Tim Barnett explains how we can inoculate our youth by exposing them to challenges and supplying them with answers.
We test our youth. We require more from them. Third, we arm them with the truth and teach them to defend it. This is the equipping part. This is the apologetics part. Arm them with the truth, and teach them to defend it.
I think we need to stop isolating our kids. Remember that youth pastor that grabbed his kids and kind of headed for the door? I understand why he did it. It’s right-hearted, but it’s wrong-headed because what we end up doing is we guard students from all the cultural ideas that are out there, and then, when they go off to college or they’re just on YouTube or TikTok and they’re seeing these ideas—because you can’t isolate them forever—when they do get that challenge, they’re usually overwhelmed by it. I don’t want my kids to hear a challenge out there that they haven’t heard in my church or in my home first that we’ve dealt with.
So, we don’t just isolate. What we want to do is inoculate. This is a different kind of idea. We’re now going to expose our students to those ideas so that when they are confronted with them, when they’re on social media or out in the world, they’re able to defend against them. That’s the difference, I think. That idea is more what the Bible has in mind—what Jesus has in mind when he says we’re to be in the world but not of the world.
If you want to be an inoculator, you need to do these three things. First, treat students prior to exposure. This is the idea that the training comes first. It does no good to start training once they’re gone. So, we’re going to do that first, prior to exposure. We’re going to fully expose them to the challenges that are out there. I used to be a teacher, and I was actually in the Christian school system, and I got to guest teach at some other schools, and I would talk to some of the biology teachers about what they teach about evolution, and some teachers were, like, “Oh, you know what? We have so much to teach in this grade about biology. We just don’t get to the evolution stuff.” I get it. I know why they’re doing that. She’s thinking, “I don’t believe in evolution, so I’m not going to teach it to them.” But that’s the wrong approach because say that kid in the biology high school class goes to university, and now they’re learning biology from the university professor. They’re going to get the university professor’s evidence for evolution, and they’re going to have no way to guard against it.
We want to make sure our youth understand all the ideas that are out there, and some of those are represented in books like Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman. Bart Ehrman is responsible, I think, for more people walking away from the church than probably anyone else. He’s written a number of best-selling books. He’s a New Testament scholar who’s also an atheist, and he’s written so many books that try to undermine the trustworthiness and authority of Scripture. So, we need our students to understand these challenges and how to respond to them.
That’s the next point. We always have a supply of inoculation on hand so that we can respond. What does that look like? Knowing who the Christian philosophers and teachers are. Who are the smart guys on our side that have responded to these things? There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to challenges and objections. Even though it may show up in a new best-selling book, typically these things have been addressed, usually hundreds of years ago. So, you should know who the smart guys are on our side who can respond. Of course, there’s tons of resources out there. You don’t have to have all the answers, but you should know some of the guys who have them.
Then, of course, this is why we do the Reality Student Apologetics Conference. This year, we called it “Seek and You Will Find.” It was all about deconstruction—the number of people leaving the church and calling it deconstruction.
So, we’re going to TRAIN our students. We have T—we’re going to test our students. Why? To expose their weaknesses and motivate them. We’re going to R—require more from our students. Set the bar higher. We’re going to A—arm them with the truth, teach them to defend it. That means we’re going to have to do a little bit of work on our end. You don’t have to know everything. I don’t claim to know everything, but I want to know some of the guys who know a whole lot and go to them when I need to.