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10 Things Children Should Learn About Faith

By Natasha Crain

[NOTE: This post is 4 years old but continues to receive a large number of visitors from Google searches on teaching kids about faith. A lot has happened here on the blog since I wrote this–including having the opportunity to write a book that was released in March 2016 by Harvest House Publishers: Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith! If you’re here because you’re looking for resources to help you effectively raise your kids to follow Jesus in the midst of this secular world, please take a moment to check it out!] 

Yesterday, my 3-year-old daughter asked about the word “faith” after hearing it in the devotional book she received for Christmas. I told her that faith means we believe in God even though we can’t see Him, hear Him or touch Him. Hearing myself say that out loud, I realized for the first time just how difficult the concept of faith can be. My definition was true in a simple sense, but as my kids grow I want them to understand the greater richness of the word as used in the Bible.

This inspired me to study the different instances of the word translated as “faith” in the New Testament. Based on my (digital) study Bible, there are 245 such instances. I read each of the passages and categorized them into 10 key insights on faith that I hope to teach my children as they grow.

Children Faith God

10 Things Children Should Learn About Faith

1. Faith is what saves. Amongst the many verses that attest to this, Ephesians 2:8 clearly states, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”. Our children first and foremost need to learn that faith in Jesus is the only thing that results in salvation of our souls.

2. Faith can grow. Since the Bible clearly establishes faith as the requirement for salvation, it is natural to think of it as something we either have or don’t have. While that is true for saving faith, many verses make it clear that the faith of (saved) Christians can and should continue to grow (e.g., Romans 4:20, 2 Corinthians 10:15, Philippians 1:25, 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Romans 14:1). Our children need to understand that growing faith is a life-time process that starts with saving faith.

3. Faith can fail. In Luke 22:31-34, Jesus foretells Peter’s denial. In verse 32 Jesus says, “…but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Our faith can fail due to our circumstances. When facing such circumstances, our children need to know they can pray for their faith to remain firm.

4. Faith is a gift. Romans 12:3 and 1 Corinthians 12:9 tell us that faith is a spiritual gift from God and therefore it varies by person.  When it first registered for me last year that strength of faith is actually a gift, I honestly felt a sense of relief; I had always thought something was wrong with my faith because it’s been more of a struggle for me to believe than for many other Christians I know.  Our children should understand that faith DOES vary amongst believers and that comparisons are fruitless. What matters is our personal faith growth.

5. Faith can move mountains.  Jesus says in Matthew 17:20 and 21:22 that if you do not doubt, your faith can move mountains; note He didn’t say that “medium” faith will move hills! Our children need to understand that the power of prayer lies in full conviction.

6. Faith means to trust. The book of Matthew quotes Jesus saying “O you of little faith” on five occasions. On all but one of those occasions, He was addressing the disciples regarding their fear or worry (6:30, 8:26, 14:31, and 16:8). If little faith results in worry, that implies great faith results in trust. When our children are worried or scared, we should help them pray specifically for God to grow their faith; faith that results in trust is the remedy for fear.

7. Faith is protective. There are two New Testament verses that use faith as a metaphor for spiritually protective armor (the “shield of faith” in Ephesians 6:16 and the “breastplate of faith” in 1 Thessalonians 5:8). Our children need to be aware of the need for spiritual protection in their daily lives, and that faith is the basis for that protection.

8. Faith results in action. Hebrews chapter 11 recalls many of the most faithful people of the Old Testament. Each verse starts with the pattern, “By faith (person) (did something)”.  It wasn’t enough for the author to point out that each of these people HAD faith; the focus was on what that faith produced. Our children need to understand that authentic faith results in action.

9. (Great) Faith is believing before you experience.  In almost every instance where Jesus acknowledged someone for having great faith, it was in the context of believing in Him prior to experiencing healing (e.g., see Matthew 8 for the “greatest” faith of the Centurion). Our children need to know that faith doesn’t require waiting for signs or experiences that lead to the “conviction of things not seen”; Jesus acknowledged great faith as first believing in Him.

10. Faith is a decision everyone makes. Even if a person does not have faith in God, he or she must have faith in another “unproven” alternative about the afterlife (even if it’s that nothing exists). Our children need to realize that faith is a decision everyone makes, not just Christians.

Original Blog Source:  http://bit.ly/2n1hiOs


5 Ways Christian Parents Fail to Prepare Their Kids to Engage with Questions of Faith and Science

By Natasha Crain

I’m coming down to the final six weeks of writing my next book and am very much looking forward to being on the other side of that deadline! I’ve missed being able to blog regularly during this intense writing time, so I had to take a break today and share a new post inspired by some of the topics my next book will address. (On a side note, watch for a new post very soon to reveal the cover and title of the book!)

Children Faith Science

My favorite section to write has been on Science and God, because I know so many parents are looking for help in talking about this subject with their kids. While writing the chapters in that section, I thought a lot about how we, as Christian parents, are collectively failing to adequately prepare our kids to engage with questions of faith and science. Today, I want to share 5 ways I believe that’s happening, and encourage all of us to consider what we can do better in our own homes.

1. We don’t talk about the relationship between faith and science at all.

This is, without a doubt, the number one way we fail our kids in this area—we fail to say anything at all. Not only do we need to say something, we need to say quite a lot. Over and over again, researchers have found that a leading reason why so many young people walk away from faith is that they believe they have to choose between Christianity and science. Meanwhile, other research has shown that only ONE percent of youth pastors address any issue related to science in a given year.

This is a giant disconnect.

Regardless of the fact that churches need to do a much better job in this area, parents need to take the reins. This is our responsibility, and there is absolutely no doubt that questions of faith and science will challenge our kids in some way…whether this is an area we feel equipped to discuss or not. If you do feel equipped, great—get started. If you don’t, that’s OK—start learning. Those are really the only two options.

2. We boil all “science versus faith” conversations down to one (or two) issues.

I find in talking with parents that when you say the words “science and faith,” most people quickly launch into a conversation about evolution. There’s no doubt that evolution is one of the most important topics in this category, if not the most important topic. But there are many other questions our kids need to understand, especially at the more philosophical level. For example, people throw out broad statements like “science disproves God” all the time. Kids need to know what to make of those kinds of assertions just as much as they need to know what to make of the subject of evolution.

