Developing A Christian Worldview
Apologetics for teens
Imagine a city where no-one believed in electricity. People would struggle up eleven flights of stairs to get to their apartments. They would scoop water from the Singapore River, or collect it in buckets on their balconies. When night fell, the city would be lit with candles or hurricane lamps. It might be cosy in some ways, but frightening and puzzling in others.
Then imagine if some people in the city not only believed in electricity, but believed it was available in every home. Armed with this faith, they pressed buttons, and elevators magically lifted people into the air. They turned taps and water came out. Lights enabled them to read at night. And things never imagined — refrigeration, air-con, the Internet — would suddenly open up to them.
The Christian worldview is about how we see the world. Either the world is like some electricity-less city, puzzling, difficult, dark, but with humans coping the best they can. Or there really is a Being underlying everything, who is eternal, powerful, loving, kind, holy, true, present, alive, happy, to the infinite degree. This Being has a way to reconcile wayward humans to Himself through the cross. If that’s the way we see the world, we live differently. We are securely, eternally loved. We ought to have peace in our hearts, and a better perspective on life, and a generous nature. “Be merciful,” says Jesus, “Just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). We reflect the reality we live in.
How, then, do we cultivate a Christian worldview in our teenagers? How do we get our kids to believe in electricity— as it were— when many people say it is a dangerous myth, or simply prefer the grungy and rebellious darkness to what they might think of as the antiseptic light?
It’s an especially good question for teens because teenagerdom is that time when they move beyond the child’s simple acceptance into a period of questioning. They’re also vulnerable: not only are they wondering about the ground of all existence, and stressed about exams, but weird things are happening to their bodies, and to their families (who are starting to become embarrassing), and to people of the opposite sex.
So how to help our sprouting, crashing, yearning offspring? Several ways...
1. Teach while young
There is a time, before teenagers are teenagers, when they are full of questions and want you to answer them. That’s the time to get good habits of reading the Bible and praying together as a family, of going to church, of learning the Christian faith. These foundations are good for when the storms come.
2. Be true
There are true people, as well as true facts. I believe your teenagers want to believe in you and love you. Not much can be hidden from them; do they find you true?
Do you live as if there is a loving God at the heart of things? Do your teens see you smiling and being polite in church, but then gossiping, arguing, and backstabbing when at home? Do you even go to church? How can they believe it’s important if you don’t? Do they know you pray? Do they see you controlling your temper in the home, not just in the presence of your boss? Do they see you working things out in loving ways, trying to find out what pleases the Lord? Do they see something of your struggles to live well? Do they hear your apologies when you’ve done wrong? You can give teenagers all the books you want about the truth of the Christian faith, but you can undermine them all if they know you are living a lie.
3. Be a disciple
Disciples are apprentices, learning on the job, getting things wrong, trying again.
It’s a great hazard, especially for those of us who love learning, to become a know-all rather than a learner. Yet truly, however great the preaching is in your church, you and I are know-littles, not know-alls. Francis of Assisi, when he founded his missionary order, called them the Order of the Little Brothers. His near-contemporary Dominic also founded an Order, but his was more self-importantly called the Order of Preachers. To which Order do you belong? (Ask your wife, if you have one, as they are good at this sort of analysis.)
Hill-climbers know there is such a thing as a false summit. You climb to what looks like the top, but then find a further slope stretching beyond. The Christian worldview is like that. There is more climbing ahead. Our perspectives change as we go. Teens need to see that.
4. Change tack
If you want someone to parrot your views, buy a parrot. But if you want to see a Christian worldview develop in your teenagers, give them room to figure it out for themselves.
It’s hard to stress how important this is, and how different it is from what you had to do when your offspring were younger. They are the same people, under your same roof, but suddenly the way they develop a Christian worldview has gone into reverse. Teenagers don’t want you to answer their questions. They want to work it out for themselves. You answering only annoys them.
We have to learn that now we should be the ones asking the questions, and listening to their answers, and not slapping them down when they get it wrong. It’s an uncomfortable place to be, and it is a loss of control, but it is also expressing what I think Paul meant when he said, “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children” (Eph 6:4).
I have a friend who was watching some chickens hatch, laboriously pecking their way to freedom using a special tooth they were born with. They seemed to be having a hard time, so he broke open the eggs to help them.
All the chickens died. My friend learnt that sometimes, chickens have to carve their own slow, painful way out of the protective shell they were born into. That way they’ll grow strong.
4. Give them space to be disciples too
Youth groups can be a fertile field to learn a Christian worldview. Perhaps they are almost essential. In a youth group teens can explore things for themselves. In the youth leader they might meet an adult who has safely navigated the stormy waters of teenagerhood within recent memory.
So support your local youth leader. Be loyal to him or her. Don’t undermine them behind their back. Root for them. Make it possible for your kids to go to stuff the youth leader organizes. Send them on camps: find the money and the time.
My wife has led a youth group for many years and we have often watched parents punish their children for not doing their homework by keeping them home on youth group nights. Do not do this.
And don’t interrogate youth leaders for your kids’ spiritual secrets. Your teens need a safe space to work through their faith without you poking your prayerful nose in. Normal service between parent and offspring will one day be resumed. Until that glad day comes, enjoy the experience. Some people pay to go on rollercoasters: you’re getting all that stress, all those ups and downs, all that terror, for free.
5. Be confident in the faith
Finally, we can be confident in the truth of the Christian faith. The New Testament was penned during the lifetime of the apostles. It reflects a deep consensus as to what the early Christian communities knew their faith to be. Rightly understood, the whole Bible oozes truth about God and us. Some of it is bronze-age literature: it isn’t a 21st century text. Interpreting it sometimes is a bit of a dance. But it’s reliable and true and good and God-breathed.
Christ’s life, death and resurrection stack up as historical events, however mysterious they may be. The Church transformed the ancient world to a scale almost unimagined. It has captured the allegiance of a third of humanity, and still spreads and grows, bolstered by the accumulated lives and devotion of masses of people great and small. Truth as discovered by science holds no fears for lovers of the God of all truth.
You can read for a lifetime into this stuff and the recent writings of the New Atheists (popular in the West) have only stirred many Christians to come out with a thoughtful response. One good place to start, if you want to sail this particular ocean, is the website www.apologetics315.com. There are plenty of others.
Christ is more true than the ocean is deep. Discovering the dimensions of this could occupy us for eternity, and perhaps will. We have no fear. We can watch our teens, like young albatrosses, waddle awkwardly to the cliff edge... and then — in a heart-stopping moment — soar.
Glenn Myers is a writer based in the UK. You can see his books and blogs at slowmission.com.