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Back-to-School Survival Guide
by Scott Klusendorf
Tomorrow is back-to-school day for most
students, and that means getting our kids ready for classes. Im not
talking about stockpiling school supplies or hitting the clothing sale at
Robinsons/May. I mean preparing students intellectually to
persuasively defend their faith on unfriendly turf.
Parents, you may want to grab pen and paper, because in a moment Im going to give you a "Back to School Survival Guide"4 key points of knowledge your kids should know before they leave high school.
What brought this on was a conversation I had recently with a new youth pastor. He knew I had been one (10 years ago) and he asked a pointed question: "As a former youth pastor, if you had it to do over, what would you do differently?"
I shot back immediately, "I would teach my kids to think!"
Why the emphatic response? It was not because I had a bad experience as a youth pastor, but because the teaching philosophy so prevalent at the time placed little value on the life of the mind. True, there was a healthy focus on relationships, group building, entertainment, praise and worship, practical tips on dating, self-esteem, etc. But the "experts" who trained youth pastors in the 1980s, though well intentioned, said little about training kids to think. Completely absent was any instruction on loving the Lord Jesus with all our minds, as we are commanded to do in Scripture.
Consider this. Many evangelical churches spend 12 years or more teaching kids about worship, spiritual warfare, prayer, and Biblical self-esteem. These are all legitimate topics to cover with young people. But the instruction often stops there, with tragic consequences.
Upon completing 12th grade, these students are sent off to the secular university ill-equipped to persuasively defend their Christian worldview (assuming they have one). While teaching on praise and worship is important, it provides no help whatsoever when Christian students are forced to confront ideas hostile to a theistic worldview.
The result? Christian students are marginalized and rendered ineffective in their witness for Christ in the public square. Or, worse yet, they abandon their faith altogether. Christian youth leaders must not let this happen.
Biblically, we are commanded (1 Peter 3:15) to "always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that lies within you." Notice the emphasis on providing a reasonable defense. In fact the Greek word for "defense" is apologia, which means to make a case the way a lawyer would in a court of law.
So, here goes. If I had it to do over again, my purpose statement as a youth pastor would be "to build young Christian thinkers for a public defense of the faith." I would concentrate my teaching on 4 key areas:
1. The relationship between philosophy and Christian faith
2. The relationship between science and Christian faith
3. The relationship between bio-ethics and Christian faith
4. The relationship between history and Christian faith
Im not going to cover these four areas
exhaustively today, but I will give a couple of points from each that are
essential. Many of you will no doubt think of other things I have left out, and
in a moment you can give me your take on whats missing and how our
churches can do more to prepare our kids. Ill also suggest a couple of
resources for each of the four areas.
I. The Relationship between philosophy and Christian Faith
We need to do things here: A) provide our kids with basic thinking tools, and B) use those tools to refute the prevailing philosophy of our dayrelativism.
A) We must provide our kids with the tools of thought needed to recognize common logical fallacies. Two examples:
Fallacy #1: begging the question. In other words, assuming what you are trying to prove.
Abortionist Henry Morgentaler - (Canada) argues that abortion is good because it prevents the birth of future criminals. Heres his reasoning. Unwanted children suffer neglect. As a result, they are prone to grow up committing more crimes. Since abortion eliminates unwanted children, perhaps it is good for society. It cuts crime by eliminating future criminals.
Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesnt. For the sake of our discussion, Ill bite the bullet and say that Morgentaler is right: Abortion cuts crime. But what has he proved? Morally, his point is useless. Should we kill unwanted toddlers to prevent future car thefts? The only way Morgentalers argument works is if you begin with the assumption that the unborn are not humanwhich is the very point he and other abortion advocates want to prove. Hence, he begs the question.
Again, the point to underscore with our kids (or students) is this. Instead of proving their case with facts and arguments, abortion advocates like Henry Morgentaler simply assume it within the course of their rhetoric. Teach your kids to call him on it.
Fallacy #2: Attack the person rather than the argument (ad-hominem fallacy). Christians are attacked this way all the time.
On a recent HBO special, comedian Roseanne Barr made her case for abortion rights. "You know who else I cant stand is them people who are anti-abortion. I hate em. They are ugly, old, geeky, hideous men. They just dont want nobody to have an abortion, cause they want you to keep spitting out kids so they can molest them."
What if she is right? Would this in any way refute the pro-life claim that the unborn are human persons? Clearly, it does not. The attack, therefore, is not only distasteful, its totally irrelevant to the argument the pro-lifer is making.
B) Help our kids refute relativism (i.e. the idea that whats right and whats wrong is up to us):
Three key reasons why relativism fails (there are many more):
1. Relativism is self-refuting; it cant live with its own rules When a relativist says, "Dont force your morality!"simply ask, "Why not?" Any reply he gives is an example of him forcing a view on you.
