Previously, we have considered the cultural and spiritual realities that our young people face. In this final installment, I would like to suggest some personal considerations when talking to our young people about their worldviews.
So, how do we go about the task of talking to our young people about their worldviews?
We must study and pray for preparation, and we must teach and live for application
We have all had the experience of miraculously coming up with the wisest, cleverest, cunningest response to a conversational opponent…two days after the conversation ended.
As Christians, in conversations about our faith, we must avoid those moments at all cost. We are literally commanded to prepare for those moments. Peter tell us to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15) It is the Biblical equivalent to the sage advice, “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.”
The fact is, we need to study. There are questions that must be answered, and we are obligated by Scripture to be ready with those answers. Unless we want every worldview conversation with our young people to be like the one described above, we must study.
But there is more to this than simply having a quick retort every time someone asks about Christianity. Peter includes the command, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts,” and concludes that when we answer we are to do so “with meekness and fear.” If all we have is the right answer, we are only halfway there. We must also have the right attitude.
Bottom line: We must study for the right answer and pray for the right attitude.
When I began studying apologetics, it was largely for myself. The questions were mine. The doubts were mine. Therefore, the studying was mine. I was not trying to win an argument or prove anything to anyone. I was the one that needed convincing.
When I began teaching apologetics, I quickly sensed a negative change. I wanted to answer their questions and ease their doubts. Therefore, I began studying for them. Much to my chagrin, I found myself giving answers that I was not even sure of. I found myself answering for the doubt that was in them, not for the hope that is in me. I found myself trying to do the thinking for them.
Now, I study for me and pray for them. When I give an answer to my students that I have studied and internalized, there is an authenticity to the conversation that is convincing in its own way. I pray that the Holy Spirit opens their minds and softens their hearts. Rather than thinking for them, I show them how to think. I have taken as a motto: “I want them to think for themselves, just not by themselves.”
We must study to prepare ourselves and pray for the Holy Spirit to prepare them.
I admit that I am guilty of doing the exact opposite. I have found myself studying for insight, ways to beat the opponent, instead of answers to give the questioner. And, yes, I have said a mid-conversation prayer, begging God for the right answer. Much like a teenager, laying hold on the Mercy Seat during a test that they failed to study for, I do not want wisdom in how to answer. Out of my failure to prepare, I need the actual answer. It happens more often than I would like to admit.
It is one thing to know the answer to a given question. It is another thing entirely to know how. Proverbs 26:4 says to “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.” Meanwhile, the very next verse says to “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” So, which is it, answer or not? Well, it depends. Ultimately, we must rely on God to provide us the wisdom to know the difference.
One of my favorite synonyms of wisdom used throughout the book of Proverbs is binah. Typically, the word is translated understanding. However, it comes from the Hebrew word for “between.” The word paints the picture of having the insight to tell the difference between one thought or action from another. In other words, it is “the ability to notice distinctions and shades of difference where others only see a blur.” That is the type of insight we need when talking to our young people about their worldviews.
We must study to know what to say, but we must earnestly ask God for the insight to know how to say it.
Our secular age is bombarding our young people with a skepticism towards faith in general and Christianity in particular. They are not being asked what or why they believe; they are being told that they should not believe and if they do to keep it to themselves. For many, the only people telling them that they should believe are their parents and pastors. We need to be aware of the challenges they face. While the rest of the world is giving them reasons to doubt, we must be ready with reasons to believe.
You may have never doubted that God exists, but your son may have. Are you aware of the arguments for the existence of God that have kept atheism at bay for centuries? You may have never questioned the authority of the Bible, but “because the Bible says so” might not be enough for your daughter. Are you aware of the unique characteristics of the Bible that demonstrate its supremacy as a religious text and give reasons to believe that it is, in fact, the inspired word of God? You may have always believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but to your young people, he is nearly indistinguishable from other religious leaders. Are your aware of how historically verifiable the resurrection of Jesus is?
We should pray for opportunities to step in and help them see that they are not the first Christian to ever doubt. We need to seek out the opportunities to help them think through what their world is telling them. They need to know that there is more to the conversation than what they are being shown by popular culture. But, how will they know if we don’t?
We ought to study to make ourselves aware and then pray for opportunities to tell them about it.
In Deuteronomy 6, God lays the foundational claim to the relationship he expects with his people. In the Shema, as it is called in Hebrew tradition, God singularly declares himself Lord God of Israel. He then commands his people to love him with every dimension of their being. Then, without skipping a beat, God commands his people to teach their children about that relationship. God commands them to teach, and not in a formal setting. That would be too limited. They are to diligently teach every moment of every day while sitting and walking, while lying down and rising up.
