THE THEOLOGICAL ENGINEER
Apologetics: The Most Important Vaccine
By Jeff Laird
Parents know that, no matter what they do, germs are out there, and sooner or later, their children will be exposed to them. More than likely, that will happen when Mom and Dad aren't there to sanitize things beforehand. So, to better protect our children, it's best to expose them to germs on purpose. That has to be done carefully, deliberately, and in a controlled way. Done right, it gives the child a chance to develop resistance to those germs in particular, and other germs in general. It won't necessarily make them immune, but it will make them stronger. That resistance to germs can only come by exposure. If we as parents don't offer that in a structured way, our children wind up vulnerable to germs they shouldn't even be threatened by. The end result of avoiding all exposure to germs is not a safer child, but a far more vulnerable one.
Now, please re-read the above paragraph, but every time you see the word "germs", replace it with "false beliefs".
Parents who care about their children make an effort to protect them from false teachings and unbiblical philosophy. That's a good thing, without a doubt. Too often, though, that protection comes in only one form: total avoidance. That is, parents try to protect their children's minds by completely eliminating all exposure to contradictory ideas, attitudes, and thoughts. That's actually a terrible strategy, which the germ analogy helps demonstrate.
It's critically important for our children to see that we, as believers, are not only aware of other views, but that we have considered and responded to them. It's tragic to see so many children leave home, and their home church, only to have their first, probably catastrophic exposure to the myriad attacks against their Christian faith. No one would be surprised if a teen who had never been vaccinated contracted mumps soon after moving into a public dorm. Why should we, as Christians, be so surprised when a child, having never been exposed to conflicting ideas, assumes their parents and church never considered them?
Intellectual avoidance only does one thing: it conditions the child to accept everything they read, hear or see. It over-develops their trust in self-titled experts, and weakens their development of healthy, Biblically-endorsed skepticism (Acts 17:11, 1 John 4:1). Of course, children and teens aren't oblivious to contradiction. They'll notice when new information conflicts with their upbringing, and they'll feel the natural resistance to change. But without experience in dealing with doubt, criticism, challenges, and alternatives to their faith, they'll have little chance of defending the truth, and be at much greater risk of abandoning it entirely.
At the same time, mere exposure isn't enough. Our physical immune system does all of its work behind the scenes. When it comes to false doctrines, attacks on faith, and worldly thinking, our children need more than simple awareness. They need more than simplistic warnings and a laundry list of alternative views. They need to be taught how to think critically, rationally, and reasonably about all things, but particularly about matters of faith. We have to demonstrate a reasoned, confident, informed faith and instill the same in our children. That can't happen in a spiritual bubble, where they never see or hear anything contrary to Christianity.
An example of this concept in action came up recently with a woman and her teenaged son. He'd been assigned to read "The Unlikely Disciple", by Kevin Roose. She was feeling some trepidation over her son reading a book, discussing Christianity and religion, which was not written by a believer. She had already begun to read it herself, but came to me for additional perspective.
I explained that her son was going to face contrary views and criticisms, sooner or later. What better time to explore those ideas than when there's still a strong parental connection? In a controlled setting, it's a good for him to learn how to be skeptical and curious about what he reads. This was a chance to show how not everything has to be accepted — or rejected — right off the bat. It's possible to understand a contrary view without accepting it, and the best way to instill that is by exposure.
In the end, the book provided excellent topics for discussion between the mother and son. "The Unlikely Disciple" is actually a good book for that purpose. Roose is not a believer, and his enrollment at Liberty did not change that. But his approach is reasonable and open-minded enough to serve as a good introduction to non-Christian views of our practices, attitudes, and beliefs.
I'd also like to point out that long before she ever spoke with me, this mother had demonstrated the two most critical parts of the "mental vaccination" process: self-exposure and involvement. She was absolutely committed to knowing what her son was being exposed to. She wanted to be able to answer his questions, to see potential problems in advance. She didn't wait for someone else to take the lead, or do it for her. This was her son, which made it her business. In spirituality, just as in physical health, it's critical for parents to be proactive and involved.
Education, health, and spirituality are not the responsibility of our children's school teachers, family doctors, or youth pastors. Those are our responsibility as parents; those professionals are meant to be facilitators and mentors. Unfortunately, in most of our churches, critical thinking and deeper discipleship are left entirely up to the youth leaders, who all too often leave it up to the youth themselves. The result of this fragile, uninformed, un-tested faith plays out as expected, with the majority of young adults abandoning their faith soon after they outgrow home and youth ministries.
We vaccinate our children's bodies, in a purposeful and controlled way, to prevent physical disease. In the same way, and for much the same reason, we should vaccinate their minds to develop critical thinking, healthy skepticism, and sustainable confidence in their convictions. A little "hair of the dog" — a tiny bit of one germ in order to cure the worse one — should be part of every parent's plan for their children's spiritual growth.
Image credit: Sanofi Pasteur; Some rights reserved
Tags: Christian-Life | Family-Life | Theological-Beliefs
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