Recently I met with a young couple whose little boy had just been evaluated for kindergarten at the Christian school where I teach. Their son is brilliant. He had begun talking before he turned a year. He knew all of his letters and numbers at one and a half, and started reading words at around two. The little boy’s brilliance has fostered in him an intense need for control, so teaching him truth, let alone obedience, is arduous and exhausting. The greatest concern they have for their son is his spiritual formation. Because of God’s invisible nature, at three years old he began questioning God’s existence. Now at five, when God is invoked in a conversation, he plugs his ears and insists simply and emphatically, “No God!” His mother voiced her concern: “We are just so afraid that his logic is going to get in the way of his faith.” My thought was, what an opportunity for this family to use the amazing brain God has given their son to actually bring him to a saving faith!
From the Mind to the Heart
The Bible admonishes us to use our mind in our apprehension of God. Romans 12:2 commands us to renew our minds so that we may discern the will of God. Isaiah 26:3 assures us we will be kept in peace when we keep our mind fixed on God. 2 Corinthians 10:5 implies that we must keep our minds sharp to destroy arguments against God. Colossians 3:2 tells us to “set our minds” on the things of God, and Matthew 22:37 commands us to love God with all our mind. 1 Corinthians 2:16 goes so far as to say that believers have the mind of Christ.
What does it mean to love God with our mind? My father used to say, “God gave you a brain, use it!” Not the fuzziest statement of encouragement, but he had a point. Our minds are a good gift from God, as are our emotions. If we do not employ both in our faith, we’ll either run the risk of following fickle feelings or becoming unfeeling and puffed up. Emotions alone can be deceiving. Pursuit of knowledge alone can feed our pride.
Belief in God begins in the mind. Certainly, the scriptures evoke feelings. Love, fear, encouragement, remorse, forgiveness, joy. But the truth of God’s word must hit the mind first. Especially in our call of evangelism. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us.” Clear knowledge of why we believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, and in an invisible being with some, let’s face it, peculiar ideas, is imperative to making a defense to a non-believer, no matter how passionate we feel about our faith. Otherwise, we run the risk of being dismissed as, at the very least, a zealot, or worse, a crackpot.
On the flip side, those of us who enjoy the pursuit of knowledge must take great care not to come across as pedantic. Knowledge and zeal for the truth can, indeed, puff up (1 Corinthians 8:1). We must pursue truth with the sole intention of increasing love for our Savior, and to be able to lovingly present what we know. The apprehension of doctrine should incite great joy, not great pride.
John Piper wrote,
If a person doesn't move from intellectual awareness of God and right thinking about God to an emotional embrace of God, he hasn't loved God with his mind. The mind has not yet loved until it hands off its thoughts to the emotions where they're embraced. And then the mind and the heart are working in what feels like such harmony, and you experience it as both intellectual and affectional love for God.
Fostering Thinkers in the Pursuit of Faith
I am gravely concerned for our children. I have been teaching for over three decades, and have seen not only significant deterioration in acumen, but also in the mere desire to acquire any meaningful knowledge. Even within the last decade, since my own children were in school, the ability of students to reason and articulate has noticeably diminished.
How can today’s parents resurrect the pursuit of excellence and sagacity to foster a generation of thinkers who will use their minds in their pursuit of faith? Here are five propositions.
1. Replace screen time with play and conversation.
Be a salmon! Go against the flow of mainstream parenting. I’m not sure how many times I’ve written this in articles and blog posts: children are not entitled to a phone or any type of electronic device. Keep electronics away from the dinner table, at home and at restaurants. Just because a brand new minivan has a TV, doesn’t mean you have to use it. The table and the car are perfect places to live out Deuteronomy 6:7. There’s nothing like the simple act of playing to stir a child’s creative juices and feed his natural propensity for inquiry.
2. Read Scripture regularly with your children, and explain it.
Use commentaries. Employ catechisms. Invite your children to interpret what they hear. Subscribe to biblically based magazines, like WORLDkids (https://kids.wng.org/about) or Clubhouse (https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/promos/kids). Foster in them the ability to defend their faith.
3. Read great books to your children.
My daughter in law is reading C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my four-year-old granddaughter. At four, my granddaughter can explain the plot, and associates Aslan as a type of Christ. This leads to foundational, age appropriate discussions about propitiation and justification. Children will rise to their parents’ level of expectation.
4. Use solid vocabulary.
Don’t shy away from using big words with your small children. Their minds are pliable and able to take in much more than you think. For example, instead of spurring your child on to keep trying, encourage them to persevere. Replace good job with well done or excellent. You would be surprised how much language your preschooler can acquire and use meaningfully. By the time they are older, they will be able to grasp deeper truths because you have given them the tools to comprehend them. They will also be equipped to articulately express the Gospel.
5. Teach your children basic logic.
Logic, as R.C. Sproul points out, is a good gift from God, and we must never separate it from our faith. Even the youngest children can grasp concepts like the law of causality, which explains that every effect must have had a cause. Children can also apprehend the law of non-contradiction, which leads them to realize that truth cannot be relative, despite what postmodernism posits, and either the God of the Christian Bible is who he says he is, or he is who non-Christians say he is, but he cannot be both. Logical thought applied to faith foments solid belief and great love for God.
John Vanderstelt, in an article for Desiring God, wrote, ”In a world gone wild, surrounded by the enemies of our soul seeking to distract and destroy us, we desperately need the truths of the gospel applied to our minds daily.” We must teach our children to agree with Romans 7:25, in which Paul exclaims, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I myself serve the law of God with my mind.” Knowledge of God secures our hope (Proverbs 24:14), and the pursuit of it serves as the first step in fulfilling the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:36-38), heart, soul, and mind.