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McDowell: Carry out apologetics through relationships
October 13, 2003
By Jeff Robinson

Twenty-first century young people do not base their beliefs on objective truth but on emotion and feeling, Christian apologist Josh McDowell told students at Boyce College on Sept. 24.

McDowell, international speaker and author of numerous books on apologetics, said the generational change in thought patterns must be met by a revolution in the way believers present Christianity to younger generations. McDowell spoke during a chapel service at Boyce College, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s undergraduate school.

“If you raise your kids the way your parents did you will lose them,” the 64-year-old McDowell said. “You may have had godly parents but you also had a belief system and convictions that you held. We have raised two different cultures and two different generations. My generation believed things worked because they were true. This generation of youths believes things are true because they work. It is two very different ways of thinking.”

McDowell showed that the numbers of young people inside the church who believe in God or even in absolute truth are abysmally low. Among youths surveyed in 2002 who described themselves as “born-again church kids,” 96 percent denied that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, 91 percent said absolute truth does not exist, and 58 percent said all religions are equally true. Another 63 percent held that Christ is merely a Son of God.

The growing antipathy toward the faith both inside and outside the church is rooted in the disconnect between theology and relational Christianity that began around 1920 when moderates and fundamentalists separated into differing camps, McDowell argued.

“The liberals [moderates] defined the Gospel in terms of relationships,” McDowell said. “Fundamentalist defined it in terms of truth. But truth can never be separated from relationships and that is where we have lost today’s youth, the second of the two generations we have raised.”

Today’s youths are looking for relationships and those are best viewed within the context of the Christian faith, he said. The church needs to assist those responsible for influencing young persons -- parents, youth ministers, teachers and the like -- to develop loving, intimate relationships, he said.

McDowell said Christians must also model truth and avoid hypocrisy if they are to impact a youth culture looking for authenticity. Christians must also develop convictions and be ready to give substantive answers to questions such as those regarding the inspiration of Scripture, he said.

Most youths say the Bible is true because it changed their lives, but Muslims and Mormons give the same testimony when asked about the veracity of their sacred texts, he said. With a pantheon of religious voices making truth claims, Christians must know what they believe and be ready to give solid answers as to why they believe it, he said.

McDowell suggested that Christians need to arrive at a new paradigm on truth. Based on his 2002 book, “Beyond Belief to Convictions,” McDowell suggested a new approach to apologetics that he called “relational apologetics.”

He identified three aspects of his method of apologetics. First, believers need to ask themselves how truth has affected their emotions. Second, they must examine themselves to see how it has affected their relationship to others. Finally, Christians must be ready to show how truth is credibly objective.

As an illustration of his new paradigm, McDowell used the way in which one typically joins a church. Traditionally, McDowell said Christians have limited their query of potential church members to cognitive questions such as, “Do you believe in the Trinity?”

He called this “one-dimensional apologetics.” McDowell labeled his new approach “two or even three dimensional” apologetics because it seeks not only to assert truth but also to show how truth impacts one’s life and relations. This strategy will have a greater impact upon a modern youth culture that processes truth through emotion, he said.

“Every person must now be an apologist,” he said.


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