A mother choked back tears as she related the heartbreaking news. Her son Miko, studying at a state university, had abandoned his Christian faith. Miko's major was psychology, a field where most theories are secular and often hostile to a Christian worldview. (Early 20th-century psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud set the tone, treating Christianity as a symptom of emotional immaturity.)
Miko came from a loving, Christian home. Yet he was completely unprepared for the challenges of the university classroom. How can parents equip teens to keep their Christian convictions when they leave home?
Why young people lose their faith
Miko is not alone. When researchers asked why young people left their religion, they were surprised to discover that the reason given most frequently was doubt and unanswered questions. They expected to hear stories of emotional wounding and broken relationships. But instead, these young adults were simply not getting their questions answered.
That was my story, too. Proponents of secular ideas — teachers, textbooks and friends — surrounded me in high school. I began to wonder, How can we know Christianity is true? Tragically, none of the adults in my life offered answers. Eventually I decided Christianity must not have any answers, and I became an agnostic.
Later I stumbled upon L'Abri, the ministry of Francis Schaeffer in Switzerland. For the first time, I met Christians who could intelligently rebut the secular "isms," such as atheism, materialism and pluralism, which I had absorbed.
Can busy parents effectively teach their children to answer the secular "isms"? Yes, and the good news is that Scripture provides two basic principles that make the job easier — principles you can use to evaluate any worldview your teens encounter.
Principle No. 1: Cause equals effect
Evidence for God is "clearly perceived" in creation (Romans 1:20). We typically think this means the beauty and complexity of nature. But it also means humanity. You and I are part of the created order, and we, too, give evidence for God's existence.
How? Think of it this way: A cause must be equal to the effect. Because humans are capable of choosing, the first cause that created them must have a will. Because humans are capable of thinking, the cause that created them must have a mind. As one Christian philosopher summed it up, because a human is a someone and not a something, the source of human life must also be a Someone and not the blind, automatic forces of nature.
The beauty of this argument is that you don't have to believe the Bible to see that it makes sense. This logic can be effective if your teens are having doubts or are facing questions from their secular friends. The case for a creator fits our experience of human nature — what we all know about ourselves.
Principle No. 2: Creation is not the Creator
When we do not accept God's existence, we've "exchanged the glory of the immortal God" for something in creation (Romans 1:23). We create idols.
An idol can be defined as anything put in the place of God as the ultimate reality. The prevailing philosophy in the academic world today is materialism, which puts matter in the role of God as the eternal, uncreated, self-existent source of everything.
The psychologists that Miko studied — Freud, Pavlov, Skinner — were all materialists. To be consistent, materialism must deny the reality of anything that is not material. It reduces humans to complex biochemical machines: robots with no free will, mind, soul or spirit. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins says humans are "survival machines — robot vehicles blindly programmed" by their genes.
But as we see from principle No. 1, such a simplistic, one-dimensional view does not fit what we know about ourselves and our human will. No one lives like a robot. We make choices daily. Again, you don't have to believe the Bible to recognize that materialism does not match reality.
Discussing these two principles with your teens is a great starting place to help break the tragic pattern of young people who leave home and lose their faith. We can help our teens understand how these biblical principles equip them to confront any worldview they may encounter in the classroom.
Nancy Pearcey is a professor of apologetics and a scholar-in-residence at Houston Baptist University and the author of Finding Truth: 5 principles for unmasking atheism, secularism, and other god substitutes.