How to Explain to Your Kids Why Some People Think Gorillas and Humans Are Equally Valuable

By Natasha Crain

By now, you’ve probably seen all the headlines and controversy surrounding the killing of Harambe the gorilla. In a nutshell, a 4-year-old boy somehow fell into a gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo last weekend and authorities ended up killing the gorilla in order to ensure the boy’s life would be saved. Controversy has raged over whether or not the gorilla should have been shot when he was, whether the mom was at fault for the whole thing, and, most notably,whether we really should always choose a human life over an animal life.

If you find the italicized last part of that sentence confusing, you should. It goes against our most basic understanding of our existence. But that’s where our society is today: equating the value of human life with the value of animal life.

On the surface, this controversy can sound like a simple battle over opinions, but in reality it originates miles deeper—at the level of a person’s entire worldview. The reactions to this story make it a perfect case study for our kids on how our worldview impacts the way we see absolutely everything in life.

Here’s what they should understand.

 

A Tale of Two Worldviews

There are two major worldviews in play here (well, technically, there are many more, but for our purposes we’ll compare the two big ones).

First, there is the naturalistic worldview. In the naturalistic worldview, there is no God. All that exists is the natural world, which sprang into existence 13.7 billion years ago. Eventually, about 4.5 billion years ago, the Earth formed, and 0.5 billion years later, the first life appeared. As life continued to reproduce, random mutations occurred in DNA (the molecule that contains all the information necessary to build and maintain an organism). Some of those mutations conferred an advantage to their organism within their environment, leading to improved survival and reproduction. When the organisms with the beneficial mutation no longer reproduced with the original population, a new species was created. Over billions of years, this process created every species on Earth—fish evolved into amphibians, amphibians into reptiles, and reptiles into birds and mammals, with humans finally arriving on the scene a couple hundred thousand years ago (the actual date is debated).

Without assessing the truth of this worldview, we can identify four basic implications of it. If naturalism is true:

 

  1. There is no objective meaning to our existence. People can certainly create their ownsubjective meanings—I can decide that the meaning of my life, for example, is to save dolphins—but no meaning is any truer than any other; there is no objective meaning to our existence.

 

  1. There is no objective purpose of our existence. Evolution isn’t moving toward any particular goal. Environmental factors may influence the rate of DNA mutations, but not the direction. In the most basic sense of the word, our lives our purposeless.

 

  1. There is no objective morality. Any individual can have a preference for what they think is right and wrong, but no one can claim a higher authority for that preference. I might say murder is wrong, for example, but I can only mean wrong in the weakest sense—“murder is wrong in my personal opinion.” Someone else could legitimately claim that murder is great, and there would be no objective arbiter of morality between us; no one could say what weought to do.

 

  1. Humans are equal in value to animals. If humans evolved from animals without any prior planning for or direction toward our existence, we are quite literally just another animal. No creature has a more intrinsic right to life than any other. The question of which lifeshould be saved in a situation like a boy falling into a gorilla exhibit is irrelevant—there can be no speak of objective shoulds. We humans may have an opinion on it, but no opinion is objectively more right than another. If naturalism is true, we have no reason to bristle at those who say they would choose the life of Harambe over the life of the child—like this person I saw on Facebook:

How to Explain to Your Kids Why Some People Think Gorillas and Humans Are Equally Valuable

 

Now let’s consider the Christian worldview. In the Christian worldview, God created the universe and everything in it. We learn about Him and ourselves through His revelation in nature, Jesus, and the Bible.

Again, whether or not this is an accurate picture of reality, we can identify the following four basic implications of it:

 

  1. There is objective meaning to our existence. If there’s an author of life, then it follows that He would imbue His creation with a specific meaning. Think, for example, of a painter who created artwork with the meaning that life is beautiful. Someone may look at the painting and say, “Oh! It meant something else to me…” but that won’t negate the fact that the author himself is the only one who can state what the meaning truly is.  In the Christian worldview, God is the One who determines the true, objective meaning of our existence (whether we like that meaning or not).

 

  1. There is a purpose for our existence. Similarly, if there is an author of life, then it follows that He created us with a purpose in mind. And, again, we might live as if that purpose is something totally different, but that doesn’t negate our true purpose.

 

  1. There is objective morality. In the Christian worldview, God is perfectly good and is the objective standard of morality. He has given us a moral conscience (Romans 2:14-15) and revealed further moral prescriptions in the Bible. We can speak of what humans should do because there is a universal should that applies to all people.

 

  1. Humans are fundamentally different from and more valuable than animals. Christians disagree over the age of the universe and God’s creative method, but universally agree that human beings—and no other creatures—were created in His image (Genesis 1:27). We were made to resemble God in a meaningful way that sets us apart from the animal world: We are rational, moral, and capable of having a relationship with our Creator. That makes human life sacred and of infinitely more value than that of other creatures.

 

So What Should We Make of Harambe?

None of this is to say that we should mistreat animals, or that we should have been happy about Harambe being killed in this unfortunate situation. It’s also not an analysis of whether or not he was killed prematurely. In an ideal world, they would have been able to save both the child and the animal.

Rather, this is to say that a person’s worldview is foundational to how he or she evaluates a situation like this. If you believe that there is no God who designed humans as unique creatures with a unique right to life, you’ll argue over the details of the situation to assert your opinion on which life should have been spared in this particular case. Maybe you think the gorilla should have won, maybe you think the boy should have won. The details are there for discussion. But if you believe that there is a God who has created us specially—in His imageyou’ll always argue for doing what it takes to save a human life, because human life is sacred in a way that animal life is not.

 

When we take the time to dig into the worldview issues behind popular stories like this, we help our kids tremendously in preparing them to engage with this secular world. So many of the battles today come down to the worldviews behind the issues themselves. The more we teach our kids to look far beneath the surface of what’s going on around them, the more we develop their critical thinking skills and demonstrate how far-reaching the implications of their beliefs are. If you need help with having these conversations, please check out my new book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith.  It’s available from your local Barnes & Noble and Christian book retailers, as well as ChristianBook.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and Amazon.com.

 

How to Explain to Your Kids Why Some People Think Gorillas and Humans Are Equally Valuable

Is Spiritual Truth a Matter of Opinion? An Open Letter to a Relativist

By Natasha Crain

I received the following blog comment this week, packed with statements that your kids are likely to hear (and possibly come to believe) about the nature of truth. I wanted to reply to the commenter right here in a blog post because I feel there is so much that is important for everyone to understand about what he is saying.

I’m going to include the full comment below so you can read it in its unbroken entirety, then I’ll break it down part-by-part. If you have older kids, I encourage you to read them this letter and use it as a discussion starter.

For context, this person is responding to an atheist who had commented on a post previously, and is encouraging him to stay strong in the midst of Christian claims.

You are really brave defending your stance against a bunch of evangelical Christians banging on you. I myself am not an atheist. If I have to put a label on myself, I would choose agnostic theist. I believe in God or a higher power, but I don’t have an absolute certainty of his or her nature.

 My belief is rational to [a] certain extent. The rest is on faith. However, unlike Christians, my spiritual path is highly personal and subjective. I will never say that “you’d better believe what I believe or you will suffer eternal consequences”. Christians, whichever denominations, like to intimidate me which [sic] this “Jesus is the high way” tactic even though I never initiate any religious conversation with them. However, I have survived as a gay, Vietnamese, and non-Abrahamic-faith person, and my life is pretty good so far. I know you may not like to hear this. I feel connected to God with contemplation, prayer, and compassion practice. When I have a child, I will not raise him or her as an atheist or a believer. I will do my best to raise him as a person who has a higher sense of empathy and compassion. If he chooses to be a Christian, Buddhist, Wiccan, Pagan, etc., I will support his decision. I believe that God is like an ocean, and different spiritual paths are like rivers. I am not the one who decides which river is the best to reach the ocean…

Keep your stance and keep searching truth…your truth. Not mine and definitely not these Christians’.

 

My Response: An Open Letter to a Relativist

 

Dear Minh,

Thank you for being willing to honestly share your spiritual journey in the comments section of my blog. It’s clear that spirituality is an important topic for you, as it is for me. With that in mind, I’d like to respond to several of the points you make.

 

You said: I myself am not an atheist. If I have to put a label on myself, I would choose agnostic theist. I believe in God or a higher power, but I don’t have an absolute certainty of his or her nature.

From what you’re saying here, it sounds like you are “agnostic” about what kind of God or higher power exists because you haven’t found anything pointing to that Being’s nature withabsolute certainty. However, it’s important that we’re honest with ourselves about this desire for absolute certainty. There’s pretty much nothing in life we know with “absolute certainty.” For example, do you know with absolute certainty that you are a real person and that everything you experience is not just an illusion? No, but you have good reason to believe you really exist and you live accordingly. We claim to know things all the time that we can’t beabsolutely certain about. When the preponderance of evidence points toward something being true, we go ahead and say we know it.

The question I would leave you to consider, therefore, is this: If you discovered that a preponderance of evidence pointed to a specific religion being the one true revelation of God to humans, would you accept it as truth? Or do you require a level of certainty that you don’t require of anything else in your life?

If you require a unique level of certainty in spiritual matters, then I would suggest perhaps you don’t want to find truth. If you are open to considering the weight of the evidence for the possible objective truth of a specific religion, then I would invite you to begin that investigation in earnest. If you would like to learn about the evidence for Christianity specifically, I will recommend a great starting book at the end of this letter.

 

You said: My belief is rational to certain extent. The rest is on faith. However, unlike Christians, my spiritual path is highly personal and subjective.

It sounds as though you are suggesting that a highly personal and subjective spiritual path is a better way than an objective one, such as in Christianity. However, it’s important to realize (if that’s indeed what you are implying) that by claiming this, YOU are making an objective statement–that a highly personal and subjective spiritual path is best for everyone! That’s a contradiction.

 

You said: I will never say that “you’d better believe what I believe or you will suffer eternal consequences”.

If you’re an agnostic theist, then you presumably don’t believe there are eternal consequences for your beliefs, so of course you will never say that. But what you are really saying here is that it’s wrong (and probably arrogant) for Christians to suggest to others that they have objective knowledge that beliefs have eternal consequences. Here’s the problem: What if Christianity is true? What if there are eternal consequences for what you believe? Would it be more loving for Christians to tell others about that, or to stay silent in the fear that the truth might bother you? Whether you believe Christianity is true or not, it’s not logical to suggest it’s a bad thing for Christians to warn other people about what they believe to be eternal consequences. When a person truly believes something horrible will happen to another person unless they warn them about it (think of someone about to get hit by a bus), the logical and loving action is to warn them. I would hope you would do the same if that were your belief.

 

You said: Christians, whichever denominations, like to intimidate me which this “Jesus is the high way” tactic even though I never initiate any religious conversation with them.

We really need to stop here and better define the nature of intimidation; there is a huge difference between an intimidating delivery of a message, an intimidating message, and feelingintimidated.

If a Christian has gotten in your face, waving a Bible in the air and shouted angrily at you, “Jesus is the only way!” then they have delivered a message in an intimidating way. And I apologize if you have been the recipient of any such graceless delivery. That is not how Jesus would speak.

An intimidating message is one that is frightening in and of itself. Is the message that Jesus is the only way to God frightening? If so, I encourage you to really dig deep and understand why it would be frightening to you if there was really just one objective truth. The gospel is good news…Jesus died so that our sins can be forgiven and we can be reconciled to our wonderful Creator.

Finally, a person can feel intimidated even if someone does not deliver a message in an intimidating way and doesn’t even deliver an intimidating message. There is nothing inherently intimidating about saying that Jesus is the only way to God! But if, in response to that, you feelintimidated, then it’s worth digging within to understand why the notion of one objective truth is so challenging to you personally.

 

You said: However, I have survived as a gay, Vietnamese, and non Abrahamic-faith person, and my life is pretty good so far. I know you may not like to hear this.

Minh, the test of truth should never be whether or not our lives are “pretty good.” A person can believe the world is flat (a wrong belief about reality) while having an amazing life from an earthly perspective. It’s not about survival and circumstances; it’s about having good reason to know that what you believe is an accurate picture of reality.

 

You said: I feel connected to God with contemplation, prayer, and compassion practice.

But why put so much trust in your feelings? Our feelings can’t be the final arbiter of truth. If I tell you I feel connected to Jesus as God’s son, who represents the only way to God, you wouldn’t believe I’m right. So there has to be something objective–evidence outside of your and my personal experiences–to help us determine what is actually true.

 

You said: When I have a child, I will not raise him or her as an atheist or a believer. I will do my best to raise him as a person who has a higher sense of empathy and compassion.

