I grew up with Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel teaching me how to “be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope,” first Peter three fifteen. It seems to me hope should not require so much effort to defend, but who am I to argue with a proof-texted piece of Scripture?
As parents tasked with stewarding the spiritual instruction of our children, some of us might revert back to our own upbringing and consider giving our kids the same type of apologetics teaching we were given. And the resources are out there—in fact, Strobel’s seminal apologetics book, The Case for Christ, has recently been made into a major motion film. But I encourage parents to leave apologetics materials off of your bookshelves and away from your home, and here are some reasons why:
Transferring Parental Fear. 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.
Confines Faith as Doctrine. 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.Burden of Defending God. What are we teaching our children when we tell them they are in charge of defending God? It’s a lot of stress to place on a child who should be more concerned about developing their own personalities, than to be tasked with converting others. Our children should be free to simply observe and watch God work in the world, free to let God move in their own tender souls, free to wrestle authentically with their growing sense of self and faith. God is not interested in recruiting our children for God’s marketing team, and neither should we.
To be clear, I’m not saying we shy away from academic iterations of our beliefs. I think it is important to develop critical thinking in our children so they learn to interrogate their own faith, and for that matter, any religious system. A healthy debate isn’t just for the purpose of launching attack grenades, but is an exercise in clarifying our own beliefs.
Being able to do so also empowers our children to protect their autonomy for their spirituality. Our children should be equipped to draw emotional and intellectual boundaries so they aren’t vulnerable to abusive and toxic influences.
But the problem with apologetics is with its aim to fortify a narrow position and keep our children insulated within that shelter; whereas a healthy, critical engagement will always have its goal a deeper connection with others, even those who practice very different beliefs. Insecurity drives a person of faith to defend their faith, but one who is truly confident of their own spirituality will not be afraid to love those who believe differently—to connect with others without fear and partner with them to do good together.
Let’s raise our children with that kind of certainty—not of doctrine, but of love of self and others. A generation of children who extend their hands out with invitation, instead of up in defense, will be more compelling than any apologetics.
Join us at Raising Children Unfundamentalist.
Check out the weekly digest of best Parenting resources with progressive values here.