Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13, King James Version).

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13, English Standard Version).

One of the classic movies of my high school years was The Karate Kid (what kid of the 80’s hasn’t done a crane kick pose?!). If you’ve never seen the movie, it’s the story of a young, scrawny kid named Daniel who moves to California and immediately runs afoul of a gang of bullies from a local karate dojo, “the Cobra Kai.” Just when it looks like Daniel is going to get throttled, an old man – Mr. Miyagi – rescues him by fending off the bullies with ease.

Miyagi takes Daniel under his wing to train him for a karate tournament so he can face the Cobra Kai on equal terms. The way he prepares Daniel is by imparting to him the ancient wisdom of the karate tradition, starting with rudimentary skills (“wax on, wax off”) and building from that to instill discipline and technique. He demands long hours of hard work from Daniel, but (spoiler alert!) it pays off in the end! While the bullies are bigger and more brutal, they are no match for Daniel’s newfound skills.

It seems to me that Christians in western society find themselves in a similar situation to Daniel in The Karate Kid.

It is no secret that belief in God is in decline in America, especially among millennials. And this trend is due in part to a gang of intellectual bullies, the “new atheists,” who have had their fun pushing around an evangelical culture that in many ways is as fragile intellectually as Daniel was physically. And when 71% of self-described evangelicals believe that Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God, that’s all the evidence you need to know that evangelicalism is in an intellectual crisis of epic proportions.

Such a flimsy understanding of the faith is simply no match for the screeds of the new atheists. Like the Cobra Kai, their tactics are unoriginal and unsophisticated, but they pack a rhetorical punch and have a certain polemical effectiveness. So it is no wonder that younger believers are drifting away.

What is needed is a return to the ancient wisdom, rooted in Scripture and modeled by the great thinkers of the past. Think of the apostle Paul at Athens as our “Mr. Miyagi” showing us the way to defend our faith. The great apostle knew what pagans believed (and why), and by virtue of this he knew how to reason with them from nature about God and from Scripture about Christ.

But to follow his lead will require the same kind of hard work and training on a spiritual and intellectual level that young Daniel endured on a physical level. And Christians in our culture have lots of obstacles to overcome – a trend toward hyper-emotionalism in the evangelical pop culture; a brittle style of fundamentalism that wavers at the first sign of doubt; the distractions of media and technology; the prevailing influence of scientism; the allure of immorality in a lustful age; to name only a few.

Will we be up to the challenge? Brothers and sisters, let’s ready our minds for action.

(These thoughts were inspired by a lecture given by Edward Feser, found here).