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Losing our Children to Atheism

My oldest son began his freshman year in college back in August, and it has caused me to wonder how well we have equipped our children to go out and live in a chaotic world. This is quite a challenging responsibility that each of us has as a parent. As I have thought about this lately, I have realized how important it is to arm them with wisdom and knowledge.

Larry Taunton, Executive Director of Fixed Point Foundation, conducted a series of interviews with college-aged students who had joined atheist organizations. He wanted to find out why these students had become atheists, and in the process, he spotted certain patterns that emerged during the interviews.

After interviewing students from all over the country, it was shocking to hear how many of them grew up attending church on a regular basis. It was evident early in the interviews that these students had relevant questions about their Christian faith that no one had ever addressed or answered.

I recently read of a study performed by Fuller Seminary. This study also discovered that an increasingly large number of students are losing their Christian faiths when they go to college. Parents assume that their children are well-grounded when they leave for school, yet they later discover that their children never felt that they had a safe place to wrestle with their pre-college doubts and questions.

One of the basic questions that young people are asking today is, “Why should I believe the Bible to be the word of God?” Isn’t it just an ancient book of myths and legends?” They are also finding it hard to believe that a book written thousands of years ago might have any relevance to modern life.

This is one of the main reasons that I wrote the book, Reliable Truth: The Validity of the Bible in an Age of Skepticism. I wanted people to see the compelling evidence of the historical accuracy of the Bible. During this past summer, my seventeen year-old daughter read the book, and when she had finished, she told me how glad she was that she had read it. She then said, “Over the years I have sometimes wondered if the Bible was really true. I now am convinced that it is.” I was, on the one hand, thrilled to hear this, but on the other, really surprised to hear of her doubts. She never had expressed these before, and, therefore, I presumptuously assumed that she had none. This was a great life-lesson for me, both as a parent and as a Christian.

In his classic book, Green Letters, Miles Stanford states that true faith must be based on that which is true and factual. As a Christian, he believes that a valid spiritual faith can be and is anchored in biblical facts and biblical truth. He writes, “. . . unless our faith is established on facts, it is no more than conjecture, superstition, speculation, or presumption.” Bottom line? Stanford is telling us that faith without a strong foundation is nothing more than blind faith . . . and blind faith is worthless. However, he makes it clear that Christians do not have a blind faith – their trust is firmly anchored in the words of scripture. The Bible’s validity is the very foundation of the Christian faith.

Millar Burrows served as the Department of Near Eastern language and literature at Yale Graduate School and became one of the world’s great authorities on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He makes this observation:

There is a type of Christian faith . . . rather strongly represented today . . . which is not dependent on reason or evidence. Many Christians are often skeptical as to the possibility of knowing anything about the historical Jesus, and seem content to dispense with such knowledge.

Burrows goes on to say:

I cannot share this point of view. I am profoundly convinced that the historical revelation of God and Jesus of Nazareth must be the cornerstone of any faith that is really Christian. Any historical question about the real Jesus who lived in Palestine nineteen centuries ago is, therefore, fundamentally important.

I agree with Burrows. Faith must have a rational foundation that is grounded in truth. This is particularly true for our teenagers, especially as we prepare them to go out into a hostile and skeptical world. The Fuller Seminary research project strongly agrees with this. The researchers discovered one factor that proved most effective in helping young people retain their faith. They found that students actually grew more confident in their faith and commitment when the adults in their lives guide them in exploring questions and grappling with the challenges posed by prevailing, secular worldviews.

I think, then, that one of the most valuable things that we can do as parents is to provide a safe, respectful forum within the family so that our children can openly explore their doubts. It is not essential that we parents have all of the answers; rather, it is significantly more important to let our children ask all of their questions. They need to know that seeking answers to their questions and doubts provides an opportunity for real growth in their faith.

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