2. Relativism cannot say that anything is wrong or evil, including intolerance. If morals are relative, why be tolerant? In other words, who are you to say I should be? Perhaps tolerance is a virtue for you but not for me. Why are you forcing it on me?
The fact is that if morals are relative, there is no difference between Mother Theresas morality and Adolph Hitlers morality. Hitler wasnt evil; he just had preferences different from our own.
Those of you who listen regularly to this show may remember an example provided by Greg Koukl. He was the guest on a secular talk show where the host regularly espoused moral relativism. In reply, Greg asked, "Barbara, is it wrong to torture babies for fun?" She though a moment and said, "Well, I wouldnt want to do that to my baby." Greg persisted: "Barbara, thats not what I asked you. I didnt ask if you liked torturing babies for fun; I asked if it is wrong to torture babies for fun?" She was caught and she knew it. She quickly changed the subject.
3. Finally, it is impossible to live as a moral relativist. As C.S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, a man who claims that morality is relative will complain if you break a promise or cut in line. To borrow an example from Dr. Moreland, the next time someone says morality is relative, steal his or her stereo. You can bet your last dollar they will protest. "You cant do that!"
Oh, really? Why not?
(Resources: Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Frank Beckwith and Greg Koukl.)
II. The Relationship between science and
the Christian faith
Two essential tasks here. First, we must define our terms; second, we must defeat evolutionary thinking by arguing for intelligent design (rather than the age of the earth).
A. Define our terms: what do we mean by "science" and "faith?"
Robert Tracinski (Daily News, 8/29/99) writes that the Christian view of creation rests on blind faith, with absolutely no evidence.
Actually, it doesnt. Christian faith, properly understood, is not a leap in the dark, but is based on evidence. St. Paul (1 Cor. 15) is clear: If Christ did not physically and historically rise from the dead, we are dead in our sins, our faith is in vain, and we, among all men, are to be pitied.
Christian opposition to the General Theory of Evolution, for example, is not based on blind faith, but evidence. We think evidence gathered from observing the universe points to an intelligent designer. To refute our claim, you must present evidence that we are wrong. It does no good to accuse us of blind faith.
Do you mean an objective look at the evidence, or a refusal to look at the evidence because of your worldview?
*James Watson (Nobel prize): "Evolution itself is accepted by zoologists, not because it has been observed to occur, or can be proved by logical, coherent evidence, but because the only alternative is special creation, and that is clearly incredible."
*George Wald (Harvard, Nobel Prize): "One need only to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet here we are as a result, I believe, of spontaneous generation."
In other words, evolutionists like Watson and Wald dismiss (rather than refute) evidence for intelligent design because it conflicts with their worldview. This is intellectually dishonest.
B. Defend intelligent design (rather than dispute the age of the earth):
In order for the General Theory of Evolution to be fact, you must prove 2 things:
1. You must prove abiogenesisi.e. that life developed spontaneously from non-life. Try this. Ask an evolutionist to please explain HOW that happened. The answer? "Nobody knows."
Greg Koukl asks a great question: "If you dont know how it happened, how do you know that it happened?"
Evolutionist Richard Dawkins (in The Blind Watchmaker): "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed."
Question: If living things look designed, as Dawkins concedes, then how do you know they werent designed?
To sum up, evolution is called fact, but you cant have the fact of evolution unless you have the fact of abiogenesis.
2. You must prove that life forms change from simple to complex over time. If change of this sort occurred, you would see evidence of it in the fossil record. In other words, you should find large numbers of transitional forms. But we dont. Evolutionists can point to only a few highly questionable examples. But to make their point, they need a large number of transitional forms. These do not exist.
Again, the important thing to note is this. When Christians argue for intelligent design, they point to the evidence. Perhaps we are mistaken, but we are not appealing to blind faith. If we are wrong, go ahead and prove it. But you must do it with facts and arguments. Casually dismissing our evidence because of your worldview will not do.
Resources: STR website (http://www.str.org/)-- You can download (free) various commentaries on evolution. Also, you can order Phillip Johnsons excellent book, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds and Greg Koukls tape, - "Science and Faith: Are they Compatible?"
III. The Relationship between bio-ethics
and Christian faith
More on this in the 2nd hour with Dr. Beckwith, but for now two key tasks:
A. Simplify the debate show there is only one question to resolve, What is the unborn?
The answer to that question trumps all other considerations. It is key to answering virtually every objection to the pro-life view. Here are two examples:
1. "Abortion is a private matter between a woman and her God." I agree, privacy is important. But do we allow parents to abuse their children as long as they do so in the privacy of their own home? Clearly, privacy isn't the issue, but, What is the unborn? If the unborn is a human person, it deserves the same protection other children do.
2. "Many poor women cannot afford another child." Perhaps so, but when human beings get expensive, may we kill them? What would we think of a mother who killed a toddler who was taxing the family budget? "That's different," you say, "The unborn aren't human like those toddlers." But all you've done is prove my point: The relevant issue isn't economic hardship, but, What is the unborn?
