Tactics and Tools

Back-to-School Survival Guide

Author Guest Author Published on 07/06/2013

Here are four key points of knowledge kids should know before they leave high school.

By Scott Klusendorf

Tomorrow is back-to-school day for most students, and that means getting our kids ready for classes. I’m not talking about hitting the school supplies section at Office Depot or the clothing sale at Robinson’s-May. I mean preparing them intellectually to persuasively defend their Christian views on unfriendly turf.

Parents, you may want to grab pen and paper, because in a moment I’m going to give you a “Back to School Survival Guide” with four key points of knowledge your kids should know before they leave high school.

What brought this on was a conversation I had recently with a new youth pastor. He knew I had been one ten years ago and he asked a pointed question: “As a former youth pastor, if you had it to do over, what would you do differently?”

I shot back immediately, “Teach kids to think.”

Why the emphatic response? It was not because I had a bad experience as a youth pastor, but because the teaching philosophy so prevalent at the time placed little value on the life of the mind. True, there was a healthy focus on relationships, group building, entertainment, practical tips on dating, self-esteem, etc. But the so-called experts who trained youth pastors in the 1980s, though well-intentioned, said little about training kids to think.

So, here goes. If I had it to do over again, my purpose statement as a youth pastor would be “to build young Christian thinkers for a public defense of the faith.” I would concentrate my teaching on four key areas:

  • The relationship between philosophy and Christian faith
  • The relationship between science and Christian faith
  • The relationship between bio-ethics and Christian faith
  • The relationship between history and Christian faith

I’m not going to cover these four areas exhaustively today, but I will give a couple of points from each that are essential. Many of you will no doubt think of other things I have left out, and in a moment you can give me your take on what’s missing and how our churches can do more to prepare our kids. I’ll also suggest a couple of resources for each of the four areas.

The relationship between philosophy and Christian faith

We need to do two things here: provide our kids with basic thinking tools and use those tools to refute the prevailing philosophy of our day: relativism.

We must provide our kids with the tools of thought needed to recognize basic fallacies. Here are two examples.

Fallacy #1: Begging the question. In other words, assuming what you are trying to prove.

Abortionist Henry Morgantaler of Canada has said, “Abortion is good because it prevents the birth of would-be criminals.” In other words, children raised in minority homes where they are largely unwanted grow up to commit crimes. Since a high percentage of abortions are performed on minority women, maybe abortion is good for society. It cuts downs the crime rate.

Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. But it’s irrelevant as a moral consideration. The only question that matters morally is, What is the unborn? If the unborn are human, then killing them to prevent crime cannot be justified. The only way Morgantaler’s argument works is if you begin with the assumption that the unborn are not human—which is the very point abortion advocates want to prove. Imagine me saying, Let’s kill toddlers to prevent them from committing crimes when they get older. No one would argue this way because we know toddlers are human. Hence, only by assuming that the unborn are not human persons can we justify killing as a social good.

The point to underscore with our kids is this: Instead of proving their case with facts and arguments, abortion advocates like Henry Morgantaler simply assume it’s truth within the course of their rhetoric. We must teach our kids not to let them get away with these assumptions.

Fallacy #2: Attack the person rather than the argument (ad hominem fallacy). Christians are attacked this way all the time:

Roseanne Barr said on her T.V. talk show, “You know who else I can’t stand is them people who are anti-abortion. I hate ’em. They are ugly, old, geeky, hideous men. They just don’t want nobody to have an abortion ’cuz they want you to keep spitting out kids so they can molest them.”

What if she’s right? Would this in any way refute the pro-life claim that the unborn are human persons? Clearly, it does not. The attack, therefore, is not only distasteful, it’s totally irrelevant to the argument the pro-lifer is making.

We also need to help our kids refute relativism (i.e. the idea that what’s right and what’s wrong is up to us). There are three key reasons why relativism fails (there are many more).

Relativism is self-refuting; it can’t live with it’s own rules. When a relativist says, “Don’t force your morality on me,” simply ask, “Why not?” Any reply he gives is an example of him forcing a view on you.

Relativism cannot say that anything is wrong or evil, including intolerance. If morals are relative, why be tolerant? In other words, who are you to say I should be tolerant? Perhaps tolerance is a virtue for you but not for me. Why are you forcing it on me?

The fact is that if morals are relative, there is no difference between Mother Theresa’s morality and Adolph Hitler’s morality. Hitler wasn’t evil; he just had preferences different from our own.

