What if Your Child Questions Christianity? Because It’s likely they will.
Cynthia: I remember as a little girl, I began to question the story of Santa Claus. My parents taught me Santa Claus really existed. And I wondered how he could visit all the people in the world in one night. How could he get in our house? Because we didn’t have a chimney. I began to think this is not very rational, not very logical.
And, and over time I began to reason my way out of believing in Santa Claus. Well, our kids are going to question Christianity because they’re reasonable, rational human beings. And that is something we want them to do because Christianity is very strong and can stand up to questions. So, if your kid starts asking questions, do not panic.
Today I have with me Mike McGarry. He has been a youth pastor for a good many years, and he’s written a book called Discover: Questioning Your Way to Faith, and he’s got a whole book full of questions that kids ask. Welcome, Mike!
Mike: Thank you so much for having me today.
Cynthia: I would like to know what the most common question is.
Mike: Oh man, it’s hard to answer that question. I’ve been asked that question a lot lately for obvious reasons. And I think the, the biggest questions that they’re asking commonly have to do with gender, sexuality, and mental health.
A lot of the other kind of more explicitly theological questions that students are asking have to do with, you know, kind of tolerance and how do we know that Jesus is the only way? Is there any actual evidence for Christianity and was Jesus even a real historical person?
Those questions often come sideways. So, they’re asking them, but they’re asking a lot of those types of questions indirectly. The straightforward questions that students are asking today typically have to do with the felt need type of issues like gender, sexuality, mental health.
Cynthia: Let’s start there then with sexuality. So, how do you deal with that when people start asking you questions. “Well, shouldn’t we be kind to these homosexuals? They can’t help it.” What I mean, and that’s of the things that they say. And usually when they’re going in that direction, they’re headed there.
So how do you handle all that?
Mike: I think we need to have the love and compassion that we see in Christ. One of my favorite passages about this in this question is about how Jesus engaged with the adulterous woman. He welcomed her and he loved her. He has compassion and knows she’s being used.
Sometimes friends who are in the LGBTQ can kind of become props for an argument by people on both sides of the issue. I really appreciate what many have said that if you know one gay person, or if you know one trans person, then you know one gay person, right?
You know one trans person. Everyone’s story is particular to them and is unique and individual. And so how can we not make them an issue but treat them as a person who is created in the image of God. So, we can welcome them and shower them with the love of Christ. And yet at the same time, still say go and sin no more.
That’s an important posture that we need to really embrace and how we have the conversation with students, because it is very much not just an idea, not an abstract debate that they see on Twitter or in politics. It has to do with their friends or let’s face it for some of our students in church who are asking the question, they’re asking about them, not just about their friends.
Mike: How can we love them and welcome them? So that we’re not just saying, love the sinner, hate the sin, right? But the, we’re treating them as individuals to be loved and to be cared for who we will listen to, not just as issues to disagree with or to correct so that we can invite them to Christ and mean it.
Cynthia: This question has been asked frequently. I’m going to ask you in case a child asks a parent. What is a woman?
Mike: Yeah, that’s such a strangely loaded question nowadays and it really shouldn’t be. I mean, God created man and woman in his image equally, I believe we have different roles, different functions.
I am not a woman. I’m a man. My wife, Tracy is a woman. She’s not a man. She is physically capable of having babies and she has twice. And I think that’s a beautiful thing. Like, manhood is beautiful. Womanhood is beautiful. These are gifts to be treasured. Of what does it mean to be a human being?
And I really think that that question of theologians called Christian anthropology, right? What does it mean to be a human being? I think a lot of the big cultural issues that Gen Z, that today’s young adults are facing come down to questions about Christian anthropology.
And I think that would really be worth youth workers’ time and pastors’ times and parents’ attention to really dig into.
Cynthia: Right. There is biology there that you cannot deny. Our culture is trying to say, well, if you feel like it, you are. That is saying that a tree isn’t really a tree if it doesn’t want it to be.
And that doesn’t really work. We’ve got either X, X or X, Y, and there’s not much about that. Let me go on to a different topic. Do we have an angry God?
