Tag Archives: Church

Natasha Crain: how Christian parents can teach their kids about atheism

Natasha Crain
Natasha Crain

A must-read post for parents from Christian super-mom Natasha Crain.

Intro:

In today’s post, I want to give you some very practical ideas for teaching your kids about atheism. The first seven are appropriate for kids of all ages, while the second seven are appropriate for middle school and older kids.

So I’ll choose one from the first seven, and one from the second seven.

4. Discuss Jesus’ miracles in the context of proving his identity.

When I was growing up, my sole understanding of miracles was that Jesus did a lot of cool stuff when He was on earth – stuff I had to color pictures about. It never occurred to me that there was a reason He did miracles until I was an adult. What a huge point I had missed: Jesus performed miracles in large part toprove He really was God’s Son.

The reason this point is so important to make with kids is that it solidifies an understanding that God never asked us to have a blind faith, where we just have to guess about His existence. Jesus didn’t walk around on earth merely claiming a heavenly authority. He demonstrated his power with visible evidence. When kids get a bit older, they will be ready to start learning the specifics of the evidence we have today (e.g., the cosmological argument, the design argument, the moral argument and historical evidence for the resurrection).

One of the most awesome things about the Christian faith is that the founder is constantly appealing to evidence in order to win over skeptics and enemies. (Goodness, just read the gospel of John – that is the whole point of it, and it’s written really well to make that obvious) He never says to people “just have faith” or “just be more moral” or “just believe me without evidence”. He’s all about the evidence. Jesus was an evidentialist.

And from the last seven, I chose these two:

11. [Older Kids] Challenge your kids with a role play.

Want to see how prepared your kids currently are to address challenges to their faith? Try a role play. You be the atheist. See how your kids respond. Here’s an example for you to say: “I don’t believe God exists. There’s no evidence! I believe in science. Why do you believe in a God you can’t prove exists?” This is the most basic of claims – see what your kids do with it. Keep pushing back on them after they respond. Use what happens as an opportunity to look for learning opportunities in the areas that come up.

12. [Older Kids] Watch debates between a Christian and an atheist.

There are many debates available to watch online (for free). Sit down as a family to watch one and encourage everyone to take notes on the points that were strongest and weakest for both sides. Use it as a springboard for discussion when the debate is done, and follow up with study on any new points. Here are a couple of examples to consider:

William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens – Does God Exist?

Mike Licona vs. Bart Ehrman – Can Historians Prove Jesus Rose from the Dead? (I should note Ehrman is an agnostic, not an atheist.)

I think the bigger point about this post is that parents ought to have a plan for raising Christian kids. So many kids who are raised in the church by “Christian” parents fall away as soon as they hit the university, but there is almost no concern about the university in most churches. Why is that? And can you really outsource the teaching of your kids to pastors who don’t prepare them for college? There is a definition of faith in conservative churches that is not Biblical. It seeks to make faith about emotions and spirituality. Confirming what the Bible says using logical arguments and evidence is frowned upon, even if the parents are smart enough to learn apologetics given their success in other areas (like their careers). In church, it’s seen as “more pious” to just believe what the Bible says without evidence, and try to make Christianity about love instead of truth. That’s what churches teach, but it’s not in the Bible. The Bible is all about presenting evidence to non-believers.

How can we get single men and husbands to be interested in church and ministry?

Church sucks, that's why men are bored there
Church is ineffective and impractical, and that’s why men are bored there

Consider this passage from William Lane Craig’s April 2013 newsletter, which made me very excited and happy. (H/T Triablogue)

Here it is:

One overwhelming impression of these engagements is the way in which the intellectual defense of Christian faith attracts men. Both at Texas A&M and again at Miami every single student who got up to ask a question was a guy! I wondered if the girls are just shy. But then I remembered a lengthy clip Jan and I watched of cast members of Downton Abbey doing a Q&A with an audience in New York. Almost every person who came to the microphone at that event was a woman! It wasn’t until late into the evening that a man finally asked a question, which was remarked by all the cast members. Why the difference between that session and the ones I experienced?—simply because the Downton Abbey program is highly relational, which is more appealing to women, whereas my talks were principally intellectually oriented, which is more appealing to men.