Those of you that listen to this show may remember an example provided by Greg Koukl. He was talking to an aid in a chiropractor’s office to find out what she thought about morality. Greg asked, “Is it wrong to torture babies for fun?” She thought a moment and said, “Well, I wouldn’t want to do that to my baby.” Greg persisted: “That’s not what I asked you. I didn’t ask if you liked torturing babies for fun; I asked if it is wrong to torture babies for fun?” She was caught and she knew it. She quickly changed the subject.

Finally, it is impossible to live as a moral relativist. As C.S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, a man who claims that morality is relative will complain if you break a promise or cut in line. To borrow an example from Dr. Moreland, the next time someone says morality is relative, steal his or her stereo. You can bet your last dollar they will protest. “You can’t do that!”

Oh, really? Why not?

(Resources: Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl.)

The relationship between science and the Christian faith

Two essential tasks here. First, we must define our terms and, second, we must defeat evolutionary thinking by arguing for intelligent design (rather than the age of the earth).

First, we need to define our terms: What do we mean by “science” and “faith?”

Robert Tracinski wrote in the Daily News, August 29, 1999, The Christian view of creation rests on “blind faith,” with absolutely no evidence.

Actually, it doesn’t. Christian faith, properly understood, is not a leap in the dark, but is based on evidence. St. Paul (1 Cor. 15) is clear: If Christ did not physically and historically rise from the dead, we are dead in our sins, our faith is in vain, and we, among all men, are to be pitied.

Christian opposition to the general theory of evolution, for example, is not based on blind faith, but evidence. We think evidence gathered from observing the universe points to an intelligent designer. To refute our claim, you must present evidence that we are wrong. It does no good to accuse us of “blind faith.”

By science, do you mean an objective look at the evidence or a refusal to look at the evidence because of your world view?

James Watson, Nobel prize winner, has said, “Evolution itself is accepted by zoologists, not because it has been observed to occur or can be proved by logical, coherent evidence, but because the only alternative is special creation, and that is clearly incredible.”

George Wald of Harvard University and a Nobel Prize winner said, “One need only to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet here we are as a result, I believe, of spontaneous generation.”

Next, we must be able to defend intelligent design rather than dispute the age of the earth.

In order for the general theory of evolution to be fact, you must prove two things.

First, you must prove abiogenesis, i.e. that life developed spontaneously from non-life. Try this. Ask an evolutionist to please explain how that happened. The answer? “Nobody knows.”

Greg Koukl asks a great question: “If you don’t know how it happened, how do you know that it happened?”

Evolutionist Richard Dawkins, author of The Blind Watchmaker, has written, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed.”

Question: If living things look designed, as Dawkins concedes, then how do you know they weren’t designed?

To sum up, evolution is called fact, but you can’t have the fact of evolution unless you have the fact of abiogenesis.

You must prove that life forms change from simple to complex over time, providing some proof of transitional forms from the fossil record. The evidence does not support this. The fossil record does not contain the transitional forms needed to prove Darwin’s theory.

Again, the important thing to note is this. When Christians argue for intelligent design, they point to the evidence. Perhaps we are mistaken, but we are not appealing to blind faith. If we are wrong, go ahead and prove it. But you must do it with facts and arguments. Casually dismissing our evidence because of your world view will not do.

(Resources: STR web site www.str.org—You can download free commentaries on evolution. Also, you can order Phillip Johnson’s excellent book Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds.

The relationship between bio-ethics and Christian faith

Simplify the debate. Show there is only one question to resolve, What is the unborn?

The answer to that question trumps all other considerations. It is key to answering virtually every objection to the pro-life view. Here are two examples.

  1. “Abortion is a private matter between a woman and her God.” I agree, privacy is important. But do we allow parents to abuse their children as long as they do so in the privacy of their own home? Clearly, privacy isn’t the issue, but “What is the unborn?” If the unborn is a human person, it deserves the same protection other children do.
  2. “Many poor women cannot afford another child.” Perhaps so, but when human beings get expensive, may we kill them? What would we think of a mother who killed a toddler who was taxing the family budget? “That’s different,” you say, “The unborn aren’t human like those toddlers.” But all you’ve done is prove my point: the relevant issue isn’t economic hardship, but what is the unborn?

Demonstrate that there is no relevant difference between a child in the womb and one that is already born. True, there are differences, but are those differences morally relevant? That is to say, are they significant in the way abortion advocates need them to be?

