If you are on social media or read any newspapers, it is easy to see that critical thinking skills are missing in the education of many. Yet critical thinking skills can keep us safe and help us make wise decisions. Your kids also need to develop strong critical thinking skills in order to remain faithful to God and avoid false teachings that would pull them away.
Christians have historically avoided teaching critical thinking skills. This may be in part to the word “critical”. They believe critical thinking skills undermine God and His teachings in some way. Yet, real critical thinking skills can actually strengthen your child’s faith in God. God is Truth. Analyzed properly, His truths will always withstand any challenge.
Unfortunately, many Christian young people are also missing the knowledge and understanding of scripture that is necessary to be a skilled critical thinker. Many churches have moved away from truly equipping young people to be strong, productive Christians in our world. Instead they focus on helping Christian teens blend into their culture instead of standing out as a light within it.
Unless you teach critical thinking skills at home, your kids will probably not learn them in school or at church. The good news is that critical thinking skills can be as much fun to teach as they are to learn. There are a lot of entertaining things you can do to help your kids learn and practice critical thinking skills. Some of these ideas are secular, but the tools they teach can be applied to religious discussions as well.
Here are some of our favorite tools for teaching critical thinking skills:
Mysteries. Whether it’s Nate the Great or Agatha Christie, mysteries teach critical thinking skills. Read them aloud and see who can analyze the suspects’ alibis and other clues the most successfully. Talk about why they believed or didn’t believe certain statements.
Critical Thinking Activity Books/Puzzles. Logic puzzles are an example of fun activities that teach critical thinking. The Critical Thinking Company has a lot of great resources you can purchase. They also offer a free puzzle they will send to you each week for your kids to solve. One of our daughter’s teachers in elementary school sent home a puzzle every week for families to do together. They were just as hard for the parents as the kids – in fact sometimes the kids could figure out an answer before the adults. Families were even known to work together on some of the tougher ones.
Fact Checking. Journalists have (in general) become very lazy about fact checking their sources. Some have even been caught fabricating stories and using photos from other events in place of events in the story. Many articles and reports are riddled with errors. Grab an article or two and teach your kids how to fact check what they read. If you want to go the extra mile, encourage them to write a letter to the editor when they find errors!
Read books by Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace and discuss them as a family. Strobel was an investigative journalist and Wallace a cold case detective. Both have used the skill sets necessary in their professions and applied them to Christianity. They have great books with variations for different age levels. Everyone in your family could read the version for their age level and then compare and contrast the information shared. Strobel has additional books on other topics impacting Christianity including the resurrection of Jesus, Creation and more.
Doubts and Bible lessons/sermons. There is a huge difference between criticizing a Bible class or sermon and using critical thinking skills to analyze it. Teach your kids to not worry about the style and presentation, but focus on the content. Were scriptures used appropriately? What other passages might apply to the topic that could change the speaker’s conclusions? Was the logic faulty, even though the conclusion is correct? How could the point be made more clearly or with better logic? Were there points they didn’t understand or are not sure were valid? Help them find those answers to their questions and doubts as part of their need for increased Bible knowledge and understanding to be godly critical thinkers.
Learn logical fallacies. I’m not saying you or your kids need to learn all of the fancy names for the various logical fallacies. It is important that your kids understand them well enough though to recognize them when they see them. Logical fallacies do not necessarily mean the conclusion is right or wrong. They serve as a red flag your children can use to understand they need to do more research before accepting or rejecting them. You can purchase books for kids on the topic or our recent post on logical fallacies can help. Our new free book, Effective Teen Ministry has an appendix on logical fallacies that is more detailed than our blog posts for those who really enjoy the topic.
Taking the time to teach your kids critical thinking skills is important if you want to help them navigate a world filled with lies. The best part of teaching this particular skill set is that you both can have a lot of fun doing it together.
Full confession. I am no expert in science. In high school, I had a couple of football coaches as science teachers. In college, my biology professor is what I can only describe as an angry atheist. He seemed to spend as much time bashing God and Christianity as he did teaching biology.
In spite of those negative experiences, there is something fascinating about science. Perhaps because it is a way to examine how amazing God’s creation really is. The problem is that science and Christianity have drawn battle lines that can hurt both of them.
Science has lost a lot by refusing to accept the existence of God (as a discipline – many scientists are still Christians). Christians can miss out by refusing to let children gifted by God in science to participate in the field for fear they will be pulled away from God. This means there are fewer Christians in science today than perhaps there should be.
