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When Your Son or Daughter is Deconstructing Faith (Part 2 of 2)

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly
The Truth Network Radio
June 20, 2024 2:00 am

When Your Son or Daughter is Deconstructing Faith (Part 2 of 2)

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly

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June 20, 2024 2:00 am

As a young man, John Marriott was questioning his Christian beliefs. He began analyzing and “deconstructing” his faith. Then, he RE-constructed his faith, built on the strong foundation of Jesus Christ. In an age where young people are seeking truth and authenticity, Marriott shares why many are leaving the Christian faith and how you can pray for and encourage others to rest in the truth of God’s Word. (Part 2 of 2)

 

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And the most important thing I think that we can do is to have a warm and loving relationship with them. And it's out of that warm and loving relationship that we really are going to pass on our faith. That's Dr. John Marriot joining us again today on Focus on the Family with Jim Daly, sharing how you can walk alongside someone who's struggling in their faith.

I'm John Fuller, and thanks for joining us. John, yesterday we talked about the term deconstruction. You know, we apply these big sounding terms to something simple, which means when your children, typically teens and adults, begin to question whether the faith is really true, it's something they can embrace, and it can take our kids on a different path where they begin to push back a little bit. And if you didn't hear it last time, get a hold of it because it was jam-packed with great parenting advice on how to relate to your teens or your 20, 30-somethings when it comes to their deconstruction of their faith. And that's one of the things we want to do for you here, is to equip you for these tough moments where you're going to have, you know, forks in the road. We referred to that often yesterday.

But how to respond wisely so that your children have the best opportunity to stay tethered to the faith, even though they're asking questions. Yeah, and to stay tethered to you. I mean, we talked about the importance of relationship. That parent-child relationship is so crucial.

It's lifelong, if you do it well. John Marriott works at Whittier Christian High School. He teaches part-time in the Department of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, and he's also a faculty affiliate of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University's Institute for Quantitative Social Science. And we're talking about many of the ideas and concepts and stories in his book, Before You Go, uncovering hidden factors in faith loss. We've got details about John and about his book in the show notes. John, welcome back.

Good to be back. This is so good. I mean, the content is, I think, exactly what parents of teens and 20-somethings need to hear. And grandparents, too, because, you know, grandparents that are active are going to be engaged in their lives. And oftentimes, grandparents can ask and talk about things that parents struggle to do, because there's a little bit of distance. I often laugh at saying that's because they share a common enemy, the adult children, right, the grandparents and grandchildren. But grandparents can do a fabulous job of reinforcing those things. Yeah.

Oh, in yesterday's show, we talked about Vern Bankston, the professor at USC. He did his long-term study of faith transmission from one generation to another. One of his most significant findings was that he was surprised, was that grandparents play a significant role in passing on the faith.

Yeah. I think young people can relax around grandparents. They're the ones that have been feeding them sugar for so long. There's a trust that builds up, right? So they can actually say things to the grandparents that they might not say to their parents because they don't want to offend them or they don't want the pushback that they might get. So grandparents, again, man, lean into this because you can play that critical role.

Let's pick it up. How can misunderstanding the definition of faith cause that deconstruction to light the fuse is a good way to say it. And how we as parents need to, you know, just be calm, remain calm.

The bomb is ticking, but you know, we've got to figure out a way to defuse it. Yeah. Well, we're called believers, right? And you would think that the more confident you are, the more a believer that you are. And sometimes we give the impression that the most faithful or the most mature believers are the ones who have no doubts or no questions whatsoever.

Peer declaration. It's right up there with certainty, you know, they have no questions and you say, boy, that's the kind of believer that we should all strive to be. But I think that that's a problem because I don't think there are very many of those people.

And I think that when we put that as the ideal and we give young people the idea that that's what they should be striving for, they'll say, but I got lots of questions and I have lots of doubts. So if I'm a believer, I'm not a very good believer. I'm a pretty weak believer. If I'm a believer at all, because believers believe, and I have lots of questions and doubts. And so there is in the minds and maybe it's because we planted it there, that the opposite of faith is doubt, but that's not the case.

