Do apologists actually think about the words coming out of their mouths? In a recent podcast with Alisa Childers, J. Warner Wallace explained in the quote above what the evangelical response must be to a generation (Gen Z—ages 7-22) that’s no longer buying what the church is selling. I guess desperate times call for desperate measures. Hence, J. Warner Wallace and Sean McDowell, in their recently released book So the Next Generation Will Know, set out to offer Christian parents and youth leaders the tools to more adequately train (i.e. indoctrinate) today’s youth in a biblical worldview. “Our response must meet the challenge offered by internet skeptics, and we must start training our youth earlier than ever before.” (J. Warner, Location 231) Their proposal? Authentic relationships and acronyms.
So the Next Generation Will Know is divided into two sections, the first of which is titled “Do You Love Me?” Acknowledging that Gen Zers often deal with feelings of isolation despite their smart phone connections, J. Warner and Sean spend the first four chapters of their book detailing instructions on how to build totally authentic relationships with Gen Zers; and the importance of starting early cannot be overemphasized.
“Why are older teens and young adults less likely to become Christians? If their own answers tell us anything, it’s based on their intellectual skepticism, and the age of doubt and cynicism appears to be dropping. That’s why it’s so important for us to start early—even before your kids are verbalizing their questions.” (Sean, Location 387)
Now, y’all know how I feel about indoctrination, so that statement really gets under my skin. In other words, start feeding them apologetic arguments before any critical thinking skills kick in. (I told you this is becoming the new Christian ritual.) But equally disturbing is the motivation for these relationships. Tell me, how real are “authentic” relationships when the ultimate purpose is to reinforce a belief system? Oh, wait! They actually address that, reminding their readers that “…building relationships is not something we do merely to persuade them to adopt our beliefs, but because God has called us to love them as divine image bearers.” (Location 825) Seriously, if you need to remind your readers that the purpose of relationship building is not belief-motivated, then you’ve already shown your hand. What should a meaningful relationship entail? How about love and acceptance for who these young people are regardless of whether or not they accept your dogmatic prison, or is that too much to ask? It takes maturity to see through such disingenuous tactics; and that is exactly what Sean and J. Warner are banking on by encouraging parents and leaders to capitalize on an ever younger and less skeptical mind.
Oh, and let’s briefly discuss this notion of “divine image bearers.” I’m just curious. What happens to these “divine image bearers” if they reject the biblical worldview? Oh, yeah. Upon death, they’ll be cast into a lake of fire for all of eternity. Well, that’s a bummer. But don’t worry, Christians. You won’t have to lose a wink of sleep over that because those gospel deniers chose their fate.
The rubber hits the road in the second section of the book, titled “Will You Show Me?” Unfortunately, J. Warner couldn’t make it through the first four paragraphs of this section without throwing out a strawman that leads directly into a black or white fallacy. In order to stir Christian parents and leaders into action, he attempts to convince his readers that there are two types of nonbelievers, those who are either “committed to atheism” (you know, just like J. Warner is committed to Jesus Christ) or those who are just plain apathetic. I mean, how else could one reject such a compelling worldview? Further, J. Warner reminds his readers, “When you encounter apathy, consider the possibility that sin may lie at its core.” (Location 1266) Right. What else could it be? So, how does one overcome this apathy? With passion and TRAINing in TAB!
Here’s the part where apologists are completely convinced that they’re imparting valuable critical thinking skills despite the fact that the Christian parents and leaders have a vested interest in the belief outcome of Gen Zers, and Gen Zers undoubtedly understand the consequence of disbelief (an eternity in hell).
T — Test: Expose youth to the arguments of skeptics and other religions through role-playing or group speakers.
R — Require: Elevate one’s expectations of young people via exposure to scheduled faith challenges.
A — Arm: This is a recommended 8-12 week session in which students are armed with the truth of Christianity. (I’m betting this is 8-12 weeks of pure apologetic indoctrination [aka hell on Earth].)
I — Involve: This entails a challenge that allows students to test their apologetic skills.
N — Nurture: Once the challenge is completed, adults must be ready to nurture the possible emotional wounds, as these challenges will often be met with resistance to the Christian truth. “As leaders, teachers, and parents, we can draw on the ‘capital’ of our relationships if we’ve invested in our young people prior to difficult times.” (Location 1477) But, guys, these are totally authentic relationships!
The specific area of training is referred to as TAB (Theology, Apologetics, and Behavior). Once again, early training is reiterated. “Given that many Gen Zers encounter skepticism as early as the elementary years, it is vital to teach apologetics and theology early and consistently.” (Location 1583)
While the final chapter of the book, “Love Engages,” touches on the potential usefulness of technology as a means of engaging and teaching young people, both Sean and J. Warner encourage parents and leaders “…to inoculate them with a biblical perspective before they are confronted with unbiblical ideas elsewhere.” (Location 2002) You sure don’t want those dang skeptics on the interwebs getting to them first.
To put it bluntly, this book is a how-to on indoctrination, a manual that encourages Christian parents and leaders to take advantage of their positions of authority by emotionally manipulating the youth entrusted to their care. The continuous appeal to train these kids while they are still trainable, before any skepticism takes root, is appalling. But sadly, I get it. What is the church to do as it hemorrhages tribal members? How are evangelicals to spread the good news in an “increasingly secular culture [that] fosters the compartmentalization of faith,” a culture that “rejects the notion that faith should influence how we think about politics, business, or sports…” (Location 1007) Tell you what, Sean and J. Warner. How about you guys take an extended trip to Afghanistan and see how you like living in a theocracy? Sure, it kind of stinks that it won’t be your preferred religion, but I’m sure you’ll find it enlightening, because I’d really hate to see us turn out like Sweden or Norway, both of which are in the top ten least religious countries, yet also in the top ten happiest countries.