Equipping the Next Generation

The Holy Bible

We are in danger of not passing on biblical principles. What might this mean for the future of the Christian church? Current research indicates we are realistically in danger of not passing the Christian doctrine to the next generation. Both an overexposure to worldly philosophy and an over-dependence on church programs has caused us to fail in our task to hand off a vibrant, kingdom-focused faith.

What Do We Want From and For Our Children?

First, we need a clear definition of what we’re looking for in our children. Do we want nice kids who don’t get in trouble, or passionate followers of Christ? Second, we must adopt a multi-generational perspective, providing opportunities for those older and more mature in the faith to impart a spiritual legacy to the next generation—essentially to be mentors. Third, following the example in Deuteronomy 6, parents must fully grasp and live their faith in order to possess and pass it on to their children. This includes making the most of teachable moments in everyday life. Fourth, fathers must take the lead, recognizing that they are the spiritual thermostat of the home—the head of the household, even as Christ is the head of the church—and are obligated to raise their children in the training and instruction of the Lord.

It’s All in How We Raise Them

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (NIV). Both the home and the church must educate in sound doctrine, equip in apologetics, and explain moral principles. Raising confident teens with a desire to serve God does not happen by accident. Nor can our children learn it by osmosis! Instead, it requires parents to recognize teachable moments, and to use those moments to pass on their faith. This is truly a matter of apologetics.

Train Up a Child

As parents, we want our children to grow up in a world where belief in God is said to be reasonable and desirable. Unfortunately, there are many who shout loudly from the rooftops—especially militant atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris—who think belief in God is on the same level as belief in Santa Claus, fairies, leprechauns, and the like. Faith in God, however, is a reasonable faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (NKJV). We want our kids to see that Christianity is true to the way things are—that it corresponds to reality. We also want them to see Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, Who can satisfy all their needs in a way that nothing else can.

Tough But Important Questions

As our children grow older, the dialog about God becomes more complex. Suddenly, they’re coming home from science class asking how Darwinian survival of the fittest fits into the story of creation. Their teacher told them nature, not God, painted the stripes on a zebra. We ask them to consider that although evolution might account for the zebra’s stripes (and the variety of stripes among zebras), it can’t account for the evolution of one species into another, or the origin and existence of zebras, or other living organisms. In other words, where did life come from? Darwin did not postulate a theory as to the origin of life or the universe. Of course, the title of his seminal work is about the origin of species, not life. Are we being hoodwinked into believing Darwin meant to explain how the whole of existence came into being?

Origin of Species Books

When Darwinism is paired with materialism, as it often is, a more complicated picture emerges concerning the intelligibility of what J.P. Moreland calls “the Grand Story” of materialistic evolution. This issue was astutely explained by C.S. Lewis in Miracles. Lewis wrote, “Thus, a strict materialism refutes itself for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: ‘If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motion of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true… and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.'” Lewis notes a deep conflict between the Grand Story of materialism and the reliability of our cognitive faculties.

The Point

We must begin where our children are and nudge them toward a deeper understanding as they learn about God, themselves, and the world in which they live. It is important to poke and prod our kids to see the world in its proper light: Everything is sacred. It’s all from God, for God. A great tactic for engaging children on questions about God is to point out the transcendence of things like the scent of vanilla reminding us of home, or tasting boardwalk fries at the county fair and being transported to the beach. Remarkably, such ruminations can lead to contemplating the first cause of the universe (the cosmological argument). Further to this, we can open a discussion with our children about how the beneficial order in the world points to a Designer (the teleological argument). And how does the reality of moral obligations and values point to a moral Lawgiver (the moral argument).

Answering Their Questions

When my son Christopher was in 4th grade, he lost one of his classmates to a tragic and freakish accident. Several of them were playing flashlight tag in the dark. Christopher’s friend was running away, looking for a place to hide, when he crashed through a huge piece of plate glass. Sadly, the friend bled out as a result of his injuries and did not survive. As parents, my wife and I were faced with explaining why bad things happen, especially to children. Why would God kill a young boy? As my son grappled with the evil that befell that young lad, I was struck by the realization that my response to his struggle would lay the foundation for how he would process the concept of suffering.

suffering2

Peter Kreeft argues in his book Making Sense of Suffering, God’s answer to the problem of evil is Christ on the cross. When our kids experience times of pain and suffering, we want to recognize these moments as opportunities. They allow us to explore God’s loving care and help us to learn to trust his goodness. We first need to listen to our children’s pain and allow them to express any feelings of disappointment before we try to correct their ideas about God. After our kids feel heard and their emotions and doubts validated, we can remind them—and ourselves—that God alone offers hope.

As Frederick Buechner explains, “It is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name.” Perseverance is a little easier when we’re reminded of the ending. That’s the promise of the cross—one day all tears will be wiped away by our Savior. The experience of angst is a classroom to teach kids how to turn to Christ and point others to Him as the only hope in the face of evil.

Cultivate the Imagination of Our Children

We must encourage our children to love stories. This can be accomplished by reading to them from an early age. Tim Keller, in his book King’s Cross, quotes theologian Robert W. Jensen, who argued that our culture is in crisis because the modern world has lost its story. How often do you hear about families camping together, sharing stories around the fire, or recounting family history? How many children do you know that choose to read instead of play endless hours of video games or watch TV shows and movies? Of course, the Gospel is the ultimate story that shows victory coming out of defeat, strength coming out of weakness, life coming out of death, rescue from abandonment. And because it’s a true story—take that Sam Harris—it gives us hope. When our children fall in love with story, their hearts are prepared to recognize the best and truest story of all, which is the Gospel.

