My introduction to apologetics began when I was new in my walk as a Christian over twenty-eight years ago. Since that time, there have been countless conversations between my husband and me examining various teachings and belief systems that contradict our biblical faith. These conversations went hand in hand with studies we conducted because of challenges to our faith, the desire to minister to others, and the desire to be better informed. Our children could not have possibly avoided overhearing many of these conversations any more than my husband could have avoided hearing that “old country” music that his father played in their home while he was growing up. While I guessed that some of our biblical arguments would be assimilated by our children, I was not content to leave it to that. We worked to equip them intentionally. Preparing our children to be ready to make a defense for the hope that is in them (1 Peter 3:15), was an act of love not unlike the act of sharing our faith and the gospel with them. We wanted them to know and believe the truth about God and know how to defend it. Even a child can make a defense for their faith, even if it is very basic. A teenager certainly can. They can learn how to answer to error that could diminish, twist, or destroy the awesome truths of God. The thought of our children being unprepared for those challenges was unacceptable to me.
First, Be an Apologist
We are all called to obey 1 Peter 3:15 whether we have children are not. So, the first step of teaching your child(ren) to be able to defend their hope in Christ relies on something you will hopefully experience as a Christian anyway. The first step in raising apologists is becoming an apologist if you are not one already. That doesn’t mean you have to start a formal ministry or website. It does mean that you should make an effort to be ready to answer challenges to Christianity, being ready to give an account for the hope that is in you. How do you become an apologist? Pray for the Lord’s help and study your Bible. Know what it says. Your best defense for the hope that is in you will always come from the Scriptures. You may not study various debating techniques or logical fallacies or be an expert on the world’s religions or cults, but you can know what the Bible says. With this knowledge, you can equip your children. And honestly, you might need to defend your faith to them! A ten year old can have some tough questions!
It will also help to become prepared to answer specific questions relating to groups and individuals that contradict biblical Christianity. Read up on different world views, world religions, cults, and various questionable groups and teachers. At first, you may wish to choose one that interests you and focus on it. Oftentimes what you learn from defending the truth of Christianity in one situation can be applied in others. In the old days we had to DRIVE to the bookstore a few towns over to learn about these things. But today, you don’t have to. There is so much online.
If you look online, start with reputable Christian sites testing everything you read by the Scriptures. Good sites will contrast various teachings with the Bible oftentimes giving good answers to tough questions. You can also gain from reading original material from the groups or individuals you are studying. It’s one thing to read what someone says about a particular group or teacher. It is another thing altogether to read it directly from the source. Doing so is good and fair research, and contrasting what you find with your own beliefs and the Bible is a good exercise that can sharpen your faith. In regards to what you already believe, keep the highest regard for the Scriptures and be willing to change your own beliefs if after lots of prayer and study you can see they do not line up with what the Bible teaches. In addition to all these things, you may also find it helpful to learn about logic and philosophy. Whenever you use what you learn from your studies, work to keep humility and love intact. The goal is to glorify God and to promote correct biblical knowledge and true worship, not to win arguments.
You don’t have to hold off raising apologists until you have achieved some level of “apologista” yourself. Start right away with what you do know. Below are some suggestions that can help shape your children into apologists. They can become just a normal part of being a Christian mom for the spiritual well-being of our children and for the glory of God.
1. Ground your children in the Bible. This is not purely for the sake of apologetics. It is done because we love our children and want them to know God and know Him correctly. This can be done in many ways. While church and Sunday School are good sources, it may not be best to rely solely on them. Preaching is often not geared towards children and my children sometimes complained that Sunday School was repetitive and/or light. Work hard to have Bible time together at home. It is true for children as much as it is for adults that knowing what the Bible actually says is at the heart of being a good apologist.
2. Nurture within your children the ability to think for themselves and teach them how to find out the answers to questions they have. If someone had asked me what my biggest goals in homeschooling were, these would have been near the top of the list. These skills are important for many reasons in life and being able to give a defense for the hope that is in us is no exception. Children must learn how to think things through and how to find out what they do not know. In defending their faith, they’re going to need to be analytical, and they’re bound to come up against questions they don’t know the answers to. Teaching them how to find answers is a lot easier today than it was thirty years ago. Google and Siri see to that. Of course they still have to learn how to filter and process the results of any search. Teach them to ask for guidance from the Lord in their studies and to rely on Him for all their work.
3. Teach your children to test everything, even you! Discernment and apologetics go hand in hand. It is so important that our children grow up with some sort of firewall that asks, “Wait? Is that true?” Again, this is important for so many situations in life, but it is critical in spiritual matters. Not asking means everything just comes in unchallenged. This could be dangerous even when sitting in a pew. Imagine if it was not done when exposed to contrary beliefs? In learning about and defending Christianity, they need to learn to ask “Is that true biblically?” of everyone; so they can discern truth from error with the help of the Holy Spirit. Also, teaching them that it’s OK to question you about the things you say about God teaches them that they don’t have to and shouldn’t just accept whatever they hear.
