Why we need to teach our kids DOCTRINE
Is sound doctrine the antidote to falling away from the faith?
What is it with older children and teenagers stepping away from the faith their parents so dutifully raised them in? There’s not one answer to that question, and we don’t have 5 hours to unpick the issue. But I have a few observations I want to share from personal experience. I was that teenager, where everything I had believed became dull and irrelevant. God was distant, didn’t have an active role in my life and in my opinion, most likely didn’t really care that much. I had had plenty of supernatural ‘experiences’ as a child though – not only had I watched adults pray in faith for healings and miracles (and quite often saw God move), I had seen some waves of revival that rippled out from Toronto and elsewhere. I’d heard the stories of God doing incredible things amidst the body of Christ (think gold dust and empty wheelchair stories). However, when it came to having a deep faith that stood the test of time, these ‘feel good’ things just didn’t clinch it. And knowing Jesus loved me because the Bible told me so, well, so what? Why should I take the Bible as an authority? Even my understanding of sin, repentance and salvation didn't seem to hold much relevance. I think that my faith boiled down to experiential relevance. At one time, I had experiences, and they felt relevant. Later on, new experiences didn’t come my way, and the previous ones were now stale and irrelevant. My faith was rooted in little else. I know not everyone's experiences are the same as mine. However, if this helps any parent out there just a little, then it's worth it.
As I prepare some talks for our local church on the doctrinal basics of our faith, I realise that my own children are in need of the exact same teaching. Doctrine. Sound Biblical Doctrine. These words have become sweet music to my ears.
Let me be clear, extremes take place at both ends of the church spectrum. I know there are plenty of people out there that will say that the heavy emphasis of sound doctrine to the exclusion of all else led to some faith-crushing experiences of legalism. The pendulum swings both ways. (For more on this, Melissa Dougherty has a great YouTube video on getting Christians to think about how we react to extremes within the church). I’m writing from one end of the perspective – from my own experiences of faith as a teenager and adult. I speak from the charismatic part of the pendulum swing, where orthodox evangelical charismatic Christianity ends and oscillates out to the blurred (and sneakily subtle) fringes of Progressive Christianity, the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), and the Word of Faith Movement (I highly recommend every church leader and pastor read ‘A New Apostolic Reformation: A Biblical Response’ by Holly Pivec and Doug Geivett. See also Holly’s website: www.hollypivec.com).
Are we underestimating our childrens’ ability to think deeply about scripture?
Recently, Old Testament scholar and Christian author (‘The Unseen Realm’, ‘Supernatural’, ‘Brief Insights on Mastering Bible Doctrine’) Dr Michael Heiser made a comment in an interview entitled ‘Are you letting your doubts and fears inform your belief in God?’ where he said: “I have been dragged kicking and screaming to the conclusion that a high percentage of people within churches (and these are serious Christians. They're not Christian in name only.) But they are dramatically under-taught. They are underestimated in terms of their desire, their appetite, to think. And when they don't get that, it allows them, it gives them permission, or in some cases, it'll drive them to compartmentalize their faith. "This is a thing I do on Sunday. And outside of Sunday, that's when my brain is engaged". You know, we have created that atmosphere.”
Home-school mum, apologist and author (‘Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side’ & ‘Talking with Your Kids About God’) Natasha Crain observed the common problem of how our kids find church boring. I find it interesting that she comes to very similar conclusions as Dr Heiser – that we are underestimating our kids’ abilities to understand scripture and theology and we are missing the mark in teaching them as the Bible exhorts us to. When we fail to satisfy their natural ability and hunger, we do them a disservice and fuel their belief that church and Christianity are boring. I highly recommend her article, '7 Legit Reasons Why So Many Kids Are Bored By Church.'
"If your family consistently has deep faith conversations (the kinds I write about in my books, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, Talking with Your Kids about God, and Talking with Your Kids about Jesus), in all likelihood your kids are gaining a far more intellectually robust faith than they’ll get from the average Sunday school—and Sunday school will seem extremely boring in comparison." - Natasha Crain
‘Theology’ isn’t a word reserved for some clever-clogs Christians in a dusty library somewhere. If you have a faith in Jesus, you need to understand the theology and doctrinal framework behind your faith, otherwise it’s skin deep. I’ve identified three main reasons why we need to help our kids grapple with solid doctrinal teachings behind their faith if they are to weather doubts and criticisms:
1. Our kids need to defend their faith to others:
1 Peter 3:15 is clear: “In your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give a defence to anyone who asks for the hope that is in you. And do this with gentleness and respect…” Likewise, Colossians 4:6 says: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” When Biblical theology is laid out into clear-cut doctrinal statements, it’s easier to coherently communicate the Truth with others. Are we able to do this, let alone expect our children to?
