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Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies
by Hillary Ferrer
Learn More | Meet Hillary Ferrer
Calling All Mama Bears
My kid has a cheerio shoved up his nose. Why am I reading this book?
Hillary Morgan Ferrer and Julie Loos
I rather enjoy the phone conversations I have with my mom friends— especially those who are moms of young children. Where else can I hear someone yell nonsensical statements like “Don’t put the chicken on the trampoline!”?
I did a survey asking our Mama Bears for the weirdest statements they’d ever had to utter as a mom. There were quite a few responses regarding things that should not be licked (for example, eyeballs, cars, an elephant’s butt… ). My favorite response was “We do not put wise men in the toilet!” As a mom, I’m sure there are plenty of phrases you never thought would leave your mouth. Let’s be honest: Who has to clarify that “poop is not paint”? Moms, that’s who.
Mom life is a special calling and not for the faint of heart. Most moms will tell you that it is the hardest and the best job in the world. On one hand, there is no alone time for about the first eight years, and you don’t get to call in sick. On the other hand, what other job allows you to snuggle with your clients while they show you how big of a spit bubble they can make?
Moms are like managers, except they don’t just manage people; they create them. As a mother, you have the honor of training, molding, and educating your offspring from birth until (hopefully) they become functioning members of society. William Ross Wallace rightly described motherhood in his nineteenth-century poem titled “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Rules the World.” In other words, if children are our future, it is moms (and dads) who are in a position to help determine what kind of future that will be.
As parents—as well as aunts, uncles, grandparents, and guardians— one of our most important jobs is preparing kids for the real world. Our children are growing up in a society that is vastly different than the one in which we grew up. I loved memorizing Bible verses as a child, but I didn’t have to deal with the culture telling me that the Bible was full of contradictions or that it was just a book of fairy tales. The trustworthiness of Scripture was presumed. That is not the case anymore. We can no longer rely on Western culture to reinforce our Christian beliefs, and we cannot ignore the fact that youth are leaving the church in droves. What many parents don’t know is that some of the reasons for their departure are totally preventable.
Why Do We Care About Apologetics?
Julie and I (Hillary) have had very different experiences when it comes to apologetics. Julie discovered the importance of apologetics after having children, whereas I discovered its importance as a child. I like to share my story because I think it is important for parents to have a long-term vision of what apologetics training can do for their kids. Many apologists’ stories are filled with regret that they didn’t get their training sooner. I am among those whose hindsight is not filled with regret, but rather full of appreciation for the training I received as a youngster.
I was a churchgoing kid who loved Jesus and wanted to be a missionary. I remember wanting to become a nun and being bummed when my mom informed me that only Catholics could do that. During my growing-up years, if Mom and Dad said it, I believed it. They said Christianity was true, so I didn’t question it.
Had the Internet been around when I was a kid, my story might have ended very differently. I was a question-asker. Even my kindergarten “report card” has a handwritten note from my teacher that says, “Asks a lot of questions.” Fast-forward to when my parents met one of my favorite grad school professors. The first thing he said to them? “She asks a lot of really good questions!” So I come by this trait honestly. It’s been there since I could talk.
Growing up, the only people to whom I could direct my spiritual questions were Mom, Dad, Pastor Tim, and a handful of Sunday school teachers. Given access to the Internet, I might have looked up “God” on Google and been introduced to not only the Judeo-Christian God, but also the god(s) of Islam, Baha’i, and Zoroastrianism. If your kids are anything like me, they might have then searched “Which God is the real God?” Last I checked, at the top of the list was the Wikipedia entry for God. Entry number two was “Is God Real?” on Mormon.org. If your kids go a little further down the screen, they will be told by a HuffPost article that “Approaching God, or rejecting the very idea (atheism), ought to be a personal matter, something like happiness as defined in the Declaration of Independence: a pursuit by each in their own way” (emphasis mine). Postmodernism agrees. Naturalism agrees, and so do emotionalism and moral relativism. A lot of the popular worldviews in this book agree with that statement.
So if our kids have mom, dad, and Pastor Whoever saying one thing, and Wikipedia, HuffPost, and their school friends and teachers saying another, which worldview do you think will ultimately win out? You could cross your fingers and hope that your kids stick with what you’ve taught them and don’t succumb to other ways of thinking, but I don’t recommend that approach.
