CHARLOTTE – For Christian parents to pass on their faith to their children, they should not answer their children's questions but respond with more questions to help their kids think through the issues themselves rather than rely upon their parents, famed Christian apologist Josh McDowell and his son, Sean McDowell, explained recently at the Southern Evangelical Seminary's 21st Annual National Conference on Christian Apologetics in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In raising his four children, Josh McDowell explained that he tried to never answer their questions but to respond to them with another question because he wanted them to develop their own convictions rather than simply become Christians because their parents are Christian.
"I needed to teach my kids to think," he said, "to think logically, to come to their conclusions. Because if there is always dad's answer, then they couldn't develop convictions."
Josh McDowell has authored or co-authored 120 books, including More Than a Carpenter, which has been translated into over 85 languages and has sold over 15 million copies. Sean McDowell is an assistant professor in the apologetics program at Biola University.
Sean McDowell gives the same advice to parents. He recalled one parent who approached him after a public speaking engagement and told him that her daughter asked her, "does God love Osama Bin Laden?" The parent wanted to know how she should answer.
"Oh, that's easy," he told her, "you say, 'what do you think?'"
"A question is always better than an answer," Sean McDowell explained. "Why? Jesus asked a ton of questions when he knew the answer, right? Because he wanted to elicit faith and it builds a relationship and gives you insight into what somebody is thinking."
When a parent asks more questions, instead of answering their child's questions, Josh McDowell added, it opens a dialogue with the child. And by the end of the dialogue "it was their answer, not daddy's answer" and "they had more convictions about it."
Josh and Sean McDowell both do a lot of public speaking as part of their ministries. Their Saturday talk, "Passing on the Faith: A Conversation with a Father and a Son," was the first time, however, that they appeared on stage together.
Sean McDowell recalled a time in his life when he began to doubt his faith and told his father about it. He was 19-years-old and a student at Biola, a Christian university. After explaining that he was not convinced that Christianity is true, without hesitating Josh McDowell responded, "son, I think that's fantastic!"
The audience laughed after Sean McDowell said he wondered if his dad really heard what he said. He then asked his dad something he had been curious about: "What was really going on in your mind?"
He meant what he said, Josh McDowell answered, "because you can't run on your dad and mom's faith, you've got to develop your own faith, your own convictions."
Josh McDowell also explained that he anticipates difficult questions from his kids and thinks ahead of time how he will answer. So, when his son told him of his doubts about Christianity, he already knew what he was going to say.
As a father, there are two pieces of wisdom he gives his children, Josh McDowell said: 1) "Seek the truth. If you truly seek the truth without prejudice or bias you will find it. What more could any father want?" 2) "Don't reject something because it's the faith of your father. Reject it because it's not true."
"We need to put our children on a quest for truth," he added. "If you truly seek it, you will find the truth."
The key to raising kids, Josh McDowell believes, is building a relationship with your children. Citing a mantra he heard from a psychologist, he said, "rules without relationships leads to rebellion."
Whenever he had difficulties that needed to be addressed with one of his four children, he explained that he always tried to put their relationship first in the conversation by asking three questions: "Do you know that I love you?" "Do you know that I love your mother?" And, "when you get married, do you want with your spouse and your children what I have with your mother and with you?"
After his children inevitably answered "yes," he followed with, "what you're doing here could create a barrier to ever having that."