Natasha Crain has written a fantastic book to help parents keep their kids on God’s side. I regularly read and repost her blog because she constantly produces excellent content. Natasha was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about her new book.
Natasha and I actually did an email interview exchange today. She answered some questions (below) about her new book Keeping Kids on God's Side, and I had the opportunity to answer some questions regarding my new book A New Kind of Apologist on her blog here. Thanks to Natasha for a great interview!
SEAN MCDOWELL: You've written a book about having conversations with kids about faith issues. What are the keys to actually engaging kids in conversation?
NATASHA CRAIN: The most important key to engaging kids in ongoing, in-depth conversations about faith is quite simple: Schedule weekly time to engage together spiritually as a family.
Now, I know a lot of parents don’t like the idea of scheduling time for family spiritual development. They think that their kids’ spiritual development should happen more organically, via well-selected “teachable moments.” Teachable moments are great, and we absolutely should be taking advantage of any opportunities that happen to naturally arise for faith conversations. BUT…and this is a big but…teachable moments simply aren’t sufficient for providing all the opportunities necessary to develop the deeply rooted faith kids need. We don’t teach them about subjects like math, reading, or history according to some ambiguous timeline of when a learning opportunity comes up; we educate them according to a well-defined curriculum of important subjects. Why should we approach their spiritual development any differently?
For families not currently setting aside this kind of time, start with just 30 minutes once per week. That’s reasonable for any family.
Once you have this time set aside, there are numerous ways to use it effectively. For families just starting out with scheduled time, I recommend implementing a “questions night,” where you simply open the floor for your kids to ask any questions they want about faith (here’s a post I wrote that explains in more detail how to do this). This is an effective way of getting kids talking about what’s already on their minds and can point you to the subjects of greatest interest for studying together in your future nights together.
MCDOWELL: Why do you think it’s so critical to have conversations about faith challenges with kids? Some people would say we need to just tell them what to believe.
CRAIN: I think many life-long Christians have a limited understanding of how today’s secular environment can strongly impact their kids’ faith. These adults grew up hearing the “what” of Christianity so many times that it became a rote fact in their minds, like 2 + 2 = 4, with little or no reason to question it. When everyone agrees on a rote fact, then there’s little discussion to be had; we don’t need to really dig deeper on whether or not 2 + 2 truly equals 4. But that’s not at all the actual context of Christianity today. People are challenging the facts of Christianity everywhere. To not actively and persistently engage in discussing those challenges with your kids is like continually beating them over the head with the fact that 2 + 2 = 4 while they are constantly hearing that 2 + 2 actually equals 6…or 8…or 12…or doesn’t have an answer at all. What reason do they have for believing what you are teaching them? That’s the question of today that every parent must answer.
That said, while some parents are aware of all these challenges and still feel they should take the authoritarian view of simply telling kids what to believe, I think the much more common issue is that parents simply aren’t aware of whatthe challenges are and howto address them. They outsource their kids’ faith to the church by default and frankly haven’t given much thought to taking the primary accountability for their kids’ spiritual development. These are the parents I most hope my book will reach. I hope to open their eyes to the challenges the world will pose to their kids’ faith, demonstrate how impactful these challenges can be, and empower them with the confidence to engage in having important faith conversations at home.
MCDOWELL: What are some mistakes you see parents making when trying to engage kids in meaningful conversations about apologetics topics?
CRAIN: In my experience, once parents become aware of the need to engage in ongoing, in-depth conversations about faith with their kids, they often default to one of three mistaken approaches. These are so common in what I hear from parents that I’ve even given the approaches names!
The first is what I call the “hand-off.” This is what I hear more than anything. Parents email me because they’ve become aware of the need to get their kids thinking more deeply about faith and they want to know what books to give them. The problem is that the success of this is dependent on your kids’ interest level and ability to understand the nuances of the material. Resources written for kids can be a wonderful tool for facilitatingconversations, but they should never be seen as a conversation replacer. Parents must get equipped to be the primary teacher and use such resources in a supporting role.
The second mistaken approach is the “wait-and-see.” This is where parents wait until their kids have questions about faith before trying to introduce apologetics. The problem is that some kids will never ask big questions because they either don’t think to, don’t care enough to, or are scared to. Again, we don’t wait until kids think to ask about history or care enough about history to make a plan for teaching them history. We should be having deep conversations about faith long before questions happen to bubble up to the surface (if they ever do).
The third mistaken approach is the “learn-it-all-first.” In this case, parents think they have to accrue some critical mass of knowledge before sitting down on a regular basis to have meaningful conversations. They fear not having all the answers and losing credibility when they don’t. But no matter how much knowledge you have, you’ll neverhave all the answers; your kids will benefit enormously from simply learning as you do. And when you don’t have an answer, it’s the perfect opportunity to work through how to find answers with your kids.
MCDOWELL: In your experience and research, what are the biggest questions kids have?
CRAIN: On several occasions, I’ve asked my blog readers or members of Christian parenting groups on Facebook to ask their kids what their biggest questions about Christianity are. Younger kids almost always ask conceptual questions about God, like how He could be eternal, where He is, what He looks like, and so on. Older elementary and middle schoolers tend to ask more questions about the salvation status of various people—why people go to hell, what happens to people who don’t hear about Jesus, what about other religions, etc. High schoolers are often focused on questions of science, as they begin learning about evolution and questioning how the Bible and science fit together. And all kids (and adults!) ask questions about the problem of evil (how a good God could let so much bad stuff happen in our world).
One important thing I tell all parents is that, no matter what questions our kids are asking, we also need to be bringing tough questions they don’t ask to their attention. For example, in my book, I discuss questions like, Does the Bible support slavery?, Why were books left out of the Bible?, and Is Christianity responsible for millions of deaths in history? These are questions kids are unlikely to ask themselves, but that skeptics will eventually bring to their attention. We need to prepare them for that whether they’re aware of these questions or not.
MCDOWELL: What is your advice for how parents should talk to kids about evolution?
CRAIN: I passionately believe that parents need to be equipped to discuss all the views on creation and evolution with their kids, from both a scriptural and scientific perspective. The most dangerous mistake a parent can make in this area is oversimplifying the subject or mocking evolution as some “crazy idea” that kids should be able to easily toss aside. Kids will learn about the evidence for evolution in great detail, and it won’t be something easily dismissed. Generally speaking, that means addressing four major topics: 1) Evolution isn’t necessarily an anti-Christian topic; 2) There is scientific evidence both consistent and inconsistent with evolutionary theory; 3) The age of the Earth and evolution are related but separate scientific subjects that Christians must grapple with; and 4) Theistic evolution (the belief that God used evolution to create life) has significant theological implications. I explain these four points in my post, 4 Key Points Christian Kids Need to Understand About Evolution. I also have a complete reading plan for parents on creation and evolution views here.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D.is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org