What Apologetics Did for My Faith
As mentioned earlier, I was among the few who experienced apologetics at a young age—and I hope your children have that privilege as well. I was introduced to apologetics by my pastor when I was 12. He was a former atheist who came to Christ the same way as Lee Strobel, the author of The Case for Christ: by trying to disprove Christianity, and then discovering that he couldn’t because it was actually true. As a responsible pastor, he taught a few series on defending the Christian faith. The first was on the “liar, lunatic, Lord” trilemma, in which he showed that Jesus being Lord was the most reasonable conclusion out of the three. The next was on the historical evidences for New Testament reliability. Finally, he examined the biblical and historical accounts of the resurrection by refuting every alternate theory ever proposed by a skeptic, showing how the resurrection, as reported in the Gospels, was the most plausible explanation.
Those three series still serve as the foundation for my Christian faith. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to be angry at God (my mom’s cancer, my cancer, my sister’s terminal cancer and recent death, my depression, childlessness, you name it). Many who have gone through similar hardships have simply concluded that God must not exist. However, rejecting Christianity as untrue has never been an option for me. To reject the existence of God would be the most irrational conclusion I could come to, and I refuse to be irrational!
Sure, there are days when I don’t feel God’s presence or feel peaceful. But no matter what I feel, I can’t unknow what I know. My faith is not based on feelings. It is based on the immovable, absolute truth of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The evidences for Christianity and God’s unmistakable thumbprint upon creation are my beacons of sanity amidst the tumultuous sea of uncertain emotions. Sometimes my emotions agree with truth and I feel loved, peaceful, and close to God. Sometimes my emotions disagree with truth and I don’t feel those things. Either way, I am thankful that my faith does not rely on the shifting sands of my emotions because on some days, my emotions are all over the place.
Peaceful emotions, closeness, and mountaintop experiences are important to our relationship with God, but they are more like the decor inside a house. Decor helps make a house a home, and we should enjoy our home in Christ! But it’s the foundation that enables a home to stand firm. Yet how often do you hear of someone who takes great pleasure in a foundation? That’s not the purpose of a foundation—its job is to create the stability by which we can enjoy all the other things that come with having a home. The only time people notice foundations is when there’s something wrong with them. In our culture, we have massive foundational issues, and the ideological cracks can be seen everywhere.
We know that we are to build on the foundational rock of Christ (Matthew 7), but I have noticed a growing trend of people confusing their feelings about Jesus for Jesus Himself. There is a fundamental difference between teaching our kids to base their spiritual foundation on the experience of Jesus and basing it on Jesus. They need something that doesn’t change, which is the immovable, absolute truth of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Experiences and emotion? Those change over time and in unpredictable ways.
How to Get People Excited About Apologetics
Most people do not gravitate toward the topic of apologetics. Interest is usually preceded by an “Aha!” moment when they realize why they need to have reasons for their faith. I’m hoping this book will be your “Aha!” moment.
These lightbulb moments can occur when a person either experiences or witnesses a crisis of faith that leaves them asking “Why am I a Christian?” Sometimes it is when they are challenged by a person of another religion. One of the more mobilizing experiences is when a person witnesses firsthand the spiritual slaughter that is taking place on college and university campuses.
My husband and I once attended a church led by a pastor who didn’t understand why apologetics was necessary. To him, it was a cool hobby that John and I had, not something to which all Christians are called. In his sermons he would say that “love is all we need” to preach the gospel, and he encouraged the congregation to “stop all that theologizing and just love Jesus.”
John decided to invite our pastor to his debate at the local university. By the end of the night, our pastor was on “Team Apologetics”! What caused him to change his mind in a single evening? While there, he saw a standing-room-only crowd full of Christians, atheists, skeptics, and seekers. These people weren’t just outliers; they were the kind of individuals we see all around us every day. As John answered audience questions, our pastor came to realize how many Christian students were being spiritually rerouted in college. He saw the stronghold of secular thought and how youth who had grown up in church were being seduced away—until they encountered John’s rebuttals, possibly the first intellectual rebuttals they had ever heard from a Christian.
You could almost see the lightbulb going on in our pastor’s mind. Seeing this reminded me of that scene from Gone with the Wind where the camera pans out over the endless field of wounded soldiers and the audience is confronted with the magnitude of Civil War casualties. From that night on, our pastor was our biggest cheerleader. Conclusion: It is easy to miss the importance of apologetics if you haven’t witnessed the sheer number of victims being held captive to bad philosophy (see Colossians 2:8). Apologetics may not seem important until you witness firsthand the consequences of bad ideas.
