I currently teach two different courses: Apologetics and New Testament. I came into the year convinced that I would love and be refreshed by the New Testament course. I mean how can you read through the Gospels and not be overwhelmed by the love and beauty of Jesus?! I think Apologetics is a worthy and necessary class, but it is quite a different animal.
But something unexpected happened….this year I have enjoyed teaching Apologetics much more than the New Testament. I think this largely has to do with the overwhelmingly positive response from my Apologetic’s students and the surprisingly negative response from my New Testament students. I should add that I still enjoy and get pumped over my New Testament material, but it’s hard to not let my student’s responses affect me. This has made me ask the question why? Why do high school students seem to enjoy apologetics more than reading the New Testament? Here are some theories I have come up with:
1) This is more of a disclaimer — Every new batch of students is different. I always have to be cautious generalizing my limited experience and applying it to all high schoolers everywhere. I know that there are many of my students who enjoy the New Testament class, but at least this year they seem to be in the minority.
2) High schoolers hate reading….period. My Apologetics class has significantly less reading, but you cannot get around reading the New Testament if you want to know Jesus. The Bible is largely viewed as boring and unfortunately familiar. However, as soon as I try to make the Bible a little strange to them I am quickly met with animosity. This is most clearly seen when we read through Jesus’ commands against violence. My mere suggestion that Jesus’ commands should be wrestled with are quickly rejected in favor of the image of a warrior God. A close second is pointing out that Jesus’ views on money tend to fly in the face of free market capitalism. The cries of protest are so quick and loud that its almost counterproductive to mention them. The Bible is strangely revered by young Evangelicals, it is the book that they both love and hate. It is where they get their assurance (or their foundation for being right) but they edit or miss out on all the challenges it has for their lives. (I should also add that this is not solely a problem with high schoolers, but with fallen humans in general). Again, this is largely due to the very mundane fact that they simply don’t want to read it. I feel like I finally understand what Jesus was getting at in John 5:39-40. They search the scriptures and yet miss that they are pointing to Jesus. Je
3) Apologetics is a battleground. The course focuses on articulating arguments and demands quick thinking from my students. This is an exciting break from their typical day. I honestly think they like being kept on their toes. Apologetics creates a relatively safe space for a discussion and high schoolers love to debate. And who wouldn’t get a thrill out of getting proven right through some rigorous argumentation. Apologetics is attractive because the students feel like they are finally getting to think for themselves.
4) Clobber Texts: The New Testament is scripture and as such it contains information that we don’t get to make up, we simply need to have ears to hear. Unfortunately, many people like to shout scripture at others without ever listening to the text themselves. I get the sense that my students feel preached at or judged when we go through the New Testament. In one sense they are understanding the role of scripture, which is supposed to examine our hearts through the Spirit. But this is of course not the only role of Scripture. Scripture also tells us who God is so that the more we know about him the more deeply we love him. The problem is that it is hard to convince my students of this truth when they see so many Christians in the pulpit or on tv using scripture to beat someone up. It is to the point where they almost mistrust anyone who claims to be an authority on scripture because that is what they expect them to do with it. This is why I think many of them shut down when I try to get them to wrestle with the radical commands of Jesus. They are viewing these texts as just one more reason why God or Christians are judging them, waiting for them to make a mistake.
So now what?
What can I do to cultivate a love of reading slowly in a fast-paced world?
How do I show them that the purpose of reading scripture is ultimately to enjoy God and to be conformed to his image?
How in the world can I compete with Netflix, Tumblr, and SnapChat?
I know that the one thing I have to resist is trying to make the Bible like Netflix, Tumblr, or SnapChat. If the church is to have any future at all it must learn that what it has to offer is distinctively different from what the world offers. And one of the things that is distinctive about the Christian faith is the God we come to know through Jesus. If we resist making the Bible like Tumblr we also must resist turning the Bible into a tool for power. This resistance can only be assured by meditating on our crucified Lord. One of my fears with an emphasis on Apologetics is that it is used in a way that makes Christians feel superior. I don’t think this is a problem with Apologetics itself, but that modern Apologetics has unfortunately been co-opted by the Enlightenment project (that is a topic for a whole other blog post). So while I may not have many practical solutions to my current dilema, I will continue to trust that as my students keep reading the scriptures they will also deepen in their knowledge and love of the One revealed in its pages.