By Tom Griffin
Many people are surprised to find out that I taught apologetics to fifth graders (10-11 yr olds) for 13 years. The typical reaction is, “Isn’t that too young?” Indeed, I would have thought so myself and had no intention to teach apologetics when I began all those years ago. But the questions that came up from my very first students in class convinced me they wanted deeper knowledge and understanding and were a little bored with the Bible stories they loved but knew by heart for years. Over the years, many parents confirmed this with me and stated they have to drag their kids to Sunday School because they are bored.
In my first class when I taught creation, questions arose such as “Did dinosaurs live during the time of Adam and Eve?” and “Why did God allow Adam and Eve to sin if He knew they would?” and “How did they get all the animals on the ark?” and so on and so on. My first class was mainly invested in answering questions. Fast forward 13 years and my current class of students will tell you by and large they love apologetics and feel it should be taught to everyone in our church of all ages. As a result, I also created a 9 week lesson series for 3rdand 4thgraders. Now we are down to 7 and 8 year olds.
The need for apologetics has gone downstream as happens so frequently in any marketing communication effort. The market expands and you must follow it or it will cut off the path to your original target audience. Based on my own experience and marketing background, what this means is that if we want adults and their families to stay committed to the church and understand their faith is based on reason and evidence, then we need to teach at the youngest age feasible to ensure those youngsters grow up in the faith and stay in the faith. Otherwise, if we lose a generation from college age, it can have disastrous negative effects on church membership and even jeopardize the viability of the church. In fact, is that not what all the studies show? Except for evangelical Christian individuals and churches, mainstream Christianity is declining along with mainstream church membership.
The statistic probably most people know about still exists; by age 22, 70% of Christian youth exit the church. That tells me we do not teach them the essentials to know their faith is true but also that we do not teach them at a young enough age. The apologetics organization I work with since 2010, Ratio Christi, began to create student apologetics discussion clubs on college campuses around the country 8 years ago, mentored by an academically trained apologist from our field staff resources, specifically to stem the negative trend for Christian youth mentioned earlier. We now have 180 such clubs. Then we realized it was too late to help many students by the time they were in college. So we started Ratio Christi College prep, a program for high school youth at churches. We knew they needed to be prepared for the attacks and challenges they would encounter in college. But we also now know from research studies that 84% of high school students have doubts about Christianity. In order to address that you have to overcome the doubts and that can be difficult. Further, 40% have doubts already by middle school. And after age 12, only 7-10% accept Christ. So the common sense answer is to address the problem before the doubts occur when they are merely expressed as questions.
That brings us to 10-14 year olds and 5ththru 8thgrade. This entire situation is confirmed by my own experience. By fifth grade, students are bored with the same old Bible studies and thirsting for something more. Oh sure, you can spice up the Bible stories and go deeper into each and that is important and something I still do each week. But then I follow by teaching an apologetics lesson.
This summer I am scheduled to teach a 7 week series on apologetics to anyone in our church that is interested. The intent was originally to reach the 22 adult Sunday School groups. So far about 50 people have signed up. But there is also serious interest from many of the high schoolers, some middle schoolers, and three students from my fifth grade class who requested permission from their parents to attend. My current and prior students still love apologetics. That is exciting!
Let me give you another example of something that occurred just last Sunday. It further demonstrates the need to teach about difficult concepts at a younger age. I was in my normal fifth grade class teaching about the Trinity when one of the other teachers frantically came in and requested an urgent situation in the fourth grade class that needed my help. That has never happened before so I did not know what to think. When I arrived at the fourth grade class (8-9 year olds), I was told that one of the girls brought up an issue she heard about in California about the banning of Bible sales. The teachers did not know anything about it and they thought I might be familiar. Indeed I was. The California state Senate is set to vote on bill AB 2943 which is designed to prohibit the advertising and sales of any materials that discourage “sexual orientation changes”. In other words, without using the words Christianity or Bible, it would make it illegal to advertise, promote or sell any materials that discourage gender changes, same-sex marriage, or homosexuality. It is placed under the California fraud law and is an obvious but veiled attempt to attack Christianity specifically. It essentially considers it hate speech to go against any of those liberal societal abnormal behaviors in an attempt to normalize them. But if you think about the consequences, it affects Bible sales and any other teaching materials and would also impact churches, Sunday school groups and Christian schools from elementary to seminary. That is a big deal!
Anyway, several things came immediately to mind while I contemplated the best way to answer the question: first, how do I address these sensitive ‘cultural’ issues to a 7-8 year old without confusing them and without permission from their parents; second, why are our teachers unaware of this pending issue; third, here is yet another example of a child who asks questions about a deep and complicated issue at a young age; fourth, I wondered at what age parents are teaching these tricky issues to their kids; finally, it made me wonder what would happen if the child asked this question of their teacher in a public school and whether it would be a biblically based answer or if not, then what?
Well, I hate unanswered questions so I explained that I did not think the bill would pass but if it did it would be challenged with a lawsuit and probably end up at the Supreme Court. I explained the court appeal process and answered a couple questions from a bright young boy about why judges are allowed to violate our freedoms and the Constitution. As far as the content of the bill, I said it was designed to ban any sales of materials that go against the traditional idea of marriage between a man and a woman and that some people think the Bible is hate speech because it has teachings about what is right and wrong that some people do not agree with. That was the best I could muster and be honest, answer the question, and still not overstep a boundary with respect to the parents’ desires about when to teach difficult questions.
What do you think? Is it not clear that parents, teachers, and even young children need to be taught from a Biblical worldview as early as possible so that they do not receive their teaching from the secular world?
Let’s all agree this is a critical issue and begin to address it now through the implementation of proven solutions directly from the classroom of youth as young as ages 10-11 or even 7-8. To be clear, my ‘cultural’ lessons are only included in the 8thgrade curriculum as optional. Parents and teachers must still decide the right age to teach those lessons but I pray they will not wait too long. Contact me for questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me for a more detailed discussion at 770-597-2654. Can you really afford to take the chance your children and students will be fine without any apologetics training?