Why are empathy and compassion the most important values? Why are they “higher” in value or truth than whether or not God exists? If God doesn’t exist, and the world is only material, then there is no basis for objective morality; there is nothing morally good or bad because there is no moral authority. Empathy and compassion are morally equivalent to killing people if we are just molecules in motion. To be sure, I’m not suggesting that most atheists would ever think killing a person is OK. But, in a world with no God (a moral authority), at best you could say that killing people is not good in your opinion, and therefore you won’t do it. Atheists can be “good without God,” but they have no objective basis from which to call anything good. Similarly, if you don’t believe in a God who has revealed anything of His nature, you have no objective basis from which to refer to empathy and compassion as “higher” values.

 

You said: If he chooses to be a Christian, Buddhist, Wiccan, Pagan, etc, I will support his decision.

If by “support” you mean you will continue to love him dearly, regardless of what he believes, then I agree wholeheartedly. But if by “support” you mean you will accept whatever he believes as an equally valid picture of truth, then once again this is a contradiction. At the end of your whole comment, you advise fellow readers to not search for the truth of Christianity. Clearly, if your son believed Christianity is true, you would not feel that view is as valid as yours. Thus, you are willing to claim that at least some views are objectively wrong.

 

You said: I believe that God is like an ocean, and different spiritual paths are like rivers.

If you study where all these “rivers” are actually leading, you’ll see that they make logically incompatible truth claims; they aren’t even claiming to run to the same ocean. As a simple example, in Judaism, Jesus is not the Messiah. He is simply a man. In Christianity, Jesus is the Messiah and is God Himself. These claims cannot both be true. They contradict each other and cannot point to the same truth.

 

You said: I am not the one who decides which river is the best to reach the ocean.

If God exists, as you and I both believe, then you are correct: We are not the ones who decide which river is the best to reach the ocean. GOD IS! Ironically, by stating that you are not the one to decide what is best, so you therefore choose to believe that all paths are fine, you ARE making a claim of what is best. God, and God alone, determines which “river” flows to Him. The question is, has He revealed which river that is, and if so, which revelation is correct? Christians believe He has revealed that river as Jesus. We are not claiming to have decided that on your behalf, which I think is a misunderstanding that flows throughout your comment. We are simply claiming that the river that runs to God has already been decided by God and are sharing what we believe He has revealed.

 

You said: Keep your stance and keep searching truth, your truth. Not mine and definitely not these Christians’.

After all you wrote about the equally valid paths to God, it’s hard not to see the irony in how you’re advising others to definitely not search for the truth of “these Christians.” Are all paths valid except Christianity? You champion relative, subjective truth, but in doing so, you are making an objective claim that all paths are equally valid (except, notably, Christianity).

The bottom line is this: Truth is not what we like the best, what makes us most comfortable, what costs us the least, or what makes us happiest. It’s what accurately matches reality. I encourage you to consider the actual evidence for the truth of various worldviews, including of course, Christianity. If you honestly and openly do so, I am confident you will see that there is good reason to believe that Christianity is the uniquely true revelation of God. An excellent book that examines this evidence from the perspective of a detective is Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels.

 I wish you the best and hope that there is some food for thought here.


 

For anyone wanting to better understand the nature of objective truth, whether or not all religions can point to the same truth, why Christians can claim to “know” Christianity is true, and how common sense and personal experience are or are not helpful in determining truth, please check out my new book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith. It’s available from your local Barnes & Noble and Christian book retailers, as well as ChristianBook.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and Amazon.com.

Is Spiritual Truth a Matter of Opinion? An Open Letter to a Relativist

How Do We Help Kids Who Have Left the Faith?

Perhaps the toughest question parents ask me is how they can help their wayward kids. The difficulty of this question stems not solely from the intellect, but from seeing the pain in the eyes of parents who are genuinely hurt and disappointed in the choices of their kids. What can we do? Here are some humble thoughts from my work with students:

Pray. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This first step may seem obvious. After all, which Christian parentsdon’t pray for their kids? But remember, while prayer is for our kids, it is also for us. God wants us to pray as an act of trust in Him, and he promises to guard our hearts as a result.

Work on the relationship. It’s no secret that I love apologetics. Yet despite the critical need to train our kids in defending and articulating the faith, there’s often relational and emotional pain at the heart of why kids reject faith. In a massive study of faith transmission between generations, USC professor Vern Bengtson revealed that the primary factor is a “warm relationship” with the father. If this relationship in particular is broken, or other key relationships, faith is far less likely to be passed on from one generation to the next. Rather than first trying to reason your kids back to faith, or force them to go back to church, be sure they know you love them unconditionally. After all, God said to Israel: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer 31:3).

Remember that God’s heart is broken more than yours. It’s hard to think of a more passionate and committed love than the love of a mother. But God loves us and yearns to see our kids come back to faith more than we do. Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). And Peter said, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). We can pray to God knowing that he yearns to see our kids return to faith too.

Have a long-term view. Many young people who return to the faith often endure a length, arduous journey. And this journey is often filled with pain, regret, and consequences. I have seen this with many of my students and some of my personal friends. While we certainly want their return to be quick, and we want to save our kids from unnecessary pain, many have to learn the hard way. If we have a long-term view, we will tend to be more patient with our kids and count our blessings along the way.

Trust God. Don’t blame yourself. It’s natural to blame yourself for the choices your kids make. As tempting as this is, don’t do it. There’s nothing wrong with reflecting on your mistakes and learning from them. I do it all the time. But don’t dwell on them. All of us make mistakes. The question is whether we will learn from them, accept God’s forgiveness, and trust God regardless. Ultimately, our kids are responsible for their own lives. I have seen kids from crummy families develop a vibrant faith, and I have seen kids from great homes walk away. There are always many factors tied to a young person’s faith development. We can’t take too much credit, nor can we give ourselves too much blame. If your kids have walked away, the most important question is, Am I trusting God through this process and responding in the way He would desire me to. If the answer is “yes,” then whether your kids return to the faith or not, you can rest assured that God is please withyou.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

What are the Best Apologetics Resources for Students?

When I first wrote my book Ethix in 2006, the reviewer for the Christian Research Journal said its one of a few, but growing number of apologetics resources for students. It’s amazing how much has changed in a decade. Now we have tons of good apologetics resources for students, and the challenge is to highlight the best ones. The purpose of this post is simply to highlight some of my personal favorites. Please let me know if there are any good ones I need to add to my list.

BIBLES:

The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. This Bible has quick answers to the top 120 questions students have about God, the Bible, ethics, and other religions, as well as many other apologetics features.
CONFERENCES:

Summit Ministries: A life-changing 12-day worldview training experience for students in California, Colorado, and Tennessee.
Re-Think: Weekend apologetics conferences featuring leading apologists and thinkers today tailored uniquely for students.
Impact 360 Immersion: Two-week summer worldview and apologetics experience for high school students in Pine Mountain, Georgia.
Wheatstone Academy: One-week worldview experience designed to help students ask deep, meaningful questions, think Christianly about the arts and culture, and cultivate their own faith.
BOOKS:

Cold Case Christianity (J. Warner Wallace)
Stealing from God (Frank Turek)
Is God Just a Human Invention? (McDowell & Morrow)
Ethix: Being Bold In A Whatever World (S. McDowell)
Welcome to College (J. Morrow)
Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis)
The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, The Case for the Real Jesus (L. Strobel) *I recommend student versions for ages 11-13.
More Than a Carpenter (J. McDowell)
CURRICULUM:

GodQuest: 6-week introductory apologetics course for youth groups.
True U: Three 10-part apologetics series for upper high school and college students on the existence of God, reliability of the Bible, and Jesus.
Re-Think Student Conference Sessions: 7 critical lectures for students on various apologetics topics.
The Defense Never Rests: Student workbook to go along with training material from William Lane Craig (ages 10-16).
Ask: An interactive 4-part student curriculum from RZIM.
Big Questions: A 6-part apologetics series to help students think about the big questions of life. Includes interviews with leading apologists.
Understanding the Times: High school worldview curriculum for the classroom.
I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be An Atheist: Curriculum created by Frank Turek to go along with his classic book.

YOUTUBE VIDEOS:

*These videos are great to show in order to spur conversation with students:

Reasonable Faith Animated Videos.
Impact 360 videos. These are short animated videos on Questioning the Bible, the resurrection, and the nature of worldview.
One Minute Apologist: Quick interviews with leading apologists on a variety of issues.
Sean McDowell YouTube channel


 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

What Exactly is a Biblical Miracle? 3 Key Things Your Kids Should Understand

By Natasha Crain

A few weeks ago in our family worship time, we were studying the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 (Matthew 14). After we finished the story, I asked what I thought was a pretty straight forward question: “So, how did Jesus feed 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish?”

Kenna responded, “He must have cut the bread and fish into little tiny pieces to feed that many people!”

It was such a simple and logical answer, but it said so much about her young understanding of miracles. A million coloring pages of Jesus walking on water (which I’m pretty sure is the count coming home from Sunday school in the last couple of years) won’t teach our kids some basic concepts central to the understanding of biblical miracles.

Here are three key things our kids need to understand about the nature and purpose of miracles in the Bible.

 

1.    Miracles are supernatural.

One of the most common pejorative statements I see atheists make is that Christians believe someone can walk on water, a dead man can come back to life, animals can talk, and so on. The underlying assumption is that Christians foolishly believe these things are possible within the bounds of our natural world and its laws, when clearly we should see that they aren’t.

This is not a correct understanding of biblical miracles. Christians do NOT believe that miracles are naturally possible, just as atheists do not. We agree! The point of difference is that Christians believe miracles are possible on a supernatural level, and atheists don’t believe a supernatural level even exists.

I realize this distinction sounds a little theoretical, but it’s very important and actually quite simple to explain to kids in a practical sense. I told my kids (age 4) that if Jesus merely chopped the bread into 5,000 pieces, that would be something anyone can do, because that is how our world works (when you chop many times, it makes many pieces). What Jesus did was a miracle because it was something that can’t be explained by how we know our world works; food doesn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere! Jesus could do miracles because He had the power of God, and anything is possible for God. God is not limited by how our world works.

 

2.    Miracles proved who Jesus was.

This is the million dollar point that I don’t think I really understood the significance of until a couple of years ago when I started reading apologetics.

Jesus needed to do something while He was on earth to provide evidence (yes, evidence!) that He truly was the son of God. Think about it – He was making bold claims of divinity; how could people know that what He said was true?

Jesus didn’t just tell people to have “faith” that what He was saying was true. He usedmiracles – acts not possible by someone without God’s power – to prove it. Jesus understood the need for evidence to legitimize His claims. The resurrection was the ultimate miracle that proved to His followers that He was who He said He was.

To demonstrate this to my kids, I put on a mini-act where I told them I was God. I claimed that I wanted them to eat cookies every day because it’s good for them and that they needed to listen because I was God. They laughed and said they didn’t believe me because I’m not God! I told them over and over that I’m God. After a while, we talked about what it would have been like for Jesus’ friends to hear Him say He was the son of God. They had to have a way of knowing He wasn’t just a regular person saying that (like mommy was in the cookie example). Jesus did things only God could do to prove He reallywas God.

 

3.    Miracles are still historical events.

The disciple Thomas did not believe that the other disciples had seen a resurrected Jesus. He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

When the resurrected Jesus appeared to Thomas, Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus replied, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

This is an incredibly rich passage for Christians. Even though miracles are outside of our scientific understanding and laws, they are observable by witnesses and have natural/historical outcomes. The apostles historically observed the miracle of the resurrection, which led to a conviction so strong that they were willing to die for their beliefs. Their willingness to die was undoubtedly based in large part on their knowledge that they had witnessed the resurrection miracle.

We demonstrated this to our kids by talking about how difficult life was for the apostles after Jesus died. The miracles He did were so amazing that the apostles had no doubt that Jesus was God and they were willing to do whatever it took – endure beatings, jail and death – to tell the whole world about Him. Today we know about Jesus in large part because of what the apostles did after witnessing His miracles!

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts – what else should kids know about miracles?

For more articles like What Exactly is a Biblical Miracle? 3 Key Things Your Kids Should Understand visit Natasha’s website at ChristianMomThoughts.com

What Exactly is a Biblical Miracle? 3 Key Things Your Kids Should Understand

The Worldview Behind ‘The Jungle Book’ Movie

My entire family went to see The Jungle Book this past weekend. From my 3 ½-year old son, to my mother-in-law, we all thoroughly enjoyed it. Disney is to be commended for making an engaging, creative, and faithful “live” version of this classic story.