Cynthia: Okay, can you elaborate on that?
Mike: God is rightfully and justfully angry towards sin and towards evil and towards injustice. As I think we also should be.
So, God is holy. God is love. We talk about these attributes of God. The communicable and incommunicable attributes, the attributes that we also reflect as his image bearers. And their attributes of God that we don’t reflect as his image bearers. But part of that is love. And part of that is wrath and God’s anger.
Some people talk about God’s wrath or God’s anger as an attribute of God, a central quality of God who God is and what God is. But I believe that God’s anger, God’s wrath the judgment of the Lord is an expression of his holiness in response to sin and evil. I don’t believe that God’s anger or God’s wrath is an attribute of God. Because he will not always be angry. He will not always be wrathful in all eternity in the new heavens and the new earth. Then God’s holiness will be satisfied according to his love.
It seems like a slippery question, right? Do we have an angry God? Because it depends on what context you’re talking about. But it’s not like God’s just up there, like, wringing his hands waiting for someone to judge or to throw a thunderbolt at. But it’s the same way, I’m a youth pastor and the book is written for teenagers.
We get angry at social injustice. Which is right. We should be upset about these things. We should advocate for these things. We should protest for justice, even in the same way God acts and moves for the sake of justice. against evil and against sin in his creation, over which he said, it is good.
And he sees the way that sin and evil has caused destruction and has brought harm and has brought curse over his good creation and over people. God act in his love and in his holiness to correct such acts. We label that as anger or wrath or judgment, right?
Cynthia: And I think rightly so because when people sin, it destroys things, which causes pain to people on earth.
And I think that that whole problem of pain is something that is often a question is often asked about that. Human sin is one of the biggest causes.
Mike: Yeah. It’s important when we talk about justice and when we talk about judgment, I think when we talk about hell, even it’s one of those issues that a lot of people say, oh, well, yeah, I believe in hell because the Bible says so, but I really don’t like it.
And what we’re basically saying is, if God would do it my way, then I’d get rid of God’s judgment. But what we’re saying there is that God should turn a blind eye to evil and pain and suffering. That hell is an expression of God’s judgment, which is an expression of his holiness and his love.
Cynthia: That’s true. Is there a difference between a head question and a heart question?
Mike: I think the head and the heart are, are united. But they’re not the same. If you ask a question about something like homosexuality or anxiety or depression it’s, it’s, if someone asks you Pastor Mike is, is anxiety a sin, right?
I mean, that’s a, that’s a good question. There are heady reasons why we can ask that, and there are hard questions why we can ask that. These are important conversations for us to have with our kids, with our teenagers. And I think it’s important for us to ask follow-up questions so that, you know, even for that example to say, Okay that’s a great question.
What do you think? Or when you think about Scripture what verses come to your mind about that issue and what does the world say? And what do you think? And why, why are you, what are you asking? And how would we apply a biblical answer to that question? We’re not just rushing to, to answer the question on the face of it, but that we’re really trying like Christ did so often in the gospels to respond with a question, to try to understand and get to the heart.
Of the head question, the way, you know, that Jesus did with the Samaritan woman. Instead of just debating about what mountain we should worship at, asking the questions to get to the heart so that we’re not sidestepping the question.
Cynthia: A lot of times I think when kids ask that question, there is something beneath that. They’ve seen an injustice, or they’ve seen something that doesn’t seem quite fair. It takes them a while to get that emotionally dealt with. And it has created an intellectual question, but they don’t know how to deal with that.
Sometimes it’ll come up at several times until they talk through it, and then you can see them finally letting go of that.
Mike: Yeah. Yeah. Or, or they’ve asked the question and kind of been brushed off. Maybe given a cheap answer to a hard question which is never satisfactory.
Even if the, even if the answer that you’re given quickly is correct, when you’re asking a weighty question. While you’re feeling the angst of the question, and someone just gives you the answer right away. It just doesn’t satisfy them.
Cynthia: It takes more time than that.
