As parents, we naturally want to pass on our faith to our children and help them develop a strong relationship with God. However, we must acknowledge that as they grow older, they will encounter doubts and questions about their faith. These doubts and questions are scary but necessary preconditions for faith to grow. So, how can we prepare our kids to navigate Christian doubt? Here are eight ways to get started:
- Encourage and instigate questions that can bring about a wrestling match with their faith: Far be it that we should shy away from their questions. Instead, we should encourage our children to ask the toughest questions. This will demonstrate to them that it’s okay to have doubts and that seeking answers is a part of the faith journey. Most importantly, this will let their faith develop in a safe environment, as you show them that you are not naïve to the continual battle that we have with our own faith.
- Invite them to help you through your own doubt: Let your kids see that you also struggle with doubts and questions. Share your own journey of faith with them and how you’ve navigated doubt. If you are currently going through some kind of doubt, let them in on it. Ask them how they would answer these questions that you were having.
- Provide resources and introduce them to the best heroes. Show them that men like Dan Wallace, Gary Habermas, Aquinas, Augustine, and C. S. Lewis are the greatest heroes of our faith. Have books, podcasts, and other apologetic resources available for your children to explore questions about their faith. Help them find credible scholars and encourage them to research on their own. Most importantly, have a copy of Increase My Faith available at all times. But . . . (and listen closely) ninety-percent of the time, doubt has nothing to do with logic and everything to do with emotion. Establish this. All doubt feels intellectual. But its basis normally has to do with fear, anger, the hiddenness of God, and other things. These are all emotional. Legitimate? Yes, but still emotional.
- Teach critical thinking and valid argumentation as early as you can: Teach them the basics of epistemology and logic so they can think critically and evaluate the information for themselves. Teach them to question everything, even your own tutelage, and to seek answers for themselves through proper research and investigation. Introduction to Theology is a perfect place to begin once they get to high school. Then have them go through Rob Bowman’s Critical Thinking course ASAP.
- Emphasize relationships with other. Help your children understand that Christianity is about a relationship with God and others, not just a set of beliefs. Encourage them to cultivate these relationships above all else through prayer, fellowship, and reading the Bible. Good habits are things that we fall back on when everything else falls apart emotionally. We need this kind of structure. With all this in mind, help them understand that we lean on each other many times to gain comfort in our emotional struggles (which is what doubt normally is).
- Aggressively address the difference between essentials and nonessentials. Help your kids understand that not all Christians think or believe the same about secondary issues because God did not make everything equally clear. God likes the struggles that we go through during a balanced and wise competition for ideas. Address misconceptions and stereotypes that get formed around beliefs you do not have. Make sure they never build straw men in their minds, through a dishonest caricature of opponents.
- Focus on the person and work of Christ. demonstrate to them, through a study of the contemporary and historic Christian faith, that what defines Christianity is who Christ is, and what he did. Teach them the various major Christian traditions, showing how we all agree that Jesus Christ was the second person of the Trinity and that he died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave. Once again, let them know that it is okay to disagree about the details as long as you have the big picture, correct.
- Let them know that we will all get taken to the theological woodshed one day. Once again, this is about humility. You want to display this type of humility by letting them know that you are not perfect and that some of your ideas right now are probably wrong. You just don’t know which ones they are or you would change them.
Navigating Christian doubt is a normal and healthy part of faith development. By creating a safe space for your children to explore their doubts and questions, you can help them develop a strong and confident faith that will guide them throughout their lives and be passed on to their children.