Like all fictional movies, The Jungle Book offers a story, which has worldview implications. Two questions lie at the heart of the movie: What does it mean to be human? And secondarily: How does man relate to nature? Specifically, these questions are explored through the life of Mowgli—a young boy who wolves raise in the jungle.

At the opening scene, the wise panther Bagheera is training Mowgli to chase like a wolf. Ignoring Bagheera’s advice to stay low like the rest of the wolves, Mowgli goes high into the trees, steps on a brittle branch, and falls to the ground in failure. Although he desperately wants to be like the other wolves, Mowgli senses that he is different and may never truly fit in.

After the fearsome tiger Shere Kahn threatens the entire wolf pack on Mowgli’s behalf, Mowgli decides that its best he leaves. His friend Bagheera, who first brought him to the wolf pack to be raised, convinces Mowgli that he needs to leave his beloved jungle and join human civilization. At this point in the movie, the message is clear—Mowgli does not “fit” in the jungle and needs to seek out others who are like him.

After a series of life threatening adventures with Shere Kahn, the snake Kaa, the baboonKing Louie, and the bear Baloo (the lovable character who gave Mowgli second thoughts about leaving the jungle), Mowgli is finally persuaded by Bagheera and Baloo to leave the jungle for good. But when Mowgli hears about the death of Akela, the former head of the wolf pack who raised him, he seeks revenge against Shere Kahn.

Knowing that Shere Kahn fears fire (called the “red flower), Mowgli runs into the human encampment hoping to find some for a weapon. This is where we get our first up-close view of humanity. And the message is clear: human civilization is wild, dangerous, and destructive. The juxtaposition with the jungle is clear: while the jungle has order, natural law, and cultivates respect for other kinds, human civilization is wild and unpredictable. In fact, ironically, human civilization is presented as the real jungle and the actual jungle is viewed as the most civilized.

Mowgli grabs a torch and heads out to defeat Shere Kahn. But unbeknownst to him, while he is running through the jungle, sparks fall behind and start a massive forest fire in his wake. After using his ingenuity to defeat Shere Kahn, the elephants (who Mowgli had been taught previously to bow down to), reroute the river to extinguish the forest fire. Again, the message seems clear: humans cause destruction and only animals can bring safety and order.

After defeating Shere Kahn, Mowgli truly comes to grip with his unique human nature. He no longer tries to be a wolf, but realizes that his intelligence and ingenuity set him apart from the rest of nature. In other words, Mowgli learns to be true to his nature rather than trying to imitate others. While The Jungle Book certainly doesn’t imply that humans are made in the image of God, it does show that humans are distinct from nature in terms of reasoning and intellect. Humans really are different from the rest of the animal kingdom.

But what is interesting is that Mowgli finds his true home in the jungle. Rather than needing other human beings, Mowgli is truly fulfilled in nature alone. While this works in the movie—since the animals have personalities, can build relationships, and even sing songs—this doesn’t work in real life. Human beings need each other to find genuine fulfillment.

In fact, this is one of the opening messages in the Bible. In Genesis 2, God creates Adam and puts him in the Garden along with the other animals. Although he has perfect health, safety, a beautiful environment, a relationship with the animals, and could walk with God, something was lacking. In fact, God specifically said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable helper for him” (Gen 2:18). In order to populate the earth, and also for Adam to be fully human, God needed to create another human being—Eve—that he could uniquely relate to as an equal. Here is one of the key messages from Genesis 2: While it is important for people to be in proper relationship with God and nature, humans also need each other.

Jesus made a similar point when he was asked the greatest commandment in the law (Mark 12). In response to his interlocutors, Jesus essentially said that we are to love God and love other people. The heart of the Christian faith is found in loving relationships with God and other people. Thus, we are only truly fulfilled as human beings if we properly relate to God and other people. If these relationships are lacking, or broken, then we cannot fully live the way God has designed us to be.

I raise these points not in criticism of The Jungle Book. As I said in the introduction, I think it’s a fantastic movie, and I encourage you to go see it. It is filled with many important insights about sacrifice, loyalty, and courage. But consider doing two things when you see it. First, use it as an opportunity to talk to other Christians about the worldview behind the movie. Movies are a wonderful opportunity to help young people, in particular, think Christianly about life.

Second, look for opportunities to talk with non-believers. Notice that I used the wordtalk, not lecture. Movies provide a natural way to learn from other people, better understand their worldviews, and if they are open, to share our own.

Here are some questions that may help get a conversation started about the worldview behind The Jungle Book:

  • What did you like about The Jungle Book? Was there anything you didn’t like?
  • What do you think was the key theme of The Jungle Book?
  • What does it really means to be human? What separates us, if anything, from nature? What do you think best explains those differences?
  • Do you think, as the movie suggests, that there is more order in the jungle than in human civilization? Why or why not?
  • Do you think human beings can truly find fulfillment in the jungle apart from human relationships?
  • Genesis 2 suggests that humans are designed for relationship with God, human beings, and nature. What do you think?

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

For more articles like The Worldview Behind ‘The Jungle Book’ Movie visit Sean’s website at SeanMcDowell.org

Don’t Expect Your Kids to Care What the Bible Says Unless You’ve Given Them Reason to Believe It’s True

By Natasha Crain

Don’t Expect Your Kids to Care What the Bible Says Unless...

A mom left a comment on one of my older posts the other day that said, “It sounds like you are teaching your kids to question the Bible. We should never teach our kids to question the Bible!”

To that I say…Of course we should.

Let’s not get confused, however, by what it means to “question” the Bible. To ask questions about something doesn’t mean to doubt it by default. Neither default acceptance nor default rejection is the response of a critical thinker.

To encourage our kids to question the Bible means to encourage them to examine it fully so they can determine its truth value for themselves.

This is a spiritual process so sorely lacking in most kids’ (and adults’) lives today.

Our kids learn a selection of key Bible stories throughout their childhood, but what do they learn about the Bible–why they should even believe those stories?

Typically, next to nothing.

Yet, parents and church leaders spend years preaching to kids from the Bible, assuming those kids should and will accept it at face value. It takes just a few skeptics to throw darts at that face value before kids make the point of this “atheist pig”:

 

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Don’t expect your kids to care what the Bible says unless you’ve taken the time to help them understand why there’s good reason to believe it’s true.

In Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, I wrote 8 chapters to help you do just that. Of course, there are many other possible topics to address on the Bible’s veracity, but I selected these because they are the most pertinent and the most frequently attacked by skeptics.

Here’s an overview of these 8 key questions you should be teaching your kids to ask of the Bible.

 

1. How were the books in the Bible selected?

Skeptics claim: In the first centuries after Jesus, there were many rival versions of Christianity, but the representative writings were suppressed by those in power. Our New Testament books represent the version of Christianity that happened to win over time. The winning books weren’t picked until some 300 years after Jesus’ death, and they won because they found political favor at the time.

Kids need to understand: That there were many early Christian writings, how the early church leaders sifted through those writings over time, and how the books of our Bible today were eventually deemed authoritative.

This is explained in Chapter 25 of my book.

 

2. Why were books left out of the Bible?

Skeptics claim: There are many “gospels” missing from the Bible which give equally valid but completely different views of Jesus than the one we have. If these books had made it into the Bible, Christianity would mean something very different today.

Kids need to understand: Why the mere existence of dozens of early Christian writings that never made it into the Bible says absolutely nothing. The question they need to be able to confidently answer is whether or not any of those writings can legitimately claim spiritual authority by way of connection to Jesus and His apostles.

This is explained in Chapter 26 of my book.

 

3. How do we know we can trust the Bible’s authors?

Skeptics claim: The gospels were written decades after Jesus lived by anonymous authors based on growing legends and unreliable oral history.

Kids need to understand: Why we can be confident that the gospels are based on reliable, eyewitness testimony.

This is explained in Chapter 27 of my book.

 

4. How do we know the Bible we have today says what the authors originally wrote?

Skeptics claim: The Bible has been copied, edited, copied, edited, copied, edited, etc. so many times since the original authors wrote their content that we have no way of even knowing what the books we have should say. (See the quote on the image at the top of this post from one actor making this claim.)

Kids need to understand: Why thousands of copies of early manuscripts and hundreds of thousands of differences between them actually don’t undermine what we know about Christianity.

This is explained in Chapter 28 of my book.

 

5. Does the Bible have errors and contradictions?

Skeptics claim: The Bible is filled with hundreds of errors and contradictions, clearly demonstrating it’s not the Word of God. (See bibviz.com as one example of this claim.)

Kids need to understand: How to evaluate alleged errors and contradictions (with special consideration of the alleged contradictions in the Gospels).

This is explained in Chapter 29 of my book.

 

6. Does the Bible support slavery?

Skeptics claim: God’s laws about slavery in the Old Testament show that, far from being a perfect moral Being, He actually supported this terrible institution–even sex slavery (see Exodus 21:7-11).

Kids need to understand: The issue of slavery in the Old Testament is very complex and requires an appropriate understanding of biblical context, culture, and history.

This is explained in Chapter 30 of my book.

 

7. Does the Bible support rape?

Skeptics claim: The Bible approves of rape.

Kids need to understand: The meaning of biblical laws on rape (Deuteronomy 22:23-29) and the biblical context for three key passages often used to support skeptics’ claims in this area (treatment of female war captives, treatment of the Midianite virgins, and treatment of the women of Jabesh-gilead).

This is explained in Chapter 31 of my book.

 

8. Does the Bible support human sacrifice?

Skeptics claim: God may explicitly condemn human sacrifice in the Bible, but He violates His own prohibition multiple times.

Kids need to understand: The theological background of God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the nature of child sacrifices of kings, Jepthah’s vow, the consecration of firstborn males, and Jesus’ death on the cross.

This is explained in Chapter 32 of my book.

 

So should you teach your kids to ask these and other questions about the Bible? Absolutely. If you don’t, skeptics will. And soon your kids won’t care what the Bible says any more than the “atheist pig”.

Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side is available from your local Barnes & Noble and Christian book retailers, as well as ChristianBook.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and Amazon.com.

For more articles like Don’t Expect Your Kids to Care What the Bible Says Unless You’ve Given Them Reason to Believe It’s True visit Natasha’s site ChristianMomThoughts.com

Don’t Expect Your Kids to Care What the Bible Says Unless...

Understanding the Unique Worldview of Students Today

As a high school student, my father sent me to a two-week worldview experience in the mountains of Colorado Springs called Summit Ministries. I had no idea what I was getting myself in to. Looking back now, over two decades later, I realize that it was one of the most formative faith experiences of my life.

Although there were probably a couple dozen speakers at Summit (who addressed all sorts of worldview issues related to theology, economics, apologetics, science, and more), my favorite was Dr. Jeff Myers. He has sense become a good friend of mine, and he is now the president of Summit Ministries, a vital worldview experience for students. Dr. Myers is a popular speaker, the author of many books (including one of my favorites, Handoff), and is one of the most important contemporary voices in the church.

Dr. Myers was kind enough to answer some of my questions. I hope you enjoy the interview, but most importantly, if you are ages 16-22, please consider attending Summit this upcoming summer. It is a “game-changer” for many students, and I believe it could be for you too.

SEAN MCDOWELL: Jeff, what would you say are some unique worldview distinctives of young adults and teens today?

JEFF MYERS: Recently I asked my three teenage children to add some songs to my playlist for when I go running. They included all kinds of things—the good, the bad, and the ugly. When I was growing up, most songs were “coded” messages about having sex. There are still a lot of songs about sex, but there are even more about living with stress, wanting to feel empowered, and feeling regret. This is a searching generation—wondering whether anyone really loves them and whether anyone would even miss them if they disappeared.

MCDOWELL: What is the most common misunderstanding people often have about this younger generation?

JEFF MYERS: The most common misunderstanding is that young adults don’t care about anything besides themselves. I think they do care. Look at the difference of how today’s young adults engage the culture. It’s different from when I was growing up. In my day, popular culture was an escape from reality. A lot of it now is about finding expression—finding songs and movies that help them explain their thoughts and feelings to the world.

MCDOWELL: I have often heard people say that apologetics and worldview training is not critical today? Your thoughts?

MYERS: I think it’s a huge, huge mistake when people say that. Apologetics and worldview training are more important than ever—and students seem to engage with them more than ever. It is different, though. They need to know how their thoughts and feelings fit with how God created reality. They won’t engage unless it affects them personally. They won’t engage unless they can imagine how they can be credible talking with their friends. They won’t engage unless they feel safe—that the adults in their lives really care and won’t be scared off when they hear about what they’re really dealing with. They won’t engage unless they have a chance to talk and ask questions as well as process new information.

MCDOWELL: What are some effective means of teaching worldview?

