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What’s Behind Their Faith Questions? Sean McDowell

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
May 5, 2023 5:15 am

What’s Behind Their Faith Questions? Sean McDowell

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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May 5, 2023 5:15 am

When someone doesn't know Jesus, their brain isn't the only thing tossing out arguments. Author Sean McDowell looks to deeper hurt behind faith questions.

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A digital like cannot replace a physical hug. And there's a lot of people who are just trying to find their identity through social media or internet, you know, alone, apart from real incarnational relationships.

I think the pandemic really exacerbated the loneliness that was there before. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson.

You can find us at or on the Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. Do you think the issues that our kids are dealing with today are different than 20, 25 years ago?

Completely different. Yeah, I think, well. Like when we were parents and we're raising kids in the 90s, early 2000s, isn't that when we raised them? Yeah.

I can hardly remember. Are the issues totally different for parents with their kids in 2023? I think they are. And mainly I say that because of social media. It's totally different. Now, are there issues like bullying, loneliness, not being able to get along?

All of that's true, but it looks different today because of social media, I think. And I think it's heightened today. Many times, honestly, I think I am so glad I'm not a parent anymore. I mean, obviously, I'm a parent, but our kids are married. We've got grandkids. But I think to navigate the world they're living in today is very complex and hard compared to what we did. Me too.

And we thought it was hard when we did it. You talk about now. There are a lot more places, I think, for kids to escape today than there were before. And so that's interesting to navigate as a parent and to know how to navigate that. And so we got help in the studio today to help us with parents in these issues. Sean McDowell, welcome back.

Honored to be back. You're a parent, let alone a professor and a teacher and an author. And your latest book, The Rebels Manifesto, attacks all the issues we just talked about and many more. I don't know if it attacks it.

No, it doesn't attack it, but it helps us. Address it. Yeah. Did you even think of parents when you were writing it? Is that on your radar?

100%. Yeah, like my first book had 10 chapters just because I thought, well, you have 10 chapters in a book. Then I went back to write as a parent.

I was like, oh, what tool would I use with my kids? So 30 chapters, shorter, and it's a setup to just read together five, six, seven minutes and then talk about it. So read with your kids, you're saying? I know more pastors, youth pastors, and Christian school teachers are going to buy the book and use it with kids than kids are going to buy it themselves. So I wrote it to students through their parents in a sense, I guess you could say.

Well, the subtitle is Choosing Truth, Real Justice and Love Amid the Noise of Today's World. And so you've hit all the topics parents are discussing or want to discuss or need to discuss with their kids. And here's the question. Did you do it with your kids? Did you talk through these with them?

So yes and no. I haven't taken them through my book chapter by chapter because that's a little bit weird. Let's go through dad's book. But what I have done is in class, I'll have my kids at a private school. And we've gone through one of my books chapter by chapter and discussed it as class, had them in there. I had my daughter, kids respond differently. So my book before this same format but on sexuality is I told my daughter, I said, if you'll read this and then just talk with your dad about it over coffee, I'll buy you like a pair of shoes or something like that.

And she did it. So we've talked about a lot of these topics over the dinner table in the car relationally. But I don't sit down and make my kids go through my book. That'd be a little much probably.

Yeah. I don't think our kids have read. We've wrote a marriage book and a parenting book. They haven't read either one. I don't think they have.

They say they haven't. In the parenting book, they even wrote it. But I don't think they've read it.

Have you even read it? I mean, I'm pretty sure Anne wrote it anyway. Yeah, she did write it. Just kidding.

Just kidding. She did write it. There's some pretty good stuff that she put in there. Sean, you divide the book up into parts. Talk about the parts that you've divided it into.

Yeah. So basically I'm trying to come up with sections that are helpful to people. So there's sections on sexuality. That's such a huge topic today. There's sections on big issues going on in culture that we need to talk about.

And there's sections on relationships. And this is just to help people realize that some issues are more relationally focused. Things like bullying. Things like loneliness. Some issues are more culturally discussed. Things like gun control. Although there's definitely a relational element involved in that as well.

So there are just sections to give people tools to kind of divide up and approach these topics. Is loneliness a factor today more than like what we were saying at the beginning? More than when Dave and I were raising our kids? That's probably always been an issue. But is it heightened? I think loneliness has always been there.

But I think it is heightened for a couple of reasons. One being social media. And it's not that I think social media is bad.

And even smartphones. In some ways it can be good. And it can be great.

But a digital like cannot replace a physical hug. And there's a lot of people who are just trying to find their identity through social media or internet alone. Apart from real incarnational relationships.

