I am a firm believer that discipleship of the next generations will flourish when parents and families are central. In Part 1 of this series, I made the case for why family worship is important and how to go about it. As parents go on with nurturing the faith of their “little church” aka families, they will encounter questions about the faith. The reason this is crucial is that our children do not grow up in an isolated bubble. Rather, they are heavily influenced by the culture and society that they are a part of. So are you. Thus, it is always helpful for the Christian to be a student of the Word and a student of the culture.
Among many of the studies that have looked at the faith of young people, one of the areas is why young people leave the church. From one such 2017 study by LifeWay, several reasons were offered as in the pictorial above. However, much more could be asked such as:
1) how big and representative was the sample size;
2) what is the definition of “Christian”? This is because some who say they are Christian may say so because of their family description, baptism or other religious fact or tradition and not because of conversion (John 1:12-14);
3) what does dropping out mean? Many of these studies show that young people do not “dropout” but may simply change their denominational affiliation.
The statistics above clearly need further analysis. Rather than painting a bleak picture, they should help us to consider how we parent. From the data, it is clear that Parents must pass down their faith clearly, consistently, genuinely and practically. The underlying issue is that the church and home have not equipped young people to answer the tough questions about faith – such that once they make the transitions to college or to another city because of school or work, Christianity is not something they value as distinctly their own. In Africa especially, asking questions is sometimes viewed negatively – as an assault against authority. There is a sense in which that may be true, but in several cases, young people are trying to make sense of biblical truths that seem to be antagonistic to what popular culture is throwing at them.
Young people are trying to make sense of biblical truths that seem to be antagonistic to what popular culture is throwing at them.
Thus, one of the convictions we must hold is that biblical revelation will be countercultural and we are called to be able to defend it in an increasingly hostile culture.
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect1 Peter 3:15
The Christian calling is not just blind-belief but it is to know why we believe what we believe and being able to communicate that to others, beginning with those closest to us – our family members. Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 talks about the who: Peter is writing here to Christian believers, that is, “those who have set apart Christ as Lord in their hearts” and calls them to always be ready. Peter shares about the what: the Word calls Christians to share “the hope that is in you”, that is rooted in the gospel message (1 Peter 1:2-12). Peter also shares the how: with gentleness and respect. This is really a call to what people call apologetics. The Christian calling necessarily involves apologetics.
Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.2 Timothy 1:13-14
As we go about sharing this hope with our children and young people, they will usually ask further questions. In this second article, I would like to share 5 key questions that young people are raising based on the cultural shift in their generation and how we can respond to them. My insights are gathered from youth ministry in local churches, evangelistic and apologetic outreaches in university campuses and research in youth ministry from my studies. I offer here the critical questions I have come across as I have engaged in ministry.
1. Isn’t your truth your truth and my truth my truth?
Technological advancement means that the world is much more interconnected. Because of this, we have a high exposure to other cultures. One of the results of this reality is that there is nothing like absolute truth but that all truth is defined by one’s cultural context. Now this might help us to understand particular cultural differences – like what people eat and wear. But truth is also “trans-cultural”. 2+2=4 no matter where one comes from. Truths such as Jesus Christ being the only way to God are not culturally defined. They are absolute truths. One of the questions parents can help answer is this question of relative truth. Truth is absolute in nature and applies across different cultural contexts. When you look at a white wall, it is definitely a white wall. The only reason it may be another color is if one is wearing dark sunglasses. This shows us that the issue is not the truth itself but how we see it. Our worldviews affect how we see. It is helpful to answer questions about truth, culture, atheism and life from a Biblical worldview. This flows into the next question.
2. Why should I trust the Bible and not other religious texts?
The underlying question of all questions is who is the final authority? If the final authority of my life is reason or feelings, then I will certainly answer questions based on that authority. As Christians, the Bible itself tells us that it is unique and trustworthy:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.2 Timothy 3:16-17
The Bible is not just a book written by human authors, but a book that is inspired by God. The fact that more than 40 different writers, writing across many many years show such coherence in their writing reveals the unity of the Scriptures. This points to the fact that the Scriptures have been written by one author.
Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.2 Peter 1:20-21
Therefore, Christian Scripture is not only unique because of its author but because of the main emphasis of its writing – Jesus Christ and the new life that he offers (Luke 24:27, 24:44).
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.John 5:39-40
Other religious teachers do not propose to offer life, or to forgive sins, or even that they are God. They are just human teachers. Jesus Christ himself as the center of God’s revelation to us is distinct. The claims of Jesus Christ set him apart. This is what makes the Bible unique, reliable and trustworthy.
3. Is Jesus the only way to God?
This question comes from the first one. Because young people are much more connected to people form other cultures and religions, they wonder what makes Christianity unique. When I was in university, I was part of an international student-run organization that ran exchange programmes. We once hosted a student from eastern Europe. He identified as an atheist. I remember this one time when a man on a bicycle transporting crates of bread to a nearby shop fell down. This exchange student proceeded to help the cyclist off the ground. I wondered, what makes Christianity unique yet even atheists can do good things?