MYERS: There are two critical factors. At Summit, we imagine these as two strands of a DNA double helix. One strand is truth. The other strand is relationship. Today’s young adults can only embrace truth in the context of relationship. Truth without relationship leads to arrogance. Relationship without truth leads to apathy. The best resources are those that constantly put rungs in the ladder between truth and relationship.

MCDOWELL: What are the most important resources for parents, youth workers, and teachers to help the next generation?

MYERS: Parents, youth workers and teachers are the best resources. Their engagement with one another and with young adults makes the difference. But organizations like Summit are a “Vitamin B12” shot because they give young adults the best chance to meet world-class experts, get answers to their tough questions, and work together with other young adults to knock down the barriers that would stop them from living wholeheartedly for Jesus. We’re seeing amazing, long-lasting results. It’s an investment but it is changing families, churches, and schools.

To register your student for a Summit conference, go to summit.org/thesummit

Summit also provides resources beyond the summer conferences that help you not only understand how strong and robust the Christian worldview is, but also understand its counterfeits. Summit’s newest revision of Understanding the Times introduces students to the six dominant worldviews and the ten key disciplines they influence. It helps Christians understand not only the what, but also the why, to help them understand the times in which we live.

To buy your discounted copy of UTT, go to summit.org/store and use coupon code INTERVIEW for $5 off our already reduced Summit price.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

Why 99 out of 10 Millennials Leave The Church?

By Michael Sherrard

As the scintillating Richard G. Howe says, “three out of two people are bad at fractions.” Fewer, I imagine, are good at statistics. Statistics are useful and powerful in telling a story but are often misleading. In fact, statistics can be used to tell any story you want depending on how the questions are asked and the findings presented. And so goes it with the mass exodus of young adults leaving the church. We want to know why. Polls then are taken, findings are presented, and the blogopshere runs wild with them. Thus we find our social media filled with articles telling us the five reasons millennials have forsaken God. And this is fine. Do not misunderstand my point here. I only want to add one thought to this discussion, and it is this. People never give you the real reason they leave church.

When people leave the church, the reasons they offer either make themselves look good or the church look bad. Sometimes this is accomplished in the same reason. No one, though, ever offers their affair with fantasy football and their Sunday morning sport shows as a reason. No one ever tells you how they were not invited to a baby shower and let bitterness harbor in their heart for two years as they slowly removed themselves from the fellowship. And no one ever offers their lifestyle of sinful indulgence as the reason for abandoning the bride of Christ.

Excuse my boldness, but I think the leading factor in why millennials are leaving the church is sexual sin. This will never show up on a poll. I will be glad to find myself wrong about this. But I hear all too often the same story from youth ministers. The norm for youth groups across the country is to have all of their upperclassmen actively engaged in sex, or pornography, or both. It is rare, youth ministers tell me, to find a male high school student that has not had sex or been exposed to pornography. And it is nearly as rare to find a female upperclassmen that is still a virgin or abstaining from “not all the way” sexual activity. The message youth ministers want parents to hear is that they need to assume that their sons and daughters are playing with sex because they all are. In a culture that praises the self and is drowning in sexual sin, it is easy to see why millennials have lost the wonder of God and grown tired of His church.

Intellect is not driving teenagers out of the church. Their hearts are abandoning God long before their minds. It is right to equip teenagers with the reasons for Christian faith. But there is something that ought come before the cosmological argument. The greatest lesson the church needs in apologetics is holiness. Seeking to dispel blind faith is a waste of time if we are going to turn a blind eye to sin. Our response to sociological research will not result in our desired end without an acknowledgment of the problem of sexual sin in the church. For there is no way to make church relevant to people who have no interest in surrendering their lives. Or, I suppose there is a way, but it is not biblical. We could to contort our churches to affirm and facilitate self-centered and lustful desires of rebellious hypocritical pseudo-believers. But I don’t think that would be a good idea.

Holiness is the relevance of Christianity. For in it comes rest and peace and freedom, what we are seeking in sexual rebellion. Sin cannot be ignored. It always robs. It always kills. It always destroys. Two years of “harmless” sexual exploring will result in fifteen years of consequences. Sin’s darkness cannot withstand God’s light, but the ramifications of sin are long felt after forgiveness is embraced. Let us, therefore, lead our youngsters into greener pastures. Let us cause them to lie down in the freedom of God’s ways. Let us not look at the pretense of their rebellion. Rather, let us pray and preach and teach and allow God’s light to shine into their darkening hearts and show them what they actually need. Let us stitch their wounds and not just cover them.

Healing comes by recognizing the need for a doctor. It comes by recognizing you are sick. Many millennials have been sold the lie that sickness does not come from sexual sin. And truth be told, they are being sold the exact opposite, that health comes from the surrounding of your will to your sexuality. This lie has caused many teenagers to lay down their arms and sleep with the enemy. But actions do not merely remain actions. They condition the way we think. Thus marks sin’s slippery slope. Once sin enters your life, it spreads. It distorts the way we think and feel. And so, many teenagers now find the church to be not merely irrelevant, but immoral. They have embraced the lie that freedom comes in sex thereby making the church an oppressor. An exodus is only natural at this point. We must confront this.

We confront sin’s ruin, first, by surrendering our lives to God’s ways. Our lives must be marked by holiness if we are to lead others into it. “Neither coercion nor reward shape human behavior as much as a motivated attempt to resemble a specific person” (Ogden, Discipleship Essentials, p. 11). When teenagers see in us the value of surrendering to God’s ways, they will desire it as well. I wonder, how many teenagers have tasted the goodness of God through the holy lifetyle of an adult? I imagine it is a more common experience for teenagers to develop a distaste for church because of rampant hypocrisy than it is for them to crave the fruit seen falling from the tree of the righteous.

Second, we love teenagers. We take an interest in their lives. We build bridges of communication with them. We do not stand on a street corner and scream for their repentance. They are an abandoned generation. They have been left on their own to navigate a vast seas of choices. We thought google would be enough and accordingly withdrew our leadership from them. But we cannot isolate them. We cannot create a greater chasm by yelling at their sin. We must embrace them. They must feel our warmth and closeness.

In humility being armed with knowledge of God and his will, let us seek to restore an abandoned generation ravaged by sin’s folly. Let us gently invade their lives. They are a passionate army ready to change the world. They are not apathetic as many were in the previous generation. They desire truth, truth that will make this world better. They will go if we send them. But sexual sin is blocking the road of many. Therefore, let us help them remove the greatest obstacle in their path, and in so doing, see life abound in their midst and spread to every corner of this world.

*Ogden, Greg. Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2007. Print.


Michael C. Sherrard is a pastor, author of Relational Apologetics, and the Director of Ratio Christi College Prep. RCCP is an organization that seeks to equip the church for effective evangelism by teaching high school students apologetics, fundamental Christian doctrine, and biblical evangelism.

For more articles like Why 99 out of 10 Millennials Leave The Church? visit Michael’s website at MichaelCSherrard.com

What Christian Parents Can Learn from Atheist Churches

By Natasha Crain

There’s a new church movement you may not have heard about, but it’s growing by leaps and bounds. It’s called the Sunday Assembly. It started less than two years ago in England and now has more than 60 congregations around the world. Twenty-five more congregations are expected to launch by early 2015. The Sunday Assembly is growing especially quickly in the United States, where congregations have formed in 17 cities.

At a Sunday Assembly, church members come together to sing songs, hear a speaker and reflect on their lives. Outside of church, they have small groups, book clubs, a choir, peer-to-peer support and a variety of opportunities to volunteer. Their motto is “Live better, help often and wonder more.”

So what’s unique about this rapidly growing church?

Most of the congregants don’t believe in God. It’s a church for atheists.

 

What is an Atheist Church?

The Sunday Assembly was started by two comedians named Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones who liked the idea of a church without God. Pippa is an ex-Christian who found she missed church elements like “community, volunteering, and music,” but didn’t miss God. Sanderson had noticed the joy at Christmas created by caroling and wondered if it was possible to harness those warm feelings and just celebrate the fact we’re alive.

When Evans and Jones launched the Sunday Assembly, they promoted it using the (appropriate) phrase “atheist church.” However, they now avoid the atheist description and promote the Sunday Assembly as a group “celebrating life.” A New York congregation actually broke off from the group earlier this year because they wanted to focus more on celebrating godlessness than celebrating life.

True to this rebranding effort, the “Frequently Asked Questions” page on the Sunday Assembly’s website attempts to distance the organization from a strict atheist association. In response to the question, “Is Sunday Assembly exclusively for atheists?” they say, “Absolutely not. We say in the Charter that we don’t do supernatural but we won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do. One of the unique things about Sunday Assembly is that it is radically inclusive–allowing us to celebrate life together, regardless of what we believe in.” They go on in other answers to discourage using their group as a vehicle for presenting atheist philosophy or for telling others that they’re wrong for what they believe.

Irony lurks below the surface of this shallow inclusiveness. The first item on their public charter says, “We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together.” Make no mistake: this isn’t just a secular gathering where no claims are being made about God one way or another. The Sunday Assembly is built on explicitly atheist assertions. And people are loving it.

 

A Very Important Lesson for Christian Parents

I’m fascinated by this rise of atheist churches, and I think there is a very important lesson Christian parents can take from it:

We have to make sure our kids are attracted to Jesus and not just the church.

Humans are built for relationships. We desire community; we desire to help others; we desire to live a “good” life and find meaning in what we do–all things that can be found in church. Christians believe that these desires are given to every person by God. That means church is a place that can fill a God-given need for our kids whether they believe in Him or not.

The risk is that they’ll mistake that partial fulfillment for the sum of everything they spiritually need.

Bart Campolo, son of well-known Christian pastor and speaker Tony Campolo, made the news last month because of his deconversion from Christianity. In an interview, he described how as a teenager he was drawn by the sense of community and “the common commitment to love people, promote justice, and transform the world.” He commented, “All the dogma and the death and resurrection of Jesus stuff was not the attraction.”

Church – not Jesus – was the attraction.

How can you know if your kids are attracted to Jesus or just the church? Look at their spiritual development outside of church:

  • Do they show an interest in reading and understanding the Bible, or just an interest in good values and community service?
  • Do they initiate conversations about faith and ask thoughtful questions?
  • Do they demonstrate a desire to discern what God wants for their life?
  • Do they pray? (If you don’t know, ask!)

There are certainly a lot of kids kicking and screaming all the way to church each week. That’s a whole other problem. But let’s be sure to not assume a happy church-goer is also a Jesus-lover. As the Sunday Assembly has shown us, a lot of people are happy to do church without God.

What kind of “relationship” do your kids have with your church? Have you ever considered if it’s a Jesus-centered relationship? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

For more articles like What Christian Parents Can Learn from Atheist Churches visit Natasha’s website: ChristianMomThoughts.com

Heaven and Hell: How to Explain God’s Love AND Justice to Kids

By Natasha Crain

Lately, my two daughters (ages 6 and 4) have been arguing incessantly every morning. It’s the first thing I hear every day, echoing from down the hall:

“Stop staring at me!”

“Then leave my room!”

“You’re so mean!”

“No, you’re the meanest in the world!”

The other morning, my older daughter ran into my room, crying, “Mommy! Sister pushed me to the ground! I got hurt!”

In utter fatigue and frustration, I just looked at her blankly and replied, “I just don’t care anymore. I don’t know what to tell you.”

She burst into tears. “It’s NOT FAIR! Why don’t you care she did something bad?”

I shrugged and said, “I should. I’m just too tired of all this fighting to do anything anymore.”

I ushered my wailing daughter out of the room and finished getting ready, feeling like a total failure.

Little did I know my failure would serve as a great lesson about God’s love and justice only a few hours later.

 

Explaining God’s Love and Justice to Kids

That evening, when I was tucking my daughter into bed, she said, “I don’t totally understand who goes to heaven and hell.”

We had talked about this topic on many occasions before, but of course it’s something hard for kids to understand. At that moment, God placed it on my heart to use the example from the morning to explain the concepts in a more tangible way. I saw the lights really go on in her eyes through our conversation, so I want to share it with you today in dialogue form. I hope it will help you have this discussion with your own kids (you can use your own similar failure, or set one up as a lesson!).

Me: “That’s a really important question and I’m so glad you asked it. When you were younger and couldn’t understand a lot yet, we simply explained to you that if you love Jesus, you’ll be with Him forever in heaven. But you’re big enough now to understand much more. I want to start by answering your question with an example. Do you remember this morning when you came to my room because your sister had done something bad to you? How did I respond?”

My daughter: “That you didn’t care. That it didn’t matter. That you weren’t going to do anything about it.”

Me: “Right. How did that make you feel?”

