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Who Cares about Truth? Activity to Help Students Grasp the Importance of Truth

Along with being a professor at Biola, I have been teaching high school students for thirteen years. Below is one of my favorite activities – which could be used by teachers, youth pastors, and even parents – to help students grasp how important truth is for their worldview.

Students Truth

PURPOSE: This activity helps students realize that truth should be the guiding principle for what we believe, and as a result, how we live our lives

SUPPLIES: Whiteboard and pens; or a large sheet of paper for recording answers.

DURATION: 20-30 minutes

INSTRUCTIONS:

1.Begin by asking students the following question, “Why do people believe what they do?” Encourage students to come up with any reasons they can think of for why we hold certain beliefs (not just about God, but about anything).

2.List their responses on a large sheet of paper or whiteboard according to the columns below. Do not label the columns until they have given all their answers.

Sociological Psychological Religious Philosophical
Parents

Friends

Society

Culture

Tradition

Comfort

Peace of Mind

Meaning

Experience

Hope

Identity

Scripture

Pastor

Priest

Guru

Channeler

Church

Consistency

Coherence

Completeness (best explanation)

True

3.Once you have a substantial list of reasons, go through each one and ask, “Is that a good reason to believe something?”

4.If you have sharp students, the discussion might look something like this:

Youth worker “I see that many of you listed sociological factors. For example, many of you mentioned that our beliefs are shaped by our parents. Is that a good enough reason to believe something?”
Students “No, not necessarily. Parents can sometimes be wrong!”
Youth worker Okay, what about cultural factors such as tradition? Do you think people ought to believe something because it has been passed down through tradition?”
Students “No, not necessarily. Traditions are not necessarily wrong, but they are also not necessarily right. Radical Muslims have a tradition of Jihad, but that can’t be right.”
Youth worker “Good. Now some of you mentioned psychological influences such as comfort. Is comfort alone a solid reason to believe something?”
Students “No, we’re not ‘comfortable’ with that. Just because something is comfortable does not make it true. Lies can often be very comfortable!”
Youth worker “So you’re saying that truth is an important reason to believe something because there can be consequences when people are mistaken?”
Students “Yes, that does seem to be the case.”
Youth worker “What about religious reasons? Should we believe something because Scripture tells us it is true? Should we simply follow whatever a pastor tells us?”
Students “No, because how would we know which Scripture is true? Which religious teachings do we follow? All religious leaders can’t be right.”
Youth worker “Good point. So, how do we know which religion we should follow, if any?”
Students “We would need some outside evidence to indicate that the claims are actually true. There needs to be some proof.”
Youth worker “So we seem to agree that something is worth believing if we have reason to believe that it is true.”

COMMENTARY:

One of the challenges we face in a postmodern culture is skepticism about reason as a means of knowing truth. It is not that young people are unable to reason. In reality, students reason everyday! They reason with their parents (for a later curfew), with their teachers (for an extension on their homework), and with themselves (over who to ask to prom). But young people are often reluctant to believe that reason can lead to a genuine understanding of God. Such a misunderstanding must be corrected. While our reasoning ability is deeply influenced by our emotions and background, we are made in the image of God with the capacity to accurately understand His revelation to the world (Rom. 1-2). Reason is one means that God has chosen to make Himself known to people.

God designed us to be truth-seekers in all areas of life, which is why it is so critical to help young people understand why they believe what they believe. Few have given their religious beliefs much thought. Most of their beliefs have been shaped by sociological factors that have very little to do with rational reflection. This does not mean that their beliefs are anti-intellectual or that they are less justifiable, only that they have not been formed by weighing the merits of various options and coming to the conclusion that is most reasonable. Such lack of convictions will not maintain a life-long vibrant faith.

This activity is an important step in helping students to be aware of their lack of conscious reasons for their beliefs. The idea is to help students recognize that they themselves actually operate their lives on whether they think something is true or false (whether they realize it or not). This is critical for young Christians because without some sense of why they believe, they may hold their faith with reservation or abandon their faith completely when challenged. And this is also important for non-believers, so they can clear away misconceptions and consider the credibility of Christianity.

SUPPORTING SCRIPTURE: Hosea 4:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:8-10


How Do I Motivate Students Who Don’t Seem to Care?

