The Christian Account of Everything Compared to Naturalism’s Account of Everything

This blog post will compare two worldviews: the Christian account of everything and the account of everything according to naturalism.  These two worldviews will be compared in four categories: view of the Creator, view of creation and Creator-creature relations, view of salvation, and the ethical implications for creation from these previous viewpoints.

Transhumanism

View of the Creator

According to the Christian account of everything, God has always existed; he is eternal and exists in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  All things that now exist came into existence out of nothing through the Father’s spoken word and are held together by his Son.  (Genesis 1-3, John 1:1-4, Colossians 1:15-20, and Hebrews 1:1:-4)  The narrative of Creation in Genesis (as well as the rest of Scripture) indicates that God is a personal being who was very much involved in the creation of all things.  This is indicated by the design and plan of the days of creation, in which God created in a particular order of creating boundary markers within his creation with a progression of creating life within those boundaries for the care and safety of his creatures (Day 1 – Light and Darkness/Day 4 – Heavenly Bodies, Day 2 – Land, Sky, Water/Day 5 – Creatures of the Sky and Water, Day 3 – Vegetation on the Land/Day 6 – Creatures of the Land, including humanity).  He is still very active in his care for his creation.

According to naturalism’s account of everything, all things have arisen purely by blind chance.  Order has come out of chaos.  Life has come from non-life.  Minds have come from mindless matter.  Laws of nature have simply emerged (or have always been) and are assumed to be held in consistency by nature itself.  Nature is all that there has been, all that there is, and all that there ever will be, though this cannot be empirically observed, it is a position held on faith that nature when given enough time will impersonally bring about all that we currently experience through a process named natural selection.  In short there, is no Creator.

View of Creation and Creator-Creature Relations

One’s view of nature is directly tied to one’s view of the Creator.  In the Christian account of everything, nature is best understood as having been created with a proper distinction between it (creation) and the Creator.  The Christian view of creation comes from what God has divinely revealed in his Word about his creation, which is that his creation was originally created – very good!  God’s creation as it stands now is not as God intended it to be.  Through the free-agency of his creatures (first by Satan and his angelic followers and Adam and Eve and now us) who rebelled against God’s will for his creation (the boundary markers of the law that were set out of love for the safety and well-being of all God created), creation itself has been wrecked with sin, death, and evil and stands far from the very good origins of God’s creation.

According to naturalism’s account of everything, all is chaotic and in a state of constant change.  Naturalists who hold true to their account of everything must admit that there is no purpose or meaning in a world that is the product of mindless, random selection, and constant motion.  There is no Creator-creation distinction/relationship; all is nature; all is matter.

View of Salvation

The Christian account of everything has a view of salvation in which God enters into his creation through his Son who became a part of creation through his assumption of a human nature into his personhood.  It is through the Son that God has reconciled all of creation to himself and it is through his Son that one day all things will be restored to God’s original plan (theologian’s debate if this will be a recreation of creation or a new creation, something akin to a Creation 2.0, but it is clear in Scripture that all things will be made new at Christ’s return with a freedom from sin, death, and the devil forever for those who are God’s children through their faith in the Son and his saving work!). (Revelation 21-22)

It is in the view of salvation that naturalists take many divides.  Some naturalists are intellectually honest with their account of all things and recognize that death is the finality of one’s conscience existence; there is no salvation; there is no life after death.  Such naturalists may tend to find a form of salvation in living one’s best life now (YOLO – “You only live once.”).  Anton LaVey’s philosophy of Satanism is an example of this naturalistic view of the world and life and is the prescription for how to best live this life to one’s maximum pleasure.  LaVeyan Satanism is very much hedonistic materialism in which salvation is found in a freedom from social and religious constraints that hinder one from indulging in their carnal desires.

For other naturalists, salvation is found in evolution, an ever occurring progression of improvement (or that is the hoped-in product of nature’s constant state of change – improvement of life).  Some have taken up an active role in this evolutionary progress and have embraced transhumanism – a movement that actively seeks to speed evolution to a new humanity through the joining of human life with technology.  Transhumanism’s highest aim is the implantation of one’s mind into a machine so that one’s consciousness can “live on forever” beyond the limitations of one’s physical body of death.  This is a form of material salvation, though it betrays the fact that one is more than mere physical matter, because transhumanism’s salvation is ultimately found in the preservation of one’s immaterial consciousness.

Ethical Implications

In the Christian account of everything, God is the ultimate standard of morality.  He is good, and it is from God’s eternal state of immutability that we can appeal to an absolute standard of right and wrong for Creation.  For humanity’s ethical role in the grand scheme of all of creation, God has placed us here to be stewards of his creation.  We are to use our God given abilities, including our reasoning capabilities, to care for God’s creation and to cultivate it to its betterment out of love for God and for our neighbors and for our fellow creatures.

In the naturalism’s account of everything, there again is a divide that occurs depending on one’s view of salvation.  For the naturalist who recognizes that there is no salvation; ethics is boiled down to the four-word mantra of Allister Crowley (the Beast) and Anton LaVey, “Do What Thou Wilt.”  There is no God above, no hell below; eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we all die!  For the naturalist who sees salvation in evolution, ethics becomes utilitarian- what best serves survival.  This survival could be centered on the whole of humanity, within a particular collective of humanity, or within the individual.  There is no standard of absolute right and wrong, morality is subjective.

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If a Christian seeks a degree in science is that a compromise to his or her Christian faith?

The prompt: A high school student from my church where I am a pastor writes me a letter thanking me for the few years she has been in my church through catechism classes and high school Sunday school classes and such and her letter is expressing her concern that she might be compromising her Christian faith if she pursues a degree in biology, geology, or astronomy.  I am to write her a letter back. 

The following is my reply to this prompt.

Science_300
This image was drawn by Danny Martinez and appears in my book, Contradict – They Can’t All Be True, as an image to accompany a section addressing Darwinian Evolution. 

Dear Eve,

The Lord be with you.

Your participation and partnership in the catechism classes and throughout all of the many church events and services over the past few years have been a blessing for me.  Before becoming a pastor, I was a teacher, and one of the aspects that I found disappointing as a teacher was that after having students for a single year as a senior, I’d rarely see them or have any meaningful on-going relationship after high school graduation with them.   Being able to interact with dedicated students like you who are concerned with growing in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior and how that relates to daily living in holiness and godliness beyond high school into further stages of life was one of the huge draws for me in becoming a pastor.  So, I am so grateful that you are coming to me with this question and I look forward to being your pastor throughout your college years and maybe even beyond if you stay a member at Grace Lutheran Church, but even if you don’t, I’ll always be here for you to tend to such thoughtful questions that deserve the full attention of the Church’s care and counsel.

What you have presented is a typical concern, or area of contention, that is generally perceived to exist between the interaction between religion and science.  Often times, there is an unspoken assumption in our culture that if people are religious, they must be anti-scientific, and that if people are scientific, they must be anti-religious.  For Christianity in particular, this is a false dichotomy – this is not an either/or predicament – there is in fact a harmony that can be reached between being a Christian and being in full support and engagement of the scientific enterprise.  This harmony is properly held or destroyed depending on how a person defines science, or better put, how a person uses science, or if a person properly recognizes the limitations of science or not.

I noticed in your letter that you said you are drawn to pursuing a degree in science because you have been drawn to learning about the world through science.  When science is taken as a particular systematic method of understanding and getting around the world, it is a great means, or resource, for the Christian to serve his or her neighbor.  It is through such systematic exploration of God’s creation that many great advancements in technology, communication, travel, medicine, hygiene, ecology, food services, and so many other fields have been achieved that have made it easier for us to care for our neighbors as well as the rest of God’s creatures entrusted to us.  Many Christians have played major roles in such advancements and good applications of science, and many of them have vocally contributed their discoveries and work to the glory of God, giving thanks to him for their reasoning abilities and their specific opportunities afforded them in their particular fields of science.  I can gladly provide such names of scientists and their achievements to you if you need help finding them.

The compromise of your Christian faith would come if you choose to approach science not as a particular systematic method of understanding and getting around the world, but as the definitive systematic method of doing such, which would mean that science is taken up as being the ultimate means to account for all things.[1]  Such an approach to science has recently been coined as scientism.  It grants science the means to do which science does not have the means to do.  Let me explain.

Science as a particular systematic method of understanding and getting around the world, such as with the scientific method (observation, question, hypothesis, repeatable and observable experimentation, data analysis, and shared results), is limited to gaining knowledge through tests that can be observed and repeated.  Of course there is not a possible or conceivable, much less observable or repeatable experiment that can be conducted to test the existence of God.  In this way, God has been bracketed out of science.  Yet, at the same time adherents of scientism have allowed science to answer questions that too cannot have an observable and repeatable test for falsifiability and verification, such as the origins of the universe and life.  Such metaphysical inquiries are simply outside the bounds of the scientific method, as is the existence of God, but practitioners of scientism fail to see the error in their inconsistent application of science when they use science to account for the universe while denying the knowledge of the existence of God.

The error continues in that most of life’s most important realities can’t be classified as falsifiable through the scientific method, such as love and moral ethics, nor observed, such as the gravitational pull that keeps us safely planted on this earth’s surface.  Other methods of discerning scientia (the Latin word for knowledge) must be utilized to know such things.

The Christian knows that God has created all things visible and invisible.  The Christian has a story that accounts for everything, and within this story, humanity was created as God’s image-bearers (representatives of God) in God’s creation.  In this bestowed position of dominion and stewardship over God’s creation, we have been endowed with capabilities of reason, morality, and relational capabilities that the rest of God’s creatures simply do not and cannot possess.  God has tasked us to use our God-given reason to his glory in service to our neighbors.  As such, we should expect Christians to be excited about exploring and understanding God’s created world, and the Bible in fact exhorts us to such endeavors with the abilities and resources that have been given to us for the purpose of loving and serving our neighbor.

The Christian who is a scientist knows that reason and science are limited to a particular realm of knowledge, namely our physical sphere of life in God’s creation.  We understand that our reason and scientific explorations have their limitations, just as our faith in Christ has its limitations.  In our faith, our knowledge of the Lord and his will is limited to what he has directly revealed to us in the Bible.  We understand that our faith is a gift from the Lord that pertains to our subjective relationship to God in our right standing before him, whereas our reason is a gift from the Lord that pertains to our relationship with the world around us, and of course our reason serves us in understanding God’s revelation to us (his revelation that comes to us both through what he has created and through his direct revelation of himself in Christ and his Word).

