An Ounce of Inoculation is Worth a Pound of Argumentation

It’s a cool title, huh?

Well, that’s because it’s true.

There’s not a great deal of debate when it comes to the necessity of apologetics for young people these days. It’s pretty obvious to anyone who is actually interested in what’s going on in the Church that there is a definite need there. There are those in denial, but that’s all that it is, denial.

Now I don’t want to pretend that there’s not an issue of getting apologetics into churches. That’s not what I’m saying at all. Convincing churches, especially small rural ones, to implement apologetics ministries remains a concern of many others as well as myself. People that attempt to stay in the know about the condition of the Church understand this.

So, how can we help? How can those of us with the passion transfer their ideas to those with the need? That’s what Southern by His Grace, and many others are all about.

As I was teaching a group of young people few years ago, and as I began to implement apologetics into our class time, one of the basic principles that I used to undergird the curriculum was inoculation.

Inoculation is the principle learned from the medical field in which a medical professional administers a measured amount of a particular disease to a patient. When that occurs in a controlled environment, the body develops a resistance to the limited or measured dose of the disease. Of course you know that the reason this procedure is followed is that when the body has already developed a resistance to a measured amount of the disease, and then the body is faced with a full-blown version of the disease, it will be able to fight it off. The body will know that it has already seen this disease before and will easily fend off the attacker.

When teaching young people headed for the real world, it makes sense to use the same principle. Give them a dose of the same arguments that the real world’s going to give them so that when they come up against a full-blown version of the same argument, they will be able to fend off those arguments because they’ve heard them before.

There’s a couple of ways to go about this.

One could use the strategy of folks like Brett Kunkle who favors “role play”.

Brett teams up with a youth leader who is interested in just how well his students are versed in “what they believe and why they believe it”. Brett is then introduced to the class as a visiting atheist or skeptic and after a presentation, challenges the students with some tough questions and/or statements.

Usually Brett claims that most of the students are left defenseless and the teacher is left flabbergasted.

This is obviously a great way to challenge both students and teachers to “get into the game of apologetics”. It’s a controlled and safe environment that challenges the class right where they are. From there, the teacher can build on what he sees and the students are exposed to atheism. That’s one way of inoculating Christian students.

There are some difficulties with “role play” when it comes to small churches for a couple of reasons. To name just two, its easier to role play in front of 50 students than it would be 10 and it’s difficult to go incognito in rural areas where everyone knows everyone else.

If you’re in a small rural church, you may prefer something a little more like what my friend and I did in our local church a few years ago. We called it “Apologetics 5” and “Fallacy 5”. We ran it as follows.

Our class was both an apologetics and theology based curriculum. During the times that we were teaching more apologetics based curriculum, we would supplement it with “Fallacy 5”. During times when we were more theologically centered, we’d do “Apologetics 5”.

At the end of each class, we’d announce either the apologetics or logical problem for the next week. We’d do so in such a way as to assume the role of an unbeliever, skeptic, atheist, or “bad” thinker. We would introduce them to the topic with a statement like, “The Trinity contradicts itself when it says that three people are actually one person”, or a statement like “there is no way God exists because he would end hunger”. If we were going to do “Fallacy 5”, after they learned basic informal fallacies, we might make a statement like “Christians are wrong about homosexuality because they were wrong about slavery”, or something like that. Then the question to them might be, “what is the logical fallacy here?”

This method is a little more controlled than role play and it’s easier to prepare for, especially if you’re a full time youth teacher with a 50 hour/week job that has nothing to do with church, as is the case for so many people who work in small churches.

Another benefit is that it gives the students some time to prepare to answer. This incentive does a couple of things.

One, it forces them to think on their own. They aren’t able to merely regurgitate what you’ve told them. They have to actually use their brains.

Two, it teaches them how to use other resources. We tried to give links to trusted online apologetics resources so that when the students began to look for answers, they’d learn to navigate relative sites rather than fall into the Google pit of endless nothingness.

Thirdly, and very importantly, we were able to really tease out the arguments because we felt like some of the students had studied enough to get past the surface issues. We encouraged them to NOT give us the pad answers and if they did, we’d use everything from solid rebuttals to ad homonym attacks to refocus them to more serious treatments of the issues.

Finally, and I believe this is integral; we did not throw soft balls! Everything from the theological and scientific lingo to the arguments themselves were tough. I received a little push back on the tough words but I really insisted on them. Even some of the parents didn’t care much for some of the words like “soteriology” or “ontological”, but we insisted that the kids research the words themselves and then we would correct their bad definitions if needed. We would always include lists of definitions for all of the class but the importance of learning to research issues on their own trumped the security of spoon-feeding the students. The use of “big” academic terms is especially important to inoculate them to college profs who will use those same terms mercilessly, twisting the definitions to meet their own goals of confusion and fear. It’s a goal of many academics to make you feel that you are unworthy of their arguments because they have some letters after their name. I say blah! From what I’ve seen so far, many academics are so haughty that what they say is actually simple and worthless anyway. I hoped to steal that academic fear from each of my students.

The confidence to bare the arguments and rhetoric of skeptics, atheists, and even misinformed Christians is an important piece of the puzzle when we teach apologetics, especially to young people. An important part of teaching people how to do that is exposing them to a heavy dose of the same arguments that they will experience in college or the work place. When someone is convinced by the arguments of atheism it’s much more difficult to re-convince them of Christianity. One way that we lose people is not that they’re convinced of anti-Christian arguments but that they’re convinced that we’ve not dealt with those arguments in an intellectually respectable manner. They’re convinced that either we are ignorant of the “facts” of science, or we’ve hidden the truth from them by keeping things simple. They think we have given them the short end of the stick, as it were, by leaving out the big words, the tough arguments, and the academic responses to Christianity.

In that case, an ounce of inoculation is worth a pound of argumentation.

Don’t be satisfied with the pad answers.

Give them the tough stuff. Don’t be afraid that if you give them a robust argument to defend against that they’ll leave the faith. Don’t sell them short or give them the short end of the stick. Give them an ounce of prevention. Inoculate them, because if you don’t, there are those who will. I guarantee it.

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