Your kids exposure to science can undermine their faith under the right circumstances. It doesn’t have to be that way. Taking some precautions can help strengthen the faith foundations of young people who will be exposed to scientists who are atheist or agnostic.
Expose your children to Christian scientists and their writings and studies. There is peer pressure in science to agree with the “party line” rather than search for truth – regardless of what it reveals. There are plenty of well educated, Christian scientists, however. At times they are kept out of the journals, because of their beliefs. They, however, are reputable and have published books and studies with a different perspective on the data. Answers In Genesis is a great resource of these writings. They have free resources as well as ones you can purchase. Many are written specifically for kids and teens.
Teach your children about bias and how it can impact the interpretation of data. We attended church with a gentleman who had a PhD in astronomy and ran a secular university. He had a very detailed scientific argument for why the flood makes much of the radiocarbon dating inaccurate. For scientists who don’t believe in a worldwide flood (even with lots of physical evidence) radiocarbon dating is infallible. The eruption of Mt St. Helens a few decades ago rocked the scientific world because phenomenon they had claimed took millions of years to happen, happened in a few weeks during the eruption.
Textbooks and science teachers aren’t always up to date on the latest studies. Even scientists who are atheists are moving away from the idea of random evolution. As more instruments can detect the intricacy in creation, they have had to admit the idea of that many things happening by accident is beyond impossible. Now, they aren’t ready to embrace God – some are crediting “intelligent life” on other planets – but it’s still a huge step away from Darwin. They have made other steps towards acknowledging God creating everything as described in the Bible – like the pre-Cambrian explosion – where all types of creatures suddenly appeared at the same time. (Of course, stopping short of acknowledging God.) Your children’s teachers may have textbooks that don’t address these shifts or they may not have read more current information.
Continually remind your kids God’s truths are THE truth and the truths of others may or may not be true – no matter how much evidence they think they have. If you are old enough, you have seen science declare eggs, fat, sugar and other things good for us and then bad for us in an almost dizzying cycle. Each time they have had plenty of data to support their claim…until the data came out that reversed their conclusions.
Science doesn’t have to reject God in order to be “good” science. In fact, some scientific fields have quite a few Christians in them. If your kids are interested in science, they may find things that help us live healthier or better lives. They just need to be aware that they will need to protect their faith against assaults and peer pressure. Discuss the ways they can do that before they begin encountering a lot of people who may mock their religious beliefs.
Science can point your kids to God. There is a sweet kids’ devotional book Indescribable by Louie Giglio. It contains a 100 devotions that use interesting things in science to point kids to God. Answers in Genesis also has plenty of resources for kids about things like dinosaurs that acknowledge God and contain solid science. Our parent website Teach One Reach One Ministries has free science project activities connected to Bible stories for those who want a way to do science experiments with their kids while also teaching them about God.
You don’t have to teach your kids to hate science if you want them to grow up to be faithful, productive Christians. You do need to prepare them though, so those teaching them science don’t weaken their faith. It’s worth your time and effort.
Apologetics are “reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something”. In the case of Christians, apologetics usually refers to answers to questions or criticisms commonly posed by people who aren’t Christians. Many young people raised in Christian homes may hear these questions or criticisms from teachers, peers, or even in the things they read and watch.
Some Christian young people may have even wondered about these same things themselves. The problem is that if they are brave enough to voice their questions and concerns, the reaction from other Christians can be extremely negative. Many young people have learned to leave those doubts unexpressed and unfortunately unanswered.
Those who do ask them may have been told some platitude that was formed years ago when the average Christian had no access to things like primary source documents from the early church. Now with the internet, Christians have access to primary source documents, archaeological finds and more within seconds. Unfortunately, many Christians don’t know those things are available or could help provide clearer answers than a platitude that could easily be demolished by a savvy debater.
Before you start immersing your kids in apologetics though, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.
Apologetics aren’t a replacement for Bible knowledge. Apologetics can help your child understand why Christians believe what they do, but your child still needs to read the Bible to be personally familiar with the scriptures. Apologetics often cover topics in broad strokes, while living a Christian life requires a more detailed, nuanced knowledge and understanding of scripture.
Apologetics aren’t the best way to understand how to apply scripture to one’s life. Although there may be some application principles in an apologetics reading, they don’t attempt to cover every application principle in scripture. The focus is generally on the things that confuse or upset non-Christians.
