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Don’t let the culture train up your children in the way they should go

Our family loves to watch the Olympics. As we’ve watched the last several years, we’ve been noticing how different each Olympics has been even from the last time they were held. It seems more and more like every commercial has a rainbow flag or two men holding hands or someone who looks like a woman but has a beard. All of the sexuality is right there in your face as if this has been around forever and is wonderful. This made me start reflecting on how our world is catechizing us.

The world’s catechesis

No matter how many limits you put on screen time, if your kids are living in this world, I can guarantee that the world is catechizing them. This doesn’t happen in a formal way where the world is giving questions and answers, and kids memorize it. That would actually be easier. You could simply tell them, “Don’t read the world’s catechism.”

Instead, it does it through commercials. It does it through music. It does it through memes. It does it through YouTube clips. David Wells said that worldliness is whatever “makes sin look normal and righteousness seem strange.”¹ And that’s what our world does. It doesn’t give us a discursive argument: here’s why you should accept this sin. What it does instead is normalize it. That’s a type of catechesis (which is just an old word that means training or discipleship or instruction).

The question is not whether our children are being catechized or not. It’s whether we are going to catechize them ourselves, or if we are going to let the world do it. Even if you homeschool your kids or send them to a Christian school, they’re getting the world’s catechesis. So we need to be intentional about catechizing them with what is truly good, truly beautiful, truly life-changing, and life-saving, and God-glorifying.

We need to understand that mainstream culture is pushing in one direction. Whether you watch ESPN, your favorite sports team, Avengers movies, or the Olympics, you’re going to be pushed in that one direction. The culture is not going to push you to greater clarity or biblical fidelity, especially on issues related to sex and gender.

The bubble

Where is the line between seeking to protect our kids from this worldly catechesis and naively trying to shelter them in some kind of Christian bubble?

The first issue to understand is that children have the right to be children. On the one hand, my 8-year-old should be able to be an 8-year-old and shouldn’t have to know what problems are for 18-year-olds or 28-year-olds. So that’s a good kind of bubble. Especially when they’re younger, I want my kids to feel like the world is relatively safe and makes sense. I want them to have that kind of bubble that allows them to be a child.

On the other hand, by the time kids are teenagers, I want them to interact with the very best of secular ideologies within the safe space of their church and family. My 18-year-old is graduating from high school and going off to college and shouldn’t be sheltered from any of those questions. I want my kids to understand that there are hard things people are going to say about Christianity. It starts by being explicit about those things. The ideal is that they’ve already heard some of the hardest things they could hear about their faith before they run into them elsewhere.

Today those issues are becoming less about the reliability of the Bible or arguments for the resurrection and more about the ethics of Christianity. It used to be that people said, “Christians are dumb. They don’t believe in science.” Now it’s more often, “Christians are bad. They’re hateful. They’re bigots. They don’t love other people.”

Deconstructing the world

In terms of teaching our kids, I think churches and families actually do a fairly good job of giving the right conclusions. What I think we do a poor job of is giving the reasons for those conclusions.

Let’s say my kids graduate from their Christian school and leave home, and they’ve been taught that marriage is between a man and a woman. They have the right conclusion, but they don’t have some of the superstructure that leads to that conclusion. They have not been taught the objections to that conclusion or been prepared to meet the sort of people who seem to bely that conclusion. Then they’re going to go out into the world, and they will hold to biblical truth for a time, but it will sit very uneasy alongside everything else that inhabits their worldview. And eventually, when it’s one biblical conclusion against a thousand cultural assumptions, those cultural assumptions are going to win out.

The world is always deconstructing Christianity. We need to deconstruct the world. I did a talk in a school chapel not too long ago on the slogan “love is love.” There are a lot of people who are really confused about this. They’ll say they believe one thing, but when you look on their Instagram page, they’re liking the same stuff that everybody else is, which seems to contradict what they say they believe. So we need to unpack cultural ideas such as “love is love.” What does our world mean by that? What’s true about that? And what’s horribly misleading about that?