B. Demonstrate that there is no relevant difference between a child in the womb and one that is already born. True, there are differences, but are those differences morally relevant? That is to say, are they significant in the way abortion advocates need them to be?
The unborn differs from the newborn in four ways, none of which are relevant to its status as a human being. Those four ways are size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency. The acronym SLED is a helpful reminder of those differences:
Size: the unborn are smaller then newborns, but since when has size had anything to do with the rights that people have? Men are generally larger than women, does that mean they deserve more rights? Is Shaquel O'Neal more of a person than feminist Gloria Steinem simply because he is larger? Clearly size isn't the issue.
Level of development: True, the unborn are less developed than newborns, but this too is morally irrelevant. A newborn for that matter is less developed than a toddler. A toddler is less developed than an adolescent. An adolescent is less developed than an adult. But we speak of all as equally human. Is a child of four, for example, less of a person because she has not yet developed sexually? It follows, then, that the ability to perform human functions is not a necessary condition for human personhood. Rather, a person is one with the natural, inherent capacity to give rise to personal acts--even if she lacks the current ability to perform those acts. People who are unconscious do not have the present capacity to perform personal acts. We don't kill them because of it. Nor should we kill the unborn.
Environment: True, the unborn is located in a different place, but how does a change in location suddenly change a non-human entity into a human one? Did you stop being human when you walked from your house to the car? From the kitchen to the den? Clearly, where one is has no bearing on who one is. A child in the incubator of her mother's womb is no less a child then the one being sustained by neonatal technology. Ladies and gentlemen, you don't stop being human simply because you have a different address.
Degree of dependency: If viability is what makes one human, then all those dependent on kidney machines, heart pace-makers and insulin would have to be declared non-persons. There is no ethical difference between an unborn child who is plugged into and dependent upon its mother and a kidney patient who is plugged into and dependent upon a kidney machine. Siamese twins do not forfeit their right to live simply because they depend on each others circulatory systems.
We can see, then, that the unborn child differs from a newborn one in only four ways--size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency-- and none of those differences are good reasons for disqualifying it as fully human.
Resources: Precious Unborn Human Persons (Koukl), Pro-Life 101: A User Friendly Guide to Making Your Case on Campus (Klusendorf) and Politically Correct Death (Beckwith)
IV. The Relationship between history and
the Christian faith
Christianity stands or falls based on the historical reality of Christ and the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). "The Jesus Seminar" alleges that Jesus did not do what the NT writers said he did. The eyewitness accounts, seminar scholars say, are not reliable. Why? Because over time, Christs followers reconstructed what he said and did.
This view is flawed for two reasons:
A. There is no evidence that the NT writers made things up. Rather, it is merely assumed that because the gospel accounts contain supernatural elements, they must be false. But this is to rule out the evidence a priori. Instead letting evidence for the supernatural speak for itself, we simply dismiss it because our naturalistic worldview will not allow it.
Another term for this is "scientism"--the belief that only science can tell us whats true. But this is clearly self-refuting. To say that science is the only truth is to make a philosophical claim, not a scientific one. Try proving scientifically that science is the only truth.
Besides, we know lots of things to be true that cannot be proven scientifically. For example, we know that it is wrong to torture toddlers for fun. Can you prove that scientifically? Its a category mistake to say you can (or should).
B. The fact that Jesus closest followers wrote the NT documents does not mean they freely made things up about him. Again, if you believe that they did, you must show evidence for that claim, not merely assume its truth.
Craig Blomberg makes an excellent point. Jewish scholars are the foremost authorities on Hitlers holocaust against the Jews. It is Jewish researchers, after all, who create museums, gather eyewitness testimony, etc. They clearly have an ideological purpose, but they have also been most faithful and objective in reporting the facts. Only anti-Semite racists question their scholarship.
Why should the NT writers be treated any differently? Is it fair to assume that just because they were followers of Christ, they freely made things up? If the Jesus Seminar members have proof for their claims, fine. Let them come forward with the evidence. But there is no good reason for our kids to accept their claims on blind faith. We can do better than that.
Resource: The Case for Christ (Lee Strouble) and Jesus Under Fire (Moreland and Wilkins)
To conclude my thoughts, ladies and gentlemen, we must prepare our kids for school intellectually as well as materially. That means helping them understand four key relationships (or, if you will, areas of thought) pertaining to their Christian faith:
1. The relationship between philosophy and faith
2. The relationship between science and faith
3. The relationship between bio-ethics and faith
4. The relationship between history and faith
What is your church youth pastor doing to educate students on these four areas? How about your pastor? What about you, as parents? Raising kids is no easy task. As guardians of the young, we must certainly do more than prepare them intellectually, but God help us if we ever do less.
**The preceding article "A Back-to-School Survival Guide" is a radio commentary by Mr. Klusendorf on the Stand to Reason radio show, 8/29/99. Permission to copy granted provide credit is given the author.
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