"There's not a shred of evidence that Jesus ever existed."
It wasn't the first comment I'd received from someone questioning Christianity. Over the years, my website has attracted hundreds of skeptics wanting to challenge my posts. Although I've been a Christian since childhood and I wanted to respond, I felt unprepared to knowledgeably discuss such claims as:
"Science has disproved God."
"The Bible is filled with contradictions."
"Christianity is a copycat of pagan religions."
But the day someone commented that there was no evidence Jesus even existed, I knew I had to be better informed. I discovered apologetics, the discipline of studying how to make a case for the truths of Christianity. Apologetics helped me better understand the historical evidence for Christ's ministry and resurrection and gave me good responses to claims against Jesus' existence.
As I studied, I learned that many young people today are walking away from Christianity because they don't understand the evidence that refutes the same challenges I've encountered. Sadly, many Christian parents are unaware of how to include this information in the discipleship of their kids.
If you are one of these parents, you can begin educating yourself by learning how to respond to the following four challenges to our faith:
"Faith doesn't work together with reason."
Not long ago, I was talking with some parents about how to best disciple children. One mom had a view of faith very different from my own. "I tell my daughter that belief in God is just a matter of faith," she said. "It's like with Santa Claus. Some people believe; some don't."
Sadly, this mom seemed to have accepted the misconception that faith is the opposite of reason, no different from a child's belief in Santa. Unfortunately, many parents agree with this false dichotomy between faith and reason. "We just need to have faith," they tell their kids when someone criticizes them for holding "unreasonable" beliefs.
Help your kids recognize that they need not choose between faith and reason. Faith, by itself, is a commitment to a belief. It can be based on good or bad reasons. A well-placed faith is supported by good reason, and a poorly placed faith isn't supported by reason.
Christians are instructed to have a reasonable faith in response to the evidence God has provided, such as the intelligently designed world we live in or the fact that humans are uniquely wired to understand a moral code. We must understand the evidence and be prepared to share when asked (1 Peter 3:15).
Help your kids see that Christians should welcome conversations based on reason and logic. Explain that there is a clear distinction between a well-placed and poorly placed faith. Look for examples of both, talking about how these compare to our faith in God.
For example, I recently noticed that my son was in the kitchen examining spoons in the silverware drawer. "They're not always clean," he said.
"So you have reason to believe the dishwasher isn't effective," I said. "To trust it would be poorly placed faith!"
We laughed, but that little moment led to a good discussion about how faith in God is based on good reason.
"Science has disproved God."
If faith is grounded in reason, it follows that our kids need to understand what those good reasons are and how to look deeper into the ways God has revealed himself to us.
The Bible is our main source of knowledge about God, but Christians often overlook the natural world as a source of God's revelation to us. What, if anything, do you think you would be able to know about God from looking at the world around you?
Our physical world declares God's glory, proclaiming the work of His hands (Psalm 19:1). Christians must recognize that true science — an honest observation of the created world — is not incompatible with our faith.
A good place to begin is . . . well, with beginnings. It's an accepted scientific fact that the universe had a beginning. We also know that anything that starts to exist must have a cause. We don't see things popping into existence without a cause. So our vast universe necessarily had a cause. And in order to create things like space, time and matter, that cause would be outside of space, time and matter. This description is entirely consistent with the Bible's picture of Creation and of who God is.
Astrophysicist Hugh Ross and his colleagues have observed over 140 properties of the universe, such as the strength of gravity, that appear to be precisely adjusted to support the existence of life. It's extraordinarily improbable that these factors would all, by chance, line up just right for life to flourish. This strongly suggests that our universe is the product of a purposeful intelligence beyond nature.
Ask your child to imagine learning about God without the benefit of the Bible: "What could you learn about God from looking at the world around you?" Read Romans 1:18-20 and discuss what the Bible says we can learn from nature. Use this as a steppingstone to future conversations about what our world reveals about the Creator.
"Where is your God now?"
As terrorist attacks and other man-made tragedies fill headlines, comments like this demonstrate how the problem of evil enters everyday conversations. It's an age-old dilemma: If God really is good, He would eliminate evil, and if He is all-powerful, He could eliminate it. But since evil exists, does God exist?
I've been contacted by many parents whose kids have decided that the existence of evil and a good God can't be reconciled; they've concluded that God must not exist.
We must anticipate this challenge. Answering it starts with helping our children remember that God created humans with the gift of free will. I ask my kids to imagine what life would be like without the possibility of ever choosing evil. What if we were only able to do good and love God? It doesn't take long to understand: We'd be like robots blindly obeying commands.
True goodness can't be forced; we must choose it. But that freedom allows us to make evil choices, too. God made evil possible by giving us the power to choose, but humans are responsible for bringing evil into the world.
It's equally important for young people to understand that atheists have their own problem with evil. If God doesn't exist, there would be no objective standard for calling anything evil. Without a moral authority over humankind, what we call "good" and "evil" can only be a matter of opinion. Yet our deepest intuition tells us that certain behaviors are objectively evil. And since these objective moral "laws" truly exist, the best explanation is that a moral lawgiver exists, as well (Romans 2:14-16).
News stories unfortunately provide ample opportunities to bring this subject to the forefront of discussion. Use a news story to ask your child, "How do you think this kind of evil can happen if God is good?" Discuss the nature of free will. Then explain that only in a world where God exists can we objectively label the wrongdoing as evil.
"Do you really believe dead people can live again?"
Imagine your kids running in from outside, shouting, "We just saw three pigs fly over!" You likely wouldn't believe them. Pigs can't fly!
For many people, this is the same logic by which they determine that the claims of Christianity, such as the Resurrection, are not true. An atheist once told me, "I know there was no Resurrection because I know from science that dead people stay dead." Other skeptics agree: The claims of Christianity don't fit the workings of the natural world.
It's important for our kids to understand the inherent flaw here. Christians and nonbelievers all agree that dead people don't come back to life naturally. But miracles like the Resurrection are not events that Christians believe happen according to the laws of nature. Miracles, by definition, happen supernaturally — by God's direct action in our world.
It follows, then, that if God exists, miracles are possible. If God doesn't exist, miracles are not possible. Nature is all there is. This is a key distinction for kids to understand. Miracles like the Resurrection are events with a cause from outside of nature. They aren't limited by natural laws!
Ask your child, "Why do you think Christians believe Jesus came back to life when we know that all other people who die remain dead?" Clarify that the Resurrection is a miracle claim and that miracles are events with a cause from outside of nature, so they don't necessarily follow natural laws. Emphasize that if God, the Creator of our universe exists, then miracles are absolutely possible and even expected.
These conversations are only a starting point, but they provide a framework for responding to the main intellectual challenges Christians face today, and they will lead to discussions that equip kids with a more confident faith.Natasha Crain is an author and apologetics teacher. Her most recent book is Talking With Your Kids About God.