5 Myths about Teaching Apologetics to Students
Training students in apologetics is one of the most important tasks for any youth leader today. Whether through classroom teaching, speaking, personal conversation, on apologetics mission trips, or through writing, I have been training students to defend their faith for nearly two decades. While there are certainly some exceptions, in my experience, the vast majority love it.
Nevertheless, some leaders continue to resist the need for apologetics training for students. In this post, I briefly respond to five common myths about teaching students apologetics:
Myth 1: Students will become arrogant and argumentative if they study apologetics
One of my favorite presentations to do at churches, camps, and conferences is my “Atheist Encounter.” I put on my “atheist glasses” and do my best to role-play the atheist worldview while taking questions from the audience. Interestingly, student groups (and really all groups) tend to become agitated, defensive, and argumentative. After the experience, I often ask groups the reason for their defensiveness. And the point I make is this: we get defensive when we don’t really know why we believe what we believe. Confident people, who have a good rationale for their beliefs, don’t tend to get defensive. Rather than making them arrogant, apologetics can actually help young people develop a calm confidence in their faith so they can engage others in thoughtful spiritual conversations.
Myth 2: Students need information dumbed down for them
There are endless debates in youth ministry about whether we should teach up or teach down to students. In my experience, students are capable of far more than we give them credit for. In fact, I think most students will rise to the level of expectations we set for them. If students can take algebra, world history, and biology, they can certainly learn how to defend their faith at a high level. We do need to work to make apologetics interesting and relevant to students, but that doesn’t mean we always need to dumb it down. In fact, the favorite lesson for my 11th and 12th graders this year was the week we spent on the ontological argument for the existence of God.
Myth 3: Students find apologetics uninteresting
I will never forget the advice my mom gave me when I began college: “Son, you don’t take a class; you take a professor.” In other words, an interesting professor can make any subject come alive. And she was right. One of my favorite college classes was marketing—not so much because I loved the content—but because my professor was so passionate and thoughtful. If you have students who find apologetics training uninteresting, then examine your own teaching methods to see if some of the responsibility lies with you. I have had to do this many times. And yet, when I take the time to prepare well, I have found that students are eager to explore the big apologetic questions of life.
Myth 4: Students need a leader who is an expert in apologetics
I regularly meet youth leaders who feel unqualified to teach students in apologetics. Some feel inadequate because they lack formal training, while others don’t feel they can confidently discuss truth when they harbor personal doubts. If this is you, please allow me to share some words of encouragement: You don’t need to be an expert. You don’t need to have all the answers. If you take the time to read a good apologetics book, watch a presentation, or read a few solid articles, then you’re sufficiently prepared. It’s okay if you don’t know the answer to a tough question. Simply admit you’re not sure, go do your homework, and then bring the answer back to your students. You don’t have to be the expert, but it is critical you point your students to the experts such as William Lane Craig, Greg Koukl, and Stephen Meyers.
Myth 5: Students cannot be lead to faith by apologetics
This myth is similar to a common complaint against apologetics, namely, that reasoning can’t lead people to faith. While it is true that reasoning alone can’t bring people to faith, God regularly uses reasoning to draw people to Himself. My friend J. Warner Wallace, cold-case detective and former atheist, was actually brought to faith through the means of apologetics, as he describes here. I could share many stories of students I have personally seen come to faith through apologetics. While it is important not to overstate the role of apologetics, we must also avoid the fallacy of completely dismissing its power. God can—and does—use apologetics to draw unbelieving students to Himself.
There are probably some more myths that I missed. If so, I would love to hear from you!
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.