Innovative Apologetics for Gen Z

In this episode, Kasey Olander and Mary Jo Sharp discuss various characteristics of Generation Z and ways the Church can engage and encourage them in the faith.

About The Table Podcast

The Table is a weekly podcast on topics related to God, Christianity, and cultural engagement brought to you by the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. The show features interviews with guests who are experts on the chosen topic, and each episode is hosted by a member of The Hendricks Center’s team.

What is Apologetics and Why Does it Matter?
How Sharp Became Interested in Apologetics and Gen Z
Characteristics of Gen Z
Value of Media to Reach Young People
Innovative Project to Reach Gen Z
Faith and Reason
Apologetics Resources

Kasey Olander: 

Welcome to The Table Podcast, where we discuss issues of God and culture. My name is Kasey Olander, and I'm the web content specialist here at The Hendrick Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And today we're going to be discussing Innovative Apologetics for Gen Z. 

So that's those people that are born approximately from 1997 onward, how we can reach them and equip them. And today we're excited because our guest is Mary Jo Sharp. She is an author and speaker and apologist, and she's the founder of Confident Christianity, which is an apologetics ministry. 

She's a former atheist from the Pacific Northwest who now holds a Masters in Christian Apologetics from Biola, and she teaches at Houston Baptist University, which is now Houston Christian University. Mary Jo, thank you so much for being with us today. 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Hey Kasey, it's so good to be on. 

Kasey Olander: 

Yes, we know you've been on the show several times, so we appreciate you coming back and being with us. So, like I said, today we're focusing specifically on Gen Z and some of innovative ways that we can reach them with apologetics. 

And so you're really well suited for this conversation because of your background in apologetics. And so first of all, I just want to set the table for us. Can you give us a quick definition? What is apologetics and why does it matter? 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Oh yeah, very good. So apologetics, that word is a transliterated word straight out of Koine Greek from the scriptures from the Bible. And you can find it in 1st Peter 3-15 where it says, or Peter saying, "Always be prepared to give a defense of the reason of your hope." And that word defense is apologia. 

So it means to make a case to give that defense. And that if you're like, "Okay. Yeah, that's great, but what does it mean?" Well, it's like what a lawyer used to do. We used to call them apologist because they were making cases. So if that kind of, it's not apologizing, it's give that defense. 

Why is it important? Is because apologetics is this field that helps people answer these big questions about why we believe in God. So it answers objections to Christianity such as, if God is good, why is there evil in the world? How do I know Jesus rose from the dead? Why do you say God exists? 

Those kinds of questions. So objections to the Christian faith, but then it also builds that case, like Peter was saying, that case for why we believe so. It makes a positive case for Christianity as well. 

Kasey Olander: 

Yeah, absolutely. So how did you get into this area of apologetics, specifically geared towards Gen Z? 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

How I got into this, well, basically I got into the field of apologetics because I doubted my own faith. So this is not something I meant to get into. I was actually a music teacher. I taught band at the public schools and I went through a time of just serious doubt based in the hypocrisy I saw in the church. 

And also just a lot of the pain and hurt that I experienced in the church. It caused me to question whether or not people took the Bible seriously and whether or not they really believed in God and in Jesus. And so that launched me into searching for the answers to my own questions about the faith. 

So that's kind of how I got involved with apologetics. I started teaching in my church. I went and I saw that there was a degree that I could get in apologetics where I could go very deep into this field. And so that was something that I did as well. And all of that ended up in a ministry that I really didn't mean to have. 

I started a blog on the defense of the resurrection called Confident Christianity. And that led to all sorts of other things, writing books, and then eventually this professorship. Now for Gen Z, my heart has always been for students. When I was a student myself in high school, I wanted to be a teacher. 

I wanted to specifically teach students a love of music like I had a love of music, but that sort of teacher attitude, that desire for helping others learn and get excited about learning has been something that has always been with me. 

And so it doesn't matter what generation we're talking about, I just love being in that learning process alongside those who are engaging in their own education, especially young learners who are open to new ideas and discovering things for the first time. 

Kasey Olander: 

Yes. That's amazing. I love that you already had a heart for young people and that was something that the Lord used once you came to faith that you wanted to continue that. Yeah. 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Yeah. Yeah. 

