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.

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.”

Kids love our Sunday School resources!

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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1 Comment

  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?”

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