It’s also reassuring to know that the modern scientific enterprise emerged within the matrix of Christian civilization in Europe in the high middle ages, and that the founding fathers of modern science were Christians.  The Christian account of everything offered the necessary presuppositions for the scientific method to emerge in that particular time and place – such as viewing the world as a distinct, objective reality that is intelligible and held together by the uniform laws held in place by its immutable Creator!  Such a view of everything flew in the face of the belief systems that dominated other great civilizations that were incapable of birthing the scientific method due to their presuppositions of the world that actively resist a scientific engagement of the physical world, such as pantheism (who is going to experiment on creation – that’d be cutting up and manipulating God – that’s bad karma), reincarnation (time is cyclical – which offers no grounds for exploring cause and effect relationships that exist in a purely linear view of time), unpredictable gods whose emotions and whims impacted the world in drastic ways (this destroys consistent laws of nature that justify the consistent results of repeatable testing), astronomy (when the stars determine all things – who is motivated to understand the world?), and an overall rejection of nature ( as found in Platonic dualism, Gnosticism, and Hinduism’s illusionary view of the world).  And don’t let anyone tell you that an atheistic worldview offers the necessary presuppositions about the world for the scientific method to work – a chaotic, random world of chance that is only matter and void of meaning does not spur one on to conduct the scientific method.  Atheists must borrow – no steal! – from the Christian worldview to assume a world of order, regularity, purpose, and a proper view of mankind’s faculties to justify the scientific method as being a worthy endeavor (thus they are being inconsistent in their confessed view of reality and their scientific endeavors).[2]

In short, Eve, you can be a Christian and a scientist without compromising your Christian faith.  The challenge will be maintaining the proper harmony between reason and faith, as well keeping a right recognition of the tension between the two and their limitations.

I hope this answer is helpful to you.
Peace in Christ,
Andy


[1] I’m drawing this distinction and these definitions straight out of Dr. Joel Okamoto’s article, “God, the Gospel, and Modern Science: Reflections on the Church’s Witness and Message in a Scientific Age,” published in Lutheran Mission Matters, Volume XXIV, No. 3 (Issue 49) November 2016.

[2] This entire paragraph is my summary of Kenneth Samples’ Chapter 14 of Without Doubt, which is entitled “Aren’t Christianity and Science Enemies?”


Contradict Movement (Stickers, Tract, and Books): www.contradictmovement.org
Andy Wrasman’s Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/razwrasman
Reconnect Podcast: https://andywrasman.com/category/reconnect-podcast/

God’s Answer to the Problem of Evil

The following is a sermon based on the Old Testament text: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4.

Habakkuk is crying out to God with the complaint that God’s people have struggled with through every age – and this is a struggle that won’t go away until Jesus returns and makes all things new – and that complaint is the problem of evil.  Why, oh why, does an all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing God allow evil?  Why does he let his people suffer?

habakkuk 2

In our day and age, even those who reject the existence of God – ask this question.  In fact, many people who do not believe in God reject his existence, because of this very problem of evil.  They think if God is all-powerful and all-good and all-loving, he’d stop evil.  Since evil still exists, they conclude that an all-powerful God must not exist; he must be impotent.  Or, maybe he’s all-powerful, but he isn’t all good, maybe he is actually evil.  They conclude that an all-powerful, all-loving God does not exist.

The text does not tell us what the exact sins are that Habakkuk is witnessing.  We are told that there is violence.  That there is destruction.  That there is constant strife and contention.  We are told that the law can’t do anything to stop this evil – that there is no justice for the righteous who are surrounded by the wicked.

Not knowing the exact details of the evil deeds in Judah at the time of Habakkuk works to make the text more relatable to us today, because we all can turn on the news, or read our social media feeds, and witness the evil and injustices that occur daily in our society.

Many of us have experienced evil and injustice against us and against our family, friends, and neighbors.

Many of us have also experienced suffering and pain that can’t be directly linked to specific sinful acts– such as a loved one dying of cancer or suffering from mental depression that can’t simply be stopped.

Do we usually get the answer we want from God when we ask why such evil and suffering is happening to us, to our people, and in our nation?  Probably not.

Habakkuk didn’t get the answer he wanted either.  In chapter 1 verses 5-11, he is told that the evil in Judah that he wanted the Lord to stop would be stopped, but that it would happen through God raising up the Chaldeans, a fierce, strong nation that marched through nations taking whatever they desired – their strength was their god.

Habakkuk can’t believe this answer – not at all.  Is God really going to stop the evil in Judah by having a more evil nation conquer his people?

In verse 13 of Chapter 1, Habakkuk wants to know why God sits around and looks at the traitors and remains silent when the wicked swallow up the man more righteous than he.  So he raises a second complaint to God – Habakkuk asks if God plans to just let nations continue to eat each other up forever?

He then takes his stand at the watchtower, and he waits for the Lord to answer this second complaint.

The answer, again, is likely not what Habakkuk wanted to hear, but he is told to write down the answer and to make it easy to read on tablets.  He was to make it so big that a person running could read it.  Habakkuk might have even written the answer he received from the Lord on something very big like a giant billboard – that the person running by couldn’t miss even if he wanted to not see.

The answer God gives is simple, and it is two-fold – First, God says, “Be patient.”  God’s word is true – the world as it is now is not as God intended it to be; God is setting everything right, though his coming salvation and end to all evil seems very, very slow to us.

We struggle in understanding why he is delaying his salvation.  But… the second part of the answer is given to Habakkuk – “The righteous shall live by his faith.”

The person who lives by his faith in God and God’s Word is righteous before God.  The righteous are those who trust in God and his promises, patiently waiting for the Lord to bring about his salvation – in his chosen time and in his chosen way.

Unlike Habakkuk who lived before the coming of God’s promised savior, the Christ, we living in the New Testament era of the Church know our promised savior, Jesus of Nazareth.  We know how Jesus came to save us from evil – how he saved each and every one of us from evil.  He saved us from our own evil.

He saved us from our own sins.  Our sins deserve God’s eternal punishment.  Jesus saved us from the punishment we so rightly deserved by taking our sins upon himself, paying the penalty that we deserve through his death on the cross.

Jesus brought us from being enemies of God into being the children of God.

And through his resurrection from the dead, he has given us the assurance that our sins truly are forgiven and that he has all power over sin, death, and the devil, that at his promised return, he will put a final end to all evil in this world, in our lives – forever.  The wicked will no longer devour the righteous.  Nations will no longer continually eat each other up over and over and over again.

Jesus will restore all of creation and he will make all things new again.  He will make all things as he intended them to be.

So we ask, like Habakkuk, when are you going to do this oh Lord?  When will Jesus return to do as he promised?

And the answer we get from the Lord is the same that Habakkuk received – “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”

Peter at the end of his second letter tells us a very similar message to what Habakkuk received from the Lord.  In 2 Peter 3:9, Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

He continues in verses 10 to 13, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.  Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

God is not slow in keeping his promises to free us from all evil and suffering.  He is patient with us.  He desires for all to come to repentance.

Let me ask you, what would happen if Christ were to return today?  To return right now?

All who are not repentant, all who are not living by faith in Christ, will be lost to death forever along with everything else of this world that is destined for fire.

Who do you know that would be lost forever?  Do you really want God to put an end to all evil, right now, when you think of the ones you love who are not yet repentant of their sins?  Even those who have caused you evil would you really want that to be their fate?

What we perceive to be God’s lack of action in the problem of evil is actually patience that comes from his love for us – for you – for all people who are still outside of faith in Christ.  He does not want them to perish, though it is what they deserve, and that is what you deserve.

As he is patient with the wicked, he calls us, we who are righteous, not by any righteousness of our own, but by the righteousness we receive from Christ, through the faith by which we live, to be patient too.

So the problem of evil there is an answer – the answer is Jesus.

What is the greatest act of evil in the history of the world?  Many people typically will point to the acts of Hitler, or Stalin, or Mao Zedeng that led to the deaths of millions upon millions of people.

I’d point people however to the cross of Jesus.  The greatest act of evil that ever occurred in history has to be when Jesus, God in the flesh, innocent of any wrongdoing, was viciously beaten, whipped, and crucified at the hands of his sinful creation. Can anything more evil possibly happen than man killing God?

But what we see from the greatest act of evil is that the greatest good was produced: the forgiveness of all of our sins, the salvation of mankind. When Jesus allowed the greatest evil to be done to him and when God the Father offered his one and only son for us that we see the greatest love ever – God’s love.  And we see that God loves us.

When you face evil, remember Jesus and his love for you.

When you face evil, be patient and trust in the promises of God.  Pray and stand watch like Habakkuk.  Look for the return of Christ as Peter tells you to do.

Depending on what evil you have experienced or are experiencing, depending on what suffering you are enduring, such an answer may fail to cut the mustard.  If you attend the Sunday English Bible Study for Light of Christ, you’ll recognize that phrase “cut the mustard” from a couple of weeks ago.  It means that to be told to wait and trust in God when you are under attack by evil or when you are suffering in sorrow or pain will probably fail to satisfy your troubled heart and mind.

But nevertheless, when you stare evil in the face, remember the righteous shall live by his faith.  And it is through this faith that we live in holiness and godliness – as we wait for and speed the coming of the Day of the Lord.

And it is in that promised day of Christ’s return that Jesus will destroy sin, death, and the devil forever.

Amen.

“Should You Believe in the Trinity?” – A Tract of the Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses - TrinityI recently received the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s tract, “Should You Believe in the Trinity?” from a sister in Christ who was convinced that that the tract contains a strong Scriptural argument that Jesus is not the Almighty God and she asked me what Scriptural evidence there is for Jesus’ divinity.[1]  The tract attacked the Trinity with a few key arguments: 1.) The Old Testament presents a strict monotheism that leaves no room for God to exist in a plurality of persons, 2.) The New Testament presents Jesus as having been created by God and as such is in a secondary position in time, power, and knowledge, 3.) Jesus is not God, but is a perfected man only, and 4.) Nobody in the first century ever thought of him as being God the Son.  I will address these arguments one by one to demonstrate that there is no good Scriptural ground to hold these positions.

The Old Testament presents a strict monotheism that leaves no room for God to exist in a plurality of persons.


The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS) is correct in stating that the Old Testament held to a strict monotheism.  The tract’s citations of the verses Exodus 20:2-3, Deuteronomy 6:4, Psalm 83:18, Isaiah 42:8, and Isaiah 45:5 are all great Old Testament verses to use to demonstrate the Scriptural principle of God’s exclusive oneness in which there is nothing in his creation that is equal to him.  Throughout the Old Testament it is clear that God is the Creator and that he is the sovereign Ruler of all things – there is none beside him, none his equal.  Reading through the Old Testament one does not see a clear presentation or description of the Creator and Ruler existing beyond a singular personal being, in other words, the doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly found in the Old Testament.