One of the most common—and frankly one of the toughest—questions I receive is how to motivate students who are apathetic. How do you make students care? If you are expecting an easy answer, then you might as well click away now. Students are not robots and so we can’t force them to care about anything! But there are a few things I have learned from my experience and research that may help you motivate students who don’t seem to care about spiritual issues:

Students Apologetics Motivation

  1. Build a relationship with students. When students sense that an adult really cares, they are much more likely to listen. When I taught high school full time, I especially focused on building relationships with the students who seemed apathetic. I took time to listen to them, encourage them, and go to various events they found important (school plays, dances, sporting events, etc.). I wanted them to know that I genuinely cared. I knew that was a key ingredient in motivating them to care about spiritual issues. If you want students to care about spiritual things, they need to first know that you care about them.
  2. Take students out of their normal environment. One of the reason camps can be so powerful is that it gets kids out of their everyday routine. Sometimes kids need to be away from their daily lives to consider spiritual truths in a fresh way. It’s amazing how open students’ hearts often are when they just slow down and step outside their normal environment. But it doesn’t just have to be at camp. Some of my best conversations with students have been on car rides to sporting events, at barbeques, on mission trips, and over coffee.
  3. Use pop culture illustrations in your teaching. Students love movies. They love social media. That’s the air they breathe! In my experience, students seem to come alive when I teach biblical truth with examples from pop culture. That’s why I used to teach an entire worldview unit through the lens of film (my favorite text was Hollywood Worldviews by Brian Godawa). To be motivated to care about spiritual things, students need to see the connection between the secular and sacred worlds. Teaching biblical truth through film is one great way to do this.
  4. Challenge students. Many students are unmotivated because church (and by extension God) bores them. Yet, I have found many students respond when they are challenged and provided a practical way to make a difference. You can do this in three ways:
    1. Challenge students to serve: One year I took some students to visit a veteran’s hospital. The hospital requested DVDs, and so we did a DVD drive for the veterans. Once the students saw that they could practically make a difference, many stepped up and served.
    2. Challenge students to have spiritual conversations. Consider taking students on to a college campus, or to visit another religious site, to have spiritual conversations with people of different faiths. Just prep your students carefully, and use these surveys by Brett Kunkle at Stand to Reason to start conversations.
    3. Challenge students to defend their faith. I love to role-play with students. They tend to come alive when I role-play an atheist, Muslim, pro-choicer, or a host of other positions. I force them to think, put them on the defensive, and provide no easy answers. You can also consider bringing in someone of a different faith to engage your students, but just use wisdom if doing so.
  5. Ask questions rather than give simple answers. Jesus asked a lot of questions, even when he knew the answers. Why? He wanted to elicit faith in people. We do a disservice to students when we give simple answers rather than asking deep questions. In fact, when ministering to students, questions are almost always better than answers. I want students to gain a love for wisdom, and to learn how to think, which only comes when we refuse to give simple answers. Asking timely and thoughtful questions can often help elicit spiritual interest in students who are otherwise apathetic.
  6. Have a long-term perspective. Often times youth leaders beat themselves up for “failing” to motivate certain students. But here’s the reality: there may be nothing you can do to motivate certain students whose hearts are not open to spiritual things. I had a student who graduated from my class who went to the local JC. His goal in my class was to get the minimal passing grade (If I remember correctly, he got a C-). And yet the year after graduation he came back to sit in my class and to encourage other students to pay attention. Why? He was challenged in his faith by professors and started taking his beliefs more seriously than ever. I asked him what I could have done differently to motivate him in high school, and I will never forget what he said: “Nothing. I wasn’t ready spiritually. But I did learn more than you probably realized.” Even if a student seems apathetic, you might be surprised how much he or she is actually learning. Don’t give up!

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 


 

How Do We Make Theology Come Alive for Students?

