As Mama Bear apologists, one of our greatest pleasures is seeing parachurch organizations recognize the need for youth apologetics training. For anyone unfamiliar with my personal journey, our head pastor did two series when I was in 7th grade that changed my life: C.S. Lewis’ trilemma (i.e. was Jesus a liar, a lunatic, or Lord?) and evidences for the resurrection, where he went through every alternate theory proposed by skeptics and dismantled each argument. I was in 7th grade friends, SEVENTH GRADE! 12 years old, and these two series literally changed my life. (And not just in hindsight–I KNEW even at that young age that this was something I’d never heard before. My hands furiously scribbled notes as I sat on the edge of my seat each week.)
I understand the impact early apologetics training makes on a young person’s faith, because it is an integral part of my story. Thus, I consider it a privilege when Mama Bear is sent youth apologetics curricula for review. But, we am not willing to endorse it until we have given it a thorough perusal. So, when the Executive Director of Awana Youth Ministries (AwanaYM) offered to send me the full leader’s guide to their new Advocates apologetics curriculum, I jumped at the opportunity! I didn’t promise anything but a fair review, and so far, I have been nothing but impressed. (You can see their website, watch a promo video, and download a sample unit here.)
I have always felt that youth are far more astute, and capable of handling topics than we give them credit for. I remember having a “stump the pastor” session at our old church in Dallas, and one of the 6th graders asking, “What is the difference between Gnosticism and Satanism?” If you think that they aren’t asking the tough questions till college, you are mistaken. This question came from an 11 year old. They are asking the questions addressed in this curriculum, and more! Based on the youth exodus research I have conducted over the last few years, I can say with full conviction that your church NEEDS this curriculum, and I have 10 reasons why:
1) It focuses on teaching the leaders just as much as it does the students. (i.e. It doesn’t require the leaders to be apologetics gurus themselves)
I think a major barrier to apologetics training for youth is that the youth leaders don’t feel properly equipped to lead in this area. The Awana Advocates curriculum takes this into account, and alleviates the fear-factor by focusing just as much on training the leaders as it does on training the students. I have a background in teaching and there is a dirty little secret that all teachers know: you don’t have to know everything; you just have to be 1 day ahead of your students. With the leader’s guide for the Advocates curriculum, leaders do not need to fear if they aren’t apologists themselves. The material is sufficient to prep them for many of the major questions that will come their way. Plus, I think that churches would want to adopt this curriculum if for no other reason than they will get just as much out of it as their students will! (Especially if apologetics was not previously an area of specialization.)
**Side note: For those who ARE familiar with apologetics, the materials are sufficiently adaptable. All the PowerPoints are included in editable form, so if you WANT to go deeper, and you have the acumen, you can easily do so.Reason #1: Not an apologetics guru? Not a problem. This is for leaders as much as students. @AwanaYM Click To Tweet
2) It takes a multidimensional approach.
In my talk Diagnosing Doubt, I detail the 4 main aspects of man – the mind, will, emotions, and soul/spirit. I also briefly discuss the difference between thinkers, feelers, and doers. There are many resources out there that deal with each of these aspects separately. Most apologetics resources deal predominantly with the intellectual/thinker aspect. The thing that has impressed me about the Advocates curriculum is that it addresses ALL of these aspects. The thinker/intellectual aspect is obviously at the core of the curriculum. However, the feeler/emotional aspect is also addressed in various sections on how a leader should lead, and how to create emotional safety within the group. The will/doer aspect is also addressed by weekly suggestions for service projects. Our Christian faith involves us loving the Lord with all our hearts, minds, and strengths (i.e., emotions, mind, and will.) This is one of the few apologetics curricula where I have seen all of these aspects being addressed simultaneously. That is no small feat, and shouldn’t be underestimated. Reason #2: An apologetics curriculum that addresses head, heart AND hands?! Yes please. @AwanaYM Click To Tweet
3) It doesn’t get sidetracked with in-house debates.
One of the pitfalls of Christian apologetics, is that there are certain areas that Christians hotly debate. While I do not believe that we necessarily need to all agree on everything, I do think that it is important to identify and fortify the main issues, while avoiding needless controversies that only serve to divide the body of Christ. Everyone loses when Christians turn their fire-power towards one another. Our efforts should be aimed at “demolishing arguments raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:5) and not squabbles between different denominations. While these secondary issues are important, they are not worth division. The Awana curriculum has miraculously managed to avoid many of the in-house debates, and instead has pointed it’s training towards bolstering the core issues of the faith. Bravo Awana.(For more on the difference between core issues and peripheral issues, see Mama Bear Podcast #5) Reason #3: It keeps the main thing, the main thing. @AwanaYM Click To Tweet
4) It condenses a LOT of apologetics research into a conversational tone.
One of the things that struck me while going through the Leader’s Guide, was how purposeful every single sentence was. For a person who is not trained in apologetics, it might sound like they are just throwing out random ideas. For a person who is familiar with classic objections to the faith (or common rebuttals) I was impressed with how much of the historic debate was included in each section. Note to leaders: do not take anything that is mentioned as being a casual inclusion. There is very little in the leader’s guide that is not backed by hundreds of years of debate. And yet it isn’t presented in an intimidating way. If anything, a casual reader may not realize the amount of scholarship that is condensed into each paragraph. Reason #4: Pay attention to every line. It's there for a purpose. @AwanaYM Click To Tweet
5) It is backed by Sean McDowell.
