Apologetics for Gen Z: A conversation with Dark Room’s Mary Jo Sharp

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Apologetics for Gen Z: A conversation with Dark Room’s Mary Jo Sharp

March 20, 2023 -

Podcast image: Apologetics for Gen Z: A conversation with Dark Room’s Mary Jo Sharp

Podcast image: Apologetics for Gen Z: A conversation with Dark Room’s Mary Jo Sharp

Podcast image: Apologetics for Gen Z: A conversation with Dark Room’s Mary Jo Sharp

Mary Jo Sharp joins Dr. Mark Turman to discuss Gen Z’s unique needs, why we need apologetics, and Dark Room, the free high-budget video series aimed to help Gen Z navigate the hardest questions.

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Podcast show notes:

Mary Jo Sharp shares her testimony of becoming a Christian after atheism and why she ended up studying apologetics (1:36). Sharp then discusses “Dark Room,” a video series and curriculum built on real questions and stories from Gen Z. She then specifically addresses why Gen Z is seeking rational answers to deep questions and why Gen Z distrusts the church (10:48). Sharp talks about the problem of evil and sin nature, explaining why those ideas are so important for young generations (21:38). She points out the needs of Gen Z at this time, their interest in science and faith, and the need for spiritual mentorship (31:06). Sharp shares her favorite episodes from Dark Room, the mission behind it, and how churches and parents can use it for free (35:13).

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts

Jim Denison, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and the CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content.

Mark Turman, DMin, is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.

About the guest

A former atheist who came to faith, Mary Jo Sharp is now an assistant professor of apologetics at Houston Christian University and the founder and director of Confident Christianity Apologetics Ministry. She has been featured in Christianity Today’s cover story “The Unexpected Defenders” and is an international speaker on apologetics.

She serves on the faculty with Summit Ministries Student Conferences and is a published author with Kregel Publications, B&H Publications, and Zondervan. Mary Jo is the author of the top-selling Bible study, “Why Do You Believe That?” as well as Living in Truth with LifeWay Christian Resources. She recently released Why I Still Believe.


Transcribed by Otter.ai


Mark Turman  00:10

Welcome again to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison forum and host for today’s conversation about faith, culture, confusion and clarity. Today we’re talking with Mary Jo sharp, who was raised without religion, but is today the professor of apologetics at Houston Christian University. She is also the founder of confident Christianity apologetics ministry, and she is the director of content for a new modern teen apologetics series called dark room. Mary Jo is also the author of The Zondervan book why I still believe a former atheist reckoning with the bad reputation Christians give a good God and the Lifeway Bible study. Why do you believe that? She is an itinerant speaker on apologetics, and has engaged in formal debates on Islam. She focuses on using love and logic to uncover truth. We welcome her today. And you can find more about her at Mary Jo sharp.com. Mary Jo, welcome to the Denison Forum Podcast. We’re glad to have you with us.


Mary Jo Sharp  01:15

Hi, it’s good to be on.


Mark Turman  01:17

Wanted to just start for our audience’s sake and just ask you to kind of unpack a little bit of the details of your personal journey of how did you move from atheism to being not only a Christ follower, but now a professor in the arena of of apologetics. Tell us more about that journey?


Mary Jo Sharp  01:36

Oh, yeah, that’s a long journey. So yeah, I didn’t grow up in church. So I don’t have like a Christian cultural upbringing. I did grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where it’s a little bit different from where I lived for a long time in the South. When I say cultural Christianity, there’s more and more churches, more people who go to church and talk about it regularly, at least from my experience, than from my childhood in the Pacific Northwest. But what I did grow up with was, I had parents who loved nature, science and the arts. And in fact, my father was a huge Carl Sagan fan. So if Carl Sagan wrote it, or if he hosted it, we probably watched it, because that’s he just loved him. And so I got a lot of I got a lot of Nature and Science, my dad took us camping up and down the Pacific Northwest coastline and in the mountains. And so I got a huge respect for nature and an on wonder at what I saw. And then my dad loved, outerspace. There’s this Carl Sagan connection, and he loves to, you know, wake me up in the middle of the night for a meteor shower or something like that, and wonder at the universe in which we live. And on top of that, they also took me to a lot of artistic events, so musical as well as plays, expose me to a Shakespearean plays. And so, you know, it’s hard to get to a Shakespearean play without thinking about the meaning of life. You know, so a


Mark Turman  03:06

lot of lot of sense of awe and wonder, both from the standpoint of the arts as well as from nature. And we still see that happening today. So many people want to move to that part of the world, the Pacific Northwest, because of the outdoor sense of wonder, right? That still is still going on today. Oh, yeah, definitely.