Churches have difficulty attracting men, and the church is becoming increasingly feminized. I believe that apologetics is a key to attracting large numbers of men (as well as women) to church and to Christ. By presenting rational arguments and historical evidences for the truth of the Gospel, by appealing to the mind as well as the heart, we can bring a great influx of men into the Kingdom. I’m so pleased that the church in Canada seems to be awakening to this challenge! I’m convinced that we have the opportunity to revolutionize Western Christianity by reclaiming our intellectual heritage.

Now, I hear a lot of complaints from women in the church and pastors in the church about men not being interested in going to church. I think that the problem is that church is hostile to men’s natures. Men thrive on conflict and competition. Men prefer strict rules and moral judgments. Men prefer to shame people who underperform, rather than coddle them. Men are practical and results focused. So how should the church accommodate the different nature that men have? Apologetics is one way to appeal to the male nature.

Let’s take a look at it.

Pastors: church as it is now is abrasive to men’s male nature

In a recent William Lane Craig podcast, at time 8:47, the WLC tells Kevin Harris about how he and his wife Jan asked about six of the young men who attend his “Defenders” apologetics class which morning service they attended: traditional or contemporary. ALL of the young men said that they attended neither service, because they go to church to learn something and the service has no educational value to them. The only attend the Defenders class. The apologetics class taught them things they could actually use – things they could actually use to think better, and fight better. This is my experience as well, although I am looking for a better church that does have some appeal to men. I might even have to move to find a decent church that has apologetics.

There is absolutely nothing going on in most churches that is valuable to a man. Men, by and large, only pray as a last resort, after we have done everything we can to solve the problem ourselves. We pay the most attention to the parts of the Bible that help us debate with non-Christians, or that give us things to do. We like to find evidence in the real world that connects with what the Bible is saying. We are interested in planning, execution and results. We are not very interested in feelings, singing, devotions, or bending the rules to make people doing bad things feel good. Now that’s not necessarily true for all men, but it is true for the majority of men.

And lest some people worry that fighting makes enemies, it doesn’t. Fighting with non-Christians has two effects: 1) they respect Christianity more, and 2) they want to be your friends and talk to you about spiritual things. Atheists see your standing up for what you believe in and living consistently with it indicative of authenticity. That is not the exception, Christian women and pastors – that is the rule. Atheists don’t think that standing up for what you believe in makes Christianity look fake, they think it makes Christianity look authentic. Well, at least the ones who are worth talking to think that.

Wives: don’t choose men who had no interest in advocating for Christianity before you married them

A related problem I see is the problem of wives marrying the wrong men then complaining that the men they freely chose to marry are not interested in church. This is actually the woman’s fault. Most women don’t think about what is best for God when they think about who to marry and have children with, they think about what makes them feel good. They don’t have any kind of plan where they match the man’s ability to the roles he will play as husband and father – they just pick who makes them feel good. This works about as well as buying and selling stocks based on which make you feel good, or choosing electronics and computers based on the color, or choosing a job or a church based on what the building looks like. The Bible lays out a few minimal requirements for a man: chastity, self-sacrificial love, providing for family, leading on moral and spiritual issues. Most young, unmarried women don’t value those things. If a woman picks a man who doesn’t make any demands on them, and who doesn’t judge them, then she cannot depend on him to show spiritual and moral leadership later on in the marriage. So don’t pick a man like that.

Wives: men respond to attention, recognition and approval from women

The reason that most husbands don’t engage in Christianity is because most wives (not my married friends of course) haven’t approached Christianity as something that is objectively true. Men don’t create illusions for themselves in order to feel better – they are more practical than that. Men only invest in things that they think are true, and where they can see that their practical efforts will make a difference. Men are turned off by the view that Christianity is just something that helps families and communities bond, and makes people feel comfort. We think that’s weakness, and we abhor weakness. Once men get the idea that a woman thinks of Christianity as feelings-fulfillment, we stop trying to achieve anything for the Kingdom of God. Men don’t want to be roped into Christianity if all it means is helping people get along and feel good. But they very much want to be roped into a demanding relationship with God where their efforts to achieve results count with God and gets them recognition and approval from their wives.