The second section of my next book will address six of these broader questions:

  • Can science prove or disprove God’s existence?
  • Do science and religion contradict one another?
  • Do science and religion complement one another?
  • Is God just an explanation for what science doesn’t yet know?
  • Can science explain why people believe in God?
  • What do scientists believe about God?

3. We teach overly simplistic answers that ignore important nuances.

I understand that science is not a “user-friendly” topic for many people. The only C grade I ever received in my life was in high school chemistry and I’m still bitter about it.

Unfortunately, this leads many parents to either 1) ignore the science-versus-faith dialogue completely (see my first point) or 2) teach overly simplistic answers that can inadvertently do major damage to their kids’ faith later.

One of the most important ways we can avoid this is by taking the time to define key words. For example, consider the question, “Can science prove or disprove God’s existence?” If someone asked me that, I couldn’t even answer their question unless I first asked them: What do you mean by science? What do you mean by prove or disprove? And what do you mean by God? People use those words in many different senses today and you simply can’t have a meaningful discussion without understanding their more nuanced underlying question. They may be asking:

 Can a specific branch of science provide evidence that strongly challenges a specific historical claim of a given religion? (Answer: Yes.)

Or, they may be asking:

Can the field of science, when defined as the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the natural world, say anything about the existence of God, when defined simply as a supernatural being who may or may not have created the world? (Answer: No—and even most atheists would agree.)

While we may wish we could simply teach our kids easy answers like, “Of course science doesn’t disprove God!”, we fail to adequately prepare them for this challenging secular world when we do.

4. We teach only one of several Christian views on origins (age of the Earth and evolution).

If you’ve read my first book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, you know how strongly I feel about this. There are eight chapters written to explain why Christians have varied views on how and when God created the world—based on both scriptural and scientific considerations. While many parents don’t teach their kids anything at all on this subject, many of the remaining parents only teach their kids one specific view (for example, young-Earth creationism, old-Earth creationism, or theistic evolution). Whatever view you teach, your kids will hear challenges from both other Christians and from atheists—a very confusing position for them to be in if you’ve never explained the issues at stake.

Note that I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t tell our kids what we believe. There’s no problem at all with explaining our own convictions. The problem lies in teaching them our views in a silo rather than taking the time to explain why fellow believers and skeptics interpret science and/or the Bible differently than we do.

5. We’re overly fearful of suggesting there’s a conflict between Christianity and science.

One of the things I found most interesting when preparing to write on whether or not science and religion contradict one another was just how quick Christians are to lay out a case for why Christianity and science are not in conflict. Much of the time, Christians jump straight to showing 1) how science can’t say anything about a Being outside of nature and/or 2) how there’s no reason to expect that science could even be done if there weren’t a God to rationally design the universe. Those things are true. But much of the time when skeptics talk about the conflict of science and Christianity, they’re talking specifically about the conflict between mainstream scientific consensus and a specific claim of the Bible that intersects with the natural world—for example, the age of the Earth (based on the young-Earth interpretation of Scripture) and direct creation (versus evolution). If we just keep insisting “there’s no conflict,” when there actually are apparent conflicts in some areas, we miss some very important discussion opportunities with our kids. Again, we have to define terms clearly.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the accurate interpretation of scientific data and the accurate interpretation of the Bible will never be in true conflict. If apparent conflicts arise, (at least) one interpretation is wrong. When we’re convicted of the accuracy of our interpretation of Scripture, we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge when the Bible conflicts with scientific consensus; Scientists can be wrong. On the other hand, when there is an apparent conflict, we should be willing to thoughtfully consider the scientific data; Our biblical interpretation can also be wrong.

Rather than sweep apparent conflicts under the carpet, we can help our kids significantly by 1) confidently explaining why apparent conflicts may arise and 2) studying the scientific and scriptural considerations together.

What questions about science and faith do you most have trouble discussing with your kids? If you don’t currently have these discussions, what’s your biggest barrier?

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2mouGKB


 

Men of God Should Understand the Importance of Fatherhood

I first noticed the problem as a Gang Detail officer in the early 1990’s. Our city was culturally and ethnically diverse, and we had a gang problem that seemed to transcend ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic boundaries. We had wealthy Korean gangsters, middle-class white gangsters, and upper, middle class and lower class Hispanic and African-American gangsters. I was raising two and four year old boys at the time and I was interested in what caused the young men in my community to become gangsters in the first place. It certainly didn’t seem to be something in their culture; they came from very diverse backgrounds. What was it? The more I got to know these gang members, the clearer the problem became: all of them suffered from “lack of dad.”

god fatherhood

Many of the white gangsters had fathers that were uninvolved, alcoholic or “deadbeat” dads. Many of the Korean fathers were first generation Koreans who never learned the English language, started businesses in our community and worked so hard that they had absolutely no relationship with their sons. Some of the Hispanic fathers were incarcerated and most of our Hispanic gangsters came from a multi-generational gang culture. Many of the African-American gangsters told me that they never even knew their father; they had been raised by mothers and grandmothers without their biological dads. Over and over again I saw the same thing: young men who were wandering without direction or moral compass, in large part because they didn’t have a father at home to teach them. Many studies have confirmed my own anecdotal observations.

I can remember seeing a movie during my tour on the Gang Detail. It was called “Boyz ‘N The Hood“. My partner told me I simply had to see it. I thought it was one of the best movies ever made on the importance of fatherhood. The primary character is a young man who is raised by his mother until he starts to go astray. His mom then delivers him to his father who begins to raise him up in a tough neighborhood but manages to provide him with the moral role modeling he really needed. The movie demonstrated what I learned as a Gang Detail officer: it takes a man to teach a boy how to be a man.

I’ve also learned this first-hand. My dad was largely absent in my childhood and it was tough to understand my role in the world as a man without the daily input from my father. I noticed that as I reached my teen years, I was actually interested in reaching out to my dad and making sure we had a relationship. I needed him. In many ways, I became him in an effort to understand what it was to be a man. I ended up leaving a career in the arts to follow him into Law Enforcement. The power and guidance of a father is an undeniable force in the life of a young man.