Mike: So, I just think we need to practice the patience that God has with us. How often does God answer our questions right away when we ask?
Cynthia: What proofs do we have that the Bible is reliable?
Mike: I think archaeology really is our friend.
The more we dig into the science of archaeology, just objectively speaking that the, the Bible is the most reliable historic document that we have in existence. And both Christian archaeologists and atheistic archaeologists say the same thing. You just look at the, the list of ancient documents that we have and say, okay, so why would these people go through all that work to make copies, to preserve this text to be able to hold it up and to say, “Look, this is reliable.”
This is what was originally written. It’s not just a fabrication from hundreds or thousands of years later. This is what was written. Let’s test this and see, does this hold up? The external evidence of Scripture is reliable. Hold it in front of students and walk through some of the things in my chapter on, is the Bible reliable?
It’s kind of difficult to get through in a short response here. However, present that to students and just say, “Hey, look, like, you know, ultimately God’s word is God’s word. It’s not God’s word because archeology says so.” We don’t want to treat apologetics in a way that things are true because apologetics says it’s true that it’s true.
Therefore, you can test it and you can study it and this truthfulness will become evident. And we do need to have faith. There is no science that can explicitly test, is this the word of God. That’s asking science to do something that science simply cannot do.
But there are things that we can hold out to say, “The Bible isn’t a forgery. It’s not just made up. It’s not just a list of Aesop’s fables or Greek myths.” Jesus was a historical person. Paul was a historical person. These are the documents that were written, that they were copied, they were shared. And this is what Christians throughout the ages have said and have done.
How can we explain that apart from the work of God and apart from the truthfulness of God’s word?
Cynthia: It’s important for kids to understand how early our documents were. We believe that some of the early creeds were within six years of the death. So that is unbelievable. When you look at modern history, because there are some of the documents that scholars consider to be valid that are much older.
We have such incredible early documentation. It’s amazing. That’s just another indication that it’s true. Is Christianity just a trend, a flash in the pan? I mean, will it disappear?
Mike: Well, it’s a 2000-year long flash in the pan. How many times has the death of the church been forecast?
Look at the ongoing existence of the Jewish people. When we try to justify our faith by our power, that never really satisfies. Because power, earthly power is so temporary and even Tertullian way, way back in the early church that, you know, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.
One of the things that I think is important for teenagers to begin to grasp is just a basic understanding of church history and of Christian history of the legacy of faith that they, that they receive and continue by believing in Christ. They are part of the universal church of Jesus and the brotherhood that we share.
And so how can we help our teenagers to understand that the challenges that we’re facing today are not as uniquely new? We might be more technologically advanced. TikTok certainly didn’t exist in the Middle Ages or in the Reformation or in the early church, obviously.
But there were still similar heart issues and there were still similar challenges.
Has some real value for teenagers, especially kids who are in public schools to sometimes cross reference what they’re learning in public education and to fill in what was happening in the church during that time-period too, can be really helpful in making some of those connections in some pretty meaningful ways.
Cynthia: You know, the people that built Stonehenge, that religion disappeared, and we don’t know what they believe because they didn’t write. Religions do disappear. I don’t think Christianity will because I think God’s behind it.
Evolution is another biggie. The schools teach evolution as a fact. How do you reconcile that with the Bible?
Mike: Yeah. You just love asking easy questions, don’t you? There are a few core truths that we need to hold onto as Christians and Aside from those truths, then there’s some freedom.
I think the Bible is clear in saying God created. The Bible is clear in saying that God created Adam and Eve as his image bearers. Aside from those things, I think there is room for. a variety of opinions about evolution. But the timeline of creation, were they literal days or were they eras?
And I think that even most scientists who are Christians would say that there is obviously some degree of evolution or adaptation within species. It’s not like we need to say that there were golden retrievers and there were calico cats and there were specific species at creation. There are obviously changes and adaptations that have been made over periods of time.
And so I think sometimes that can be helpful to articulate for students, because sometimes they can think that it’s either all or nothing. But does that mean that we originate from the primordial ooze or, or that God used evolution to create us?