So how do wives learn to recognize and approve of what men do as Christians? Well, women need to learn apologetics and they need to practice debating with non-Christians. That will teach them to value conflict and competition, and to see how engagement and authenticity drives relationships with non-Christians forward. If women show an interest in objective truth, moral goodness and theological correctness, then men will become interested in these things, too. They will do it because men are addicted to pleasing women, and they want to help women more than anything in the world, second only to pleasing God. Men will enthusiastically engage in whatever will get them praise and recognition from women, and that means that women have to care about Christianity beyond their personal emotional experience of it and beyond their social cohesion experience of it. Initially, wives must be ready to praise and encourage their husbands, and then once the husbands get it, then they will be self-motivated and move out on their own. It will be self-sustaining.

Pastor Matt discusses his past experiences as an atheist – part 2

A long journey through the night
A long journey through the night

Here’s another post from Pastor Matt that I think offers some more helpful insight into how we should approach young people with Christianity. The point of this post is that relationships matter.

Excerpt:

When I was attending North Hollywood High in the fall of 1990, there was a kid in one of my classes who often followed me on my walk home to my apartment off of Magnolia Boulevard.  He did the Four Spiritual Laws and Roman Road presentation.  He spoke about he and his family’s faith in Jesus and wanted to know if I would come with them to church.  But he never asked a single question about me personally.  I always declined his invitations and eventually he moved on to someone else.

[…]Looking back, I had a very fuzzy understanding of the Gospel.  I (and I think many people who call themselves Christians) are what theologians call “semi-Pelagians.”  I believed anyone could come to the altar but if they wanted to continue to be welcomed in the pews, they had to clean up their act and do so almost overnight.  The culture of Christianity at large appeared to me to be that if you came to faith and continued to struggle with lust, a foul mouth or whatnot then there was just something wrong with you.  I felt the church was more about behavior modification than grace.

I needed someone who I knew loved me to sit down with me long before all of these problems arose, look me in the eye and tell me how easy and how difficult it is to be a Christian.  I needed someone cared for me to unpack 2 Corinthians 5:21 and point out that by being “in Christ” I would be judged by Christ’s perfect life instead of my own.  I needed to know that the faith is not about “keeping the rules” but about doing things and not doing certain things to show my love and gratitude to God for what He did for me.  I needed to be able to read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, in a way that always pointed to Jesus Christ.  I needed to understand that God has graciously given us the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, serving the poor, worship, etc. to help me grow.  I needed to hear that all Christians struggle with sin and will, to a certain degree, until they go to be with the Lord or He returns to be with us.

I needed good theology, good spiritual practices, good apologetics and good relationships.  I needed  knowledge and it needed to come from someone who I knew loved me even though I was thoroughly unlovable.  You can’t just leave this to the church staff because they do not have to time to meet with everyone and people with a chip on their shoulder about the church (like I had) feel like they are just doing it as part of their job.  All young people in the church, especially the “troubled kids” need this.  It is a lot of work but anyone’s eternity is worth it, isn’t it?

I think that I do my best work away from the blog when I take on atheists or new Christians or Christians who want to grow one on one and focus on them for long periods of time. Sometimes, it’s talking to them on Skype. Sometimes, it’s rewards for doing well in school or in their Christian lives. But all the best work is done one on one. That’s when you really get a chance to get to know people and to care about them.

I think the most important thing you can tell a young Christian is to focus less on mere following of the rules. I always ask them more about making a plan for their lives that achieves something amazing for God’s kingdom, while still not breaking any of the rules. The following the rules is not the key thing to focus on. The key thing here is your relationship with God. So you should find out what needs doing, and just do it. If it’s intelligent design research, then do it. If it’s finding early NT manuscripts, then do it. If it’s working for the ADF defending religious liberty at the Supreme Court, then do it. If it’s becoming a Christian professor at a secular university, then do it. If it’s debating an atheist cosmologist, then do it. If it’s promoting the free market system which alleviates poverty, then do it. If it’s protecting democratic countries from aggression by being a soldier, then do it. Stop making Christianity a dull prison, and start making it a blank canvas for a masterpiece.

Pastor Matt discusses his past experiences as an atheist – part 1

A long journey through the night
A long journey through the night

Don’t worry, he was an atheist then, and now he’s pastor Matt, thanks to God’s grace.

In this post Pastor Matt talks about why he was once an atheist.

Excerpt:

I am sometimes asked, by both skeptics and believers alike, why I was once an atheist and what convinced me to become a Christian.  I will answer the latter in another post but let me deal with the former now.

