A couple of weeks ago, I started teaching a 5-week “Introduction to Apologetics” class to adults at a local church. In the first session, we talked about the evidence for the existence of God in nature—the origin of the universe, the design of life, and our innate moral knowledge.
During the question time at the end of the first session, one of the men raised his Bible in the air and said, “This was empowering! It gave me even more appreciation for God’s Word!” Other people had similar positive comments. I left feeling like things went great.
A couple of days later, my husband ran into someone from the class and asked what he thought of the first session. The man hesitated, then said, “Honestly? It really shook me. I know others said it was empowering, but it really made me start thinking about things—like all the atheist claims she talked about.”
My husband relayed this conversation to me…and I subsequently went into a funk for several days.
I felt like I totally failed. So many thoughts ran through my head:
How did I mess this up?
What could I have said to better demonstrate how powerful the evidence for God is?
How could one person say this was empowering and another person say it shook his faith to the core?
I must not be a very good apologetics teacher if my class had a negative impact on someone’s faith.
What if my class ultimately becomes the trigger that sends him away from the Lord?
Then, one morning, I woke up and realized something very important: I was having the same fears about apologetics causing a person to question his faith as many parents have about it causing their kids to question their faith. And I always tell those parents they need to promptly conquer their fears and forge ahead for the long-term spiritual benefit of their children.
It was time for me to take my own advice.
Conquering the Fear of Causing Doubt
I’ve received a number of emails and comments over the last couple of years from parents who say they don’t know if they want to get into all this “apologetics stuff” with their kids because they “only want to teach them truth” and don’t want to risk leading them astray by alerting them to all the challenges posed by nonbelievers.
But, as I point out to them, you don’t get to choose whether or not your kids will hear challenges to Christianity. In today’s world, they will hear those challenges! The only choice you have as a parent is if they’ll hear them first from you—in an environment where they’ll have your guidance readily available—or if they’ll hear them first from nonbelievers—in an environment where they’ll be processing what they hear on their own.
I shared a (true) story in a blog post a few months ago that so readily demonstrates the reality of that choice that I have to briefly recount it again. A young Christian I know was taking an undergraduate humanities class. He said that, so far in the semester, he had “learned” the following: Jesus never even claimed to be God in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Christianity borrowed ideas from earlier pagan myths, and the church arbitrarily picked which books to include in the Bible according to its own biases.
He noted, “The reactions of other students are of shock and disbelief. Yesterday the professor asked a student how these facts made her feel. She said she was mad and couldn’t wait to go yell at her pastor and parents. The professor egged her on. It was like watching a commander rally up his troops to tear down his enemy.”
The girl in the class was presumably ready to throw out years of Christian upbringing after a couple of months in a single college class.
All because she heard the “other side of the story” for the first time.
This is exactly what happened to the student in my class.
When I teach apologetics, I don’t simply present the case for the truth of Christianity. I acknowledge what skeptics say at every step of the way. I explain why things like the origin of the universe, the apparent design of life, and our innate moral understanding are best explained by the existence of a universe-creating, life-designing, and moral law-giving God—but I also describe the naturalistic (non-God) explanations offered by atheists. It was hearing those alternative claims for the first time that shook my student’s faith.
Parents, please take this to heart: When we explain the claims of skeptics to our kids and it raises questions they might not otherwise have had yet, we’re not damaging their faith…we’re actually strengthening it for the long term, even when that means our efforts may be the very thing that causes their questions now.
Parents make choices with a similar tradeoff all the time. We let doctors give our kids shots that cause temporary discomfort for the good of their long-term health. We take the training wheels off their bikes, knowing they’ll take some falls before becoming a confident rider. We allow them to struggle through difficult homework problems without giving them answers so they’ll better understand the material in the future.
So why do parents fear causing temporary spiritual pain for the good of their kids’ long-term spiritual health when these other examples seem to be no-brainers?
I think the difference is confidence—parents are more confident that they can effectively manage the process of teaching their kids to ride a bike than they are that they can effectively guide their kids’ spiritual development. To overcome that, parents need the confidence of knowing two things: 1) that Christianity really does have compelling answers to secular challenges, and 2) that they personally are equipped to offer those answers.
Gaining both types of confidence is in your control. You just have to commit to deepening your knowledge of Christianity. I didn’t say you have to become an expert. There are plenty of experts you can point your kids to. But you do need to become a well-trained guide.
Make your summer reading really count this year. If you’re just getting started learning about making a case for and defending Christianity, check out my reading plan specifically for parents here (it starts with my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith, and takes you through four more books that will round out your core apologetics knowledge). If you’re ready to go to the next level, I have five other reading plans here.
And through all your reading, remember this: Truth has nothing to fear.
Your willingness to tell your kids what other people believe makes that statement loud and clear.