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Childsize Apologetics: A New Approach

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Forget heated debates and impassioned explanations. It’s time to re-imagine apologetics for a new generation of children.

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A few weeks ago, my 10-year -old son came home from school with a huge smile on his face. “John’s a Christian now!”

“Wow! That’s really cool! Tell me about it.” I’m not sure what I was expecting to hear. Maybe that Jeremiah had learned about the Four Spiritual Laws in his small group at church and walked his friend through those. Or maybe that he’d memorized the verses along the Romans Road and used those on John. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when you’re grounded in your faith and share the gospel?

What Jeremiah told me, though, had nothing to do with laws or a road. He said he’d simply told John a story-God’s story. God had created a perfect world that was broken, and humans chose to disobey God. Today, sin keeps us from being friends with God. He told John about God sending Jesus to fix what humans broke by taking our punishment for sin so that we can be friends with God forever. John didn’t ask my son for proof. He didn’t even argue about the validity of what my son shared with him. They were friends; John knew Jeremiah and trusted him. After a few clarifying questions, John declared, “Well, I want to be a Christian then.”

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Yeah, I was pretty proud of my son.

A New Outlook

The premise of Diary, a reality show on MTV that follows celebrities through their so-called “everyday lives,” is that we make assumptions about how these celebrities live-only to find out how wrong we are. The show’s tagline is “You think you know…but you have NO idea.” I think the same principle applies to how we assume children communicate their faith with one another. Ironically, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a child.

In our desire to make sure that the kids we minister to own and hold onto their faith in the midst of a culture of spiritual pluralism, we turn to the world of apologetics. When applied to children’s ministry, apologetics has traditionally been about making sure children are learning the right information in Sunday school so they can adequately defend their faith against inevitable opposition by the unchurched world. We’ve also ensured children learn proven techniques to share their faith, which included more information that could simply be memorized and used at a moment’s notice.

We’ve all read the statistics, though. More and more children are walking away from church when they reach their 20s…the years we tried so desperately to prepare them for by equipping them with a defensive apologetics of information.

Maybe it’s time to re-imagine apologetics for a new generation of children by taking a fresh look at the process of spiritual formation in children-through the lens of today’s culture.

 

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8 Comments

  1. Brent Hardaway on

    I really would ask the author to seriously rethink his position. Let me just start by saying that the notion that “When we unintentionally give children the message that their faith in God needs to be defended, we imply a faith that’s wimpy at best and devoid of truth or power at worst” is the exact opposite of how people think. We instinctively know that anybody can make a claim against any belief like “The Bible is a bunch of fairy tales”. What makes people think that our faith is “wimpy at best and devoid of truth or power at worst” is when we refuse to answer those charges, giving the impression that our faith CAN’T be defended.

    Let me give an analogy. The country of Monaco CAN attack the United States militarily. They have no chance of winning – unless the U.S. shrugs it’s shoulders and says “We don’t need to defend ourselves.” That is the position that this article is essentially advocating.

    If that weren’t enough, we need to defend (and teach our kids how to do it) because scripture COMMANDS it. (1 Peter 3:15, 2 Cor. 5 – “We demolish arguments and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God”. Several times in Acts, Paul and Apollos debate or persuade the the Jews though the use of arguments.

    The author seems to think that the problem is that we’ve given kids too much information and not allowed them ‘experience’ God. Actually, the exact opposite is true. We’ve given them virtually nothing but the experiential model for years and years. The author claims that we can correct bad theology later. Oh, really? Just when do we bother to correct it? We have over 40% of evangelical millennials endorsing same-sex marriage and about 1/2 of high school evangelicals thinking that Jesus sinned.

    Of course, children are only able to absorb and understand so much. We can’t teach them to comprehensively present the cosmological and moral arguments, or the historical reliability of the NT. Sure, many of their peers may not have doubts about God’s existence. That starts to change in adolescence. We can and should, however, start introducing them to these discussions as there is opportunity. Questions like “Who made God?” may be a good starting point.

    I would just like to encourage any readers favorably disposed to this piece to look inside themselves and ask “Is my aversion to a rational defense of the faith really grounded in my piety, or does it just involve work that I want to avoid?”

