When I was a kid riding my bike in the 80s, I never, ever, ever wore a helmet.
Neither did any of my friends. And neither did my husband, growing up several states away. He says he used to carelessly fly down undeveloped rocky hills behind his house on his bike and no one thought twice about it. (Perhaps they were too busy watching Full House?)
I’m not sure when our society decided that neighborhood bike riding is treacherous enough to warrant safety gear, but I didn’t notice things had changed until I had my own kids. Suddenly I became aware that every child on so much as a tiny tricycle must now be fitted with a skull-preserving, Disney character-promoting protective device.
I decided in a self-congratulatory way that I wasn’t going to buy into all this societal “softness.” My kids are going to ride a bike without a ridiculous helmet, just like kids have for decades, I thought.
Then one day my son fell off his bike and hit his head – hard – on the concrete sidewalk.
Fortunately, nothing serious happened, but it really shook me. He could easily have cracked his head open. I realized at that moment how crazy it was that I had so confidently kept my kids from wearing helmets just because kids in my own generation didn’t wear them. We made it to the safety gear aisle at Target before you could say “three helmets, sizes 3, 4 and 5, please.”
Do we really need all this stuff?
Last week, a reader left the following comment on my blog post “6 Ways You May Be Raising Your Kids with an Oversimplified Faith:”
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.
This reader was effectively questioning apologetics in the same way I was questioning bike safety gear before my son’s accident: Do we really need all this stuff?
And it’s a great thing to ask.
After all, as Christians, we believe God is ultimately in control, as this reader pointed out. She is also absolutely correct that kids will eventually make their own choices, and that those choices will not perfectly correlate with what their parents did and did not do for their spiritual life.
To answer the question – do we really need all this (apologetics) stuff? – let’s start by acknowledging that any committed Christian is going to do something to raise their kids in the Christian faith. If you genuinely believe that your children’s eternal souls hang in the balance of what they choose to believe about Jesus, you’re going to teach them about your faith (a point often missed by atheists who wonder why Christians “can’t just let their kids figure out what they want to believe later in life”).
I want to establish this seemingly obvious point up front, because it shows that when someone says “Everything hinges on God,” they most likely wouldn’t take that statement to the conclusion of completely resigning from the faith development process. Therefore, I believe what they are really questioning is this:
1) How far should we go in developing our kids’ faith? and
2) Of what nature should our teaching be?
How far should we go in developing our kids’ faith?
When I went to get helmets for my kids, I could have also gotten them elbow pads, knee pads, or full body armor. But how do you know when to stop? How far do you go to protect your kids – spiritually in this case?
The value that God placed on teaching children His truth was addressed by Moses, when he told his people (regarding God’s laws), “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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:7-9)
In other words, God should be so central in our lives that we’re teaching our children about Him every way we turn.
Moses didn’t say that parents should just teach their kids whenever they feel like it, since God is ultimately in control. (And if anyone in history has understood that God is truly in control, it must have been Moses!)
Of what nature should our teaching be?
If my kids were planning to go biking at night, I would outfit them with reflective clothing. If they were planning to go mountain biking, I would outfit them with shin guards. I match the safety stuff they need to the challenges I know they’ll face.
Today, at least two-thirds of young adults are turning away from Christianity – a staggering statistic. Many independent studies have been done on this trend and looked at the underlying reasons for it (see the book You Lost Me if you’re interested). Overwhelmingly, those reasons are rooted in intellectual challenges from the secular world – the very challenges that apologetics deals with.
If we were Christians living in New York in the 1830s, I would be writing about the importance of teaching your kids why the new Mormon religion in the area is false. If we were living during the Protestant Reformation, I would be writing about the importance of teaching your kids why a reformation is necessary. Just as Paul addressed the people of Athens in a culturally relevant way (Acts 17), we need to address our own kids in a culturally relevant way. We know the secular challenges they’ll face today, and apologetics is one major type of safety gear to deal with those challenges.
Yes, they really need this stuff.
The time and thought we give to our kids’ faith is an investment, not a purchase.
With an investment, a person makes contributions, knowing that there is also a risk of that investment not resulting in the desired outcome. With a purchase, a person gives with the expectation of a certain and specific return.
I could have held out on my “no helmets” policy and my kids may never have had a serious injury. Sometimes little or no investment results in a jackpot of good outcomes.
I could also have put my kids in full body armor, only to have an earthquake open the ground and swallow them. Sometimes a huge investment results in losing it all.
But what I’m never suggesting on this blog is that intentional Christian parenting is a purchase of your kids’ eventual faith. It’s not. It’s an investment in our kids that God has asked us to make.
The Bible makes it clear that I am responsible for spiritually training my kids. I take that seriously. And I have what I believe is a good understanding of the cultural mountain my kids will have to climb, so I’m going to outfit them specifically for that challenge. In doing so, I’m not thinking for one moment that I’m in more control of my kids than God.
Maybe I’ll find I would’ve given them a few extra body pads, maybe a few less. I’m positive I won’t get it all right. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make the investment. I pray that God will take it and make it grow, all for His glory.