There are of course examples that one can point to in the Old Testament that could allude to a plurality of persons in this singular being, such as the chosen use of the plural form of god, Elohim, to refer to God, and God choosing to refer to himself in the plural form in Genesis 1 when he said, “Let us make man in our image.”  The WBTS does a good job of acknowledging these allusions to a Trinity in the Old Testament, but I agree with their position that these examples are just allusions and that they do not explicitly affirm God existing in a Trinity of persons as Christian doctrine holds.

Contrary to the WBTS position, and likely the position of the majority of Jews in the Second Temple era of Judaism, the strict monotheism of the Old Testament that draws an absolute Creator/creation distinction does not explicitly limit God’s existence to one person, though this would seem to be a more natural and plain conclusion of the Old Testament Scriptures presentation of God’s personhood.  We however do not only have the Old Testament, but we have Jesus who in the New Testament has revealed the Trinity to us.  In the New Testament Jesus is named as the Son of God and he is identified in the same way Yahweh is in the Old Testament, as the Creator and Ruler of all things (see John 1:1-3, 14; Colossians 1:15-20; and Hebrews 1:1-3 for examples).  Of course, Jesus, the second person of the Trinity would not be equal to his Father in divinity if he was created by his Father at some point in time, which is the position the WBTS finds in the New Testament.

The New Testament presents Jesus as having been created by God and as such is in a secondary position in time, power, and knowledge.


“Should You Believe in the Trinity?” does not reveal the WBTS’s particular doctrine concerning the identity and nature of Jesus, however, the Jehovah’s Witnesses do believe that Jesus was a created being, the archangel Michael to precise, an angel who is sparsely mentioned in the Bible, only in Daniel, Jude, and Revelation.

Michael the Archangel

They teach that Michael descended from heaven and became purely human as Jesus at the moment of Mary’s conception.  When he returned to heaven, he returned as the archangel Michael, not as the human, Jesus.  Since he returned as an angel and not a human, his resurrection was not a bodily resurrection.[2]  They justify Jesus’ archangel identity by pointing out that Jude 9 calls Michael an “archangel” and that 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says that Jesus will return “with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice.”  They also point to Revelation 12:7’s description of Michael as being the leader of an army of angels, while they also recognize Scripture to describe Jesus as a leader of an army of angels (Matthew 13:41; 16:27; 24:31; 1 Peter 3:22; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; and Revelation 19:14-16).[3]  Since the WBTS sees from the Scriptures cited above that Michael and Jesus are both identified as an archangel (chief angel) and as an army leader, and since there can be only one archangel, and since Scripture only mentions one angel army and not two, the Jehovah’s Witnesses think “​it is logical to conclude that Michael is none other than Jesus Christ in his heavenly role.”[4]

Such a conclusion however has never been arrived in the history of Christianity, until the Jehovah’s Witnesses began to teach that Jesus is the archangel Michael.[5]  Instead the Church has historically recognized that Jesus has been identified in the New Testament as being the Creator and Ruler of all things (again, see John 1:1-3, 14; Colossians 1:15-20; and Hebrews 1:1-3 for examples) – identity markers that were exclusively attributed to Yahweh in the Old Testament.[6]  The New Testament on multiple occasions reveals that when Christ returns he will be coming with his angels to judge the world (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; and Revelation 19:13-16), but one does not have to run to the conclusion that Jesus is Michael because both Jesus and Michael are leading the army of heavenly angels.  Both of them leading the army of angels is easily harmonized when considering Christ’s preeminence above all things (Colossians 1:18).  We can relate this language of dual-leadership to the structure of the United States of America’s army – the President is the Commander and Chief of the army (and so the army is his), yet during wartime there is also a General of War who leads the army (and so they are his men and he is leading them – though he is still under his Commander and Chief, the President, who is the one who is truly over all of the army, including the General of War).

I have already listed on two occasions verses to demonstrate that the New Testament places Jesus on equal footing as Yahweh.  To these, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have prepared responses, and in this paper I will not refute all of their rebuttals, but I will address two of their objections to the clear pronouncements in Scripture that Jesus is the Creator and Ruler of all things.

First, in John 1:1, it is revealed that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  In John 1:14, we see that this Word became flesh and in the Gospel of John we see that the Word became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  This opening passage from John indicates a personal being that sits in an equal state of divinity with God.  John 1:3 states that “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made,” and John 1:14 says that he is “the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”   The Jehovah’s Witnesses get around this very clear pronouncement that the Word is both God and Creator, along with the Father, by using the WBTS’s translation of the Bible, the New World Translation (NWT), which translates verse 1 as, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”  A strict reading of this would lead to polytheism, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t hold to a strict reading of their translation, instead they use their translation to justify that Jesus is a created being who was appointed to the position of “a god” by God through whom all things were then created.  The problem is that this translation is woefully inaccurate, because Koine Greek in which John was written does not possess the indefinite article “a” or “an,” nor did it in its original time of writing have lower-case letters to make a distinction between a hierarchy of divinity between “God” and “god.”  To further complicate their translation problem, Kyle R. Beshears points out in his book, Robot Jesus, that the WBTS “refuses to officially release any names of the NWT translation team, committee, or leadership board.”[7]  Beshears also shares that the one name that has been discovered is Fred Franz and that he is far from a qualified Bible translator having had only two undergraduate courses in Greek from the University of Cincinnati with no formal training in Hebrew.[8]

Second, and this is an argument that is found in “Should You Believe in the Trinity?,” the Jehovah’s Witnesses take the preeminence of Christ passage from Colossians 1 and pull out the phrase, “the firstborn of all creation” to indicate that Jesus was created.  This too is a translation error, or more specifically a misunderstanding of the meaning of “firstborn” in this context linguistic and cultural context.   The word used is πρωτότοκος and it can mean first born in a chronological order sense, but here it should be understood to refer “to having special status associated with a firstborn.”[9]  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses theology, Jesus was the first created angel – not the first born, because angels are not conceived and birthed into existence – so even in their theological framework, the phrase “firstborn of all creation” shouldn’t be interpreted to mean being born before any other creature, since again, angels are not born.  And within the sphere of humanity, the “firstborn” in chronology would go to Cain in Genesis 4:1, clearly not Jesus.  Such an understanding of “firstborn” as legal status and not chronology can be found in the Old Testament between Jacob and Esau.  Jacob was born second in time, yet he received the legal status of being the “firstborn” and inheritor of all that was of his father’s by that legal standing – though he was the younger son.  Calling Jesus, the “firstborn of all creation” in no way demands that he is a created being, and it goes against the clearness of the rest of the passage that presents him as being the Creator and Ruler of all things in whom the “fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19), and it goes against the Hebrews passage I have cited but not yet quoted that says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus is not God, but is a perfected man only.


The third argument laid out in the tract doesn’t understand how Jesus could be tempted if he’s God, pointing to his temptation by Satan in the wilderness after his baptism by John the Baptist.  God cannot be tempted the WTBS exclaims.  They could just as easily have also said that God is not born, God does not have flesh and blood[10], God does not get tired or hungry, God does not bleed, and he certainly does not die!  Here they fail to understand the union of the two natures of Jesus of Nazareth who is presented in the New Testament to be fully God and fully man.  Jesus just as easily does things that only God can do too.  From the moment of the Incarnation, when the 2nd person of the Trinity assumed a human nature, the divine and human natures became united so as to not be separated from his personhood – ever.  If the humanity of Christ is put to physical death, then so too is his divinity.  Since Jesus is fully God, we can say God was tired, hungry, thirsty, tempted, and killed in the person of Christ (the 2nd person of the Trinity). These feelings and experiences were experienced by Jesus in accordance to his human nature, yet due to the union of the natures the divine nature experienced them too.  Such experiences in no way reduces his divinity.  The attributes of humanity that Christ experienced of which the Father and the Holy Spirit cannot partake occurred because Jesus allowed them to occur, because he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but instead he humbled himself and chose not to make use of his divine attributes or retain the glory due to him because of his divinity. (Philippians 2:5-11)

The tract also presents an idea that if Jesus was God his death on the cross would supersede the ransom that is required under the law.  The WTBS argues that “it was only a perfect human, Adam, who sinned in Eden, not God. So the ransom, to be truly in line with God’s justice, had to be strictly an equivalent—a perfect human, “the last Adam.”  This line of thinking however misses the point that a perfect human could serve as a ransom for only one sinful human, but Christ’s death on the cross was not an exchange for the sins of one person – no – Christ’s death was an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all of mankind, and as such, the death of the God-Man, the death of the life source of all men would be suffice to atone for the sins of all of mankind – not just the sins of Adam.

Nobody in the first century ever thought of him as being God the Son. 


The final argument of the tract is that “WHILE Jesus is often called the Son of God in the Bible, nobody in the first century ever thought of him as being God the Son.” This is where my response is most important and where I would above everything else I have written point the sister in Christ who came to me with this heretical tract of the Jehovah’s Witnesses – Jesus thought of himself as God in the flesh – co-equal to his Father in divinity.  It is here that there is a mountain of Scriptural evidence to indicate that Jesus is fully God, and the WBTS doesn’t address hardly any of them in their tract.

One could ask, well, why didn’t Jesus make it more obvious in his statements to being God.  Why didn’t he directly use the words, “I am God?”  I speculate that Jesus never said those three direct words because, when he said “God” and when the apostles wrote “God” in their letters, they were almost always referring to the Father, not the Trinity. If Jesus had said that he was God, it might have been construed to mean that he and the Father were the same person, that he was the Father, which he is not. Within Christ’s theology and the theology of his apostles, God exists in three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all of whom share in the same divine essence.

An aspect of Jesus’ role as Savior of the world was to reveal the Father to us, and I think his use of Trinitarian language does just that. In John 10:30–33, Jesus says that He and the Father are one. The Greek language used indicates that he and the Father are one, not in person, but in deity. The translation might be read in English as “I and the Father, we are one.”

The word used for “one,” hen, is neuter in gender. In the Greek language, most words have gender. Using the neuter, asexual “one” instead of the masculine “one” indicates that Jesus is saying that he and the Father are one in nature, not personhood. This statement in John 10 was again a public statement in front of the Jews in the temple area, in response to the Jews pressing him to declare plainly whether he is the Messiah. When he said, “I and the Father are one,” they responded by picking up stones to stone him, because they knew that he had just claimed to be God (John 10:22–33).