  2. Thank you, Brent. That comment in the article had me shaking my head too. We should teach our kids to defend our true faith because it can and should be defended and it will likely be attacked at some point. We should always be ready to give the reason for the hope that is in us (with love) when people ask…or attack.

  3. 1 Peter 3.15 you bet! The Bible never seeks to prove God’s existence it simply assumes it. In the beginning God. We don’t argue to the bible we argue from it. We don’t look at a sunset and conclude there must be a God. If it wasn’t for God there wouldn’t be a sunset to look at. God is never the conclusion he is always the premise. We argue from the impossibility of the contrary, ie transcendentally. Deny the Biblical God and you have no basis for science, logic. morality, human dignity or whatever. Unbelievers borrow from the Biblical worldview inorder to make sense of life, if they were consistent with their worldview they would be reduced to absurdity. Anti theism presupposes theism. The proof of the truth of the Biblical worldview is that without it you couldn’t know anything! Only the Biblical worldview provides the preconditions for anything to be the case. Children and adults need to learn to defend the faith Biblically ie presuppositionally.

  4. Transformational? This is rather worrying to me. I can show you enough Hindus and Muslims and especially Mormons who’ve had transformational experiences. As an Indian growing up in Africa and the Middle East surrounded by Hindus and Muslims, I’ve seem more transformational cultists like Hare Krishnas and Muslim fanatics than you can shake a stick at.

    Friends this is very dangerous advice and I respectfully ask the author of this article to contact me, for I fear he is suggesting parents do the very thing that will destroy kid’s lives and their faith and is reminiscent of Mohammed.

    If kids do not have a faith that is built on truth but on some “transformational experience” or “emotion” – when they get to college they’ll have new emotions created by their atheist teachers and peers. As a result they’ll have a new transformation. Most Youth pastors focus ONLY on transformational faith NOT on a reasoned faith and that I think has been the curse of our youth brought upon them by our Youth Pastors.

    Less than a year ago my then 8 year old asked me: How can I believe all these things I learn in Church and from you about Jesus? I’m just trusting you.

    I replied: Honey, never ever trust me when it comes to your faith in God! That’s never going to be enough. For one, I could be wrong. Similarly never trust your Sunday School teacher. Sunday School teachers are notorious for being wrong. YOU have to find the Truth yourself (not your OWN truth but THE Truth) and the only way you can find THE truth is to do research, use facts, logic, science history and Philosophy. Nothing else will do. And if you find out I’m wrong, then you should tell me right away.

    She’s become a powerful evangelist and apologist so much so that she challenges her Sunday School teachers when they say silly things like: God can do anything.
    Her answer: No he can’t. He can’t make 1+1 = 3. He can only do that which is logical & rational because that’s His very nature.

    As far as a faith that needs to be defended being wimpy, forgive me but I can’t accept that. It makes no logical sense. Every math theorem must be defended, every PhD thesis must be defended, every Scientific paper must be defended, every new proposal must be defended. Even the ancient prophets of Israel had to defend what they said: If they prophesied something and it did not come to pass they could be executed as a false prophet. And Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah and Daniel all had to defend themselves and their faith and as a result of what they said even the Rulers of a majority of the Civilized world worshipped God.

    But we should not stop there. Even Jesus had to defend what he said. Remember when he healed the paraplegic? He first said: Your sins are forgiven. At this they mocked him. So he said: Yes, anyone can say your sins are forgiven, but to prove that I can forgive sins: Take up your bed and walk.
    He defended his divinity and his authority to forgive sins. God did that too in the OT when He compared all he had done to the idols who could do nothing.

    When people came to Mohammed and asked him to prove that he was a prophet of God, to prove that the angel Gabriel had really spoken to him to prove that this new religion of Islam was really from God he said: I don’t need to prove anything to you. I don’t need to defend myself. Allah will defend himself. Effectively: If you don’t believe this you are not worthy to receive it.

    So whom should we emulate? Mohammed or Jesus?

  5. Maybe the author has a low view of defending the faith as if we are getting beat up. Maybe the author doesn’t realize that when he/she says that we should know and understand why we believe and should be able to respond to misconceptions about Christianity, that what they are describing IS apologetics!

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