4. Be comfortable with telling them you don’t know something. They will learn that not having an answer to a challenge to their faith is not the end of the world. It also teachers them that even someone they look up to like their mom doesn’t know EVERYTHING. That’s good! A common thread I have noticed in cults is that they claim to have answers for EVERYTHING. It is a powerful tool to build confidence and give the appearance of authority. But when someone has answers for everything, that’s a red flag! We can’t know everything. We are finite creatures. Only our infinite God knows everything. Children need to become comfortable with not having all the answers and not have their faith crumble because of it. If you don’t know the answer to something, take the opportunity to do some research together with your child. You can grow together to find the answers or become more informed about the different sides of the issue.
5. Teach them that they don’t have to be afraid of challenges to the Bible or their faith. If they haven’t already, your children will learn that there are people in the world who disagree with them and who will challenge their Christian faith. Let them know there are ways to respond to these challenges. There is a defense or Peter would not have told us to be ready to make it. When we stand on the word, we can have confidence. I have seen people of various faiths be unwilling or afraid to examine or defend their beliefs. We shouldn’t be like that, and we can teach our children likewise. If we are afraid or teach avoidance to them then I must ask, how can we be sure that our beliefs are solid? Isn’t the truth worth any possible discomfort? Let’s never be afraid of challenges. The truth of God will prevail. Let’s instill that in our children.
6. Review different beliefs with your children. Pick a topic you have been studying or already know about and discuss it with your children. These don’t have to be long conversations or have to happen every day. Just share some interesting facts and contrast various viewpoints and teachings with what the Bible says. Keep up with this practice through the years. Some of this information will sink in, and your children will get used to this type of work. They will, hopefully, come to see the value in it.
7. Teach your children to be patient, respectful, and gentle in regards to other people and their beliefs. Set a good Christian example when talking about the Bible and the faith or viewpoints of others whether you are inside or outside of your home. If you are sarcastic in the privacy of your home when talking about a different faith system, that can rub off on your children. An apologist’s manner ought not be ungodly or offensive. We and our children should have gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15) when talking about and with others. To that point, it’s important that our children know that some people will not be sincere or reasonable and that it is wise to step away from conversations with them. This article discusses this more.
8. Teach your children to examine beliefs, even their own, honestly and humbly. Being open minded when working with different beliefs is important. We don’t know everything and sometimes we need to adjust our views. Stubbornness and arrogance about our beliefs can keep us from making needed corrections.
9. Give your children practice defending their faith. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I wanted to test my children and give them hands on practice defending their faith. When they were small, I invented a role-playing activity that we did many times through the years. Here’s how it worked. I engaged them in conversations while pretending to be a person who held beliefs contrary to biblical Christianity. Sometimes I was an atheist. Other times I was a Jehovah Witness, Mormon, Muslim, humanist, evolutionist, etc. I tailored my questions about the Bible or Christianity to their knowledge level and pushed a little passed it. I wanted them to grow in confidence as they practiced giving good answers and sometimes feel what it was like to not have an answer. Of course, I would finish by providing any answers they didn’t have.
If you would like to try this, pick something you know well and know your children have a decent grasp of. Perhaps you could be a person who believes that doing good works is the way to eternal life. Stay in character, state your case, ask questions, and see if they supply the correct Scriptures. To help them grow in another way, occasionally intentionally use logical fallacies or make other mistakes; so they can learn how to spot them and answer them. In different conversations, alter how open or resistant you are to persuasion. Help them when needed and make sure they clearly know when you are playing and when you have stopped. Remind them that we may plant, but God causes the growth. This role-playing is a good activity for Christians of all ages. A few years ago I had the idea that this would be a good class for the women ministry group at church, actually bringing in ex-Jehovah Witnesses etc. for them to converse with. I talked to friends who were willing to come in and pretend to still be Jehovah Witnesses. What a class that would be! Lord willing, if my health improves, I could set it up someday. Maybe some ladies reading this could set it up in their churches.
10. Never stop encouraging your children to be apologists.
While children and teenagers have opportunities to make a defense for their faith, most likely, being an apologist will come into play more often when they are grown. They will meet more people and find themselves in new situations. Challenges to their faith will always be there. Even when they are grown you can encourage your children to pray for grace and guidance, to stay alert and discerning, to pray for the people they talk with, and to always be ready to make a defense for the hope that is in them. Lord willing, the foundation is solid; and they will continue to grow in faith to God’s glory. If we do this work well for our children, we can help build biblically stronger families and by extension, stronger churches for the future.
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