Reimagining Apologetics in the Classroom

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Young Christians are leaving the faith in record numbers. This trend, coincidentally, comes at the same time in which enrollment in Christian elementary, middle, and high schools is skyrocketing.[1] Needless to say, Christian schools have an incredible opportunity to model effective apologetics in the classroom. I say “effective” apologetics because a new generation of young people simply aren’t interested in most traditional, logical proofs of Christianity. So what can Christian educators do?

The issue at hand is something I can directly attest to as a middle and high school Bible teacher. When I lecture on traditional theistic arguments for God’s existence, I’m met with blank stares and uninterested yawns. What’s particularly interesting is that even the Christians in the room simply don’t seem to care. The general perception, mistaken as it may be, is that old Christian proofs are for older Christian generations and are therefore not particularly relevant today. In light of this reality, Christian educators, like myself, are faced with the necessity to adapt apologetic approaches in the classroom.

Prominent thinkers such as Gavin Ortlund and Justin Brierly have recently written on this very issue of a new generation being dissatisfied with traditional apologetics.[2] However, what remains largely unaddressed is what role Christian educators can play in this goal of reimagining apologetics. Based on my experience in the classroom, I would commend these two practical ways that teachers can participate in reimagining apologetics in their classrooms.

1. Facilitate effective classroom discussions on controversial religious and social issues by sharing your opinion and not shying away from doubters.

Multiple times a week during my Bible classes, we have open discussion periods. These discussions started out slow but have steadily grown in terms of student engagement. I choose a controversial social or apologetics topic related to Christianity and then open up the floor for discussion. Throughout the discourse, various opinions are often shared and respectful debates regularly arise as well.

Choosing controversial topics pays off, by the way. Today’s students don’t particularly care about non-controversial topics, and it just so happens that defending Christianity in today’s polarized climate is a rather controversial topic. Whether abortion or the LGBTQ+ movement, these issues pique the interest of young Christians and non-Christians alike.

What also piques their interest, somewhat surprisingly to me, is what I have to say about the controversial topic at hand. But on second thought, is it really that surprising? Younger generations are clearly visual learners. They want to see thoughts and ideas in action–Christianity among them. I’ve found that my students don’t care so much about what “Christianity” has to say on an issue (though they should); instead, they care more about what specific Christian individuals have to say about an issue. They want to see if Christianity is actually a viable worldview option on the table.[3] They want a space to be open about their doubts. They want to see Christianity in action, and Christian educators have a unique opportunity to be that very example of a Christian in action. In this respect, the educator is a living apologetic.

If teachers can properly facilitate discussions on sensitive topics and avoid unnecessary division in their classrooms, that itself serves as a powerful apologetic for Christianity.

2. Don’t push your specific opinion–on a controversial topic–on your students unless it impacts the integrity of orthodox Christianity.

I’ve found this guideline to be essential when facilitating a discussion on controversial issues. As a teacher, facilitating a beneficial discussion simply won’t occur if you’re unnecessarily insistent on a specific view. In fact, if you are overly insistent, then you will stifle discussion and shut down any chance you have to be an effective apologetic witness in your classroom. You’ll also risk coming off as irrationally close-minded.

Now, obviously there are some topics that cannot be negotiated. I’m thinking of topics like the Trinity, incarnation, salvation through faith, scriptural inerrancy, and the atoning work of Christ. In addition, the historicity of the Gospel accounts and the Resurrection of Jesus obviously fall into this category.

Other apologetic related topics, such as the length of the creation days in Genesis chapter 1, for example, could be more open to discussion and need not cause unnecessary division.[4] Don’t get me wrong, if you happen to have strong convictions on secondary doctrines – as most Christians do – you should feel free to share them. But avoid insisting that your class acquiesce to your view of secondary Christian topics.

This same logic applies to controversial social topics as well. Some of these issues, like BLM or the election, need to be soundly addressed through Scripture with your class and the clear biblical teaching must be defended by the teacher in question. But must the teacher force their students to swear allegiance to a particular political party? Of course not–even if the teacher in question (myself included) has strong political leanings. Your living apologetic can suffer mightily if you force your opinion on your students unnecessarily.

If teachers can properly facilitate discussions on sensitive topics and avoid unnecessary division in their classrooms, that itself serves as a powerful apologetic for Christianity. Christian educators are on the front lines of the culture at large and therefore serve a vital role in how a new generation of young people perceive the state of Christianity. Jacob Shatzer, associate dean at Union University, helpfully notes that “the first activity that the church does in bearing witness to the gospel as the body of Christ is evangelism.”[5] In our postmodern culture, effective evangelism requires a new approach to apologetics–one that prompts questions, displays authenticity, and encourages wonder. Christian educators, it’s time for all of us to join God in His mission, and incorporating a new style of apologetics in your classroom is a great place to start.

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[1] https://readlion.com/huge-leap-of-faith-christian-schools-see-record-jump-in-enrollment-with-more-students-on-the-way/

[2] See Gavin Ortlund, Why God Makes Sense in a World That Doesn’t: The Beauty of Christian Theism (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2021); Justin Brierly, The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God: Why New Atheism Grew Old And Secular Thinkers Are Considering Christianity Again (Tyndale: Carol Stream, 2023).

[3] Joshua D. Chatraw and Mark D. Allen, The Augustine Way: Retrieving A Vision For the Church’s Apologetic Witness (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2023), 23.

[4] Gavin Ortlund, Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage (Crossway: Wheaton, 2020), 137-143.

[5] Jacob Shatzer, Faithful Learning: A Vision for Theologically Integrated Education (B&H Academic: Brentwood, 2023), 141.

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  • culture
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Eli Kunkel

Eli Kunkel

Eli Kunkel (BS, College of Education, North Carolina State University) is currently pursuing MA degrees in both Christian Education and Christian Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition, he teaches middle & high school courses in Apologetics, Cultural Engagement, and Competing Worldviews at Bethesda Christian Academy, in Durham, NC.

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