My daughter: “Sad. I didn’t understand why you didn’t want to do something about her pushing me. It was unfair.”

Me: “So was that loving or not loving of mommy?”

My daughter: “I didn’t think it was loving at all.”

Me: “I don’t think it was either. I shouldn’t have responded that way. I’m sorry. The most loving thing for me to do would have been to give your sister a fair consequence. Can you see how part of being a loving mommy is being a fair mommy too?”

My daughter: “Yes.”

Me: “OK, so now think of what it’s like for God. As we’ve talked about, God has taught us His perfect rules of what is right and wrong in our hearts and in the Bible—just like mommy has rules about pushing that your sister broke. Everyone knows that God is more loving than we can ever imagine, but a lot of people don’t understand that means He is also perfectly fair. He could never just ignore that we sin and break His beautiful, perfect laws of what is right. If He just said, “Whatever! I don’t care anymore!” like mommy did this morning, He wouldn’t be loving, just like mommy wasn’t loving. So God has to do something about our sins because He is so loving. The big question is, what should He do?”

My daughter: “We would, like, have to die or something because breaking God’s rules is BAD.”

Me (laughing in surprise): “Wow, that’s an amazing guess, because the Bible actually tells us that the consequence of our sin is death. We all die. But God loves us tons and doesn’t want us to be separated from Him forever. So He has made a way to forgive us without ignoring our sin. He sent Jesus—His own Son—to be punished for our sin instead of us. That’s what it means that “Jesus died for our sins.” If you understand that, then I’m ready to answer your question about heaven and hell.”

My daughter: “I do, but we’re still punished. You punish us.”

Me: “Great question. We do experience consequences in this life for breaking rules. If you break mommy’s rules about hitting, you’ll go to your room, for example. If you break the rules at school, you’ll stay in from recess. If you break the rules of our government, you can go to jail. What we’re talking about right now is what happens when we breakGod’s rules our whole lives. We will never, ever be perfect, so we will sin against God’s rules until we die. We’re talking about what God should do about His rules being broken. Does that make sense?”

My daughter: “Yes.”

Me: “OK! So let’s answer your question now. The Bible says we will be with God forever if we accept the gift He gave us of being forgiven when Jesus died on the cross…”

My daughter: “What does it mean to accept?”

Me: [I took her stuffed animal and pushed it toward her.] Take the animal and hug it tight. You’ve accepted what I was giving you. [I took it back and pushed it toward her again.] Now push it away. You’ve rejected what I was giving you. When we accept the gift of forgiveness  that God is offering to us, it means to hang on tight to it our whole lives, like your animal right now. It means saying, “Yes! I know I’m breaking your laws and will never be perfect. Thank you so much for taking my punishment through Jesus. I accept your gift and will live my life for you in response.” Living our life for Jesus means making Him our highest priority…spending our lives getting to know Him through prayer and Bible study…wanting what He wants…and not sinning just because we know we’ll be forgiven. I want you to understand one thing really clearly: that means we don’t get to be with God just by being good or doing good things. We can never be good enough. When people do not accept God’s gift of forgiveness, they cannot be with Him when they die no matter how many good things they’ve done in their life on Earth. They still need His forgiveness for all the bad things they’ve done…and if they don’t accept God’s gift of forgiveness through Jesus, they are choosing to take the punishment themselves. That means every person chooses whether they go to heaven with God or if they are separated from God forever in hell.”

My daughter: “What if someone has never heard about Jesus?”

Me: “Great question! A lot of adults ask that too. The Bible doesn’t tell us for sure, so Christians have different ideas about it. But what we do know is that God is perfectly fair and perfectly good, so however it works, we can know that God will handle it the right way. He’ll never sin like mommy this morning and just say He doesn’t care.”

With that, we ended our conversation and said goodnight. And I was a wee bit grateful for messing up that morning.

For more articles like: Heaven and Hell: How to Explain God’s Love AND Justice to Kids visit Natasha’s site at ChristianMomThoughts.com

Heaven and Hell: How to Explain God’s Love AND Justice to Kids

How to Get Your Kids to Ask More Questions About Their Faith

By Natasha Crain

The most popular post on my blog is one I wrote last year called, The Number One Sign Your Kids are Just Borrowing Your Faith (and Not Developing Their Own).

That post has been read by more than 80,000 people and shared almost 14,000 times. Clearly it resonated deeply with people.

So what was the sign that your kids are just “borrowing” your faith?

They rarely, if ever, ask questions about it.

Many parents wrote to me and said the post made them realize that they were doing a lot of talking about God…but their kids weren’t doing a lot of talking back.

If your kids aren’t showing much proactive interest in talking about faith, I have a very easy and effective solution to share with you today: Start a questions night.

For the last several months, our family has set aside a night each week in order to simply sit and answer any questions our kids have about faith. They absolutely love it. And I can tell you that they weren’t asking these questions before we started the questions night. They knew they could always ask us questions, but that doesn’t mean they actually did. Setting aside a special time for questions opens the doors of communication in ways that don’t necessarily happen otherwise.

These question nights have facilitated some of the most important conversations we have ever had with our kids.

Here are 9 tips to help you get started with your own!

 

1. You don’t need to know how to answer all your kids’ questions before you launch your questions night.

Whenever I mention to someone that we have a questions night, the first response is always, “I don’t think I could answer my kids’ questions!”…followed by an uncomfortable laugh. If that’s what you’re thinking as you read this, please don’t let that concern stop you from doing it! You will never know how to answer all of your kids’ questions. No matter how prepared you are, they will ask questions you’re not sure how to answer…so there’s no point in waiting.

 

2. When you don’t know an answer, there’s no need to be embarrassed…just use it as a chance to teach your kids how you find answers yourself.

I’ll never forget one of the first questions my daughter asked: Why did Jesus have to be baptized if He wasn’t a sinner?

I have to admit I had never thought about that (if you’re interested in the answer, here’s a nice quick article). I laughed and told her that was a really great question that I hadn’t even thought about. Then I showed her how we could use my study Bible to find an answer.

Here’s the thing to remember: When your kids stump you, they’re proud of themselves…not ashamed of you. Praise them for asking a great question, then use it as an opportunity to demonstrate how to find the answers together. My kids love thinking of questions so good we can’t answer. And we love it too.

 

3. Explicitly tell your kids that any question is OK.

If your kids are old enough that they may have doubts about their faith, they may not open up with those questions by default. Other kids might fear their questions are too basic and won’t want to admit they don’t understand something they feel they should. Be sure to explicitly tell your kids up front that all questions are welcome and you’ll never bedisappointed by or angry about something they want to know.

 

4. If you think your kids might need time to warm up to the idea of asking questions, have some ready to go in advance.

If you’re not sure that your kids will hit the ground running with the new questions night, pick a couple of interesting questions in advance to throw out on their behalf. That way you won’t be sitting around awkwardly staring at each other in silence. If you need some ideas, check out my list of 65 questions every Christian parent should learn how to answer.

 

5. If you have more than one child, “open the floor” to questions but make sure everyone has the chance to ask something.

When we first started doing this, we went around in a circle, having each of our kids ask a question on their turn. The good side of doing it that way is that it encourages everyone to be thinking. The bad side is (1) that it can kill the momentum of the night if one kid is not feeling particularly thoughtful (everyone will be sitting around waiting for them to come up with something), and (2) that if your kids are competitive (as mine are), they’ll spend more time thinking up a good question for their impending turn than listening to the current discussion. We found the whole night flows better when you simply let everyone throw out questions as they have them. Just make sure that if someone didn’t ask something on their own, you give them the chance to.

 

6. Don’t assume young kids don’t have big questions to ask.

For a while, it was only my twins (age 6) asking questions. My 4-year-old rolled around on the floor, seemingly bored by the more “advanced” conversation going on around her. When I asked her each time if she had a question, she gave me an embarrassed look and said, “Nooo!” She was intimidated by the questions from her older siblings.

But one night she finally spoke up and said she had a question.

“Mommy, why did God create soldiers who kill people?”

I was more than surprised that this was a question on my 4-year-old’s mind (I still don’t know where it came from).

If you have young kids, don’t assume they don’t have big questions. Kids as young as 3 or 4 can benefit from doing this! It might take time for them to speak up, but you just might be surprised how much they’re already thinking.

 

7. When your kids ask a question that the Bible doesn’t clearly answer, be honest about that and use it as a key teaching opportunity.

Quite often, I find myself answering a question with “the Bible doesn’t tell us for sure” or “the Bible doesn’t give us all of the details on that.” For example, my kids often ask questions about heaven—what it will be like, what we’ll be doing, etc. I tell them that the Bible doesn’t give us all the details, and that there are many things like that.

But I don’t like to leave it there. I think it’s an important time to teach them about the three points I described in my post, How to Handle Questions God Didn’t Answer: God’s revelation is not broken, we can trust that God has revealed all we need to know, and it should be our life’s work to understand the answers He has given us.

 

8. When your kids ask a question that’s been a struggle for you personally, tell them as much.

This might sound counter-intuitive, but I actually love when the kids ask something that’s a difficulty in my own faith. As for many people, the problem of suffering in the world has always greatly troubled me. When the kids ask questions on this subject, we discuss free will and its implications, but I’m quick to tell them that this has always been hard for me (and many others) to understand. I explain to them that it’s easy to look at those things and see them as evidence against God. I’m very honest about it. But after I acknowledge that, I use it as a perfect opportunity to talk about how much evidence there is for God and why we are Christians despite those difficulties.

Getting real about your own faith challenges gives you credibility with your kids and helps give them a more realistic understanding of what a living, breathing faith looks like.

 

9. If you miss a week…or two…or three…don’t give up on it.

There was a period of about a month when we got busy and didn’t do our questions night. It would have been easy to let it go at that point. But when we told the kids one evening that it was time to do it again, they cheered and all ran into the living room to sit down. They started waving their hands in the air to be the first to ask something. And we literally couldn’t stop the questions from coming.

After just one month.

Again, they could have asked us those questions at any time. They didn’t need a “questions night.” But in the hustle and bustle of life, those questions often don’t naturally arise. So give it a try in your own family. It could completely transform your kids’ spiritual life.

 

Here’s a challenge to all of you as an easy start toward this. Ask your kids today, “What is one of the biggest questions you have about God, Jesus, or the Bible?” Come back and share what they asked and what happened in your conversation!

 

For more articles like: How to Get Your Kids to Ask More Questions About Their Faith visit Natasha’s site at ChristianMomThoughts.com

How Can Students Stand Strong for Their Faith in College?

Students: Are you prepared for the spiritual, relational, and moral challenges that will come after high school? What is your plan to stay strong for your faith in college? It’s heartbreaking to see Christian high school students disengage their faith and the church in college. While the numbers have often been manipulated and overstated, there is certainly a genuine concern about students leaving the faith after high school. If you think it couldn’t happen to you, and that you’re somehow immune, then you probably haven’t seriously considered the challenges that lie ahead.

Problem of Understanding

The purpose of this post is not just to help you survive in college, but to help you thrive in your faith during these formative years. There is no reason so many students need to disengage their faith and the church. If you are a student, then these six points are meant to help you stand strong for your faith in college. If you’re not a student, then please pass them on to a present or future college student that you know:

  1. Determine in your heart that ahead of time that you will stand strong. One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Daniel. Even though he was surrounded by pagan influences in Babylon, and he obviously wanted to fit in and be successful with the king, he refused to compromise his convictions by eating non-kosher food. He had every reason to compromise—money, power, influence, status—but he had already decided that his first loyalty was to God: “But Daniel determined in his heart not to defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). If you want to have a successful faith in college, it begins by going into college already determined that you will follow the Lord.
  1. Find good Christian friends. The Bible has much to say about the power of friendship. For instance, Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” It is certainly important to make friends with non-Christians, but you must surround yourself with some fellow believers who will pray for you, encourage you, hold you accountable, hang out with you, and strategize together about how to reach your campus for Christ.
  1. Find Christian professors. There are good, solid, caring Christian professors at even the most secular schools. They may be hard to track down in some cases, but I guarantee you they are there. It would make sense to begin with professors in your department of study, but if you can’t find any, then branch out. While there may be a few exceptions, I guarantee you that most Christian professors would be thrilled to pray with you, guide you, and possibly even mentor you. Visit them in their office hours and get to know them on a personal level. They’re a resource waiting to be tapped!
  1. Join a Christian group on campus. There are tons of great Christian groups on campus, such as Cru, Navigators, Ratio Christi, and InterVarsity. Many universities also have church groups that meet at or near campus. Find out about these groups online, during an on-campus club fair, or from other students. Here are a few things to do: (1) Contact one of the leaders and introduce yourself, even before you show up on campus, (2) Visit a meeting, and (3) Talk to other students about the group.
  1. Keep in contact with key people from home. While it may be tempting to sever ties when you leave for the “real world,” be sure to stay in touch with key people from home town, such as pastors, youth pastors, teachers, coaches, and other caring adults. I love it when my former high school students drop by to say hi or meet me for coffee. Make it a priority to stay in touch with them from time to time. They know you well and can be an important source of encouragement and strength.
  1. Go to Summit Ministries. Students often ask me what I consider the single most important step they can take to be prepared to thrive in college. My answer is simple: Go to Summit Ministries. In case you’re not familiar with Summit, it’s a 12-day intensive (but fun!) apologetics and worldview experience for students ages 16-22. Conferences are held in Tennessee, Colorado, and southern California. In fact, I personally host the California conference at Biola University (June 19-July 2). Summit brings in the best Christian speakers to help students learn to think Christianly about the toughest issues of our day including politics, the existence of God, economics, theology, the reliability of the Bible and more. I regularly meet students who consider attending Summit a “game-changer.” It’s simply a must for students who want to develop a Christian worldview in order to thrive in college.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, and internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org

 

 

Do Your Kids Know Why They Need God?