As you look at your children trying to remove the Cheerio, or Lego, or whatever they have shoved up their nose, you may be asking, “Why am I reading this book?” The answer is simple: because you are a Mama Bear. When you saw the words Mama Bear on the cover, something inside you said, “That’s me.” Nobody had to explain to you what a Mama Bear was. The moment you first held your child, you knew that if anyone or anything ever threatened him or her, you would do whatever it took to deal with that threat. That’s what Mama Bears do. We will talk more in the next chapter about what it means to be a Mama Bear, but first, like that scene in Gone with the Wind, we want to give you a snapshot of why we are writing this book, and it all begins with what research calls “the youth exodus.” It may not be pretty, but if we do our jobs well, you will come away from this chapter ready to become a Mama Bear Apologist who says, “Mess with my kids, and I will demolish your arguments!”
So What Is the Youth Exodus?
Julie here! You know those never-ending piles of laundry? Yes, the one waiting to be separated and the other one waiting to be folded? They are about as immense as the amount of research done on the issue commonly referred to in apologetics circles as “the youth exodus.” It’s probably the largest exodus since Moses, but this one has no assurances that the wanderers will return to the “promised land.”
The youth exodus refers to the percentage of Christian youth who stop attending church. This includes those who go on to declare themselves atheists, agnostics, or more recently, “none” (that is, of no religious affiliation). This exodus has been widely researched, documented, and discussed, but in many Christian circles it’s also widely ignored. And while there are some varying opinions (and what can look like contradictory statistics), the bottom line is it’s real, it’s bad, and it’s now becoming more rampant among young people prior to entering college, which used to be the exit ramp.
The reasons for this exodus are varied, nuanced, and somewhat complicated. Unfortunately, there’s no one “tumor” we can treat and thereby cure the disease. Instead, there are tentacles of cancer growing all throughout our youth’s spiritual experiences. Apologetics is not the only solution, but it is a large part of the solution, and one that is ignored far too often.
Come On—How Big Is the Problem Really?
Most studies indicate between 45%-48% percent of youth leave church after their freshman year in college and never return. The percentages vary based on denomination, but the problem is the same. David Kinnaman found that after age 15, almost 60% of young Christians had disconnected from their church. More than half (54%) of high school students attend church. But once they hit college, the problem gets worse. Frequent attendance drops from 44% in high school to 25% in college; nonattendance goes up from 20% in high school to 38% in college. In a 2006 Barna study, 61% of twenty-somethings who had attended church as teens were no longer spiritually engaged. One study showed that 70% of teens who attended youth group stopped attending church within two years of their high school graduation!
For many years, most people assumed that the problem originated in college (probably because that’s when we see the church attendance numbers take their most drastic drop). However, we must take into account that college is when kids no longer have good ol’ mom and dad waking them up and driving them to Sunday school. So while college is and remains a contributing factor, these numbers are an external manifestation of an internal disconnection that started years earlier. The ticket was already purchased. College was just their first opportunity to use it.
What Exactly Have They Left?
That’s a good question with sort of a complicated answer. Leaving the faith and leaving the church are not necessarily the same thing. Whether they are saying goodbye to church attendance, separating from orthodox doctrine, or saying hello to atheism, they are still leaving, and no form of leaving is good. From Millennials to Gen Z, while some leave with their feet (due to life events and changes), many leave with their hearts and minds due to emotional, behavioral, or intellectual reasons. When youth describe their religion, you’ll hear statements like “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” or “I am no longer affiliated with any certain religion or denomination.” (Pew Research Center calls these “the nones.”) And then of course there are those who either renounce all belief in God (atheist) or are no longer sure that they can know whether He exists (agnostic).
Some are leaving organized religion. Others are leaving biblical authority. They want to create a religious buffet to suit their own tastes. Many have left the biblical definition of who God is. They have redefined Him to be somewhat like a big genie in the sky who wants them to be nice to others, will help them when they are in trouble, and wants them to be happy. This is called Therapeutic Moralistic Deism. Those who have left the more orthodox views of theology have adopted beliefs that are closer to historical heresies. They may call themselves Christian, but their views don’t support that label.
For example, in three independent surveys conducted by Josh McDowell, the Barna Group, and researcher Mike Nappa, it was discovered that among self-proclaimed “Christian” teens,
- 41% were uncertain whether Jesus was physically resurrected.
- 63% didn’t believe Jesus to be the son of the one true God.