The opposite of faith is unbelief. And you can be a believer and have lots of questions. As long as you have enough reasons for a hope worth acting on, then you can remain a Christian because being a Christian, isn't having a high degree of confidence in all of these propositions, but it's having enough reasons to think those propositions are true, that Jesus lived, that he died, that he rose again. And then living that out, taking one step forward every day and fulfilling your role in the story that you think that God is telling. Some days your confidence will go way up and some days your confidence may drop significantly low. But as long as you have enough reasons to think that it's most likely true, then you can continue on being a believer in Jesus.

If at some point you get to the place where you say, I'm pretty sure that this whole thing is just false, then for sure you're not a believer at that point. Yeah. Let me, let me work this into it. I, um, you know, kids that have a logic pattern, you know, their temperaments play into this, obviously STEM students. Uh, that's, you know, the acronym for sciences and technology and engineering, mathematics.

I think I spelled it properly. I was a marketing guy, but, uh, you know, the STEM students, they very much are geared toward rationalism, objective truth. What you see is what the universe is not, not something spiritual.

So if you have that kind of child who is challenging that because you can't see, taste or touch something that is beyond the material world, how can you talk with them about the idea that, well, what you see, taste and touch may not be the whole thing, right? That's right. That's right. I mean, if you were to go fishing and you had a big net and the net had large holes in the net and you were to put the net into the water and scoop up a bunch of fish and all the fish that you were in the boat, you'd say, well, I guess all the fish in this lake must be of this size because they're, and they're all quite large. You would say, well, no, only the fish that your net is capable of catching are going to be the ones who you'll get onto the boat. All the others will swim through the holes in the net because they're much smaller. Your net is only capable of catching, you know, certain things. The big fish.

Yeah. But, and the same thing when it comes to science and technology is that science can answer a lot of the how questions, but really none of the why questions, even if we were to find some sort of theory of everything, then the next question would be, then why is this theory the theory, right? We can maybe say this is how the universe began, but we're not, we don't know why the universe began.

We can say that we have reasons to think that human beings have value and dignity, but we're not really sure why we're here in the first place or what the meaning of life is. Those are big questions that science can answer. You need another net to sort of catch those answers because the net of science and the net of empiricism, everything, all of those questions swim right through those holes. I'll tell you one of the things we have such a great library of interviews, John, I'm thinking of Dr. John Lennox, professor emeritus of mathematics at Oxford. He illustrated that so well and they were shunning him when he was a student, you know, obviously bright protege mathematician, but they encountered him and said, you need to cast off your faith because it's going to limit your ability to see the universe in the right way as a mathematician. And he said, oh, where do you get your hope from Darwinism?

I'm going to stick with Christ because I think there's more hope in that. What a powerful story for a parent to be able to explain to a high school student and listen to that refocus podcast. You know, there's great content in there.

You have done some great interviews and we're going to link over to that in the show notes. That's good. Let's continue on, John, the church association and the parenting effort. That sounds convoluted, but I mean, so many of us as parents rely on the church to do the job and that's a mistake. I mean, the church is only going to have your children on Sunday, typically for a little Sunday school lesson or something like that. And they should be augmenting what you're doing at home, but it's really your job to talk about the Lord at home and to teach, set that into a right perspective. And then maybe what we're missing, relying on the church for too much in that area. Parents are the number one influence on their kids.

Spiritual development bar none. It's not friends. It's not teachers, coaches. It's not the church. It is parents. Now we said in yesterday's episode that it's not always a parent's responsibility for how the kids turn out. I know of a family who that one child became a missionary. The other child became an atheist activist.

So it came from the exact same family. So it's not completely determinative of how your children will turn out your parenting styles, but parents are of the greatest influence on their kids. And the most important thing I think that we can do is to have a warm and loving relationship with them. And it's out of that warm and loving relationship that we really are going to pass on our faith effectively. It's not going to be by arguing.

It's not going to be by forcing. It's not going to be by inundating them with apologetics, but I think it's going to be living well in front of them, loving them really well. And out of that relationship comes the opportunity to listen because I think there's a respect that kids have for parents. And if it's not there because of the parenting style, because it's overbearing over sort of authoritarian, then I think that, you know, the Christianity that the parents are modeling gets lumped in and associated with that and say, I don't want to have anything to do with that.

So parents play a huge and really significant role. Darrell Bock John, let me ask you this cultural question. You know, when you look at the value of church, we probably have always been countercultural, but in the US we had a long season of embrace, you know, where even the founding fathers framed things around biblical understandings, division of government, balance of power, the idea of just law, et cetera. Things that they said themselves were derived from scripture that they read. They're really well versed.

