So the Next Generation Will Know by Sean McDowell and J. Warner Wallace

So the Next Generation Will Know: Preparing Young Christians for a Challenging World is a 208-page book written by Sean McDowell and J. Warner Wallace. McDowell is presently an associate professor of apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He was a high school teacher at Capistrano Valley Christian Schools for eleven years and still teaches one high school Bible class. He is the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries California—a ministry whose mission is to cultivate rising generations (16-25-year-olds) to champion a biblical worldview resolutely. McDowell graduated summa cum laude from Talbot Theological Seminary with a double M.A. degree in philosophy and theology. He earned his PH.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

He speaks internationally on a variety of topics related to culture, students, and apologetics. He is a best-selling author, co-author, or editor of more than 21 books including, the Apologetics Study Bible for Students, Ethix, Same-Sex Marriage, A New Kind of Apologist, The Beauty of Intolerance, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, The Fate of the Apostles, and Is God Just a Human Invention? His articles have also been published by the Christian Research Journal, Youth Worker Journal, and Decision Magazine. 

J. Warner Wallace has served as a youth pastor and now serves as a faculty member at Summit Ministries. He is also an adjunct professor of apologetics at Biola University, and a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has a BA in design from California State University at Long Beach and an MA in architecture from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He later earned a master’s degree in Theological Studies from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

Wallace is a famous cold-case homicide detective, national speaker, and best-selling author. He has written several books including, Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, Forensic Faith, Alive, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene for Kids. Also, an interactive online Case Makers Academy supplements his books for kids. Wallace, a former vocal atheist until the age of thirty-five, convinced by the evidence for the Christian Worldview now propagates that Christianity is demonstrably true. Drawing from his extensive investigative experience, Wallace equips his readers and audiences with the tools they could utilize in investigating the claims of Christianity and making a convincing case for the truth of Christianity.

Considering the authors’ combined credentials in theology, apologetics, and teaching, as well as, their experience and passion for reaching the younger generation, it is fair to say that they are qualified to write this unique book that provides strategies and practical tactics to help adults train the next generation.  They believe that given the availability of research-based and proven strategies that help young people articulate their faith and effectively engage the culture, adults need not be at a loss on how to disciple and retain Gen Z in their churches.

The title of this book is drawn from Psalm 78:5-7 which highlights God’s command to parents regarding teaching the truth of God’s precepts to their children. The authors, anchor on this scripture and invite the reader to refocus and adopt new strategies that will help young people set their hope in, and keep the commands of God.[1] They contend that the challenges facing the next generation are peculiar and that the need to impart truth has become unprecedented. The window of time (between birth and high school) to inculcate the truth into children is getting shorter due to their early access to technology. The purpose of this book, therefore, is “to show you how to teach the truth of Christianity to the next generation, given the special challenges they face and their unique identity.”[2] This book is designed as a practical guide for explaining what is true rather than present an argument for truth.

In today’s culture, where the internet is at the fingertips of young people at a very young age, skepticism has been fueled by quick access to anti-Christian propaganda on the internet. Therefore, Wallace and McDowell invite parents and Christian adults to glean from what they have learned over the years as youth pastors, Christian educators, and apologists. They challenge all those who truly love the next generation, that the onus falls upon them to replicate the sacrifices made by the adults who helped them come to know the Lord, by doing whatever it takes to make sure the next generation knows and embraces the truth.

In So the Next Generation Will Know, the authors provide clear and concise perspectives on the challenges of raising the next generation of truth seekers and suggest strategies to meet these challenges. These hands-on ideas are grouped into two sections with four chapters each. In Section 1, the book addresses the subject of making young people the love priority of older Christians, while section 2 deals with preparing young people for the future. The major theme of this book is love. The authors emphasize that the strategy for this model of imparting the Christian worldview is “anchored and rooted in a uniquely Christian approach that unites truth to relationship, law to grace, justice to mercy.”[3] The challenges facing Gen Z and future generations are different and the statistics of young people who leave Christianity in their college years are staggering, but love is the key to an appropriate response.

Chapter one starts with reminding the reader that “Love Responds” as it examines the challenge before us. In chapter two “Love Understands,” buttresses the need to recognize the uniqueness of the next generation. In chapter 3, “Love Relates’ stresses the importance of connecting with the hearts of young people. In chapter 4, “Love Equips” shows how to give kids a worldview that brings significance. In chapter 5, “Love Ignites” challenges the reader to develop a passion for truth. In chapter 6, “Love Trains” cautions to resist the desire to entertain young people rather than train them. In chapter 7, “Love Explores” motivates the reader to get into the kid’s world by providing life-changing adventures for young people. In chapter 8, “Love Engages” concludes by laying out an outline on how to prepare students through movies, music, social media, and current events. All the chapters contribute to a volume that is easy to read and captivating. The entire book flows like a training manual for trainers, that is suited for Christian adults particularly parents, youth workers, Christian educators, and anyone who desires to help young people navigate the contemporary anti-Christian sociocultural milieu.