Kasey Olander: 

So what would you say is some things that are maybe unique about Gen Z? The young people of today, they're kind of the high school and the young adulthood right now. What are some traits that are unique to describe them? 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Yeah. So first I'll say whenever we do this, we're sort of doing, we're stereotyping, but in the positive sense of that term. So you're always going to find people this doesn't apply to. There's the caveat, the professor caveat, but their overall characteristics, I mean, first of all, there's a lot of things that come from them being born as digital natives. 

So they were born into this world with technology, whereas the generation right before them, the Millennials, Gen Y, they were introduced to technology young in their life. But these guys are the first digital natives. 

So there's some things about them that are challenging about that sort of fact about them. One is that because they've always been surrounded by technology and they've had access to social media and the internet, they actually get referred to as the loneliest generation because they spend endless hours online and that can foster feelings of isolation and depression. 

So it's an important thing to keep in the background is these guys are those digital natives who do a lot of their fact finding and their socialization through the internet. Also, they're going to be the last generation, and at least I'm guessing this applies to America, that is predominantly white. 

So a slight majority of Gen Z is white, and then you have Hispanic and black and Asian. So the trend is changing there according to some of the statistics of Gen Z. They overall, just characteristic wise, they are highly collaborative. They're a highly collaborative group. And though they're sort of self-motivated, self-driven, yeah, they're collaborative and social. 

They value flexibility, relevance, authenticity. And I'm getting some of this from a study being done by Roberta Katz at Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral sciences. And she says that they have this attitude of non-hierarchical leadership. 

And I think that's really important because instead of where maybe Gen Z, boomers, we value having those leaders that sort of pull us along as authorities and there's a hierarchy, and you can see that sort of in the church as well. We really trust in those authorities. 

I think Gen Z, according to Katz, Gen Z is more about this collaborative effort and bringing everybody's skills to the table. And so that's where I think that also plays into the authenticity of every individual. So translating this over to the church and their participation, they're a little bit more skeptical of the church and its purpose. 

And they're a little more skeptical of trusting in the leader's authority just because they're the leader. So they're a little bit disillusioned with what we're doing in church and why we're doing it. And probably these stories of people falling where we're seeing cases of abuse and stuff like that is adding to that disillusionment. 

So they kind of feel disconnected, but the good thing about them is that they value very much in-person communication. So that's going back to their digital nativeness because they're digital natives and then they have that sort of feeling of disconnectedness overall and disconnectedness from the church. 

They actually do very much value mentorship being there with them, the in-person communication that they're not getting from their digital landscape. So those are some of the things generally and then related to the church about Gen Z. 

Kasey Olander: 

Right. Yeah, definitely. That's of course, yeah, broad strokes. But by virtue of the world that they're growing up in, with so much technology that's just ubiquitous, you can't go five steps without seeing somebody on their smartphone and all kinds of things like that, that makes sense that it's shaping this generation. 

And so it seems like that is something that we can almost capitalize on. The fact that they're so integrated with technology, it's part of their school, it's part of their socializing, even could be part of their spiritual walk. Can you speak a little bit to the value of media to reach young people then for the gospel? 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Yeah. I think it's really important that we are attentive to being in their space where they're at. And there was one study that came out, and I wish I could cite it for you where it was, but that's sort of slipping my mind. But it says, where's Gen Z going to gather their information? 

And that is TikTok and YouTube. Now YouTube, I kind of get it because you do those long videos, but TikTok, the quick hits. And that makes conveying these hard truths of the Christian faith difficult because trying to distill the doctrine of the Trinity down into a minute clip or less when it's thousands of years of study on this is really difficult. 

But that's one of the things we have to pay attention to is where they're at and being in those spaces. Another thing about that is because they're digital natives, they're used to seeing really good digital media. 

So the aesthetic quality of what we're doing is important in reaching Gen Z and in communicating with them because the gaming worlds that they've been a part of since forever for them, since they're born, the gaming universes that are created are gorgeous, they're detailed, they're beautiful, they're the highest quality visual arts. 

And so one of the things about communicating with Gen Z is that visual element or the element of excellence in how we're communicating our ideas. I think I'll just tag this on there. I think for Gen Z, especially excellence in storytelling is going to be a big part of communicating gospel to them as well. 

Kasey Olander: 

Absolutely, yeah. You think about, yeah, they have very high standards because that's just what they're accustomed to. And so I can even think of the fact that, I think that part of your testimony was the fact that you were drawn to beauty in nature. I mean, I almost see a little bit of that. 

