Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

27 Jan 2014

Presuppositional Apologetics and Sound Parenting?


One of the more surprising sources of parental advice that I have received came to me a few years ago in the form of a recorded lecture by Greg Bahnsen—a lecture in which he detailed the process of “becoming a philosopher.” Without explaining the entire discussion, I’ll truncate the discussion greatly into three critical phases:

  1. A philosopher is born when he begins to adopt, for arbitrary reasons, a worldview to which he has been exposed—usually the worldview of those closest to him—in order to make some provisional sense of his world. He usually does this without thinking a whole lot about “worldviews,” because at this point he is usually adopting the only worldview available to him.
  2. The juvenile philosopher then develops the intellectual/psychological capacity to imagine worldviews other than his own, and in the course of time begins to discover others who embrace these alternative worldviews.
  3. Once exposed to the marketplace of worldviews, the philosopher then makes a disciplined inquiry whereby he integrates everything that he knows to have happened, develops rules to explain why things happen as they do, and predicts what will happen next. In other words, he ceases defaulting to the provisional worldview with which he began his journey and makes a studied acceptance of his own worldview—one that may or may not resemble the worldview with which he began.

The context of these three phases was couched in a discussion of general apologetics, i.e., helping unbelievers to see the inadequacies of their own worldviews by exposing them to the biblical worldview. But I immediately recognized that this succession had some practical implications for Christian parenting. In short, this process describes quite accurately the normal maturation process of an ordinary child’s mind. Two key applications come to mind:

  • When young children readily embrace the faith of their Christian parents (as they usually do), we should encourage and cultivate their religious expressions, but we should not assume that these expressions arise from a regenerate heart. Specifically, we should exercise extreme reserve before heralding their faith publicly. Very young children exist necessarily as “phase 1” philosophers, and are psychologically/intellectually incapable of the kinds of faith sometimes predicated of them. And parents/churches with accelerated expectations in this regard both misunderstand and injure the children in their care. This is why I have been drawn to the practice of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in delaying baptism/membership until children begin, independently of their parents, to make other major life decisions (working, dating/courting, college/career choices, etc.). This is by no means a statement that God regenerates young men and never little boys, but a statement that parents and churches have a much more difficult time correctly identifying the fruits of true faith in philosophical fledglings with underdeveloped worldviews.
  • While Christian parents may delay the exposure of their children to noxious worldviews, working hard all the while to seat biblical values deeply in their souls, it is impossible and in fact injurious to their intellectual development to delay exposure indefinitely. How exceedingly sad it is to see a promising young man complete his tenure in a Christian home, a Christian high school, or a Christian college, and promptly “lose his faith.” Of course we all know that faith, once held, cannot be lost. But something happens to a great many such “Christians.” What is it? In many cases, I believe, our children delay too long in taking the second step of “becoming a philosopher”: they do not encounter other worlds until after they have escaped the reach of all valid Christian influence. How extraordinarily important it is, I deduced, (1) to offer a child controlled exposure to and instruction in engaging with alternative worldviews while still under the firm tutelage of parental structures. And beyond this, how much more important it is (2) to see that my children graduate from the home not into the presumptive protection of Bible colleges, CRU, IVCF, or other such structures (as helpful as these may sometimes be), but into the auspices of a church.

Who knew that presuppositional apologetics could be so downright practical?

4 Responses

  1. Josh Peglow

    Excellent post. This is why I believe it is so important for a parent to teach their child critical thinking as soon as possible. Something that has proved very helpful with my own children is just asking them what the message of a book, movie, speech is. What is behind it and how does that compare with scripture? If they truly understand the Biblical teaching on sin, and especially the Noetic effects of the fall, they will start to make those distinctions on their own without prompting.

  2. Thank you. It’s scary as a parent recognizing my helplessness to choose my children’s fate, but that’s the way God set things up.
    What you’re explaining here is a passion of mine. We do our kids a disservice by hiding them from other views too long. Since Jesus and His worldview is the accurate one, we have nothing to fear from other viewpoints when they are presented accurately. That is, NOT waiting for the world to present its glossy version of meaning they want us to fall for.

  3. Bill Provenzano

    This is excellent. Hadn’t thought about it like this before. I’ve read some of Bahnsen’s work and when you walked through your post, it immediately made sense to me.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Good posts! I do like Bahnsen and I found his problem of evil series many years ago to be very practical and so it seems even with this topic of children and their worldviews.

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