The following is an abridged and slightly rearranged list of verses taken from Kenneth Samples’ book, Without a Doubt, that show various ways that Jesus and others claimed and attributed divinity to Jesus through titles, actions, and words:[11]

Divine titles proclaimed by or attributed to Jesus Christ:

God (John 1:1; John 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1)

Lord (Mark 12:35–37; John 20:28; Romans 10:9–13; 1 Corinthians 8:5– 6; 12:3; Philippians 2:11)

Messiah (Matthew 16:16; Mark 14:61; John 20:31)

Son of God (Matthew 11:27; Mark 15:39; John 1:18; Romans 1:4; Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 1:2)

Son of Man (Matthew 16:28, 24:30; Mark 8:38; 14:62–64; Acts 7:56; Daniel 7:13–14)

Divine names, actions, or roles proclaimed by or attributed to Jesus Christ:

Creator (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2,10–12)

Sustainer (1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3)

Forgiver of sins (Mark 2:5–7; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; Colossians 3:13)

Object of prayer (John 14:14; Acts 1:24; 1 Corinthians 1:2)

Object of worship (Matthew 28:16–17; Philippians 2:10–11; Hebrews 1:6)

Object of saving faith (John 14:1; Acts 10:43; Romans 10:8–13)

Divine attributes proclaimed by or attributed to Jesus Christ:

Eternal existence (John 1:1; John 8:58; John 17:5; Hebrews 13:8)

Self-existence (John 1:3; John 5:26; Colossians 1:16)

Omnipresence (Matthew 18:20; Ephesians 1:23, 4:10; Colossians 3:11)

Omniscience (Mark 2:8; Luke 9:47; John 2:25, 4:18; Colossians 2:3)

Omnipotence (John 2:19; Colossians 1:16–17)

Jesus made direct claims that many Jewish religious leaders considered to blasphemous:

“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” (John 5:17)

“I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58)

“I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)

“I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62)

These words mean nothing however, unless Jesus could justify them to be true, which he most certainly did, through his death and resurrection.  He predicted that he would be put to death and he predicted that he would rise to life again on the third day.  This he most certainly did, leaving behind an empty tomb, appearing physically to his disciples over a forty-day period with convincing signs that he was alive again.  Through their witness of such things, even to their persecution and deaths, we can have assurance that their testimonies were true: Jesus is the God-Man, that he did die on the cross for our sins, that he was buried, and that he did have a physical bodily resurrection to new life for our salvation and future bodily resurrection to eternal life at his imminent return.


 

[1] This scenario is not true; it’s a prompt that I was given in a class.  The prompt contained other points that directed my response which are not revealed directly in this paper.

[2] “After Jesus’ Resurrection Was His Body Flesh or Spirit?” (https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/jesus-body/)

[3] “Who Is Michael the Archangel?” (https://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/bible-teach/who-is-michael-the-archangel-jesus/)

[4] Ibd.

[5] It’s also very unlikely that the founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Charles Taze Russell, even taught that the archangel Michael became the human Jesus for his earthly ministry, though Russell did teach that Jesus was a created being.  The first clear written teaching from the WBTS that Michael is Jesus is usually cited as being in the February 17th, 1979 issue of The Watchtower, p. 31.

[6] Bauckham, Richard. God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eermands Publishing Co. 1999) p. 6-42.

[7] Beshears, Kyle R. Robot Jesus: And Three Other Jesuses You Never Knew (USA, self-published, 2012) p 133.

[8] Ibd. p 133-134.

[9] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 894). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[10] The Mormons (LDS) do make this claim of Elohim however.

[11] Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2004), 105–108, 125–126.


Contradict Movement (Stickers, Tract, and Books): www.contradictmovement.org
Andy Wrasman’s Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/razwrasman
Reconnect Podcast: https://andywrasman.com/category/reconnect-podcast/

The Role and Importance of Apologetics in Retention of Young Adults in Church Life and Membership

Andy Wrasman
Practical Theological Interpretive Missional Case Study
Spring 2019

The following case study was written for an Introduction to Practical Theology course at Concordia Seminary.  To better understand this case’s sections labeled priestly listening, sagely wisdom, prophetic discernment, and servant leadership, please consult Osmer’s book, Practical Theology.

“Are Young Adults Leaving the Church in Large Numbers, and if They Are What Should I do About it in my Future Congregation as a Pastor?”

Priestly Listening

I’ve heard grumblings for a long time (back to the late 90s when I was in high school) about how the Church must do something to keep youth from leaving the Church.  Typically, I have heard that this is a problem that occurs when young adults graduate high school, leaving their families and hometown to go away to a university.  Maybe the university is within an hour or two from their parents’ home, maybe it’s within the same state in which they grew up, or maybe it’s on the other side of the country.  It doesn’t really matter where the university is, what I have heard is that many Christians end up leaving the Church during university and that they don’t usually come back anytime soon – if ever. I’ve also heard that in general 20 to 30 year olds are leaving the Church in larger numbers than any other age group.

What Will I Do in Response to These Troubling Ruminations I Keep Hearing?

In this paper, I will first seek to find reliable studies that would objectively demonstrate if this alleged young adult exodus from the Church is real or not.  I’d like to find studies that look at the differences of attendance loss in this age demographic in various denominations, not just the Church in general.  Is one denomination doing better than another in retaining the 20 to 30 year olds of their church body?  I hope to find data on this demographic in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.  If the concerns I’m hearing are not grounded in reality, then I can correct such worries with facts.  If there really is a Church wide exodus in America occurring when youth enter universities, the LC-MS needs to have a plan in place to ensure retention.  I, as a future pastor, will need a plan of action in place to ensure that the kids who have grown up in our congregation do not leave the Church and potentially reject Christ all together once moving away from the spiritual care of their families and our congregation.

To create an effective plan, I will seek to find reliable studies that give insights into why the young adults of the Church are leaving.  Also, I want to speak with someone from my home congregation growing up who I know has left the Christian faith to find out why.  I will also evaluate what I discover from these studies and my former Sunday school peer with the words of Scripture to see what insights God gives to why people leave the Church.  From here, I will formulate a possible solution (or plan of action) to pursue in resolving this retention problem, which will be subjected to Scriptural approval and guidance, as well as to priestly listening and sagely wisdom, before a plan of action in servant-leadership is presented.

Sagely Wisdom

Decreasing Church Attendance and Membership for 20-30 Year Olds

 Gallup has followed church membership and attendance since 1930 and in the article, “The Religiousity Cycle”, George H. Gallup Jr. explains that Gallup has observed that there is “a cyclical ebb and flow in religiosity among Americans.”  Gallup Jr. explains this cycle as, “Americans find religion early in life and lose some during young adulthood, only to find it again as they mature.”  Combining the findings from the 2001 Gallup Poll Religion Aggregate and the 2000-2001 Gallup Youth Survey, Gallup found the following: “Fifty-four percent of teens aged 13 to 15 reported having attended church in the past seven days, as did 51% of 16- to 17-year-old teens. The figure drops to 32% among 18- to 29- year-olds but rises again to 44% among 50- to 64-year-olds and 60% among those aged 75 and older.”  This data is presented in the following bar graph:

Graph 1

Gallup also found from these two studies a drop and rise across the ages of life concerning church membership: “Sixty-nine percent of 13- to 15-year-olds report being members of a church or synagogue, compared to 59% of 16- to 17-year-olds, 60% of 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and 80% of those aged 75 and older.”  This data is presented in the following bar graph:

Graph 3.png
It is worth noting that these studies combine both church and synagogue attendance and membership, though through much of the summary of these two studies findings, Gallup Jr. does not always make this combined study of the two religions, Christianity and Judaism, clear.  He usually in his summary only speaks of church attendance and membership, not mentioning the Jewish people polled.  I’d want to investigate further, was the drop and rise in religious participation the same in both the Christian and Jewish religious bodies?  If both religions are experiencing a drop in attendance in these ages, what is occurring that spurs this drop in both religions?  It’d also be good to see what is bringing these people back into their churches and synagogues?  Gallup Jr. suggests the following answer:

Religion becomes more important again as young adults progress through their 20s, possibly marry, have children and settle down in a community. Many Americans want religion to play a role in their children’s lives, and this desire may draw people back into their religious communities. As people grow into their middle years, they begin to experience the loss of parents and increasingly face the inevitable changes of life, which may deepen their religious beliefs even further. As people advance into their final years, they can be expected to be more likely to reflect on the meaning of life, as well as the end of their own.[1]

From the Gallup research I am convinced that there is a significant number of young adults who leave the Church, but I think it’s important to look at any data that can be found on denominational levels.

At the 2002 Annual Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)  the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life presented that “88 percent of the children raised in evangelical homes leave church at the age of 18, never to return.”[2]  This number is a number that is beyond shocking.  It’s hard to even believe this statistic to be true.  There are no details provided as to how this statistic was found by the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life, but the statement still stands on the SBC’s “Newsroom” of their 2002 Annual Convention.  It also isn’t too helpful to my question of specific denomination loss of young adults, because this number is for evangelicals and not specifically the SBC.

Though, I couldn’t find specifics on other denominations’ loss or retention of young adults, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LC-MS), my denomination, has conducted thorough research on this matter.  The study is entitled, “A SURVEY OF LCMS CONGREGATIONS PART 1 OF A BROAD STUDY OF YOUNG ADULT RETENTION” and it was released in 2017, tracking the church attendance of confirmands from 2004-2006.  The findings were that “Congregations report that roughly 1-in-3 of young people confirmed in 2004-2006 worship at an LCMS church today. Another third lost contact with their home church (or rather, their home church has lost contact with them). The rest either attend another denomination (11%), worship only sporadically (15%) or do not attend church at all (11%).”[3]  It is rather startlingly to think that in a little more than a decade a LC-MS congregation will have no connection at all with 40% their confirmed youth – having no idea where they are or if they are members of a church or regularly attending a church (any church).  Are many of these confirmed youth now a part of the 11% that no longer attend church?  And those that sporadically attend – why?  Do they believe?  Or are they just attending due to family obligations?  This drop seems to match that of what was found by the Gallup studies.

Christian vs. Secular University Attendance Makes an Impact on Church Attendance

Dr. Steven J. Henderson, President of Christian Consulting for Colleges and Ministries, Inc., conducted research on the differences that attending a Christian or secular university has on the faith of college students after his daughter entered into a decade of drug use after attending a public institution of higher learning.  His study found the following key discoveries:

  1. Attendance at a public or private non-religious college lowers religious commitment. Fifty-two percent (52 percent) no longer claim to be born-again, or quit attending church after three or four years at a secular college or university.

  2. Attendance at a religious college maintains or raises religious commitment. Only seven percent (7 percent) no longer claim to be born-again with a very small drop in overall church attendance after three or four years at a religious college.

