This post is reblogged from Think Apologetics by Eric Chabot, Ratio Christi Chapter Director at The Ohio State University. It was briefly edited by Chris Van Allsburg and has some slight variations from the original.
Cindy Brandt, writing at the Patheos site recently explained her misgivings about apologetics for children, proclaiming that parents are under no such tutorial obligation to their progeny. It seems obvious from her post that she is having a serious reaction to her past. What is troubling about this article is that it seems as if one person’s negative experience speaks in broad, general axioms given to the entire Body of Christ.
Now keep in mind, I have been doing apologetics on a large university for over twelve years. I don’t say this to toot my horn. Rather, the positive role of apologetics in the life of Christians is evident and beyond dispute. Bear in mind that Brandt also writes on the "Unfundamentalist Parenting" channel on Patheos. We do not have her story with fundamentalism, but it seems clear that she has had a negative experience growing up in the Christian faith. To the contrary, I wasn’t raised in a very religious home, and which was nominal at best; so, I wasn’t exposed to any kind of fundamentalism in my youth. Rather, I became a Christian in my mid 20’s and had exposure to apologetics shortly after that. My penchant for apologetics arose due to my exposure to numerous people from varied backgrounds and worldviews which were different than mine. Thus, I desired to be able to articulate my faith and worldview in a confident and coherent fashion.
As a kid who began a relationship with God based on the fear of being sent to hell, I am very weary of transferring fear to my children’s spirituality. Before we share our faith with our children, we have to do the hard work of uprooting our own fears lest we consciously or subconsciously pass it on to them. On the surface, the enterprise of apologetics sounds like a rational exercise—give an academic defense of our faith—but lurking beneath is fear that our children will be lured away from the life-giving goodness of God by the corrupt, secular world. Even for those who have deconstructed such rigid binaries, the impulse to protect our children is strong. Examine your hearts before you pick up an apologetics manual for your kids/teens, and ask whether it is fear that is driving your parenting. If it is? Put the books back down.
My response is, I am sorry Brandt was given the heaven/hell reductionistic Gospel, but it should be noted that the Good News is presented in a variety of ways in the Bible e.g. both songs by Mary and Zechariah in Luke, Paul's theological introduction in Romans 1:1-4. While it's true that some Christian children grow up with parents who create an atmosphere of fear, I can offer the contrary experience of receiving emails from parents who wonder what happened to their Christian kid who was raised in a loving Christian home. I'll add that over the last twelve years, I have seen many Christians who have become agnostics/atheists during their college years. I do know people reject the faith for a variety of reasons i.e. moral, intellectual, emotional. I also see the unhappy results of Christian kids who are trying to maintain the “experience only” faith they were given as youth. Yes, they were told to have that dynamic, personal, relationship with Jesus; yet for many of them, college has produced and influx of voices, which challenge these young people to the core. How I wish Christian parents and churches had given them more than fun and games and pizza parties. What is interesting is that when we do an apologetics event at The Ohio State University (60,000 students), many Christians tell me this is the first time they have ever heard a public presentation as to why the Christian faith is rationally defensible in the marketplace of ideas. Some of them even say to me “Where was this in my youth?” Also, take a look at some of the objections I have heard to the Christian faith on a large college campus. Do you think we should just scrap apologetics? See some of our testimonies here.
Is it possible that parents who take the time to teach their kids apologetics and worldviews are actually obeying the Scriptures?
Here we see the Shema is the central creed for Jesus!
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Note the strong admonishment to teach children theological doctrine: the people of God are to do this "dilligently." “Shema Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad.” These six words begin the Shema (pronounced “sh'mah”), three sections of Scripture repeated twice daily to remind each Jewish person of his or her commitment to God (Deuteronomy 6: 4– 9; 11: 13–21; Numbers 15: 37– 41).
In Jewish thought, the Shema is understood in such a way that hearing is directly related to taking heed and taking action with what you’ve heard. And if you don’t act, you’ve never heard. Hence, in Deut. 6: 4-9, we see who our God is and how we should respond to him. It should be a holistic commitment towards him. We love our God with our emotions, our actions, our entire beings (including our minds).
We should also note that the apostles approach to spreading the message of the Gospel is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia” which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15); “dialegomai” which means “to reason, speak boldly” (Acts 17:2; 17; 18:4; 19:8), “peíthō”which means to persuade, argue persuasively” (Acts 18:4; 19:8), and “bebaioō ” which means “to confirm, establish,” (Phil 1:7; Heb. 2:3).
Therefore, Brandt's assertion that parents are acting out of fear when they teach their kids to love God with their minds (and entire being) is beyond presumptuous. I don’t teach my kids apologetics out of fear. I teach them apologetics because I want them to be able to be reasonable, confident, gentle, coherent, and truthful. My kids will end up making their own choice about what to believe. But I have told them they need to own their faith and they also need to have good reasons for the path they pick to follow. Also, our Lord was the embodiment of truth and love.
To say we need to simply love people and leave the 'truth issue' on the backburner is not to emulate our Lord at all. In fact, this creates a false dichotomy between loving others and speaking the truth to them--and to ourselves. Also, I have found that Christians who lack apologetic training are some of the most insecure and insulated people in the Church. Many of us in apologetics can testify to hearing from several Christians that say they won’t engage anyone because they know they will be asked plenty of questions that they think can’t possibly be answered. After some basic exposure to apologetics, they are more confident to engage people. So if anything, apologetics should help Christians have the desire to be the salt and light that Jesus speaks about.
Our faith is a dynamic experience that shifts and evolves for us and especially for a child growing leaps and bounds in their development. We cannot capture that experience and box it into a set of propositions to memorize and defend—that limits and denies the realities of the human experience. Any spiritual instruction we give our children should be shared, never coerced by manipulating them into a recitation of doctrines. Unfortunately, this is what apologetics does, it tells a child what they need to believe and how to defend it. A child should never be told why they believe, their faith journey is one they get to discover for themselves.
My response to this is, Why the need for all the false dichotomies? The saying goes like this: “Truth is in a person i.e. Jesus, and is not based on a set of propositions.” Once again, there doesn’t need to be a dichotomy here. Personal and propositional revelation work together. This sounds like the same stuff I used to hear with the Emergent Church crowd. Faith is both experiential and propositional. Also, to say reciting doctrine is wrong makes me wonder if Brandt even takes the Bible as an authority at all. Maybe she assumes that those who take doctrine seriously are “fundamentalists.” Granted, I know the history of that word and all the issues with it. But to say one shouldn’t teach one's children theological doctrine is just nonsense. The New Testament repeatedly speaks of the need for sound doctrine and sound instruction (1 Tim. 6:3), as well as sound teaching (2 Tim.1: 13-14). Believers are told to stand for the “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). Pastors are told to adhere to sound doctrine so that they can be effective ministers of the gospel (1 Tim. 4:6).
I could say so much more, but suffice to say, Brandt assumes too much, makes false dichotomies, and ends up giving her own apologetic as to why we shouldn’t teach apologetics.
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