The Table Podcast

Equipping Generation Z for a Challenging World

In this episode, Mikel Del Rosario, Dr. Sean McDowell, and J. Warner Wallace discuss student ministry, focusing on how to effectively communicate biblical truths to Generation Z.

Timecodes
01:54
Guest backgrounds in youth ministry
05:20
Who is Gen Z?
14:40
Reasons Gen Z is leaving the church
19:45
Strategies for training Gen Z
23:44
Student trips to UC Berkley
29:22
Differences between teaching and training
35:12
Importance of relationships in apologetics
38:59
Importance of discerning truth
45:17
Tips for those ministering to Gen Z
Resources

So the Next Generation Will Know: Preparing Young Christians for a Challenging World - Sean McDowell and J. Warner Wallace

Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations - Vern L. Bengtson

Accessible Apologetics - Mikel Del Rosario
Transcript
Mikel Del Rosario
Welcome to the Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Manager at the Hendricks Center here at Dallas Theological Seminary. But actually, I’m not at Dallas Theological Seminary proper. If you’re watching this or if you’re just listening to my voice and I don’t sound like I’m in a fancy recording studio, that’s because I’m recording this remotely. We’re going to be offering you a number of different ways to have conversations here on the Table and this is one of them – this remote recording.

So you’re going to hear more of these kinds of recordings as well. But today on the show, we’re going to be talking about Generation Z and how to share biblical truth with Gen Z. And I have two experts who are joining me here from sunshiny Southern California and they’re joining me via Zoom. First guest is Sean McDowell. My friend Sean, he is Associate Professor of Apologetics at Talbott School of Theology at Biola University, my alma mater. And Sean, it’s so good to have you back on the show.

Sean McDowell
Hey, Mikel. It’s a treat. And you use that term friend wisely. We go back a couple decades to Biola University. So I’m just super proud of all you’re doing in life, and here at the Table as well.
Mikel Del Rosario
Thanks so much. And second guest is Jim Wallace. Jim is a cold case homicide detective who is also an adjunct prof. at Biola teaching apologetics. Thanks for being on the show, Jim.
Jim Wallace
Glad to be here. I’m kind of looking at the door behind you, Mikel, and I’m wondering who’s going to walk in through that door? At some point in our conversation, right? You know it’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of who.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, I do have a Gen Z kid of my own who is playing Xbox in the next room. And I told him not to be too loud today. But we’ll see.
Jim Wallace
Yeah, we’ll see.
Mikel Del Rosario
I want to start out just by talking a little bit about your background in youth ministry. Someone who is a cold case homicide detective is not usually associated with doing youth ministry. But you do work with youth quite a lot. Tell us a little bit about your background in youth.
Jim Wallace
Well, so I got saved. I was older. I was 35. My kids were maybe six and eight at the time. And we were not church folks. We didn’t know anybody who went to church. And we were experiencing this all for the first time. So I ended up sitting in my kid’s class and of course, if you do that long enough, somebody’s going to ask you to lead it. And I was asked to lead the class. And I didn’t know anything about Christianity, right? But they said, “I’ve got this curriculum. If you stay a few pages ahead of the kids, you’ll be fine.” I said, okay. Well, ultimately, I just followed my kids up as they got older. And then I attended Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. And I was going to get an MDiv and become a pastor and ended up with a degree and a Master’s Degree in Theology.

And I was my kid’s youth pastor by the time they were in high school. And that’s really where I experienced the most robust and fun and engaging ministry. Because I was a lead pastor after that for six years. And I had an older group, like college age by that time. And to be honest, the best and most fun time I had – engaging time I had – even the most thoughtful time I had as a leader was in youth ministry. Because I was constantly being challenged by students and having to stay just a couple of pages ahead of them, you know? And they ask these kinds of questions. So that really is where my background was. And that’s about what I was doing … at that time I was definitely working as a detective. I didn’t need my day job. As a matter of fact, when I got hired by that church, I said, I’ll do this for free if you let me hire two 20-hour interns. They said, yeah. And so, I said, okay, now we’ve got a team.

Whereas before, we just had one person. So this team, I learned how to do youth ministry and I was still handling cases. And back in those days I was also part of the fresh homicide team. If you have a homicide today, I’d have to say, oh, sorry. I was in church so many times when I’d get called out. And my wife would say, “Can we please sit by the door because it’s embarrassing to have to leave through this big church and go through everybody to get out of here when you get called?” But it does happen. So that’s how I kind of juggled both of those professions.

Mikel Del Rosario
Okay. Well, cool. Thanks for sharing that with us. Sean, you teach college students at Biola, but before that, you also taught high school. Tell us a little bit about your background in youth ministry.
Sean McDowell
In some ways, my background in your ministry has been my whole life because I have a mom and a dad – especially a dad who has been speaking, researching, focusing his whole ministry on the next generation. So I’ve seen it from the bottom up. Although I didn’t really plan to into some kind of youth ministry until really, I was in college. And it turns out I was a youth pastor for a year in the inner-city LA at a church called The Dream Center. And then taught high school Bible at a Christian for a decade full-time. Came on at Biola about eight years ago. And one of my questions was to my boss Craig Casen, who you know.

I said, “Can I still teach one high school class?” Because I love it and that’s really where my heart is. So I’ve been teaching that on eight years part time and now I’ve got two Gen Z-ers of my own. And even today at Biola, probably half of my speaking is to Gen Z. I just finished a book for students. In the next couple weeks, I’m starting the next one for high school students. So really, it’s kind of my passion and I spend a lot of time thinking and really just focusing on.

Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. Well tell us a little bit about … let’s think about who Gen Z is. Jim, if you were to just give us a quick primer. Who is Gen Z in terms of ages? And what are some distinctives we see in that generation?
Jim Wallace
We’ll split this up. Sean and I can both do this. I think first of all the age group is typically going to be like junior highers through maybe the first year or so, maybe two, of college. If you’ve got a high schooler or junior higher right now, you’re dealing with Gen Z. You already know what I’m talking about. So my kids now are older. They were Millennials when I was in youth pastoring. And now, like Sean, we kind of get the privilege of teaching Gen Z high schoolers. And of all the surveys – and we’ve looked at these surveys. We have examined all the surveys and have experience ourselves with this age group.

So when you ask us to give you a list of attributes of the age group, we kind of blended our two lists together. But I’ll just start off and Sean you can follow. I’ll just start off with the one most common attribute that if you were to go online and look for attributes of Gen Z, you’ll probably find that the most common attribute is that these are digital natives. In other words, unlike me or even my Millennial kids who came to this technology in high school or later, this generation was born with this. We immigrated to this technology. They have been here all along and this is all they know. And it changes dramatically the way they perceive the world and the way they perceive each other. So just to begin, that’s one of the most common attributes you will see in almost any survey. But, Sean, you can take it from there.

Sean McDowell
Yeah, I think that’s right. I think that’s kind of like the funnel so to speak that affects everything about how they see the world. And I kind of see it in two big categories. Number one, it affects their belief system. So here’s a generation that has had what they want when they want it, how they want it, where they want it just one click away. With music, with food, with entertainment, contacting their friends. They’re constantly connected and they expect this unlike other generations. Even when I text someone back, my mind is like, wow, I can contact them instantly. I don’t forget that. This generation expects that. It’s the air they breathe so to speak and the water they drink. But what happens is this teaches a generation what to expect about the world.

So rather than thinking there’s an external reality out there that I have to conform myself to, technology teaches – and I use that word intentionally – it teaches this generation to think they can conform reality to their beliefs and their wants. So it’s no coincidence that we have so much talk about identity today when we think we can tailor the world to ourselves. It’s no coincidence that the word in 2016 was post-truth. Because truth implies some external reality, I conform myself to. Now we can talk about that forever. But there’s a belief system component we’re seeing a lot in this generation who are post-Christian. Not that previous generations were perfectly Christian. That’s not my point. But in terms of the secular world view encroaching and increasing in the way young people think, we see that. And I’m not blaming it on the smart phone, but that’s been a huge factor in shaping them. The second thing that smart phones do, back to Jim’s point about them being digital natives, it also affects them relationally.

We have seen a spike when it comes to loneliness and depression. And this whole COVID thing, I’m waiting for a lot of the stats to come out in the next three, six, nine months. I think we’re going to only see those components increase. So it affects their thinking and it affects them on a relational level. In fact, one of the good things about COVID, my daughter who’s 13 has been Zooming and Facetiming her friends. But there’s this yearning for physical contact. I just want to be with my friends. I think it’s some way a positive out of this that we can play on is help young people process. And say, look, God has designed us for more than just mental interaction, as powerful as that it is. But for physical flesh and blood relationships. So in some, there world view is shaped and also their relationships when we look at Gen Z.

Jim Wallace
Yeah, and there’s a bunch more that we can talk about. And we’ve got a list of about nine or ten of these attributes in the book. But what Sean just said is so foundational. I got a call last week from a prosecutor who I’d known for 20 years and his daughter is 17. And she encountered a problem and she just wanted to talk to somebody about it. Now this prosecutor is not a believer. For some reason he said, I want my daughter to talk to you. So I get on the phone with her. I’ve known her since she was like a baby. So I’ve known her for a long time. So I just wanted to hear what she had to say. Can you imagine a world – dystopian future world in which your very thoughts were always broadcast from your forehead like that old skit we used to have? There was an old comedy skit about this years ago. Kind of like Liar Liar. Everything that you’re thinking is available on a screen scrolling in front of your head. Not only that, everything you ate today, everything you did today, everything you did last week.

And you have no choice on it. It’s just scrolling on your forehead. Can you imagine this might make life a little difficult especially in a time right now where the culture is so heated over issues of justice? That your thoughts about this, your true thoughts are on display on your forehead. That would be a difficult world to navigate, I think. And this is the world that Gen Z has chosen to live in. Because with social media the way it is, there’s an expectation every day that’s met that I’m going to know everything there is to know about my friends in real-time. What they did today. What they’re thinking. What they value. And what she experienced was, hey, I didn’t say anything about what’s happening in culture right now related to race relations.

And not that I don’t have an idea. I just chose not to say something, and that of course, was perceived as a statement in itself. And this is what’s happening with all of our young people is that there’s this expectation. I think it develops two things. Number one, it develops a certain level of insincerity. Like I’m going to post stuff just so you’ll get off my case about it. But to be honest, I don’t really affirm it. I’m just posting it to kind of check that easy box. And you see this in almost all levels of culture. We see it at every age group. But imagine if you were raised. So for example, at 58, if I just decide, I’m done with social media. I’m taking a break. I don’t think many people would notice or care. My friends certainly wouldn’t.

Sean McDowell
I would notice, Jim. Just so you know. I’m there for you, buddy.
Jim Wallace
Thank you. Well, I know you would notice, Sean. But for the most part, I don’t think people my age – especially the cops that are my age or the people that I worked with, the attorneys, they’re not going to even care. But this 17-year-old was perplexed on what to do next. Because she didn’t feel like she could just retreat from this. It would be like retreating from existence. Because for her, her existence had always been married to her online persona. This is a whole other level of interaction we have to consider.

And to be honest, you may not be thinking about this if you’re a Gen Xer who’s raising a Gen Z because that’s not your experience. But she felt this and her dad just did not get it. And he can’t understand why – well, just do what I would do. Well, no, unfortunately, you’re from a different generation that has a different view of social media. And you can’t just do what your dad would do.