  3. Students who attend institutions that are members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) showed significant gains in religious commitment. The differences in choosing a CCCU type school versus a non-CCCU school are dramatic: students at CCCU schools experience only one-fourth the drop in church attendance, and one-seventh the drop in prayer and meditation, but nearly five times the increase in overall religious commitment4. While attending private or public secular colleges, students coming from more conservative religious backgrounds lose their faith at a higher rate (up to 67 percent loss) than students from less-conservative denominations. (Editor’s Note: Typically, AG students would fall into the category of being from more conservative backgrounds, which gives them an even bigger challenge to maintain their faith while they are attending a secular school.)5. The biggest degree of change is in the first year away from home. Statistics show that students become significantly less religiously active during the first year of college. One of the greatest benefits of attending a Christian college is to be in an environment where both peers and faculty will encourage you to make Biblical decisions. Conversely, being in an environment where both peers and faculty are critical and even hostile to Christian faith and values make the first year of college a much more difficult one for a Christians.

The Religious/Anti-God Positions of Faculty Professors

Taking note of Henderson’s last key takeaway from his study, the question arises, “Are secular schools more critical and even hostile to Christian faith and values?”  Are there any studies that could objectively demonstrate that secular universities are more critical of the Christian faith?  Or even more hostile to it?

In 2007, Neil Gross, then an assistant professor of sociology at Harvard University, and Solon Simmons, then an assistant professor of conflict analysis and sociology at George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, conducted a study, called the “Politics of the American Professoriate”, which was administered by the Center for Survey Research at Indiana University.  In their study, they found that the majority of the faculty at universities believe in God.  The next largest group believes in a Higher Power of some sort.  The atheist and agnostic group was the smallest with 23.4%.[4]  However, this percentage is significantly higher than that of the general public which in American in 2007 which, according to Pew Research, was only 4%.[5]  That means in 2007, there were five times the number of atheists and agnostic professors in American universities than in the general public.  This greater number of atheists and agnostics for Christian university students encounter who are in teaching positions could have a sway on their leaving the Church.

Gross’ and Simmons’ review did survey faculty at religious institutions too and they split the numbers out.  They also gave a breakdown of the different demographics at the different types of universities.  Below is an image that demonstrates these differences.

Graph 2.png

In a very similar study, “Religious Beliefs and Behavior of College Faculty” by Gary A. Tobin and Aryeh K. Weinberg for the Institute for Jewish & Community Research found very similar numbers.  Their study demonstrates that 46% of faculty asserted that they have a personal relationship with God, 19% answered that they have no relationship but believe in God, 19% said they do not, and 17% preferred not to answer. Within the public, 66% answered that they have a personal relationship, 27% answered that they have no personal relationship but believe in God, only 4% said they do not, and 3% chose not to answer.  Their study also looked at the tolerance of faculty towards students of various religions by gauging their warmth/favorability and coolness/unfavorability towards specific religions.  Jews and Buddhists were the students who faculty felt most favorable towards with Jews with 73% of faculty saying they have warm/favorable feelings towards Jews with only 3% saying that they have cool/unfavorable feelings.  68% of faculty said that they feel warm/favorable to Buddhists with only 4% being cool/unfavorable.  One group produced a high rate of negative feelings among the faculty: Evangelical Christians.  Only 30% ranked their feelings toward Evangelical Christians as warm/favorable, with only 11% feeling very warm/favorable, the lowest ranking among every other religious group, and 53% said that they have cool/unfavorable feelings towards Evangelical Christians.  The chart below gives a visual image that marks how stark the unfavorable view of Evangelical Christians is among the faculty of American universities compared to students of other religions.[6]

Graph 4.png

For the purposes of my question, it would be good to see if such an unfavorable disposition towards Evangelical Christians from faculty professors has any influence or sway on Evangelical Christians who attend universities to leave the Christian faith.  It would be good to also see how school teachers would answer this question to know if there is any change in the tolerance and favorability conditions in the educational environment switch from high school to university studies.  Are Christian Evangelicals being prepared for the intolerance and unfavorable dispositions they should expect to receive at university campuses? Furthermore, would I as a Lutheran be conceived as a Non-evangelical Christian or as an Evangelical Christian by university professors if they did have any religious interactions with me or from any of my Christian apparel or swag?

The Reasons that Young Adults Quit Attending Church

Pew Research has found that 78% of America’s adult “Religious Nones” (Atheists, Agnostics, and Nothing in Particular) were raised in a particular religion before leaving that religion in adulthood.  Almost half (49%) of these “Nones” who were brought up in a religious community said they left because they didn’t believe the religion’s teachings.  The common examples cited as to why they are now unaffiliated with the religion they were raised are:

  • “Learning about evolution when I went away to college.”
  • “Too many Christians doing un-Christian things.”
  • “Religion is the opiate of the people.”
  • “Rational thought makes religion go out the window.”
  • “Lack of any sort of scientific or specific evidence of a creator.”
  • “I just realized somewhere along the line that I didn’t really believe it.”
  • “I’m doing a lot more learning, studying and kind of making decisions myself rather than listening to someone else.[7]

Generation Z: The Culture, Beliefs, and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation is a 2018 release in which Barna Research Group reveal their findings of a comprehensive study into the perceptions, experiences and motivations of 13- to 18-year-olds in Generation Z.  The findings as summarized by J. Warner Wallace in his summary of this work in “Are Young People Really Leaving the Christianity?” provides helpful insights into what this age group finds to be the barriers to the Christian faith:

“I have a hard time believing that a good God would allow so much evil or suffering in the world” (29%)
b. “Christians are hypocrites” (23%)
c. “I believe science refutes too much of the Bible” (20%)
d. “I don’t believe in fairy tales (19%)
e. “There are too many injustices in the history of Christianity” (15%)
f. “I used to go to church but it’s not important to me anymore” (12%)
g. “I had a bad experience at church with a Christian” (6%)[8]

Wallace summarized the prominent reasons for why youth the leave the church from another book, Why Kids Leave the Church, by Tim Bisset, as such:

1. They left because they had troubling, unanswered questions about the faith.
2. They left because their faith was not “working” for them.
3. They left because they allowed other things to take priority.
4. They left because they never personally owned their faith.[9]

The Reasons Young Adults Stay in Church and Major Factors for People Attending Church

Turning attention to reasons that young adults stayed in church, the LC-MS study I referenced earlier found four factors that were a predictor of high retention of a congregation’s confirmands.  Those four factors are:

1. Being a larger congregation
2. Having a large number of young adults who joined after high school
3. Having a reduced number of confirmands leave before graduation
4. Having younger adult leaders, specifically, younger than 32 years old[10]

The LC-MS study also found that the age of the senior/sole pastor, having a large portion of young adults in worship, presence of local colleges, and changes to the confirmation process or youth ministry had no direct impact on retention, thou the study team had suspected that these factors would.[11]  No suggestions were given for retention from this study, since it was still in its first phase.

As to why people go to church, Gallup in a March 2017 study, sought to discover the reasons people attend church.  The answers might be shocking if one is accustomed to the idea of having fun and entertaining programs for children and the whole church body, or having the best praise band in town.  The number one and number two reasons for why people attend church both had to do with the sermons: sermons that teach Scripture (76% said this was a major factor) and sermons that are relevant to life (75% said this was a major factor).  Spiritual programs for children and teens had the third highest result as a major factor for church attendance with 64%, beating out social activities to get to know people in the community, which only received 49%.  Coming in at seventh place out of seventh possible factors for church attendance that Gallup provided was “a good choir, praise band, cantors or other spiritual music” (38% said this was a major factor).  When Protestants are separated from Roman Catholic responses to this survey, “sermons that teach about Scripture” jumps up to 86% as a major factor and “sermons that help connect religion to own life” jumps to 83%.[12] The image below shows the seven factors that were polled in this survey.

Graph 5.png
Priestly Listening

Interviewing a Sunday School Peer Who Left the Church

My Sunday school class in high school was rather small.  There were only about ten of us in the class on a high attendance day, and those of us in the group came from three different high schools.  For the most part, we only saw each other at church.  We had the same teacher for my four years through high school.  I believe it was a very tight-knit group for the minimal amount of time we spent together each week and for a few of the service, social, and spiritual activities and trips we had together as a youth group. After high school graduation, most of us left the church congregation, going away to university or getting jobs and just didn’t come back to the church (to the best of my knowledge that is having not been back to the church myself in over ten years).  I stayed in the congregation for three years after graduating, because I stayed in the area working, and I became the teacher of the Sunday school class for the last of those three years.  Once leaving Tennessee for California in 2003, I haven’t seen anyone from that Sunday school class.  At one point, I heard from one of our youth group leaders (different people from our Sunday school teacher) that I should pray for Sara because she wasn’t attending church and seemed to not want to.  Numerous years later, somehow, Sara and I connected as “friends” on Facebook.  We actually lived two hours away from each other in CA at the time, but we never met up.

At one point, I saw a post from Sara that appeared in my Facebook feed that led me to think she had left the Christian faith, or at the very least was likely far from active in church attendance.  For investigating this question of why young adults are leaving the Church, I thought Sara would be a good person to ask since she was someone I had personally gone through Sunday school with.  I wanted to know what was different from her experience and mine that might have made the difference in her leaving or staying in the Church.  Before reaching out to her, I did check to see if there were any indicators of what she currently confessed or identified with religiously.  Her Facebook profile stated that her religion was “Love.”

I messaged her with some details about this project and why I thought speaking with her could be helpful for my research and understanding why young adults leave the Church.

I gave her some questions in that message: “Would you still confess the sort of things that were taught at Trinity so many years ago? Would you say that you had faith in Jesus then? What about now? If then, but not now, what would have been the turning point(s) for you?”

She responded, “I’d be happy to discuss more over the phone some time. This seems like a lot to type in a message. It sounds like you are pursuing some interesting studies which is awesome! I agree, our Sunday school class was the best and probably what kept me going to church during school.”

Through a conversation that lasted a little over an hour, I learned much about why she was attending church and what she got out of her attendance and some insights into why she no longer attended church. Much of her feedback was in-synch with the data listed in the “sagely wisdom” portion of this paper.

Sara expressed that she grew up “really poor” with her mom.  She explained that her mom bounced from being Wiccan to Christian, but that in middle school her mom wanted to have her in a church congregation, and that her mom wanted it to be a Lutheran church.  In Gallatin, where Sara lived, that only left one option, Trinity Lutheran Church, without having to travel far outside of her hometown.  I never recalled seeing Sara’s mom in church – not once.  By the time my family joined Trinity, Sara’s mom had started work on Sundays and no longer attended.  Sara was brought to church by another family.  She told me the community and friendship she received from that family and from others at the congregation and in our Sunday school class were major factors in why she kept attending Trinity.

