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Is My Kids’ Faith Their Own? Justin Brierley

with | January 2, 2024
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How much should Christian parents protect their kids? Justin Brierley, a parent himself, provides tips on how to equip both us and our kids to confidently tackle tough questions about faith. Turning everyday conversations into faith-building moments!

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How much should Christian parents protect their kids? Justin Brierley, a parent, shares tips on equipping us and our kids to face tough faith questions. Turn conversations into faith-building moments!

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Is My Kids’ Faith Their Own? Justin Brierley

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January 02, 2024
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Ann: I have the opportunity to talk to a lot of moms. I’m hearing more often than ever conversations at the dinner table that are freaking moms out, because their kids are asking more and more questions about faith. They are watching more and more social media that’s contrasting their faith, and going against their faith, and even their moral beliefs. They’re asking me, “How do I answer some of these questions, especially questions that I don’t even know the answers to about apologetics?”

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com.

Dave: This is FamilyLife Today.

Ann: I think those are real, valid questions that our kids have. We, as parents, want to answer some of those questions, but we’re not always sure where to go with it; and who can we trust with reliable answers from Scripture?

Dave: That’s a good set-up for who we’ve got in the studio today: somebody we can trust—[Laughter]

Ann: —exactly!

Dave: —to help parents, especially in homes with—I think, there is an angst in a lot of Christian parents’ soul about what they’re seeing in the culture; and then, they’re seeing in their own family room. Because their own sons and daughters, as teenagers, are walking away from something they’ve tried to instill in them their whole life.

Ann: Right.

Dave: Justin Brierley is back. [Laughter] He’s going to help us—and he’s a dad—I mean, you’re—

Ann: —with four kids.

Dave: —a parent. How many years have you been married?

Justin: Yes; well, now you’re asking. [Laughter] 21 years it will be this year, yes.

Dave: You’re one of the world’s foremost thinkers who helps, not just parents, but all of us understand—Ann used the term, apologetics, which is the defense of the faith—understanding thinking. You can help a lot of parents in homes. I love your new book, The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God.

I think a lot of parents think, “There’s no belief in God. It’s going away, not rebirthing.” Where do we start as parents?

Justin: Where do you start? I just want to, first of all, sympathize with parents, because it is that much harder. Maybe a generation ago, if you were a Christian parent, especially, you could sort of raise your kids in a bit of a bubble, I would say.

Ann: Yes, it is that.

Justin: A Christian bubble.

Ann: Yes.

Justin: And you didn’t have to contend with constant skepticism coming through their

iPhone® or whatever. I just think a lot of us are having to learn as we go along how to live and be faithful in this technological age we live in. I think some of the lessons that are helpful, of what I’ve learned in the UK—where, I’d say, we are further along this secularization journey than the US.

Ann: Yes.

Justin: Because we haven’t had a Christian bubble to put our kids in for quite some time in the UK. We don’t have schools where they can be surrounded by just Christians and that kind of thing. We’ve had to learn, already, “What do we do for kids who are constantly surrounded by questions, and objections, and just a secular worldview?”

Ann: And even the bubble! Is that always a good thing?

Justin: Well, exactly. To some extent, I think the problem with the bubble is that, as soon as it comes along, it gets popped. Then you’re left with all the same questions as before. I think what’s really key, and what a lot of parents need to learn now, is that we need to prepare young people, around the dinner table from an early age, for the world that now exists around them (and, actually, has always existed); the secular world.

We’re in no different position, at the end of the day, to the first Christians who existed. Two thousand years ago, there were lots of alternative options out there in the pagan world that they were surrounded by. And they had this strange belief in a Jewish Messiah, who had been raised from the dead, and people were calling them crazy for it. Well, you know, people call Christians crazy today for their beliefs. [Laughter] Nothing’s changed that much.

But 2,000 years ago, that community went on and changed the world. It can happen again. We’re now living in this post-Christian era. I think, as parents, the best we can do is actually help our kids to be ready for the questions they’re going to face, rather than trying to pretend that stuff doesn’t exist and shield them from that. Actually, take the opportunity, when you still have the influence, to sit down at the dinner table and say, “Hey, I heard this interesting video of someone claiming that God doesn’t exist…” “I heard this other view on sexuality being discussed…”

If you don’t have the conversations with them at this point, when you’re a parent with some influence, they’re going to have those conversations somewhere else. Someone else is going to be educating your kids in that area. I think you just have to be absolutely honest and say, “Look, the genie’s out of the bottle. We can’t pretend we live in a Christian bubble anymore. So, let’s take seriously what we’re called to do in terms of actually engaging these questions.”