As Christians, we ought to get this more than any other group. Scripture is filled with passages that describe the importance of fathers. In addition, the Bible consistently references fatherhood in an effort to analogize God’s relationship with each of us. What does Scripture tell us about the role of Fathers? First and foremost, we are to be teachers:

Deuteronomy 6:6-9
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

This is the role and duty of fathers; to teach our kids to embrace the image of God in which they were created. So today, on Thanksgiving Day, I would like all of the fathers who read this post to recognize their debt to their own fathers. If your father was absent, be grateful that you have a chance to do what he never did. Be a dad. Start teaching your kids. Take the words of Dr. Tony Evans to heart:

“It is a fool who says. ‘I do not tell my children what to believe’, because if you don’t, someone else will.  The drug addicts are commanding your children and your children are obeying.  The lust mongers are commanding your daughters and your daughters are obeying.  For God’s sake YOU command something!”

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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5 Attitude Changes That Will Transform Your Christian Parenting in the New Year

By Natasha Crain

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been able to write a post because my nose has been buried in writing my new book (if you’re new to the blog or missed what I’m working on, you can read about it here!). My deadline is March 1, so my ability to write new blog posts will continue to be sporadic for the next couple of months, but then I’ll be back to writing more regularly again…and I can’t wait. Writing the new book has brought so many important subjects to mind for the blog!

Christian Parenting New Year

In the meantime, I did want to end the year with a post on New Year’s resolutions. I’ve always been a person who loves setting goals, but I’ve noticed that I set fewer and fewer goals as years go by. It’s easy to get complacent and set in our ways, isn’t it?

One of the reasons I think it’s so hard to actually reach the goals we set is that successful changes in behavior require corresponding changes in underlying attitudes. For example, I’ve been trying to stop biting my nails since I was 15. It’s never happened. The problem isn’t that I can’t physically reach that goal; It’s that, deep down, I’ve never truly believed that this is an important problem that really needs my attention.

Despite the importance of our underlying attitudes in reaching goals, we rarely think of goals in terms of attitudes. So, rather than writing a post about New Year’s goals framed in terms of behavior, I’m writing a post about important attitude shifts we should aim to make.

With that in mind, here are 5 important attitude changes that can truly transform how we disciple our kids. For each one, I’m also giving an example of a behavioral resolution—an action point. But rest assured that unless we first take the attitude changes to heart, those behavioral resolutions will quickly fall by the wayside.

 

ATTITUDE CHANGE #1

From: The Bible is important.

To: The Bible is so important, I need to read it with my kids regularly—and if I don’t, their spiritual development will be significantly compromised.

 As Christians, it should go without saying that the Bible is important. We shouldn’t give ourselves a congratulatory pat on the back for such a belief. But it’s what we do with that belief that will really impact our kids’ spiritual lives. Don’t think for a second that simply paying lip service to the importance of God’s Word will ignite your kids’ interest in it. Without a strong foundation of how to read the Bible, what the Bible says, and why it matters, kids won’t learn how to depend on the source guide for their faith. Instead, they’ll learn to depend on what other people tell them about Christianity.

That’s very dangerous in a world saturated with false information.

So, if you don’t currently read the Bible with your kids, make this the year to start. And don’t depend on devotionals as a substitute—they can be a helpful addition to your family’s spiritual life, but they should never be the starting point.

Behavioral resolution: Pick a Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) and commit to reading one or two chapters per week with your kids (decide on the number of chapters based on how much information your kids are able to take in on a given night). For example, you could decide to read the book of John two nights per week over ten weeks. After that, pick another Gospel, or choose one of Paul’s epistles.

 

ATTITUDE CHANGE #2

From: My kids’ bad behavior will dictate how much time and energy I can spend on their spiritual development.

To: The time and energy I spend on my kids’ spiritual development will have nothing to do with how bad they’re being at any given time.

This is not a conscious attitude for most parents…we don’t set out to let our kids’ bad behavior drive anything. But it sure is easy to let it happen, right? This is something I noticed in my own home this year. I struggled a lot with the constant fighting between my two daughters, which often left me with less than zero energy by the end of the day. They would be mad at each other, or mad at me, or I would be mad at them…and, honestly, the last thing I felt like doing was making the effort on those nights to switch gears and bring it back to God.

But when we start relegating our kids’ spiritual development to the small (who am I kidding…tiny) slivers of time when everyone is in a good mood and feeling like sitting down to discuss what really matters in life, we’ll never make headway. Because it’s so easy to fall into this trap, it’s critical to 1) be aware of the danger and 2) put a plan in place to avoid it (see below).

Behavioral resolution: There’s one key way to support this attitude change—schedule family spiritual time. Start with finding a set time of just 30 minutes to put on the calendar each week. Kids might fight it at first, but over time, if you’re consistent, it will become something your family just expects. And having it planned will help you not succumb to parental fatigue (as long as you don’t cancel it!). This is a great way to do your Bible reading (point 1).

 

ATTITUDE CHANGE #3

From: I’ll talk to my kids about faith whenever good teachable moments arise.

To: I’ll proactively determine what to teach my kids about faith and when.

In case you’re behind on popular parenting lingo, a “teachable moment” is when you use an unplanned event to teach your kids about something. Taking advantage of such times is important. But if this is your primary strategy for teaching your kids about Christianity, it’s one of the most ineffective parenting attitudes you can have.

There’s a simple reason for that: Not everything your kids need to be taught will have a corresponding moment naturally arise. In my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, I chose 40 of the most important faith conversations parents need to have with their kids in a secular world. Maybe 10 of them would naturally come up in conversation. But when was the last time you saw a brilliant opportunity naturally arise for addressing whether or not the Bible supports slavery? Or whether or not Christianity is responsible for millions of deaths in history? Or how a loving God could command the killing of the Canaanites? Or what the historical facts of the resurrection that most scholars agree on are?

Yet all of these are highly important conversations to have, given the challenges our kids will hear from skeptics today. It’s our responsibility to know what conversations need to be had and to proactively have them. We can’t just wait around for a corresponding teachable moment to happen.

Behavioral resolution: Pick one faith topic each week to have a conversation about with your kids. If you have my book, this will be easy. Read/review a chapter each week yourself (just 4-5 pages), then ask your kids a corresponding question to facilitate conversation. You could have one night per week (e.g., Sunday) where you spend 30 minutes with your Bible reading time and another night per week (e.g., Wednesday) where you do these discussions. Alternatively, you could do your faith discussion over dinner on a given night of the week, or on your commute to school if it’s long enough.