That's one reason. I think the other one, I think the pandemic really exacerbated the loneliness that was there before. And really what's the root of loneliness? It's broken relationships.

So we can see going back to the 60s, the 80s and 90s. And today we see divorce overall has increased. Relationships are broken. Marriage has broken down. So yes, there's always been loneliness. But I think the tools that we have, what's been changed through the pandemic. Less people going out than in the past and just meeting in the flesh.

I think loneliness is more serious than it's been in a while. At least in American history and beyond. Have you seen that with your college students?

Yes I have. I've seen it with high school students and college students. Now at Biola we have pretty unique students. Aren't just a cross section of any students. They're coming to get a Christian education. Coming to think Christianly. We have amazing community at Biola. But I would say even amongst some of the best Christian families, there are still a lot of kids in my classroom with broken relationships with their parents.

A lot more than you would think. So that's true in our Christian families. It's true in our Christian churches. It's true in our best Christian schools.

So I don't make assumptions with my students. And the deeper I probe, yeah I see a lot of hurt and brokenness there that you would not expect on the surface. I mean what would you say to a parent who is sensing, my daughter's lonely. I can feel it.

I can see it. Talk about the loneliest factor. I mean if I'm seeing that in my home, and often I think we look as a parent and we see our child on a smartphone all day long.

And we think they're not lonely because they're interacting with their friends but yet there's symptoms in their life that seem to be, man they're really isolated and feeling lonely. How do we step into that? So first thing I would do is talk with my wife because chances are she saw it long before I did. If I see it, it's like flashing red signs and I missed all the obvious hints. So I just make sure, hey what do you see?

Are we on the same page? We would talk. I might, respecting that kid depending on dynamics, I might go to a sibling and just say, hey do you think your brother or sister, I've noticed this, I'm just curious if you think his parents were on this. Do you see anything at school?

Do you think we should have any concern? Without gossiping behind that kid's back, I might do that. But most importantly I would just go to that kid in the right setting.

Maybe be like, hey I want to take you out to ice cream or take you out to coffee and just chat and say, hey I just want to hear your heart. Here's some things your mom and I have seen. Are we right to see this? Are you feeling this way? I just want to hear what's going on and talk about it. I found that's the best way to get to the heart of it. Now if you notice something significant that concerns you, one of the things I've learned as a communicator is I know very quickly when I'm over my depth and out of my expertise and I need a counselor and I need somebody professional to help.

So look for those signs. But start by talking with your spouse and then just going to the kid and asking and opening up a conversation. Now you write in that chapter on loneliness about your dad. How old were you when you first heard about your dad's background? So I heard about my dad's background probably as soon as I could speak because he came from an alcoholic father. His older sister committed suicide. Just a broken family. I mean we were sitting around as a family maybe a decade ago and my mom was sharing funny stories growing up in Boston. And my sister Heather goes, hey dad share just a good memory of a funny story you have when you were a kid.

Dave and Ann it was awkward silence. He goes, kids I don't have one. And like I'm feeling it right now.

It's like not one. Holy cow. So I knew it my whole life. But that about a decade ago really brought it home like holy cow I feel that. But the thing he started sharing maybe about a dozen years ago is publicly is that he had been sexually abused. He didn't suppress it.

He had gotten professional help with it. But I remember he sat us down as a family. Just us, me and my three sisters. And I thought in my mind I was like he's going to tell us he's dying of cancer. That's how grave it was. And he just shared it with us.

And my sister's in tears. But you realize how painful and hurtful that is and the scars that that leaves. That's so many kids in this generation.

Sexual abuse, bullying, broken relationships. That's why his story still resonates with Gen Z because they're like I felt that and I've experienced that. Makes me just want to cry for him to not have one memory to be able to share. And it's pretty incredible of the legacy now for you guys, for your kids, you know, like coming from that.

It reminds me of you too, Dave. Yeah, Sean, when you were saying that I was thinking I would have a similar answer to memories when I was a little boy. Mom and dad divorced.

Dad left with his girlfriends. I watched the whole thing when I was a little boy. I didn't have the sexual abuse.

But I know that you write about this all my life. I think deep inside there was a little bit of loneliness. I had two brothers and sisters, but they're 10 years older.

So they were gone. So when the divorce happened for me, I was seven. I had a little brother.

He dies of leukemia that year. And so I'm raised basically by a single mom. Just me. And my escape was sports and music. So I just immersed in that. But I think at the heart of it, I was very lonely. I come home to my house and nobody's there.

