This weekend, a blog was released titled “Why Your Children do NOT Need Apologetics.” In it, apologetics was characterized as a fear-based recitation of doctrines which “denies the realities of human experience.” I suspect that it was written in response to the blog and podcast that Rebekah and I did the last week critiquing their Easter article. The article we critiqued was written by a children’s pastor, and it discouraged teaching children about the literal death and resurrection of Jesus, or the concept of original sin. (You can see our podcast response with extensive summary notes here.) We definitely didn’t mince words in the podcast, but neither did we throw any punches.
Upon seeing this new blog, explicitly aimed at discouraging teaching apologetics to kids, I did what I think we should all do on a regular basis: I listened to their critique and tried to evaluate their message with a spirit of humility and self-reflection. I truly believe that we can learn from anyone. We all have blindspots. Are there things that we as an apologetics community could do better? Absolutely. In fact, I felt so strongly about it that I wrote a full, public apology on behalf of the apologetics community for the areas where we blow it. But after sleeping on it, I realized that none of the things I was ready to apologize for were the things that the author seemed to have a beef with.
I’ll be the first one to admit that apologists can be prone to valuing argumentation over people, and we need to not only repent of that, but hold each other accountable within the apologetics community. We cannot be content to just roll our eyes when we see self-proclaimed apologists steamrolling people. However, when I went back and reread the article on why we shouldn’t teach our kids apologetics, the faults that I wanted to apologize for didn’t match with the author’s complaints. Her main concern seems to be (ironically) a fear of passing on fear to children, and a resistance to affirming that Christianity is indeed based on doctrines. In fact, most of her concerns seem to stem from misconceptions of apologetics, not bad experiences with apologists. I am more than willing to apologize for the areas where misguided apologists have hurt our cause. However, I don’t think I can apologize for someone not understanding what we do. All I can do for that is correct the misconceptions, and hope for better mutual understanding. (To understand the context for the rebuttals below, I recommend reading the original article first.)
1) Apologetics is not based on a “proof-text” of 1 Peter 3:15.
Do a lot of apologetics ministries use 1 Peter 3:15 as their key verse? Absolutely. It is a direct command to defend the faith. However, is it the only verse? Absolutely not. The discipline of apologetics – giving a defense for one’s faith – is as old as the Jewish Shema, a call to love the one true Lord with all our heart, mind, and strength (See full Shema passage here). 2 Corinthians 10:1-11 talks extensively about demolishing ideas that are set against the knowledge of Christ. 2 Timothy 4:1-4 says we need to be able to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort because a time is coming where people will not endure sound teaching.” Titus 1:9 instructs leaders in the church to be able to “hold firm to the message as taught” and to be able to “refute any who speak against it.” These are not “proof texts.” They are thesis statements.
I would also like to ask the author “Why would we not expect the truth of our hope to have to be defended?” First off, I don’t know about you, but that’s what I do for the things I love. Secondly, our physical law of entropy states that all things tends towards disorder unless acted upon by an input of energy. Why would we expect any less in the world of ideas, or in a relationship for that matter? Christianity is both. The early Christians established creeds and doctrines specifically because ideas have a natural tendency to decay into an unrecognizable form unless we take the effort to preserve them.
2) There are healthy and unhealthy kinds of fear
I understand not wanting to pass on fear to your children. God has not given us a Spirit of fear, but of love, power, and sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). I had a friend of mine tell me, “If a person isn’t the least bit afraid when they find out that they are going to have a child, then I’m not sure they really understand what they have been tasked with.” Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. It is very logical, and very healthy in certain situations. In fact, I would wager that a lot of parenting is based on fear. People don’t spend $2,000 baby-proofing their homes for no reason. We don’t teach kids about “stranger danger” for no reason. We don’t punish our children for running into the street for no reason. And we don’t teach our kids to spot bad theology for no reason. Even in the article on “why we shouldn’t teach kids apologetics,” I detect the author’s fear that she might accidentally pass fear on to her children.
Fear (like pain) is evidence of a healthy mind. The absence of fear is unhealthy. (It’s called Urbache-Wiethe disease, in case you were wondering.) An excess of fear is also unhealthy; it’s called anxiety. Unfounded fear? Also unhealthy; those are called phobias. But fearsome things merit fear. Healthy fear is a healthy response to danger. Scripture doesn’t teach that there is nothing to fear. Why else would Satan be portrayed as a “roaring lion, seeking whom he can devour”(1 Peter 5:8)? Why else would Ephesians 6:10-18 tell us to suit up for battle? And yet we are not called to a life marked by fear. Why not? Because “greater is He that is within us, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
However, a common theme that I’ve seen is for people to “solve fear” by denying that there is anything to fear. There is no lion. There is no devil. There is no hell. There is no judgment. We see this play out in statements like “There is no support in the Bible for the morally repugnant idea that hell is an actual place to which God sentences people to spend eternity in mortal agony.” (see statement under #8 here) If this statement is true, then I am open to correction. I would however request a better explanation and interpretation of Matthew 25:46, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Matthew 13:37-51, Mark 9:43, Matthew 25:41, 2 Peter 2:4-9, Matthew 10:28, and Revelation 20:12-15.