Establishing a safe and loving environment for questions

We want our kids to feel like the best place to go with their questions is to their parents. We hope they can trust their mom and dad more than a Google search. But that only comes with an atmosphere of love, trust, respect, and fun in the household.

I was once that kid who had questions, and I would take them to my parents. What my parents thought of me was important. When I had influences pushing me one way, there was always part of me thinking, I know my mom and dad love me, and what they think matters to me. That wasn’t a result of any one thing they did. We weren’t memorizing the catechism every night. But it was the cumulative effect of their love for one another and for their children throughout the ordinary stuff of life that catechized me.

How do we create an environment filled with intentional discipleship and catechesis? First, plan to have formal times of family worship. In our family, we share about our day at the dinner table. We encourage one another. We pray together. We read books. We’ve done all sorts of these things. But I’d be lying if I said we did something formal every night. We don’t. It’s a struggle for us to do that, but we do try to have formal times of family worship. For instance, there is the formal aspect to the routine of praying with our kids every night as we put them to bed.

Second, be ready for all of the informal times of catechesis. Recall the old adage that “more is caught than taught.” As your kids are teenagers in particular, you can’t plan for when you want to have a really great gospel conversation. You’ve got to be ready. It may be the middle of the night. It may be in the middle of shooting baskets outside. It may be a conversation in the car. At some point they will ask one of these questions. What you’re hopefully building in your child is a sense of trust. I trust my mom and dad, and I love them, and I know they love me.

Lastly, don’t neglect the fact that the best habit you can give your kids is that they go to church every Sunday. Our kids should not have to ask us, “Are we going to church this morning?” They should know that this happens every single Sunday. Of course there are reasons to miss church, but we need to send our kids a message about our priorities. And if we are implicitly teaching our kids that soccer is more important than church or that Sunday sports come first, and church fits in when it can, that’s a powerful message we’re sending.

You don’t need to lay it out as a catechism question. But you’re teaching those values and catechizing your kids.

Notes

¹ David F. Wells, Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 4.

This article first appeared on KevinDeYoung.com and is adapted from The Crossway Podcast: If You Don’t Catechize Your Kids, the World Will with guest Kevin DeYoung. It is reprinted here with the author’s permission.