I am a “PK” or “preacher’s kid.”  My father served as the founding pastor of the largest church in southern Ohio.  It is a non-denominational, evangelical congregation that grew very quickly.

As a PK, I was privy to a lot of “inside information” and it was not encouraging.  I learned men and women who sang hymns with passion and shouted “Amen!” with gusto during the sermon were cheating on their spouse or on their taxes.

By the time I was a teenager I understood why those who called themselves Christians lived secret lives–they wanted to believe but really didn’t.  I understood because I became one of them.

I was an active member of an ’80′s evangelical youth group.  So, I rocked out to Stryper, had comedian Pat Hurley tapes and volunteered for the children’s ministry, which consisted of videotaping episodes of Superbook and The Flying House for the kids.  However, I actually seriously doubted if God even existed.

I was struggling with the normal sins of a teenager and begged for help in prayer.  I also petitioned God on a regular basis to feel His presence but that didn’t happen either.

I eventually came to the conclusion that Christianity simply didn’t work.  I declared myself an atheist at age fifteen and remained an unbeliever for the next ten years.

I ran away from home at age fifteen as well eventually making my way to Hollywood.  During those days I partied like it was 1999 (until 1997) and like Aldous Huxley is quoted as saying decades before, I came to not even want God to be real because even the possibility interfered with my desire to create my own morality.

Christianity is not something where you just profess it and suddenly you are automatically perfect. You get the gift of eternal life immediately by faith in Christ, but becoming more like Christ takes time. It’s easier to act consistently with the teachings of Christ if you have spent the time studying, practicing and growing as a Christian. You shouldn’t expect perfect behavior on day one – that is crazy. You should expect that as your beliefs become more solid, then your outward actions will change naturally. And often what you hear at home and in the church is not the best for finding truth through investigation and debate.

It would be terrible to have to put out “good” actions when you never settled the questions of what is true and how are we going to apply what is true in our own decisions. Sometimes, I think that young Christians face too much pressure to appear to be perfect when no one has been willing to help them work through the grounding for the behaviors they are expected to display. And I think a lot of the behaviors they are expected to display are either not important or not Biblical. Behaving like a  Christian should be natural – it should proceed from free inquiry, not dogmatism.

Now I’m skipping a lot, but here is his advice for people who were in his situation:

I’ll get to my conversion later but keep in mind: (1) just because a person attends a church, even if they are a PK, that he or she truly comprehends the Gospel because I didn’t a full understanding; (2) pastors need to constantly remind their parishioners that sin is easy and living for Christ is difficult because believers are part of a cosmic struggle; (3) the spiritual disciplines are invaluable especially so for young people; and (4) there are many solid arguments for the existence of God and few for materialism and all Christians deserve to know them.

I’ve spent some time mentoring young Christians who had fallen away for some period of  time, and I always make a point of asking them why. Their answer is usually something like this: “I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t care because no one else cared.” The first thing to do with a person who is rebelling is to get in there and start to ask them questions and get involved in helping them to succeed in their lives. People do bad things because they feel that no one cares. So you better start caring for these young people, whether they are smart, dumb, pretty, ugly, poor, rich, popular, unpopular – it doesn’t matter. They all have souls, and they were all made to know God. Get in there and be real with them before they make a mess of their lives.

 

William Lane Craig discusses faith and reason with university students

William Lane Craig lecturing to university students
William Lane Craig lecturing to university students

This is an interview of Dr. William Lane Craig before college students at the University of Central Florida. (95 minutes)

You can get an MP3 of the lecture here. (33 MB)

Questions from the interviewer: (40 minutes)

  • What started you on his journey of studying faith and reason?
  • How would you define the word “faith”?
  • Are faith and reason compatible? How are they related?
  • How can reasonable faith help us to avoid the two extremes of superstition and nihilism?
  • Who makes the best arguments against the Christian faith?
  • Why are angry atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens more well known than better-informed academic atheists?
  • Does the Bible require Christians to give the unbeliever reasons for their faith?
  • How does faith spur Christians to think carefully about the big questions in life?
  • Should the American church prod churchgoers to develop their minds so they can engage the secular culture?
  • When talking about Christianity intellectually, is there a risk of neglecting the experience of being a Christian?
  • Which Christian apologist has shaped your thinking the most?
  • Which Christian philosopher has shaped your thinking the most?
  • Does the confidence that comes from apologetics undermine humility and reverence?
  • If you had to sketch out a 5 minute case for Christianity, what would you present?
  • Can non-Christians use their reason to arrive at truth?
  • Are there cases where atheists must affirm irrational things in order to remain atheists?
  • Can the universe have existed eternal, so that there is no need to explain who created it?
  • Even if you persuade someone that Christianity is true, does that mean they will live it out?

