6 Ways You May Be Raising Your Kids with an Oversimplified Faith

6 Ways You May Be Raising Your Kids with an Oversimplified FaithIn the course of doing some research for my book recently, I came across the following “most helpful customer review” on Amazon for Jerry Coyne’s book Why Evolution is True:

I was raised in a very conservative Christian environment and taught Young-Earth Creationism (anti-evolution, anti-Big Bang, etc.). I bought into it for a long time. In college, I finally began to investigate some of the claims for myself – reading what was really being said by ‘the other side,’ rather than what I was being told was being said. The disparity I discovered can hardly be exaggerated: what I had been taught bore essentially zero resemblance to the real thing. Genuine evolutionary theory was virtually unrecognizable in the creationists’ caricatures of it. I learned that I had been lied to – intentionally, or not, I do not know – and that the quantity, diversity, and quality of evidence in support of evolution was simply crushing.

I felt so disheartened reading about this person’s experience. You can just feel the sense of shame she had when she discovered her understanding of evolution had been oversimplified by the Christians in her life (this is not to suggest that the young-Earth view itself is oversimplified; it was her understanding of evolution that had been oversimplified).

That feeling of shame is all too common amongst adults who turn away from Christianity. There are numerous comments on ex-Christian sites that read to the effect of, “Once I grew up and started encountering arguments from non-believers, I felt like a fool for being a Christian all that time.”

If we raise our kids with an oversimplified faith, we’re building a ramp to eventual shame when difficult questions arise.

Here are six ways you may be raising your kids with an oversimplified faith.


1. You make faith a Sunday phenomenon.

The cold, hard truth is that going to church once a week is never going to give kids (or adults!) a deep understanding of Christianity. Church is not a replacement for conversations about faith, Bible study and prayer at home. In fact, research conducted for the book Already Gone showed Sunday school had either a zero or negative impact on the eventual faith of kids who attended regularly!

Faith was never meant to be lived out once a week at church. But even more so today, kids have a significant need for deeper engagement on faith topics that can really only come from proactive Christian parenting at home.


2. You make sure your kids know a lot about what’s in the Bible, but not a lot about the Bible.

After 18 years of going to church, I left home with approximately the following understanding of the Bible: Jesus is the son of God and died for my sins, I need to believe in Him in order to be saved and spend eternity in heaven, God created the world, Moses parted the Red Sea, Daniel was saved from a lion’s den, and somewhere along the way Jonah was swallowed by a whale.

Oh, don’t worry, I could tell you all the books of the Bible in order too, and recite many isolated verses I had dutifully memorized in years of Sunday school. But who wrote the books of the Bible? Why should I believe what the New Testament writers said about Jesus? How do I know what they originally said is what is in the Bible I read today? How do I know the translations we have accurately convey the original meaning? Why should I trust the Bible at all?

These questions never even crossed my mind. I simply knew the stories in the Bible, but nothing about the Bible. Today Christians are regularly challenged by such questions online and in the media. Knowing what’s in the Bible is necessary but not sufficient. Kids need to know about the Bible too.


3. You mischaracterize the nature of faith.

I heard it over and over again growing up in my church, and I see other Christians say it all the time today: Just have faith. The predictable context is usually a difficult conversation about Christianity or the nature of God – for example, after a tragedy in the news. Unfortunately, “just have faith” is often the catch-all response Christians use when we can’t answer difficult questions. To be sure, we don’t have all the answers, and we should be honest with our kids about what the Bible does and does not tell us. But, oh, how dangerous it is for kids to believe that the primary answer to most difficult Christian questions is “just have faith.” Those three words, too carelessly tossed about, can leave a permanent impression on your kids that Christianity can’t answer tough questions and that blind faith is the answer (see this post from Michael Patton for an excellent overview of what biblical faith really is).


4. You spend more time emphasizing the importance of Christian values than the importance of Christianity.

In the book Sticky Faith, the author discussed a research study that asked college juniors who were youth group graduates, “What would you say being a Christian is all about?”  More than two-thirds gave answers related to “doing” the faith, such as “loving others” and “following Jesus’ example.” More than one-third didn’t mention Jesus at all, and of those, 35 percent didn’t mention Jesus or God!

Jesus didn’t come to give us nice values. He came to provide the way for sinful humans to be reconciled with a perfect God and have eternal life (John 3:16). Anyone can have “Christian values” – there are plenty of atheists who behave more morally than professing Christians! Having good values is not what being a Christian is all about.