The unborn differs from the newborn in four ways, none of which are relevant to its status as a human being. Those four ways are size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency. The acronym SLED is a helpful reminder of those differences.

  • Size: The unborn are smaller then newborns, but since when has size had anything to do with the rights that people have? Men are generally larger than women, does that mean they deserve more rights? Is Shaquille O’Neal more of a person than feminist Gloria Steinem simply because he is larger? Clearly size isn’t the issue.
  • Level of development: True, the unborn are less developed than newborns, but this too is morally irrelevant. A newborn, for that matter, is less developed than a toddler. A toddler is less developed than an adolescent. An adolescent is less developed than an adult. But we speak of all as equally human. Is a child of four, for example, less of a person because she has not yet developed sexually? It follows, then, that the ability to perform human functions is not a necessary condition for human personhood. Rather, a person is one with the natural, inherent capacity to give rise to personal acts—even if she lacks the current ability to perform those acts. People who are unconscious do not have the present capacity to perform personal acts. We don’t kill them because of it, nor should we kill the unborn.
  • Environment: True, the unborn is located in a different place, but how does a change in location suddenly change a non-human entity into a human one? Did you stop being human when you walked from your house to the car? From the kitchen to the den? Clearly, where one is has no bearing on who one is. A child in the incubator of her mother’s womb is no less a child then the one being sustained by neonatal technology. Ladies and gentlemen, you don’t stop being human simply because you have a different address.
  • Degree of dependency: If viability is what makes one human, then all those dependent on kidney machines, heart pace-makers, and insulin would have to be declared non-persons. There is no ethical difference between an unborn child who is plugged into and dependent upon its mother and a kidney patient who is plugged into and dependent upon a kidney machine. Siamese twins do not forfeit their right to live simply because they depend on each others circulatory systems.

We can see, then, that the unborn child differs from a newborn one in only four ways—size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency—and none of those differences are good reasons for disqualifying it as fully human.

Resources: Precious Unborn Human Persons (Koukl)

The relationship between history and the Christian faith

Christianity stands or falls based on the historical reality of Christ and the resurrection (1 Cor. 15). The Jesus Seminar alleges that Jesus did not do what the New Testament writers said he did. The eyewitness accounts, members say, are not reliable. Why? Because over time, Christ’s followers reconstructed what He said and did.

First, there is no evidence that the New Testament writers made things up. Rather, it is merely assumed that because the Gospel accounts contain supernatural elements, they must be false. But this is to rule out the evidence a priori. Instead of looking at the evidence for the supernatural deeds of Christ, we simply say it couldn’t have happened because of our naturalistic world view will not allow it.

Another term for this is scientism, the belief that only science can tell us what’s true. But this is clearly self-refuting. To say that science is the only truth is to make a philosophic claim, not a scientific one. Try proving scientifically that science is the only truth.

Besides, we know lots of things to be true that cannot be proven scientifically. For example, we know that it is wrong to torture toddlers for fun. Can you prove that scientifically? It’s a category mistake to say you can (or should).

The fact that Jesus’ closest followers wrote the New Testament documents does not mean they freely made things up about him. Again, if you believe that they did, you must show evidence for that claim, not merely assume its truth.

Craig Blomberg makes an excellent point. Jewish scholars are the foremost authorities on Hitler’s Holocaust against the Jews. It is Jewish researchers, after all, who have created museums and gathered eyewitness testimony. They clearly have an ideological purpose, but they have also been most faithful and objective in reporting the facts. Only anti-Semite racists question their scholarship.

Why should the New Testament writers be treated any differently? Is it fair to assume that just because they were followers of Christ, they made things up? If the Jesus Seminar members have proof for their claims, fine. Let them come forward with the evidence. But there is no good reason for our kids to accept their claims on blind faith. We can do better than that.

Resource: The Case for Christ (Lee Strobel)

To conclude my thoughts, ladies and gentlemen, we must prepare our kids for school intellectually as well as materially. That means we must help them understand four key relationships (or, if you will, areas of thought) pertaining to their Christian faith:

  • The relationship between philosophy and faith
  • The relationship between science and faith
  • The relationship between bio-ethics and faith
  • The relationship between history and faith

What is your church youth pastor doing to educated students on these four areas? How about your pastor? What about you parents? We as guardians of the young must certainly do more than prepare them intellectually, but we must never do less.