They read the Bible, it seems like from age three. But how do we maintain ourselves as relevant countercultural people and churches, particularly standing on truth? You know, I look at the decline of the Christian faith.

So many people are writing about that right now. But one of the things that I'm seeing when you peel that back, it's because denominations are no longer standing for biblical truth, not the kind of truth each of us has, but things that have been eternal and people are fleeing out of those churches. So the point being, I think in the big statement I'm making here is how do we maintain being important to people by being countercultural?

Well, you're right. The statistics really do show that the number of people who identify as Christians in the United States is significantly dropping. Now that raises another question as to what does it mean to identify as a Christian? Are we talking about people who have robust deep faith or are we talking about people who are only nominal, maybe Christmas and Easter and I'm not Muslim and I'm not Hindu, so I must be Christian. But if you look at the statistics in the 1990s, 90% of Americans identified as a Christian, 5% identified as having no faith whatsoever. Today, it's about 64% who identify as Christian and about 30% who identify as having no faith whatsoever.

And if those trends continue, which I suspect that they will, we'll be looking at a country in the next generation that has more people who identify as having no religious faith than there will be Christians in the United States. So I think the question of relevancy is really important. I think one thing that we really need to always make sure that we do, you alluded to it in your question, is we need to have fidelity to what the scripture teaches, right? That needs to be our constitution.

It needs to be our manifesto. It means it needs to be the thing that we're faithful to because it will be the, that which makes us countercultural. And as the culture becomes further and further away from historic Orthodox Christianity in both belief and practice, those who are standing up for, and those who are articulating a biblical worldview and living it out with grace and truth will become just by virtue of doing that more and more countercultural. You know, one of those tough questions that your teen or 20 something could ask is this one I think, and that is if the US generally has tasted biblical truth, why would they walk away from it?

So then you have to ask the question, did they? Were we as a church really projecting those things that were true? Did we parent in a way that projected that truth meaning love and grace and boundaries and all those things. But I have a core conviction that if we're doing it well, people would not walk away from the Lord. It doesn't make sense to me. So that should force us to think about how we are being an example for good or for bad as an individual, as a church community, as an employer, are we doing it in such a way that lifts the Lord up to draw people onto him? Because I think that the Lord's really clear when you do that, things will happen.

Right. And the title of my dissertation was called The Cost of Freedom. And the reason why it was called The Cost of Freedom was because after I had interviewed all of these people who once identified as Christians say, now I no longer believe any of it. The one thing that stood out amongst all of them was that they said that they were better off now because they felt liberated or set free or a weight had been released from them in leaving the faith. And my question at the end of the research was then how can the religion and the faith of Jesus who says that his burden is light and his yoke is easy and that he's come to give you life and life more abundantly, how could they have found it that way?

And I think that there's only really two answers to that. And one is that because at our heart we're deceitful and desperately wicked and we might think that we really are following Jesus, but maybe we're not really. And that eventually comes out because we're drawn to sin and other things that we deeply really want, but also because they were raised in a faith that was so legalistic and so harsh and so narrow and had elevated so many doctrines to the level of the essentials that it became a burden and that when they were set free from that, they felt this great weight lifted off them.

And so to your question, yes, I think that that is a huge issue. And when we look at the culture that's around us now, and we look at some of the things that our people, evangelicals are doing and saying, or being identified with in the media, it's no wonder that there's a lot of young people who are frustrated. I recently engaged with a friend on Facebook who had posted a meme that said Mark Zuckerberg has said that the Lord's prayer is hate speech and that he's going to revolt against that and he's going to post the Lord's prayer. And I knew that wasn't true. And so I gently, graciously, kindly sent him a private message saying this meme that you've placed on Facebook saying that Mark Zuckerberg has banned the Lord's prayer from Facebook as hate speech is not true. And here's a Reuters article so that you can know.

He wrote back and said, thanks, but I'm going to keep it posted anyway. When young people see people who they identify as Christians acting like that, people who are supposed to be of the truth and follow the one who is the truth, but propagating untruths really for political ideology or for clicks, they say, these aren't the people that I want to be connected with. These aren't virtuous good people. And a lot of folks who end up leaving the faith do so unfortunately because of their experience with Christian people.