My mom's working several jobs to pay. And I walk in the house and I'm alone. So I pick up a guitar or I pick up a ball and I became proficient at those things. But I think it was an escape.

And now today you write about it. There's smartphones, entertainment, you name it. There's endless means of us to sort of placate our loneliness or our sense of emptiness. Are there counterfeits where we escape? Yeah, I think that's, to your question at the beginning, what makes it different.

The issues at their core are kind of the same, but we've never had endless ways to distract ourselves. And frankly, a lot of social media releases the same chemicals in your brain that certain drugs do. You get a certain high from it and they're designed to create you addicted to them. I used to have my student's journal a few years ago, and this is a freshman in high school. And I said, hey, I want you to write for like five minutes, nonstop, just write. Why do you think we keep ourselves so busy? And these are freshmen, so most of them didn't really have deep answers, but I'll never forget one girl wrote. She said, I keep myself busy and distracted so I don't have to slow down and feel the loneliness in my heart.

Wow. And I thought, she is speaking for many in this generation. Sometimes I just watch social media and try to analyze it. And so much of it is, do you see me? Yeah.

Will you like, will you comment, am I important? That's at the heart of so much of this. So if we don't give our kids the relationships they need, they're going to fill it with something else. They're going to fill it with pornography, they're going to fill it with success, fill it with sports.

And obviously sports and success aren't bad, pornography always is. But these are ways of filling up the human heart. So there's always been loneliness, we talked about that. But this generation can distract themselves from dealing with the root issue unlike any generation before.

So if we're not intentional and we don't step in, they're going to allow themselves to really live a life accepting these relational counterfeits. As a parent, I did this poorly so often because this is how I would react to so many different things. You know, the kids are playing video games or they're on their phones. And one time they're on their phones in the same room, in the family room, and I come in.

All three boys, right? All three boys are on their phones and they're texting about me. How crazy.

I love that. Because here's what I would typically do. If they've been playing video games all day, if they've been on their phones or devices or doing whatever all day, this was typical.

I'd walk in the room like, this is enough. You guys have been doing nothing all day. I mean, think about that response. You've been doing nothing all day. Everybody needs to get out of the house. You need to get off of your phones. And this is why they start texting about me. How crazy is our mom? Which makes me even more mad. But as parents, we get so worried about our kids that we react, that we shut things down, and we're not sure how to address the loneliness.

I don't think we're thinking lonely. Most of the time I'd say, you guys are so stinking lazy. You know, you're getting nothing accomplished.

This was terrible. And I'd have to always come back and apologize. But we're not sure how to go about that. And maybe if we say it nicely, they don't hear us. So what has been your experience, Sean, with this whole thing?

Well, first off, I resonate with you. I write books on this, but I apologize to my kids. My wife and I are like, let's start over.

Another reboot. This isn't working. It's a process. You're never going to have it perfectly dialed in. But I think a lot of parents don't fight these battles because it's just easier not to. Yeah, you give up. It takes effort. It takes work. And we don't.

And what happens? The kid suffers for it. So we should battle the issue. Well, yes, in the sense of, I think there's a good amount of data that shows that kids want reasonable boundaries with technology. It's true in my classroom. It's true when I speak.

It's true in our family. Now, it has to be reasonable. And there's times my kids have told me that's totally unreasonable, and we've backed off. You negotiate this a little bit. As long as you have reasonable boundaries, you state why, and you hold kids consistently to it. I found, as a whole, they will respond to it. But a lot of parents don't do that.

So number one, just think through reasonable boundaries. If you're like, I don't even know how to do this, go to your youth pastor. Go to the phone store and ask them.

And they'll give you actually tools built into your phone itself how to navigate certain things with technology. So for us, we don't have smartphones out at the dinner table. In fact, it was probably a couple weeks ago. We were sitting at the dinner table, and something came up.

My wife has texted her mom, and something came up for me and my son, who's 10, who's like, really? I thought we had a rule. My 10-year-old is correcting us. And I'm like, you're right, buddy. Thank you. We will put it away. But he corrected us because we try to build in those kind of boundaries. That's a start. Yeah, that's good. Yeah, and I think, you know, at the end of the day, what you just said, if we're not living it ourselves, they're not going to listen to what we say.

They're going to do what we do, even in this area. And this has been a hard one for me, smartphones. I mean, I'm looking over at Ann. She has said to me so many times that phone is a barrier to our relationship because I'm looking at it. I'm doing an email.

I'm doing a text. I'm not playing a video game, but it's the same thing. You've gotten way better. Oh, look at that.

Wow, on air. I didn't even know that. Oh, no, you really have. Yeah.