Sean McDowell
And that’s one of the reasons, Jim, why I think we’re seeing so much anxiety with this generation. Because they’re fretting about climate change, they’re fretting about racism. What do I say? What do I not say? Everybody’s watching. Am I being left out? It brings so many issues that we can deal with as adults to a degree, but when you’re 12, 13, 15 years old it can lead to the way you say it, Jim, I think is right. A kind of paralysis in young people.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. It’s Instagram or it didn’t happen, right?
Jim Wallace
Oh, this is so true. It didn’t happen unless I somehow document it in just the right way.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, yeah.
Jim Wallace
And so, I think that’s something to kind of consider as we move forward and we’re talking to this generation. Because like Sean said, the ability to craft your own reality has its upside and its downside. The downside is now is that she felt like all she needed was somebody my age, her parents age, to say, “I completely understand where you’re coming from.” She was just relieved to have somebody say that she was understood. And this one of the things that we tried to do in this book is we know this comes down to how much do you as an adult love this generation. And what are you willing to do to have a multifaceted, a kind of multicolored love for your kids. It’s a lot of different elements of the palette, right? It’s about loving them enough to train them. To understand where they’re coming from. To actually know enough about them because it’s relationships married to truth claims that makes all the difference.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Darrell Bock and I have been doing a series of Zoom calls with a youth ministry over here sine we all got shutdown or had the shelter in place. And we asked them what are the things that you’re feeling right now. And a lot of them said, lonely, overwhelmed, anxious, exasperated, and angry. Things that we all feel, but you see this so much in Gen Z. They’re just going through something. We’re all going through something unprecedented. But to be a teenager and be going through this right now is just amazing. What are some of the primary reasons – actually, Jim was mentioned the book and I didn’t hold it up yet. But we have you guys on the show because you wrote this book. We’d have you on the show anyway because we like you guys. But you just so happened to be people who wrote this book, So the Next Generation Will Know: Preparing Young Christians for a Challenging World. And so, we’re talking about how can we help Gen Z and prepare them for this challenging world. We know there are a lot of Gen Zers who are leaving the church. Sean, what do you think is the key reason that Gen Z is disconnecting from the church?
Sean McDowell
I think there’s reasons, not reason alone. I mean if I had to sum it up, I would say at its heart, it’s a worldview issue. And by world view issue, I mean a belief of the heart that expresses what I think about the world. And in many ways, we’ve raised a generation that doesn’t know how to navigate culture and the world from within their Christian faith. We give them shallow answers. It’s emotion-filled. Disconnect their faith from what it means to actually live. And so, they go through the motions. And then eventually, when they’re really tested and get out of the home, it reveals the lack of a faith that was never there. So I think there’s this deep worldview component. Some of this is apologetics. Some of this good theology. Some of it’s just learning to think Christianly in a world that we can argue is increasingly non-Christian and post-Christian, and in some ways, anti-Christian based on what we believe.

The other side of that is there’s also a huge relational piece, why young kids leave the faith. So in the book, Jim and I cite a study from a book on faith and faith and family. It’s from 2013 by Vern Bengtson who is at USC and this is with Oxford Press. And they studied over four generations, from great-grandparents down to great-grandkids, faith transmission during this time – 3,500 people. And they basically said, across faith practices, the number one factor that would shape why a young person stays in the faith and-or leaves on the reverse, is a quote, “warm relationship with the father”. Now that’s not to say the mother is unimportant. Last I checked, when a kid is born, a mom is there. The dad just tends to be more of the wild card. That’s reality. But there’s something powerful about relationships in the body of Christ but with a father and teaching kids how to navigate reality. So if one or both of those are missing, the chances sky rocket that a kid is going to walk away from the church, and-or their faith.

Jim Wallace
And that’s a statistic that is so – that’s from 2013. That’s seven years ago. But it represents something that’s transcendent of time. Most people globally believe what they believe primarily because their parents believe it. That’s the number one indicator of what you’re going to believe going forward. Did my parents believe it? Now that sounds crazy, but this is why some faith groups will actually grow on the basis of biological reproduction because if you’ve got six kids, probably five or four of them are going to believe what their parents believed. So what happens is, this becomes an exponential problem for us going forward as Christians. The fewer Christians we have in the next generation, most importantly means we have the fewer Christian parents to raise up another generation.

And if they’ve bought into a secular view of children, they’re probably having fewer children anyway. So as we go forward, this becomes an exponential problem because we even have fewer Christian parents to raise up the next generation. So I think that is why we’re going to see these numbers probably in this trajectory. It wouldn’t surprise me anyway. And again, what we’re talking about is not necessarily that young people aren’t moving towards even agnosticism or atheism. So as the numbers increase, and less young people are identifying as Christians, they’re falling into that category of religious “nones,” people who have no religious affiliation, almost directly. If one percent drop in Christian identity, you see a one percent increase in the identity of no affiliation. Meanwhile, the statistics for agnosticism and atheism pretty much hover around their margin of error. So if you look at that and see that over the last 20 years you still have young people who believe there is a supreme power or a supreme being, or something that’s bigger.

They believe in something. They just shaped God in their own image because they’ve been raised in a world as Sean talked about that has taught them to shape everything in their image. I have the ability to select even what news I want to listen to today. I can find something on the spectrum that I already agree with and just plug into that. And isolate myself from every other transcendent world view. Well, that’s what we’re up against when we talk about Gen Z and how technology has shaped the next generation.

Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. Now you guys have a strategy in the book for people who are training Gen Z and teaching in church settings, in Christian school settings, even for parents. One of those strategies is called, “Two whys for every what.” And Sean, could you help us understand what that is?
Sean McDowell
You know what? Jim, this was your idea. I’ve got to give you full credit for this. I can explain it, but you came up with this concept. So take it away on this one.
Jim Wallace
This is how I did it in youth group, but you guys were talking about before I even did it in youth group. I think you did a book with Josh that talks about like ten ancient questions. I forget what it was called. But you talked with Josh on stage. What was it called that book?
Sean McDowell
Yeah. It was called The Unshakable Truth.
Jim Wallace
Okay. So Unshakable Truth basically, I’ve just taken the idea of that – unknowingly of Unshakable Truth and distilled them down to three questions. So what I would say is for every what proclamation you make – what does the Bible teach about this? What did Jesus say about this? What is this x? Whatever the x is, you want to provide two is, you want to provide two “whys.” Why is it true evidentially. And what I always say is, we want to be able to explain why it’s true from both books of God. From the book of scripture because we want to show the special relationship of God in scripture makes the case for this. But also, the book of nature so we can show, you know, Romans 1, Psalm 19. The idea that we have enough evidence from just nature. I’m somebody that’s still skeptical. I can show you that the Bible actually describes the world the way it really is because both books are the … and this is what I think the entire scientific project is.

