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An exchange in Ligonier’s Tabletalk interview with Don Carson:

TT: What is the best way for parents to prepare their children for the attacks on their faith they may face in college?

There is no formulaic answer and no guarantee. For a start, our children themselves are extraordinarily diverse. Many will be tempted by postmodern assumptions. Others will feel far greater threats from biologists, cosmologists, or psychologists who operate under the assumptions of raw atheism or, worse, functional atheism. All I can do is enumerate some values and practices in the home that seem to me to be wise, biblically faithful, and useful in mitigating the dangers. These are exemplary, not exhaustive.

First, the home should encourage vigorous Christian understanding. The most dangerous seedbed for intellectual rebellion is a home where faith is sentimental and even anti-intellectual, and where opponents are painted as ignorant knaves, because eventually our children discover that there are some really nice people who are atheists and agnostics, and they can present arguments in sophisticated, gentle, and persuasive fashion.

Similarly, the local church with young people who are heading off to college should be doing what it can to prepare them—first with a solid grasp of Christian essentials, and second with the rudiments of responsible apologetics.

At the same time, both the home and the church should be living out a Christian faith that is more than intellectually rigorous. It should be striving for biblically-faithful authenticity across the board: genuine love for God and neighbor, living with eternity in view, quickness to confess sin and seek reconciliation, a concern for the lost and the broken, faithfulness in praise and intercessory prayer, a transparent delight in holiness, and a contagious joy in God. Even if our children are sucked into intellectual nihilism for a while, over the long haul it is important that they remember what biblically-faithful Christianity looks like in the home and in the church.

Fourth, wisdom in shaping our kids demands more structure when they are young; more discussion, carefully monitored controls, and a safety net as they grow older; and a willingness, in most instances, to wait to be asked for advice when they have genuinely left the nest and are no longer dependent on our roof or our wallets.

Finally, pray for them. Pray for them especially diligently when you recognize, as you repeatedly will, that unless the Lord builds the house, those who labor do so in vain.

* * *

You can read the whole interview here.

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11 thoughts on “D. A. Carson on 5 Ways to Prepare Kids for Attacks on Their Faith”

  1. EBG says:

    “FINALLY, pray for them” ??
    No, no, no:
    First, pray for them!
    Similarly, pray for them!
    At the same time, pray for them!
    Fourth, pray for them!
    Finally, pray for them!
    Never stop praying for them!

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Of course Carson wouldn’t disagree with this. His suggestions are not necessarily chronological or a five-step plan.

  2. EBG says:

    I agree, Justin, it’s just that as a mother of five, I become disheartened when I read a multi-paragraphed article on ” 5 Ways to Prepare Kids for Attacks on Their Faith”, devote a mere two sentences to the necessity of prayer. And I will add that preparing my child for hypothetical battles at college can be distracting. God will preserve His chosen ones. My focus is on praying for my children’s salvation and their preparation for meeting their Saviour, Judge, and King face to face.

    1. EBG, that’s just the age old problem of writing about prayer. Prayer must be done, it is of first importance but can many paragraphs actually be written about it? There is often not much more to say about it than: It is of vital importance. Do it without ceasing. See? That’s only two sentences.

      Because prayer is difficult to write about, it often seems like it is given a backseat but it is not necessarily true.

  3. Mike says:

    Prayer is important, but so is instruction. I like the Parable of the Sower because, as with many of the Bible’s lessons, it has multiple meanings. On the one hand, we are the sower, and we are planting seeds with those we meet that will (hopefully) eventually lead them to salvation. Our job, in that case is not to keep throwing seed at the unfertile ground hoping for good results, because some have already hardened their hearts against God. Sometimes, we may just have to realize we’ve done our work and move on.

    However, at the same time, we’re also the ground in that parable, and the fruit is the salvation of others. Only by committing ourselves to being “good ground” will we bear fruit. That calls on us to do more than pray… it calls on us to prepare ourselves. We cannot effectively defend our faith if we do not put any efforts into learning the arguments against it. Without specifics, we cannot argue against, for instance, evolution… we need to be knowledgeable in what we’re talking about, or our arguments will fall flat the first time we talk to someone who IS investing time into learning about it. At the same time, we need to learn about our arguments for our faith, so when someone throws that tired bit about “Christianity is just an extension of Mithraism”, we can show them exactly where and why they’re wrong, and how their suppositions about Mithra were invented after-the-fact to make it appear more similar to Christianity and thus discredit it.