We encourage questions around our dinner table. We have some wonderful conversations. It’s fine if our kids have questions that we can’t even answer at this point, because that’s the whole point. You say, “Well, look, I’m not sure what the answer to that is, but let’s keep the conversation going.” I think the real problem for kids is when you shut down a conversation; when you say, “You’re not allowed to ask that question.” Because kids have an inbuilt kind of detector, that says, “Okay, so Christianity isn’t something that’s for real normal life. If I can’t talk about this issue, then it’s obviously something that is just for church on Sundays and doesn’t really apply to the rest of my life.”

We have to get past that. If Christianity isn’t something you can take with you, and ask all those questions about on Monday morning, then it’s not real. So, for me, it’s important that we accept where we are in the culture as parents, and we accept that God’s calling us to faithfully model Christ to our children in the way we live our lives, but also, in our willingness to encounter their questions and do the best job we can at helping to guide them as they navigate those things.

The thing to realize is, ultimately, we only have so much control really. [Laughter]

Ann: It’s depressing!

Justin: I mean, I look at my kids. They are all so different. We’ve raised them all, essentially, in the same way; but they are all completely different personalities. They’ve got completely different questions; completely different ways in which I see them starting to put the pieces of Christianity together. And that’s okay. You’ve got to, in the end, entrust them into God’s hands, and that can be scary, because we like to sort of be helicopter parents, where everything is planned to within an inch of his life. We’d like it to be like that for their faith journey, but life isn’t like that.

Dave: Well, you know, I’m also thinking, as I hear you say that, Justin: “The average Christian parent is [thinking], ‘Well, I’m not Justin Brierley. I [don’t have] a doctorate in this area, so I’m afraid to bring up something that I’m not going to be able to answer adequately and, maybe, I don’t even know what I believe.’”

For you, it’s like—okay, you’re one of the best in the world—of course, you have that conversation! What about the average person?

Justin: I think you have to go back to 1 Peter 3:15. Now, most people read that in the context of us being out in the wider world when it says: “Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you about the reason for the hope that you have,” but that could be around the dinner table.

Dave: Yes, that’s good.

Justin: It could be with our kids, okay? They’re asking us for a reason for the hope that we have. We have to be ready.

Now, yes, for parents, this will mean, when they have difficult questions, saying, “Look, I can’t answer that right now, but I would love to go and find a resource that might help you to think through that.” You don’t have to have all the answers, okay? And it’s okay to be honest with your kids, and say, “I’m still working some of this stuff out.” I think kids respect that kind of honesty and humility in the end.

Dave: Oh, yes.

Justin: But in the end, it is about doing some of the hard work ourselves and being ready, as 1 Peter says, to start to try to point them in the right direction with some of those questions.

It might be a great TikTok channel, where they actually are doing some of this stuff, and it’s right where they are looking anyway. You can say, “Look, I know you are seeing the skeptical stuff over here, but have you seen this great—"

Ann: —oh, every parent is like, “Tell me one!” Even your—did you start Unbelievable, your radio podcast show?

Justin: Yes, I did.

Ann: I mean, would that be a good resource?

Dave: Now, it’s Re-Enchanting, right?

Justin: Well, the Unbelievable show continues. There’s a vast archive of podcasts and video shows, where we bring these questions into the public arena and debate them. The Re-Enchanting podcast is another one, where we’re exploring the Christian worldview with a variety of thinkers.

There is an absolute wealth of apologetics material out there. In some ways, we’re more spoiled for choice than we’ve ever been before in terms of where we can point our young people. The problem is, sometimes, we don’t know where to begin.

Ann: Right.

Justin: The internet is huge, and we can’t always tell the good from the bad. I would say, “Do the work of actually looking. There are some great resources out there and some wonderful ways.”