It’s as Kepler said. The idea that man can discover the words of God in nature thinking God’s thoughts after him. That idea is very powerful. I think young people are being persuaded by things online where people are saying, “The science demonstrates this. The scientists said.” Well, we need to be able to show that the scientific world, the realm of naturalism, really, this is God’s world. And if it’s true here, you’ll find it to be true over here. And then the second “why” is okay, so you’ve now demonstrated in some way why you think this is true. But why should I care? I get it. To you 58-year-old nut jobs or interested in theology, it might be interesting to you guys. But I don’t care about that. It has no impact on me. If we can’t help our young people to see how this is relevant to the lives they’re living, it answers the questions they’re raising with their social media. When a 17-year-old calls you to say, what do I do now? You want to be able to show that it turns out that that issue you’re talking about on Instagram, is described thousands of years ago in a book that describes you the way you really are and your friends the way they really are, and your interaction the way it really is.

And that will help our students to see that, yeah, I can be interested in this. Because we talked about it in the book and I don’t forget who first said this. But apathy-ism probably is the biggest challenge to theism, not atheism. When Sean and I started, we first started partnering, I never wrote a book until Sean asked me to write a book. And we did that on a trip to Berkeley. But when you take students to Berkeley, I kind of thought – it was almost 20 years ago when we first started doing these things like 17 years ago – hey, we were going to encounter strong atheism. Not really. What we’re going to encounter most of the time is just apathy. Students on campus, maybe groups on campus are strongly atheistic in some groups. But generally speaking, students were like, “Eh, don’t really care.”

Sean McDowell
Apathetic about religious issue in particular. That’s the key.
Jim Wallace
Mm-hmm. So we have to kind of help show them why they should care.
Sean McDowell
And that’s the heart of this, Mikel. It’s not enough to just tell the kids, “The Bible says so.” Because this generation has entirely different authority structure. We want to show why it’s true, why it matters to their life, and why God gave this command in the first place. Then they can start to live it out and I think it also becomes conviction.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. So you mentioned your tips to Berkeley. Explain a little bit about what those were. And what are some other ways to involve students beyond just speaking to them on a stage?
Jim Wallace
Yeah, you talk about this, Sean.
Sean McDowell
Yeah, sure.
Jim Wallace
Because we first met doing these trips.
Sean McDowell
This was first Jim’s idea when he was a youth pastor. He just said to Brett Kunkle, hey, why don’t we just take students to Berkeley? This secular place. Get challenged. It became a trip. Two or three years into this we started partnering. And the idea was – this is why I think one of the reasons why I asked you to do the book with me, Jim, is because you bring this perspective from law enforcement – your training – into youth ministry and parenting. And the idea was it’s not enough to just teach. We need to train. So when you train for a sporting event, you have something on the calendar and you don’t want to get embarrassed. And you want to win and get ready for it. So if we have in six weeks or six months we’re going to Berkeley, kids are thinking I’m not going to have somebody challenge my faith. I’m not going to have Jim, or Sean, or Mikel there to defend me. I’m going to be on my own with another student. I better get ready. So it created a sense of urgency. And the idea just being that every year, at our Christian school we probably go every two or three years. And then do other kinds of trips.

We go with a group two days. Jim, you’ve done trips that are five or seven days. And we bring in atheists. We bring agnostics. We brought in homosexual activists. We’ve had professors come in. And we just teach our students how to engage with people thoughtfully. Ask good perceptive questions and just love on somebody. We go out in pairs and meet with students. We’ve met with atheist groups. We also meet with a lot of Christians on campus and talk about how you maintain your faith on campus. Now these trips are some of the most impactful things you can do with students. And we have an entire chapter in the back of the book of how to do this. But what we strongly don’t recommend is someone listening going, “Great idea. Let’s take a group of students to Berkeley next week.” Both of us made a lot of mistakes doing this and learned the hard way.

So we want you to have the wisdom of how to do it. But here’s the spirit of the idea. I was with my kids. We were up at Hume Lake probably four or five summers ago. And there was this big stand of Jehovah’s Witnesses. And I was walking by with a pastor of mine – a friend of mine. And his kids started walking towards the booth and my kids did. And he says to his kids, “No, don’t go there. We don’t read that stuff.” I said to my son, “Yeah, you’re interested. Go get it. Let’s talk about it.” So he goes and picks it up. He’s interested. What is this? So he’s interested. He wants to talk. It gave me a chance to talk to my son who is 10 or 11. And it shows him, I’m not afraid of other idea. And the pastor at that time was like, “Wow, I just hadn’t approached it that way.” So part of the heart of what we’re trying to do in this book is we’ve got to just in different ways push kids out of the comfort zone. Get them into the game practicing and living this stuff. Not just show up at church. Study 30 minutes.

That could never counter – once or twice a week – all the messages they’re getting from a secular culture nonstop. That’s not going to work. So we’re trying to raise the bar for anyone who loves this generation. But ultimately, what’s unique about the book is there’s also a lot of real practical ways to do this.

