Christian parenting: Immunizing against baptized liberalism, training the mind and the sentiments, and the call to heroism

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One of the biggest fears of any Christian parent is that his child will abandon the faith in which he was raised once he's away from home. Some charismatic peer or professor will attempt to convert him to a new religion, which could be anything from a different branch of Christianity to a pseudo-Christian cult group to leftist fascism. The would-be proselytizer will have the advantages of being in your kid's face while you're hundreds of miles away. The offer of peer acceptance and belonging is a powerful lure. Not only are you not there to offer a rebuttal, if the proselytizer is skilled at mind control, he'll so alienate your kid from you and your values, you won't be given the opportunity of a rebuttal. It's a scary thought, and Christian parents invest much time and treasure in Christian schools, apologetics courses, and church youth groups and a lot of time on their knees in prayer in hopes that it won't happen to their children.

So as a dad with one kid in college and another soon to follow, I read with interest the story of Chelsen Vicari, Director of Evangelical Action for the Institute of Religion and Democracy, and soon-to-be a mom. Vicari recently spoke to the Regent University School of Government, her grad school alma mater, about her journey from vague, shallow conservative evangelicalism to trendy liberal evangelicalism to a well-grounded Biblical Christian faith. She went to a college as a Christian with a vague but traditional understanding of the faith, which was undermined not by antagonistic secular professors, but by fellow evangelical Christians and a desire to fit in and be seen as a good, kind person.

During my junior year I plugged into a wildly popular interdenominational campus ministry.... To be clear, there were no blatant liberal creeds in the sermons or instructions to vote for President Obama in the '08 elections. Instead, there were some individuals within leadership that prioritized concepts of love and grace while minimizing absolute truths, the authority of Scripture, and traditional moral ethics....

At first I could tell this was a different kind of theology than what I was used to. I pushed back a little on some things. But ultimately, my biggest fear was of being ostracized by my new Christian friends....

By the end of my senior year, due in part to a lack of knowledge and painful experiences, I started to embrace a liberal paradigm in the name of Christianity. Failing to see how that paradigm was actually working contrary to Christianity. Convinced that my progressive faith was more righteous than the backwards, outdated, uncompassionate Christianity of my parents. Because how dare they make statements like, "Homosexuality is a sin." How unloving was that!

As you know, sexuality and gender identity are the prominent cultural issues facing the Church today. Revisionist sexual ethics was definitely my biggest temptation. That's because I truly loved my gay friends at college. I wanted the best for them. Deep down I secretly had the feeling sex was designed for marriage between one man and one woman. But I didn't want to hurt my gay friends' feelings. Plus I dreaded the idea of going against the crowd. Selfishly, I wanted to be affirmed as a good, well-liked person....

Christianity is comprised of two millennia of agreed upon Church teaching on moral ethics. But I chose to exchange said two millennia of Church teaching for the opinions of a few popular authors and bloggers (some with little to no formal theological training). I didn't do in-depth reading, study primary sources, and consider the ramifications before jumping to a conclusion based on my feelings.

What turned her around was exposure to the sound arguments, lovingly delivered, of her graduate school professors at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. (How did a liberal evangelical end up at a conservative school? A generous scholarship offer.)

At Regent University my liberal biases were challenged by academic research and Christian apologetics. Here was a graduate program that unashamedly taught in accordance with Church creeds and history and the use of social science to confirm conclusions. Professors who were more concerned with obedience to our Savior than cultural trends.

There were no fiery darts thrown at my liberal biases by other students and teachers, only grace coupled with truth. Professors assigned me to read Charles Colson's How Now Shall We Live? Another encouraged me read Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Cheap Grace. It didn't take long for me to realize I was compromising traditional Christian teachings in pursuit of acceptance.

In the comments, I asked Vicari "what would have prepared you to face the leftward cultural pressure you encountered in the campus Christian group? To put it another way, what should parents, Christian school leaders, church youth group leaders be doing differently?" She replied:

First thought is a deeper theological education from both home and church. Pop Sunday school lessons and piecemeal Bible stories before bedtime were inadequate, for me anyway. So perhaps earlier introductions to apologetics or catechismic lessons. Talking with other Christian parents, it seems helpful when kids feel called to be heroes to a broken world on behalf of the faith. Instructing children to follow moral and ethical guidelines because "the Bible says so" isn't enough to prepare children to combat revisionist theology or a culture hostile to Christianity.