I remember when our 12-year-old son, Jeremy, was telling us, “Oh, the kids at school were telling me that Jesus doesn’t exist; it’s just fairytales.” When I was just able to point him to one sort of three-minute video on YouTube, just giving some basic historical facts about the existence of Jesus, and it [was] like a lightbulb went off in his head. He’s like, “I’m going to show my friends this when I get back to school.” [Laughter]

Ann: Well, what was it? Every parent is like, “Just tell me the video.”

Justin: I’m afraid I can’t even remember the name. I think it was by William Lane Craig, who has a wonderful ministry, Reasonable Faith.

Dave: Right.

Justin: They’ve done a number of short, animated videos on things like “The Evidence for Jesus” or “The Evidence for God” and that kind of thing.

Most kids, sadly, are probably not going to sit down and read a 70,000-word book, but they might watch a two-minute video. Find out where those resources are, and you might just find there is enough there for them to take the next step.

Dave: Now, how certain do you feel like we need to be? I’m thinking of Hebrews 11:1. I’ll read it to you.

Justin: Yes.

Dave: You know it: “Now faith is the confidence of what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” When I read a verse like that, I often feel, “I don’t always feel assurance.” So I’m less of [in] my belief in God. The writer of Hebrews is like, “Man, you’ve got to have certainty.”

Justin: “…the assurance of things unseen.” The thing for me is that, sometimes, people take that word—faith, that’s being defined there in Hebrews—and they think that it means certainty. That’s not what the word means. You could translate the Greek word, pistis, a few different ways. But none of the ways are going to mean certainty. It means hope; it means trust. Those are the kinds of ways in which the writer is meaning to define this thing called “faith.”

For me, if faith is about trust rather than just being certain about something—it’s not that we have an iron-cast bullet-proof argument for God or for Christianity. It’s that we have enough to be able to trust this. Now, what does trust mean?

I love the story of a famous tightrope walker called Blondin in the late 19th Century, who was famous for crossing Niagara Falls on his tightrope. One day, the King of England came to see his act. He saw Blondin walk across the Falls on the tightrope, and he saw him push a wheelbarrow across the Falls on this tightrope; finally, he put a sack of potatoes in and pushed it back and forth. Finally, Blondin came to the king and said, “Do you believe that I can push a man in a wheelbarrow across the Falls?” The king said, “Yes, of course, I do. Of course, I believe that.” He said, “Well, get in then.” [Laughter]

The point of the story is, faith is not just belief in something; it’s trusting in that thing. That’s the difference, okay? What the king was asked to do by Blondin was to trust; not just believe that Blondin could do it, but to trust his own life. That’s where faith comes in. We can believe lots of things about the Christian faith. The question is: “Do we entrust our life to it?” That’s where faith come alive. That is the bit where we kind of lean in; where we actually trust our life to something.

For me, that kind of faith is not simply about believing a set of doctrinal statements. As James says, “Even the demons believe and tremble.” Belief is not the key factor. It’s about trust; it’s about: “Am I willing to stake something on this?”

For some people, the belief may kind of seem to waver, and come and go in their mind. It’s like, “Some days, I feel like I really believe this stuff; and some days, I don’t believe this stuff as much.” What really counts is whether you’re trusting in it. However much you feel like you do or don’t believe that thing, does your life look like you are trusting in this? That’s what God is more interested, I think, is where you’re going to step out and do something about your faith.

Ann: So, that’s what you’re saying that would look like: to get in the wheelbarrow is to step out.

Justin: Don’t get too obsessed with how strongly you believe or not in a set of doctrinal propositions. That will change. It may just depend on what you had for dinner last night and what state of mind you are in. What God’s interested in is people who trust Him. For me, that’s a different—slightly different—thing. That’s having the confidence that these things are true, but actually putting your life on the line because of it—actually, leaning in and doing something about it. For me, that’s far more what faith is supposed to be about. It’s an active thing, not just sort of a passive assent to a set doctrines. It’s, “No, this stuff makes a difference in my life, and I’m going to act on it now.”

Dave: I mean, we do it every single day.

Justin: Yes!

Dave: You did it, jumping on an airplane, to fly. I bet you didn’t go out, and check the engines, and talk to the pilot. We just have enough certainty and evidence that we say, “I’m going to trust this.”