And as humans, we have these artistic endeavors, and so pursuing creative things and doing it with excellence can be a way that we reach out to people who are so accustomed to this high standard of excellent quality media through, like you said, video games or videos and the content that they're consuming. 

So why would you say that we need innovative apologetics? Obviously we're not innovating the truth. Like you said, the doctrine of the Trinity is very old. We're not innovating new ideas in that way. But yeah, why, and maybe how do we innovate our presentation of historic, yeah, Christian truths to this new audience? 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Yeah. Well, Christianity has always, like what you said, it has its truths, but it always has understood. I'm personifying Christianity a little bit, but in the Christian faith here, we've always understood that we need to communicate the gospel in a way that makes sense to the culture who is receiving it. 

So if we have a missionary and they're speaking to somebody in another country who may have not heard the gospel, like a tribe often some distant on a mountain somewhere, we understand that we have to make it understandable to that culture. 

And I think that's one of the things that we have to do with any generation that we're trying to reach. It seems difficult because it's our culture, it's our generation. These are our students that we're talking about and we live in this culture, but as Gen Z is changing, we need make sure that we are adapting to that change to communicate the same truths of Christianity that we've always been communicating. 

So some of the things like we've been talking about are communication with excellence, and not just in visual. I could see somebody saying, "Oh, you're just playing into the consumerist mentality that's all around us by doing great visuals and all of that, trying to hook them with a really beautiful video." 

But at the same, we're trying to be where they're at is what we're trying to say. And we also see the opposite of that, which is that not only does Gen Z, they live in that environment, but they're saying, "Hey, I want in-person communication." That's what they value above the other forms. 

And so there's that element of not only are we going to have to be innovative in staying up-to-date with the excellence in our art forms and in the way that we're communicating things if we're going to do videos and all that, but there's the flip side that Gen Z doesn't just want that. 

They want the in-person communication, they want the mentorship. And that's not just meeting together on a Sunday morning with 500 people in your congregation. That's not what they're asking for. They're asking to know that they matter individually and that you care for them for who they are on an individual basis. 

So also being attentive to smaller group settings to one-on-one mentorship with Gen Z students, that's going to be really important. So ways that you can do that? Yeah, we have the Darkroom Faith series where it's a series of videos, but it also has curriculum and content in which you can interact. 

You can watch the videos. You can say, "Hey, hey, I saw this series. How about we take a look at one video per week and then you and I can meet for lunch and discuss what you thought of that." So just having that one-on-one interaction is really important for Gen Z. 

Kasey Olander: 

Yes, that completely makes sense. Yeah, we want people to consider ways that they're able to connect with Gen Z, not just to present information, but to really live life and come alongside. Yeah. So can you talk a little bit more about Darkroom? What was your role in this project? 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

So Darkroom Faith is a apologetics video series. It's a 14-part video series and it has a full curriculum. And the really neat thing about this, one of the things I'm most excited about is we're offering it free and we're also making it of highest aesthetic quality. 

So we're really trying to meet Gen Z and then we're really trying to offer this to anybody who wants to utilize it. My role in this was that I was director of content. So I was working alongside the screenwriters and the producers and the film directors as well as alongside the experts. 

I really helped to bring in the apologetics experts. So the way that we did this was that we did a casting call for Gen Z stories across the United States. What is it that you are struggling with, and how would you frame that? 

So we got all these stories from students all over the United States, and they have these questions that they're asking or things that they're struggling with. So we use those stories in our video series, but then we needed to have some kind of response. As an apologist, how would you answer this? 

And what's a good metaphor or analogy that you might use to communicate this truth to a student? And so we worked with apologist from all over the country like Sean McDowell and Rebecca McLaughlin and Rachel Gilson and Adam Coleman. 

We worked with a bunch of apologies who would act as our expert voice, but they're not just coming out and disseminating information. The videos are, they have these creative ways of communicating the expert's language that the screenwriters wrote right into the story. 

And so it's really a neat way and a unique way to present some of these issues that Gen Z's dealing with. 

Kasey Olander: 

Yeah. So it almost conveys this idea that if you have this question, you're not alone, you see this play out. And even though it's scripted, it's based on real questions that people are actually asking at this age. And so it engages them with things that they're really... It's a felt need, I would say, that it addresses. 

