91: Kids and Church | Belief vs Understanding

In this episode John and Gregg resume their discussion about church attendance, this time regarding children. John starts by wondering about Gregg’s process in allowing his children to make choices about where to attend church, and also about the difference between teaching our children to believe Christianity, versus to understand (life, and so Christianity).

Gregg explains that it would have seemed deceptive (to his children) if he and his spouse tried to force their children to approach Christianity in a way different from how the two of them were approaching it (i.e., by not allowing them to make at least some of their own decisions, such as where they wanted to attend). Gregg see this as allowing the children to have some information (about Christianity) yet also standing back a bit and allowing Christian experience (and particularly the experience of God) to “unfold” in his children’s lives.

So Gregg hunches that a big reason for the children wanting to come to the church that he and his spouse play is that large role that they saw this church (and especially, Christianity) playing in their parents coming back together after many months of marital separation.

Gregg explains that he and his spouse, Susan, were separated for 8 months and heading for divorce before deciding to come back together. At the outset of this period Susan re-initiated her investigation of God (and Christianity in specific) as a result of the separation. Further, by themselves being part of—and observing—this process of separation, the children are aware of the changes they experience in their mother and can see their father softening, recognizing his own contributions to the matter, and gradually reconnecting with their mother. And they understand that Christianity is playing a crucial role in this transformation.

Gregg summarizes: in his view, the reason that his children have decided to come to this church is because the children have seen good things happening to their parents, and in their family, through their parents being associated with this church. In other words, Gregg believes that there is evidence over time, through concrete and observable events, that point to God being involved in this process of marital reconciliation and healing.

In this way Gregg argues that there are real events and situations that his children have been able to “latch onto” and that offer substance and solidity to their belief, and that working to understand these is deeply tied to understanding who God is and what it might mean for God to act in the world (rather than simply memorizing Bible verses or believing ideas from Sunday school).

So in the course of their parents “sticking it out” with God, Gregg’s children are able to understand certain things about God and Christianity, things that will be valuable and necessary for them to cultivate their own Christian belief. So too by allowing the children access to some of the difficulties associated with church-going this provides the children access to how adults are weighing up various situations and allows the children to develop these skills as they make their own assessments.

Thus Gregg believes that helping his children think through matters and become competent assessors of life situations is one of the greatest skill sets that parents can model.

In terms of understanding and belief, Gregg highlights that many Christians still hold an Enlightenment perception that they can “know” that Christianity is true (and similarly, many non-Christians resist Christianity because they too insist that they know that Christianity is true in order to embrace it). Yet Gregg notes that the progression from belief, to understanding, to trust is essential to having faith: to holding Christian belief (as in episode #31).

Further, Gregg thinks this belief is always based on certain things (such as Gregg’s children might base a certain degree of belief on the reconciliation of their parents and the role that Christianity purportedly played in this). So a Christian’s beliefs should both makes sense of the Bible’s truth claims (i.e., the beliefs are based on finding that there is a certain truth value to those truth claims) and yet such belief is not knowledge in the sense of certain knowledge, or scientific knowledge.

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