Yeah. You in the book mentioned a story about Susan and how she experienced a faith crisis. I think to draw us back toward that child parent analogy, what happened with Susan and why did it happen? Susan grew up in a evangelical home. She was identified as a follower of Jesus for a significant period of life, about 40 years. And she had a number of expectations that God didn't meet for her. And because of that, she ended up going through a faith crisis and eventually walked away from her faith. And for her, the expectations were that if you follow God, and if you love God and you give God what God wants, which is worship and obedience, that he will come through and in giving you what you want, which is, well, whatever you want, maybe it's a marriage partner, or maybe it's children, or maybe in, as in Susan's case, it was to be delivered from this depression, this medical condition that she had. And when God didn't do that for her, it caused her to go through this significant spiritual crisis that ended up with her concluding, well, then God must not exist because he didn't do what I expected him to do, which is unfortunate because God has never, not only has he not promised to do all of those kinds of things, but he does promise us. And Jesus tells us that in this world, you really will have trouble. And Christians get cancer at the same rate that other people get cancer and Christians die at the same rate that everyone else dies at. And when we have this reciprocity understanding with God in our mind, which says, I do for God what God wants, therefore God does for me what I want, we're in really big trouble and we're setting ourselves up for disaster.

Well, something you're saying is so important. We put expectations on everything in our life. We put expectations on our spouse. We put expectations on the Lord. We put expectations on our children. And I was criticized for saying, the best rule of thumb I've learned in life is keep your expectations low, meaning that can't be what drives you in relationship, how you perform for me, whether it's God, your spouse, your kids, your friends. I mean, we're human beings. We're going to let each other down at times.

And it is really healthy, in my opinion, something I've tried to teach my boys, just, you know, have low expectations. And I don't mean that derogatorily with the Lord, with the Lord it's priority. Lord, I'm going to trust you and believe in you no matter what. That's the bottom line. No, regardless of my circumstances, you're my Lord and my savior and this life, you know, you're going to be crushed somewhere.

I'm shocked that she got to 40. That's really, I mean, that surprises me, but guess what you are going to hit the wall called mortality. And if that's the first time you're engaging a valley in life, get ready because God's going to put you through things that make you rely upon him.

That's right. And, you know, we, I think it's very easy for us to have a very poor theological imagination, which is that God, we can't imagine that God could have other reasons for why he allows certain things to happen or why he doesn't come through for us. That just makes me shiver even hearing that it really does. I mean, like God, you didn't come through for me. Being an orphan boy, boy, it's far better to say, Lord, thank you for this twig today.

Thank you for this grain. Yeah. I mean, whatever that might be. I'm just telling you, that's a far better way to live your life than always in regret or, or being upset about what God has not done.

If God doesn't have the right to say no to your requests, that he's not really God. Yeah. Yeah. And that goes back to expectations and your illustration of Susan.

She had some expectation that he's going to do this because I've done that. How do we help our kids? I mean, what I hear you saying is know the book, understand who God is through the scripture. It's a pretty important component.

We haven't really addressed that. How do we weave the scripture in naturally? So our kids get the full picture of who God is.

Right. I think, and people are certainly free to disagree with me, but I think weaving scripture in and weaving biblical worldview in our life as we go about living it is as important or more important than directed, sit down, family, spiritual Bible study together. One of the things that we have done with our kids is at night, we will pray with them before they go to bed. And we are intentional about praying certain themes so that they hear us repeatedly pray things like, Lord, we know that you're good, but we also know that you will allow hard things to come into our life at some point. So we trust you and help us to trust you when that happens. And we think that, you know, if you hear that enough over time, that it will sort of sink in and become part of the fabric of your life, hopefully so that when something hard really does happen, they don't say, Oh, well, where was God in all of this? They say, well, we can still trust God and believe in God because we always will point them back to the cross.

We always will point them back to Jesus and say, you know, God is either really loving and gracious and kind in giving us his son in the midst of all of the things that we see that he's not intervening. He's not rescuing us from financial hardship. He's not rescuing us from health issues. Well then why should we trust him? Because he gave us Jesus and he either gave us Jesus and he really is good and loving. And that's the greatest display of that. And we can trust his character or the opposite is that he's some sort of psychopathic psychotic glory hound who was sacrificed his own son, just so some insignificant beings on a speck of dust could worship and praise him.