The fact is, it’s far easier for us as parents to teach kids Christian values, like doing and being “good,” than it is for us to teach them Christian theology; grounding my kids for hitting each other fits into my day more naturally than raising and discussing deep questions like, “Why do you think Jesus actually had to die for our sins?” When we’re not intentional, we end up focusing on our kids’ character and behavior without connecting those things to the Christian belief root of why it even matters. Those good values in and of themselves start looking to kids like the essence of Christianity. The connection to Jesus slowly loses out to a simplified faith of nice behavior.


5. You don’t proactively present your kids with tough questions.

Earlier this year, I wrote that the number one sign your kids are just borrowing your faith and not developing their own is that they’re not asking questions. As I discussed in that post, there are a lot of reasons why they might not be bringing their faith questions to your attention. But one of the most glaring possibilities is that they just aren’t spending much time thinking about faith at all; they may see Christianity as another “thing” they’re learning about, like math. They’ll just borrow your faith for a while because they don’t think it’s important enough to think more deeply about; it’s a simplified faith that is ripe for crushing later.

When our kids aren’t asking tough questions because they aren’t already being challenged by others and/or don’t care enough to think deeply about faith, we have a parental responsibility to confront them with tough questions and engage in conversations to take their faith deeper.

(Need help learning about the challenges nonbelievers pose to Christians today? Check out my new book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith.)


6. You misrepresent what non-Christians believe.

Returning now to the quote at the beginning of this post, we have to be careful in how we talk to our kids about what other people believe. Our whole spiritual credibility is on the line. If our kids come to find out we totally got it wrong when it comes to the (fill in the blank) worldview, they’re going to question everything else we told them.


What would you add to this list? Have you ever felt like you grew up with an oversimplified faith? I’d love to hear your experiences!

23 thoughts on “6 Ways You May Be Raising Your Kids with an Oversimplified Faith”

  1. i struggle with being age appropriate, because I have no concept of what actually is age appropriate (note: my oldest is almost 4, so this is going to be a theme for me for a LONG time).

    We recently put down our oldest dog – nearly 14 years old. We viewed it as an opportunity to talk about Heaven and God, with me wondering the whole time if I was putting a happy spin on it for me/her or if I was actually teaching. Maybe i oversimplified. Maybe it was too much for her 4yr old brain.

    Whew! This mom stuff is hard!

    1. In general, I think it’s best to err on the side of being as truthful as possible. Obviously, there are things you can’t tell a young child yet because they aren’t ready to understand it yet. But it’s best not to make things up in order to avoid the truth.

      For example, rather than tell a 5 year old that babies are brought by storks, which is not true, you might tell them that it’s because mommy and daddy love each other so much and made a baby together. They don’t need to know about sex yet, but it’s best not to tell outright lies either.

      In the case of a pet dying, I don’t think I would tell a young child that doggie has gone to heaven because that isn’t Biblical. People have immortal souls, but animals don’t. So don’t make things up to make your child feel better. I think I would explain to them that bad things happen because we live in a fallen world. Sometimes people and animals die – even ones we love. We have to say goodbye and it’s sad. But God can help us get through it and one day, in heaven, we won’t have any more death or goodbyes.

    2. Kirsten, Voddie Baucham does a fantastic teaching called Centrality of the Home which you can find on YouTube. Give it a watch, it is full of hints and helps for the young years and teaching Truth to little ones.

  2. Well said,, well thought through, and it needed to be said. The only problem is what you have said here is important enough to be said to every Christian parent in the country, and unless a miracle happens, it will be read by a limited audience. I am going to set up the link on my FB wall and hope you get a thousand hits or more. I have a daughter in college now and I am concerned she not fall away. This is good stuff. Follow it up with any more insights that come to mind.

  3. Pingback: 6 Ways You May Be Raising Your Kids with an Oversimplified Faith | THINKAPOLOGETICS.COM

  4. Many Christian parents believe that they can teach their children into the Kingdom of God. We can teach children about God but they have to make the decision to accept salvation and their acceptance is not guaranteed. Other parents are determined to pray their children into Heaven but again it is not in our hands. If we could pray our kids into Heaven we could pray everyone into Heaven. It does not work that way.

  5. I wish I had read this when my son was young, I would have modified many conversations. Even though he’s a teen, from now on I will modify my training.

    When kids get into middle school they are taught about “The Beginning” of Earth in both History and Science. I prepared my son for those discussions by explaining that History teaches us What and When. Science tries to find out the How’s and Why’s. Science cannot understand the ways of God because they are not God. I explained if Science offers theories of how and why just have faith in Who. It is God’s perfect plan to perform creation – don’t focus on how just focus on who.

  6. Pingback: The Over-Simplification of Our Faith | Christian Reasons

  7. You so beautifully present the requirements for raising thoughtful, open, respectful and compassionate individuals. I am reminded of how much courage it takes to follow those requirements.

