Will My Children Have Faith?

 When it comes to my generation, I am a statistical anomaly. I do not fit the mold. I grew up in a home with parents who were and continue to be married.[1] I left my parents home at 18 and haven’t lived with them since.[2] I got married when I was 20-years-old.[3] At 25, I already have two children.[4] And I landed a great job less than a month after graduating.[5] In almost every category I break the trend for people my age. My wife jokes that I am really an old man stuck in a 25-year-old body – statistically speaking, she’s right.

 But more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that I am “religious.” More than that, I am a professional minister with two degrees in religious studies. So I am really religious. Which is not the case for most people my age. Only 15% of Millennials would say that living a very religious life is one of the most important things to them.[6] In fact, Millennials have helped make “unaffiliated” the third largest religious group in America – between 25 and 30 percent of adults under 30 claim no religious affiliation.[7] At the same time, the percentage of Christians is getting smaller and smaller. If trends continue at the current pace, those who consider themselves “unaffiliated” combined with those affiliated with other religions will outnumber Christians in the U.S. by the year 2042. 

These same trends apply to my own heritage, Churches of Christ, as well. According to the Christian Chronicle, as of 2008 there were “12,629 a cappella Churches of Christ with 1,578,281 adherents nationwide.” The Chronicle notes that, “Those figures represent 526 fewer churches and 78,436 fewer people in the pews than just six years ago.”[8] Furthermore, this loss of membership is occurring during a time that the population in the U.S. is growing. Like many other Christians in other denominations, the percentage of the population who shares my particular faith is getting smaller by the day.

And I say all that to say this: It is not guaranteed that my faith will be my children’s faith. In fact, for that to be the case, my kids will probably have to be statistical anomalies.

Given this reality, I have been giving some thought to what I will tell my now 4-year-old daughter and her (nearly) 2-year-old brother about what it means to have faith. And here is what I have come up with so far:

11 Things I Will Tell My Children About Faith

 1. You have doubts? Good.

2. You cannot simply opt out of faith. The choice to leave your faith is a choice to replace it with something else. Choose wisely. As Dallas Willard said: “When people ask me ‘Why are you a follower of Christ?’ I reply, ‘Who else did you have in mind?’”

3. If you feel like you must choose between an all-powerful God and an all-loving God, choose the latter.

4. You are not allowed to give up on faith until you have read each of the following books:

        The Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

        Seven Storey Mountain – Thomas Merton

        Confessions – St. Augustine

        How (Not) To Speak of God – Peter Rollins

        Gilead – Marilynne Robinson

        The Story of Christianity – Justo L. Gonzalez

        Simply Jesus – N.T. Wright

        The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien

        My Bright Abyss – Christian Wiman

And any collection of poetry by Wendell Berry or Kevin Hart or Franz Wright

5. Have people done awful things in the name of Christianity? Yes. Because people always do the worst things in the name of what they most care about. Violence and human evil did not begin with Christianity (or any other religion) and it would not end if Christianity (or any other religion) were to disappear. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

6. Consumeristic individualism (which is the most likely replacement for Christian faith in our context) will not and cannot produce human beings like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Pope Francis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Francis of Assisi, Bartolomé De Las Casas, or your mother.

7. Don’t make the mistake of giving up on faith because God does not fulfill certain standardized criteria we have come to expect of deity. As one Harvard Chaplain often said, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in, I probably don’t believe in that god either.”

8. We live in a world that tells us understanding precedes belief. Be willing to take the risk (and the time) to see if belief might precede understanding.

9. It is ironic (at best) that our postmodern culture, which has come to the realization that it is impossible to tell a story without bias and therefore makes room for all stories, would be scandalized by the bias within the story of Scripture and therefore discounts it all.  So don’t be bullied. There is room for our story and it is a good one.

10. At the end of the day, all you have to believe is that he rose from the dead. That’s it. If you can say yes to that, you have said yes to everything.

11. If you ever decide to leave your faith, promise me that the last thing you do as a Christian will be to read the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).


[1] 37% of Millennials grew up in a home where that was not the case, a percentage that has more than doubled since the Baby Boomer generation.

[2] According to the 2012 Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults, more people ages 18 to 29 live with their parents than with a spouse.

[3] The median age for an American woman’s first marriage went from 20.6 in 1967 to 26.9 in 2011.

[4] According to Professor Stewart Friedman in his book, Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family, only 42% of new grads at the University of Pennsylvania said they planned to have children, compared with 78% in 2002. This trend coincides with the 3% drop in pregnancies every year since 2007.

[5] Millennials currently have a staggering 16.2% unemployment rate and wages for college grads dropped 8.5% between 2010-2012: http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/04/05/Losing-Hope-Effective-Millennial-Unemployment-Rate-At-16-2

[6] Pew Research Center, for a fun way to get more information go take this quiz: http://www.pewresearch.org/quiz/how-millennial-are-you/

[7] Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion, 46.

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3 Responses to Will My Children Have Faith?

  1. Paul Mathis says:

    I really appreciate this, David. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Well said my friend. I am so grateful for your life in Christ, your family and ministry. Directing people to this post. Happy Thanksgiiving!

  3. Sue Spill says:

    as usually excellent advice from a strong and caring christian we are so lucky to have you as our minister

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