Mary Jo Sharp  03:25

You know, I was here as a child, when Mount St. Helens erupted and covered, even covered Portland with ash, which is kind of unexpected for where we’re located in relationship to it. We’re sort of southeast of it. And so yeah, that raw power and majesty that you see in nature, it really impacted me. And as I became an older teenager began to have questions about is this all there is? And you know, what is all this beauty for, you know, what, what happens after we die? Do we just, you know, is it just the end of us, and there’s nothing after, after this. And so I had all these questions as I became older. And as I was forming them, right. As I get older, I started to be able to form these questions better and think on them. And at that time, I had a high school band teacher, because I was a band kid. And I actually taught public school band for a while. But my high school band teacher really respected him. And he was a Christian who hadn’t really shared his faith, especially not publicly and with like a public school student before, he was a little nervous about that. But he really felt burdened for me. And so he shared his faith with me in my senior year by giving me a Bible and saying, when you go off to college, you’re gonna have hard questions. I hope you’ll turn to this and that he has hit me at the right time. Like I had those questions. And I was interested in you know, how do I know what is good and what is evil and we’re gonna get this sense of justice from and is this all there is to life. So I started I really respected him and I started reading that Bible. And that brought me to a point of considering well there you know, the lives Like there’s a God and I need to, I need to explore this further. So when I went off to college, I actually started going to church on my own for the first time and exploring faith. And it was there in college where I found a church that clearly explained, you know, the the need for a Savior and the gospel of Jesus. And that was where I trusted and accepted Jesus for my salvation.


Mark Turman  05:23

Wow. So how did that bring about a response with your family, when you come home from college, kind of really, the reverse of what many parents fear, right is they raised their children in a Faith Christian environment. They’re fearful sometimes about their kids going off to college and into their young adult life and deconstructing their faith this these days, we’ll talk about that as it relates to the project called dark room. But what was the reaction of your parents, your family when you come home saying, Hey, I took this Bible with me, and this is what happened?


Mary Jo Sharp  05:57

Well, I had very, I have very good accepting parents who kind of taught me to respect people of all different backgrounds. So I think they were accepting but skeptical, skeptical of what I had done. So yeah, so that’s, that’s sort of the sense that I got because I found out later on in their life that they had left the church after poor experiences in the church as well.


Mark Turman  06:25

Okay. Well, on into that journey. Were there some pivotal moments where your work as an apologist and a professor on college campuses, were there? Were there some pivots in there that really defined where God kind of honed that calling for you?


Mary Jo Sharp  06:41

Oh, I’m so my, my journey into apologetics is probably where we should start for that. Because I didn’t just jump into professorship like I didn’t. I didn’t have plans to become an apologetics professor, I actually wanted to be a symphony orchestra conductor.


Mark Turman  07:00

Pretty bad, a pretty good opportunity as well, for sure.


Mary Jo Sharp  07:03

So yeah, my, my journey to professorship started with my own experiences in the church and having some sort of analyzing what I was seeing going on. And coming to the conclusion that there was there was a lot of hypocrisy in the church that didn’t line up with what I was reading, about the way Christians were supposed to be transforming into Christ’s like this. And that Christians were supposed to dedicate themselves to standing out being different from the world. And that wasn’t just a set of, you know, moral, like, Do this, don’t do that. And you’ll be a good person, but it was like a whole life transformation. And to Christ like this, this great, unconditional love, and, you know, self sacrifice in that. So I was like, I’m an idealist. And I’m expecting to find this in the church, you know, like, the best, the best people at being, you know, transforming into Christ and being these kind of like, Uber loving people, I used Uber. So that was sort of naively unrealistic, and idealistic about what I was going to find in church. And as I was in church for a while, and I’m not finding this in the way that I thought I should find it. It caused me to question what it was, I believed, because my the way my mind was forming it was, I’m not seeing people who really believe this, so much so that they are willing to commit their whole lives to it. And that caused me to wonder, Well, why do I say I believe it? And how do I know this is true? And that that was what launched me into this whole apologetics arena was I just doubted my own faith, I began to wonder, you know, do I want to be a part of this, there was even a time I was kind of hoping I could prove it, that it was wrong, that it wasn’t true. So that I could step away and just get on with life. And so that was what got me into the I never meant to be a professor of apologetics. But that’s what got me there.