By Natasha Crain

A few months ago, my 6-year-old daughter asked a question that has had me thinking ever since:

Mommy, why does God matter so much?

It was the most fundamental of questions, really. Yet I was embarrassingly uncertain of how to answer it in a way that meaningfully encapsulates the full answer for her. I’ve thought about the question many times since she first asked it, and it’s always bothered me that I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on how best to reply.

Meanwhile, in the last several months, I happen to have read a lot of “deconversion” stories online (testimonies from ex-Christians of why they lost their faith). It hit me just recently that there’s a theme at the end of many such stories which ultimately points back to the answer to my daughter’s question (I’ll come back to that at the end of this post):

After people recount how they lost their faith, they often conclude their story with a glib comment of how they moved on because they “didn’t need God anymore.”

This is a strange conclusion that I think betrays a lack of deeper insight.

Here’s the deal:

If God exists, we need Him. All things were created through and for Him; He is the Source and sustainer of everything by definition. Therefore, if God exists, it’s not a choice to need Him, it’s simply a fact that we do.

If God doesn’t exist, we don’t need Him. We cannot need Him. We cannot need something that doesn’t exist.

In other words, saying that you don’t need God anymore is a nonsensical conclusion. Of course you don’t need God if He doesn’t exist. And if He does exist, you can’t choose to not need Him.

What their statement betrays, therefore, is that they had come to believe in God based on felt needs (desires) rather than on the conviction that God truly exists.

When they realized they didn’t need to believe in God to satisfy those felt needs, they simply eliminated Him from the picture and met those needs in other ways. It looks like this:

 

Desire and Conviction

 

Are Your Kids Building a Faith on Desires or Conviction?

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to inadvertently lead our kids in the dangerous direction of building a faith on felt needs rather than conviction.

I’ve noticed that deconversion stories commonly reference one of three felt needs that ex-Christians claim they don’t require God to satisfy anymore. These are instructive for us as parents, as we can see what is frequently being substituted for genuine conviction in God’s existence as the basis for belief.

 

Felt Need 1To be happy (Eventual revelation: “Wait! I don’t need God to be happy!”)

For some strange reason, many people subconsciously believe that in order to be happy, they need to believe in God. I say “strange,” because the Bible clearly doesn’t suggest that Jesus was in the business of making people happy or comfortable. Rather, Christians are called to a life of self-sacrifice and to follow Jesus at any cost. Responding to that call results in a Christ-centered joy, but is no promise of circumstance-centered happiness.

How parents contribute to the misunderstanding:

Let’s face it. The picture of Christianity that’s presented to kids in many churches is as rosy as punch. Lots of simple, happy songs and lessons about God’s love with an overarching tone that we all live happily ever after once we’re saved. When we fail to arm our kids with a more complete understanding of God’s nature (loving and just), the problem of evil and suffering in the world around us, and the sacrificial life we are called to live, we set them up to think being a Christian is about being happy. If the desire for happiness becomes the foundation of their belief, it’s a short step toward atheism when they realize they really can be circumstantially happy without God.

 

Felt Need 2: To be a good person (Eventual revelation: “Wait! I don’t need God to be a good person!”)

Ex-Christians often recount their deconversion with a summary line to the effect of, “I realized I didn’t need a cosmic policeman to be a good person.” This is usually followed by some kind of pronouncement of freedom, as if the person had felt personally shackled to the stone tablets of the 10 Commandments their whole lives.

But atheists can behave as morally or more morally than Christians. The Bible says that God has given everyone a moral conscience, not just those who believe in Him (Romans 2:15). It should be no surprise that atheists can be nice people who make morally good decisions.

How parents contribute to the misunderstanding:

It’s simple. We focus on our kids’ behavior by default. It’s 5000 percent easier to work on our kids’ behavior than it is to work on our kids’ faith development, which requires a lot of proactive effort. When parents make faith about what happens on Sunday and don’t regularly integrate faith at home, kids can easily begin to believe that being a Christian is about being nice. If kids start building their faith on the thought that Christianity is about being a good person, it’s easy to leave Jesus behind when they realize they don’t “need” God to do that.

 

Felt Need 3: To find some kind of meaning in life (Eventual revelation: “I don’t need God to live a meaningful life!”)

Earlier this year, former pastor-turned-atheist Ryan Bell commented, “Life does not need a divine source in order to be meaningful. Anyone who has seen a breathtaking sunset or fallen in love with another human being knows that we make meaning from the experiences of our lives.”

To this I say, Mr. Bell, your meaning doesn’t mean much. But that aside, atheists like Mr. Bell can find some kind of personal meaning in life without believing in God.

How parents contribute to the misunderstanding:

When we’re passionate about our Christian parenting, we can fall into the trap of beating our kids over the head with the idea that our lives are “all about God.” Our lives are all about God, but if we just emphasize this summary idea repeatedly without consciously addressing the why, our kids may ultimately conclude they can craft an alternative life meaning and leave God out of the picture. Building a faith on the idea that it’s the only way you can have meaning is a dangerous path. As Christians, our lives have meaning because we believe God exists; we shouldn’t believe in God because we want to have meaning.

 

So Why Do We Need God?

This comes full circle to my daughter’s question: Why does God matter so much?

Because He exists.

And if He exists, we need Him. We are dependent on Him for everything.

He is our Creator and Sustainer, and we are here to fulfill His purposes. If we live as though He doesn’t exist and we don’t need Him, our lives are like a key we keep putting in the wrong lock. We may put the key in a lock that “sort of” fits and can “sort of” move the lock around, but ultimately it won’t unlock the door to our soul’s eternal purpose.

It’s critical that we make sure our kids are building a faith based on the conviction of God’s existence and not felt needs. In my next post, I’ll be telling you about a fantastic new book coming out that will help you and your kids learn more about the evidence for God. Stay tuned!

Here’s a little experiment. Ask your kids tonight, “Why does God matter so much?” or, “Why do we need God?” Seeing how they respond can give you much insight into how they’re thinking about God at this point in their lives. I’d love it if you would come back and share their responses!

Visit Natasha’s Blog: ChristianMomThoughts.com

17 Ways Your Kids Will Encounter Challenges to Their Faith

By Natasha Crain

In conjunction with my new book, I’ll be doing several speaking events and seminars. In those events, I’ll be explaining to parents the key faith challenges that their kids will encounter, and what they need to do to equip their kids with a faith that’s ready for those challenges.

One of the event coordinators sent me a couple of questions that her prospective attendees had sent in response to the outline of my talk. The parents who had seen the outline wanted to be sure I included information on how kids will encounter challenges to their faith. In other words, it’s one thing to have a general understanding that challenges lurk in the world, but it’s another thing to be able to put your finger on what, specifically, we’re talking about.

Today I want to give you a bunch of very practical ways your own kids will encounter challenges to their faith. There are many others, but this is a list to just get you thinking. If you don’t believe your kids are being challenged on their faith (or will be soon), I pray this opens your eyes.

 

1. Your kids’ own thoughts.

Who has never had doubts about their faith simply based on their own life experiences? Even if you kept your kids in a tiny bubble for 18 years so they would never encounter an external challenge to their faith (something neither possible nor desirable), questions would still naturally arise. How do I know an “invisible” God is actually there? Why is there so much bad stuff in the world if God is good? Why am I trapped in this tiny bubble? The list goes on.

 

2. Other kids.

With fewer Christian adults in America, there are now fewer kids being raised as Christians as well. Just as we want to raise our kids with a belief in Jesus, most atheists want to raise their kids with a belief that God doesn’t exist. If your kids are in a public school, they will certainly hear conflicting comments from other kids about Christianity…and friends are powerful influencers.

What if you send your kids to a private Christian school? They’ll probably encounter fewer challenges from friends, but that doesn’t mean they won’t encounter challenges at all. My own kids go to a private Christian school and last year a Kindergartener told them that only her mom believes in God—she believes “in science,” like her dad.

Wherever you engage with other kids—school, extracurricular activities, and even church (see number 17)—your kids may very well encounter challenges to their faith.

 

3. School teachers.

While public school teachers are supposed to be objective, it should surprise no one that such objectivity doesn’t always play out in practice. I received an email from a parent a few weeks ago saying that her daughter mentioned something about her faith in class one day and the teacher replied, “You believe all that stuff?” The girl was embarrassed and the mom who emailed me wondered how to talk to her child about the issue of respecting authority figures (like teachers) while understanding they may also be wrong.

 

4. School subjects.

Evolutionary biology is an obvious subject where kids will be challenged by what they learn, given the apparent conflict with the biblical creation account. But issues of worldview arise in many other subjects as well: history (e.g., a teacher may present the historical actions of Christians very negatively), literature (e.g., in the messages/worldview presented), civics (e.g., how the relationship between “church and state” is presented), anthropology (e.g., how we should accept the values of other cultures as equally right), and any science (e.g., that the only things we can know are those things proven empirically through science).

 

5. Kids’ books.

Maybe you very carefully select books for your kids. That’s great. But don’t forget your kids also have access to books at their friends’ houses, the community library, the school library, and a number of other places. Last time we were at the public library, my 4-year-old at the time brought us a cute little book about penguins. I flipped through it to learn it was all about how families with two daddy penguins are the same as families with a mommy AND daddy penguin.

Aside from books with different values in general, there are plenty of books now being written for kids that directly attack religious beliefs. Check out The Belief Book by David McAfee, as one example (McAfee is a vocal atheist). I read this last night, and it’s all about how religious beliefs are holdovers from ancient people who didn’t know how else to explain the world…but today we have the scientific method. It’s written in a fun, kid-appropriate tone, as if explaining something as innocuous as what baby pandas eat for dinner. More of these books are surely on the way.

 

6. Magazines (for adults OR kids).

My twins love National Geographic—both the adult and kid versions. Even though they’re only 6, they love to look through it. This month’s cover features the face of an ape with the headline, “Almost Human.” The article talks about the newest member of the “human family tree.” Whether or not you’re a Christian who accepts evolution, that’s a magazine cover that warrants conversation. The sky’s the limit on what kids will find in magazines that challenges their worldview. My kids have asked a ton of questions just based on what they see in line at the grocery store.

 

7. Nonbelieving family members.

In recent months, as I’ve written more about atheism, I’ve received a lot of comments and emails from parents who either have a nonbelieving spouse, or nonbelieving family members with whom their kids regularly interact. For many families, this is the most difficult kind of challenge because it’s often more personal in nature. Depending on the relationship between your kids and a nonbelieving family member, the influence can be very strong.

 

8. Movies.

We all know that there are plenty of adult movies that outright attack religion or Christianity in particular. It’s pretty easy to either steer clear of those movies with your kids or intentionally watch them with the purpose of having a discussion afterward. What many parents don’t realize, however, is how often movies have more subtle messages that can really impact their kids’ worldview over time. The children’s movieHappy Feet, for example, looks adorable, but is a mockery of religion. Don’t be deceived…challenges often come in cute little packages.

 

9. Music.

Music is just like movies. While most parents are certainly aware there are musical artists they wouldn’t allow their kids to listen to, far less attention is given to the stealth secularism that creeps into mainstream lyrics. As one example, you can read my recent post about the pervasive lyrical message that “being true to yourself” is an ideal(something it shouldn’t be from a Christian perspective).

 

10. Commercials.

Even if you carefully pick TV shows for your kids to watch, you can’t control the commercials. Need an example of how commercials are increasingly becoming a challenge? Check out the Chobani Simply 100 commercial.

