I came across something desperately sad this morning and felt compelled to write a response. It was David M’s cynical (atheistic?) answer to the question “What is the best way to stop your child from becoming an athiest?” (sic) and assuming that it reflects the respondent’s view of what Christianity is, it was truly tragic. Below is my own answer, adapted directly from the original.
Begin by educating them, expose them to critical thinking, logic and science. Teach them how to think and the history of thinking, to show its immense value and also its limitations. Talk to them about important contributors to science like James Maxwell, people whose Christian faith was the whole reason they believed science was worth studying in the first place – because they trusted in a God of order and a world of reproducible results. Make them read the great Christian thinkers of the past and the present, people like Jonathan Edwards, Jim Packer, Don Carson. Show them that Christianity can be intellectually credible and stands up to scrutiny.
Encourage curiosity about how the world works. Show them that the Bible has things to say about every aspect of life – use everyday experiences as an opportunity to encourage meditation about God and his word.
Make them hold their own natural bodies and functions in high esteem. Show them that they can admit that they are small and weak, but that despite all that, they are of supreme worth in the eyes of their Creator and He longs to redeem them from their failings – they don’t need to fix themselves before He’ll love them. Tell them everything enjoyable is given by God for their good, and that when it’s used rightly and kept in its proper place it can be even more fun. God invented sex! God invented good wine! In fact, the Bible’s description of heaven is a great banquet with the best food and drink, at a wedding.
Ensure that they respect everyone and anyone as individuals made in the image of their Creator, and therefore born to be in relationship with Him – it doesn’t matter what their skin color, nationality, political opinion or even their creed, they are still precious to God and therefore worthy of your respect. Even when their differences might tempt you to be afraid of them and think them less than human – teach them that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and it was for such as them that he died. Teach your child to love them enough to long for them to come to know their Creator and be the people they were made to be.
Teach them to laugh at themselves and not take themselves too seriously. Teach them to respect their church leaders, but also not to believe everything they’re told. Encourage them to keep going back to the Bible for answers, but also to ask questions of the Bible – who wrote it? can I trust them? is it reliable? what is the manuscript evidence for it? These are all vitally important questions, and finding the answers can only strengthen their faith. From an early age, teach them to identify superstition – received wisdom that has no basis in fact. And teach them that there is such a thing as error – a false view of the world can be dangerous and crippling. Teach them the whole Bible, Old Testament and New Testament – show them that there is no contradiction between them, and that the God of grace and love who sent Jesus is the same God who will judge and punish sin. Teach them to weap over those who will be lost, just as God himself does not delight in the death of the wicked – but also to rejoice in God’s justice, and that there will be an end to sin and wrongdoing. It will be a good lesson that sometimes the truth is hard to swallow, but it’s far better than living a lie.
Instruct them and discipline them so that they know you care – but don’t be too severe. Import to constantly question for themselves – to think for themselves – to live for themselves – to want to own this faith for themselves, and not just because their parents believed it – but knowing that the Christian faith is built on solid foundations: encourage them to keep coming back to the person of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection, whenever they get lost. Either he did rise from the dead or he didn’t – and if he did then it’s really worth trusting him.
And one more thing – though I wouldn’t want to overemphasize this – try to make sure they can spell, use correct grammar, and understand basic English words. It is actually spelt “atheist” and not “athiest”. God is a God who speaks, and language matters – though he won’t love you any less if you struggle with it.
There are no tricks, but by God’s grace, they’ll come to know and love the Saviour you so cherish yourself.