COMMUNICATING BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW TO MILLENNIALS AND IGENS:

TASTE AND SEE APOLOGETICS[1]

Christopher Cone, Th.D, Ph.D, Ph.D

Biblical Models for Communicating Truth to the Unversed

Peter provides the only direct apologetic mandate in Scripture,[2] reminding his readers in 1 Peter 3:15 to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” The word translated defense is the Greek apologia, and it references a justification of a position or an argument upon which basis a position is to be preferred. Peter was talking to regular believers, challenging them to (1) have the proper perspective of and response to Christ, (2) to be always prepared to give an apologia, (3) in response to those who ask, (4) specifically providing an account for the hope within them, (5) with gentleness and reverence.

In the context of Peter’s exhortation, it is evident that the apologia was to be offered to unbelievers, and should revolve around the basis for the believer’s hope. This was evangelistic in the sense that it was a method (and preparedness) for communicating good news to those who weren’t aware of it, hadn’t understood it, or hadn’t yet acquiesced to it. This Biblical model for apologetics was grounded in an acknowledgment of who God was, not logical argument in proving He existed. Certainly, such philosophical devices were not prohibited by Peter, after all, it would not be surprising if different defenses of the faith would contain different emphases based on the diverse contexts in which they were formulated and given. Still, the model was hope-centered.

Peter and Paul, for example, demonstrate in their recorded defenses of the gospel, a diversity of emphases, with a univocality in theme. In Acts 2, Peter connected with God-fearing Jews by connecting their present experience (of hearing the gospel in their own languages) with Biblical prophecy about the identity and work of the Messiah. Peter’s proclamation culminated with the crucifixion of Christ, and a call to believe in Him. Here Peter sought to help his listeners properly interpret their experience in light of Scripture. In Acts 3, Peter started his message with a somewhat gentle appeal that the Jews had crucified their Messiah in ignorance (3:17). He acknowledged that God intended to use their action to fulfill prophecy – further confirming Jesus’ Messianic identity – and ultimately Peter called the Jews to return to the Messiah. While this message included very difficult and offensive aspects of content, including guilt for murder and substitutionary atonement, Peter presented them as gently and reverently as possible (remember 1 Pet 3:15?). Peter concluded his proclamation with a statement of Jesus’ identity as the Prophet, who would come to refresh the nation. He helped his listeners contextualize their actions in light of God’s mercy. In Acts 4, after being arrested, Peter encapsulated the basis of his arrest and trial, pointing to the undeniable fact that a man had been healed (4:9). Peter asserted that the healing was done in the name of Jesus. He utilized that opportunity to focus on the identity and work of Jesus the crucified, the rejected cornerstone, and the only name under heaven whereby people could be saved (4:10-12). In each of these instances Peter was able to show the relevance of Jesus and His work in relation to the context and actions of Peter’s listeners. He did so with slight changes in how he communicated, but the essential content remained the same.

While not specifically described as defense passages, several of Paul’s evangelistic episodes were recorded in detail, and give us understanding of his method, his emphasis, and even how he was received by his listeners. At Thessalonica, Paul went to the synagogues (as was his custom) and reasoned from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2). Paul explained and gave Scriptural evidence of the Person and work of the Christ in His death and burial (17:3). His source material was the Scriptures and his focus was on who Christ was and what He did – primarily in His death and resurrection. It is worth noting that many of his listeners found Paul persuasive (17:4). At Athens, Paul was proclaiming Jesus and the resurrection (17:18). When given opportunity to elaborate, he entered into the Athenian worldview and presented from within that vantage point that Jesus was Judge and Sovereign as evidenced by His resurrection (17:22-31). Some who listened mocked, others considered, and some believed (17:32-34). Clearly, Paul’s intent was to persuade.

In contexts specifically referenced as defense encounters, Paul narrated through his personal testimony at his defense in Jerusalem (Acts 22). Before the Sanhedrin and a mixed audience of Pharisees and Sadducees, Paul focused on the “hope and resurrection from the dead” (Acts 23:6). When addressing Felix, Paul appealed to “a hope in God…that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and of the wicked” (Acts 24:15). Before Festus, he argued that he had done no wrong to any group – that his message was not harmful (Acts 25:1-10). In this context, Paul certainly modeled Peter’s admonition in 1 Peter 3:16 that believers, “keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” Before Agrippa, Paul recounted how he had arrived at that moment, and proclaimed that he was “standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers” (Acts 26:6). That hope was the resurrection (26:8), and was rooted in God’s plan for salvation of those who had in faith in Christ (26:18), and that Christ had been raised from the dead (26:22-23). Notably, we are given some insight into how Agrippa took Paul’s testimony – Agrippa found them convincing or persuasive (26:28). This is indicative perhaps of Paul’s purpose and passion in communicating. In every context his focus was on the Person, death, and resurrection of Christ, and Paul was intending to persuade his listeners (e.g., Acts 26:29), appealing to them from within their worldview or situational context, relying on what God had revealed and on what had happened in fulfillment of those revealed truths.