For Sara, this community element was much more a draw to attending Trinity than the Christian faith from what I could gather from our conversation.  In the 90s, in Tennessee, when she was active in the congregation, she saw that everyone in her high school attended church.  From her view of church attendance, it was very much a social club or social activity that everyone she knew participated in somehow.  I agreed with her on this point.  I can only think of two or three students in my entire high school who openly identified as being not-Christian.  The football coaches at my public high school even exhorted the whole team to go to church on Wednesday nights and to go to Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings; which I willfully did, as much for the social element as for any faith reasons.

Sara considers herself to have had faith in Christ while at Trinity, and she did go through confirmation classes to public confess that faith before the congregation.  She expressed that her beliefs are still Christian, or that she’s not opposed to Christian beliefs, but that now her Christian beliefs have broadened.  This broadening means that she considers that God’s revelation isn’t restricted to the Bible and that the Buddha could be a path to God or that Muhammad could be or that other religious leaders could be.  She recognizes that the belief systems of these religions are contradictory in particular doctrines, but she thinks that there are elements of truth within each of them too, and that those elements of truth are enough.  Enough for what? She stated that she also rejects traditional views of heaven and hell.

This broadened view of Christian doctrine began when she attended university.  These beliefs didn’t emerge immediately, but over time.  When she left her hometown to study art at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, she simply never pursued finding a church community.  I couldn’t gather from Sara exactly why this was the case, but it seemed to be that she just never desired it or needed it.  Knowing that she attended Trinity mostly for the community element and not because of the Christian faith, her answer seems reasonable.  As to her beliefs changing during this time at school and beyond, Sara thinks people commonly leave the Church in their 20s and 30s because in these years of life they are encountering experiences that are putting them into contact with other religions, other views, and different responsibilities than what they encountered while growing into adulthood that generate new questions, concerns, or doubts about the religion they were taught in their youth.  She did mention that this questioning often begins to occur in high school and that it did begin then for her.

I shared with her that recent studies indicate that many young adults leave the Church as a result of not having their questions or doubts about the Christian faith adequately answered, and I wondered if she thought that could be true for her.  She agreed that it certainly was.  Sara expressed that I knew how many difficult questions she had in our Sunday school class (I didn’t remember this).  I asked if she could recall one of these questions that she didn’t think was answered very well.  She said that most of her questions were situational ones.  She recalled asking, “What should a person do if married to an abusive person when the Bible teaches you should forgive and forget –  are you to remain with that abusive person?”  Though many of her questions weren’t adequately answered, she expressed that she had nothing but absolute love for the Sunday school teacher.   Sara did think that these questions had some impact on her not seeking out a church when she went to university.

If Sara were to go to a church again, it’d probably occur if she had any children.  She’d want them to grow up in a church, and she said she’d likely take them to a non-denominational church because she thinks they are more open-minded than the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and other denominations.  Through more dialog on what she meant by openness with some critique on her stance about non-denominational churches being more open, I gathered that what she meant was that she would be open to attending a Unitarian Universalist Church congregation if she had children, not a non-denominational one, which does fit her description of her broadened Christian beliefs.

From all that Sara shared in our conversation, her life’s experiences matched fairly well with the information I gleaned from the previous studies.  Trinity Lutheran Church in Gallatin, TN, only possessed one of the four factors for high retention of confirmands into adulthood (having young adults placed in to positions of leadership).  She had questions and concerns about the Christian faith that she felt were not adequately answered.  She grew up in a household that was already religiously liberal with her mom shifting back and forth between Wicca and Christianity, which likely became more of an important barrier to Christianity in college as she encountered more beliefs contrary to the exclusive doctrinal positions of Christianity.  Neither Sara nor I were drawn to Trinity for the sermons, but we were drawn to the Sunday school class, which was a regularly a serious Bible study with all of us having an open Bible in front of us after a time of sharing and prayer.  The Gallup study showed that sermons are the major factor for most people attending a church service, so I’m curious if she had heard sermons that taught her something about the Bible and that applied to situations in her life, if she would have found more incentive to find a church community in university. She expressed an openness to return to the Church when she had children, which matches one of the reasons the studies suggested as to why young adults return to the Church later in life (of course her return would not be to a Christian church).

The Value of Teaching Christian Apologetics to High School Students

For nine years I taught a World Religions/Christian Apologetics course to senior high school students at Crean Lutheran High School in Irvine, CA.  The first semester was World Religions and the second was Christian Apologetics.  After learning the belief systems of five of the world’s major religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, which looked at eight different denominations, and Islam) and 15 minor religions (Daoism, Shinto, Jainism, Sikhism, Falun Gong, Yoruba religions, Wicca, LaVeyan Satanism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, Christian Science, Unitarian Universalism, Rastafarianism, and Baha’i), the course shifted to defending the truthfulness of Christianity.  As the final Theology course at Crean, the students already had a good grounding in what Christianity teaches having had Old Testament, New Testament, and Christian Doctrine courses (in that order starting as freshmen).  As seniors, they were then exposed to the many diverse beliefs of the world’s religions, before being taught why they can know Christianity alone is the only true religion.

The opening unit focused on the historical reliability of the New Testament texts, both in their transmission and in their relaying of facts by eyewitnesses (or by the testimony of eyewitnesses), Jesus’ claim to divinity, and the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection that affirms those claims.  At the end of this first unit, I’d ask three questions concerning what the students learned: “Did studying the reliability of the Gospels and answering questions about who Jesus is help you?  Did these studies answer any questions you previously had?  What was the most significant thing you learned from this section of the class?”  The following are some of the answers that I saved from the Spring 2012 semester:

“This section significantly helped me. Not by strengthening my faith, I didn’t actually have any doubts or skepticisms about the Gospel that needed answering. I am already very strong in my faith. The way it helped me so much, is by making it easier for me to answer other people’s questions. Being a faithful Christian, many of my non-religious or skeptical friends, come to me looking for guidance or answers regarding Scripture. I would give them pretty good answers that would generally leave them feeling satisfied. Now I feel like I can answer all of their questions 110%, eliminating any doubt or fear in their minds.”

“This apologetics section definitely helped me to learn to better defend my faith. I have a lot of non-Christian friends who I regularly converse with about my religion, so this class gave me new tools & talking points that I can discuss with them, as well as raised new questions that I have further researched on my own. The most significant thing I learned was about the historical authenticity of Jesus’ life & the fact that there were pagan historians who affirmed Jesus’ life.”

“Yes, after studying this past month I have learned that I knew very little about how to defend my faith to those who don’t understand.”

“Studying the reliability of the Gospels and answering questions about who Jesus is helped me throughout my beliefs and doubts. As I was researching and reading the book, my doubts on Christianity faded away, since it seems so true! There are so many evidences that Jesus was a real, existed figure and that he has been resurrected. These studies answered my question of if Jesus even existed because I sometimes thought that Jesus could be just a fictional character.

“Studying the Gospels and the questions about who Jesus is really helped, as it helps me to have more apologetic evidence to further back my faith, both in my own mind and to defend it to other people. The most significant thing I learned were the reasons for believing the resurrection. Since I don’t often see miracles, hearing of someone being legitimately dead, and then rising again, is worthy of attention. But it is also hard to believe. Reading the evidences for it helped strengthen the idea in my mind.”

“Studying the reliability of the Gospels and answering questions about who he is definitely helped me. I have gotten into situations before where I wish I had the knowledge that I need to answer various questions from friends. I feel more equipped to get into discussions from now on.”

“These questions have made me much more knowledgeable on the Gospels and Jesus. Before I just believed in these things because I knew that I should. Now I know that these things actually happened and are actually true. I feel a lot more confident in my faith now and feel like I can talk to people about Christ more now because I can support what I believe in.”

Every year in every section of the course, I received this type of feedback on this question.  One year a student confessed on this question that he was a homosexual and that because of what we covered in the opening unit of Christian Apologetics he could no longer reject the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality.  That confession led to some very great one on one conversations with that student and then later his mom.  Every year, I’d receive numerous letters from students before graduation.  One of the comments in a letter from my first year teaching the course really stood out to me and I’ve never forgotten it.  The student said, “I’ve always gone to Christian schools, and I’ve always been taught how to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, and strength, but it wasn’t until this year with your course that I learned how to love the Lord with all of my mind.”

Multiple years the World Religions/Christian Aplogetics course was mentioned in either the salutatorian’s or valedictorian’s graduation speech.

Once, a returning alumni spoke in chapel and his message was almost exclusively on how the Christian Apologetics course was the most helpful course he had at the school and that it played an instrumental role in him seeking out a Christian club at his public university, and how being a part of that Christian community on campuses has radically blessed him with growth in Christ, since seeking that club was something he had to decide to do; it wasn’t something that he had to do, like going to Crean because his parents made him.

Routinely on the end of the semester surveys that all teachers were required to give, a good number of students for the Christian Apologetics course (usually about a third) would write in one of the few open response questions that the course was the best theology course at Crean, that this was the first theology course that they learned anything new in having gone to church their entire life, or that I was the best theology teacher (a response that I think was largely given due to the subject I was privileged to teach).  Numerous times I had students ask, “Why aren’t we being taught this in church?”  Or, “Why am I just now hearing about this?”

Taking into account this “priestly listening” from high school students benefiting from a course in Christian Apologetics, I think pursuing teaching Christian Apologetics in LC-MS congregations in sermons and in the high school Sunday school classes, or even the confirmation classes, is one important action to take to help increase retention of young adults in the Church after high school graduation.  From the feedback I have heard from high school students over nine years of teaching Christian Apologetics, most of the reasons cited for why young adults leave the Church were directly addressed and answered through the course.