 

ATTITUDE CHANGE #4

From: I need to work on my kids’ (collective) spiritual development.

To: I need to tailor my discipleship to the needs of each of my kids.

If you have more than one child, it’s tempting to mentally merge them into a single discipleship “target”—We are the parental unit (the disciplers) and they are the children unit (the disciples). The problem is, just as in non-spiritual matters, every child is unique in his or her needs. We shouldn’t effectively make our home into a one-size-fits-all church program. Kids are ready for and interested in different areas of faith development at different times.

This is where I think devotionals can be a good supplement to the other things you do as a family (the above points). If you’re doing set times for Bible reading and faith conversations as a family, you can choose devotional books to use with your kids individually on other nights. Just be sure to really spend time looking at the ones you pick, as many have very little “meat” and are hardly better than 365 lessons on being a nice person. (In the 5- to 8-year-old range, I’ve found Max Lucado’s Grace for the Moment to be simple but solid. For about 7- to 10-year-olds, I’ve really liked The One Year Every Day Devotions: Devotions to Help you Stand Strong. No devotional is perfect, but I at least feel comfortable recommending these.)

Behavioral resolution: Write down three areas where you think each of your kids most needs to grow spiritually this year (Prayer? Learning to read the Bible independently? Understanding the basics of the faith? Studying apologetics? etc.). Then ask each child to write down three areas of their own. Compare your lists and decide on a final list of three goals for the year together. Make an action of plan of what you’ll do to work on those goals.

 

ATTITUDE CHANGE #5

From: I want to pass on my faith.

To: I want to help my kids develop their own faith.

While it’s common for parents to say they want to “pass on” their faith, it’s not necessarily a good way to think of our role in our kids’ spiritual lives. We have to remember that what we experience with God can never be exported to our kids; It’s unique to us.

I think one of the biggest reasons so many kids turn away from faith when they leave home is that parents spent too much time trying to pass on their own faith rather than helping their kids develop their own.

This attitude change will fundamentally alter how you think of your role as a Christian parent. It’s a lens through which to view all that you do. Are you continually just trying to express what you believe and what you do with that belief? Or are you teaching your kids why there’s good reason to believe Christianity is objectively true—why anyone should believe it? Changing our perspective on what, exactly, it is that we should be doing as Christian parents can make all the difference in the world.

Behavioral resolution: Reflect on how you currently see your job as a Christian parent, and the difference between passing on your faith and helping your kids develop their own. Commit to either beginning or continuing a study of an apologetics topic of interest (for those new to the blog, apologetics is the study of how to make a case for and defend the truth of Christianity). Need a reading plan? I’ve got a bunch for you: Click here.

 

Which of these attitude changes do you feel you most need to make next year? Share your thoughts below!

 

Atheist Vs. Christian Summer Camps: Which More Effectively Taught Their Worldview This Summer?

By Natasha Crain

A blog reader sent me some information recently on an atheist summer camp (thanks DD!). I was fascinated to read all that they are doing to promote an atheistic worldview with their young campers. It immediately made me wonder how Christian camps stack up. After all, about 40 percent of all U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 have been a camper at least once at a religious summer camp—making camp a perfect opportunity to give large numbers of kids an understanding of why there’s good reason to believe Christianity is true and how to defend their faith in a secular world.

So are Christian summer camps imparting this critical knowledge? To find out, I Googled “Christian summer camps” and visited the websites of 100 camps across the country. I spent hours going through these sites to see what they offer so I could share the findings with you.

I wish I could say I had a positive report.

Before we look at what I found, however, I want to first give you a glimpse of an atheist summer camp for comparison.

 

What Happens at Atheist Summer Camps?

The largest atheist summer camp is called Camp Quest. Camp Quest started 20 years ago and has grown to 14 locations throughout the United States. According to its website, “The idea to offer a summer camp program designed for children from atheist, agnostic, humanist, and other freethinking families originated partially in response to the Boy Scouts of America’s increasing enforcement of their policy requiring boys to profess a belief in God.  It became clear that children from nontheistic families needed their own place to belong and enjoy the summer camp experience.”

The camp’s tagline is, “Summer camp beyond belief!” Campers participate in all kinds of traditional camp activities—for example, archery, canoeing, climbing, crafts, dance, horseback riding, and swimming—along with an important core of “freethought” activities in line with the camp’s secular mission.

So what do they mean by “freethought”? They define it this way: “Broadly, it means cultivating curiosity, questioning and a certain disdain for just taking the word of authority; demanding evidence and knowing you can make your own observations even if they lead you to disagree.”

In other words, they do activities that aggressively teach kids their worldview in the context of others.

You might not immediately conclude this from their freethought definition. After all, doesn’tevery parent want to cultivate curiosity, encourage questions, and teach kids to think for themselves? Make no mistake, however: Camp Quest and all self-identified “free thinkers” ironically believe that freethought inevitably results in the same atheistic/agnostic conclusions.

One of the most loved freethought activities at camp is the Invisible Unicorn Challenge. The children are told that there are two invisible unicorns who live at Camp Quest but that they cannot be seen, heard, tasted, smelled, or touched. They cannot escape from camp and they don’t eat anything. The only proof of their existence is contained in an ancient book handed down over countless generations. The challenge: Can you disprove their existence?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that these kids are supposed to see that the idea of God is just like these invisible unicorns. While the kids will learn that you can’t strictlydisprove God’s existence (how can you disprove invisible unicorns?), they’ll also learn that there’s no evidence of them, so there’s no reason to believe in them. (The claim that there’s no evidence for the existence of God is pervasive today but flawed—see chapters 1, 7, 8, 21, 27, and 28 in my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith, for help talking to your kids about this subject.)

With activities like these, kids are actively learning why they should believe their worldview is an accurate picture of reality.

Meanwhile, at Christian summer camp…

 

What Happens at Christian Summer Camps?

I went to a Christian summer camp for several years as a kid and remember those weeks rather fondly. I remember the excitement when it was time to go to the snack bar for afternoon popsicles; I remember the smelly but fun cabins where everyone would stay up late talking; I remember being sent off by camp counselors with a notepad and pen to write a letter to God and having no idea what to do; I remember nightly songs around the campfire; and I remember having my first crush.