How do we make theology engaging and interesting for students? While I certainly don’t claim to have it all figured out, and am always looking for some creative and new ideas, here are four lessons I have learned from roughly two decades of teaching and speaking to students on theological issues.

students theology

First, use stories. We all love stories. Students do too. As Jonathan Gottschall wrote in his excellent book The Storytelling Animal, “Human minds yield hopelessly to the suction of story. No matter how hard we concentrate, not matter how deep we dig in our heels, we just can’t resist the gravity of alternate worlds.” Jesus told stories for a few reasons. People remember them. We relate to them. And lessons are best learned through stories. Jesus was asked who qualifies as a neighbor, and he told the story of the Good Samaritan. He was asked how many times we should forgive people and he told the story of the Unmerciful Servant. Teach theological doctrines, but whenever possible, tell a story.

Second, use cultural examples. Students today are engrossed with the prevailing culture. The movies they watch, the music they listen to, and the technology they use are all influenced by our wider culture. Sometimes we need to critique culture and other times we need to show how Christ is within culture. But using cultural examples of theology not only makes theology interesting to students, it also helps them make connections from their theology to the “real” world. For instance, recently I was talking with my students about the biblical view of sex. And so I used an example from the movie Passengers, which I wrote about here.

Third, ask good questions. In my experience, good questions are far better than answers. As I wrote in a recent post, my teachers who asked me good questions had a far greater impact on my life than those who simply gave me answers. Isn’t that true for you too? Students today have access to endless information. Simply giving kids theological truths has some value, but far more important is helping kids think theologically. We simply can’t cover every conceivable theological issue in our classrooms, ministries, or conversations. But we can give students a template for how to think theologically. And even if we did cover every issue of today, new issues will inevitably arise. Thus, the most important educational task today is teaching students how to think, how to arrive at truth. And one of the best ways to do this is to ask good questions and guide students through how to discover reasonable answers.

Fourth, connect theology to practical life. According to the National Survey of Youth and Religion [1] students today tend to compartmentalize their spiritual faith. In other words, they tend to believe that science, math and history are matters of objective truth, but spiritual beliefs are merely a matter of preference that helps give their lives meaning. As a result, few students are able (or interested) to translate theology to their practical lives. In other words, few students can show how their beliefs about God practically shape how they live. If we don’t connect theology to how kids actually live, what’s the point? While there are many ways to do this (such as through stories, experiences, and personal examples), one simple step is to always ask, after teaching a theological truth: How should this affect the way we actually live?

Students need to see that believing God created the world should influence how we treat the environment. They need to connect belief in the resurrection to how we handle death. And they need to see how belief we are made in the image of God shapes the way we think about abortion, pornography, bullying, racism, eating disorders and many other issues. Theological teaching is not complete until students connect truth to their daily lives.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


[1] This study is admittedly dated. But my experience and subsequent research confirms that this point is still largely true among today’s youth.

 


How Do We Help Kids Who Have Left the Faith?

Perhaps the toughest question parents ask me is how they can help their wayward kids. The difficulty of this question stems not solely from the intellect, but from seeing the pain in the eyes of parents who are genuinely hurt and disappointed in the choices of their kids. What can we do? Here are some humble thoughts from my work with students:

Pray. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This first step may seem obvious. After all, which Christian parentsdon’t pray for their kids? But remember, while prayer is for our kids, it is also for us. God wants us to pray as an act of trust in Him, and he promises to guard our hearts as a result.

Work on the relationship. It’s no secret that I love apologetics. Yet despite the critical need to train our kids in defending and articulating the faith, there’s often relational and emotional pain at the heart of why kids reject faith. In a massive study of faith transmission between generations, USC professor Vern Bengtson revealed that the primary factor is a “warm relationship” with the father. If this relationship in particular is broken, or other key relationships, faith is far less likely to be passed on from one generation to the next. Rather than first trying to reason your kids back to faith, or force them to go back to church, be sure they know you love them unconditionally. After all, God said to Israel: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer 31:3).

Remember that God’s heart is broken more than yours. It’s hard to think of a more passionate and committed love than the love of a mother. But God loves us and yearns to see our kids come back to faith more than we do. Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). And Peter said, “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” (2 Pet. 3:9). We can pray to God knowing that he yearns to see our kids return to faith too.

Have a long-term view. Many young people who return to the faith often endure a length, arduous journey. And this journey is often filled with pain, regret, and consequences. I have seen this with many of my students and some of my personal friends. While we certainly want their return to be quick, and we want to save our kids from unnecessary pain, many have to learn the hard way. If we have a long-term view, we will tend to be more patient with our kids and count our blessings along the way.