Mark Turman  08:59

So and sounds like it relates even to what we’re going to talk about in a moment about darkroom just this idea of seeing past some of the very significant hypocrisy that we encounter in the church and in the community, Christian community, but then also, hopefully getting getting past that to the people that okay, there are some people who really do believe this with all of their, as Jesus said, heart, soul, mind and strength. And they’re not perfect, but they are absolutely committed and they’re, they’re genuinely seeking to live this out on a day by day basis. And when you when you can kind of get past some of the hypocritical examples to get to those authentic people, then you’re seeing something that is of a of a significant beauty, right? Oh, yeah.


Mary Jo Sharp  09:44

Yeah, that’s why I included especially in my own book, Why still believe I include that aspect of sort of naive idealism, where I’m not recognizing the situation the sinner Saint kind of situation where Yeah, I mean, This is why Jesus has to die on the cross as people aren’t good. So, but they can do incredible good, incredibly good works. And God still uses the body of Christ in incredible ways to spread goodness throughout our world and throughout human history. So there’s, you know, there’s a balance to that, but I wasn’t skilled in that, coming into the church, I didn’t have that background. So my expectations, and then what I found over time didn’t match. And that was what was causing the problem. Not that there weren’t good people in the church or people who were doing incredible works for the kingdom of God.


Mark Turman  10:34

Right? Well, tell us how that now kind of manifested itself in this project called dark room. Tell us give us the the elevator description of what is dark room? And what drew you to be involved with it?


Mary Jo Sharp  10:48

Yeah, so dark room faith is a 14 part apologetics video series, that is Gen Z narrative driven. So let me explain that real quick. We actually have used real student stories, in our narratives in these videos, to unpack the doubts and questions that students have about their faith and about the church. So these aren’t just things that we thought up and thought were good to include, you know, according to some study, these are actually real student stories from across the United States that we’ve used to create a curriculum to study these hard questions coming at us from Gen Z. And so we put together not only the video series, which is fully released now online at darkroom faith.com. But we also have a full curriculum to go with it. And that is available through the website as well. And it’s completely free. We want people to use this beautiful series that we’ve created, we’ve got an aesthetically beautiful series of videos that are aesthetically familiar to Gen Z. So I’m really excited about this project and about how it can be used to open students up to you know, discussing these questions.


Mark Turman  12:08

So a lot of lot of conversation coming out, we’ve been involved in doing some research in this area, compiling research about Gen Z. And for those that may not be tracking with us yet, but Gen Z is numbers fluctuate a little bit, right, it could be somewhere between 15 and 25, or even aged 10 to 25. But those who are somewhere around older, elementary, teenage years into their young adult years, we’ve written some things I had a chance to teach up in your area a few months ago at one of the Christian universities in Oregon, just talking about some of the characteristics of Gen Z. But these are students that are in high school and college starting their young adult lives right now. I’m kind of curious, where where did y’all find the stories that you wanted to focus in on that became the the 14 that you chose?


Mary Jo Sharp  13:05

Yeah, so we use this film production company called Fox creates. And they did basically a casting call across the nation for Gen Z stories. And that was, that’s how we developed our Yeah, like our whole collection of stories as we have responses from students all over the US. So sometimes, we actually used a singular, you know, single students story to create this narrative. But sometimes you get like, sort of a, an amalgamation of stories from different students that create one of the narratives. But that’s what we did. It was like a casting call for students to share what they’ve been through in church.


Mark Turman  13:46

And looking at some of the videos, myself, and notice that they’re very intentional, not only to be very high quality presentations, but also to involve people from this generation from Gen Z, not only telling their stories, but raising their questions and kind of working through the answers, right?


Mary Jo Sharp  14:09

Yeah, definitely. That’s why That’s why I said aesthetically familiar for one is that we wanted them to feel comfortable, like this is something they’re used to seeing. This is the you know, the style, the culture of the day and, and then we frame them in their own language. And so you have like, instead of just saying, the relationship of science and faith, we have a kid who’s struggling with science, who says what the title of the episode so I guess I’m an atheist, you know, because he’s struggling with wanting to be a scientist who’s also a Christian.


Mark Turman  14:40

Right? So a lot a lot in this space coming out in recent years about this generation walking away from the church, if they if they were raised in that context. What of what have you learned? What have you been gathering through this project relative to why younger adults, young people are walking away from the church or just ignoring it as being irrelevant. Isn’t that? Wouldn’t some people argue that that’s just kind of what happens as you’re emerging into your adult years? You question just about everything. So I guess my question would impart be from what you’ve experienced through this? Is there really a need to sound a big alarm about this situation of people in their younger years walking away from the faith, this big idea called deconstruction? And what what did you learn about this? And how might dark dark room either be an answer or even a preventative to that?