Peter and Paul proclaimed truth in diverse contexts, appealing to people with diverse worldviews. Both showed understanding of those with whom they were speaking. Both showed reliance on the Scriptures as their primary source material. Both worked from the existence of God rather than arguing to it, and both were centrally focused on the Person and work of Jesus the Christ – specifically His identity, death, burial and resurrection. The apologetic and evangelistic vocations of Peter and Paul provide a helpful model for believers to fulfill Peter’s apologetic mandate: (1) meet people where they are, within their contexts, (2) employ the Bible as the content and source material, (3) acknowledge God and begin with Him as the first order of truth, and (4) recognize that the critical content for an unbeliever is the Person and work of Christ – His identity, death, burial, and resurrection.

The goal of Peter and Paul seemed to be to draw people from within the audience’s own context to look to Christ and believe in Him. Neither apostle was focused at that point on repudiating the entire worldview structures of their listeners. Both recognized that transformation through the renewing of the mind (Rom 12:2) and avoiding conformity to former things (1 Pet 1:13-15) are issues for believers to deal with – not unbelievers. There was a clear order of priority for both of those men: promoting a holy standing before God in (positional) justification, first, then a holy mindset and walk with God in (practical) sanctification, second. They were able to tailor the message to connect with the audience, but the essential content of the gospel and the clarity with which they communicated it did not change with audience.

Believers today possess the privilege and responsibility to share God’s truth and love in much the same way. Peter’s apologetic mandate is broadly applicable for the church, as is the discipleship mandate that started with Jesus (e.g., Mt 28:18-20) and was echoed by Paul (e.g. 2 Tim 2:2, Tt 2:3-4). There is no question about the essential content of the message (as modeled by Peter and Paul), but there is discernment needed in ascertaining how best to connect with diverse people groups and generations. It is vital, for example, that we understand the context of present generation(s) if we would reach them with God’s truth and love.

 Applying Peter’s and Paul’s Model for Communicating Biblical Truth to Millennials and iGens

“We report, you decide.” It’s a slogan from a popular news outlet that positions itself as different from other agenda-driven media by its “fair and balanced” posture. How successful this network has been is a matter of debate, of course, but the formula is actually a good one for another mode of communication – especially for the emerging and distinct audience of the 21st century. In order to understand how that formula is especially fitting of this generation, we need a bit of context on how this present generation came to think that way it thinks. So let’s look back.

Following World War II and the culminating failure of the modern project, postmodernism rejected the idea of a grand narrative as a guide for humanity and culture. More specifically, postmodernism dismissed the modern metanarrative that discovery and technology would lead humanity to a utopian future. Technology had not succeeded in ushering in a golden age, instead it brought on the wings of the Enola Gay the most effective device for mass destruction the world had ever seen. Modernism had been rooted in the idea that premodernism – an era steeped in superstition and fear of unknown deities – was inadequate for advancing human understanding, purpose, and quality of life. Premodernism, ineffective as it was, was eventually discarded in favor of the hopeful and bright modern idea of better life through rationality and science. Descartes’ rationalism and Bacon’s scientific method were two late seventeenth century forces that helped drive the eighteenth century Enlightenment and the two-century modern project that followed.

While postmodernism borrowed modernity’s appreciation of science, science was no longer the central catalyst for progress, but rather science simply provided some general boundaries where postmodern ideas could flourish. Within the fence lines postmodernism maintained a largely atheistic faith in rejecting the idea of metanarrative altogether. While postmoderns could unify around big ideas like environmental responsibility, there was little room for heavenly sovereigns who would inhibit the postmodern agenda. Science had already killed God, and there was no benefit for postmodern thought in bringing Him back. His return to centrality in culture would have represented to postmoderns an overarching meaning and accountability that would prove too restrictive of the postmodern project. That project was simply a localized, contextual search for meaning that avoided universally applicable (non-scientific, and especially theistic) truths in favor of respecting narrow-context narratives as meaningful. As long as those micronarratives made no overtures of universal prescription, they fit comfortably in postmodern thought. This was a profound rejection of divine authority, even if the cost was a robust denial of human value in favor a biocentric model which considered all life to be equally valid. While this was an appropriate repudiation of traditional anthropocentrism, the preferred alternative was more problem than solution, as it preferred the creation over the Creator, and rooted itself further in micronarratives, drawing attention away from the reality that its naturalistic micronarratives were, in fact, rooted in a well disguised naturalistic metanarrative.