- 44% believed the Bible to be just one of many authoritative voices about Jesus.
- 33% believed that Jesus is not the only way to heaven.
- only 5% studied the Bible daily (down from 8 percent in 1991).
- a growing majority believe the Holy Spirit is only a symbol of God’s presence or power rather than a person of the Trinity.
- 60% are uncertain, unsettled, or confused about whether the Bible can be trusted.
- 70% express persistent, measurable doubts that what the Bible says about Jesus is true.
An Increasingly Hostile World
In the 12 years since I ( Julie) began studying apologetics, my eldest son has gone from prepubescent middle-schooler to college graduate. During that time, the cultural hostility exhibited toward Christianity has increased as exponentially as his shoe size. Because this accelerated trend has been going on for some time now, the first generations of the youth exodus (Gen X and Millennials) are now the ones hiring, teaching, and influencing the younger generation (currently that’s Gen Z). We are also now seeing—gulp—the first generation of these “religious exiles” parenting their own brood. This has huge implications for society because we are now post-truth, post-Christian, void of gospel influence, and waiting to see which way the “spiritual but not religious” will finally fall.
Myths About the Youth Exodus
You know how you have to fight to get that precious alone time in the bathroom (I see that chocolate bar tucked away in your book—high five!) but your children just—will—not—leave—you—alone!? In a similar way, Satan will work through peer pressure and cultural chaos to pursue your kids, and won’t leave them alone. Our proverbial locks on the doors no longer work as well as they used to. The enemy is constantly picking at them. We can’t lighten your laundry load (so sorry!), but we can help address some of the myths surrounding the youth exodus. The truth is, when it comes to this trend, there is some stinkin’ thinkin’ going on. Ain’t no place for that in your mind!
Myth #1: They All Walk Away but Then Come Back
For years, the common reasoning in Christian circles has been “All kids rebel. It’s part of growing up. Let them sow their wild oats.” And then the ace of spades gets thrown down: “You know what the Bible says: ‘Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it’ ” (Proverbs 22:6). In other words, we’ve depended on our Christian kids to be boomerangs.
What’s wrong with this thinking?
- We shouldn’t “expect” that our kids might walk away just because others say it is “inevitable.” God has entrusted the stewardship of our children’s faith to us, and we are to do all within our power to train them. Yes, what our children decide to do (especially as they get older) is ultimately their choice. But we need to strive for a clear conscience in our spiritual guidance of them, knowing that we did all we could to clearly communicate the truthfulness and validity of the Christian faith.
- Not all kids rebel. I didn’t walk away. My kids haven’t. Hillary didn’t. I know many others who haven’t. When it comes to parenting, don’t roll over and play dead just because someone says a certain outcome is inevitable.
- The statistics regarding the youth exodus change over time. Research has shown a general trend of young adults returning to church after they get married and have kids of their own. That trend drastically slowed starting with Gen Xers, who are now raising kids in a less religious world than that of their childhood. A Lifeway study found that out of the 70% of teens who left church during their college years, only about half of them eventually returned. For those of you (like me) who are a bit slow at math, this means that with each successive generation, we are essentially losing about 35% of our church population. As Steve Cable noted in his book Cultural Captives, “If America continues on its current trend, the number of 18-29-year-old Americans who state, ‘My religious preference is none or a non-Christian religion’ will grow to over 50% of the population by the year 2030.”
Christianity has gradually become less socially accepted, which means that not only are we losing the nonboomerang youth exodus adults, but also the nonbelieving adults who never had faith yet, in the past, would explore it for the sake of their kids. Bottom line, you can no longer count on the boomerang effect. It’s more like the sail-away effect.
So if Gen X is not returning to church like the generations before, and if the older Millennials are even less religious than Gen X, then what will happen to Gen Z (the largest current generation)? It is the first truly post- Christian generation, with less than half attending church.
Myth #2: Because My Kids Go to Awana/Youth Group/ Christian School/Homeschool, They’ll Be Okay
Then there’s the myth of the Christian “insurance plan.” “My child has been in church since he was in my belly.” “I piped in the Word of God via books on tape, so she could hear it in utero.” “They’ve been to Awana, youth group, church camp, Christian school, and homeschool.”
Check. Check. Double check. Good for you. Good for them. Seriously. And don’t stop what you’re doing (okay, maybe except for the books on tape). These things are great, but they are not guarantees. Desiring to probe the reasons for youth exodus, Ken Ham commissioned America’s Research Group to do a study. In a stunning finding, the research revealed that Sunday school was actually detrimental to spiritual health! Kids who grew up in a Sunday school environment were more likely to have a secular worldview than those who didn’t. Wait... what?! I mean... HOW?!