  8. Because this is a blog you are no doubt restricted by trying to be concise and focused on one thought and, for the most part, in the midst of a dialogue with the people (like me) following your blogs…but in reading this out loud to others who are not following your blog, some things were pointed out that I might have noticed otherwise and thought I would mention.

    First, thank you for the few tools in trying to help us with our children/grandchildren. Here are some things we all must remember:
    Everything hinges on God, who is the one ultimately in control. It does not hinge on our eloquence, finesse, or intellectual prowess. We can do everything right (or wrong) and still two identically raised children may go into extremely diverse directions.
    Our children and grandchildren make their own personal choices.

    The greatest tool we do have…even once the kids leave the nest, is PRAYER. Prayers is something sadly neglected by so many Christians. Being ill and many times unable to “do” much of anything, I have sadly in the past said “sorry, all I can do is pray”. I have learned to leave the word “all” out in that statement as I find it a privilege and honor to be able to pray. It is our right, our duty and an awesome responsibility.

    I do enjoy your blogs and so look forward to your upcoming book, thank you so much and I will continue to pray for God’s guidance in all that you do and write!

  9. Up until my late-twenties I was a young Earth creationist. I kept my Christian faith, but then turned to old earth beliefs around the time I turned 30. I made the switch largely due to the many simplistic reasons YEC give. Today, after much research, I again believe in a young Earth, but I understand how many of the simple arguments given for a young Earth crumble in light of what is presented in college. There are much deeper arguments then can be made, but too many people like to take the easy way out and present weak arguments. I think each one of the 6 ways you presented can be in someway traced back to the parents, Sunday school teaches and church leaders who want to take the easy way out. Many just don’t want to do into the depth or don’t take the time to get the right information.

    Great article with super info. Keep doing what you are doing!

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  11. Thank you very much for these points. For a while I have stressed from the pulpit, to our parents, and to our youth leaders that Sunday school and youth group is not enough to prepare our kids for the “real world” of college and life. For the most part, as I see it, our youth are learning just enough to be immunized to the Truth. Once they face real challenges to their “faith,” everything they thought they knew crumbles.

    So, if you don’t mind, I would like to repost your piece on my blog. Thanks, and God bless.

  12. Pingback: Should you not teach your kids apologetics because “God is in control”? | Wintery Knight

  13. I like that in some of the comments you gave suggestions of what might be said to children. I appreciate this and wish these things were incorporated throughout your posts. Although I read the Bible regularly, I find that I don’t always know how to prepare young ones with the information needed other than the traditional things shared with children. Thanks!

  14. Pingback: “Just have faith” | A disciple's study

  15. Wow! I agree.
    A very good, clear understanding of what it takes to raise Godly children. Sadly, I am not shocked at the stats for Sunday School, actually. I try to live out our relationship with Christ as much as I say what is in the bible for our kids but, to be honest, most of the kids know the story’s only!

    You are right…they have no clue about sin and why Jesus even came. We recently did the Christmas Nativity Play and I had the manger set out in the middle of the class. I asked the children what it was, why God chose that beginning? They all knew the answers etc. Then, I asked them; why is He important? Why did He come like that? Who is Jesus anyway and why should you care? Why is this really important to YOU? That had NO IDEA!

    I explained He came for our sins–the stuff we do bad, and gave a clear picture of repentance through faith in Him, etc. They were all in shock and really had a deeper understanding of who Christ really is. It became real to many of them that day!

    Thank you for your posts as we labour for the Kingdom and the next generations!

  16. Regarding the sixth point, that we might misrepresent non-Christian, or pseudo-Christian folks by the way we talk about them, we could consider what was said about Paul and the early missionaries, during the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19). It was said they had not been sacrilegious nor blasphemer of Diana/Artemis. Now, how on earth had they avoided criticising the religion of the people of that huge city and its surrounds when they had been there for so long? I think Paul must have stayed off the topic altogether! Perhaps he did as he had in Corinth: ‘for I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, but Christ and him crucified’ (1 Cor 2:2). He did a similar thing in Athens, he Acknowledged commonality and then got straight onto the gospel (Acts 17:23).
    But we need to say something, right? Perhaps we cannot misrepresent other faiths if we teach about their doctrines in generalities. And we would not imply a sense of superiority to our children if we refuse to criticise. I wonder if we could discuss the topics in generalities, along the lines of ‘so, how do some folk describe Jesus – some teach he is just a good person, some that he is a created angel, some that he is a prophet – but it makes sense that he is the eternal God for these reasons….’
    And may our children never catch us rolling our eyes about someone’s costume or religious ways!

  17. Pingback: “Just Have Faith” Is Not The Answer | A disciple's study

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