Recently I’ve been thinking again about training our children and families in the area of apologetics; that is, learning to give a defense for what we believe. In a chapter of A New Kind Of Apologist, Brett Kunkle writes a chapter titled “A Practical Plan to Raise Up the Next Generation.” And in that chapter, Kunkle quotes Susan Wise Bauer, writing about “classical education” of the Greeks, Romans and later Middle Age Europe. (I don’t even know where to begin citing a quotation like this… wow.) When I read Bauer’s statement I underlined and starred it – it was that important.
Bauer outlines three stages of classical education: early years (essentially our elementary school) focused on absorbing facts, the grammar stage, which lay a critical foundation for learning; the middle grades (roughly our grades 5-8) focused on learning to think through arguments, the logic stage; and finally the rhetoric stage, in the high school years, when students learn to express their ideas. I’d like to unpack this for parents.
First off, there is actually another stage that comes before school, which I suspect wasn’t present in classical education, but which is relevant to many of Renewed Family readers and that is the preschool stage. Here’s why, before a child can learn anything, they need to have emotional stability. When parents help their children to feel secure they provide the kind of stability that can be built on intellectually. We see this all the time; kids from solid homes (not perfect homes!) learn much better than those who come from dysfunctional homes. This is why schools offer breakfast clubs, kids who don’t have parents to serve them healthy nutritious breakfasts need that fuel for the day from somewhere! But children need emotional fuel as well! That means, as you build strong connections with your children, you are setting the stage for their ability to stand firm in their faith later. Remember, your child’s entire picture of God is from you! There is no escaping it, so those kids who have safe parents will understand God as a safe Father. This is a big deal!
With an emotional foundation kids are prepared for the grammar stage of learning. This is where they soak up facts like crazy. If you ever want to feel humbled, memorize scripture with your young children. (Then, after they thoroughly school you in their memory work, feel free to take them upstairs and thoroughly school them on “Mario Kart!” Enjoy that while you can.) These years of absorption are critical for later stages of learning. A few years ago, Pastor Chris Puhach noticed that young adults who were signing up for Southland’s School of Ministers didn’t even have the necessary basic knowledge to find the books of the Bible. You can imagine my shame when I realized that I didn’t know where all the books of the Bible were either, but the staff who did, almost all learned memorized them as children. I made sure to go home and spend time teaching my kids the order of the books of the Bible.
Kids at this age need basic knowledge. They need to know the stories of the Bible and the basic order of the stories. They need simple doctrine such as “God created the world” and “Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead.” Do you know how few Sunday School programs actually teach these essential, foundational elements of the Christian life? If you look at curriculum, you will find that many teach very good things, but usually on topics and they use the Bible as the support text for good behavior. My philosophy has always been to teach proper belief which leads to proper behavior. So load your little kids up with knowledge. Test their knowledge of facts! This is an important step in preparing them for strong faith in a culture hostile to Christian belief.
The second stage is the logic stage and this is my favourite stage! The logic stage is when we teach students to think; a subject sadly lacking in our schools (and churches) today. If they learned that “God created the world” in the grammar stage then at the logic stage we teach “How can you know that God created the world.” If I think about it, there almost a regression to the toddler age at this point to the famous “WHY?” stage. Oh that’s an annoying developmental time in a child’s life. The difference between the toddler asking “why” and the young teen asking “why” is that the teen will seldom articulate their question; often they keep their questions to themselves (or only ask them to be a pain in the butt.) Our job as parents is to coax the questions out of our kids and then help them to think carefully and critically about Truth.
Some critical things that students in the logic stage need to wrestle with are;
- How do I know God created the world?
- How do I know the Bible is true?
- How do I know that Jesus is the only way to Heaven?
- How do I know what is right and wrong?
- How can I know that I am saved?
If you as a parent aren’t sure how to answer those questions, I would recommend you pick up a book on apologetics and do some learning together with your kids. Natasha Crain has a book called Keeping Your Kids On God’s Side, specifically to help parents have these conversations (40 in total) with their kids. If you want to do some learning at an adult level before you dive in with your kids I highly recommend Who Made God? (Ravi Zacharias and Norm Geisler, general ed.). This book briefly covers 100 questions that people have about God, which means you can cover a lot of ground quickly.
Finally, our high school students enter the rhetoric stage, a time when the foundational facts have been processed logically and can now be expressed and argued. This is a wonderful “coming of age” for knowledge and it is during these years that we should encourage our kids to have lots of conversations about faith at home, at school with teachers and friends and at church. One very important piece of advice is to help your kids stay humble at this time in their life as they will lose the right to speak if they are arrogant know-it-alls. One way to do this is to make sure they are doing the regular stuff of a faith relationship with Jesus. If your kids aren’t praying, aren’t attending church, aren’t reading their Bibles, or tithing, or going to cell, then you have kids with heads but no heart and that isn’t helpful! Beyond maintaining their relationship with Christ you may want to introduce them to people who believe differently than they do. It is easy to mock those who hold different beliefs from a distance but when we are face to face with those who believe something different from us, we see their human eyes and respond differently.
Don’t be afraid of this as parents! If you have done your work then your kids will only benefit from interactions of this type – so help these meetings to happen!
As you read this, you may be asking yourself “How? How am I supposed to teach all of this to my kids?” The answer isn’t difficult and please don’t over think it! First, don’t be intellectually lazy with your own faith; know what you believe and know why you believe it. Then adopt a “Deuteronomy 6” style of parenting – teach (and repeat) these Truths to your children while you are at home, on the road, going to bed and getting up! Inscribe them on artwork and hang it on the walls and above your doorways. This means that as you do everyday, normal life at home, make it a point to talk to your kids. Ask them what they are learning in school and then compare that to the Truth of scripture. Go to the spa with your daughter and ask questions while your toes are being painted. Head out to the workshop, or out on the lake to fish, and talk about these important things with your boys. But most of all, live a life worthy imitating. Demonstrate what a faithful, godly life looks like for your children and watch as they follow in your footprints.
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1Kunkle, Brett. “A Practical Plan to Raise Up the Next Generation.” A New Kind of Apologist. Eugene: Harvest House, 2016. 89. Print.