    When kids go to college, they’re often leaving the fishbowl of their High School lives and moving into the vast ocean that is the rest of the world. They may think that their arguments are secure, and novel, and have never been heard or thought of before. That happens not just with Christian kids, but with non-Christian kids as well. Our goal, as parents, should be to show them that Christianity has been under attack since its inception, and that there is nothing new or novel about these present-day attacks, most of which use lies that have been around for hundreds of years, and which have been thoroughly debunked for anyone willing to spend the time to look it up. By doing this, we can arm them with a strong foundation to fall back upon with their faith is challenged. The strongest of these foundations, however, isn’t knowledge, but rather the desire to seek out such knowledge on their own, guided by faith in God as the only truth, and an understanding that all other “truths” are simply data that has not yet been proven false.

  4. Robert says:

    A lot of wisdom in this for sure. I would emphasize that children seeing hypocrisy modeled through their upbringing by their parents is a very hard thing to undo. If it wasn’t real in our respective lives as parents, their receptors as (now adult) children are going to be covered by some hard, hard ground.

  5. EBG says:

    “Devote yourselves to prayer”
    Colossians 4:2
    It is interesting to remark how large a portion of the Scriptures is occupied with the subject of prayer, either in furnishing examples, enforcing precepts, or pronouncing promises. We scarcely open the Bible before we read, “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord”; and just as we are about to close the volume, the “Amen” of an earnest supplication meets our ear. Instances are plentiful. Here we find a wrestling Jacob-there a Daniel who prayed three times a day-and a David who with all his heart called upon his God. On the mountain we see Elias; in the dungeon Paul and Silas. We have multitudes of commands, and myriads of promises. What does this teach us, but the sacred importance and necessity of prayer? We may be certain that whatever God has made prominent in his Word, he intended to be conspicuous in our lives. If he has said much about prayer, it is because he knows we have much need of it. So deep are our necessities, that until we are in heaven we must not cease to pray. Dost thou want nothing? Then, I fear thou dost not know thy poverty. Hast thou no mercy to ask of God? Then, may the Lord’s mercy show thee thy misery! A prayerless soul is a Christless soul. Prayer is the lisping of the believing infant, the shout of the fighting believer, the requiem of the dying saint falling asleep in Jesus. It is the breath, the watchword, the comfort, the strength, the honour of a Christian. If thou be a child of God, thou wilt seek thy Father’s face, and live in thy Father’s love. Pray that this year thou mayst be holy, humble, zealous, and patient; have closer communion with Christ, and enter oftener into the banqueting-house of his love. Pray that thou mayst be an example and a blessing unto others, and that thou mayst live more to the glory of thy Master. The motto for this year must be, “Devote yourselves to prayer”
    C.H. Spurgeon

    1. Touche! You got me and I concede.

      You are obviously passionate about prayer. May that be contagious in others!

  6. EBG says:

    “Touche!” was really the furthest thing from my mind when I posted Spurgeon’s quote, Steve.

    Having grown up in a British, non-Christian, dysfunctional home, it was the prayers God’s people that brought me, “the vilest offender”, to the Cross; to receiving God’s forgiveness and entering into a fully satisfying relationship with Him in my early twenties. I can not be any thing other than utterly convinced of the absolute necessity of prayer as we look to the lives of our children and their future.
    For me, some of the most powerful, comforting, and assuring words are simply, ” I am praying for your family today”
    May you experience great joy and confidence as you come before His Throne of Grace in 2013.

  7. As a college pastor I regularly help students wrestle with issues of worldview. I’d agree with Carson. The students I see that ‘make it’ are students that have been raised well, by parents who love Jesus, are committed to His bride and are also committed to discipling their children. They are the ones who thrive in college. This, as a young parent, has encouraged me to love my daughter and son, discipling them–pointing them to Jesus.

    Interestingly enough I wrote a post on a similar topic on the site I lead. It may be helpful:

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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