What should you do when your young child expresses doubt about the Bible, or even outright unbelief and skepticism?

When Peter Enns’ six-year-old son expressed skepticism about the talking snake and the deadly fruit in the Garden of Eden, Enns replied: “You don’t really believe in God anymore? O.K., well, tell him.” He went on to explain:

Over the years, I have been thankful to God that I didn’t correct my son’s theology, for that would have been utterly stupid. Had I shamed him or coerced him into saying the right thing (so I would feel better about my parenting skills), I would have been responsible for creating another religious drone, another one who, at a young age, was already learning to play the religion game.

I’m sure Peter Enns is a far better father than I am in many ways. And I accept that no one knows a child’s particular needs like their own father or mother. But I hope no one thinks that this is THE model for dealing with their children’s spiritual doubts and unbelief.

Humpty Dumpty
While we want our children to be able to discuss their questions, doubts, and even unbelief, with us and with God, we can’t treat this in the same way as doubting the Humpty Dumpty narrative.

“You don’t believe in God anymore? OK”

OK?

It’s not OK. It’s a sin.

But it’s wonderfully forgivable.

That’s why we don’t just tell Him our doubts and unbelief. We confess it. God will not give us or our children victory over any sin, including unbelief, unless we repent of it and ask for faith.

And to be proud of not correcting the devilish theology that naturally arises out of our children’s sinful hearts? Heresy is more fatal than heroin. And to lovingly correct our children and teach them to submit their proud intellects to God’s Word is not to coerce or shame them into hypocrisy. It’s to love their souls more than they do themselves. It’s to intervene so that young heretics do not become old heretics, but rather live by faith and ultimately die in faith.

I believe, help my unbelief
Yes, let’s encourage our children to be honest with God, to pray about everything, even their worst doubts; but to do so in a spirit of contrition and humility, and with the prayer that God will always answer: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!”

How about something like this: “Well my son, I’ve had my own struggles with doubt over the years. Faith does not come easily or naturally to any of us. But to doubt God or His Word is a serious matter that we should always repent of. So, why don’t we lay this unbelief before the Lord in humble confession, and ask Him to forgive us, and also to give us the gift of faith that will enable us to believe in Him and every one of His precious words.”

Proud Unbelief
After reflecting on his son’s skepticism, Enns concludes: “I am proud of that little six-year-old, who trusted himself enough not to play games.”

“Who trusted himself enough?”

The whole message of the Bible is trust God and not yourself. To trust yourself is to play a deadly game that no one has ever won.

As Spurgeon once said, “The man who goes through life trying to be consistent with himself will find out in the end that he’s been consistent with a devil.”

  • http://outin2thedeep.wordpress.com Wesley

    Appreciate this very much David. It can often be difficult to know just how to answer in such instances. But i agree, i don;t think a quick, “ok” would at all suffice or faithfully fulfil the role of spiritual leadership in the home.
    Like you, i think the answer is to share both personally and from Scripture the reality that we can all experience doubts and fears at times, but the answer in those times is – as you say – to confess that doubt or fear to God where He will absolutely meet us to increase our faith.

    I just preached a sermon on this last Sunday from John 11 and i was blown up by how many different stages of faith Jesus met with as they struggled with doubt and fears. And that’s the point: Jesus met with each of them right where they were with the goal of increasing their faith. You can listen here http://www.dhbc.ca/sermons/?sermon_id=539 if you’re so inclined.
    Appreciate your ministry very much and am excited for the release of your new book.
    God’s peace -
    W.

  • Duncan

    could you please point me to the source of Spurgeon’s quote ? thanks

  • http://outin2thedeep.wordpress.com Wesley

    Incidentally, is this the same Peter Enns who used to teach at Westminster Seminary and then was let go due to theological differences?

  • Frederika Pronk

    Your answers are correct, but Enns also lost a wonderful opportunity to witness positively to his child, relating how the Lord helped him overcome such questions and doubts, which all of his have at some point in our life, I believe. This story brought to mind an occasion when one of our boys put his hand on the burner of the stove by mistake, just before bedtime. It hurt intensely, but the burn was not so large or deep that it required a trip to emergency. When I tucked him in for bed (he was about 6 years old), he said: “Mom, I don’t want to go to hell.” I understood what he meant and what a wonderful opportunity to talk about the Way to escape hell.

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  • Michael Butterfield

    David, thank you for such clear and biblical thinking on this matter. I appreciate every line of it.

  • Jeannie

    Pete Enns does not believe in a literal Adam and proposes that many parts of the Old Testament aren’t meant to be taken literally. This certainly presents a dilemma when it comes to teaching children (and for the believer!).