Jim Wallace
Well, think about this for a second, Mikel. You’re getting ready to write your dissertation for you PhD. And I’ll guarantee you that having to write that and having a deadline in which you must produce it will create in you, not only a sense of urgency, but also a sense of interest that you wouldn’t have on that topic if it’s just like something you’re studying on your own. It’s just something you could actually have a teacher in a class. In the end, it’s you having to do it. Every training day in a first responders’ life is broken into classroom session in the morning usually, and in the afternoon, you’ll do it. Now I’ll tell you for example, let’s say you’re doing pursuit course driving. We have to do this every two years. We have to reevaluate it and get re-certified to drive fast cars.

Well the morning is going to be charting the course, and talking about how you accelerate out of turns, and how you 7, 8, 9, break into turns, and how you hit the apex of the turn. It’s all very kind of geometry. You could be like, yeah, no thank you. People are actually paying attention. You know why? Because after lunch, you’re going to have to get into the pursuit car and a training instructor is going to try to out chase you. You’ll be chasing that guy. And you don’t want to knock over any cones. And you want to stay within a car’s length of this guy through the entire pursuit. And if you don’t, all of your co-working cops who are brutal are going to mock you mercilessly for the next two years because you didn’t do that the last time we trained. That stress, that performance stress, it creates a different structure in the morning. We’re all paying attention because we want to get any little thing we can get that can make us better in the afternoon. Same thing happens with students.

When they know they’re going to have to do street Evangelism with a group that maybe has a certain different view, for example, on theology. We take them to Salt Lake City or to an Islam trip, or to the university. They’re actually paying attention the instruction part of this because they’re afraid of being embarrassed in the performance part of this. And by the way, these are not just measurable performance-oriented kinds of trips. These are the kinds of trips that our group systematically left all of the board sports that we typically do in California. You know, surfing camps, snowboard camps, wakeboarding camps, skateboard trips. They let those go on their own in exchange them out for these because they were so powerful.

Mikel Del Rosario
Wow. That’s a special kind of trip when someone gives up Huntington Beach surfing for going to do Evangelism at Berkeley or BYU.
Jim Wallace
Right.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, in the book, you had this acronym for TRAIN. Would you unpack that a little bit for someone thinking what’s the difference in between training and teaching?
Jim Wallace
Just really quickly. The T is for testing and no one does this better than Sean. So when I say test, what I mean is we have to show young people what they don’t know before we begin. Because if you don’t do that – it actually incentivizes their study because they realize, oh, that was uncomfortable. So if you can bring in a Mormon bishop who would be willing to work with your group and talk. Great. If you can bring in an atheist professor. If you can’t though. If you know enough and you have a certain amount of humility – and that’s why I say Sean does this – I don’t anybody who has more humility than Sean in this area. And his online – you can go on YouTube and see. I just posted one on my Twitter feed two days ago.

One of Sean’s atheist roleplays where he’s playing the atheist. And he tells them up front that you already know who I am. Then he plays the atheist. And trust me, it’s powerful. I have been with him a number of times when we’ve done this together and I will tell you, it’s powerful. And that test reveals to young people what they don’t know. Next, the R is for simply raising the bar. Requiring more of your students. We typically require a lot from our students in all kinds of other areas in high school. Even on their volleyball, they’ve got a coach and tutor, and you name it. And we’ve got them in IB. And we’ve got them in AP classes. Then it comes to spiritual things and it’s like, well, just go to your youth group and that’s good enough. Really? They can study at a college level on everything else, right?

Well, maybe it’s time to raise the bar over here. Three is the A – T-R-A – is to arm them with something that helps them to make the case. We don’t put first responder’s in the field without respirators and other things that first responder’s have from the fire department, or without equipment that we wear as police officers. We arm them. And a lot of that is going to be about number one, showing them what the world view is. They have to be biblically literate. And two, helping them defend it, so apologetics. And three, exposing them to what the other side has been saying. I want them to hear that from Sean and I before they ever hear that on a college campus. The I – T-R-A-I. This is the things that changes everything. It’s involving students in the battlefield.

And I hate to call it a battlefield. So when I first wrote this 15 years ago, I really saw it in some ways as a spiritual battle. But I think that language can be divested. What we’re really saying is, have we created a challenge for young people?

Sean McDowell
It’s in the Scripture too. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, we are in a spiritual battle. But you’re right we just want to hesitate from saying it’s us versus them and we’re trying to destroy people.
Jim Wallace
Yeah. Right.
Sean McDowell
So I think that’s hesitation.
Mikel Del Rosario
We tear down arguments, not other people.
Jim Wallace
No, exactly.
Sean McDowell
Exactly. So keep going
Jim Wallace
The armor of God, right?
Sean McDowell
Yes.
Jim Wallace
We can make a case for this language. But I almost feel like this is not about me and Sean being afraid to use biblical language. It’s just we want to maximize our persuasiveness with the culture that might see us a certain way. That’s all it is, right? So I would say to other Christians, yeah, we are going to take them to the battlefield. But if I’m talking to someone on the outside, I’m going to say, “Hey, what a challenge?” A test is a challenge not a battle. Any test that’s on the calendar causes you to study before you get to that test. And that’s what this comes down to. Have you calendared the appropriate challenge for your young people so you can turn your conversations into preparation for that challenge? And finally, the N is can you nurture?

Because what you’re going to discover along the way is lots of bumps and bruises. If you’ve ever watched the MMA, the guy whose arm is lifted at the end is also probably got a cut and gash, and a big swollen eyeball, and his shoulder has been kicked out of place. And he’s the winner. So there’s times where you’re going to be engaged in these challenges, and you’re going to come out and feel like, “Wow, God used me.” But you’re going to have to have a cut man in the corner who can help close that things so you can get back on the field and get back in the fight. So a lot of it for us – that’s why this book we think is unique in that sense is that we have not separated our love for young people in the context of relationship from any of these strategies. Every chapter starts with how you love kids in a different way. A different shading of our love for young people. And how that will change. And by the way, just let me say this.