3) Apologetics, responsibly handled, frees a child to think well. It doesn’t coerce them into a boxed set of doctrines.
One of the reasons I usually find people resistant to apologetics is that it invites questions. It invites disagreements. It seems odd to me that the blog we are responding to characterizes apologetics as “coerce[ive] by manipulating [children] into a recitation of doctrines.” I don’t know what kind of apologetics this author has been subjected to, but from everything I have learned, that accusation is the opposite of the spirit of apologetics. In apologetics, we attempt to train kids in the skills of rhetoric, critical thinking, logical fallacies, and sound investigation. We revel in the knowledge that Christianity invites scrutiny, perhaps more so than any other faith-system. In fact, Paul says that the Bereans were “more noble” than the Jews in Thessalonica. Why? Because they “searched the scriptures to see if what Paul was saying was true.” In fact, we see Paul exhorting the Thessalonians to imitate this model in 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
There is freedom in Christ, but there are boundaries. The absence of boundaries is not freedom, it is anarchy, and highly unstable. Just look at the behavior of a child who grew up with no rules. In music, one’s creative prowess is unleashed best after mastering music theory. Art schools spend the first year hammering basic compositional rules into their students before setting them free to create masterpieces. My marriage is more sound because I choose to limit myself to John and John alone. There are certain kinds of boundaries (like the ones listed above) that are meant to enhance your experience, not hinder it. I stand behind the claim that this applies to the foundational doctrines of Christianity.
It is not oppressive to teach kids the “why” behind their faith. Oppressive dictators do not allow you to ask why, nor do they offer an explanation. Understanding why we believe what we believe tells kids that there are objective reasons to accept the Christian faith over other faiths. “Why” questions tell us that we have reasons to believe something. We don’t believe it because “it works” or “I like it.” The “why” questions matter only if we are talking about reality and truth. Nobody really cares “why” the chicken crossed the road. It’s fiction, and it’s a joke. Why should our children take up their crosses daily and follow Christ? Yes, Christianity is about joy, exploration, and swimming in the endless oceans of God’s love. However, we cannot leave out the sufferings of Christ if we are to experience true Christianity. And I don’t know about you, but if I am going to be asked to suffer, I want to know for dang sure that I am suffering for something that is true. If Christianity is NOT true, then sure, it doesn’t matter “why” you believe it. Make up whatever reason you like for yourself. However, if Christianity is objectively true, then a rational, thinking person should investigate those claims before making a decision.
4) Apologetics is not about us defending God because “He needs it.” It is about making our faith “more sure and more convinced.”
I completely agree that it would be incredibly burdensome to tell a child that it was up to them to defend God, as if His fate was in their hands. I have had more than my share of people ask me about apologetics saying, “Well if you knew everything, you wouldn’t need faith!” Somehow, when the word “faith” is applied to God, it changes meanings for some people. Nobody will say they have “faith” in an accountant they have never used, or a babysitter they have never met, or a doctor with a bad track record. In most other contexts, faith in something means that we have reasons to trust “it” whatever “it” is.
Hebrews 11:1 defines Christian faith for us. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.” Hence, anything that makes us more convinced and more sure, increases our faith! Here is where apologetics is very flexible! The goal of apologetics is to make people more convinced, and thus there are a wide variety of things that can be used as an apologetic. History, archeology, philosophy, logic, relationships, art, spiritual experiences — all of these can be used to help someone become more sure in their faith. I recently wrote a blog on the role of music as an apologetic in my own life. However, these are all set to bolster our faith, but faith in what? Faith itself is not an object. It is always pointing to an object. Everyone has “faith” in something; it is the something that has to be evaluated. Our faith is in Christ, and in His death and physical resurrection as the payment for sins, to reconcile us to the Father for an abundant life in Him. If that statement is not correct, pity me; I am the fool of fools.
5) Apologetics is about having a firm foundation, NOT determining a prefabricated house of faith.
When I was in 6th grade, my parents designed a house for the land that had been in our family for generations. I even drew out what I wanted my closet to look like. The one thing that nobody had any significant input on was the foundation. Creative license is great, unless you are talking about a foundation; then most everyone is content with adhering to a boring, rigid set of rules.
Funny enough, having a firm foundation is not important if you are dealing with a make-believe house, and this is where I tend to get skeptical whenever someone sees little value in preserving a firm spiritual foundation. A firm foundation and a rich interactive faith need not be at odds. A house will stand or fall based on the soundness of its foundation, but there is a lot of freedom when it comes to what we build on a firm foundation. (Matthew 7:24-27) Be a teacher. Be an artist. Be a lawyer, a stay-at-home mom, a scientist, a soldier. Create, play, discover! None of this is confined by having a solid spiritual foundation. However, each of these can be absolutely wrecked without a firm foundation. We fortify our children’s spiritual foundation because we value their freedom, not because we want to limit it.
William Ralph Inge once said “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” The spirit of our age is relativism and humanism – the belief that truth is what you want it to be, and we humans can be the judges for ourselves. I posit that this is not spiritual freedom, but spiritual anarchy. I used to love those “choose your own adventure” books as a child and as much fun as it would be to make Christianity a “choose your own spirituality,” it is not. The day I start believing that it is, I have rejected historic Christianity and have made it into a god of my choosing.