We’ve been examining a strategy to stem the tide of young Christians leaving the Church during their college years. I suggest we stop teaching and start training. I’ve outlined a simple model (using T.R.A.I.N. as an acronym) to help describe the difference between training and teaching. Teaching is about imparting knowledge; training is about preparing for battle. If we want to adequately prepare students for the challenges they will face in their university years, we need to test them to expose their weaknesses, require more from them than we think they can handle, arm them with the truth (and teach them how to articulate it), involve them in the battlefield of ideas, and nurture their wounds as we model the nature of Jesus. The third step in this training process involves arming students with the truth.
In my experience as a youth pastor, I learned the importance of providing intellectual tools and training. I watched my first graduating class of seniors walk away from Christianity in large percentages before I embraced a Case Making approach with my students. After observing the struggle these seniors experienced, I changed the way I prepared my students. I began to draw upon my experience as a police officer for guidance. Young officers are given and number of tools to help us do the job, but even more importantly, we are provided with the necessary training in how to use these tools. When it comes to equipping Christian students, the evidences for God’s existence, the reliability of the Bible, and the truth of the Christian worldview are the tools we must provide (sources like On Guard and Cold-Case Christianity may be helpful). Beyond this, however, young Christians need to know how to think about these evidences and communicate them to others (resources like Tactics and How to Talk to a Skeptic may be helpful here).
When young officers train, we are exposed (some for the first time) to the reality of challenge we will be facing. Our training officers are tough. They often tell us, “The more you sweat in here, the less you’ll bleed out there.” They don’t hesitate to show us everything we might encounter in the field. In a similar way, we have to prepare students by exposing them directly to the challenges they will face from an aggressive opposition. It’s not enough to prepare them with the evidence from our side of the argument; we’ve got to address the claims of the opposition directly. This requires us to expose students to the most substantive claims of atheism we can find in the short time we have these students in our midst. We must inoculate students, rather than isolate them.
Inoculations are created from the virus doctors are trying to treat. Physicians expose patients to the virus to allow their immune systems to develop the antibodies necessary to fight the virus should they encounter it more robustly in the future. If we are trying to help students correctly process the claims of the culture, we’re going to need to prepare an inoculation that exposes them to the secular worldview. I want my students to encounter the claims of Ehrman, Dawkins, Harris, Stenger, Hitchens, Dennett and Boghossian while they are in my ministry rather than in college (without anyone there to provide balance). Students want the truth and are eager to hear the “other side”. The Christian worldview is evidentially viable and capable of withstanding any reasonable objection. In fact, a robust examination of the claims of atheism, humanism or secularism provides us with an excellent opportunity to examine the truth of Christianity with urgency and passion. When students understand the challenge, they are far more likely to listen to the affirmative case for the Christian worldview.
Don’t be afraid to examine the claims of the opposition and face your questions. Don’t avoid the books, videos or podcasts created by the other side. God’s not afraid of your doubts, and you’ll never be able to help young Christians (in your ministry or in your home) if you haven’t armed yourself with the truth and trained yourself to address the counter arguments. When we study God’s existence in this way, we worship Him with our mind (Matthew 22:37) and demonstrate our obedience to His Word (1 Peter 3:15).
J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.