    When Pete Enns worries about raising religious drones, his presumption is that we raise our kids in a faith-neutral environment which is anything but. Our skepticism over anything religious is a result of our culture’s humanistic secularism. The responsibility of believing parents is to raise our children in the Lord.

    “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

    We are to deal gently with our children’s doubts and point them towards the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

  • Brent Swanson

    I am not sure I would handle my son’s question like Peter Enns, but I don’t really like the way this blog post handles the son’s question either. Peter Enns says he is not going to shame his son for asking having doubts about the Bible. The blog says, no. You should shame him. He is sinning by doubting the Bible. Tell him to repent.

    I think there is a better way. Think of the way Jesus treated doubting Thomas. He was not shamed by Jesus. Jesus does not even tell him to repent of his unbelief. Instead Jesus invites him to investigate the evidence. I am not sure it is a sin for Enns’ son to ask questions. A good parent will guide his son down a path of investigation instead of shaming him for asking the question in the first place.

    • Hugh

      I totally agree with this comment, whilst not happy Enn’s reply, the advice offered in this article made me feel uncomfortable. The approach listed in the above comment seems to be the best way to help foster a faithful and intellectually-satisfied Christian child.

    • Moses Malone

      To doubt at all is a sin, Romans 15: Whatever does not proceed from faith is a sin; therefore any doubt or questions proceeding from doubt are in their essence sinful. The Lord doubtless uses these doubtful questions to bring His own to Himself, but it does not diminish the severity of it. To doubt and question is to declare our rebellion openly that we do not believe that God is who He says He is, and therefore when we or our children express doubt, it needs a swift rebuke.

      I do not think that expressing the severity of an issue is necessarily going to shame someone, it just might open their eyes to the reality of the issue giving opportunity to share the Gospel.

      • Philippa

        But this is a SIX YEAR OLD child we’re talking about.

        Rebuking a six year old for his initial scepticism about a particular Bible story might well to lead to shutting down intelligent and fruitful debate with that child about interpreting Scripture with the help and illumination of the Holy Spirit. There are better, gentler ways in which to teach a child about Bible truths, and to bring up that child in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Or as the ESV puts it: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

        To teach a child that he is never, EVER, to question ANYTHING is not the way to encourage a mature Christian faith.

        I agree with Brent Swanson.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Of course, it’s not a sin to ask questions. It all depends on how the questions are asked. I see a big difference between the spirit of Thomas and the spirit in which the son asked the question. There’s also a huge difference in context.

      • Philippa

        “There’s also a huge difference in context.”

        Oh, of course – and Thomas rocks, he is probably my favourite disciple! – but again, we are talking about a six year old child. I am certainly not saying a six year old is not capable of a rebellious spirit. I know I was! – but I was also a very sensitive child who was easily crushed. But a six year old who questions something in the Bible is not on the same emotional/intellectual level as, say, a questing teenager. Both need a response appropriate to their mental and emotional capacity – obviously one that will encourage them to trust the Bible more, not less!

  • Karen Cone

    Thank you Brent Swanson. You expressed what I was feeling. My question to my little one would also be, “why?” What has brought you to this conclusion? Out ideas are usually formed from ideas we hear. There is nothing new under the sun. I would want my child to question himself on why he has moved to a new position. Romans 14: 22 “everything that does not come from faith is sin” is not teaching that you cannot have doubts and questions, but that you should not be double minded: acting on something you do not really believe. If my child really doesn’t believe the word of God, I want to teach, to pray, to answer his questions, and live out my faith in such a way that he is challenged. I don’t want him to say he believes for my sake: that is sin.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Karen, I like your approach of asking questions in return. I hope no one wants their child to believe for their sakes. That would be extremely damaging to a child in this world, and for the world to come.

      • http://wandawhoopiecushion.blogspot.ca/ Wanda

        I learned from an early age to not put my faith in the words of man. When I questioned our denomination as a child I was told we had to have faith that it was right and the others were wrong. That didn’t sit well with me.

        I have often felt like the father of the boy in Mark 9:24. “I believe! Help me in my unbelief.” And when I cry that out to God he comes through and shows himself to me every single time. I’ve stopped doing it now, simply because I know from past experience how real he is.

        It is with those two past-experiences in mind that I approach my own ministry to my children. I want them to have their own faith, to feel free to question, but to be led to experience God for themselves in a real way. There is enough literature and evidence out there to support the validity of the Bible. It is my job to help my children understand it.

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