I’m not saying that name recognition is everything, but there is a certain level of “quality control” that accompanies people who know what they are talking about, and Sean is one of those people. His father’s book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, was one of my first apologetics primers in high school. (And by the way, there is a updated and expanded version of Evidence that Demands a Verdict coming out this October, and it was coauthored by Sean!) He is a second-generation apologist. (How many of us can say that?!) I know him personally, and can say with conviction that he not only has a heart for youth, but he has the academic chops to back it up. All the student videos are done by him, which means he isn’t just lending his name, he is staking his reputation on the curriculum. Reason #5: If you want an apologetics curriculum done right, find a McDowell. 🙂 @Sean_McDowell @AwanaYM Click To Tweet
6) It teaches practical leadership skills
I mentioned before how the approach is very holistic. Each unit has a section called “facilitation help.” Each of these “facilitation helps” is extremely practical for leaders, and reminds us of basic ministerial facets that are easy to forget, like reminding the leaders to pay attention to how much students talk, and trying to draw out the quiet ones. Or reminding the leader to not be a “know-it-all,” how to facilitate prayer, and other practical leadership skills. Reason #6: It cultivates leaders, not just apologists. #AwanaYM Click To Tweet
7) It provides follow-up resources.
It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is: an introductory level summary of 32 major apologetics topics, from basics of logic and critical thinking, to worldview, to science, evidences for God, evidence for Jesus and the resurrection, physical evidence of archeology, fulfilled prophecy, answers to evil, suffering, hell, and how the Christian worldview addresses concepts like love and doubt. Since it cannot go fully in-depth into any of these topics, it provides recommended resources for each of them, for the person who is intrigued by that week’s topic and wants to go deeper. My dad had a saying that he reiterated my entire childhood. He would say “You don’t need to have all the answers. You just need to know where to find the answers.” The Awana curriculum does just that. It provides a cursory overview of the answers, and then recommends resources for those who want to go deeper on particular topics. Reason #7: You don't need to know all the answers, just where to find them. Click To Tweet
8) It doesn’t just give a positive case. It also addresses common objections.
There is a logical fallacy called “cherry picking” or “special pleading.” This fallacy is when one only looks at the evidence that supports their hypothesis. Our kids will not be learning this information in a vacuum. They have at their fingertips an entire community of skeptics ready and willing to tear down every argument they learn. At Mama Bear, we feel that the best place to hear arguments against Christianity is in the home, or in church—right before the objections are refuted. While the curriculum is not able to fully engage all objections, or give a full rebuttal, it introduces students to the most common ones. Think of this like getting a vaccine: you introduce a small, impotent form of the pathogen so that the body creates antibodies to attack the real thing if (or rather when) it comes along. That is essentially what the “Misconceptions” section of each unit does. When that misconception is thrown at the student later, they will have already heard it, and already formulated a thoughtful response.Reason #8: Misconceptions are like viruses. Innoculate students now, to prevent issues later. Click To Tweet
9) It includes relevant Scripture for each unit.
Apologetics is sometimes critiqued for including fewer scripture references than a traditional Bible study. This is understandable, as the purpose of apologetics is to provide extra-Biblical support for the ideas found in scripture via philosophy, history, science, archeology, logic etc. However, the Advocates curriculum does a good job at providing relevant scripture as the core of each lesson. There’s no sense in defending scripture if you aren’t going to use it. Reason #9: There’s no sense in defending scripture if you aren’t going to use it. @AwanaYM Click To Tweet
10) It stands firm on controversial topics that it needs to stand firm on, like hell.
Progressive Christianity is on the rise, and with it I am noticing a trend of gutting the gospel of all the icky parts, like the concept of hell. (Don’t believe me? Check out our Mama Bear Podcasts #21 and #24. Podcast #21 should especially be an eye opener if you are unfamiliar with this trend, and #24 should help you understand how we got here in the first place.) While I am all for unity within the Christian community (and even praised the curriculum for avoiding in-house debates in point #4), there are some doctrines worth dividing over, especially when scripture is very clear on the subject. If you are ever “comfortable” with the topic of hell, you don’t understand the topic of hell. But even though it makes us uncomfortable, it is important to address it, because there is a rise of unorthodox belief within Christendom right now. (See our rebuttal to those who deny the doctrine of hell in the blog “Why Your Children DO Need Apologetics: Correcting Misconceptions.”) We are not just preparing our kids to defend their faith against wolves, but also to be able to recognize wolves dressed as sheep. According to an article by Natasha Crain, this is as important, if not more so. Reason #10: It doesn't back down on uncomfortable issues. @AwanaYM Click To Tweet
Conclusion: Color me impressed.
I am really excited about this new curriculum. While all the videos have not been uploaded yet, (they are slowly being uploaded each week, and should be complete by the end of September), I have seen enough to feel comfortable putting our Mama Bear stamp of approval on this curriculum. Were there things I didn’t like? A few. They emphasize writing a personal statement at the beginning of each unit, and I don’t totally understand what they mean by that. Occasionally, there was a scriptural reference that had ambiguous applicability to the section, but it’s possible those questions will be answered once the video is out. If I were to change one thing, I would change the example in the morality unit from “Everyone agrees that murder is wrong” to “Everyone agrees that torturing babies for fun is wrong.” I think there are times when murder is morally justified. I sure hope that if I were getting attacked, John wouldn’t consider it a moral dilemma to defend me with whatever force was necessary. But these are all small quibbles. All in all, this is a wonderful overview of the major apologetics topics, and it not only addresses the student’s intellectual questions, but places a refreshing emphasis on leadership development and service projects.
I encourage parents to become advocates for Awana’s Advocates apologetics curriculum! And I also recommend that they not wait until high school. I personally think that most middle schoolers, especially 7th and 8th grade, could get just as much out of this as a high schooler.
To get a sample unit and order curriculum, go to https://awanaym.org/journey/advocates
Here is the list of topics from the curriculum
Unit 1 (To see the core scripture and description of each, visit the website https://awanaym.org/journey/advocates)