And yeah, I've seen the videos, they're very well done and yeah, the website provides all kinds of resources and provides that avenue, like you said, for not just presenting information, but also providing a conversation starter for people who are looking to engage with Gen Z. So where did the name dark room come from? 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

That's a great one. I really like this. We actually started out with a different name and we realized that our name probably only appealed to boomers and Gen X. We were like, "That's not going to work." So we changed to darkroom and it centers on. 

There's one of the episodes that's on pain and suffering and our student is in the video, he's dealing with a lot of bullying, he's dealing with very dark thoughts about his own life. And as he's struggling through this along the way, he discovers that one of his passions is photography. 

And so he starts to develop his love of photography and how he and his pain and suffering can minister to other people who are also in pain and suffering by taking photographs of them and sharing this with them. And you see him in the video, he's doing old school photography, not digital stuff. 

He's actually doing old school photography where you have to go into the photographic darkroom to develop your pictures of life. And so the metaphor is that sometimes our faith develops in those dark places in our lives, the dark night of the soul, the wandering through the valley of the shadow of death. 

There's places and things that we go through that helped us to develop our faith in God. And so the dark places can seem kind of scary and confusing, but they can help us develop. That's the sort of metaphor for the Darkroom series. 

Kasey Olander: 

Yeah, I love that. That's creative. And yeah, I think really a helpful metaphor. Can you speak a little bit to the significance of engaging with those doubts, whether it's because of suffering or because of any sort of personal dark night of this soul? 

What is the value of maybe leaning into that? How does that grow someone's faith? 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Yeah. I think one of the things that we do as human beings is that when we're young, we sort of trust in authorities and we trust in the people over us. We don't have a lot of experience with life yet. We're just kind of trusting our parents and the church leaders and other people that what they say is actually true. 

But as we grow older, you start getting your ability to have abstract thought. When you're a preteen, you start thinking through things and you're like, well, how I know this? Why do I trust my parents? Why do I trust what these people are telling me? I think that is a natural part of growing up and becoming an adult. 

And what it does is it takes your beliefs, oh, it takes it and it matures them so that they're no longer just, you believe this because your parents did, or you know what, whoever. But now you're starting to question it. You're starting to dig into it to come to the place where this is what I personally believe. 

It's taking ownership of your faith. So us answering these doubts and asking these questions is part of the maturing of the individual believer so that they can grow into adulthood, which is part of becoming Christ-like. And actually, as you read through the New Testament, Paul is constantly encouraging believers to grow up in the faith. 

To grow and to learn about God and to move from the simplistic ways of knowing into deeper ways of knowing God and learning about him and the deep doctrines of the faith. He's constantly pushing us on into that. 

And so this is sort of mirroring that the reason we do this, the reason we ask questions, the value of the struggle with the doubt is that it does mature you in the faith. 

Kasey Olander: 

Absolutely. So if someone is wrestling with wondering does God really exist? Does he really love me? Is he really good? Any of these questions, it's not something to be ashamed about or to hide from people, but rather something to lean into and to really press forward because it can lead to that maturity. 

And it seems like also from what you're saying, if Gen Z is really valuing this authenticity and wanting this in-person connection with people, then that's a great opportunity for church leaders to come alongside Gen Z and to love them. Like you said, love them where they are. Right? 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Yeah, yeah. And one of the things that we have to remember is that Gen Z like any young generation is seeing things a little bit differently and they're saying things differently than my generation. And so yeah, this is an opportunity for us to really listen to them, to really see what their fears are, what their doubts are, where they're at, what their concerns are. 

Because their concerns a lot of times they're going to be different from even Millennial, like older Millennials or Gen Z, they're going to be different because we grew up in a different timeframe than them. So I really like Darkroom because of the fact that it's from Gen Z with what they're struggling with in their own language. 

A lot of times we like to say, oh, no, no, that's not the way to say that, or you shouldn't say it that way. This is what we're trying to do is hear them and engage them with where they're at, with how they understand the world. 

And that's an important part of that authenticity like you were mentioning, to really hear them out, really listen to them and see what is it they're trying to say and connect with them on that. 

Kasey Olander: 

Yeah. So what is the best way, or I'm sure there are several good ways, but what is the best way for people to utilize these Darkroom videos? 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Oh, there's a couple of different ways. We had in mind youth groups could use them, student ministries. So the leader could show the video to the group and then they can maybe break out into small groups and discuss the content. 

