The Hard Questions
by Justin Brierley
I was sitting in the vestry of my church when I received a call from a distressed church member. What could we do about her child who was insisting that he didn’t believe in God and didn’t want to come to church anymore?
This was going to be tricky. Our own children weren’t yet at the age of asking awkward questions. My wife couldn’t think of a time when she hadn’t believed. I had been through a brief patch of uncertainty during university, but had never been an atheist. And anyway, wasn’t outright scepticism a phenomenon of teenage rebellion? Children just believe…right?
So we listened to him. ‘If God’s there why doesn’t he show me? The Bible says God created the Earth in six days, but that’s not scientific is it? Why doesn’t God answer prayers?’ Good questions, worthy of an adult, just as much as nine year-old Steven. We did our best for 45 minutes and by the end he seemed to leave a little more satisfied than when he arrived. We on the other hand felt a bit deflated. There simply aren’t easy answers to these questions whatever age you are, and we felt under-prepared. So what can we do to make the case for Christianity to children asking tough questions?
My day job is presenting a radio show and podcast called Unbelievable? on Premier Christian Radio. Every week I’m joined by believers and non-believers to debate whether Christianity makes sense, and I love the cut and thrust of engaging with sceptics. Adult sceptics that is. I had barely considered the idea of presenting an apologetic case for Christian faith to children.
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‘Apologetics’ comes from the Greek word ‘apologia’ meaning ‘to make a defense’. It’s an ancient branch of Christian theology and philosophy that goes back to the beginning of the Church. Paul was doing apologetics when he debated the Greek thinkers at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17). Peter the apostle summed it up when he wrote: ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have’ (1 Peter 3:15).
Modern apologetics has a bit of an image problem; the idea that it is only for intellectuals and not for ‘ordinary’ Christians has become entrenched. This explains why ‘apologetics’ rarely, if ever, crops up in children’s ministry. But as Steven proved, children can experience doubt and come up with just as challenging questions as any adult. So we need to be ready to give an answer (as 1 Peter instructs us) – which is what apologetics is all about.
Children have questions too
The Oxford Centre For Christian Apologetics recently held a training day for young people called Reboot. Ruth Jackson of OCCA says the event grew out of a sense that, while adults were being provided for, there was no ‘meeting in the middle’ for young people who needed their questions answered…