"I cling to your laws…I will pursue your commands….teach me your decrees….how I delight in your commands! How I love them! I honour and love your commands. I meditate on your decrees…How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey…your laws are my treasure…” (Psalm 119)
Ever wondered what the Psalmist meant by this? True Biblical doctrine as a framework to understand scripture isn’t just stuffy head knowledge. It becomes heart knowledge and it becomes precious, like a safe boundary that we recognise and sit securely within. What’s more, it’s not an illusion that brings empty comfort without real hope. We can trust that God is true and his decrees are just because the Bible really does tell us so. And we know, that we know, that we know that the Bible is trustworthy because we have examined it, questioned it, challenged it, and tested it and found it stands up on it’s own, every single time. By the way, if this is an area you’ve not yet been convinced on, why not check out Wesley Huff’s resources as a starting point? His infographics are also great resources for your teenagers to explore to understand how the canon of scripture was formed, and shows them how to refute faulty arguments against scripture and Christianity.
2. Our kids’ faith needs to be based on more than their nice experiences of God or the way church makes them feel
It can be easy to put our faith in God when we are encountering his presence on a regular basis, witnessing miracles and healings or reading a Bible paraphrase that uses pretty words (Yes, I'm looking at you, The Passion Translation). What about the dry times when these things just aren’t happening? Can our children be like Job and retain their trust in their Redeemer when all else falls apart around them? (I’m sorry, but life has it’s ups and downs). A solid understanding of the nature of God is vital so that when we look around us and see suffering, pain and loss, a secure knowledge that God is good and faithful despite the circumstances will be invaluable for our kids’ growth as Christians. We’ve got to learn ourselves, and then to teach our kids, that our faith can’t be based on how we feel. We’ve got to encourage one another to live ‘by faith and not by sight’. Unless their faith is rooted in scripture with a secure understanding of the doctrinal import, it will be a blind faith.
3. Our kids need to discern unbiblical practices that threaten the church:
Even if a popular pastor is inspiring, prophesying over cities and nations or performing miracles, we need to use discernment to know if what they are doing is from God or not. Are our children equipped to recognise the truth of scripture against what they may see around them? Are they ready to question what they’re being taught and hold everything against the Word of God? Colossians 2:8 warns us: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”
We often hear of that commonly used analogy of a banker studying the authentic currency in order to detect the counterfeit. It’s true. We need to be studying the authentic scripture through the lens of 2000 years of church doctrinal tradition to ensure that we aren’t being taken captive through modern deceptive philosophies. Do you know that Franciscan Friar and spiritual author and speaker, Richard Ruhr teaches ‘Christ Consciousness’ and has christianised Panentheism? What about ‘ The Physics of Heaven’ book co-authored by the oft-loved Bill and Beni Johnson, Kris Vallotton, Bob Jones et al, promoting the idea that we need to claim back counterfeit New Age practices for Christianity such as vibrations, frequencies, auras, spirit guides etc? For real. The Bible exhorts us to pay attention for a reason.
“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.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7
So, how do we teach our kids with this in mind?
So with that in mind, how am I engaging my children now, so that they grow to be adults who understand the foundational mechanisms of their faith, combined with real experiences of encountering the living God, so that they are prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks for the reason for the hope that is in them?
I’d like to recommend an app I’ve started using called New City Catechism with my kids each morning for our devotional times. It consists of 52 Questions and Answers for our Hearts and Minds. In the app’s introduction by Tim Keller - pastor, theologian, apologist and author (‘The Reason for God’, ‘Encounters with Jesus’, ‘Walking with God through Pain and Suffering’) - reminds us that our modern church ‘statements of faith’ are superficial in comparison to the original and Biblically rich catechisms of the early church where they would be memorised for Christian growth and training. The word catechism comes from the Greek katechein, which means ‘to teach orally or to instruct by word of mouth’. It seems to be a lost art today. Keller writes, “the classic catechisms take students through the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer – a perfect balance of biblical theology, practical ethics, and spiritual experience.” Sounds like a good start to training my kids in their faith!
You can tailor your use of this app to whatever age child you’re sharing it with. The app seems to have been designed with ALL ages in mind. For the older, more inquisitive type, there’s a commentary to go with each catechism statement but this can be omitted if you’re like me, dealing with young children. I’m choosing to dwell on one statement per week. For example, Week 1 question is: What is our only hope in life and death? The answer: That we are not our own but belong to God. Once we’ve chatted through what this might all mean, there’s a link to scripture that supports the doctrine and a song to help us memorise it. I found it promotes discussion and allows for ideas and connections to prior knowledge that the kids might have from previous Bible stories.
I'm figuring this all out as I go really, but when I come across a good thing, I like to share the idea with other parents. If you're asking these questions, chances are so am I. Let's help each other navigate God's command to train and equip our children to be mature disciples. What's more, we also benefit in the process as God stretches us and refines us.