how to develop a biblical world-view. Instead, Christianity has been restricted to a specialised area of religious belief and personal devotion” (14)
Let’s be committed to teaching our young people a biblical world-view that is coherent and holistic - a foundation that will withstand the battering of popular culture and secular liberalism. This should be our goal in apologetics and is summed up beautifully by Alex McFarland who claims that his goal is to “help teens become more committed followers of Christ and integrate their faith into all areas of thinking, learning & doing” (15).
1. Cited in Zacharias R. Ed. (2007) Beyond Opinion Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
2. Smart, S., A Spectator's Guide to Worldviews: Ten Ways of understanding Life (Sydney; Blue Bottle, 2007) p. 6
3. Smart p. 93
4. In this discussion of world-views we have to acknowledge that each individual has their own unique way of seeing the world. We can make certain generalisations about a particular generation in the 21st century in Australia as long as we recognise that a generalisation is not a rule but an interpretive guide.
5. Mason, M; Singleton, A; Webber, R; (2007) The Spirit of Generation Y, Mulgrave: John Garratt pub.p.48
6. Smith, Christian(2005) Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers Oxford: Oxford Uni Press, p.5.
7. John Calvin The Institutes of Christian Religion Vol. XX, 37.
8. Keller, Tim (2008) The Reason for God New York: Penguin, p. 46.
9. Wright, D.J. (Aug. 2010) “National Study of the Spirituality of Gen Y” (online) Available: http://digitalorthodoxy.com/02-ym/research/spirituality-of-generation-y/ (Accessed 15 March 2011)
10. Brett Kunkle quoted in McDowell (2009) p. 47
11. Alister McGrath quoted in McDowell p. 103
12. Long (2004) Emerging Hope: A Strategy for Reaching Post-Modern Generations Downers Grove: IVP.p. 189
13. (Kinmann 2007, p.74)
14. quoted in Zacharias (2007) p. 44,45
15. Alex McFarland in McDowell 2009, p. 153)
Long (2004) Emerging Hope: A Strategy for Reaching Post-Modern Generations Downers Grove: IVP.
Mason, M; Singleton, A; Webber, R; (2007) The Spirit of Generation Y, Mulgrave: John Garratt pub.
McDowell, Sean (ed) (2009) Apologetics for a New Generation Oregan: Harvest House Pub.
Smart, S., A Spectator's Guide to Worldviews: Ten Ways of understanding Life (Sydney; Blue Bottle, 2007) p. 6
Zacharias R. Ed. (2007) Beyond Opinion Nashville: Thomas Nelson.