The major strength of this book is that it provides tools for effective ministry to the youth rather than theories. The hands-on approach interspersed with exercises and highlighted inserts is an excellent way to help readers engage and internalize the content easily. A conscientious reader will come off not just having read a good book but having been coached to effectively disciple Gen Z. Also, this book provides an in-depth socio-cultural analysis of the next generation and cutting-edge practical strategies of understanding, relating and communicating with them. The 12 pages of the appendix that provide resources for further reading and training qualifies this book as a permanent handbook in the toolbox of every Christian parent and youth leader.

Each chapter of this book lends support to the goal of the authors to give the reader practical advice for effectively communicating truth to this next generation of young people. In recognition of the current challenges, the authors propose that parents should be the best Christian apologists their kids will ever know by pursuing intentional relationships with them that would become an open platform for the inculcation of truth. This task could be daunting, but Wallace and McDowell suggest five ways to succeed. They urge adults to make a commitment to confront the challenge; to start early because the age of the onset of intellectual skepticism is dropping; to take on the tough issues because if they do not, the culture will, and the result will be cynicism; to be patient with the process; and to keep the balance between truth and relationship.[4]

To understand the generational distinctiveness of Gen Z is the single most potent key to reaching them. Therefore, Wallace and McDowell highlight profound research findings on the uniqueness of Gen Z. Namely:

  1. They are digital natives—the internet and smartphones have been available and accessible to them from birth.
  2. They are researchers—the information highway is a click away, and they can fact check adults at will.
  3. They are visual multitaskers—with multiple social video platforms coupled with television, computers, and tablets, research shows that about 84% of Gen Z multitask between visual platforms.
  4. They are impatient—Due to the convenience of modern technology, they expect instant delivery on almost everything from information to music, to goods and even religion.
  5. They are racially diverse—They are growing up in a continually diverse culture more so, through social media.
  6. They are fluid—The lines of traditional values have been blurred in their generation as core cultural concepts are being redefined particularly in the areas of sex, gender, and family.
  7. They are social justice oriented—From the perspective of diversity and cultural fluidity, Gen Zers are motivated by causes surrounding human equality like issues related to poverty, human trafficking, and refugees.
  8. They are pragmatic—Given the state of affairs in the world today, they are more cautious and pragmatic about life and the future.
  9. They are overwhelmed—For them there is no downtime as they juggle relationships with growing up and the constant bombardment of information from the internet. Hence, most of them feel overwhelmed by everything they have to deal with daily and weekly.
  10. They are lonely—Their online media presence has not been able to satisfy the vacuum created by the decreased personal social interaction of Gen Zers. Hence there is a significant increase in loneliness and depression.
  11. They are individualistic—Having grown up in a culture that places the individual as the highest authority, they have become a “Me” generation on steroids regarding social and moral choices.
  12. They are transparent—They seek the authentic, the real, as well as the transparent, and detest personality facades.
  13. They are post-Christian—This is the most problematic of all the characteristics of Gen Z. An increasing number of young Americans are describing themselves as religiously unaffiliated, and for them, the Bible no longer holds the same authority as it did in prior generations.[5]

In consideration of these Gen Z peculiarities, the authors proffer ten strategies for connecting with Gen Z,[6] four practical suggestions for equipping them with a biblical worldview,[7] and eight ways to transform teaching into training.[8] They also provide hands-on ways to meet young people at their level through adventure,[9] and practical steps adults must take to teach them how to engage the world of smartphones and social media thoughtfully.[10] There is a need for a rapid, decisive and productive response from the adults to meet the spiritual needs of the next generation. Hence, the incomparable relevance of this book at such a time as this.

For such an excellent book, it is difficult to find a weakness. The possible weakness one can pinpoint is that it is fully loaded with content compressed into 208 pages. This depth of the content could be overwhelming to a casual reader. The authors recognize this weakness and advice: “if you love this generation, simply begin with one or two strategies, and then keep going. Please don’t feel like you must have all your “ducks in a row” before acting. Simply ask what strategy you can implement, or improve, and then go for it.”[11] However, as a how-to book that ought to be consulted repeatedly, this weakness readily becomes an advantage given that these needed strategies are handy and could be consulted and implemented in piecemeal.

I highly recommend this book to everyone who loves young Christians, either as a parent, youth worker, educator, or a Christian adult. Anyone who is concerned with the difficulty of reaching the next generation for Christ, or the unfortunate trend of the exodus of young people from the church, and intends to do something about it, should read this book. It is written with the non-expert in mind but technical enough to satisfy the expert. If you have read this review to the end, you might as well get a copy for yourself.

[1] Sean McDowell and J Warner Wallace, So the Next Generation Will Know: Preparing Young Christians for a Challenging World, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, May 1, 2019), 27

[2] Ibid., 26

[3] Ibid., 46

[4] Ibid., 40-45 (synthesized).

[5] Ibid., 52-59 (synthesized).

[6] Ibid., 72-77

[7] Ibid., 91-97

[8] Ibid., 132-137

[9] Ibid., 141-147

[10] Ibid., 162-176

[11] Ibid., 177

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