What key questions should we be thinking about as apologists? When I spoke to high school students at a Christian camp last year, I pointed them to the five questions they most need to think through and solidify in their own minds before they go out into the world.
1. Does God exist?
This is the most fundamental question of all, and every major divide I can think of in our culture can be traced back to this question. Was everything created, or is it all an accident? Should we acknowledge a created human nature, or do we create our own identities? Do our bodies have a purpose to which we ought to conform ourselves? Are human beings valuable because of who we are, or because of what we do? Is there an objective standard of morality outside of us, or do we (whether as individuals or as a society) create our own rules according to our preferences? The opposing answers to this first question logically lead to radically different worldviews, political positions, and lifestyles.
2. Is God good?
The divide between Christians and atheists over the moral nature of the biblical God is more intractable than the divide over whether or not He exists. This is the type of objection I most often hear against Christianity. If you’re not clear on what the Bible truly says about things like the destruction of the Canaanites, slavery, Hell, the commands to praise God, etc., you will be shaken when presented with verses plucked from the context of their passages, the culture of ancient Israel, the place of the Old Testament Law today, and the overall story of redemption. Part of what you need to do in order to respond to this type of objection is to work on getting a big-picture understanding of the Bible as a whole.
3. Is the Bible trustworthy?
The Bible is the foundation of all of our theological understanding. If you’re not confident in its authority—that what was written was the inspired words of God, and that we currently have what was originally written—then you’ll be swayed not only by those outside the church, but also by those inside the church who are feeling pressure to get on the good side of culture by adjusting their doctrine. You won’t saturate yourself with the Bible if you don’t think it’s God’s word; you won’t deepen and grow as a Christian without submitting your theology and worldview to the Bible; and you won’t stand on the Bible if you’re not convinced it’s trustworthy.
4. Did Jesus rise from the dead?
The central event of Christianity (indeed, of all of history) is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Nothing is more central to everything we think and do as Christians. “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:12–19).
5. What is the Gospel?
Don’t assume you (or the people around you) know the answer to this question. You don’t—at least, not fully. I know I don’t. The Gospel should shape everything about who we are. We can never think too much about the Gospel—what it means, what it reveals about Jesus, the hope it gives. The more we focus on seeing God more clearly through the Gospel, the more we’re changed into Gospel-shaped people who love God and serve others. But the tragic truth, according to researcher Christian Smith, is that many teenagers (and, I suspect, adults and churches) don’t really know the Gospel. Maybe they know the words, “Jesus died for my sins,” but they haven’t connected the words with their worldview. Instead, they believe in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which includes such tenets as, “Good people go to heaven when they die,” and, “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” This is not the Gospel.
I recommend you strengthen your understanding of—and your ability to communicate—the answers to these five questions.