What I don’t remember from those years is growing in my understanding of Christian faith. Of course every camp is different, and every camper is different, so that’s not to say that my experience is representative of all or even most. But, after seeing what happens at Camp Quest, I was keenly interested in seeing how Christian camps today compare.

Here’s what I found from my survey of 100 Christian camp websites.

First, many say nothing of their Christian mission outside of generally promoting a “Christian camp” label. If you’re considering sending your kids to “Christian” summer camp, make sure you know what exactly that means. At many places, it doesn’t mean much.

Those that did detail the faith-based component of their camp were quite similar in focus. The key words repeatedly found on camp websites were: worship, relationship, good values, community, devotions, experience, and growing close to Jesus.

I want you to see first-hand the specific descriptions these camps offered. Here’s a good representation of the key phrases found throughout the sites…along with some side notes I couldn’t help but make:

  • Wholesome Christian atmosphere
  • Excellence in Christian camping (This made me laugh out loud. I get the term “Christian camp” but “Christian camping” makes me wonder how Christians camp differently…)
  • Take the next step in your faith
  • Fun, faith, friends (alliteration is fun, but it doesn’t say much)
  • Demonstrate that the Christian life can be one of meaningful fulfillment (Another laugh out loud moment—“can” be?)
  • Enjoy recreation in a Christian atmosphere
  • Dynamic speakers (I’m glad they’re dynamic, but what will they speak dynamically about?)
  • Show kids you can be a Christian and still have fun (What kind of message does this send? That everyone assumes Christians can’t have fun and this camp will prove the universal assumption wrong? How about showing kids why there’s good reason to believe Christianity is true so they understand why they should be a Christian in the first place?)
  • Special moments to learn about a loving God
  • Exciting Christian campfire programs
  • Gain deeper insight about God (I like how that sounds, but insights could mean anything…)
  • Grow strong in a welcoming Christian experience
  • Transformative worship
  • Campers come to know Jesus and pass on God’s love with excitement
  • Give kids a moral compass and learn God’s Word
  • Be encouraged and strengthened in the Lord
  • Wholesome recreation consistent with Christian standards and purposes (“consistent with” is about the least committal descriptor I can think of)
  • Enjoy God’s wonder
  • Enthusiastic speakers (enthusiasm is great, but, again, what content are they enthusiastically sharing?)
  • Establish goals to move closer to Jesus
  • Provide a life-altering experience
  • Enjoy high energy worship (I’m glad they clarified it’s high and not low energy…)
  • Conform campers to the character of Christ
  • Bring kids to a saving knowledge of Christ
  • Explore faith and God’s creation while you enjoy outdoor time around the campfire
  • Promote a lifestyle that honors God
  • Provide strong Christian role models
  • Nightly cabin devotions
  • Explore actions and teachings of Jesus Christ
  • Each adventure-packed day ends with campfire singing and a Bible message
  • Daily group Bible studies
  • Awesome worship music, live speakers, and meaningful Bible study
  • Activity-based application of biblical principles
  • Bible-based teaching based on shared adventures
  • Values-based camping
  • Help campers build a relationship with Jesus
  • Experience Christian community
  • Provide programs allowing campers to make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ
  • Emphasize Judeo-Christian values
  • Be inspired and challenged as the staff brings the Bible alive in new ways
  • Christian lifestyle is demonstrated through Bible study, devotions, music, and personal interaction
  • Experiences that strengthen the spirit, mind, and body under a strong Christian emphasis
  • Steadfast focus on the Creator in the midst of adventures (I’m imagining a kid sliding down a zip line with camp counselors yelling, “Focus on who ultimately created this!”)
  • Focus on values important to all faiths (now we’re just going to focus on the lowest common denominator?)
  • Speakers sharing from their heart on how God’s Word has transformed them

If you read through all those “talking points,” it’s clear that Christian camps overwhelmingly focus on the experience of being a Christian. And, of course, facilitating opportunities to experience God is hugely important! But one of the ways we experience God is with our minds and stems from the confidence of our convictions. Out of 100 camps, just TWO explicitly mentioned anything related to teaching Christian worldview in the context of other worldviews and how to engage with our secular culture:

  • Prescott Pines: “Stand up for your faith in the face of adversity” (funny enough, this is a camp in my hometown—but not the one I attended!)
  • Camp Kanakuk: “Helping your child grow in their character, and ability to communicate and defend their faith”

While other camps may address these topics as part of their general Bible teaching or messages, it certainly wasn’t a focus enough for them to explicitly mention it on the other 98 sites. I’m not saying that every single camp should have this as an emphasis, but given the challenges kids are facing today, the fact that 98% of camps are at the very least not promoting that they’re going to talk about Christianity in the context of other worldviews is both surprising and disappointing.

 

What Should We Make of All This?

In terms of numbers, the attendees at Christian camps far outnumber those at atheist camps. But if you’re tempted to think that means we shouldn’t care about this comparison, you’re missing the point.

Atheists are still a small percentage of Americans overall (5-10%), but their numbers are quickly gaining because they aggressively promote what they believe to be the truth of their worldview versus the falsities of other worldviews. Meanwhile, the number of Christians in America continues to decline in response. Churches have been slow to realize the urgent necessity of teaching apologetics given the increasing challenges to faith today…and it’s clear that Christian summer camps are no different.

This is a shame. Truly. A lost opportunity with thousands of kids.

I hope that this post will reach the inbox of people involved with camps and encourage them to think of how their program next summer might be more tailored to these subjects.

Importantly, that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be “exciting campfires,” devotionals, “high energy worship,” fun speakers, and so on. All of these things contribute to a memorable camp experience. But there may be nothing more important today for helping kids draw nearer to Jesus (a stated goal of most camps) than helping them know confidently why there’s good reason to believe Christianity is true.

If you’re involved in camp planning for your church or other organization and want some content ideas for teaching apologetics at next year’s camp, please email me through my contact form.  

 

Addendum: Two Camps to Consider

There are two fantastic programs for teens that do focus on equipping kids to engage critically with other worldviews and I want to make sure you know about them as you consider opportunities for next summer.