Considering Jesus’ conversation in Matthew 22:37-38, I believe it is safe to say that God expects no less of his people today. Bound up in the relationship we have with God and the life we live for him is our obligation to teach our children. The need is no less than it ever has been.
Bottom line: We must teach them to live and live so as to teach.
A young person growing up in a Christian home will learn more Bible stories by accident than most people will learn on purpose. This is a blessing to be sure. However, we must ask ourselves if they are getting the “big picture.” Certainly, we want our kids to be fascinated by the great heroes of the faith and to see how God takes weak people and makes the mighty. But, what will that be worth if they never see the grand narrative in which God takes sinners and makes them saints?
Your daughter may know what happened to Adam and Eve in the garden, but she also needs to know how that sin has come down to her. Your son may know of the exploits of the nation of Israel, but he also needs to know their significance as God’s chosen people. Our young people may know about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. However, they also need to know that for thousands of years people looked forward to the Messiah in faith. They need to know this, if for no other reason than to help them look back in faith.
Read, study, and walk through the Bible with the young people God has placed in your lives. Help them see how each story points forward or backward to Christ. Help them see the story of redemption. Teach them to see that the Biblical story is their story.
We must teach the whole story of the Bible, not just a whole bunch of Bible stories.
Anyone who has learned a new language can testify to the immense difference between a passive vocabulary and an active vocabulary. A person with a passive vocabulary has a few words committed to memory but would balk at joining a full-blown conversation. On the other hand, a person with an active vocabulary is literate in the language. They can use that vocabulary in reading and writing, listening and speaking. In other words, they can think in that new language.
Just like our first language, this Biblical literacy is first taught in the home (See Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Even still, parents may outsource formal instruction to Christian teachers and church ministries. Regardless, their Biblical vocabulary should be active, not passive. Our young people need to learn how to read the Bible, and not just that they should. They should learn how to talk about the Bible, and not just know some Biblical terminology.
Talk to, speak with, and listen to your young people. Pick up on how Biblical their thinking is. Ask them questions and do not let them get away with giving the answer they know you want to hear. Dig deep. Follow the direction of their thinking, and you will find the location of their heart.
We must teach our young people to think like a Christian, not just to talk like one.
Our young people have a lifetime of choices ahead of them. What are we doing now to prepare them for those choices, teaching them to conform or helping them to mature? Conformity is an external compliance with the standard we set. Maturity is an internal submission to the standard that God sets. The former teaches them where to go and not to go, what to do and not to do. The latter teaches them how to discern all those things for themselves.
That is not to say that young people do not need our guidance. It is only to say that our guidance is not all that they need. They need us to teach them that there are certain things Christians do not put in front of themselves or put themselves in front of. But, we also should teach them how to recognize what those things are for themselves.
We know that ideas have consequences. Our young people need to know that between ideas and consequences are choices, choices that they must learn to make on their own. Should we insulate them from the world? Absolutely! But, we should go on to teach them how to keep themselves insulated. We need to help them see the underlying message in media they consume and not try to simply keep them from consuming it. We need to teach them how to avoid toxic relationships and not try to simply keep them from bad people. One day we will not be around to steer them in the right direction. We better teach them how to navigate.
We must teach them to make right choices, not just fall in line with the choices we make for them.
Finally, we must practice what we preach. Nothing kills the lessons we teach and the conversations we have quite like failing the standard to which we hold them. Particularly in the teenage mind, there is no tolerance for hypocrisy.
Just one problem: we are going to fail. As sure as water will wet us and fire will burn us, the lessons we attempt to teach will come back to haunt us. So, what do we do when the inevitable happens? What do we do when—not if—we prove to be the hypocrite?
My favorite definition of hypocrisy is given by Os Guinness, who defines it as “the gap between the inner and the outer, appearance and reality.” I love this definition because it says what we all know: there is a gap between what we aspire to be and what we actually are. It would be nice if there was no gap, or even if it was just a bit smaller. But, it is there, and it is wider than most of us would be willing to admit.
But, here’s the thing…
Our young people need to see the gap. They need to understand that we fall short of the standard we hold them to because we are not the standard. God is. And, we all fall short of that standard. They need to see that we are on this journey with them, filled with the same sin that fills them, saved by the same grace that saves them.
We must teach them to live and live so as to teach.
 Timothy Keller, God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life, p. 4.
 Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk, p 192.