Mary Jo Sharp  15:39

Yeah, yeah, those are good questions. So the alarm question, you know, like, we always raise the alarm with every new generation about, you know, where they’re at spiritually. And I think when you if you look back through Christian history, you see sort of cycles of this, where we, we have, you know, a little bit more commitment from more people statistically, to the Christian faith or to spirituality, and then they sort of move away, and then they come back, I think, what is fascinating to us about Gen Z, is that their reasons for why they are having troubles with church in particular, and not just God. So a lot of times people, though, the, you know, the shifts? Or do you believe in God that, you know, what’s your relationship with Jesus, those sorts of things, this shift is a lot focused on their, their relationship to the church. And what we’re seeing from Gen Z is that they’re disillusioned with the purpose of church, they don’t know what church is for. So they’re not sure about church communities where they fit why they should be a part of one. Yeah, what’s the whole purpose of going to church anyway, and then they further feel disconnected from the church community. And that’s for various reasons. But a lot of times, like we’re hearing, it’s due to a clash, a lot of times between their church culture and their societies culture, they can also feel a lack of identity and purpose within the church. So much of this relates to they just don’t see value then in the church attendance. And that’s one of the things that we’re having to struggle with is to go back to sort of an ecclesiology. Like, what is the purpose of coming together? What is this serve in the human life? What’s the theology behind, you know, community and fellowship of the Body of Christ. So this is, those are some of the things that we’re seeing. I would also say that Gen Z, really wants to be individually connected to people in the church, they, they do well, and their faith grows when they have a strong feeling of mentorship from church people, so not just a part of a church group, you know, like a youth group, but they actually feel like they’re being mentored by a person in that church, who cares for them, right where they’re at. So they have that when we talk about authenticity or individuality, they really want that mentorship from the church, rather than just what does the church have to offer as far as programs and such? So I think those are some of the things that when you look at what’s going on with Gen Z, you see why why they feel disconnected, why they feel disillusioned, and why they’re stepping away from church a lot, but maybe not God or Jesus as much.


Mark Turman  18:31

So is it possible that or have have you run into this in this project, that some of their disillusionment with the church generally may be? from things like scandals and some some of those things writ large, you know, that especially high profile Christian leaders who end up being the subjects and rightfully so, in many cases, the objects of of investigation because of scandal that, you know, we’re learning something that many Christians don’t handle celebrity? Well, many human beings don’t handle celebrity Well, across all categories, really. But it’s, it’s some of it. From what you’ve seen being disillusionment that’s been driven by that of, hey, these high profile people, many of them are not as genuine as they should be. Is that contributing to this in some way?


Mary Jo Sharp  19:28

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Because the Gen Z are their internet natives. And so they get so much information and influence off of social media like Tiktok and Instagram. And so when you know when something happens, it used to take a while to filter through the news and you get it from a few voices. But now when something happens, it comes from every angle, all hours of the day, and they have access to it immediately, and not necessarily having access to getting answers to why that happens. So they’re getting the, wow, this celebrity pastor did some really bad things like really bad things, right. But what they’re not getting at the same level is and hear philosophically or theologically is why this is the case, and why this will continue to happen until Jesus returns. So they don’t get the deep philosophy or theology behind human nature, and what it means to have a fallen nature or you know what they believe about that they don’t get that the problem may be evil, they’re not studying the problem of evil, and it’s not being preached as much from the pulpit. So they don’t have that solid foundation that this is the kind of thing that humans do. So it really, I think it really throws them to have it pushed in their face all the time from social media, without a counterbalance of really solid, you know, like historic Christian philosophy and theology to ground them. And so they can go, yeah, that’s kind of that happens. But then at the same time, yeah, Christians, we need to be more careful about who we are praising, and you know, what, who we’re putting the highlight or spotlighting because they are influential, and they are communicating a message. And sometimes that is a message of hypocrisy at the highest levels. So that’s very confusing to people, especially young people who are forming their ability to think theologically and philosophically, and yet have so much information, sometimes so much bad information coming at them, that it’s really hard to sift through that.


