Breakfast Club: Covert or Overt Absolutism

Indoctrinating Our KidsOne of the problems people have with Christians is that they “indoctrinate” their children with their beliefs. Another, less gracious, way of putting this is that Christians brainwash their kids with doctrines of the Bible’s authority, sin, God, the devil, heaven, hell, etc. and that these doctrines negatively effect them all their lives (even if they choose to reject them in adulthood). A better approach to our kids, these people would suggest, is to raise them to see all different faith-options and religious-paths so that they are able to make their own personal choice of doctrines and beliefs. I would argue, however, that this approach is also, albeit more covertly, a form of indoctrination. Every parent and family inevitably teaches their children a set of doctrines and centers their family on an object of worship. I would also say that while Christians acknowledge up front the necessity and value of raising their children around a set of doctrines and the worship of God, such Christianize “absolutism” fosters humble, gracious, and loving children.

Family Doctrine: Covert and Overt Absolutists

The position of many, that we shouldn’t teach our children any one set of doctrines or faith, is itself based on a belief system or set of doctrines. The beliefs that (1) religion should be a completely private matter, (2) that “evangelizing” someone to your faith is intolerant, (3) that there is no one true religion, are themselves based on a set of beliefs about what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing. In other words, it is based on a post-modern, western, secular worldview that the vast majority of the peoples and cultures of the world do not share. On what basis should one accept these beliefs over against, say an Islamic or Eastern worldview? What appears to be an open-minded and “tolerant” perspective on raising children is really a subtle and covert form of indoctrination. Therefore, it is a myth to pretend that it is possible for any family not to “indoctrinate” their children with a set of assumptions, or a worldview. Christians, in contrast, openly affirm that they have doctrines that they teach their children, and an object of worship that they seek to center their children’s lives on.

Family Worship: Every family worships something

Every family has, at its center, something that gives it a sense of meaning, value, identity, purpose. In biblical terms, at the center of every family is either the true and living God or an idol. An idol is something within creation that is inflated to function as a substitute for God. All sorts of things are potential idols. An idol can be a physical object, a property, a person, an activity, a role, an institution, a hope, an image, an idea, a pleasure, a hero. The center of some families is money, or the family “reputation”, or comfort, or status in the community. As soon as our loyalty to anything leads us to disobey God, we are in danger of making it an idol. For example, work, a commandment of God, can become an idol if it is pursued so exclusively that responsibilities to one’s family are ignored. Similarly, family, an institution from God, can become an idol if one is so preoccupied with the family that no one outside one’s own family is cared for. Again, being well-liked, a perfectly legitimate hope, becomes an idol if the attachment to it means one never risks disapproval.

Thus, it is a myth to pretend that only Christian families center their children’s lives around an object of worship. In thousands of ways, some obvious, but most subversive, parents lead their children in family worship. Christian parents are simply more honest in affirming that it is their call and responsibility to raise their children to worship and love God with all of their hearts, soul, and mind.

The result of Christian “indoctrination” and “worship”

Perhaps at this point, we should ask this important question: what then is the result of raising children up according to the core doctrines and worship of the Christian faith? Let me suggest briefly some of the points of impact for specific, core Christian doctrines.

(1) Teaching about the sanctity of every person due to the image of God and the utter sinfulness of every human heart tends to level the playing field of viewing all people as equally valuable and broken, both created by God and fallen into sin (and hence under God's judgment.)

(2) Teaching about the redemptive and sacrificial love of the Personal-Infinite God to save sinners highlights the utterly unique character of the Christian faith and reveals Christianity as the only religion based on real love.

(3) Teaching about the absolute necessity of the grace of God for salvation tends to constrain and constrict the growth of human pride.

(4) Teaching about the love of God that flows into the Christians life through the Holy Spirit compels our kids to not simply live a life of tolerance but of positive, sacrificial love for the “other.”

(5) Teaching about the call of the church to be a redemptive and restorative community in light of the future restoration of all things in Jesus calls our children into an engagement with culture, justice, and social healing in this world.

(6) Regularly worshiping God in both home and church (which also reminds our children of these doctrines) uniquely engenders, fashions, and forms our children into humble, gracious, self-giving people: the best of all possible neighbors in the secular city.