I think Sean and I felt like we were afraid that we were going to create resource that number one, would put shame on the hearts of parents who felt like oh, I never did any of this stuff. Not our intent. Or two, we give you a list of 100 things now you’ve got to do. Not our approach. What Sean is really good about in the book is offering opportunities that you can leverage in the same amount of time you’re already doing something. But we’re just going to change your approach just slightly so that with no additional time or effort, you’re going to have a more productive outcome. That’s what this book hopes to do.

Jim Wallace
If I can jump in and just pay you back on that. If you heard this acronym TRAIN, you might be sitting there going, “Oh my goodness, I’m not doing any of this. This is overwhelming.” But these principles as you read in the book you realize here small tweaks that I can make. So when we’re done on this call, I’ve been having a lot of conversations with my family and my kids about race and how we respond. And afterwards I thought I need to get my son out of my comfort zone. So we called up a friend who’s Black and said, “Can we sit down and hear your story? We want to talk to you. We want to your experience.” And just pushing my son out of his comfort zone a little bit into the game of like, let’s practice listening. Let’s practice empathy. Let’s learn and be humble. These are small ways we can do the opportunities if we just jump on them. That’s what we’re trying to equip parents with in the book and anyone who cares about this generation.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, I really like how you wrap the whole thing up in the context of love and relationships. I went to a PDYM youth ministry thing once when I was a youth pastor in San Francisco. And it was a Saddleback actually. And there was a guy who – well, I’ll say who it was. It was the former drummer for the Supertones. And he was doing youth ministry.
Sean McDowell
Oh.
Jim Wallace
You just dated yourself when you said Supertones, right? Everyone’s going Supertones?
Mikel Del Rosario
They’re like, what’s that? [Laughter] Well, anyway, he did a presentation on how do you do youth ministry on the shadow of

Saddleback? And it was awesome that Saddleback actually let him do a talk at PDYM on how does he do that. But it’s relationships. It’s the same way that Saddleback does youth ministry in the shadow of Disneyland. If it’s pure entertainment, Disneyland will win every time. But if it’s relationships, guess what? Your friends are going to win every time. Maybe all your friends.

Sean McDowell
Mikel, this is so important. We haven’t asked this question. As parents, as youth pastors, anyone who influences this generation, what do we uniquely have in the Christian faith to offer this generation? It’s not entertainment. Although, entertainment is not bad. It’s truth. And I believe it’s the grace that comes from knowing Jesus Christ. That’s the heart of it. So Christianity is true and it transforms your life when you understand the grace. Anything else that we base Christianity in apart from those two things is going to be shallow and not create a lasting faith.
Jim Wallace
This whole word we use – Sean and I also trained Apologetic speakers at this thing called Cross Examine Instructors Academy with Frank Turek. It’s like I have to help speakers understand that the idea of being entertaining, I see the draw, the magnetism about that. Why you might want to be entertaining. But we have to change our thinking on that. I want to be engaging, not necessarily entertaining. Sometimes those two words can be exchanged in our thinking with young people. It’s that, yeah, I get it. I don’t want to be entertaining. I want to be engaging. I want to grab their attention and help them see why this should matter to them. That’s an aspect that may be entertainment. I don’t know. But that’s really what I think we’re talking about.

Why would somebody call Sean to ask his view for their kids? Why would somebody want to buy one of Sean’s books? Why does anybody do that? Because they hope that what you have to offer is somehow engaging and their kids will actually lock on. I write children’s books for that reason. A lot of work. To be honest with you, it’s a small audience and it’s a ton of work. But your sense of it is we want to engage this next culture. I don’t want to entertain them. But there’s an aspect of this, right?

In other words, I can say the same thing and one will sound very academic, and the other will sound very accessible. And what I want to do – I’ve learned a long time ago when I’ve written so many books now – and so has Sean – that if I had a choice, I think accessibility would be my highest priority. Especially for young people.

Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. I agree. I’m a big advocate for what I like to accessible Apologetics.
Jim Wallace
Yeah. Have you sales marked that? I bet you have.
Mikel Del Rosario
My curriculum is called that. Yeah. [Laughter] Accessible Apologetics.
Jim Wallace
That’s a great one. It alliterates. It kind of hits it. And now, if you haven’t got the website already locked in, I’m going to go on GoDaddy right now. I’m going to lock in that website. [Laughter]
Sean McDowell
I’d just add awesome and have alliteration and bring back the ’80s. That’s it. That’s my only advice.
Mikel Del Rosario
There you go. That’ll preach. Anyway, Sean, when we think about Gen Z and how they interact with these information sources, there’s a tendency to mistrust authorities and information sources. And they have so much information coming at them and they don’t know what looks like a legitimate website or just some random tweet, or whatever. How do we navigate this as Apologists, as Christian leaders in their lives when they’re just getting bombarded by all kinds of information and having to sort stuff out?
Sean McDowell
Some Gen Zers I talk to, a lot of them tell me that they know how to determine and what is not better than other generations. And I haven’t seen studies on this or not and it probably depends on the young people, but that’s an interesting thought. We assume they don’t know how. But they have swam in the water so much – my son often sees things that I don’t see. Well, I think when it comes to helping them discern truth, a couple of things. Number one, when you speak and you write, you’ve got to get your information correct. You have to. I saw this maybe 8 or 10 years ago. I was speaking at one of the Berkeley trips.

And these atheists are sitting there with their iPads open researching the moment I spoke. And if you get something wrong or you overstate it, you lose credibility for this generation. You have to get your information right. Now, we’ve all made mistakes. I do and I own it. But I just feel like I’ve got to do my due diligence and not overstate things. Second, what I think is interesting is you know my father – it’s been 40-whatever years ago – wrote Evidence Demands Verdict. The value of that book is nobody had access to that information at that time. It was novel and blew people away. Well, he asked me to help him update it about three years ago. One of my first thoughts was like, okay, what’s the value of his now? Because now there’s all these other apologists. You can Google the information. And I came to the conclusion, number one, if you have a volume that has answers on certain issues and saves time, that’s a value. But second, it hit me.