Surprisingly enough, coloring pictures of animals in a boat and acting out “stories” on a felt board doesn’t actually teach kids that what you are saying is true. It turns out they believe exactly what we tell them: that these are Bible stories.
For the most part, we are not teaching doctrine or skills that can help our children think critically from a biblical perspective about what they are learning in school. And as they get older, most church youth groups focus on entertaining kids (to retain attendance), not training them to become disciples. Apologist Frank Turek has astutely noted that “what we win them with we win them to.” Ed Stetzer has remarked that “too many youth groups are holding tanks with pizza.” The sad truth is that in many cases, we’ve won our kids to fun, friends, and pizza, but not necessarily to Christ.
Myth #3: They Won’t Need Apologetics Training Until College
Steve Cable points out in Cultural Captives that “the culture itself has become just as corrosive as the college.” It used to be that a quick course in apologetics during their senior year of high school would give our kids the necessary spiritual booster shot before college. No longer. The infestation of anti-Christian teaching is trending younger and younger. Moms, truly: Elementary age is not too young to begin. In fact, some research indicates that up to 46% of youth have spiritually “checked out” by the end of middle school. They may attend church just to please their parents, but their Christian faith is in name only. The American Research Group study noted,
- We’ve always been trying to prepare our kids for college (and
I still think that’s a critical thing to do, of course), but it turns
out that only 11 percent of those who have left the Church did
so during the college years. Almost 90 percent of them were
lost in middle school and high school. By the time they got
to college they were already gone! About 40 percent are leaving
the Church during elementary and middle school years!
Let those numbers sink in for a moment. Forty percent are mentally leaving the church in elementary and middle school. Let’s consider how early formative experiences typically occur: Morals are set by age 9; most salvation experiences happen by age 13; most worldviews are established by age 13. If the way our kids choose their favorite sports team is any indication, they have “chosen sides” by third grade—that’s typically eight years old. This means that from mid-elementary age onward, we need to be on our toes.
Okay, Okay, I Get It! But What Can I Do?
We must start our worldview training at a young age, teaching theology and apologetics. Because we aren’t the only ones who are training children. Atheists now have their own alternative summer camp options— like “Camp Quest.” The LGBT+ advocates are introducing propaganda in public schools as early as kindergarten. Maybe starting in utero is not such a bad idea after all!
The good news is that concerned Christians are answering the call for developing resources and curriculum designed to help teach children as early as the preschool years. For example, Melissa Cain Travis has her Young Defenders picture book series. Elizabeth Urbanowicz has just released her Foundations curriculum for third- through fifth-grade children. Deep Roots Bible curriculum is currently available for first through fourth grades (with more scheduled to be published). Tom Griffin has materials for those in fifth through eighth grades. (See our complete resource list at www.mamabearapologetics.com/resources.)
The parents and pastors who are introducing theology, apologetics, and worldview training to younger children are often amazed by the questions they ask and their ability to think through various issues. In fact, Kevin Duffy of Ratio Christi College Prep (RCCP) has found that churches that use the RCCP training materials have reported attrition levels falling from 75% to as low as 13%, helping to reverse the youth exodus in at least a few churches. We can all be encouraged by this kind of news! Our children are sponges. The question is, what are they going to soak up?
The youth exodus is real. Now that you are aware, alert, and no longer susceptible to the common myths about it, you are ready to discover what it means to be a Mama Bear and learn how to start counteracting the popular cultural lies that are coming for your cubs. By the time you’re done with this book, we pray that you are hungry for apologetics and equipped to teach your cubs how to swallow the sweet honey of God’s truth.
- Icebreaker: What have you said to your kids that you never thought you would have to say? (Any elephant-booty licker parents in the room?)
- Main theme: Youth Exodus—Do you know another parent who has experienced their child walking away from the faith? Which statistic shocked you the most?
- Self-evaluation: Have you ever found yourself saying or thinking any of the myths about the youth exodus? How has your perspective changed? Did any of the myths hit close to home?
- Brainstorm: What are some tough questions you’ve heard your child ask about the faith that you could start researching?
- Release the bear: Check out the resources on the Mama Bear Apologetics website. What is one resource that you can start implementing into your weekly routine? (After reading Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies, of course!)
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