The Gospel and Your Teen
To follow with this metaphor, parents can be tempted toforce feed their children intellectually. After all, the outside world is carnal, secular, hostile to faith, and filled with a host of other cognitive Boogie Monsters that our children should be sheltered from entirely. Why teach them to think when it is so much easier to simply tell them what to believe? I'm going to argue that the goal of teaching is thinking. We are to teach our children to know the gospel in a way that enables them to think critically about the world they live in.
The Apostle John once said that his greatest joy was to know that his children walked in truth. This is surely the supreme ambition, or at least it should be, for every Christian parent. But secular challenges will come and we carry within us a nagging hunch that our teenagers will face them head on in ways that we can hardly imagine. Every God-fearing, Bible-believing, church-attending parent wants equipped progeny who are prepared to "understand their times," not unlike the sons of Issachar (see 1 Chronicles 12:32).
I'd like to offer three broad attitudes parents should develop about the gospel that can serve as boundaries for how they instruct their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
1. The Gospel is True.The warm glow of vanilla candles, the calming baritone of Bing Crosby, and a tall glass of cold eggnog are a "few of my favorite things" at Christmas time. The list would almost be complete if you added the flickering and crackling of a blazing fireplace and the original black and white version of Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. These are all fine holiday traditions observed in our home every December, but not a single one of them have any bearing on the fundamental meaning of the Incarnation.
The reason for sharing my seasonal nostalgia is because many teens grow up thinking that the ornamental features attached to belief in Christ are themselves of gospel significance. This is not to say there is anything wrong with preferences, cultural values, and personal opinions, but such things should never be confused with the gospel itself. Even if you removed both tinsel and tree from our home, we would still believe in and celebrate the birth of Christ.
The reason we are Christians is because Christianity is true. It is not because it is good for our family, though it is, nor because it brings great meaning to our lives, which it does. The fact that it is grounded in events that actually happened in human history is the only reason anyone should ever build their lives on the audacious claims of Jesus.
C.S. Lewis offers a helpful outline of this in Mere Christianity: "The great difficulty is to get modern audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity solely and simply because you happen to think it true; they always suppose you are preaching it because you like it or think it good for society or something of that sort."
2. The Gospel is Powerful.The Apostle Paul said the reason he is not ashamed of the gospel is because it is the power of God unto salvation (see Romans 1:16). It is though Paul is saying that no atheistic agenda, no secular strategy, no cultural clatter can ever muffle the saving power of God revealed in Jesus Christ. The gospel is the unstoppable and unrelenting redemptive work of God in the unfolding drama of human history. It alone can convince the skeptic and convert the sinner.
Being concerned about secular opposition isn't wrong, but an attitude of paranoia and fear is. Because the gospel is the very power of God, parents should not treat it like a family heirloom made of glass. It is not fragile. It is an uncontainable force. As Charles Spurgeon once remarked, "Who ever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose; it will defend itself." The gospel is, in this sense, the king of the intellectual jungle. Parents need not fear: the gospel will prevail. Just turn it loose.
3. The Gospel is Absolute.The late Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer once said that secular humanists have their feet firmly planted in midair. The values they hold are not adequately supported by their ultimate beliefs about reality. Schaeffer's point was that the gospel exclusively provides an objective basis for human flourishing. Every other worldview must, at some point, borrow capital from the Christian treasury in order to sustain an optimistic outlook. Few are willing to endure the conclusions of meaninglessness.
It doesn't take a Ph.D. in philosophy to see how alternative worldviews end in despair. It is impossible to find objective meaning in a universe devoid of a personal and loving Creator. Sure, humans can seek to generate meaning for themselves, or even reduce truth to individual perspective, yet absolute meaning is still unattainable apart from the gospel. As C.S. Lewis once commented, "God can't give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it isn't there. There's no such thing."
The gospel is the best, and only, idea worth clamping our minds shut on. While we want our children to be inquisitive, we don't want them to, as Chesterton said, "Be so openminded that their brains fall out." But the truth is we cannot shield our children from all falsehood and deception. This is why we must teach them to understand the gospel and to use gospel-discernment in evaluating contrary truth claims.
The gospel is true, powerful, and absolute. It provides an exclusive basis for the lives we wish to lead. It should not be packed away and protected from the "cold, dark world" only to be taken out once a year to be celebrated in isolation from our regular routines. It must be the center of our lives.
We can teach our children to memorize Scripture and even regurgitate Sunday School stories, but at some point we need to teach them to, as one scholar said, be able to hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, and properly interpret them both. And if we want our children to do this, we had better begin doing it ourselves.
The bitter reality is that many students, and (let's make it personal) many children, perhaps — God forbid — our children, will seek a foundation in life apart from Christ. We who understand the veracity and power of the gospel know this can only end in despair. If there were a patented method with a money-back guarantee for ensuring that our children will walk in truth, I would offer it gladly.
Yet, Scripture offers us no other source for hope than the gospel itself. And we need no other foundation. I'm reminded of the answer Peter gave when Jesus asked him if he would leave like so many others had done, "Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).
Our task, as parents, is to glorify God by demonstrating to our children how Christ alone can steady our hearts, sustain our lives, and satisfy our souls. And while we seek to fulfill our responsibilities as parents, we hold fast to the general principle taught in Proverbs that if we train them in the way they should go, when they are old, they will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). That is certainly a promise worth sinking our teeth into.
This article is courtesy of Parenting Teens Magazine.
Dr. Dan DeWitt is the dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate school of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a coffee snob, a C.S. Lewis enthusiast, and a consummate amateur. He and his wife April reside in Louisville, Ky., with their three sons (and one on the way). Dan posts regularly on his blog theolatte.com.