Okay, that's good. Talk about this. Do you have a chapter on bullying? I mean, it's always been a part of a child's experience, especially at school, but it seems like a different world now. So how do we navigate that one?

I think the obvious huge difference is I remember growing up, 80s and 90s, if somebody's bullied, they could go home and escape it. Worst case scenario, go to a different school. Now you go home. You can't escape it. Now other people are piling on top of it, so it makes it worse. It's everywhere you go.

And also you can't even just switch schools because your reputation goes with you. So it can create a fear in this generation if I just say the wrong thing, I'm going to get bullied. Now the reality is there's three parties in bullying. There's the person who's bullied. There's the bully.

And there's the bystander. And as far as I can remember, I've never bullied anybody. I was not bullied off. And I can think of once or twice. I think growing up, I had ways to navigate and protect myself from that that I figured out. But a couple of times I can look back. I remember one time in high school, I was a bystander.

And the kind of kid who could just easily get bullied was getting bullied by a senior football player. And I didn't do anything. And I look back at that, still to this day when it goes through my mind, a sense of shame and regret and anger. I don't know what I would do. Maybe I'd just tackle the guy and take one for the team. I don't know.

But I would have done something. And so everybody's affected by this. Even if your kid's not just getting bullied, I still have conversations with my son.

Hey, does this take place? And what do people say? And how do you respond? And try to navigate it. We're all one of those three parties. And I think scripture has something to say to all three of those issues as well. The dilemma could be when you're a bystander but you're the parent. And you're watching your son or daughter go through it.

It can be easy not to do anything. What should a parent do? Or to overreact and know that balance.

Or the opposite, yeah. So it depends on the age of the kid and the issue. When my son, I gotta think about this, maybe fifth or sixth grade was starting a YouTube channel and another classmate was bullying him in the comments and the way he was treating him. I thought, well, he's in fifth grade.

Can't handle this himself. What I'm gonna do is I'm gonna call up this guy's dad and talk to him. And say, can the four of us meet? And then I coached my son. I said, I know this is tough but I want you to express to the father, I'll be there with you, what's happening.

And he'll jump in. I mean, 20 seconds into my son talking, the other dad was like, what the heck? And started railing his son and correcting it because he was upset at what happened. But I was trying to early on to teach my kids how do we confront issues like this. That's different than a senior in high school role that a parent has. So if you don't know what to do, go in and get a counselor.

Get some help. It's a tough issue but bullying, I mean, you talk to people who are older, however we define that, will remember bullying when they're a kid and it can scar you for a lifetime. It really, really can. Yeah, but what a great model that so often we don't do is go directly to the person that you have an issue with. It's so common in church world to go to somebody else and talk about that person. We call it prayer request. You know, I got to pray for Sean.

Why? Oh, you wouldn't believe it. I mean, it's just a way to not confront it directly and what a great model for your son. He's got to do the same thing when he's a dad someday. Those two things can go together, that loneliness part and the bullying. We can see our kids withdraw because they're being bullied and so they withdraw from any kind of social issues. As a parent, you're watching it and they don't always open up to us. Our kids don't always open up. Is there a way, do you think, Sean, like how would you advise a parent to get into that, to really get into their kids' hearts? We got to start young and just build relationships with our kids. There's no just ask this question, do this turnkey thing because kids are different and they respond in different ways.

So, when the Bible talks about training up a kid in the way that he should go and he will not depart of that, the analogy that's used is a bow and each bow used to have its own unique bent because they weren't mass produced. So, when I think about how I connect with the heart of my youngest son is different than my daughter. It's different than my older son and that takes some wisdom to meet them where they're at, but I build relationships with all of them, I spend time with them.

And so, when these issues come up, there's some trust that's there and I'm more likely to be able to speak into their life. What if we haven't done that? Like, I've done a horrible job of that and I'm seeing my kids are really struggling. Is it too late?

Because I didn't build that in the early years. So, it's never too late. Is it going to be harder?

Yeah. But all you can do is give yourself grace and then start where you're at. So, I would say, for example, as a kid, you know, and I might say something like, Hey, is there a chance we could go to coffee? I just want to hear you out. That's all I want to do. Would you be willing to hear me out and help me better understand you?

I think most kids would say yes. And you just say, you know, I have some regrets in life and one of them is that I was not more present in your life and didn't do a better job as a dad or mom. I can't change that. All I can do is ask for your forgiveness and then see if you'd be willing to commit to help me be a better dad to you. I mean, what more could you do than that? Could a kid, like you said in an earlier conversation, could a kid still say, no, I hate you?