I thought, especially today when everybody has a voice, trust is one of the most important commodities that we have. And my dad’s faithfulness in ministry, people hear his name, they see evidence, and to so many people they go, you know what? That’s a voice I can trust. Because they feel like they have a relationship with him. So when it comes to this generation, we have got to do our homework. But I’m convinced, having a relationship with these young people – like somebody asked me one time. They said, I can’t believe you take people to Berkeley. It’s dangerous. I said, “You know what? I’m not afraid they’re going to listen to this atheist.” Because number one, I’m going to show them the atheist is wrong and his arguments aren’t good and they see it on the trip. But second, if I build a relationship with these people and they know that I care, they’re going to listen to me. So I work hard to be involved in the conversation with my kids regularly talking about stuff. So when they have a question, they don’t first Google. Hopefully, they’ll come to me. So that is an ongoing perpetual relationship you can’t stop having with this generation.

Sean McDowell
When I think about this in terms of legal terms, in terms of how we do it in front of juries, it’s evidential modesty. It’s that I don’t overstate how strong the case is because the defense is going to get a chance to whack at it. This is a piñata they swing at it. So I do not overstate the evidence. But I think I’ve learned as an author since coming out of the job I worked for two decades and more is that what provides you an opportunity to speak to somebody in the form of a book is not anything other than trusted authority. That is the thing that we want to build is trusted authority. This is why I write in a very limited range. I write from my experience as a detective and try to provide you with the detective’s experience. Why? Because I know that’s where my authority come from. I know that that’s the expertise that I have. I don’t try to step out of my expertise. I don’t try to become the expert.

I try to become the detective who helps you evaluate the evidence from the expert and make a cumulative case from all those experts. That’s just me trying to stay within my range. Stay in your lane. I don’t jump out of my lane. Parents, the question is you already have half the trusted authority in your pocket. Especially if you have junior highers or younger. Now, once you get to junior high and high school, it can be a bit of a challenge. But before that, you have the trust of your kids who you have the strongest relationship with. The only trick is when they ask you that question that seems to be a challenge to their Christian worldview, do you have enough information to be able to deliver an answer. You have half the combination.

You have the relationship. But do you have the information? So that’s why it’s important for us as parents to be able to do both of those things. Not just say, well, I have this relationship with you, but here’s Jim Wallace’s book. Here’s Sean McDowell’s. Really? I have no relationship with Jim Wallace and I have no relationship with Sean McDowell. You’re my dad or my mom, and I’m asking you the question. Now they’re not going to say that. But that’s just the reality of where they are. So I think we have to be able to…

Sean McDowell
Did we lose Jim for a second?
Mikel Del Rosario
I think so.
Sean McDowell
In a great pose by the way. A great pose.
Jim Wallace
Offer a solution to their questions and answer it. Was it really good? I hope it was as entertaining for you as it was, because I can tell you, I had two great poses instead of one. [Laughter] I should’ve screen captured that. Anyway, the point is – I think that you understand what I’m saying. What Sean and I have always said in this book, it’s this combination. And I know that’s frustrating for a lot of apologists, Mikel. Because most of us doing apologetics work, we have mastered the answers to certain questions. And in reality, it’s not an either-or. It’s a both-and.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. Yeah, when we’ve been doing these Zoom meetings with youth here in the Dallas area, every time someone asks a question, we ask a question back.
Sean McDowell
Good.
Mikel Del Rosario
And kind of help them unpack it. And say, why is that something that bothers you or what’s your take on that? And just allow them to – because one, we’re modeling them. We’re modeling for them what we want them to do with their friends when their friends ask questions about the faith. It’s to ask them questions and listen, and really get that read on what they’re coming from. I love how relationship has been wrapped around this conversation. I think that’s really important. With the time that we have left, there’s three audiences that I think would be really interested in this book. One, parents, two, Christian school teachers, and three, youth pastors. You have a variety of tips in there for them. But let’s just end with this one question for each one of those groups. What are some good ways for them to connect and build spiritual conversations with these young people? What would be one thing for parents that they could do? One thing to try?
Sean McDowell
One thing I would say for parents is the key to this is not to try some new program you didn’t do before. So I would say especially with what’s happened with our economy turned upside down and these quarantine issues people have worked through, carve out time together for meals and sit down. It’s easy to fill that up. It’s easy to get busy. And don’t sit down with super high expectations, like we’re going to work through the book of Job or whatever it is. Just have realistic expectations, as questions, and listen. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my dad when I was growing up – and I do this too – was always looking for stories in the news. And we’d just sit down and go, hey, kids this is going on. What do you think? Tell me.

And he’d ask us questions and then he’d share what he thought. And I thought, that’s just a great way of maximizing the time to have conversations. Now, if your kids right away don’t respond, give it time. Work at it. And don’t give up. I spent far more time talking to my kids about comic books and basketball, to be honest with you, than deep spiritual conversations. But I seize the moments as a I can and make it work. And I know it stick with them.

Jim Wallace
Yeah. Let me shift over to youth pastors for a second. I think it’s easier as parents. We probably have some sense of what our kid’s personalities are, what their struggles are, and what their unvoiced questions may be. At least, if we’re in touch with our kids. But when you’re a youth pastor and you’ve got 50 students or some of the average youth pastors is probably around 20. You may not have the kinds of depth of relationship with 20 that a parent has with three. So I get that. It’s a little bit harder. But what you have to do then is kind of craft opportunism to be able to listen to their stories. Now, you can’t always do this on a one on one. Sometimes you can.

