Maud Newton’s recent article on the phenomena surrounding Heaven Is for Real, a book written by Todd Burpo about his son’s supposed journey to heaven while on the operating table, also contains some reflections on her own spiritual journey, which ultimately led her to agnoticism. Her description of her childhood conversion parallels mine to a certain degree:
So I repeated after them, inviting Jesus into my bosom. And then, for years afterward, I lay awake half the night, fearful of my own heartbeat, worried about what the savior might be doing in there. I was filled with doubt, which was a sin, and anxious enough about eternal damnation to endlessly beg the Lord’s forgiveness for doubting. Unlike the kids I met at church, I obsessed over the fiery pits of hell, not the pearly gates of heaven.
I can certainly relate: I must’ve prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer” a dozen times or so as a child, just to make sure that I had really asked Jesus into my heart, that He was really there, and that I was really saved.
Newton’s article also briefly touches on a topic that has become increasingly pointed for my wife and I in recent years, i.e., how parents can and do instill their beliefs in their children, and the potential effects that has.
As a Christian, I believe it’s my duty to teach my children the ways of God (e.g., Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4). To that end, we do what you’d expect: we take them to church, we read the Bible with them, we say our prayers, and we answer the occasional theological question. (Last week, Simon asked me what the Holy Spirit was, for example.)
We don’t expect our children to understand everything at their age, and we’re not going to beat them over the head so that they do. However, we do want to lay down a solid foundation for them, and we want them to grow up asking questions. Our hope and prayer is that, if and when they embrace their Christian faith, it is their faith, i.e., something that they have arrived at because they — not their parents — have judged it to be right and true.
As I wrote in my review of Jesus Camp:
…the film, with its emphasis on these children and how they were being trained, arrived at a unique time, as my wife and I begin to consider starting a family of our own. And obviously, if we have children, one of the big questions facing us is this: how do we raise up our children with those values that we believe to be true, that have brought so much meaning and enrichment to our lives, but in a manner that is compassionate and understanding?
Or, to put it another way, how would we train our children without indoctrinating them, without compelling them to think with the stark, black-and-white distinctions that have been so much a part of American Christianity, and which I myself have had to wrestle with time and again. How do we impart values and yet reinforce the idea that ultimately, the choice is theirs. Is that the desirable method? Is it even possible?
Now that we have children, those questions are no longer academic.