Lutherans Are Anti-Apologetics

This possible solution of incorporating Christian apologetics into the life of my congregation, or even the life of the Synod’s congregations, is one that I think will need to be addressed through prophetic discernment to demonstrate a Biblical precedent or approach to apologetics.  This is because from my understanding, Lutherans have by and large been anti-apologetics.  When I was first introduced to Christian apologetics, I was told that Lutherans don’t do apologetics.  Dr. Rod Rosenbladt taught Christian Apologetics at Concordia University Irvine and he was the professor who introduced me to Christian apologetics.  He expressed that Lutherans don’t do apologetics.  He stated that Concordia Seminary in St. Louis didn’t even have an apologetics course, and that Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne might offer one course in apologetics as an elective.  He also seemed to bemoan the fact that Concordia University Irvine only had one apologetics course.  Being a Lutheran who taught apologetics for almost a decade and putting a lot of my work in that theological field of study online through blog posts and Youtube videos, I have received a good bit of feedback to support Rosendladt’s claims – “It’s good to see a Lutheran doing apologetics.”  Most of the people I encountered in the rather large apologetics community in Southern California were usually a little perplexed that I was a Lutheran; I didn’t fit into their typical theological paradigms.  People were typically Calvinists or Arminian in such circles, not Lutherans.  One person, a Calvinist who has settled into a LC-MS congregation, sent me a message once stating that I was “the only LCMS guy putting out on a regular basis apologetics in a brand name.”[13]

During my first week of Greek class after becoming a student at Concordia Seminary, I received an email from a LC-MS pastor who greatly supports and engages in apologetics who was disappointed that I was at the seminary.  He was hoping I wasn’t already here so he could dissuade me from pursuing ordination, so that I could keep teaching at Crean.  Once I replied and he found out that I was already at the seminary, he sent me some wonderful and encouraging advice.  The last piece of advice however was a warning: “Oh, and beware of the anti-apologists… they can be well-meaning but will think you are in favor of “decision theology”[14] or are “reformed”[15] (the go-to bogeyman for Lutherans).”

Soon after this email, I learned of an entirely different reason why some Lutherans are not in favor of apologetics.  I have sense heard that a type of apologetics that defends the historical reliability of the New Testament Scriptures to make a case for the historicity of the resurrection is putting trust in historical methods, or trust in evidence, and not putting trust in Jesus.  Essentially, I was told that it could lead people to idolatry.  That it was putting faith in the arguments and not in Jesus.  I even understood it to be said that in such apologetics it is even turning the Bible into an idol.

In the face of the many objections that will be raised against the Gospel and the truthfulness of the Bible, this Lutheran said that he would simply say, “I can’t prove anything to you, I can just tell you that I believe these promises to be true.”  Needless to say I was beside myself and nothing I said seemed to be convincing to this individual.

I have also recently heard a big swipe at the work of Josh McDowell and his book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, which has been recently updated with the help of Josh’s son, Sean, to The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict.  The critique was: “What does the title, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, tell you?  It says, “If you disagree, you’re stupid.’”  It was said in the context of McDowell’s approach of making a case for the truthfulness of Christianity and the title of his book as being such that keeps people from even hearing or considering Christianity because it places people in a position of being stupid if they don’t agree with McDowell.  I have a completely different take on that title.  It’s simply saying that the evidence demands that a person pay attention to it and give a response.  The evidence demands an audience, a listener.  There is so much evidence, it shouldn’t be ignored or unheard, and even in “decision theology” circles such evidence proceeds from the Gospel proclamation and points back to that proclamation.  The book is in fact simply debate notes that were compiled and source-cited for the purpose of giving Christians a tool to use in conversations and potential debate settings or research papers they might find themselves writing in academic settings.  The book is written first and foremost for the Christian who already believes the Gospel to have evidence to support their Gospel proclamations when they are asked to do such.

Prophetic Discernment

Since this paper is being written for a Lutheran professor at Concordia Seminary with primarily a Lutheran audience in mind for future readings, I won’t spend time here addressing the very real possibility of a believer falling from the faith as taught in Scripture, since our confessions already state that Scripture teaches against the Calvinist doctrine of “Preservation of the Saints.”  For the purpose of addressing why many young adults are leaving the Church, it’d be helpful to glean from Scripture the reasons people do fall from the faith or give up meeting with one another in church services. However, since I have chosen to pursue an action plan of integrating apologetics into my future congregational instructions based on the sagely wisdom I have gleaned and the priestly listening I have done, and I would recommend pastors across the LC-MS to do this too across all of our congregations, I think it is best to focus my prophetic discernment on the Bible’s depiction of Christianity as a reasonable and evidential faith and its exhortations for believers to defend the truthfulness of the Christian faith against the lies of the evil one.

Christians are Called to Examine Their Faith Critically and to be Fully Convinced of it in Their Minds

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21
Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good…

1 John 4:1
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Romans 14:5
Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.

2 Timothy 3:14
You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them…[17]

Jesus Valued Evidence and Pointed his Disciples and his Audiences and Hearers to Evidence to Support his Claims about Himself

John 14:11
Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

Acts 1:2-3
…until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.[18]

From the Gospel biographies more details are given as to what Jesus did in the appearances mentioned in the opening chapter of Acts to serve as convincing proofs.  I’ll provide some details on just a few of these appearances. In Luke 24, Jesus appears to The Eleven and other disciples. His appearance scares them. They think they are seeing a ghost, but Jesus encourages them to look at his hands and feet, and to touch him; ghosts don’t have flesh and bones, he explains. (Evidence!) He eats fish in their presence and they are amazed. (Evidence!)  In John 20, we are told that Jesus appeared to ten of The Eleven and that he showed them his hands and his feet and that he spoke with them.  (Evidence!)  Thomas was the missing disciple and he couldn’t believe that the others saw Jesus back from the dead.  Later in that chapter, Jesus appears to all of them.  This time Jesus personally invites Thomas to touch his wounds, providing him with the evidence he needed to believe.

The Apostles Pointed to Evidence to Affirm and Defend their Gospel Proclamations

On the day the Church was formed from Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, we see Peter making an apologetic argument for Jesus being the Christ.  First, Peter makes the defense by pointing to Jesus’ miracles and reminds his hearers that they know of these wondrous signs personally, because he did them in their midst. (Acts 2:22) He then quotes Psalm 16 (Acts 2:25-28) and explains how this is prophesy from David concerning the resurrection of the Messiah.  (Acts 2:29-31) Peter then states that God raised Jesus from the dead and that they (the disciples speaking in tongues – a miraculous evidence in and of itself) were witnesses of the resurrected Jesus. (Acts 2:32) Peter concludes these evidences (these defenses) with the only proper conclusion: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 is an apologetic speech.  He’s in court on trial for speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God (Acts 6:11).  The Jews had set up false witnesses against him.  The Biblical story that Stephen gives in Acts 7 is his defense (his apologia, literally he’s in court) against the false witnesses.  His Biblical story details how God’s chosen people have always rejected the prophets.  His conclusion is that “It’s not me, but you who have rejected the prophets and now the Christ.”  (Acts 7:51-53)

Acts 17 demonstrates that Paul’s approach to witnessing to Jews who accepted the Scriptures to be from God and to pagans who did not.  With the Jews, Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (Acts 17:2-3).  To the pagan audience Paul speaks to in the Areopagus, Paul says that God “has given assurance to all by raising him [Jesus] from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

When Paul reminded the Corinthians of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 he cites what is commonly considered to be an early Church creed.  It is considered a creed because Paul states that it is what he first received and what he passed on to them.  The language Paul uses indicates that what he shared was a formula that he too had received (probably as a new Christian himself) and as such he used it to teach the Corinthians the faith too.  This creed goes as follows:

That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15:3-7)

In this creed, the central Gospel is proclaimed and it is supported (defended) by the prophesy of Scripture and the testimony of the apostles and others who actually saw Jesus alive after being dead.  Paul states that at one time five hundred people saw Jesus after his resurrection.  He points out that many of them are still alive, which is essentially an invitation by Paul to the Corinthians to search them out if they are not convinced.

The Apostles Pointed to their Eyewitness Testimonies as the Reason to Trust their Message with Certainty

What we find within the text of the New Testament are the authors’ claims that they were eyewitnesses of Jesus or that their writings are based on eyewitness testimony.  With these claims they argue that they are writing so that others might believe or that their readers can trust their testimony to be true. The following are some verses that illustrate this internal evidence:

John concludes his gospel by saying, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:24–25).

John also claims to be an eyewitness at the start of one of his first epistles, saying, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

Peter echoes John’s words, claiming that the apostles’ accounts are not fabricated tales: “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

Luke provides no eyewitness claim for himself but assures his reader that he is relaying testimony that he received directly from eyewitnesses: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1–4).

Scripture Exhorts Christians to Make a Defense for the Truth of Christ and the Hope that we Have

1 Peter 3:15 states, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

The word defense in this verse is the Greek word apologia.  It is from this Greek word that the word apologetics is derived.  This word refers to a reasoned, logical defense of one’s position.  The defense for the hope that is in us can be as simple as speaking the Gospel.  If someone sees that I have hope which other men do not have, the answer is the hope that I have come from the hope that I have in Christ.  But, what if a more pointed reason is requested for why I trust this Gospel message to be true, or what if an attack against that message is given, does this verse support giving a defense for the Gospel in these circumstances too?  I’d argue that it does, but for those who would like to interpret this verse as simply speaking the Gospel as the defense for the hope that Christians have, I’d point them to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”  To destroy arguments and opinions raised against the knowledge of God, one does not simply say, “I can’t prove anything to you, I can just tell you that I believe these promises to be true,” as the one professor said he’d do if asked why Christianity is true.  We are called to reason with non-Christians as Paul did.  Being far removed in time from the eyewitnesses of the first century, we still appeal to their testimonies, but now we have to defend the reliability of their testimonies’ transmission to us and the validity of their claims to be eyewitnesses and even their authorship of their Biblical books.  When Christians are taught how to do this and trained how to do this, they’re excited and eager to share their faith with others, having been equipped to do such, as the feedback from my students indicated.

A Lutheran Approach to Apologetics to Address the Problem of the Young Adult Exodus from the Church

If Rosenbladt and the pastor who emailed me are correct, then one of the major reasons Lutherans don’t typically teach and practice apologetics is because of a fear of falling into “decision theology.”  I wholeheartedly believe that apologetics can be used within our confessional and doctrinal framework and not fall into “decision theology,” but addressing that issue seems completely irrelevant for the purpose in which I am suggesting incorporating apologetics into congregational life and teaching.  Since the goal with this practical theology case study is to find out how to best keep young adults from leaving the church, the apologetic arguments are being taught and shared with people who are already believers.  The arguments are not being given in such a way to force them into “making a decision for Christ” in conversion.  Post-conversion, having been made alive in Christ Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, we must daily decide to follow Jesus.  We must daily decide to walk in our baptism.  Those are decisions we make in cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives of sanctification.  Falling away from the faith and rejecting Christ after conversion is a very real possibility for all of us when we cut ourselves off from God’s presence through his means of grace.  I opened this section on “prophetic discernment” by stating that I wouldn’t proof-text the possibility of a Christian being de-converted, and I’ll try to refrain from doing that now.