First, Summit Ministries offers intensive two-week retreats designed to teach older teens how to champion a biblical worldview and to strengthen their faith in a post-Christian culture. These retreats are in Colorado, Tennessee, and California. They have incredible speakers. If you want to see what Christian camp can look like, check out their sample schedule. Wow.

Second, Faith Ascent’s Base Camp in St. Louis offers “5 days and 4 nights of fun, fellowship, and intense preparation for the challenges and opportunities college bound Christians will be presented with. In a real college environment we ask and answer the tough questions Christian teens are asking (and being asked).” They, too, have fantastic speakers and an incredible schedule.

I hope you’ll check out these excellent programs and consider them for next summer if you have kids of the appropriate age.


 

Resources for Greater Impact: 

3 Key Things Skeptics Will Say to Shame Your Kids for Being Christians

By Natasha Crain

I haven’t blogged in the last couple of weeks because my family and I were on vacation. We went on a wonderful trip to the island of Grand Cayman! I successfully managed to avoid email while I was there, but that made for quite a backlog by the time I returned. As I started going through the emails to my blog address, I was struck by the nature of comment after comment left by atheists on various old blog posts while I was gone: one emotional attack after another and not a single discussion of evidence for/against the truth of Christianity.

I actually get such emails all the time and am very used to it. But seeing them all piled together made me realize how often the objective of skeptics is to shame Christians rather than to engage in fair-minded discussions about evidence—something highly ironic given how much skeptics talk in theory about how important evidence is.

Shaming can have an especially negative impact on kids, who are very susceptible to believing emotion-laden statements. But this, too, is something we can (and should) prepare them for. While shaming comes in all kinds of forms, I can roll 90 percent of skeptics’ comments into some version of three general claims.

Here is what your kids are most likely to hear…and what you can do about it.

 

1. “You’ve been indoctrinated.”

The Implied Shame Claim: You’re just parroting what your parents have drilled into your head throughout your childhood. You’ve been brainwashed and can’t even think for yourself. If you’re brave enough to look at [evidence/science/common sense] instead, you’ll see how crazy Christianity is.

I probably receive at least one blog comment each week about how I’m indoctrinating my kids simply by raising them in a Christian home. Skeptics love to say this. The problem is, it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what indoctrination even means.  As I explained in this post, indoctrination is “teaching someone to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions and beliefs.” In other words, indoctrination is a problem with how you teach someone something. It’s not inherently related to any particular belief system, though religion is one type of belief system where indoctrination is possible. Atheists can indoctrinate their kids as well.

So, unless a skeptic has been inside the homes of every Christian in America, seen how we are teaching our kids Christianity, and then had appropriate reason to conclude that we don’tcollectively expose our kids to other ideas, it’s utterly meaningless to say that “Christians indoctrinate their kids.”

What Parents Can Do:

  • Make sure you’re not actually indoctrinating your kids. Make sure you are teaching them what other people believe. That doesn’t mean you should teach them that what everyone else believes is true (that’s not logically possible)—it simply means you’re appropriately comparing and contrasting other ideas, opinions, and beliefs.
  • Make it explicitly clear to your kids that you don’t want them to believe in Jesus just because you do. (Read why this is so important in my post, Six Scary But Important Words Every Christian Parent Should Say to Their Kids About Faith.) When you’ve actuallydemonstrated that it’s important for them to own their spiritual decisions, they’ll have no reason to later question whether they’ve been “indoctrinated” when someone suggests it.
  • Teach your kids the evidence for the truth of Christianity (you’re going to see a recurring theme on this bullet point). In that very process, you’ll be comparing and contrasting truth claims from various worldviews and your kids will know first-hand that you didn’t “indoctrinate” them.

 

2. “If you allow yourself to think critically, you’ll see there’s no reason to believe in God.”

The Implied Shame Claim: Don’t you want to be a critical thinker? Someone who is rational, reasonable, and uses their brain? If you have faith, you’re throwing all that out the door. You’re choosing to believe something in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

“Critical thinking” is a buzz phrase today. Technically speaking, critical thinking is the “objective analysis and evaluation of an issue to form a judgment.” The funny thing is, skeptics always assume that such thinking necessarily leads to their own conclusions. The logic goes like this:

  1. Critical thinking means forming beliefs based on evidence.
  2. There’s no evidence for God.
  3. If you believe in God, you’re not thinking critically.

The problem with this logic is the second statement—the foregone conclusion that there’s no evidence for God. A more honest assessment would be that Christians and atheists disagree over what constitutes legitimate evidence for God. As much as many skeptics would like to make critical thinking their own domain based on this implied argument, the reality is that neither Christians nor atheists are willing to believe in something without evidence; Christians believe there is evidence for God. That’s why conversations about who’s thinking more critically than whom are absolutely pointless. There are Christians who think well and Christians who think poorly; atheists who think well and atheists who think poorly. This says nothing about the evidence itself.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Be intentional in talking to your kids about definitions. So many times, Christians and skeptics talk right past each other with conflicting meanings of the same words. In this case, discuss the words critical thinking and faith (skeptics incorrectly assert that faith means believing something in spite of evidence —see chapter 8 of my book for help with this conversation).
  • Discuss the implied argument of the three points listed above and explain that this is the logic behind skeptics’ claims that Christians don’t think critically. When you expose your kids to the thinking behind the shame claim, they won’t be fazed by it later.
  • Teach your kids the evidence for the truth of Christianity (yup, here it is again!). It’s one thing to show them the faulty logic (see the point above)—it’s another thing to teach them how to combat a faulty premise themselves.

 

3. “Christians are less intelligent than atheists. Studies show it.”

The Implied Shame Claim: You’re stupid if you’re a Christian and that’s not just my opinion—it’s beenproven.

You may be surprised to hear that a number of studies have found a negative relationship between intelligence and religiousness—in other words, they suggest that the more intelligent a person is, the less likely they are to be religious. Many passionate atheists are well aware of these studies and use them as ammunition for their arguments that religion is for the poor, ignorant, or unintelligent.

My professional background is in market research (I have an MBA in marketing and statistics) so I decided to personally review the studies that are constantly referenced by skeptics. I explained my findings in detail in my post, Are Christians Less Intelligent Than Atheists? Here’s What Those Studies REALLY Say, and further in Chapter 16 of my book.