Justin: And it’s true of every worldview. What a lot of people don’t realize is, it’s not a choice between crazy Christian belief and sort of some kind of neutral thing. If you’re an Atheist, you have a worldview! You’re putting your trust in something. You’ve got to kind of give reasons for that just as much as I have. In the end, the key thing is whether it actually works for your life. [Laughter]

A lot of people find that, even worldviews that they thought were very—you know, that they really believed in—didn’t work in the end. Friends of mine, who were Atheists, found out this wasn’t livable in the end. “Even though I find Christianity to be a bit strange and weird, and I don’t know if I can completely sign up for all these things, there’s something about it that works.” Sometimes, that’s where faith is. It’s like stepping out and trying it; stepping into this worldview, not having it all sorted in your mind. Sometimes, you just have to take that Kierkegaardian leap of faith.

I tell you, it’s a step of faith, rather than leap. A leap sounds like you’re leaping into the unknown, with nothing to support you.

Dave: Yes.

Justin: I think faith is kind of doing something daring, but knowing that you’re going to have something solid that will meet it, because that’s been your experience.

Dave: What advice would you have for the parent, we were talking about earlier, [who] is watching their son or daughter—as a teenager, or college-aged student, or whatever age—that they have raised their whole life in the church. They’ve seen evidence of faith in their kids, and now, that child is just saying, “I don’t believe this. I’m walking away.”

The parent—we said earlier—there’s an angst. It’s like, “Oh, I never wanted this to happen.” They’re watching it happen. What do they do?

Justin: The first thing to know is that God knows what that feels like, because His first children walked away from Him—Adam and Eve. That’s the story, that humans are rebellious. You can have the best parents in the world, and kids are still going to do their thing.

The second thing is that there’s some point at which you just have to do that thing. Faith is about trust. It’s about saying, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. But God, I’m trusting that You do, and that I can put them in Your hands.” Pray for them, obviously; always keep praying for them. Keep the door open to the questions and the conversations; never shut that down, okay? All you can do is be that loving presence at that point in their life, which is kind of encouraging them to keep the door open to the Christian faith.

You never know what the thing is that, ultimately, might make the difference. It might look, right now, like they are going off into a completely different trajectory. But I’ve [heard] too many stories of people who looked like that was the end of the story for them. And then, things turned around—because a life event happened, or someone stepped into their life, or something—a piece of the puzzle—came together in a way that, suddenly, they were like, “Okay, now I understand why this story meant so much to my parents and why it could actually mean a lot to me.”

As I say, sometimes, that deconstruction is just an important part of the puzzle for people. But don’t give up faith that they could re-construct. Just keep praying and loving them.

Ann: I want to hear some of those stories, because in your book, The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God, you interviewed probably thousands and thousands of people; very intellectual people: atheists, agnostics. Are there some stories—and you share some in your book—of like, “Aww, this was a great interaction with this person?”

Justin: Yes, I’ll give you two: one of a personal friend; and then, one is someone whom I met, and interviewed, and speak about in the book at some length.

That person is Paul Kingsnorth. He’s a poet and author in the UK. He’s got the most interesting story, because he’s a celebrated author, who had a big audience as an author and poet; but he had been through this fantastically interesting religious roots in his life.

He sort of had a spell, as a teenaged atheist, when he decided none of it was true. He had sort of a nominal Anglican sort of background [and] upbringing, but none of it had stuck. He said to me, even with his sort of teenage atheist faith, he still felt like the world was enchanted. He still loved reading mythology and J.R.R. Tolkien, and he loved being out in nature. There was something about nature that just absolutely inspired him.

Eventually, he decided, “No, atheism doesn’t cut it for me.” And he decided to become a Buddhist. He thought, “Maybe I can look inside and find this kind of transcendent meaning that I’m looking for.” So, believe it or not, he went into Wicca: essentially, a modern form of witchcraft, which he said involves turning up in the woods, and chanting, and basically worshipping nature, essentially. It was taking bits and pieces of Eastern mythology, and combining it with certain Christian rituals, and so on.

But to his great surprise, he was having dinner one evening with his wife, and she said, completely out of the blue, “You’re going to become a Christian.” [Laughter] He said to her, “What are you talking about? Of course, I’m not going to become a Christian.”

But within about two years, he had become a Christian. This was through a whole series of circumstances. He started, suddenly, to bump into all kinds of people who followed his work. They turned out to be church leaders, who were interested. He started having dreams about Jesus. God kept chasing him down the hallways. He, eventually, had a profound experience, where he realized, “This story actually makes sense of my story.” He looked into it. He started to—he entered the Eastern Orthodox Church in the end. He’s got just an extraordinary story.

I look at somebody like Paul Kingsnorth—this highly intellectual Western person, and this adult convert to faith, and I think, “If it can happen to Paul Kingsnorth, it could happen to anyone.” Now, not everyone is going to have that journey—you know, a quite esoteric journey—through these various religious traditions, dreams, and all kinds of things that eventually led him to faith.

The other story I will share is a personal friend of mine, called Peter Byron, who started listening to my Unbelievable show in the mid-2000’s. He was at university at the time. He’d grown up in a Christian family, but had sort of jettisoned it, really, by the time he went to university. One of his flat-mates was an atheist who said, “You should read this book by Richard Dawkins. Have you read it?” And he thought, “Yes! Well, this puts the nail in the coffin of Christianity for me.”

Then, very awkwardly, one of his other house-mates became a Christian. And he says—

Ann: [Laughing]Very awkwardly.”

Justin: The problem was, he now was living with a devout atheist and a devout Christian. He couldn’t escape the God question. He started to watch YouTube videos of the New Atheist people, like Dawkins, and he found their arguments quite persuasive.

But it also led him to start watching some of the people who were responding. One of these people was William Lane Craig. As he did that, he started to realize, “Oh, there are some quite persuasive counter arguments to this New Atheist stuff.” Increasingly, as he saw these conversations happening, and he started listening to my show, where these conversations were happening, he realized, “Oh, there’s another story here.”

Eventually, we became friends. He even came on my show in this sort of agnostic phase, so he was still filled with lots of doubts and questions about Christianity. He eventually ended up helping with a tour that we put on with William Lane Craig, back in 2011. It was on that tour that he became a Christian. He had been on this big intellectual journey.

One of the funny things Peter Byron says to me now is, “Actually, I thank God for Richard Dawkins. I mean, he actually raised the God question for me. I’m a Christian now because of him.” God has a sense of humor, I would say. He can even use the New Atheists to bring people to faith. So, never give up hope. Trust that there’s a bigger picture.

My hope is with the book, especially, that people will see that God’s not finished. There have always been times when the tide of faith goes out, and we’re in one of those moments in our culture. But that’s never the end of the story. If you go back through history, you’ll see times when the tide of faith seem to be going out on the church; but something happened. there was a Wesley, or a Whitefield, a revival; God did something surprising.

I think there is something surprising just around the corner in our culture as well. I sense that we’re starting to see the turning of that tide, in that sense. People are questioning the atheists’ story of reality, increasingly, in lots of the circles I move in. And people, I think, are just getting to the point where they might be ready to hear the Christian story again, because all the other stories we’re telling ourselves aren’t working. Once people get to the end of those stories—people like Paul Kingsnorth, who tried all these other stories, they might just find the Christian story is waiting for them after all.

Shelby: Isn’t that exciting? I, for one, love to hear people like Justin talk about the interest other people are having in God, because it gives us such an incredible opportunity to join God in what He’s doing to bring people to Himself. It’s so cool.

I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Justin Brierley on FamilyLife Today. Justin’s written a book called The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God. This book really outlines the dramatic fall of New Atheism and the birth of a new conversation on whether God makes sense out of things like science, history, culture, and the search for meaning.

You can go online and get a copy of Justin Brierley’s book, The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Just click on “Today’s Resources.” Or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

You know, I just wanted to take a second to thank you if gave to our matching program that happened in December. You know, checks are still coming in, and we don’t have all the numbers just yet. But if you gave, I sincerely want to say how grateful I am for your generosity to help make FamilyLife Today possible. Thank you so much for giving and supporting this ministry. And even if you didn’t give, and you’ve just shared episodes with someone, or even if you just listened, thank you so much for being a part of FamilyLife Today. I’m really, really thankful.

Now, tomorrow, Justin Brierley is back with Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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