For many, the micronarratives and the naturalistic metanarrative of postmodernism simply have not quenched the thirst of those who have pursued them. There remains a yearning for universal truth and for grand meaning. Even within postmodern thought there was eventually made room for theistic ideas and an allowance for spirituality – but on the condition that broadly applicable prescriptions be avoided. Within that context, a significant contingent within evangelical Christianity adopted postmodernist thought, sounding a clarion call critique of the more rationalistic church that was increasingly accused of being cold and lifeless. Favoring an experiential posture, this emerging version of the church became so comfortable within a postmodern framework, that it became increasingly uncomfortable with definition, distinctness, and other-worldliness. This paradigm offered fertile conditions for departure from the Scriptures as the ultimate authority for universally applicable truth, and paved the way for the descent of the church into narrow-context experientialism. The postmodern church, without its authoritative base (the Bible) reflected a decreasing distinction from its surrounding culture, and thus became less and less relevant to a society that had fled “the tyranny of definitions and structure,”[3] leaving itself awash in a sea of questions, bereft of meaning and starved for truth.

Millennials responded to postmodernism’s distaste for definition with some degree of recognition that definition was inevitable. The “why” questions that postmodernism refused to answer had answers,[4] and Millennials were more receptive to those answers than their predecessors had been – even if it meant that metanarrative itself was up for reconsideration. In fact, valuing meaning is one of the defining characteristics of the Millennial generation as a whole. Millennials were confident in their skepticism toward authoritative structures, and unafraid of deriving their own metanarratives with a higher degree of independence than their predecessors had shown. Millennials find meaning in sharing their gifts, making an impact in the lives of others, and living their desired quality of life.[5]

A recent episode of Tim Allen’s popular sitcom Last Man Standing deals with the challenge of children being uninterested in the church traditions of their parents. In trying to entice their children to value church, the parents encourage the church to adopt more contemporary methods in order to attract the younger generation. (It is worth noting that the technique seemed to be effective for Generation X, but the young people in this particular episode were Millennials, bordering on iGens.) Ultimately the young people are drawn in not by the church getting younger in its approach, but by the young people’s use of their talents to get personally involved.[6] This portrayal is poignant, in that it shows how methods that worked for one generation don’t necessarily connect with the next. But it also illustrates a key path to connecting with the Millennial generation: interactivity and involvement leading to significance.

Generation Z, or the iGeneration (iGens), who have never known life without cell phones or social media, is the fastest learning, most information-exposed generation to date. They are driven and desire to change the world through their efforts. Four in five high schoolers believe they are more driven than their peers, and 26% of 16-19 year olds are currently volunteering.[7] Pragmatic, entrepreneurial, impatient, self-absorbed, global, fast paced, digital natives, and more multi-cultural than their millennial predecessors, “Generation Z takes in information instantaneously and loses interest just as fast.”[8] This started at an early age for iGen’s, largely through the rapid advance of technology and the accelerating rate of change. For example, kids are losing interest in toys at a much earlier age than ever before, as they are able to access technology for gaming and to engage social media.[9] They are exposed to adult themes much earlier and are asking and having to answer bigger questions far sooner than children from previous generations. They are independent learners, discovering online learning sources themselves, and they are setting the tone for how diverse generations will exchange information, consume technology and goods, and interact with others.

Millennials and iGens alike find themselves in an emerging post-postmodernism, even as they respond to the postmodern culture that weaned them. In 1996 Tom Turner observed signs that postmodernism had run its course and something else was coming:

There are signs of post-postmodern life, in urban design, architecture and elsewhere. They are strongest in those who place their hands on their hearts and are willing to assert, “I believe.” Faith was always the strongest competitor of reason: faith in a God, faith in a tradition, faith in an institution, faith in a person, faith in a nation. The built environment professions are witnessing the gradual dawn of a post-postmodernism that seeks to temper reason with faith.[10]

If postmodernism was a rejection of rationalism, post-postmodernism is rationalism with conviction and heart. Turner summarizes the distinction between three eras quite simply:

The modernist age of ‘one way, one truth, one city’ is dead and gone. The postmodernist age of ‘anything goes’ is on the way out.’ Reason can take us a long way but it has limits. Let us embrace post-postmodernism and pray for a better name.[11]

Millennials and iGens have never known the challenges that come with ‘one way, one truth, one city,’ so they are not as averse to some modernist ideas as their postmodern predecessors. Further, because of the technology explosion, ‘anything goes’ is not satisfying. They want answers, and they want to discover those answers themselves through independent process and free exchange of information. It is within this context that we presently find ourselves. “We report, you decide,” has added value, especially now, as it affirms the Millennial and iGen independent spirit and invites the interlocutor to listen, evaluate, determine, and take action.