Here’s the bottom line of what you should know: Over the last 80+ years, many studies have been done on the relationship between intelligence and religiousness. In 2013, researchers pulled together all the ones that quantified that relationship. Of the 63 studies they identified, roughly half showed no relationship at all. The other half showed at least some kind of negative relationship (the more intelligent you are, the less likely you are to be religious). That said, statistically speaking, it’s not very helpful to simply know there is “some kind” of relationship. You have to know how strong the relationship is to know if it matters. So researchers combined the results of all these individual studies to evaluate that question overall…and found the strength of relationship to be very weak. What do I mean by very weak? A -.17 or -.20 correlation is considered to be a trivial or negligible relationship by most statisticians. In other words, hardly worth mentioning. There is no reasonable basis for suggesting Christians are less intelligent than atheists according to this data.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Give your kids an appropriate framework for considering this kind of claim before you even discuss specific studies: Even if we could reliability measure which group is collectively smarter (we can’t), the answer wouldn’t tell us anything about the truth of Christianity. Intelligence doesn’t equate to always having the right answer. The important question we must constantly point our kids back to is, Which worldview is an accurate picture of reality? (Not which worldview theoretically has the smartest adherents.)
  • If your kids are teens, take the time to read my summary of these studies and findings and then discuss (links to my blog post and book above).
  • Teach your kids the evidence for the truth of Christianity (I told you this would keep coming up!). How else will they know how to set aside distracting claims like this one about intelligence and answer the key question, Which worldview is an accurate picture of reality?

 

So, you must have caught the recurring solution that combats all of these attempts at shaming:Teach your kids the evidence for the truth of Christianity.

Consider for a moment why that in particular is the antidote for almost any shaming attempt. Shame by definition is “a painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness or disgrace.” In other words, the root of shame is feeling inadequate.

In order for our kids to feel (more than) adequate when they encounter shaming attempts, they need to have the deep conviction that what they believe is really true. Only then will they be able to fully see these shame claims for what they are—shallow and baseless emotional attacks—and be able to say confidently with the apostle Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

 

If you need help talking to your kids about the evidence for the truth of Christianity and how to address secular claims with your kids, please check out my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith.

Visit Natasha’s Site @ ChristianMomThoughts.com


 

Resources for Greater Impact:

3 Key Things Skeptics Will Say to Shame Your Kids for Being Christians

 

What To Teach Kids About Unanswered Prayer

By Natasha Crain

My son Nathan wasn’t feeling well recently so we all prayed together for him to feel better. The next night at prayer time, Kenna pointed out that we prayed for him already but he wasn’t feeling better. She had a look of simultaneous confusion and disappointment on her face.  In a total of about 3 seconds I had the thought that this is the beginning of a lifetime of seeking to understand why God does or does not answer certain prayers AND replied, “We’ll keep praying and trust God that Nathan will feel better.”

I felt a giant theological error well up in my throat. How often we casually imply or even consciously think that if we just “trust God” for a specific prayer outcome, He will answer the way we want!

“Everything will be OK! Just trust in God!”

Yes, everything will be OK . . . perfect actually . . . when Christ returns and God is glorified in His kingdom for eternity. In the meantime this life is a mess. We are sinful people with free choices, surrounded by other sinful people with free choices. There is illness, there is death. There are natural disasters. Christians live in this fallen world and are affected by its consequences as much as non-believers.

Yet, we are to pray. We are to ask God for our hearts’ desires in the midst of all this. If every Christian’s prayer for a specific (positive) outcome was answered, however, we would effectively be in control of the world through God.  Thank God that prayer doesn’t work that way!  It’s actually a little scary to think of millions of people (even if they are Christians) controlling God like a puppet through prayer strings. I would much rather God be in control, in His infinite wisdom and perspective.

The dynamics of prayer are really not unlike our children making requests to us . . . we encourage their requests, consider their requests, and want them to continue making requests, but may not grant them what they want depending on how it would impact themselves, us or others  . . .  just like God relates with us through prayer.

Jesus powerfully demonstrated this himself when he prayed in Mark 14:36: “Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” God CAN do anything but his specific answers to prayer are based on how our requests align with His will.

If we come to believe that God can or should be trusted for specific outcomes, our relationship with Him will be as variable as the ups and downs of life; a good outcome equals happiness with God, a negative outcome equals disappointment or anger with God. This is not what our relationship should look like, yet it is very common.

To put this in a simple framework for my kids, I’ve boiled it down to these 5 key concepts that I emphasize at home.

    1. God wants us to continuously pray. (e.g., Philippians 4:6-7; Ephesians 6:18)
    2. God hears our prayers. (Implied in the fact he wants us to pray, plus Psalm 34:15)
    3. We can and should pray for our hearts’ desires. (e.g., Matthew 21:22; Matthew 7:7-11; John 14:13-14)
    4. God CAN answer our prayers for specific outcomes, but may not, depending on His will. (e.g., Matthew 6:10; Matthew 26:42; Mark 14:36)
    5. God works all things together for good. This statement, from Romans 8:28, can easily be taken out of context. Paul is not saying that God works all things together for OUR good (at least as we would commonly perceive “good” in this life). He follows in verses 28 and 29 by explaining that the good he is referencing is God’s overall plan for the world leading to His final glorification.

Here is is how I apply these truths for my (young) children:

“We just prayed for (fill in the blank). Do we know God WANTS us to pray? (yes) Do we know God hears ALL of our prayers? (yes) Do we know that God CAN answer any prayer he chooses? (yes) Does God answer EVERY prayer the way we ask? (no) What is important is that we always pray because God wants us to, but we have to remember that only God can decide how he is going to answer our prayers.”

In this way I hope to teach them that we should not limit or censor our prayers, but at the same time we need to respect and trust in God’s infinite wisdom . . . not our own.

What To Teach Kids About Unanswered Prayer

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

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

 

65 Apologetics Questions Every Christian Parent Needs to Learn to Answer

By Natasha Crain

In prior posts, I’ve talked about why parents have to care about apologetics (the reasoned defense of Christianity) and I’ve shared resources for getting started with apologetics. I realize, however, that it can seem pretty ambiguous to have a goal of “learning apologetics.” We need to know the specific questions we most need to study and discuss with our kids; the ones that non-believers most frequently challenge Christians on and the ones that most frequently turn young adults away from faith after spending 18 years in church.