There is also a long period of questions, many of them hostile, from the audience of students (55 minutes).

  • Haven’t you said nasty things about some atheists? Aren’t you a meany?
  • What do you make of the presuppositional approach to apologetics?
  • Can a person stop being a Christian because of the chances that happen to them as they age?
  • Why did God wait so long after humans appeared to reveal himself to people through Jesus?
  • Can a person be saved by faith without have any intellectual assent to truth?
  • How do you find time for regular things like marriage when you have to study and speak so much?
  • How would you respond to Zeitgeist and parallels to Christianity in Greek/Roman mythology?
  • Do Christians have to assume that the Bible is inerrant and inspired in order to evangelize?
  • If the universe has a beginning, then why doesn’t God have a beginning?
  • Can you name some philosophical resources on abstract objects, Platonism and nominalism?
  • How can you know that Christianity more right than other religions?
  • Should we respond to the problem of evil by saying that our moral notions are different from God’s?
  • Define the A and B theories of time. Explain how they relate to the kalam cosmological argument.
  • How can Christians claim that their view is true in the face of so many world religions?
  • What is the role of emotions in Christian belief and thought?
  • Can evolution be reconciled with Christian beliefs and the Bible?
  • When witnessing person-to-person, should you balance apologetics with personal testimony?
  • Is there a good analogy for the trinity that can help people to understand it? [Note: HE HAS ONE!]
  • How can Christians reconcile God’s omniscience, God’s sovereignty and human free will?

This is a nice introductory lecture that is sure to get Christians to become interested in apologetics. As you watch or listen to it, imagine what the world would be like if every Christian could answer the questions of skeptical college students and professors like Dr. Craig. What would non-Christians think about Christianity if every Christian had studied these issues like Dr. Craig? Why aren’t we making an effort to study these things so that we can answer these questions?

It is really fun to see him fielding the questions from the skeptical university students. My favorite question was from the physics student who sounds really foreign, (at 1:19:00), then you realize that he is a Christian. I do think that Dr. Craig went a little far in accommodating evolution, but I put that down to the venue, and not wanting to get into a peripheral issue. I’m also surprised that no one asked him why God allows humans to suffer and commit acts of evil.

If you are looking for a good basic book on apologetics, then I would choose “Is God Just a Human Invention?” by Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow. And you can even be part of a reading group that Brian Auten of Apologetics 315 just announced, that I will be participating in. We will all be reading the book together, chapter by chapter, and lots of people will be available to answer your questions.

Who is William Lane Craig?

About William Lane Craig:

William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.

Dr. Craig pursued his undergraduate studies at Wheaton College (B.A. 1971) and graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A. 1974; M.A. 1975), the University of Birmingham (England) (Ph.D. 1977), and the University of Munich (Germany) (D.Theol. 1984). From 1980-86 he taught Philosophy of Religion at Trinity… In 1987 they moved to Brussels, Belgium, where Dr. Craig pursued research at the University of Louvain until assuming his position at Talbot in 1994.

He has authored or edited over thirty books, including The Kalam Cosmological ArgumentAssessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of JesusDivine Foreknowledge and Human FreedomTheism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology; and God, Time and Eternity, as well as over a hundred articles in professional journals of philosophy and theology, including The Journal of PhilosophyNew Testament StudiesJournal for the Study of the New TestamentAmerican Philosophical QuarterlyPhilosophical StudiesPhilosophy, and British Journal for Philosophy of Science.

Craig’s CV is here.

Craig’s list of publications is here.

William Lane Craig is, without a doubt, the top living defender of Christianity. He has debated all of the most famous atheists, including Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc. as well as academic atheists like Quentin Smith, Peter Millican, etc. if you search this blog, you’ll find many debates posted here, sometimes even with snarky summaries.