Trust God. Don’t blame yourself. It’s natural to blame yourself for the choices your kids make. As tempting as this is, don’t do it. There’s nothing wrong with reflecting on your mistakes and learning from them. I do it all the time. But don’t dwell on them. All of us make mistakes. The question is whether we will learn from them, accept God’s forgiveness, and trust God regardless. Ultimately, our kids are responsible for their own lives. I have seen kids from crummy families develop a vibrant faith, and I have seen kids from great homes walk away. There are always many factors tied to a young person’s faith development. We can’t take too much credit, nor can we give ourselves too much blame. If your kids have walked away, the most important question is, Am I trusting God through this process and responding in the way He would desire me to. If the answer is “yes,” then whether your kids return to the faith or not, you can rest assured that God is please withyou.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

How Can Students Stand Strong for Their Faith in College?

Students: Are you prepared for the spiritual, relational, and moral challenges that will come after high school? What is your plan to stay strong for your faith in college? It’s heartbreaking to see Christian high school students disengage their faith and the church in college. While the numbers have often been manipulated and overstated, there is certainly a genuine concern about students leaving the faith after high school. If you think it couldn’t happen to you, and that you’re somehow immune, then you probably haven’t seriously considered the challenges that lie ahead.

Problem of Understanding

The purpose of this post is not just to help you survive in college, but to help you thrive in your faith during these formative years. There is no reason so many students need to disengage their faith and the church. If you are a student, then these six points are meant to help you stand strong for your faith in college. If you’re not a student, then please pass them on to a present or future college student that you know:

  1. Determine in your heart that ahead of time that you will stand strong. One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Daniel. Even though he was surrounded by pagan influences in Babylon, and he obviously wanted to fit in and be successful with the king, he refused to compromise his convictions by eating non-kosher food. He had every reason to compromise—money, power, influence, status—but he had already decided that his first loyalty was to God: “But Daniel determined in his heart not to defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). If you want to have a successful faith in college, it begins by going into college already determined that you will follow the Lord.
  1. Find good Christian friends. The Bible has much to say about the power of friendship. For instance, Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” It is certainly important to make friends with non-Christians, but you must surround yourself with some fellow believers who will pray for you, encourage you, hold you accountable, hang out with you, and strategize together about how to reach your campus for Christ.
  1. Find Christian professors. There are good, solid, caring Christian professors at even the most secular schools. They may be hard to track down in some cases, but I guarantee you they are there. It would make sense to begin with professors in your department of study, but if you can’t find any, then branch out. While there may be a few exceptions, I guarantee you that most Christian professors would be thrilled to pray with you, guide you, and possibly even mentor you. Visit them in their office hours and get to know them on a personal level. They’re a resource waiting to be tapped!
  1. Join a Christian group on campus. There are tons of great Christian groups on campus, such as Cru, Navigators, Ratio Christi, and InterVarsity. Many universities also have church groups that meet at or near campus. Find out about these groups online, during an on-campus club fair, or from other students. Here are a few things to do: (1) Contact one of the leaders and introduce yourself, even before you show up on campus, (2) Visit a meeting, and (3) Talk to other students about the group.
  1. Keep in contact with key people from home. While it may be tempting to sever ties when you leave for the “real world,” be sure to stay in touch with key people from home town, such as pastors, youth pastors, teachers, coaches, and other caring adults. I love it when my former high school students drop by to say hi or meet me for coffee. Make it a priority to stay in touch with them from time to time. They know you well and can be an important source of encouragement and strength.
  1. Go to Summit Ministries. Students often ask me what I consider the single most important step they can take to be prepared to thrive in college. My answer is simple: Go to Summit Ministries. In case you’re not familiar with Summit, it’s a 12-day intensive (but fun!) apologetics and worldview experience for students ages 16-22. Conferences are held in Tennessee, Colorado, and southern California. In fact, I personally host the California conference at Biola University (June 19-July 2). Summit brings in the best Christian speakers to help students learn to think Christianly about the toughest issues of our day including politics, the existence of God, economics, theology, the reliability of the Bible and more. I regularly meet students who consider attending Summit a “game-changer.” It’s simply a must for students who want to develop a Christian worldview in order to thrive in college.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, and internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org