What we see in scripture is God created Adam and Eve. It doesn’t seem to me like God created them as newborn infants, so if God created them as mature human beings, then could God have created a mature earth? And so when you test it, it dates to whatever it dates to, even though it’s day one.
And so just asking these questions, and I don’t think we need to have such firm answers about everything that we simply can’t know. But I think we can hold on to what scripture does teach and leave some room for freedom of understanding or freedom of interpretation.
Cynthia: Right, right. I agree with that. And Discovery Institute is coming out with a lot of very interesting information regarding intelligent design. What they say is making evolution to be less likely based on their research.
The last question I’m going to throw at you is the Trinity. This is a tough concept. We had been accused of having three gods. So how would you answer someone who says that that’s their problem?
Mike: Yeah. You cannot be a Christian if you do not believe in the Trinity.
Otherwise, you may profess to believe and to worship the God of Scripture, but you don’t because the God of Scripture is the triune God, the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. It’s just important for us to talk about the Trinity with our teenagers. I don’t think that we need to demand that every kid can recite the Athanasian Creed.
I don’t think we need to demand for a mature, robust Trinitarian statement, but there needs to be some basic understanding that God is three. God is Father, God is Son, God is Holy Spirit. And yet, these three persons are one, that there is unity, and there is diversity that they are equal that the father is not greater than the son, and the, the spirit is equally God as the others.
I think along with that is to say that the Holy Spirit is not an it, that’s one. of my pet peeves that drives me crazy when we talk about the Holy Spirit as an it with the impersonal pronouns matter. Personal pronouns matter. Holy Spirit is a person. And so there’s a quality there’s a distinction that they are not the same as each other.
And yet amid, of these differences that they act with one nature, you never see the father or the son or the spirit acting with complete independence from each other. That when, when one acts, God is acting. And since God is one, you can see all three involved. I just think it’s important for us to talk about who is the Trinity.
What does this mean and to call our students to believe in a God who’s beyond their understanding. And I think sometimes we can boil down the faith so simply for kids and in junior church and in Sunday school, when they become teenagers, we’ve never really opened the depths of who God is.
To invite them into a faith that’s big enough for them to grow into. Right. And so I just think that’s really important for us to call them to worship a God who is beyond their understanding, to invite them to worship a God and to experience a faith that’s big enough for them to grow into rather than having them then graduate high school, thinking that they already know it all.
And then they experienced out, they experienced suffering, and they think my faith has nothing to say to this.
Cynthia: And the older I get, the more awed I am by what I believe and by God. I really like what CS Lewis said when he talked about the telephone and his dog. He said the telephone is not in the language of the dog.
They don’t understand it. Regardless of how much I try to explain it to a dog. It is not in the realm of dog. And I think that when we come to the Bible and come to spirituality, when the Bible clearly teaches something like the Trinity, it is not earthly, it is heavenly. It’s not in our realm. And no, we can’t explain it fully, except that we can say what you have said that there is 3 and yet there 1 essence.
And there comes a point that you need to say, this is a spiritually understood thing. Understanding that the son is not a son in the same sense that my son Paul is. I’m his mother and dad’s his father. It’s not the same sense, but it’s the best way that God helped us to understand his relationship to Jesus.
It wasn’t a physical father-son relationship like we know, but it had, that helps us to understand it.
Mike: The father and the son is not about hierarchy, but right. It’s the same way that my son is of the same essence as me differentiated from my dog or my cat. He’s my son. We share the same nature.
We share the same essence. It does it at the father and the son. It’s not about hierarchy is that they’re of the same stuff.
Yeah, exactly. And that’s hard for a kid to get there. It’s hard for me to completely grasp.
Mike: I would guess most church members probably couldn’t articulate.
Cynthia: Yeah, but he is the son because God said he was. This is deep stuff, but they’re going to be asking, you might as well get prepared.
You can find the book, Discover: Questioning Your Way to Faith, at Amazon or New Growth Press for quantity discounts.
To learn more about teaching apologetics, click here