But I used to, for example, on Wednesday nights – and this is very simple, probably a thousand million youth pastors do this – but we would have just a question box or a question hat. And we would have people dump in their questions in that hat. And then at least twice a month, we would do nothing but answer. They were offered anonymously. Now if nothing else, it’s just going to give you the temperature – the inquisitive temperature – of the group at large. It’s not going to tell you it’s Timothy that really has the biggest question over here in this one area. Here’s where his struggle is. You may not know that. But what we have to do is be intentional about hearing what are the concerns and don’t assume you know the concerns. Because you can find the books that will say here’s the top ten objections to Christianity.

And you can start to do a message series on what some book tells you are the top ten questions to Christianity. When in fact, your youth group may be very different where it’s located in the country, what kind of culture you’re in. You may have an entirely different set of questions. But have you taken the time to actually hear the questions from the students? And I start with that anonymous question hat only because if you’re just starting at the beginning of a semester, and this is a relatively new group coming together, then you may not be comfortable asking those questions out loud and you want to offer some cover. And sometimes we wouldn’t get to that question for two more weeks. They would stay in the hat until we pulled it out. But at least it begins a process by which you now get to understand what your kids have concerns about.

Mikel Del Rosario
That’s right. When I was a youth pastor in San Francisco, one of the first assignments I got was to take every kid in the youth group out to lunch. The pastor was like, I don’t care if it takes you more than a year, just work on it. Just five kids a week. Just try. And I was really sick of the pizza place that was right next door to our church. But we started to different restaurants after a while. But nothing beats that one on one and building those relationships. Sean, let’s go to Christian school teachers to finish us out. One tip for Christian school teachers?
Sean McDowell
Okay. Since we’re talking about Gen Z, let’s assume junior high and high school. Here’s what I encourage teachers to do. Whatever discipline you teach, find a connection between that discipline and the Christian worldview. So my wife actually teaches math at a Christian school and I send her links all the time. I just saw this discussion online about math and it was all about why is there this objective structure within the universe that our minds match up with. We’re not reading structure into the universe. We’re actually reading out of it. So I sent her a YouTube video on that. I find articles all the time that actually talk about what our numbers – you can’t weight them. They’re not physical. They seem to be spiritual. And yet, they’re real. What does that tell us about the spiritual realm?

Any Christian school teacher, it should be maybe Fridays for five minutes. You can find time if it’s important. And what this does is this generation is taught like previous generations to compartmentalize their faith to Bible class to church services, but not see how it affects all areas of life. And to me, the most important task of a Christian educator is, yes, love kids, yes, be excellent at your subject. But show your students how to think about this subject Christianly. Then they make connections in their faith and you can really develop a Christian world view. And I would actually encourage people just like on their smartphone, when you find an article, copy and past it, write it in the notes section. And just keep a running list of simple things and just share it. That’s it.

Jim Wallace
Just to give you a weird analogy to this. If you’ve ever listened to Eric Dickerson, the running back for the Rams years ago. When I was a kid – well not a kid, a younger man – Eric was like the best running back in the league. He’s become what they call the Rambassador because he’s like the ambassador to the Rams. You can find his show and talk about any issue. At some point, what’s going to ooze out of him is some positive affirmation of the Rams. That’s just who he is. Well, it turns out it’s because he’s so intensely moved by his experience there, and even though he didn’t finish his career there, he’s so moved by it, and he’s so interested in it. And he knows every coach. He knows the history of all their draft choices. It just spills out of him.

I think as teachers, as pastors, as parents, it’s out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. And so, a lot of it is are we just so absolutely interested in the things of Christ that no matter what we’re talking about eventually, something about Jesus is going to come out. And it’s not going to be this fake kind of forced thing. But it’s going to be able for us to connect the dots between whatever that subject was and the source of all subjects, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. So to me, it’s like are we so interested that we just can’t help but infuse our teaching of math, infuse our teach of biology with the things of God. The say way that this Rambassador can do it. We can be ambassadors too. You see if it gets a lot more significant than the LA Rams.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. You know St. Patrick has this prayer that’s credited to him that there’s a line in it that says, “I want Christ to be on the lips of all who speak of me.” And I’ve kind of taken that as a thing for my own life especially working in historical Jesus studies. Man, what I love that anyone who says Mikel Del Rosario, the next thing they’re going to say is, “He’s talking about Jesus.” And so, that’s something I think we can all do. Our love for Jesus spills out of us. And also, our love for the kids. Like you guys say in the book, we love our own kids. That’s why I play video games that make me dizzy. But we should also love the kids in the church, and sacrifice for them, and prepare that next generation to engage with culture. Well, thank you guys so much for being on the show. Jim, thanks so much.
Jim Wallace
Of course. Thank for having me.
Sean McDowell
Thanks for having us.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah, Sean, thanks for being on the show again. It’s always good to see you.
Sean McDowell
Always love it. Thank you.
Mikel Del Rosario
All right. And we thank you so much for joining us on the Table. If you have a topic that you’d like us to consider for a future episode, please email us at thetable@DTS.edu. We hope we’ll see you again next time here on the Table where we discuss issues of God and culture.
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J. Warner Wallace
J. Warner Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker and author. He continues to consult on cold-case investigations while serving as a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and an adjunct professor of apologetics at Biola University. He is the author of Cold-Case Christianity (2013), God’s Crime Scene (2015), Forensic Faith (2017) and co-author of And So the Next Generation Will Know (2019) with Sean McDowell.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mikel Del Rosario is a PhD student in New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Project Manager for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University. Mikel co-authors The Table Briefing articles in Bibliotheca Sacra with Darrell Bock, manages the Table Podcast, and helps Christians defend the faith with courage and compassion through his apologetics speaking ministry. He holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from DTS and an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.
Sean McDowell
Sean McDowell is an associate professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University. He is the Resident Scholar for Summit California. In 2008, he received the Educator of the Year award for San Juan Capistrano, Calif. The Association of Christian Schools International awarded Exemplary Status to his apologetics training. Sean is listed among the top 100 apologists. He graduated summa cum laude from Talbot School of Theology with a master’s degree in theology and another in philosophy. He earned a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies in 2014 from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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