CM: You say kids ages 8 to 12 are at a critical questioning point in their faith. How have kids changed in their need for critical thinking over the years?
WALLACE: When you look at surveys as to why people are no longer Christians and why people have walked away from the church or faith, you find that when they first started having doubts or questions about it, it was always at an earlier age than when they actually walked away. We assume it’s going to be during their freshman year of college, but it’s actually usually in the first year of junior high or in the last year or so of elementary school.
A lot of times it’s because of their questions. Our kids are saturated with access to the internet, so they have wide access to all the objections to Christianity. A lot of times, the questions people experience are that they just don’t believe in miracles or something happens that’s unfair or unjust or they just can’t reconcile it with God’s existence. And they’re constantly hearing the other side saying there can’t be a God because of this or that. Also, they still have questions about how to reconcile with the scientific community today about our origin and about our development over time. They also have questions about what they see as Christian hypocrisy.
[As children’s ministers], we can at least address the questions and issues we know are going to be coming. We can prepare kids and inoculate them to understand and answer the most critical questions and criticisms leveled against Christianity. I think that’s kind of our duty.
WALLACE: I was doing a training of high schoolers when I was a youth pastor. We wanted to inoculate them because we knew so many were going to walk away. One thing we did was a missions trip every year to the University of California, Berkeley, which is almost kind of antagonistic to the Christian worldview…We trained kids for eight weeks before going [on how to critically examine their faith], and I used to train other leaders on the topic. I was training that high school group and Sean McDowell, author Josh McDowell’s son, was watching the presentation. He said, “You know, Jim, you should write a book about that.” And that’s how I ended up writing Cold-Case Christianity, which was really just about my own journey, beginning as an atheist at age 35. The book came from that idea.
CM: You offer different investigative steps for kids to follow in your book. Talk about why those steps are important for kids to own their faith.
WALLACE: First, we teach kids that to be good investigators, we have to understand our presuppositions or what we think we already know. We have to be willing to reasonably examine the case for God’s existence. Second, we have to understand this thing we call abductive reasoning, where we are inferring the most reasonable explanation and understanding the most reasonable explanation of what’s possible and what’s reasonable. So you can believe is true and a very good reason to believe it’s true—and still have unanswered questions. And every case has its own set of unanswered questions.
What Kids Need to Know
Kids need to know that because the world around them is going to try to convince them that if we can’t answer every question beyond a possible doubt, we can’t believe it’s true. Well, then, we couldn’t believe anything.
They also have to know things like what a reliable witness looks like. And what are the distinctions between direct evidence and indirect evidence? These are the things I try to teach kids in the book. People will unknowingly and inaccurately say that we can’t make a case for anything unless we have direct evidence. If all of history were reliant on observations of people who are now dead that we can no longer cross-examine, then we’d have nothing, right? So we have to understand the distinctions of what’s circumstantial and how powerful circumstantial evidence can be.
Then there are conspiracy theories. These are so popular within the culture, and often Christianity is described as an elaborate hoax people buy. If that were the case, it would be a pretty significant conspiracy involving hundreds of people. So we want people to look at that and say, is it even reasonable to think hundreds of people were in on an elaborate hoax? What would it take to pull off that kind of lie? As detectives, we know what it would take because we’re constantly investigating big lies of one nature or another.
I think we can help give kids the skills to at least assess whether or not Christianity could reasonably be a lie. Those are some of the things we do in the book. If they use the skills we teach them, they can apply them toward Christianity—toward anything, really—and they can make the case for any mystery in life.