Mark Turman  21:38

Right. Let me let me see if I can put you on the spot for a little bit. In that category. You brought up something a second ago, I want you to just comment on I was actually in this conversation with someone else, just yesterday, a theological conversation about the nature of human beings and the nature of human depravity. Oftentimes, we see this kind of reduced down to a very small, simplistic kind of binary choice, which is, there was some research that came out even a couple of days ago that said, most Americans believe that human beings are fundamentally good by nature. And then, sometimes the reaction to that is No, the Bible says that we’re bad. We’re, you know, the Psalmist says, We were born in sin that we are all sinners, the church has, at times, maybe not currently, as you said, emphasizing that the way it should be. But are those really the only two answers? Or is there another better way of framing that from a biblical theology standpoint, this idea that we’re made in the image of God, but we have this real significant problem of depravity? How? When somebody says, hey, Mary Jo, do you think people are in just basically inherently good or bad? How do you answer that?


Mary Jo Sharp  23:00

I usually say What do you mean by that?


Mark Turman  23:04

A good philosophical answer, right?


Mary Jo Sharp  23:06

Yeah, I, it’s tough because they we use the words good and bad without defining what those are. So we make an assumption that everybody knows what good and bad is. But yet, when you look across cultures through history, that the application of good and bad has different meanings. So what I want to get at is, why would we call anything good at all, you know, where does this standard of good come from, because that there is some kind of sense across time in history that we should be better, or there are things that are good versus things that are bad, and that we keep doing the wrong things. So throughout human history, we can do both. We have seen humans, like I said earlier, we’ve seen humans do amazingly good things. But then at the same time, those people, even the same person can do something horrific. So we need to work through that and say, Well, why does what is that? Why is that happening? And I think teaching on the fall of mankind, teaching on God’s creation as being good if we go back to Genesis one and his proclamation on his own creation after he makes humans is that is very good. And so that’s, that’s an important thing to emphasize. Because when you look at that full story of what the Bible is telling us, there’s a there’s goodness that is given to humans and good gifts. One of those is freedom, and freedom of choice. But freedom of choice comes with a consequence, like if you choose to do something in order for it to be a free choice, it has to have a consequence. So ultimately, there’s a plan for what happens when humans choose to do the wrong things when they choose to do evil. And it affects everything that God has made because it’s not the way we’re supposed to be living. Jesus is the plan for that. So that’s why you have Jesus dying on a cross is because we can’t do the good fully that we were meant to do because of this fallen nature where we continually do the wrong thing and not choose to do right. So there’s a plan for that. And that’s what you see on the cross. And I think sometimes people forget, when they talk about Easter. It’s all candy and bunnies and joy, right now, and Jesus rising from the dead. So when we do Easter, we do all this great stuff about like bunnies and chocolate and celebrating Jesus rise from the dead. But we, we say, you know, Jesus rose from the dead for our sins, but it’s almost become Christianese, we need to unpack that. What does that how does that connect to Genesis? How does that connect to the fall and who we are as human beings. And you begin to see that this is not what God wants for us, because what he made was good, he wants a right relationship with us. He wants goodness for us. But one of those gifts we have used in a very bad way. And this is Jesus. Taking care of that. So we’re our evil, our evil leads to death, Romans 623. wages of sin is death. So what is Jesus doing? He’s taking the wages of sin, he’s taking the consequence of evil. And then he’s putting that on himself, and then reversing that he’s reversing that by rising from the dead. So he’s putting life back where there was death. And remember, death is being that consequence of our evil. So I’m sorry, it was a long explanation. But I wanted to get into that, because I think we do this to reductive Lee, and we just say, Oh, well, aren’t humans all good? Well, you know, what do you mean by that? Because those people usually say, and we’re progressing, we’re getting better? Yeah, at killing each other, like, look at the 20th century, we’re not getting better, we’re getting better, uh, how bad reducing or how we’re getting better at doing bad things. Let’s say that, like, we’re doing bad things way more efficiently. So when, and that’s kind of what I would expect, if I have a biblical worldview is that yeah, people aren’t going to be set right until Jesus comes back. And then there was always a plan for that. And it was always Jesus. And he was always planning to take the consequence of our sin. But I think we really need to think on that. Does that mean for us individually? Does it mean for you students? You know, how do you have you thought about this? Have you processed? Why it is that people continue to do bad things? And what are you going to do in light of that knowledge?


Mark Turman  27:30

Right. So when they, when they know it, they know it intuitively, when they look in the mirror that they have this same nature, right that’s capable of doing amazingly beautiful, wonderful good things, but also doing completely the reverse. And they they’re carrying it around in their own soul trying to work that out. And like you said, when, when it comes to the way we talk about it all the time, but particularly in Easter, the resurrection can’t mean what the resurrection does mean, unless you put it in the context of the cross, if you if you don’t see it through the brutality in the darkness, that is the cross, then the resurrection really gets trivialized as well. That’s just how we know we get to all be in heaven. And, you know, my, my pastor used to say, any philosophy of life that will fit in a nutshell should stay there. And, you know, we are way too guilty of just looking for very short, simple answers to really big, eternal kinds of questions. And that’s kind of the reason we need something like apologetics to begin with, right?