And we have a leader guide for that, which gives you all the resources to do that. Plus there's PowerPoint in there. If you go to the website and you enter in your email, you have access to the PowerPoint, all of the social media shareables, and then all the resources that we give you the leader guide in more. 

So you can do it that way. You share it with your youth group. You don't just have to limit to that, you can share it with somebody. I was alluding to that earlier that if there's a person is struggling with a certain issue, you can say, "Hey, I found this video, love to discuss what you think about it." And then you yourself have access to all those resources to be able to engage the person one-on-one as well. 

Kasey Olander: 

Right. So it seems like it doesn't have to be leave it to the professional, ministers or people who have a ton of experience with Gen Z, but it seems like it gives a really good on-ramp for anybody to be able to at least start conversations. 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Yeah, that's what we tried to do. With the video specifically, we tried to not wrap everything up real tidy so that the person who was encountering the video could have a hot second to really think through what was just presented to them. 

And then we give all this content, the leader guide, so that you feel more competent. You feel like you have some resources to be able to just share with either the student group or with an individual. 

Kasey Olander: 

Yeah. Yeah, that's really helpful, especially as we're thinking about, you said like, maybe other generations have a different perspective. This is a way to really meet them where they are, to see what questions they're asking. 

And perhaps this video articulates something that they've felt but never expressed or haven't had the words for. So that could be a cool avenue at the very least too, to get it from the digital world where they might be seeing it for the first time too. 

A real life in-person conversation where you can really express this doubt or this fear that you have to someone and not be afraid of being turned away or looked down on for having questions. 

Can you speak a little bit to that, like your experience with maybe the church when somebody did engage the questions that you had and when maybe it wasn't as helpful? And yeah, how did people respond to you having questions? You mentioned that earlier. 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Yeah, mine was sort of a mixed bag because I quickly got involved with ministry after becoming a Christian and my husband became a minister, like he was called into ministry. So for me, I sort of naively expected that I could carry on asking a lot of questions and challenging things when I was a very young Christian. 

And that wasn't received very well. Those questions weren't received. At least I'm perceiving they weren't received well because I never got the response where you just have to have faith. 

Even though I hear that, like I hear other people tell me when they had a question that's what they got as an answer, which always shocks me that anybody would really just avoid the question altogether and say that. 

Kasey Olander: 

But it's pretty common. 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Yeah, isn't it? Yeah, surprisingly so. But for me it was more of a shifting of the conversation, not answering the question, getting upset. Getting agitated with me if I asked it in a Sunday school type setting. 

Yeah, just getting kind of agitated because the leader didn't have the answer. Instead of just saying, "Hey, that's a good question, Mary Jo, you know what? I don't know that," they would get agitated with me. And so when I was asking the questions, I started to realize indirectly that these were not welcome questions. 

That I was just supposed to listen to the teaching and assume everything was true and that everybody else assumed belief in God and that the Bible was true and all of this stuff. And so I learned to stop asking the question. 

And when my husband was a minister, I figured out real quickly that this was unwelcome from the minister's wife. Never welcome. Yeah, I'm not supposed to ask questions, I'm not supposed to have doubt. I'm just there to sort of cheerlead my husband along. 

Kasey Olander: 

So I guess how would you respond to someone who maybe suggests that there's a tension or an opposition between faith and reason? 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Oh, that's a good one. I would say good job for bringing that up, asking the question because this is a question that Christians have been asking since we've had Christianity and writing on. This is a philosophical question that has been written about since we've had our teachers in Christianity since the apostles. 

So the tension between faith and reason is it's been resolved in different ways. Some people say they're opposites. That's the old Mark Twain saying, "Faith is believing in what you know ain't so," but that's not the traditional Christian understanding. Christians believe that faith and reason go hand in hand. 

That God himself, the giver of all truth, gave us a good gift of reasoning of rationality. And so we already use it to know our God, but then there's a certain point at which human reasoning can only go so far because we aren't God, we don't have absolute knowledge. 

So our knowledge gets us only so far. And that's where faith comes in. And it's not the only place where faith comes in, but that is like, if you're just talking about the relationship of rationality, sort of reasoning and faith, that's one way that you can look at it is that you can only go so far with human reasoning. 

