The World’s Catechesis
Our family loves to watch the Olympics. As we’ve watched the last several years, we’ve been noticing how different each Olympics have 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.
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.
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 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?
The culture is not going to push you to greater clarity or biblical fidelity, especially on issues related to sex and gender.
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.
- David F. Wells, Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 4.
This article is adapted from The Crossway Podcast: If You Don't Catechize Your Kids, the World Will with guest Kevin DeYoung.