Mary Jo Sharp  28:38

Yeah. And it doesn’t, you know, you asked a professor about problem of evil question, but so I have a long answer. But yeah, that’s, I think, this is one of the quintessential questions of life. And students need to know that they need to be told, you must wrestle with this that is part of growing up, like you have to wrestle with this ages old. If God is good, why is there evil in the world, because it helps you understand people, it helps you understand the church, it helps you understand who’s in the church, and who’s leading the church, and come up with better expectations of what’s going to be what it’s gonna mean to be in community with people who are Christians,


Mark Turman  29:18

right? Let’s go back a minute to some of the characteristics of Gen Z. And some of the reading that I’ve done in this area of her people talk about this area, you run into certain tensions or dichotomies, when you start dealing. Anytime when you start dealing with a generation in large scale, and you particularly you’re trying to reach back to a generation that you may be two or three decades removed from I know I am. But one of the interesting things you referenced them a little bit ago was that they’re struggling with an understanding of the church and the purpose of the church and, you know, part of having been a pastor for 35 years. One of my hopes is is we’ll see The next coming of the local church in terms of its relevance, its value. Its beauty, that especially in our hyper individualized culture, that we would come to appreciate the communal nature of our faith. And the reason that God gave us the church. I hope that’s a part of it. But you mentioned something a minute ago, if you look at some of the stats, Gen Z is known for a higher level of atheism as as a demographic group. But at the same time, as you mentioned, it they’re longing for and very open to conversations about just about everything and including spiritual things, right?


Mary Jo Sharp  30:41

Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, er, and we’re seeing that just in our like, just personally, when I’m having conversations with people out and about, I’m seeing that as well, from Gen Z. I’m also seeing it in the student conferences that I’m a part of, yeah, they’re very, very open to talking about spiritual matters.


Mark Turman  31:01

And they want to, and they want to talk about it not just with their own peer group, right?


Mary Jo Sharp  31:06

Oh, yeah, they are. Yeah, that’s surprising, especially when we live in the age of the death of expertise, right? We’re, anybody with a following on tick tock can be considered an expert. Right. So and I think they’re looking for sort of a grounding to what is real. And this is, I don’t know if this is post post modernity, or what we’re experiencing, you know, they’ll label it 50 years down the road, but the I think that they’re looking for what’s real, how can they know what’s true? And how do they find it, because they’re starting to understand that the sea of information is damaging sometimes to who they are and their identity, to how they know truth. And so they are looking for people who are not just their peers to inform them. But people who have studied and and I would say, not just people who have studied theology, or philosophy or whatever, but are actually living that in their life, like they’re making a concerted and demonstrable effort to live what they profess,


Mark Turman  32:09

right? And can be seen in their life, in a lot of ways by both their effort and sometimes their willingness to pay a price for it right to, to sacrifice for it, and sometimes if necessary to suffer for it. And that’s always been something of the way that faith gets validated, is by Are you willing to pay a price for this? And And can that be visible in some way? You mentioned a minute ago as well, just one of the topics that we can explore, which is the connection between faith and science. I ran into this in my own life with somebody I know really well, just recently, where this person I know got into a conversation with a new friend. And in the new frame of saying, Well, I, I just don’t know about the claims of faith, I’m a very science oriented kind of person. And isn’t it that you have to be one or the other, you’re either a faith focused person or you’re a science driven person. And you can’t be both. And so we got to have some fun conversation around that. How does dark room kind of approach that topic and work through that in some ways?


Mary Jo Sharp  33:18

Yeah, we’re we’re definitely trying to show more of a historically accurate perspective on the relationship of science and faith. As in the video, we’re really touching on some of the the points that may have been missed about Christians who are making history or who have made history in the fields of science. So we’re trying to show them like their historical heritage, in Christianity, in science in scientific endeavors. So we really touch on that, I would say that there’s also the underpinning of the relationship of faith and reason, and how we, we really see them as going together and that you don’t have to give up your reasoning abilities. But that they actually sit very, like having consciousness, having rationality, these sorts of things are actually fitting very well within the Christian worldview. Whereas they’re a little bit harder to explain when you go into like an atheistic materialist framework. So we’re trying to help them see that some of these things that they’re saying they’re more like a popular meme, or a modern myth. Rap, like, science is real. That’s one of my favorite popular memes because it doesn’t really say much about anything. Although it seems very derogatory towards religion, like I believe in science, it’s real. So we’re helping them see that sort of sacred secular split that has come out of modernist thinking and how that we need to respond to that and kind of put it away as a modern myth, and help them move past that, to see that people of faith are also very interested in education. We have been spreaders of education We’ve been very actively spreading in the science in general that we were there at the beginning of the Enlightenment, and that we’re still advocates for exploring in scientific fields.