Adding to her suggestion of apologetics and catechism, I suggested instruction in logic, the history of Christianity, and understanding of non-Christian world views, and particularly learning how to spot attempts to smuggle non-Christian ideas under cover of Christian terminology.

Vicari expanded on her reply in a follow-up column, "Evangelicals, Kids, and Catechism." She writes that the knowledge imparted by learning a catechism is necessary but clearly not sufficient. The sentiments must be trained as well:

While I want to believe age-appropriate introductions to catechistic lessons and apologetics will thoroughly equip my daughter to encounter a broken world, I should know better.

Several of the mainline denominations uphold Protestant catechism in tutoring young congregants. Yet these denominations' leftward drift and decline are cautionary signs that something is missing.

Perhaps there's a cost to catechism without sentiment. That is to say, a child given head knowledge of Christian principles without an emotional attachment might lack a loyalty to Christ and His authority in adulthood.

On the other hand, it seems the Evangelical community has relied too heavily on sentiment. Sure, many Evangelical kids feel warm and fuzzy when talking about Jesus. However, they don't know enough about His teachings and ethics to defend them from distortions. Or, in some other cases, their parents walled them off from the outside world and they're biding their time until freedom.

Talking with other Christian parents, it seems a child needs both a head and heart connection with Christian teaching. A colleague noted it's helpful when kids feel called to be heroes to a broken world on behalf of the faith. "Kids want to be summoned to heroism - so why not challenge them to be moral or intellectual heroes?" asked George Weigel, theologian and IRD emeritus board member, in a recent address.

Parents can help train this hero mentality by encouraging both emotional loyalty and the theological foundations necessary to contend for the Gospel.

In her follow-up article, I hear echoes of C. S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man, in which he stresses that true education involves not only the instruction of the mind but the training of the sentiments. Without sentiments trained to delight in that which is good and true and beautiful and in Him who is Goodness and Truth and Beauty, education of the mind only corrupts the soul.

St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in 'ordinate affections' or 'just sentiments' will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science....

The head rules the belly through the chest-- the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment--these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.

The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals.... It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.

And all the time--such is the tragi-comedy of our situation--we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive', or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity'. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

The summons to heroism brings to mind the book Dedication and Leadership by Douglas Hyde. Hyde had been news editor of the Daily Worker in Britain, a card-carrying Communist for 20 years, then left the party and converted to Catholicism. But Hyde was appalled at how little the church demanded of its people despite its claim to ultimate truth.

Hyde discusses techniques used by the Communists that he felt Christians ought to appropriate, for example, involving the new recruit as early as possible in an activity, however seemingly fruitless, that publicly identifies him with his new creed and puts him in a position of defending it.

The most memorable aspect of the book was Hyde's story of Jim, a stammering electrician in the building trades. The Communists called this unimpressive man to great things and gave him the training to be a leader, and he rose to the occasion, becoming a leader in the party and, as an agent of the party, a leader in the trade union movement. At the conclusion of the tale, Hyde remarks:

Jim's story says much of what can be said about the training of a leader as the Communists see it. First, I inspired him, gave him the clearly-defined goal of a new and better world and the belief that he and others could between them achieve it provided that they prepared themselves sufficiently for the moment of opportunity. I gave him a sense of involvement in a battle, and the conviction that by going to classes he would gain the arms and ammunition required for the fight....

I can think of many a lapsed-Catholic Communist who has told me that when he was practicing the Faith the greatest responsibility he was ever given was to help, along with others, to move the chairs in the parish hall 'for Father'. Inside the Communist Party he was made to feel that he had something better than that to offer. And events proved that this was so.

Defensively hoping that our children will continue to adhere to the faith of their upbringing is not enough. If Christians truly believe that we have the answers that the world desperately needs, we need to model a willingness to sacrifice our time, our treasure, and our respectability to speak the truth in love, and we need to call and equip our children to do the same.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 24, 2017 11:17 AM.

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