 

11. Freeway billboards.

Take a second and Google “atheist billboards.” Click on the results with images. There you will see the kinds of signs popping up all over the country. Here are a few:

  • “Are you good without God? Millions are.”
  • “There is no God. Don’t believe everything you hear.”
  • “You KNOW it’s a myth. This [Christmas] season, celebrate reason!”
  • “Please don’t indoctrinate me with religion. Teach me to think for myself.” (with a kid’s picture)
  • “God is an imaginary friend. Choose reality.”

These seeds of doubt may well be planted when your kids notice such signs from the back of your car…and, if they don’t comment, you won’t even know. (If you see a sign like these, talk about it!)

 

12. Results of purposeful internet searches.

Perhaps your kids have a question about Christianity that they don’t feel comfortable asking you (for any number of reasons). Type ANY question about Christianity into your search engine and you will bring up a massive database of anti-Christian responses. There will be Christian ones as well, but you can be sure those aren’t the only ones your kids will click on.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s important for kids to hear other answers. But the quality of those answers varies so much online that there’s no way of knowing where they’ll end up (that goes for the “Christian” sites as well). The internet is a bottomless pit of hostility toward Christianity.

 

13. Results of unrelated internet searches.

Your kids don’t even have to be searching for something related to religion (see number 12) to end up on sites opposed to Christianity. I was looking for something the other day and ended up at a site for pastors who are closet atheists. I wish I could remember what I was searching for as an example, but all I know is that it was something completely unrelated to religion.

 

14. Viral videos.

If your kids have access to social media, they will undoubtedly encounter viral videos that challenge their faith in any number of ways. And it’s not always as obvious as you think. Last month, a video called “I’m a Christian, But I’m Not…” went viral. It features a bunch of young people saying things like, “I’m a Christian, but I’m not homophobic”…”but I’m not close-minded”…”but I’m not uneducated”…”but I’m not judgmental”…” It’s a ridiculous video that promotes the idea that most other Christians are those things. Such a video could sound good to your kids while altering their perception of what they believe.

 

15. YouTube comments on videos.

This is related to number 14, but is worth calling out separately. Under every YouTube video, you’ll find comments. On the one I just described, there are over 13,000. If you want the opportunity to bang your head repeatedly on the table next to you out of spiritual frustration, please read some. The comment sections often take on a life of their own, where your kids will have the opportunity to read all kinds of additional challenges to their beliefs (be assured that nonbelievers often comment on Christian videos as well, so this isn’t a matter of somehow protecting your kids from secular media).

 

16. Social media conversations.

 Again, if your kids on social media, they’ll have front row seats to watch conversations between their friends about religion and current hot topics. In case you haven’t noticed, these conversations can come up in all kinds of ways. I think the most vicious I’ve seen in my own Facebook feed was when an atheist friend talked about how devastated she was over the killing of Cecil the Lion this summer. Someone else asked why she wasn’t as upset about babies being aborted. That spun into hundreds of comments between people over animal rights, abortion, the existence of God, where we get morality, and so on.

 

17. Church.

What? Church? Yes, church. And for all kinds of reasons. For example, just as we should expect, the church is full of hypocrites because the church is full of sinful humans. As kids notice the difference between what people say and what they do, it can be a natural challenge to their faith. Alternatively, I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about church leaders/teachers quietly acknowledging to kids that they don’t really believe, or that Christianity is just one way to God, or that what’s really important is that we save the Earth, etc. Don’t assume that church is free from the possibility of faith challenges.

 

So what should you do about all these challenges? Contrary to what may be your instinct, the goal shouldn’t be to simply minimize them. Your kids will be swimming amongst them someday, whether you teach them to swim now or not. If you avoid the pool while they’re at home, they’ll just drown later when there’s no choice but to swim. Instead, jump in with them now, be alert to where the challenges are, learn how to answer them yourself, and teach your kids how to swim through with confidence.

 

Which of these challenges have your own kids encountered? What challenges should be added to the list? I’d love to hear your experiences.

 

Visit Natasha’s Website: ChristianMomThoughts.com

4 Key Points Christian Kids Need to Understand About Evolution

By Natasha Crain

The other day, I saw a post on Facebook from a mom who was concerned because her teenage daughter was turning away from God after learning about evolution. The mom was considering pulling her out of public school because she wasn’t sure what to do about it.

It breaks my heart when I see parents who feel unequipped to dialogue with their kids about evolution and age of the Earth issues. These questions are so crucial for parents to be able to discuss with their kids that I devoted 8 of the 40 questions in my book to explaining the scriptural and scientific considerations at stake.

Today I want to bring to light four key points I think Christian parents need to make sure their kids understand about evolution, but are often left unaddressed. This post could easily have been 101 things kids need to understand about evolution, but that would be another book! This is far from comprehensive, but I hope it will get the conversation going.

 

1. Evolution isn’t necessarily an anti-Christian concept.

A lot of Christian parents think of evolution as a dirty word. They immediately assume it’s the antithesis of Christianity and are quick to state their opposition to everything associated with it.

But the word evolution, in its most basic sense, simply means that a species has undergone genetic change over time (a species is a group of organisms capable of interbreeding—for example, humans are a species and dogs are a species). This basic concept of evolution isn’t controversial at all. Genetic change within species is a well-documented fact that scientists can observe within a human lifetime.

Christians of every viewpoint (young-Earth creationists, old-Earth creationists, and theistic evolutionists) all agree that evolution, in this sense, takes place (sometimes people refer to this as “microevolution”).

What is controversial is whether the same mechanism that drives change within a species is capable of changing one species into another (sometimes called “macroevolution”). Ultimately, evolutionists claim that all species on Earth today descend from a single species that lived 3.5 billion years ago. This is the claim most Christians object to.

When Christian parents negatively overreact to the mere idea of evolution, they can quickly lose credibility with their kids for not understanding and interacting with the issues more deeply. Our kids need us to understand what they are learning and how to process it scientifically and scripturally. If this is an area you don’t feel confident talking to your kids about, it’s important to get up to speed.

 

2. There is scientific evidence both consistent and inconsistent with evolutionary theory.

I didn’t hear much about evolution growing up, but I do clearly remember my youth group leader laughing it off one day: “Yeah, right, like we all really came from apes!” I chuckled along, because that thought did seem crazy.

But there were two problems with what he said. First, it wasn’t even a technically accurate representation of what evolutionists claim. Evolutionists do not claim that humans descend from modern apes, but that we share a common ancestor with them. That might sound like a fine detail, but it’s clear to me in retrospect that my leader didn’t understand evolutionary theory at all.

Second, it’s not good critical thinking to dismiss something because it sounds weird. It’s weird but true, for example, that we live on a big rock that jets around the sun and we don’t feel a thing.

Unfortunately, I have heard far too many Christians trivialize what evolution is in favor of caricatures like those of my youth pastor. When I eventually learned about the scientific evidence for evolution as an adult, my life-long faith was initially shaken in a matter of hours. No one had ever told me there was actually extensive scientific evidence that could be consistent with evolutionary claims. Based on the light-hearted handling I had seen from other Christians, I had assumed evolution was an idea that could easily be dismissed.

In reality, there is significant scientific evidence both consistent and inconsistent with evolutionary theory. Our kids need to 1) have an accurate understanding of what evolution is and 2) have a thorough understanding of the scientific evidence that is both consistent and inconsistent with it.

 

3. The age of the Earth and evolution are related but separate scientific subjects that Christians must grapple with.

A common misunderstanding many Christians have is that questions about the age of the Earth and evolution are all part of one issue. They’re related, but actually pose separate scientific (and theological) questions for Christians.

As a basic background, mainstream scientists estimate that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. Young-Earth creationists estimate that the Earth is 6,000-10,000 years old, based on a timeline deduced from biblical data on historical events and genealogies. These young-Earth estimates are derived first and foremost from the biblical data, but there are young-Earth scientists who work to support those estimates with scientific evidence and models (called “creation science”). Conversely, to my knowledge, there are no mainstream scientists (Christian or non-Christian) who believe the Earth is 6,000-10,000 years old based on scientific evidence ALONE.

Here’s the bottom line.

  • Evolution requires billions of years in order to even possibly have the amount of time necessary for small genetic changes to amass into the diversity of species we see today. In that sense, evolution and an ancient Earth do go hand-in-hand.
  • However, the reverse is not true. An ancient Earth does not necessarily mean evolution took place. The scientific evidence for an old Earth is mostly independent from the evidence for evolution. For this reason, there are many Christians who are “old-Earth creationists”—accepting the scientific evidence for an old Earth, but rejecting evolution.

 

4. Theistic evolution (the belief that God used evolution to create life) has significant theological implications.

While some Christians are too fast to dismiss anything related to the word evolution (see point 1), others are too fast to embrace it without understanding the full implications. For example, I’ve heard many people say, “It doesn’t matter whether God used evolution or anything else to create the world!”

While it’s true that God could have used evolution, many people don’t realize the broadertheological implications of accepting evolution as His creative mechanism:

  • The Bible states that humans are made in God’s image—a very different, morally accountable, creature than animals. If all life evolved from one common ancestor, however, we are biologically no different than animals. (Theistic evolutionists believe that the properties related to God’s “image” are those of a person’s soul, and that God could have imprinted His image on humans at an unknown point in their evolutionary development.)
  • Most theistic evolutionists do not believe a literal Adam and Eve existed. If a literal first couple did not exist, the important question of how and when sin entered the world is left unanswered. Why is that so important? Well, the Bible overall is a story of the problem of sin and God’s “rescue plan” through Jesus. If you’re left without any biblical explanation of how the “big problem” arose, it can diminish the need for the “big solution” of Jesus. (Theistic evolutionists differ in how they address this.)

There are many other implications, but these are two of the most important to understand.

Biologos is the leading organization that promotes theistic evolution (they prefer the term evolutionary creation). Whether you agree with their viewpoint or not, they publish good resources for helping Christians better understand evolution.

Post edited to add: Based on multiple requests from readers of this post, I will follow up soon with a new post dedicated to providing resources for learning more about evolution and age of the Earth issues!

I’d love to hear about the experiences your kids have had with evolution in the classroom. Please share your thoughts in the comments! If there are specific subjects on this topic you’d like me to address in the future, please let me know how I can help.

Visit Natasha’s Site: ChristianMomThoughts.com

 

14 Ways for Christian Parents to Teach Kids about Atheism

By Natasha Crain

I suppose this a funny title for a post on a Christian parenting blog! But, as I often explain, we can no longer teach our kids about Christianity in a silo and expect them to automatically stand spiritually strong. The challenges today are too great. As I discussed in my last post, the atheist worldview in particular is a threat to the faith of young people.

In today’s post, I want to give you some very practical ideas for teaching your kids about atheism. The first seven are appropriate for kids of all ages, while the second seven are appropriate for middle school and older kids.

I should note that the first several ideas on this list are not necessarily for teaching the specifics of the atheist worldview. They do, however, lay an important foundation for future learning on the topic (e.g., with the last seven ideas on the list).

Without further ado, here are 14 ways to teach your kids about atheism.

 

1. Be intentional in pointing out that not everyone believes in God.

Depending on where you live and your kids’ educational setting, they may or may not have this basic fact fully on their radar. When I was growing up, I was very aware of different religions, but was hardly aware that there were people who didn’t believe in God until I was in high school!

The fact that God is invisible often comes up in our Bible study time with the kids (ages 5 and 3). I use it as an opportunity to acknowledge that it takes effort to understand a God we can’t see or touch, and that some people decide God must not exist if we can’t see him. I emphasize that God doesn’t just make us guess that He’s there, however; He has left us much evidence in what we can see. (See this post for discussion pointers.)

 

2. Discuss reasons why some people don’t believe in God.

One night per week, instead of our planned Bible study time, we let the kids ask any questions they want about God. This week, my daughter asked, “Why doesn’t everyone believe in God if the Bible tells us all about Him?” I was so happy she asked that question, and it led to a great introductory conversation about why some people reject God. At an age-appropriate level, we discussed how some people just don’t want to believe in God because they want to live without any (moral) rules; how some people see all the bad stuff happening in the world and decide a good God can’t possibly exist; how some people think the world has just always existed without a creator; how some people think the world would be very different if God existed; and so on.

This can lead to a great conversation about how the decision to accept or reject God (and Jesus) is the most important decision people must make in life.

 

3. When talking about stories from Jesus’ life, talk about the reactions he received from non-believers.

One of the stories that baffles me the most from Jesus’ life is when he healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath and the Pharisees who were present immediately set out “to destroy Him” for violating their rules (Mark 3:6). If I just saw a withered hand miraculously restored in front of my eyes, I think I’d be convinced that this person had authority from God and I’d chill out on the Sabbath rule enforcement. But, despite this evidence, they still did not believe Jesus was God’s Son and set out to kill Him.