And that's not really a live option, I think for most people, I think. Totally. Yeah. It's not a logical conclusion for a loving, caring God. John, let me ask you this. Everybody's listening. I think there's been some incredible points made over the last couple of days, but when you boil it down, if someone's going to walk away with one thing, a parent, a grandparent, what's the most important thing a parent or grandparent can do to help those children embrace faith and stay in the faith?

I think there's two things, but I think that they're both related. Okay. I think the first is you have to give young people the space to question and to express their doubts. And you have to give them the freedom to explore those. It's helpful to guide them and put some parameters around them as they're going through it, walking with them through it. So I think that they need to know that it's going to be okay for them to say, I'm struggling with this.

I don't know if I believe this. How am I supposed to remain a Christian while I'm dealing with this doubt? The other is lean into the relationship, build into the relationship, continue to make deposits into that relationship. Because in the end, I think that that's the most significant thing that you can do in a long-term for your, you know, your son or your daughter who is wrestling with the faith is to be there for them so that they can talk to you and that you can talk with them.

And that that's good. This may answer the next question, but I want to make sure I'm not leaving something uncovered for the parents who have 20, 30 somethings. They're off to college or they're out on their own now and there's not the spark, the insight that they really are embracing the faith. They may not be doing anything negative per se.

They're just not excited about their relationship with Christ or they don't talk about it ever. What is important for them to do or realize in that moment of their parenting? I think it's quite fair to ask if you can have a conversation about that. I think you can be upfront.

I think that you can say, Hey, these are some of the things that I'm seeing. I'm a bit concerned about, but you can only have those kinds of conversations if you have already built into the relationship. Right.

And then you can kind of leverage the relationship, but talk about it, but talk about absolutely talk about it. Yes. Yep. And always let them know that you will always love them regardless of where they are in the journey.

Yeah. Let's end with the parable, the unjust judge that you mentioned in the book, what was the story and how does it apply to this specific issue of parenting grandparenting kids? The story of the unjust judge, the parable that Jesus tells is that there's a woman who comes to an unjust judge and she's trying to get justice for her problem. And she will not let him rest. And she just continues to hound him and hound him and hound him. And finally he gives in. And then Jesus says, now, how much more will your heavenly father hear you? And he's not saying that you need to hound God and hound God and hound God. And if eventually if you just, you know, berate God enough with your requests that he'll grant them. But he is saying if this unjust guy is willing to hear, and this unjust guy is willing to listen, then how much more so am I, your heavenly father who is just and good and loving and leaves the 99 to try and track down the one and is willing to give my own son in order to have relationships with your children, how much more so can you trust me that I love your child even more than you do?

Yeah, that is so good. And what a place to land in that area of trust. Let me turn to the audience. If you are going through that as a parent or grandparent, you feel estranged from the young people in your life, give us a call. Let us pray with you and maybe be able to give you some resources to help in that area. Certainly we'd start with John Marriott's great book Before You Go, Uncovering Hidden Factors in Faith Loss. And what a wonderful resource to be able to obtain. You could do that by making a gift of any amount. If you do it monthly, that really helps us. That is how Gene and I support the ministry. You and Dina do the same.

Or a one-time gift. Be part of the ministry. Be part of answering the hard questions for families that are struggling. Yeah, make a donation today when you call 800, the letter A in the word family, 800-232-6459. Or stop by the show notes.

We've got all the details there. John, thank you for being on the program. This has been really helpful. Oh, my pleasure. Thanks a lot.

Really appreciate the time. And thank you for joining us today. Next time you're going to hear how humor helped Shonda Pierce get through some very difficult times.

And I praise God that at some point in my life, God flipped the switch for me and taught me what a gift that hearing the sound of laughter, the medicine that it can really be. Thanks for listening to Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ. Are you a pastor? Then you know ministry is full of challenges.

But those challenges sometimes come from lies that you believe about your role and expectations of you. As a pastor, you and your spouse need to be refreshed and encouraged. And that's why Focus on the Family presents the Focused Pastor Couples Conference. Join us as we hear from Paul David Tripp, Dr. Greg Smalley, Ted Cunningham, and more. Mark your calendar to join us on October 28th through 30th right here at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. Visit thefocusedpastor.com slash refresh for more details.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-20 11:48:04 / 2024-06-20 11:59:47 / 12

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