For over a year, my son and I were on a roll. For the first time since reading the big three (Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter), we had found a lengthy series that captivated the imagination: Percy Jackson. It opened up the worlds of Greek and Roman mythology to my son with a rich array of characters, compelling adventures, and occasional hat tips to contemporary culture.
But it all unraveled as we were reading through the ninth book (of ten). Something seemed amiss, so I sent my son to bed and read ahead. One of the key characters was about to come out as gay. My son is eight, so these issues and subsequent discussions are expected, but as I did a deeper dive into the subsequent plotline, a key thread was going to be how the other key characters learn to accept and embrace the sexuality of their friend. This is straight-up indoctrination.
Isn’t that what puts many of you on edge about our culture right now? It’s not simply the changed sociological realities, but the dogmatism behind these realities that seeks to make converts of our youth. As Christian parents, we have a responsibility before God to instruct our children in the way of the Lord (Deut. 6). And we seek to do this teaching in the light of day, where claims and character can be put to the test. Many of the attempts to subvert our worldview are not done in the light of day, in public forums, but through subtle, shadowy forms that are often difficult to identify and engage.
This is the foremost problem for many of us: Most indoctrination is subtle, not obvious (especially to children). Yet, we are not trained to engage subtleties. We expect indoctrination through media outlets and education systems—in other words, in overt and obvious means. This fits the politicization of our faith that was especially pronounced in the culture wars of the past couple of decades. We engage the public antagonists, not the private ones. Teacher A expounds atheism and provokes our ire; Teacher B is “spiritual” and is seen as one of us. Harry Potter has witchcraft and invites our wrath; The Golden Compass intentionally tries to undermine Christianity and is largely ignored.
If we are to seriously engage indoctrination in our culture, it will come through careful, reflective engagement, not protests and picket lines. In a sense, the presentation of alternative sexualities in pop culture is not nearly as influential as the underlying deification of self-expression that pervades all our culture (even in many Christian circles). An openly antagonistic professor is not nearly as threatening as compelling literature that slowly makes anti-Christian motifs more plausible to the impressionable mind.
The prospect of engaging the culture at this level is often intimidating. Few of us are attuned to philosophical trends or to the subtle arts of persuasion. Yet there is a simple, universal bulwark to cultural indoctrination: biblical indoctrination. The more we are saturated in the Word, the less we are conformed to the world and the more we are transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2). True dogmas enable us to sniff out false dogmas. If you believe your chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, then you will bristle at the suggestion that your chief end should be happiness at all costs.
A solid understanding of biblical truth is a necessary starting point, but it is far from the sum of our responsibility before the Lord. Catechesis, for example, enables us to identify and engage plain falsehoods. But the subtlety of indoctrination requires us to go beyond catechesis to where all good doctrine should lead—bonds of deep fellowship and discipleship.
The proponents of good doctrine must model the superiority of their doctrine (and the Savior at its core). Many who have worldviews opposed to Christianity act with a sincerity and integrity and treat our children with a gentleness and respect that is very attractive to them. Do we so act and treat our children as their courteous paganistic instructor or gay friends?
In the Army, many of the young soldiers I meet who have rejected the faith superficially do so over matters of truth, but if you peel the opinion back a few layers, you often find a lack of consistency and integrity in their role models. “My dad was a deacon in the church and handed out literature at abortion clinics, but he also cheated on my mom.” “My youth pastor was the most loving person I knew, and he also abused some of my friends.” They don’t reject the Gospel on its own merits, but on the demerits of those who were entrusted to nurture them with the Gospel.
While we will all fall short as parents and instructors, we cannot allow unintentionality to be the reason our kids don’t take the Gospel seriously. Are we humbling ourselves before our kids and repenting of our sin? Are we giving them room to struggle and coming alongside them as they do so? Are we willing to disciple our children?
In related fashion, how are we striking the balance between cultural immersion and cultural isolation? Both strategies are risky, to say the least. If you throw your child into the deep end of the cultural pool too early in life, hoping they’ll swim, they might very well drown. If you cover them in floaties and nose plugs until they’re in college, they’ll never learn to swim and might very well drown. We must build up the cultural antibodies in our kids, holding their hand and inviting their questions as they wade deeper and deeper into the murky waters of our culture.
Even as we probe our own hearts and habits in these matters, let’s conclude on a note of grace. Most Christian adults are not good swimmers either, especially in the increasingly tempestuous waters of the present culture. We are all playing catch-up and most of the Christian cultural currency we’ve accrued from prior generations is suddenly devalued. To use yet another metaphor, we’re having to join our kids in the classroom, trying to adjust to a radically different culture. We can do this with confidence, because the Lord means for us to be salt and light in yet another depraved generation. We can do so with joy because we are in the everlasting arms of Jesus. We must do so with joy, because the eyes of our kids are upon us, as are those of a watching, often-hostile, but much-hungering culture.