There are things that you're going to have to trust. And when you get into the Hebrews passage that a lot of people like to quote of faith is that belief in the hope that's coming. I'm not quoting that right, but they use that as saying that's sort of like the Mark Twain believing in what you don't have evidence of. 

But then if you keep following that Hebrews passage, you see that God gave evidences of himself, he has evidence who he is and the kind of being that he is and his love and care for us. And the greatest example of that was the incarnation of Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice on the cross. 

So you have the evidence of God, the nature of God, that he is a loving God, that he's a just God, that he cares for his creation and he values it greatly. So faith is also trusting in what you know is true. 

And that's very C.S. Lewis of me, but that's kind of how he said it. Faith also applies to you already have this belief, you know this is true, you've evidenced it, you've reasoned it, and now faith is that next step of trusting in that belief. 

Kasey Olander: 

Right. So yeah, people didn't need to feel any shame or feel like they're the first one to be asking this question because like you said, conversations like this, philosophical questions, faith and reason have been going on for a long time. 

And I also think that there shouldn't be this fear that somehow Christianity will collapse under the weight of my questioning it. God is bigger than us, than the questions we have. And so yeah, we may not have every single answer as thoroughly as we would like it, but there's evidence and there's a rationality that we can definitely engage with and be equipped with. 

So it seems like that's maybe a way to reach out to Gen Z, like to people who don't know Christ yet, but also a way to equip Gen Z. Can you speak a little bit to that? How to help them mature and grow in their faith? Gen Z may be like if they're transitioning from high school to college or college to the adult world. 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Yeah. It was just Gen Z and like other humans. You want to tell them that you affirm that they are digging through these hard questions that, like you said, there's not a shame in that. There's no shame in asking hard questions and growing up in the faith and maturing in what you believe. 

So I want to make sure that as I'm talking to them, that I am affirming the human being that is behind the questioning, that there's a person back there and that I don't know why they're asking the question they're asking. 

There's a lot of concern from Gen Z with what they're seeing in Christian leadership when you have these stories coming out almost monthly about somebody else who is going to jail for pedophilia and was a longtime pastor of a church or the coverups of abuse. We can't discredit that. 

I'm one of the people that says the litmus truth or the litmus test for Christianity cannot be the behaviors of the believers. But yet at the same time we have to acknowledge that the behaviors of the believers are actually communicating to our world and to younger people in the Christian faith about the truthfulness of Christianity in that existential way. 

And so there's this sort of, we have to acknowledge that as well. And I think telling younger students in the faith in Gen Z that we acknowledge that these things happen and that they're wrong and that people fall, I think it's important not to try to sweep it under the rug, but actually deal with it, confront it face on and affirm that they have these questions that are born out of this doubt. 

Sometimes it is just intellectual doubt, Kasey. I mean, that's sort of rare. I've heard some people just say, Hey, I don't know how the Bible came to be or something like that. 

But I think for the most part, since you can't separate out the intellect from desire, will and emotion, I mean, they all go together, that we have to acknowledge that what people are seeing from Christians also is causing them to have big questions. And so the hypocrisy of the church is becoming a big objection to belief in God. 

Kasey Olander: 

Yes. So it seems sort of like, yeah, people aren't just asking these philosophical questions a lot of times. I think what you're saying is there's something underneath it, a personal experience, a wound, something else that is prompting them to ask this question. 

Even though, like you said, sometimes it is just, I genuinely have this intellectual question and that's worth engaging with too. Right? You have a degree in apologetics, I'm sure that you think that's worth engaging with and learning more about. 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Absolutely. Yeah. 

Kasey Olander: 

Do you have any stories that you would like to share of, yeah, engaging Gen Z with some innovative apologetics? 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Oh, stories I'd like to share. I'm rifling through a few of them. Which one did I share? I think one of the things that has really impacted me is seeing the effects of our culture on these younger students. They are exposed to so much media. 

And media unfortunately comes with manipulation and they're not as trained in how to work through what they're seeing. So let me break this down into, I teach a class on intro to logic and in that class they encounter what people are saying in the public realm, whether it's a political ad or it's a commercial or whatever it is. 

And they have to break it down into what's being communicated here. Do you see any faulty reasoning? And students aren't learning philosophy at the level that we used to teach it at. They rarely encounter it. And so they don't know how to make good arguments and they don't know how to break down what they're seeing. 