Apologetics are only as good as the person who researched and wrote/spoke them. Someone who doesn’t understand scripture or is holding on to some false teaching or man-made doctrine may have faulty apologetics, too. It’s important to screen anything before showing it to your kids or at least watch it with them so you can discuss any areas in which you believe the Bible teaches something differently.
Apologetics can prepare and protect your kids from common arguments against Christianity they may hear or read – often in college when you aren’t there to discuss it with them. A good apologetics resource usually addresses the most common questions and criticisms. They will have already explained to your child the answers that are well thought out and researched, using scripture and its underlying principles.
Apologetics can keep your kids from allowing someone to take one or two verses out of context and use them as an argument against the correct full picture given by the Bible in its entirety. For example, some people will say the Believers’ or Sinners’ prayer is a way to become a Christian – even though it was invented in the United States a couple of hundred years ago. They will pull out a couple of verses about faith saving you, ignoring the fact that every conversion involved baptism, Jesus himself was baptized, verses in Acts and Romans connect baptism to having your sins forgiven and the early church only accepted baptism by immersion for the forgiveness of sins as the way of becoming a Christian. Apologetics can point out the problem with a few verses pulled out of context and point your kids back to the full picture found in the Bible.
Apologetics are not a way for your child to share his or her faith. That involves sharing the story of Creation and the Fall and God’s plan for redemption. It means your child can tell the story of Jesus – especially about his death, burial and resurrection. It involves your child being able to share how he or she has seen God working in the world today. It also means your child can tell someone the joy found in the Gospel message and how to become a Christian. Bits of that may be found in apologetics material, but is not it’s central purpose.
Apologetics can prepare your kids to answer questions others may have when they share their faith with them. When your kids begin to share their faith, some people may have questions or concerns that are answered by apologetics. Those answers will help your kids stay calm and know how to answer them. It also keeps them from giving in to the temptation to answer with a platitude or a less than kind answer out of fear or frustration.
So who are some people who are well known for producing strong apologetics materials? *Lee Strobel has plenty of “Case for” books that many have used over the years. The great thing about his materials is that most of them come in adult, teen and child versions. Sean Mcdowell has videos that can be found on RightNow Media. They are short and easy to understand. Many churches have free subscriptions you can use. J Warner Wallace is a former police detective whose apologetics use forensic science. He also has videos on RightNow Media and several books that are often on sale in the ebook format. Ravi Zacharias is also popular, although I haven’t had time to explore his materials.
Apologetics are not a substitute for teaching your kids the Bible and helping them understand and obey it. They can however, give you some important tools to help strengthen your kids’ spiritual foundations in specific areas. It’s worth exploring them with your kids.
*Please be aware that apologetics writers are human and capable of making mistakes. There is no substitute for the absolute truths found in the Bible. Compare everything they say to scripture for yourself and teach your children to do the same
One of the topics rarely discussed in Christian parenting is how to help your kids move from merely copying your faith to making it their own personal faith. A way to do that is to encourage them to move from just learning the facts in the Bible to deeper thinking about who God is and what He wants from them and for them.
Some children will make those transitions without much help from their parents. Kids that are naturally introspective tend to begin making that shift while still in their teens. Often a situation like college – especially a college with many unbelieving students – can force young people to think more deeply about what they have been taught. Others, never truly make that shift and seem to struggle with their Christian life or abandon it entirely.
One of the saddest things to watch is a parent trying to force one of their kids to have a career or participate in an activity for which it is obvious their child has no gift or interest. The dynamic not only makes the child miserable, but puts an unnecessary strain on their relationship. If pushed too long and too far, the strain can often cause irreparable damage, as either the child rebels in the opposite direction or submits to a lifetime of what they believe is pure misery.
God creates each person as an individual. Your children may have some characteristics from you, some from your spouse and some from some distant relative none of you have ever even met.
God also gives each of us one or more gifts He knows we will need to serve Him in the opportunities He will give us during our lifetime. One or more of your kids may have a gift that appears uniquely unlike any other given to others in your family.
God also knows each of your children will have experiences and opportunities that the rest of your family will not have. Some of these may be good and others not so much, but each will be a part of whom that child becomes.
So how can you avoid forcing your child into following your life plan instead of becoming who God created him or her to be? First let’s talk about what shouldn’t be in anyone’s life plan if they are truly trying to become who God created them to be.