What would it take, I ask myself, to see the young generation in our Reformed churches develop what one friend of mine calls “an intelligent passion” for Christ and His kingdom? What would move them beyond mediocre conformity to pop culture or (perhaps even less savory) “churchy” culture? What would bring them to a place of reflective, critical, responsible, transformational engagement with the real world in which we find ourselves today?
It’s going to have to start at home, and to be honest, I can’t figure out what a lot of parents are thinking these days. Their offspring are given unlimited electronic access to everything under the sun, with no apparent supervision, and very little apparent instruction. The children spent most of their waking hours fraternizing with fools, without even the add-on of consistent catechizing and family worship, let alone serious conversations about a Christian philosophy of life. And then the parents are mystified when their kids turn out to be functional pagans by the age of twenty. This whole way of doing things has got to change. What is the better way?
Children develop an intelligent faith by interacting extensively with people who love them and who have an intelligent faith. Children don’t develop an intelligent faith by being told simply to believe certain things, without explanation, without interaction, without exploration of the hard questions that inevitably hang around the fringes of our finitude. If they can’t ask such questions and feel that the questions are being taken seriously, they will eventually (and sensibly) conclude that the faith they are being told to believe just isn’t defensible.
Children develop a passionate faith by interacting extensively with people who love them and who have a passionate faith. Passionate faith is faith that is profoundly connected to God through worship and to the real world through whole-life discipleship.
Passionate faith is systematically eroded when children are taught they are in “limbo” with God until they sustain some kind of spiritual rite of passage (dramatic “conversion,” for example). It is nurtured, conversely, when children see their role models passionately loving and worshipping God, and when they are taught that this wonderful God is their God from conception, fully and truly, without qualification.
Passionate faith is also eroded when children are taught that the real world is bad, dangerous, and best avoided by staying put in a Christian ghetto. Parents with a separatist view of culture and a pessimistic view of history will not be passionately engaged with the real world, and neither will their children (until they grow curious enough to go exploring on their own). Conversely, parents who enact before their children a delight in all created things, who have a robust theology of celebration and cultivation, who are up to speed on cultural developments and manifest a great love for what is good and a great hatred for what is evil, and who expect the kingdom of God to grow and flourish through the taking captive of every thought and every human enterprise, will be parents whose passion – both loving and hating – will be contagious for their children.
But if intelligent passion begins in the home, it can’t be confined to the home. Children need influences other than their parents; at any rate, such influences are unavoidable. So let young boys “hang out” with older men in the church, shooting guns, catching fish, building campfires, playing ball, reading poetry, grooving to music, watching films, and talking theology – and let them see that this manly life is good. Let young girls “hang out” with older women in the church, baking bread, decorating bedrooms, refinishing furniture, discussing economics, chasing little ones at the beach, making clothes, visiting museums, and taking in opera – and let them see that this womanly life is good. It does indeed take a community to rear a child, because children need to see that their parents aren’t crazy, but are part of an entire active polis called the city of God, the wildly diverse yet passionately thoughtful and engaging fellowship of His covenant people.
There is much more to be said, but I hope this gestures in the right direction.