There are some clear distinctions between the two generations. Some key differences include: (1) iGens have shorter attention spans, (2) iGens are more comfortable with multitasking, (3) Millennials are more price conscious, (4) iGens often start early, (5) iGens are more willing to take chances, more entrepreneurial, (6) iGens have higher expectations, (7) iGens seek to distinguish themselves, value individuality more, and (8) iGens are even more global than Millennials.[12]

While these are substantial differences, there are also significant commonalities: (1) transparency is important, (2) metanarrative is okay, (3) personal vulnerability and sincerity is important, (4) both are socially driven and want to be personally involved, (5) significance and meaning is paramount to both, (6) both process great quantities of information, so exegeting culture is relevant, (7) the church is of little relevance, though spirituality is not off the table, (8) participation is viewed as value (dig in the dirt with them, they will sense you value them. Being aware of the differences – of any generational or contextual differences – is important in reaching out to anyone, but also being discerning (like Peter and Paul) regarding how to best reach people of a particular generation or context is a significant complement to delivery of the message. We could say that God uses His word, so we need to get that right, and He uses His people as ambassadors. As Paul characterized his own ministry, “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). 

Conclusion: The Taste and See Apologetic

Psalm 34:8 invites the reader (or listener) to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” In the context David recounts how God had delivered him from something he deeply feared, and he calls upon those who know God to exalt Him. The Psalm is a rich testimony of the faithfulness of God in the lives of those who depend on Him. While it addresses “saints” (34:9), and is thus not inherently evangelistic, the theme, content, and delivery fits well Peter’s apologetic paradigm from 1 Peter 3:15. It certainly offers an account of the hope that was within the Psalmist. Again, even though David addresses saints in the near context, his invitation to “taste” in verse 8 implies that his intended audience in the immediate context had not yet tasted. It is fitting, I think, to draw a secondary application of Psalm 34:8, suggesting that such an invitation would be fitting for an apologetic/evangelistic encounter – especially in engaging the common sentiments of Millennials and iGens (those commonalities are highlighted in parentheses in the sections below). It invites the reader to become personally engaged (4) in the worldview. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Taste what? All that He has done, recounted in personal testimony terms, much like David employed in the Psalm. That personal perspective doesn’t change the message, but it contextualizes the message in such a way as to make the message demonstrably relevant. This is, I think, part of Peter’s intent in encouraging believers to be ready to discuss the hope that is within them. This approach also adds a degree of personal connectivity and vulnerability (3) that the contemporary listener values.

Rather than beginning without the existence of God and arguing to his existence, we begin with the presumption of His existence. After all, that is the Biblical starting place advocated in Genesis 1:1, Psalm 14:1, Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, Ecclesiastes 3:11, John 1:1, and Romans 1:20. Arguing from the existence of God rather than to it is not a proof of His existence, rather it is an explanation of all of reality through a particular (Biblical) lens. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” From there, we are transparent (1) about the source of our authority: our epistemological basis is that God, as revealed in the Bible, is the source of our authority and the basis for the Biblical worldview.

Starting from the Bible means that we are asserting significance and meaning (5) from the start. We are working with a metanarrative (2) revealed in and implied by the Bible. We are not trying to argue the inerrancy of Scripture at this point, we are simply assuming it and asking them to go along, even if only for the sake of sampling God’s worldview to see if indeed He is good. Once we have been transparent regarding the basis of the worldview, we can begin to flesh it out with an explanation of reality. It means that the great God described in the Bible has created, and then reached out to His creation to communicate Himself and establish a relationship with His creation. Because the creation is fallen, and humanity is separated from God through an inherited (from Adam) violation of God’s character and glory, the whole world is broken and does not function as it was designed. This is a powerful explanatory device, helpful in exegeting culture (6). Contemporary illustrations of the dysfunction are, regrettably, not hard to find, and drive the point home. He designed us to express His glory – to demonstrate His character, and part of that is in our being personally and individually relational and engaged (4) with the Creator of all things – as His children, no less.