Mark Turman  35:13

So, in the, in the team of people that have put this project together, what is the hope in terms of how dark room will be utilized? Is there kind of a preferred paradigm? If there’s a, if there’s a pastor, a student, pastor, a parent, any other type of spiritual mentor type person? How, how would you hope that they would engage with dark room and utilize the both the videos and the other written workbook resources that y’all have put together? Is there is there kind of a target of how you plan or hope for this to be utilized by people?


Mary Jo Sharp  35:57

Yeah, definitely, we really hope that youth ministers will utilize this, and student ministries in general, because I could see it being used up through college. And but we’re really hoping that they’ll utilize it as a curriculum for their youth groups, like a 14 week curriculum that they can walk through these really hard questions with their students. And that’s what we’re seeing I’m so we’ve had them out long enough now that we’re actually seeing a lot of youth groups, engage them and then getting some responses about how it went up. It went with the group and it, what we’re seeing is that it really opens students up because the videos themselves are a little bit open ended to allow the students, we call it a hot second, to think on the matter. And then the curriculum goes more into engaging the answers, the historic answers and theological answers that have been there. So we’re hoping that they use it as a curriculum. But we’re also finding parents who find this and just go through the videos with their kids at home. And then they use the material, the curriculum as resources for them to be able to discuss these matters with their own kids. So personally, with children, and then also youth ministries, we’re hoping will utilize it, and it’s all free. We’ve made it all free. So you don’t have to pay for it, you can just go right to it and begin using it like immediately.


Mark Turman  37:21

Oh, that’s great. So is a question for you, which is, as having been a pastor and been a part of helping churches lead churches for a while? Do you think that the need for the resources that y’all have put together in dark room was just it just was inevitable that we needed some fresh resources like this? Or is it somewhat driven by problems such as the biblical illiteracy that we see in our culture? Is it somewhat driven by that we we haven’t had a strong enough robust approach in the younger ages of the church? And so we’ve, we’ve we’ve now raised up a generation that hasn’t been adequately grounded in Scripture and in some of the answers to these hard questions. So I tried to move away from conversations that are well, the church just blew it again. And that’s why we’re at this place. I really don’t buy into that wholeheartedly. Yes, the church can always get better and needs to get better. And certainly, we’ve had some resources like this, we’ve never been able to do them at scale with this kind of quality and with this kind of distribution through the wonders of the internet type of thing. So what do you think that it was just inevitable that we’re going to need this? Or is this also a message to the local church look, start earlier? Start in those younger years building the foundation to an understanding that dark room answers?


Mary Jo Sharp  38:59

Yeah, um, that is a great question. So I’m not sure I’m going to be able to like pinpoint it down to exactly one thing, I think biblical illiteracy, we’ve been talking about that for so long. And we really do need to have solid curriculum, theological curriculum, and then coupled that with the rise, the return of not just apologetics, but philosophical theology, so the reasoning for the doctrines, this is why we need atonement. This is why there’s, you know, sin nature. This is why, you know, all that sort of reasoning behind the theology. And I do think you’re right, it needs to start younger. Since I have a background in education. One of the things that I learned in like child psychology classes is that you’ve reasoned with children at their reasoning level. So I think sometimes we we teach them stories, but we don’t necessarily teach him the reasoning about it or the theology behind it because we don’t think they can handle it. But in reality, they can handle it at their level. So there are resources to train them in theology like Dr. Craig’s, what is God like series. So William Lane, Craig has written children’s books, they’re picture books that teach the nature of God like they teach theology. So I think we need to start earlier and be very attentive to the fact that kids don’t just want to be entertained. Entertainment leads, leaves us very, very thin lives. And I think students are even picking up on that right now. So they’re looking for meaning and purpose and value to life. And you don’t have to wait until they’re 14 or you know, 18, or going off to college, you could start with them at very young ages, and instilling theology and respect for the Scripture and understanding the God that we profess, and why does your family believing God? These are all really important things you can start at a very young age, and then dark room is, is there a need for it? I think what the need with our, with our series is the aesthetic connection to the students. And the way we’ve presented it from their own words. So we’re not trying to formulate the questions for them. We’re using their questions, and then their cultural aesthetic to form the questions so that they connect to it without us having to say now listen to me, you know, I’m the authority. It’s actually coming from them. And they should be familiar with the way that they’re framed. These questions are friend. So I do think in that sense, yes, it was sort of inevitable, but it’s in every generation, we need to provide material that is culturally familiar, but theologically sound. So I think that dark room fulfills that purpose.