C S Lewis Pic

C.S. Lewis said this: “In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with myriad eyes, but it is still I who see.” Through stories, our kids expand their horizons, imagining what it’s like to walk on the moon, or visit a Mayan ruin, or climb Mt. Everest. The same is true about the many stories of faith and triumph, failure and regret, obedience and rebellion told in Scripture.

We are called upon to give personal testimony to the difference God has made in our lives. This includes telling our children. Typically, parents tend to keep their struggles a secret from their kids. Certainly, a great deal of what parents deal with on a daily basis is not necessarily suited for sharing with their kids. However, it is important that we look for teaching moments we can share with our children—situations where God brought us out of bondage and into freedom. We wrongly assume that if we simply instruct our children in Christian doctrine, shelter them from immoral behavior, and involve them in church and religious organizations then we’ve done all we can.

We must be consistent in our behavior, wise about reality, and genuinely personal about our faith. Today, most Christians rely on institutions and formal instruction to pass on the faith. It is painfully obvious that the influence of parents in teaching the faith is waning. Cultural forces—especially relativism and pluralism—are overwhelming the good intentions of mothers and fathers and challenging the efforts of our church leaders to build faith among believers. Sadly, we’re loosing ground. It is critical that we don’t panic or become disillusioned. Rather, we need to take a long-range view. We need to live our lives sharing God with our children and others.

Concluding Remarks

Taking an active role in sharing and passing on our faith is about a lot more than just “doing church” together as a family. While it is clearly important to do that—worship, pray, serve, learn, and fellowship together—what we do outside of formal worship services and Sunday school class time is where the real opportunities happen. I squandered the chance to lead by example. Embroiled in active addiction for nearly forty years, I pulled every scam, told every lie, forgot every birthday, missed important events, lost jobs, failed at budgeting, broke hearts, disappointed friends and family, and lived a truly hypocritical life. This is clearly not an appropriate legacy for a father to leave behind.

Passing on our faith to the next generation isn’t just about making sure our children can name all the books in the Bible. Instead, it involves living a life that exudes the love and character of Jesus in such a way that those watching will imitate us. Every Christian has a baton, a spiritual inheritance in Christ, which is worth passing on. Our baton is the sum of all the lessons, insights, wisdom, counsel, character, and spiritual anointing we have gained. Our baton is the spiritual legacy God wants us to impart to others. Indeed, to the next generation.

Our children are watching.

 

When I Was A Child

“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” (NASB 1 Cor. 13:11)

We expect children to behave in certain ways—to talk, think, and reason like children. Childhood is marked by a particular way of talking and thinking. “I thought as a child,” said Paul. Children are basically selfish. They develop a “me first” attitude, and can even become quite greedy. As far as a child is concerned, the whole world revolves around him. He thinks only of himself, and wants immediate gratification. Due to a lack of discernment, children are not always aware of danger. He or she is easily influenced, and is extremely gullible.

Another characteristic displayed by children is shallowness. They have no capacity to understand the rights and feelings of others. Children are capable of having temper tantrums in which they scream and kick and fight, becoming quite aggressive when not getting their way. Children wear their emotions for everyone to see—good or bad (usually bad).

I never wake up today and find myself sucking furiously on my thumb. I don’t grab my bat and ball and stomp off in the middle of a softball game. I do, however, still lick the beaters after I make homemade icing. Especially if it’s peanut butter. Haven’t splashed through puddles for a very long time. Unfortunately, I still pick my nose. (What is it with that one?) Of course, this is not what Paul is talking about. He is saying we can listen to people who claim to have been Christians for years and yet they talk like a baby Christian. Immature speech in people who have been Christians for many years is to their shame, and Paul is challenging the believers over this. So immaturity in Christians is just like the painless pursuit of childhood, characterized by baby talk, selfishness, and shallowness.

Paul is saying we need to demonstrate the love of God through mature speech, selflessness, and discernment. As Christians, we need to love one another and put away childish things. Remember the attributes of true love, as outlined in 1 Corinthians 13? Love suffers long and is kind. It is not puffed up. It does not behave unseemly. Love does not seek its own. In other words, it is not selfish or childish. Paul illustrates this by talking about how children grow into their adult understandings. As children, they look at things in a childish manner, but when they grow up, they think about things with an adult mind. As we grow into our understanding of pure, agape love, we leave behind our old, less correct ideas and embrace a better understanding.

Ephesians 4:13-15 says, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect [mature] man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. That we henceforth be no more children . . . but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:13-15).

So in our “outward” relationships to God and to others, we are to be childlike (trusting and honest, not malicious), but not in our understanding. Regarding what we take “in” from the world, we need to be wise, not carried off or tricked by others. Note that this wariness is necessitated by the fallen state of men, who desire to deceive. Ephesians 4:14 says “That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” Know this: wariness is something that is generally lacking in children, as well as in unwise adults (a fact that is sadly taken advantage of by many).

In our view of life, we need to “put away childish things.” The one who believes in Jesus, has confessed Him before men. (Romans 10:9-10). He has turned from sin, and has been baptized into Christ for forgiveness of sin. (Acts 2:38). He can hope one day to be “clothed” with a new permanent body. (II Corinthians 5:1-4). When we face decay of the flesh, it is not a loss. It is a reminder that salvation lies nearer and nearer everyday. (Romans 13:11).

Sure, it is sad to put away the childish things that brought us temporary joy, but as Christians we must cling to the mature hope of those things which will bring eternal joy.

From the poem “When I Became a Man,” by Caleb Jones:

When I became a man
I learned to love my brother;
I’ll share my heart, my hug and my hallelujah
Because a hug and a hallelujah without my heart
Leaves room for his spirit to respond with “I never knew you;”
I became a man so that when he became a man
He would know a man
Who picked up the gospel and put the toys away.

When I became a man.