To resolve that separateness, fallenness, and dysfunction, God showed the ultimate participation (8) of love with His creation, in that He sent His own Son as the perfect God-Man, who would die a substitutionary death to pay the cost owed to the Father for the violation of His character. The rightness, forgiveness, and wholeness required to have a new relationship with God is not accessible through religious systems or even participating in faith communities (7), but only by belief in the Person who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – the one Mediator between God and humanity, Jesus the Christ. He paid the price in His death and then rose from the dead, conquering the brokenness of creation and that brokenness’ greatest symptom: death.

In our belief, we become personally connected (4) to His death, His burial, and His resurrection. We become children of God – new creations, with new significance and meaning (5). We are His craftsmanship, intended to personally interact (4) with Him and to do the good things for which He designed us. He gave us new life in which we can love Him and express that love to others (4). While one day we will see Him face to face and experience that loving relationship in a different way, He has left us here to know and love Him, to love others, to be active and engaged in benefitting others (4) with the truth and love with which He has entrusted us.

In the meantime, He hasn’t left us alone, but has given us of His own Spirit to live within us and to commune with us (8). He has connected us to a community of other believers with whom we are designed to interact and engage life (4,7). As we live and serve together we grow in our relationship with Him and each other, and we learn through His word of His grand plans (2) for His creation – the promises He has made, and how He plans to fulfill them. We are stewards of the time He has given us, investing each moment wisely in Him and in others because of the significance He gives to even the most menial of tasks (5). Our days are filled with purpose, hope, and anticipation (5) as we complete our assigned adventure and look forward to what He has planned next. He teaches us, He guides us, He gives us Himself. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

The message never changes, but the language of the audience does. Peter’s apologetic mandate is an evangelistic one, and it demands us to get personal. We need to get personal with Christ, we need to get personal with the gospel, and we need to get personal with those who ask us to give an account of the hope within us. That hope is real, it is sure, and it is good. That hope is one of the many reasons we can say we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. Are we ready to connect with this present generation and invite them to do the same?

[1] Presented to the 2017 Calvary University Pastors’ Conference on Apologetics, Calvary University, Kansas City, April 20, 2017.

[2] While Luke 12:11 and 21:14 both contain mandates, both of these were to disciples who were not to prepare a defense for themselves. Peter’s mandate is more broadly applicable to believers, and does not reference a defense of themselves, but rather focuses on defending the gospel – much like what Paul references in Philippians 1:7 and 1:16, in describing his own activity.

[3] Gordon Brown, “The Millennial’s Guide to Postmodernism” in Primer Magazine, viewed at http://www.primermagazine.com/2014/learn/the-millennials-guide-to-philosophy-postmodernism.

[4] Rachel Gall, “Postmodernism is Dead! Postmodernism is Dead?” viewed at https://socalledmillennial.com/2013/07/17/postmodernism-is-dead-postmodernism-is-dead/.

[5] Shankar Ganapathy, “10 Millennial Personality Traits That HR Managers Can’t Ignore,” Mindtickle, viewed at https://www.mindtickle.com/blog/10-millennial-personality-traits-hr-managers-cant-ignore/.

[6]ABC, Last Man Standing, Season 6, Episode 18, “Take Me to Church” Feb. 24, 2017, viewed at http://abc.go.com/shows/last-man-standing/episode-guide/season-6/18-take-me-to-church.

[7] Sparks and Honey, “Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials” viewed at https://www.slideshare.net/sparksandhoney/generation-z-final-june-17.

[8] Alex Williams, “Move Over, Millennials, Here Comes Generation Z” in New York Times, Sept. 18, 2015, viewed at https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/fashion/move-over-millennials-here-comes-generation-z.html?_r=0.

[9] Jill Novak, “The Six Living Generations in America,” viewed at http://www.marketingteacher.com/the-six-living-generations-in-america/.

[10] Tom Turner, City as Landscape: A Post-Postmodern View of Design and Planning (London, UK: E&FN Spon, 1996), 8-9.

[11] Ibid., 10.

[12] George Beall, “8 Key Differences between Gen Z and Millennials” in Huffington Post, Nov. 5, 2016, viewed at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-beall/8-key-differences-between_b_12814200.html.

%d bloggers like this:
Read previous post:
Gifted By The Holy Spirit, Gifted With the Holy Spirit (Slides)

At the 2017 IFCA Cultivate Conference in Kansas City, Missouri, Dr. Cone considers the Holy Spirit, how He works in the...

Close