Thinking Christian

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The Teaching Parent: Who, Me?

Posted on Jan 29, 2013 by Tom Gilson

I just wrote about parents’ responsibilities to teach our children the truths of the faith, including the reasons we believe. That’s a challenge, for sure. But I don’t think we can deny how eternally important it is for our children.

I’d like to open up this thread for discussion on how we can learn how to teach, and teach our children to learn. The floor is open.

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4 Responses to “ The Teaching Parent: Who, Me? ”

  1. Earl Morton says:

    Not being a parent, I’m a little hesitant to respond, but I’ll offer this much: As I understand it, children learn mostly by mimicking what they see and hear. So a parent shouldn’t necessarily think as much about “how to teach” as “how to live.” Ensuring that your speech and behavior in church is consistent with your speech and behavior in the rest of your life, especially at home when the world isn’t watching (but your kids are) seems to me to be the most important thing.

  2. Peter Grice says:

    Earl, there may be some truth to that, but the basic challenge to it is that children respond to what is modeled only for so long. They are in the process of becoming independent people (indeed, people who will have children of their own). Somewhere along the line we all determine how much of our upbringing we will retain, and it happens all the time that young people retain the good values of their parents while rejecting their beliefs in matters of fact.

    I think a genuinely good, just, tender, firm, wise, consistent and predictable parent will influence their child for far longer. Even so, this will wane in latter years, at least in areas of knowledge and truth claims. We’re simply not wired up by our Creator to take our parents’ word for it—not indefinitely. It’s not a matter of ceasing to trust our parents, it’s that their authority has reached its limits.

    More than that, without a proper basis in truth, there is actually no “how to live” in the moral sense. Children want to know, “Why should I?” That’s a cry for some justification for their parents’ values. With loving parents, it may be the case that the child reciprocates in doing everything they can to protect their parents from grief, but nonetheless, rebels in private. It’s not exactly that they don’t share the same values; it’s that they don’t see how they aren’t “flexible” in the wider world.

  3. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you for that, Earl and Peter.

    I would agree that it’s not an either-or but a both-and.

    If there’s anyone in the past few hundred years who modeled Christian living, it’s William Wilberforce. Still he said, early in Real Christianity,

    In an age wherein it is confessed and lamented that infidelity abounds, do we observe in them [English Christians] any remarkable care to instruct their children in the principles of the faith which they profess, and to furnish them with arguments for the defence of it? They would blush, on their child’s coming out into the world, to think him defective in any branch of that knowledge, or of those accomplishments which belong to his station in life, and accordingly these are cultivated with becoming assiduity. But he is left to collect his religion as he may; the study of Christianity has formed no part of his education, and his attachment to it (where any attachment to it exists at all) is, too often, not the preference of sober reason, but merely the result of early prejudice and groundless prepossession…. Knowing Christianity chiefly in the difficulties which it contains, and in the impossibilities which are falsely imputed to it, they fall perhaps into the company of infidels; and, as might be expected, they are shaken by frivolous objections and profane cavils, which, had they been grounded and bottomed in reason and argument, would have passed by them, “as the idle wind,” and scarcely have seemed worthy of serious notice.

  4. Earl Morton says:

    You are both correct, of course, that both living examples and direct teaching are indispensable aspects of child-rearing. I was speaking from the perspective of my childhood.

    I don’t remember either of my parents ever teaching me Bible stories, Christian doctrine, or good behavior, although I’m sure they did. I do remember watching my mother study the Bible, taking careful notes, pausing to ponder, and enthusiastically sharing her insights. That is why I love studying the Bible 50 years later. I do remember watching my parents live out their Christian faith in front of neighbors and strangers. I remember always having hymns in our home, both recorded and played on the piano and sung by my family. I remember my mother sharing the Gospel with the Jehovah’s Witnesses that came to our door. I remember my father asking probing questions to ensure he understood the Bible’s meaning.

    I certainly benefited from being taught Christian truth. But I accepted it as truth, I believed in that truth, because I saw it lived out in the everyday lives of my parents.

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