Up Next


Parenting

Teaching your kid to appreciate broccoli

or, Cooking up a recipe for contentment ***** One of the most common complaints I hear from other parents is how they have been unable to get their children to eat certain types of food. As you will no doubt guess, I am not talking here about burgers, or candy, or other items packed with sugar or fat. Somehow the problem most of us seem to have with those sorts of foods is getting our children to understand the idea of moderation. But when it comes to green things that have come out of the ground, or things off a tree or bush that contain vitamin c, somehow many of us struggle. I have watched more than one parent giving up. The battles took their toll and the child won. And so they have a whole list of things that they “can’t” give to their children: They won’t touch broccoli, they can’t eat parsnips. They won’t touch carrots, they can’t eat peas. They’ll eat potatoes, but only as long as they are roasted or fried. If they’re boiled or mashed, you can forget it. Our kids eat everything So this is going to sound like boasting, or that we just happened to have been blessed with a bunch of abnormal children – it really is neither – but in my six-child household, every child eats everything we put in front of them. Okay, that’s not strictly the case. There are one or two foods maximum that they really, really don’t like, and we accept this. However, whilst we accept that there may be the odd food item that they really, really struggle with, this is a far cry from tolerating the kind of food whining that leads to a great long list of don’ts and can’ts. As I say, I hope that doesn’t come across as boasting. It’s not that we haven’t gone through the same battles that most parents seem to go through – it’s just that we were determined to win those battles, rather than pandering to the whims of a two-year-old who will gladly eat another chocolate pudding, but won’t touch their tomatoes. More important than we might believe I believe that this battle is a far more important one than we might be tempted to think. It is not simply a case of physical health, though that is important. Nor is it just a case of establishing parental authority, though that is crucial too. Even more important than that, the meal table in our formative years is very much a training ground for how we will end up coping with the things that providence will throw at us over the course of our life. Why is that so? The Scriptural route to contentment is to cultivate thankfulness, and so in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul says that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Even more pertinent to this discussion, the Scriptural route to contentment around the table is to give thanks for the food that is set before us: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). Which would exclude fussing! The key to getting our children to eat without fuss is to therefore to instill thankfulness in them. However, this might well seem to be somewhat of a paradox. If they won’t eat, how can they be thankful? And if they’re not thankful, how then can they eat without fuss? The Scriptures get it backwards; so should we The Scriptures are often quite counter-intuitive on issues where we are exhorted to do something that we don’t really want to do. Take the end of Psalm 31, for instance, where we read this: “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.” That sounds counter-intuitive because it seems to be the wrong way around. Surely if we’re lacking courage, we need God to strengthen our heart first. But no. It actually says that if we want our heart to be strengthened, we first need to be of good courage. A similar pattern is found in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Again, it sounds to us a little upside down. Surely our treasure follows our heart. Well maybe it does, but in this passage what Jesus is emphasizing is that where we put our money, our effort and our resources, there our hearts will be. In other words, if we want to be strong in heart, we are exhorted to be courageous. If we want to have more of a heart for, say, the overseas missionary work our church supports, the best thing we can do is to contribute more money to it, which will have the effect of engaging our hearts. The same principle is true of thankfulness. If we don’t feel like being particularly thankful, the biblical antidote is to be thankful. And the more we strive to be thankful in the little things, the more we will find it easy to be thankful for all things. This is the secret of contentment. It starts with thankfulness Which brings us back to the fussy food issue. Children often have a natural disposition to fuss, whine and complain about food. What happens if we indulge that? We are not only teaching them that they can have a list of foods they don’t have to eat, but far more importantly we are teaching them to be unthankful and discontented. Or to put that another way, we are teaching them that “everything created by God is not good, and many things are to be rejected and not received with thanksgiving.” But if we strive to instill thankfulness in them, even for the things they say they don’t like, they will be far more likely to imbibe a spirit of thankfulness, which in turn will make them far more likely to eat what is put in front of them. If we indulge their discontentment, do we suppose that this spirit will stop at food? Unlikely. I have no empirical evidence for this, no great studies that I can turn to make an explicit case for cause and effect, but I do know that I live in a generation that is far less contented and thankful than previous generations. It is a generation that fights for its perceived rights, and is often unable to accept when it doesn’t get those “rights,” or when it doesn’t get stuff now. Our grandparents survived Where was this learned? I think a lot of it was learned around the meal table, and by that I don’t just mean whether or not a child actually gets to eat around the table with their parents – though that is of course a crucial factor. No, I’m talking about intact families, but families where everybody is eating something different, because the fussiness has been indulged and there is a long list of stuff that won’t be touched. A few decades ago, this wouldn’t even have been an issue, since there was far less choice of food and most people could only dream of being able to afford the kind of stuff we have now. The family would eat the same food because that’s all there was. Today, we have so much more at our disposal and children are usually very much aware of that. How do we tackle it? A mistake I have seen many make is to assume that when children say they don’t like this or they can’t eat that, that they really don’t like this or they really can’t eat that. More often than not, this is a trick and what they really mean, although they won’t express it this way is, “This isn’t on my list of 10 favorite foods, and so I’m not going to touch it.” I’ve listened to more than one parent who has fallen for that tactic, and who has sounded like an ambassador for their child and their fussiness by reeling off a long list of food their children apparently just cannot have. I’m sorry, I don’t believe it. If there were any truth in it, children decades ago who had no alternative choices given to them would have starved. But they didn’t. Conclusion None of that is to imply that this is easy. In my house it has, at times, been extremely difficult. In fact, it still is. However, I believe that the rewards for persevering and for insisting that your child eats the same food as the rest of the family are huge. The ordeal of seeing that two-year-old resist eating that green stuff can be extremely trying. However, it is nothing compared to the joy of seeing them finally come to terms with the fact that they are going to have to eat it, but even more than that, then seeing them slowly coming to like it. In fact, this is the best way to train your child for a life of thankfulness and contentment that I can think of....


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