Mark Turman  41:56

Yeah, very, very well, to very, very well said to talk about it in that way to make it like I said, culturally relevant to them. I’m wondering 14 videos, 14 topics, questions that you deal with? Do you have two or three that are your personal favorites?


Mary Jo Sharp  42:13

Oh, my goodness. Oh, I wasn’t ready for that question.


Mark Turman  42:18

That’s my job. My podcast host calling is to put good questions in front of you that maybe you haven’t heard before.


Mary Jo Sharp  42:27

That’s right. It’s. So I really like Episode 12, which is after life. The the title of it is Sadie wants to go to hell. And I really, I really like the aesthetic in it. They use some really cool masks and such. But then I love the acting in it. I love how snarky they are. I really feel like the way they’re discussing things. Well, they’re walking around town in a shopping cart late at night. One guy sitting in the shopping cart, the other kids pushing them. I think it’s really, really fun. It’s fun, but it deals with one of the hardest issues, which is a theology of hell, and you know, dealing with the whole afterlife and what happens to people? What’s the reasoning? We have anything like this? What’s judgment? Why is there judgment? Is it loving? And so I love that episode. Goodness, there’s so many I also like the I like the doubt episode, because they do a whole NASA theme. And it’s fun. And they compare this sort of doubting about God’s existence with the doubting that we landed on the moon, which is fine.


Mark Turman  43:43

No. Which I had a conversation about that just a day or so ago that like somebody was asking me, we’re back to that. What do you mean, people think that we didn’t land on the moon? Yes, it but it is back into this larger narrative of our culture right now where almost all institutions of any kind in any purpose in our culture, all institutions are coming under a lot of suspicion, and are held in a great deal of distrust. And that just seems to be it’s not just, it’s not just pointed at the church, it is pointed at the church, but not exclusively, it’s pointed at the government. It’s pointed at education at health care. There just as a general suspicion of institutions and kind of the pillars of society across the board. And so there’s a lot of suspicion, a lot of skepticism about many, many things, including faith. So, so tell us where people can find it. And, and then the other question I had was, Is it is it sequential? Or can you just go and say, Okay, now I want to look at that topic, but or is it the case more in a curricular plan that one, one of these things builds on another Going to a conclusion? Or is it more pick and choose what your question is right now?


Mary Jo Sharp  45:06

Those are good questions. It’s a, it’s more of a pick and choose we, we don’t really build one off of another and we make them stand alones. But we use some of the same characters. So you get to see them again, if you have a favorite character, they appear in another one. So that’s really fun. But yeah, I would say you can look at the curriculum, you can order it however you feel would best work for your student, or your child, or whatever it is, however you’re using it. But yeah, just get in there, look around, you’ll have to use all of them. If you think one of them is not something that you want to address at the moment, then you can leave it out. I will say there’s a lot of resources. So if you feel uncomfortable with any of the topics, look, I’m not real skilled in this. Not only do we have the curriculum, but then we point you beyond ourselves to other resources, so you can get even more informed on these issues.


Mark Turman  45:58

Okay, so if I’m, if I’m a parent, student, Pastor, pastor of a local church, where do I go to find it?


Mary Jo Sharp  46:04

Oh, yes, good. Dark Room faith.com. That’s where you go. And then you’ll take the videos are all out there and you can access them right away. If you want the curriculum, we asked you to put your email in and then you have access to


Mark Turman  46:18

Yeah, awesome. All right. Well, thank you, Mary Jo, for the conversation. Thank you for your work, not only on this project, but on many, many other things, your books and your writing your teaching. Thank you for what you’re doing for the kingdom to help people understand faith and what it means to walk with Christ. We’re grateful to have you as a part of the conversation today.


Mary Jo Sharp  46:38

Mark, thank you for having me on really appreciate.


Mark Turman  46:42

Well, glad to do it. Want to say thanks to our audience as well. Thank you for your time listening today. And we hope it’s been helpful for you as a follower of Christ. If you liked what you heard today, please rate review us on your podcast platform. Share this with others so they can find us as well. And we look forward to seeing you next time on the Denison Forum Podcast. God bless you

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