Jesus often asked his disciples who they thought he was (Matthew 16:13-20). Our understanding of Jesus is critical as Christians. Is he, as they said just a prophet? Just a teacher? Just a good person? Peter’s response is the one that Jesus confirms as the right one “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). “Christ” is the translation of the Old Testament word “Messiah”, the sent one of God who would die in the place of sinners, satisfy the righteous requirements of the law and victoriously rise offering people new life (Isaiah 25:8. 53:3, Psalm 22, Rom 3:23, Romans 6:23-24). In another encounter, Jesus himself says this:
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”.John 14:6-7
The use of the article “the” in the way, the truth and the life shows the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Thus, Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. This is not something that we can convince our children through logic, but through our sharing, only the Holy Spirit can reveal this truth to them and grant them faith and repentance (Matthew 16:17, John 1:12-14, John 14:8-15)
4. Isn’t Christianity a white man’s religion?
As I have served in youth ministry, one of the most common questions African youth are asking is this one. The main reason is trying to reconcile the Christian faith and the past injustices of colonialism. However, several responses can be given:
- Christianity in Africa goes way back before the mission enterprise of the 20th century. Some of the oldest churches in Africa have been dated to the 4th century. The rock-hewn, UNESCO world heritage site of the church of Lalibela in Ethiopia is dated to the 12th century, before modern missionaries set foot in Africa.
- There is ample presence of African people and places in the Bible.
- Christianity does not belong to any one culture. It began in the middle east, moved to Africa, became institutionalized in the west and now some scholars say the center of Christianity is in the global South. The Bible shows us that in the end, a vast multitude from all people groups, cultures and nations will worship Christ the King (Rev 7:9-17).
- African people have contributed to depth and spread of Christianity. Luminary figures in African history such as Augustine, Athanasius, Tertullian, Felicitas, Lamin Sanneh were of African descent.
Christianity belongs in Africa. The message of Jesus Christ is inclusive of all cultures. That is why it is easily translatable across different cultures.
5. Why does a good God allow pain, evil and suffering?
This last question is one that is not only asked by those who do not call themselves Christians but also Christian believers. It is known as the problem of evil and suffering.
One angle is the emotional challenge. How do we make it through the pains of our life? The Bible gives us several ways of coping with pain: the Bible allows us to lament, to bring our pain to God; it allows us to have hope; its hope is anchored in the reality that God has suffered on the cross and provides redemption through this horrendous place of suffering. In fact, the Psalms can help the Christian who is suffering.
The other angle is an intellectual challenge. If God is powerful, he should remove evil. If he is loving, he should care enough to remove evil. If evil still exists, then that means God is not powerful or loving. Well, many responses have been given and the following are a small number:
- Understanding the nature of God – God’s attributes can co-exist. For instance, he can be both loving and just at the same time. On the cross for example, he punishes sin while forgiving the unjust:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.1 Peter 3:18
2. Understanding the nature of man – human beings are many times the cause of evils in our world. Problems such as poverty, racism and other moral evils are there because people fail to do what is right. Natural evils, such as the CORONAVIRUS global pandemic, are allowed by God since he is sovereign over all the earth.
The cross comes before the crown.
3. Understanding the nature of the Christian faith – Contrary to much popular Christianity that tells us God is someone we can arm-twist for personal blessings, God has allowed for pain and trouble to be a part of life. This may help us to have a proper view of prosperity from a biblical perspective. The cross comes before the crown.
The Christian worldview is the best solution for pain and suffering. Unlike some worldviews that tell us we can meditate our pain away, Christianity tells us pain is much more serious than that. Unlike some worldviews that tell us pain is as a result of bad karma, Christianity tells us the world is not like a mechanical robot but it is personal in nature. Unlike other worldviews that do not tell us that the worst pain of all is hell, Christianity tells us there is a way to be reconciled with God and live for eternity – in this world and the next.
Christianity offers the most coherent response to the problem of pain, evil and suffering.
We could add other questions that are important: how faith interacts with scientific questions, what about our African traditional religions as well as the presence of slavery and “genocide” in the Bible.
Know the Genuine before you respond to the Counterfeit
However, what is most crucial is knowing our faith deeply.
We have probably heard of how investigators differentiate between real and counterfeit notes. They know the genuine notes so well that they are able to pick out the counterfeit. Given the reality that we do not have all the time in the world to know the counterfeit truths, we can invest our time in knowing the genuine truth – the truth that is anchored in the word of Jesus Christ – the word that reveals the person of Jesus Christ through his supreme work on the cross. As we abide in this word, we are set free and are anchored to respond to the questions that the next generations are asking.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”John 8:31-32
If you would want some book recommendations for further reading I recommend: