How would you define “faith”?
No, really. Take a few moments, switch to the notes app on your phone or pull out a piece of paper and write out a basic definition—just the first rough definition that pops in your mind.
Did you just skip ahead? Go ahead and write down something. It'll make this article much more beneficial for you.
As a Christian dad, how you think and talk about faith carries heightened importance because your conception of faith will filter down to your children.
If you’re like most people, you may have written down something like, “Faith is belief without evidence.” That’s a common understanding.
In fact, here are five characteristics of how people think about faith today. Today’s faith is:
- Subjective: “It’s just my religious opinion.”
- Baseless: “It’s basically belief without evidence, a blind leap.”
- Abstract: “If you could prove it, it wouldn’t be faith.”
- Personal: “It’s wrong to tell someone what he should believe.”
- Focused on the actor: “It’s my feelings about religious things.”
We might summarize most people’s understanding of faith this way: “Faith is one’s personal, subjective, opinion without any evidence.” As like one author observes,
“Most people in our culture choose to pocket away the concept of faith as a mere personal preference, neither expecting nor requiring it to be grounded in reason, logic, and historical realities. Faith is just something you accept. It doesn’t need to be burdened with making rational sense."1
Taking Today’s Faith into Parenting
If this is the way you think about faith, evangelizing your own children, teaching them about God, and anything else related to the Bible is going to be difficult (if not plain wrong).
If faith is a subjective, baseless, abstract, and highly personal experience, then “imposing” your beliefs on your kids is at best coercive and at worst abusive.2
And make no mistake; this is how people talk about faith today:
- “I want my kids to discover truth for themselves.”
- “They’ll have to find their own way to God.”
- “Who can tell anyone else what to believe?”
- “You can have your own beliefs. Just don’t impose them on others. That’s just plain wrong!”
And it’s not just secular people who think this way. “The church in large part has become fairly complicit with this misconception. The idea of seeking to support Christian belief with left-brain analysis is seen as suspect at worst, unnecessary at best….but the Bible doesn’t ask us to adopt a BLIND faith but a REASONED faith—a faith that can honestly ask the hard questions and then go out in search of real, measurable, credible answers."3
The Bible’s Everyday Faith
When the Bible speaks of faith it’s using a much more common and long-understood idea. In the Bible, faith means we look at what we experience, what we sense (e.g., see, hear, etc.), what we reason to, and what we’re taught by others and we find that evidence trustworthy. This kind of faith is actually very common to our experience.
Most of what we know is taken on this kind of faith. I’ve never been to Hong Kong, yet I’m convinced it exists. Even scientists have to trust their senses, reason, and experience to process and interpret their studies. Historians rely exclusively on written testimony for nearly everything they know. I’m fairly convinced I’m married and have three kids, but I suppose I could be a part of an elaborate hoax like the Truman show or the Matrix. Most of what we know is taken on faith that has reasons to believe the evidence.
How do we come to believe what we commonly experience, sense, reason, and hear from others?
Through long experience of interacting with others in the world, we have come to think that it is wise, most of the time, to put a good measure of trust in the testimony of others [and any source for knowledge], when those people seem to be giving that testimony in good faith.4
In other words, we rest in the sources of knowledge we find worthy of our trust. When it comes to people, we trust the people who we find trustworthy.
That’s what God wants us to do with him. He wants us to view him in all his glory and to find him imminently trustworthy. To put it another way, “[Faith] is not ‘belief in the absence of evidence’; rather, it is a trust that rests on sufficient evidence."5 And no one has offered more evidence that he is trustworthy than the God of the universe.
While our knowledge of God will never be comprehensive, we can know God sufficiently to trust him because God has revealed himself in creation, in our conscience, and by the prophets, and chiefly in his Son (Hebrews 1:1–4).
How to Talk about Faith with Kids
I’d encourage you to emphasize these realities as a starting point.
1. God is trustworthy.
God isn’t asking us to blindly leap. He’s wanting us to view him, find him trustworthy, and rest in him because he is worthy of that trust. That’s an honoring faith. When you observe evidence of God’s trustworthiness in the Bible, in your family’s life, and in answers to prayer, share that with your kids. “See, God is so trustworthy. He always does exactly what he says. He’s always the same.”
2. God welcomes your questions.
There’s no inherent virtue in doubt, but if you take your doubts to God, they can be a mighty tool in his hands. If your child or teen asks you a question about God, observe, “God loves it when we ask him our questions—even our hardest ones. He’s not afraid of your questions. And there are answers!” Then point them to the Word of God, the glasses by which we should evaluate all our knowledge, questions, doubts, and fears.
3. God’s claims are universally true.
There’s a thinking today about religion that’s connected to the way people think about faith: “Science makes universal, objective claims while religion makes personal, subjective ones.” In other words, religious claims are person-relative, so what’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for everyone.
Such a perspective is quite common, but it’s problematic on several levels.…It may be true that some religions are only about personal values, goals and lifestyle choices. But that’s definitely not true for some of the major world religions. Christianity, Islam and Judaism all make significant historical claims about what took place in the past [like the existence of Jesus].…Either there was such a person or there wasn’t. Either He performed miracles or He didn’t. Such claims can’t be “true” for some people but not “true” for other people.6
Common sense requires we take the major world religions at face value. At the core of biblical Christianity are objective claims, and this is the way the Bible talks. When Paul hypothetically entertains the reality that Jesus didn’t rise again, he doesn’t say, “Well, if he didn’t rise again, it’s still all true for us.” He says, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 For 15:13–19).
Everything in your children’s experience will counter this idea. If Jesus actually died and rose again, he is who he said he was and it would be wrong to hold that truth from your children.7
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2Cor 4:1–2)
As we speak with our children about God and openly state his truth without manipulation or cunning (2 Corinthians 4:1–2), he can do the miraculous.
May he shine in their hearts to overcome Satan’s blinding (2 Corinthians 4:6), may his gospel be the power unto salvation that conquers willful rebels (Romans 1:16–28), and may he bring the dead to life through the gift of saving faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1–9).
Truth Matters by Andreas J. Köstenberger, Darrell L. Bock, and Josh Chatraw (Page 12) ↩︎
I’m not suggesting Christian parents strong-arm their children into believing things. “Forcing belief” is rendered impossible by the nature of saving faith. What the Bible means by faith isn’t something you can force upon someone else. It’s something God grants by His Spirit through the Word. I’m also not suggesting that faith is impersonal or that children should have only their parents' faith. ↩︎
Truth Matters by Andreas J. Köstenberger, Darrell L. Bock, and Josh Chatraw (Page 12) ↩︎
Is Jesus History? by John Dickson (Page 24) ↩︎
Apologetics, John Frame (Page 53) ↩︎
Why Should I Believe Christianity? by James Anderson (Page 18) ↩︎
By locating the core claims of Christianity in flesh-and-blood history, God both opens himself to investigation and sets the investigator on a path that will have a decisive conclusion. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, everything in the Bible is objectively, universally false. But if Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, it’s a kind of self-interpreting fact—it’s all true! By way of analogy, if I claimed to be the secret CIA director, you would be right to be skeptical. I could offer a badge, but those are easily counterfeited. I could show you airplane tickets and photos with the President, but we live in the age of InDesign and Photoshop. There is one thing I could do, however, that would be a sort of self-interpreting fact. If I took you to Langley, brought you past the guards, we took an elevator to a secret floor, and I walked you into a hidden office that bore my name and title, everything else I said would be shown to be true. To believe otherwise would take a blind leap of faith. If Jesus rose from the dead, it would take a blind leap of astronomical proportions to believe anything other than what the Bible declares, that Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:4). ↩︎