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That’s the purpose of this post.

I want to give you a very specific list of 65 apologetics questions every Christian parent needs to learn to answer and discuss with their kids (in age appropriate ways). Of course, any such list is subjective. I created this list based on my own study and experience with engaging in these topics, with a special emphasis on the issues challenging young adults today.

You may not think I’ve narrowed it down much by giving you 65, but there are hundreds of questions that could have been listed! In case this looks overwhelming, I’ve highlighted in red my “top 20.” Start with those if you’re new to these topics.

I encourage you to take some time and challenge yourself here. Read each question and give yourself a “point” for each one you feel you could thoroughly answer. What would your score be if you had to answer these questions today?

 

Questions About the Existence and Nature of God

1. What key arguments are there for (and against) God’s existence?

2. What are the practical implications of an atheistic worldview?

3. Why would a good God allow evil to exist?

4. Why would a good God allow suffering to exist?

5. Why would God command the death of so many people in the Bible (e.g., the Canaanites)?

6. How can a loving God send people to hell?

7. Why does God remain so “hidden?”

8. Why does the “Old Testament God” seem different than the “New Testament God?”

9. Why would God need people to worship Him (isn’t that egotistical and arrogant)?

 

Questions About Truth and Worldviews

10. What is the difference between absolute and relative truth?

11. How can it be reasonable for Christians to claim knowledge of an objective truth?

12. What is the role and danger of using “common sense” in evaluating truth claims?

13. Isn’t hell an unreasonable punishment for not believing in a specific set of truth claims?

14. How can Christians think their personal religious experiences with God are any more “true” than those of adherents to other belief systems?

15. Do all religions ultimately point to the same God? Why or why not?

16. What are key similarities and differences between the world’s major religions (e.g., Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism)?

17. Is Christianity a less intelligent worldview than atheism? Why or why not?

 

Questions About Jesus

18. What extra-biblical evidence is there that Jesus existed (as a historical person)?

19. What major Old Testament prophecies did Jesus fulfill?

20. Was Jesus wrong about the timing of his second coming? Why or why not?

21. What are the key passages in the Bible that show Jesus claimed to be God?

22. What does the Bible say about the exclusivity of Jesus with regard to salvation?

23. Why did Jesus have to die on the cross for our sins to be forgiven (couldn’t God have just pardoned sins without a gruesome death involved)?

24. What are the four minimal facts of the resurrection that are “so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones?”

25. What are the main theories non-believers have about the resurrection (e.g., unknown tomb, wrong tomb, disciples stole the body, authorities hid the body, etc.)?

26. Why do Christians believe a supernatural (bodily) resurrection explains the minimal facts better than all the other theories?

27. Why does it matter whether or not Jesus was resurrected (and that the resurrection wasn’t simply a metaphor)?

 

Questions About the Bible

28. Who selected what books are in the Bible?

29. How were the books of the Bible selected?

30. Why were some “books” we know about today (e.g., the Gospel of Thomas) left out of the Bible?

31. How can we know that the Bible we have today is a reliable record of the original writings?

32. What major “contradictions” exist in the Bible (and what are the explanations)?

33. Does the Bible support slavery? Why or why not? (Don’t laugh at this and the next two questions…these come up constantly in discussion with atheists.)

34. Does the Bible support rape? Why or why not?

35. Does the Bible support human sacrifice? Why or why not?

36. What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

37. How do Christians determine what parts of the Bible are prescriptive and which are descriptive?

 

Science and Christianity

Young Earth Creationism

38. What is Young Earth Creationism (YEC)?

39. What are key pieces of scriptural support for the YEC interpretation of creation in six 24-hour days?

40. How do YECs determine that the earth is 6,000-10,000 years old?

 

Evidence for an Old Earth (i.e., billions of years old)

41. What areas of science have implications for the age of the earth?

42. What are major methods scientists use to estimate the age of the earth, and what is their consensus on the estimate?

43. What is the relationship between belief in a global flood and the age of the earth?


Old Earth Creationism

44. What is “Old Earth Creationism (OEC)?”

45. What are the major reasons OECs reject the YEC interpretation of creation?

46. What are the key pieces of scriptural support for the OEC interpretation?

 

Intelligent Design

47. What is Intelligent Design?

48. Why do Intelligent Design proponents consider it a scientific theory and not a religious one?

49. What are the major reasons Intelligent Design proponents reject evolution as a sufficient explanation for the existence of life?

50. What does it mean that the universe appears to be “finely tuned?”

 

Evolution

51. What is evolution (from a purely scientific perspective)?

52. What are the key pieces of evidence for evolution?

53. What are the key questions evolution has not answered?

54. What do people mean when they talk about “macroevolution” versus “microevolution”?

55. Why do evolutionists reject the theory of intelligent design?

56. What are the theological implications for an acceptance of evolution?

57. What are the theological implications specifically for Adam and Eve not being literal, historical people?


Other Science and Christianity Questions

58. Why would Jesus-loving, Bible-believing Christians differ on their view of origins?

59. How can Christians believe miracles are possible, given what we know about science (e.g., the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection)?

 

Other Important (and Common) Questions

60. What does it mean (biblically) to have faith, and how is that different than the popular definition of faith?

61. If Christianity is true, why are there so many Christians whose lives look no different than those of non-believers (aren’t many Christians hypocrites)?

62. Why are there so many denominations (and does the fact of many denominations invalidate the truth of Christianity)?

63. Is Christianity “responsible” for millions of deaths throughout history? Why or why not, and what implications does the answer have for the evaluation of Christian truth claims?

64. What happens to people who have never heard the Gospel?

65. Why don’t miracles happen as frequently today as they did in the Bible?

 

You needed something to work on in 2016, right? I know I have my work cut out for me! I’ll be blogging about these topics over time, with my usual emphasis on delivering the message to our kids. Want to be sure to see each post? Sign up for my email list below!

Does anyone want to share their “score?”  Are there questions that stand out to you which aren’t on my list? Please add them below!

“Editor Note: Natasha Crain’s book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith, provides answers to 40 of these questions, written specifically for parents.”

 

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