So I'm seeing the effects of being batted around by cultural movements and how that affects them personally. It's affecting who they think they are. And so a lot of times they're relying on cultural influence to inform them about who they are. 

And the problem with that is a lot of times our culture is very reductivist in how it views human beings. So it reduces them to one part of their who they are. So it could be their sexuality, it could be what they're ultimately going to do for a job or the one they get when they're young. 

Well, what are you going to go to college for? I'll get your degree going to be in. So reducing them down to what they can do and what they are doing. And those things, they affect these kids. Some of the questions I've had is they're really struggling with who they are. 

They don't have that really sound teaching that you are a creation of God, that you are greatly valuable, that your life has meaning, purpose and intention because you were made, because you're made in the image of God and you don't need anything else to inform you or to give you that value, you have it already. 

So I'm encountering students who are looking for that meaning, purpose and value. And they're being, like I said, sort of just smacked around by cultural standards of all kinds of things, beauty and everything else. Beauty, success. And it's really hard on them because they have so much influence so readily accessible in their hands with their phones and on their computers. 

I mean, I could go into what specifically are they asking, but that's sort of the general thing. When they come to me with a question, a lot of times it's they got something erroneous from the culture that is informing who they think they are or who they are or what they believe and they don't know how to sift through it. 

They don't know what have they received that's manipulative versus factual versus fake news. They live in the era of fake news and deep fakes online. And so there's a lot of confusion and they're trying to search for how can I know what's true? 

Kasey Olander: 

Right. And that's really huge, the identity piece, the being able to discern how can I know what's true. And so that's the perfect opportunity for the church to step in, to come alongside and to genuinely engage. 

We talked a lot about the authenticity piece, but also in these apologetics ideas that, yeah, that's a crucial opportunity is to come alongside people because they're genuinely desiring connection in addition to content. Can you share the name of the Darkroom website and any other resources you'd recommend? 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Yes. So So definitely go there and check it all out. Most of our videos are out. I think our last one is coming out on the week of Halloween, I believe, or just right before. So that's a great one. You can go to my website, 

And if you click on my resources page, I have a bunch of lectures and videos and just recommendations for you to get started in apologetics. There's a great resource that I always recommend, which is, out of the United Kingdom. 

And the reason I like it so much is if you click on that, it's an apologetics website that organizes all of their resources, not only by audio, video and written, but also by level of understanding. 

So if you feel like you're a beginner in all this, it'll tell you this is a beginner level or this is intermediate, or this is advanced stuff. So is a great place to go as well. 

And then the last one I want to make sure I mention is Houston Baptist University or Houston Christian University now. I teach in the Master of Arts and Apologetics, and that's a fully online degree. So if you want to delve deeper into apologetics, you can come study with me there at the university. 

Kasey Olander: 

That's awesome. Well, this has been really helpful. I feel like we, yeah, hope that our listeners will consider ways that they can connect with Gen Z through apologetics content. And Mary Jo has given us so many helpful resources. Mary Jo, thank you so much for joining us here today at The Table. 

Mary Jo Sharp: 

Hey Kasey, it's so good to talk to you again and to be on the podcast again. 

Kasey Olander: 

Yeah, we really appreciate it. Yeah, we hope that this resources Christians to live out the great commandment, to love people and the great commission to make disciples. And Gen Z is a really awesome opportunity to do that. 

So we're grateful to you and we're also grateful to you for listening. We thank you for joining us today on The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture and hope that you'll join us next time. 

Kasey Olander
Kasey Olander is the Web Content Specialist at the Hendricks Center. Originally from the Houston area, she graduated from The University of Texas at Dallas with a Bachelor’s degree in Arts & Technology. She has also been an Associate Director with the Baptist Student Ministry, working with college students at UT Dallas and Rice University, particularly focusing on discipleship and evangelism training. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, having interesting conversations, and spending time with her husband.
Mary Jo Sharp
Mary Jo Sharp is the founder of Confident Christianity, an apologetics ministry. Mary Jo is a former atheist from the Pacific Northwest who thought religion was for the weak-minded. She now holds a Masters in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Professor Sharp currently teaches at Houston Baptist University in the School of Christian Thought.
Kasey Olander
Mary Jo Sharp
January 31, 2023
apologetics, film, gen z, media, tv