The point that must be addressed is why are the young adults leaving the Church and how the Church can work to help keep them in the fold.  The Body of Christ is a unit made up of many parts.  When one part is suffering, we all are, and the “sagely wisdom” that Gallup has produced indicates that 20 to 30 year olds have been leaving the Church in large numbers for almost a century. As the Body of Christ we must be concerned for these members who are suffering, and if they are not only dropping Church attendance, they are rejecting faith in Christ all together and finding themselves once again as objects of God’s wrath.  The reasons that the “sagely wisdom” segment of this paper have produced to explain the major factors as to why young adults leave the Church are largely pertaining to a grappling of religion and logic and science, as well as unanswered questions, concerns, and doubts about the Christian faith, in particular in light of the religiously pluralistic communities they find themselves.  Good apologetic instruction can help to preemptively alleviate these questions, concerns, and doubts for high school aged students before they reach those years of young adulthood in which they misuse their new found societal freedom to walk away from the Christian faith they were raised.

Again, apologetics refers to a “reasoned defense” of a particular position.  Apologetics is not “offense.”  As a defense, apologetics is primarily first and foremost for the Christian.  Apologetic arguments serve to protect the Christian against deception, lies, and doubts against the Christian faith.  I can think of no reason this approach to apologetics would be against our Lutheran confessions or most importantly the Scriptures.

Servant Leadership

A Plan for Action at my Future Congregation

  1. I’ll teach the high school Sunday school class.

In my high school Sunday school class, our Sunday school teacher didn’t even believe Lutheran theology.  I didn’t know this until I became a student at Concordia University Irvine and I encountered teachings that were contrary to what I had heard in my Sunday school class.  I think an elder, or a Director of Christian Education, or another pastor can teach the adult Sunday school class.  The more impressionable young men and women of the congregation in high school should have the best theologian, or at least the most trained theologian, as the teacher in their class.

I’d teach the theology curriculum from Crean Lutheran High School, repeating the cycle every four years and adapting the curriculum pacing and schedule to the needs, questions, and concerns of the students.  This means that everyone will get the course in World Religions/Christian Apologetics that I taught at some point before high school graduation.

This also puts them in a unique relationship with their pastor.  I’ll be able to know a lot about each and every high school student in the congregation and I should be more knowledgeable about the struggles or temptations they have that can lead to their exodus from the Church if they are not properly addressed.

  1. Incorporate apologetics into the confirmation curriculum of the congregation.

The Director of Christian Education at Faith Lutheran Church in Oak Ridge, TN, had done this and she’d be an excellent resource and aid for me to follow in this endeavor.

  1. Create opportunities to attend high school aged appropriate apologetics conferences.

An annual apologetics conference for high school students is reThink Apologetics Student Conference with the same weekend conference taking place in four locations each year: Orange County, CA, Minneapolis, MN, Dallas, TX, and Birmingham, AL.  The conference is put together by Stand to Reason.

  1. Take weekly evangelism trips to college campuses and bring high school students with me.

I partook in weekly evangelism trips to college campuses in Orange County for seven years.  Taking high school students from my congregation with me to do this will be a great way for them to engage in religious dialog with adherents of other religions or with agnostics/atheists/nones and New Agers before going to study at a university themselves.  Integrating the conversations, I had on campuses into my classroom discussions was one of the reasons I think students trusted me as a person of authority on the subject, because they knew it wasn’t a book knowledge experience, but a knowledge that came from personal experience.

  1. Ensure we have a college aged ministry at the congregation.

4 out of the 5 Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod congregations I have been a member has not had a college aged specific ministry, even though the congregations were near colleges or universities.  The ministry doesn’t have to be a separate age group division within the congregation, but it could be.  If there is a university nearby the church, when I take weekly evangelism trips to the campus, I’ll be sure to let the students from the congregation at that school know when I’ll be there.  They can meet and greet with me for a while and I can pray with them or schedule a Bible study time on campus for them that would take place before or after the evangelism time.  Working through the students on campus that are members of the church, I’d want to start a Christian club on campus.  I’d work with LC-MS U to see what resources are available and if it’d be helpful to start a LC-MS U club.

  1. Connect university students with LC-MS pastors in the area of their school.

Knowing the importance of getting connected into a Christian community soon after a student leaves home and enters into a dorm setting at a university, I can’t simply sit back as their pastor and trust that they’ll go out and find a good church to attend and hopefully be a member.  I will search out what LC-MS congregations are in the area and determine which one would be the best fit for each student as they leave our congregation.  I’ll ensure that the student knows the name of the church, its physical address, as well as its online address (it’s url).  I’ll also reach out to the pastor of that church and give him the students name and contact information.  The church is going to go to the student; I’m not just going to trust that the student will go to the church.  Along these lines, I’d also check to see what Christian clubs are on campus and give advice in joining them.

  1. Ensure that every high school student has an active servant role or opportunity in the congregation and place them into leadership positions as soon as they are ready after high school graduation.

The LC-MS study I cited in the “sagely wisdom” section found that having young leaders in the church, at least by the age of 32, helped retain young adults in the congregation.

Starting in high school, students can be greeters at the door, hand out bulletins, pass the offering plates, serve as trustees, cook the Easter morning breakfasts, help put away chairs and tables after pot lucks, visit the shut-ins in senior assisted living centers, and depending on the congregation I find myself, read the Scriptures during the service.  Serving in these roles will help them connect with members of the congregation at all age levels.

After high school, I’ll know these students pretty well from having been their Sunday school teacher for four years.  I’ll know what they believe, and I’ll know which ones I can trust to be leaders in the congregation and in what role they’d best be able to serve, and I want to give them the opportunity to not only serve, but be servant-leaders in the congregation.

Conclusion

As to the speed of enacting these plans, I’d like to have approval for much of these ideas before I even start my convertible vicarage.  These are all points that I listed on my Personal Growth Assessment as desired ministry expectations.  I’d love to hit the ground running on these ideas, because I honestly think they will have an impact on not only keeping young adults in my congregation (or keeping them in a congregation wherever they go), but that they will also help ensure that they’ll thrive in our congregation and that the Body of Christ will benefit from their presence and good spiritual well-being. If it takes a year or two to work these ministry ideas into my pastoral duties and expectations at the congregation that’s perfectly acceptable to me, because I think these are ideas that people will eventually accept and embrace.

As an ESTP/Eagle with a results-oriented personality type, I perceived the problem and had all the answers in my head before I even began the process of researching to learn what “sagely wisdom” there was on the issue… and the DISC and MIPS results say that I’m almost always right with whatever I perceive to be the problem and the way to solving it.  I knew all of what I’ve written down in my head rather quickly after conducting the research, but it took me hours on end to put what I knew almost instantaneously and could speak on the fly onto paper.  What I find most interesting now at this point, is to see what others think of what I’ve put together. Do they agree with my findings?  Do they agree with my action plan? Would they do something completely different and why?  I’d love to get more feedback on what my “sagely wisdom” and “priestly listening” could mean on the synodical level for the LC-MS in terms of using apologetics in our congregations.  Could one day an apologetics course be taught at Concordia Seminary?

The process of researching the statistics on how many young adults are leaving the Church and why was very beneficial.  Calling and talking with Sara was also helpful.  I’d like to take the time to converse with other peers from my Sunday school class.  I’m curious if they are still in Christ and how they are doing.  I wonder what I can glean from them concerning this Church wide problem.  What I think is most beneficial to me from having gone through this process with this case study is simply having all the “sagely wisdom” research and statistics at hand to share with others.  I think the data I have uncovered will prove useful in convincing others of getting behind my action plan.  I also found it very fun to start from a position of grumblings, ruminations, of this problem of young adults leaving the Church.  I’ve heard it all my life, but I’d never heard the numbers, never seen the studies, never demanded it even.  I’ve seen many people in the congregations I’ve been a part of pursue things to keep the youth in the Church that were far from meeting the needs that needed to be met from the studies I found.  Having these studies saved and readily accessible should help guide such members of my future congregation away from those ideas and into the direction we should be facing.


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[1] Gallup Jr., George, “The Religiousity Cycle”, Published on: Jun4 4, 2002. Accessed at https://news.gallup.com/poll/6124/religiosity-cycle.aspx on April 30, 2019.

[2] Walker, John, “Family Life Council says it’s time to bring family back to life”, Published on: June 12, 2002. Accessed at http://www.sbcannualmeeting.net/sbc02/newsroom/newspage.asp?ID=261 on May 2, 2019.

[3] “Millennials and Their Retention Since Confirmation”, 2017.  Accessed at http://www.youthesource.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Millennials-Congregation-Confirmation-Survey-Report.pdf on May 2, 2019.

[4] Gross, Neil and Simmons Solon, “How Religious are America’s College and University Professors?”, Published on: Feb 06, 2007.  Accessed at http://religion.ssrc.org/reforum/Gross_Simmons.pdf on April 29, 2019.

[5] Pew Research Center, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape”, Published on: May 12, 2015. Accessed at https://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/ on April 29, 2019.

[6] Tobin, Gary and Aryeh K. Weinberg, “Religious Beliefs and Behavior of College Faculty”, 2007.  Accessed at research.policyarchive.org/15879.pdf on April 29, 2019. 

[7] Lipka, Michael, “Why America’s “Nones” Left Religion Behind”, Published on August 24, 2016.  Accessed at https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/08/24/why-americas-nones-left-religion-behind/ on May 2nd, 2019.

[8] Wallace, J. Warner, “Are Young People Really Leaving Christianity?”, Updated on January 12, 2019.  Accessed at https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/are-young-people-really-leaving-christianity/ on May 2, 2019.

[9] Ibd.

[10] “Millennials and Their Retention Since Confirmation”, 2017.  Accessed at http://www.youthesource.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Millennials-Congregation-Confirmation-Survey-Report.pdf on May 2, 2019.

[11] Ibd.

[12] Saad, Lydia, “Sermon Content is What Appeals to Most Churchgoers”, Published on April 14, 2017. Accessed at https://news.gallup.com/poll/208529/sermon-content-appeals-churchgoers.aspx on May 2, 2019.

[13] Brand name referring to my Contradict Movement website with a registered Contradict trademark: https://www.contradictmovement.org.

[14] Arminians

[15] Calvinists, or those who hold to the Five-Points of Calvinism (AKA TULIP)

[16] This is a reference to the historical apologetic argument laid out by the Lutheran, John Warwick Montgomery, in his book History, Law, and Christianity.

[17] Wallace, J. Warner, “The Reasonable, Evidential Nature of the Christian Faith”, Published on February 23, 2018.  Accessed at https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/the-reasonable-evidential-nature-of-christian-faith/ on May 3, 2019.

[18] Ibd.