Events like these from Jesus’ life provide a good opportunity to talk about belief and non-belief – that even when Jesus was walking this earth and doing amazing miracles in front of people, there were those who would not believe. The Pharisees were not atheists, so this isn’t a conversation about atheism per se, but it is a conversation that helps kids start thinking about the nature of belief and unbelief.

 

4. Discuss Jesus’ miracles in the context of proving his identity.

When I was growing up, my sole understanding of miracles was that Jesus did a lot of cool stuff when He was on earth – stuff I had to color pictures about. It never occurred to me that there was a reason He did miracles until I was an adult. What a huge point I had missed: Jesus performed miracles in large part to prove He really was God’s Son.

The reason this point is so important to make with kids is that it solidifies an understanding that God never asked us to have a blind faith, where we just have to guess about His existence. Jesus didn’t walk around on earth merely claiming a heavenly authority. He demonstrated his power with visible evidence. When kids get a bit older, they will be ready to start learning the specifics of the evidence we have today (e.g., the cosmological argument, the design argument, the moral argument and historical evidence for the resurrection).

 

5. Acknowledge the uniqueness of the resurrection.

I always think it’s funny when atheists leave comments on my blog to tell me they don’t believe in Jesus because we know from science that dead people don’t come back to life. Do they think this has never occurred to Christians? Do they think I will say, “Wow, he’s right! Why did I think Jesus was resurrected all this time? I totally forgot dead people stay dead!” Yet, this “argument” is repeated over and over on the internet as if it’s proof that can falsify all of Christianity in 1-2 sentences.

Lest my kids ever feel shamed when encountering such a statement, we spend a lot of time talking about how unique and “crazy” it is that Jesus came back to life. A sample conversation when talking about the resurrection goes something like this:

“Now, do dead people ever come back to life normally?” (No, never.)

“Who is the only person that could come back to life?” (Jesus)

“Why?” (Because Jesus is God’s Son, and only God would be able to make that happen – we would never believe a “regular” person could come back to life.)

Of course, this conversation doesn’t get you all the way to why we believe the resurrection actually happened (see The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus), but it plants the seeds that the resurrection is a totally unique event that we have reason to believe in – and not because we believe people naturally come back to life from the dead.

 

6. Ask what your kids have heard at school (or church!) from kids who don’t believe.

As I discussed in my last post, it’s likely that your kids are encountering peers and teachers who don’t believe in God and they’ve almost certainly heard things that you would want the opportunity to weigh in on. That said, it doesn’t mean they are automatically sharing all this with you. Ask them regularly what they hear about God from kids and teachers. This gives you the opportunity to address it head-on.

 

7. Read apologetics books for kids together.

Here is an excellent list of apologetics resources designed for kids of various ages.

For elementary-age kids, you’ll see there are very few apologetics resources available. There are two excellent books for this age group that are not on this list, however: How Do We Know God Is Really There? and How Do We Know God Created Life?, both by Melissa Cain Travis. These are the first two books in her “Young Defenders” series, and they teach the basic ideas of the cosmological and design arguments, respectively. Each book explains its subject through the telling of an entertaining story that captures children’s attention. They are appropriate for the 5- to 10-year-old range. Definitely check out these wonderful resources!

 

8. [Older Kids] Discuss relevant current events from newspaper articles.

If you get in the habit of periodically visiting Christian news sites like The Christian Post or Christianity Today, you’ll see all kinds of articles that are relevant to the discussion of Christianity and atheism (the Tim Lambesis story and the launch of Atheist TV are just two examples). Make it a point to print out one article a week to discuss with your kids. It’s an excellent opportunity to get them culturally savvy before they leave home.

 

9. [Older Kids] Introduce atheist memes for discussion.

Long before your kids encounter any kind of intellectually sophisticated atheist arguments, they’ll likely encounter bite-sized attacks on Christianity via social media (e.g., in memes). Now, to be fair, no side wants to be represented by their least sophisticated proponents. I’m sure any atheist that reads this would bristle at the notion of teaching your kids about atheism by using memes. But the unfortunate truth is that such memes have a lot of emotional impact and are likely to reach your kids before more sophisticated atheist arguments. Choose memes from a site like this one and discuss what is being said.

 

10. [Older Kids] Read stories of people who turned away from Christianity.

If you Google “ex-Christian stories,” you’ll find an array of sites where former Christians post their de-conversion stories. These can actually be great discussion starters. Having the opportunity to talk about these experiences before your kids leave home is ideal for minimizing the shock factor of hearing such stories later. Talk about the person’s rationale for leaving and ask your kids what they would say to that person. Ask if they’ve ever thought some of the same things, and encourage them to be open about any doubts – now is the time to address them!

Here is an example case study of a Christian-turned-theist.

 

11. [Older Kids] Challenge your kids with a role play.

Want to see how prepared your kids currently are to address challenges to their faith? Try a role play. You be the atheist. See how your kids respond. Here’s an example for you to say: “I don’t believe God exists. There’s no evidence! I believe in science. Why do you believe in a God you can’t prove exists?” This is the most basic of claims – see what your kids do with it. Keep pushing back on them after they respond. Use what happens as an opportunity to look for learning opportunities in the areas that come up.

 

12. [Older Kids] Watch debates between a Christian and an atheist.

There are many debates available to watch online (for free). Sit down as a family to watch one and encourage everyone to take notes on the points that were strongest and weakest for both sides. Use it as a springboard for discussion when the debate is done, and follow up with study on any new points. Here are a couple of examples to consider:

William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens – Does God Exist?

Mike Licona vs. Bart Ehrman – Can Historians Prove Jesus Rose from the Dead? (I should note Ehrman is an agnostic, not an atheist.)

 

13. [Older Kids] Read a book together by an atheist and then a rebuttal by a Christian (or vice versa).

I recommended before that parents read one or more books written by the influential “new atheists” – Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris or Daniel Dennett. Several parents emailed me and/or commented that they would be scared to introduce their kids to this material. While I understand it’s a challenge that forces us out of our comfort zones, it’s extraordinarily important to understand that your kids will hear the arguments of these writers  whether you introduce them or not. Why not take the opportunity you still have to discuss these challenges with your kids? You don’t have to have all the answers first. Study it together.

One example combination I would recommend is The God Delusion followed byAnswering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins’ Case Against God (a fantastic response).

 

14. [Older Kids] Check out atheist websites together.

I came across a website this week that graphs all the “errors and contradictions” in the Bible (check it out here). Visually impressive sites like this can be very impactful for kids and adults alike. Knowing your kids will see this kind of site eventually, why not take the time to sit down and look at one together? As in these other ideas, use it as an opportunity for questions to arise and then discuss your kids’ thoughts.

 

Have you proactively talked to your kids about atheism? Why or why not? If so, how have you done it?

Visit Natasha’s Blog: christianmomthoughts.com

See the source site of this article.

Why Your Kids Can Spend 600-Plus Hours in Church and Not Get Much Out of It

By Natasha Crain

The other day I was reflecting on how much time I spent in Sunday school and youth groups growing up…and how little I understood about the Christian faith by the time I left home. For some reason, I decided to calculate roughly how much time that actually was.

I scratched out the following on a piece of paper:

  • Kindergarten through 12th grade = 13 years (I went to church from the time I was a baby, but I just wanted to include the core learning years in my calculation)
  • 52 Sundays per year
  • 90% attendance rate, to allow for illnesses or being out of town

13 years of Sunday school x 52 Sundays per year x .90 attendance rate = 608 hours

608 HOURS.

And that’s not even counting the corresponding worship services…that’s just the Christian education time!

I don’t know about you, but that number made my jaw drop.

I spent more than 600 hours in church growing up, but by the time I left home, here’s all I really understood about Christianity:

People go to heaven or hell depending on whether or not they believe in Jesus. Once you accept Jesus, you are saved. Christians need to be as good as possible and not sin just to be forgiven. It’s important to tell others about Jesus so they can be saved too.

The result is that I lived the next 12 years with an incredibly blah, shallow faith. I didn’t actually lose my faith—as do more than two-thirds of other kids who grow up going to church—but it was only hanging there by a thread.

Where did those 600+ hours of Christian education go? How can it be that so many kids spend this kind of time in church and don’t leave home with much more understanding of Christianity than could be taught in a week of church camp?

I think I know the answer.

 

The Problem of Unconnected Puzzle Pieces

This is a problem of unconnected puzzle pieces.

Over the years that a child attends Sunday school, teachers vary, curricula vary, and churches vary (as families move). Kids are handed various pieces of Christianity during that time, which they collect and store internally. But unless there is a consistent, focused, goal-oriented spiritual trainer in their life—a parent—those pieces will almost certainly lie around unconnected.

Here’s why.

 

1. Having a bunch of puzzle pieces doesn’t necessarily mean you know what the completed puzzle is supposed to look like.

Imagine that someone handed you all the pieces to complete a 5000-piece puzzle but didn’t give you the box top picture to see how they all fit together. You’d be able to connect a few pieces here and there, but you’d face a lot of difficulty because you wouldn’t know what picture you’re working toward.

Kids collect “puzzle pieces” of Christianity over the years in Sunday school, usually in the form of individual Bible stories. A piece might be the story of Moses at the burning bush, Joseph with his multi-colored coat, or any one of Jesus’ miracles. Most kids who have spent hundreds of hours at church can describe these individual puzzle pieces quite well.

That’s not the problem.

The problem is that they don’t know how those pieces fit together into a meaningful, complete picture of salvation history. In other words, why on Earth should they care to learn that God spoke to Moses in a burning bush? Could anything seem more disconnected from a kid’s reality in the 21st century? After my 600+ hours in Sunday school, I certainly couldn’t have explained the connection between this event and the Exodus, why the Exodus mattered, what that had to with Jesus, and why that’s relevant to my faith today.

It was just an isolated piece of the puzzle of Christianity.

And isolated pieces do not join themselves together to make a beautiful picture.

As parents, we can’t expect that the pieces our kids pick up at church will fall into obvious places, even after 600+ hours. It is our responsibility, and our responsibility only, to be the intentional hand that guides these pieces into place on a bigger picture over time.

 

2. Having a bunch of puzzle pieces doesn’t necessarily mean those pieces will create a picture with meaningful complexity.

When kids first start doing puzzles, those puzzles usually have just 12 giant pieces. They make a picture, but a very simple one–nothing like the artistic complexity of one with 1000 pieces or more.

In Sunday school, kids tend to be continually handed the same pieces over and over: individual Bible stories, help with building Godly character, and some basic life lessons.

If this is effectively the extent of a child’s spiritual training, skeptics will eventually point out that their faith is equivalent in complexity to a toddler’s 12-piece puzzle.  Sunday school tends to be focused on the basics, but kids need so much more than basics today given the challenges they are sure to encounter.

As parents, we are responsible for helping our kids develop a faith with a meaningful level of complexity. The 40 questions in my book are critical for kids to understand today, yet very few of those questions would even be touched on in a Sunday school class. The level of spiritual depth kids need to stand strong in a secular world simply won’t come from the typical Sunday school curriculum.

 

3. Having a bunch of puzzle pieces doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll know what to dowith the puzzle even if you finish it.

When my kids finish puzzles, they want to leave them out for a while to display their work. Their puzzles linger in the corner of the room until I can’t stand it anymore and tell them they’ve enjoyed the puzzles “long enough.” We don’t know what else to do with them other than put them away.

Similarly, when I left home with 600+ hours of church tucked safely under my belt, I truly didn’t know what to do with my faith, other than continue to wear the Christian label and bide my time as a good person until I was zapped up to heaven someday. Those hundreds of hours hadn’t taught me what it means to actually see all of life differently than someone who didn’t believe in Jesus; I had no idea what it meant to have a Christianworldview.

As parents, we are responsible for placing the picture into a real-world context for our kids. 600+ hours of Sunday school may never directly answer questions like, “How does the fact we are created in the image of God impact our view of the sanctity of life?” “Why is it sometimes the most loving action to tell people truth they don’t want to hear?” or “How can we make career decisions that glorify God?” Parents must be proactive in helping kids know what to do with their puzzle of faith. Otherwise, it will likely be pushed to the corner of their life, where it will eventually be dismantled and put away for good.

 

Don’t leave your kids “puzzled” by outsourcing their faith to church. Whether they spend 600 or 6,000 hours in Sunday school, there’s simply no replacement for you.

Visit Natasha’s Website: Christian Mom Thoughts