Sure. And then you pray for them and you try again. You don't give up. But I just say, humble yourself, reach out, and the vast majority of people, if you bring that humility and compassion, are going to respond. Kids want relationships with their parents.

They do. There's just hurt and there's misunderstanding and there's stupidity because they're young. But we've got to break through that with love.

It's your kindness that leads to repentance, Paul says. Okay, so here's my question. Your youngest is 10. Your oldest is? 18. 18. Three.

I don't know them. Sounds like you've done a lot of good things. What would you say is your biggest parenting mistake or regret?

I guess I'd say a couple things. It's a trade-off for me traveling a decent amount. Now, my dad was probably gone half the time and I don't want to be gone that much for the way I'm wired. So I travel less than that, but I'm still gone a decent amount and it's an ongoing conversation in my mind and my balancing this well. So that's just something that I've had to navigate with my wife and with our kids and try to figure out. So I didn't even know that I would do anything differently. But there's certainly times I've been on the road, I'm like, why am I here?

What am I doing at this? So that's probably a piece of it. I mean, I can think of times where I've said stuff to my kids that was hurtful. I mean, my kids like to make fun of me because my son would study in my office and he would leave food. And I'd be like, don't eat in my office. And he left food and I was just so mad. I took this orange and I was like, you know what? You clean up. And I threw it on the ground and I was just, I stormed out of there. And in my mind, I'm like, I'm being such an idiot.

I knew it. But, you know, they'll still make fun of me. So there's stupid things I said and stupid things I did. But to be honest with you, my son graduated last May. And when somebody graduates, it puts it in perspective. I don't have a lot of regrets in my parenting. And I don't know how that lands with some of your audience.

You ask me some and give you an honest response. I don't have a lot of regrets. Which is super hopeful because of hearing your dad's story at the beginning of how horrendous it was. There's hope that our kids' kids and our future generations can be whole and healthy.

Not perfect by any means, but by the grace of Jesus, there's hope. Amen to that. And I'll tell you this. Just because I don't have regrets doesn't mean there's been times I've been at a loss. There's times I could tell you where I called up a friend and I said, I literally do not even know what to do. I'm at a complete loss at a parent. But if you build that relationship over time, chances are it's going to come through.

Yeah, the relationship will win. When I think about our time with Sean McDowell, I am always blown away by his grace. He is such a grace giver. So wise.

I mean, last time he was here, and again, it just hit me. It's like, I am so mean to people. I judge people. I am not that nice to people, especially when they have opposing views.

And maybe they're angry views against what I believe or what I think. And he models a Jesus-type love for people. And I think that's so helpful for us, especially with our own children, as we talk about faith issues and a rebels manifesto.

I didn't even know being a rebel means being a grace giver in a world that there's no grace. And I think what impacts me so much is he gives us tools and he's super practical of, what does this look like inside our homes and at our dinner table? I'm grateful that we have a chance to offer this to you, our listeners, because I don't know how you feel, but I need this as a parent and as a grandparent. And I think what Shawn modeled for us is how to be a parent in this world and how to lead our families. And I just want to say thank you to those that give financially to Family Life Today because you allow us to do this and sit with people like Shawn, and he is going to change conversations in our homes.

And that doesn't happen if you don't partner with us. And if you're a listener and you've never given before, I just say, hey, jump in. This is not only helping you, but as you give to Family Life Today, you are helping other families benefit from the kind of programs you just listen to.

Yeah, that's really great, Dave. And the unique thing that's happening this month is that any gift that you give is going to be matched dollar for dollar for the next 12 months. So when you join as a Family Life partner this month, as a special thank you for partnering with us monthly, we'd love to share with you Drawn Together, a couples devotional inspired by Family Life's art of marriage. This is a devotional with several contributors, including Aaron and Jamie Ivey, David and Meg Robbins, Julie Slattery, Ron Deal, Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Bob Lapine, David Ann Wilson, and many more. So you can go online to or you could give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329.

Again, that could be a one-time gift or a recurring monthly gift. The number is 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. And I've really appreciated the time that Dave and Ann have had with Sean McDowell. He's written a book called A Rebel's Manifesto, Choosing Truth, Real Justice, and Love Amid the Noise of Today's World.

And it is noisy. You could pick up a copy of Sean's book at or again, you could give us a call at 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. Now coming up next week, Tori Hope and Jacob Peterson are going to be talking to us about fostering children. And the complications that come with that, along with the glory that can be brought to God in the suffering of fostering children. That's next week. On behalf of David and Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry, helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-05 06:51:08 / 2023-05-05 07:04:13 / 13

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