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  • Writer's pictureLayton Friesen

Raising Children with wonder

Intellectuals face unique challenges when it comes to raising their children for Jesus. Why is this? I write this from hard-earned experience, both in my own childhood and in my parenting.


I’m dealing in stereotypes that don’t apply to every intellectual, but you will recognize this creature. Many of us intellectuals have baggage from our own young adult years when we were discouraged from asking tough questions and digging into complexities. We do not want this for our kids and so we sometimes mistakenly teach our young children to be “critical thinkers”.



Critical thinking, in the way I am using it, is not a virtue in children. Whether it’s a virtue in adults could be discussed. Children are naturally curious, open, and able to innocently receive the world at face value. This is why having beautiful, good heroes is crucial for children. But critical thinkers can’t ever really have heroes. Critics seek to expose and see through other people’s claims to goodness and beauty. Critical thinking demands suspicion.


When intellectuals try to teach their children to be critics, they may inadvertently end up giving them X-Ray vision and super-powers of dissection. They may blind children to the fragile beauty of the church and the Bible’s story. Nothing is beautiful after it has been dissected, and no one is beautiful on an X-Ray. Gospel, church, Bible, vocation; these can all easily be dissected and made to look silly and naked.


But to see and grasp the whole fragile mystery that is the Body of Christ, this is like seeing a flower or the splendor of a horse at full gallop. Children seem to love beauty almost intuitively. Let’s not abuse them of this, even though we also need to teach them to recognize when they are being lied to.


Here is another hazard of the intellectual parent: We have a fear of enthusiasm that makes it hard to raise children for Jesus. There is nothing the intellectual spirit loathes more than enthusiasm, more even than ignorance.


Part of the spiritual gifting of the intellectual (a necessary gifting for the church) is the ability to stay calm and rational when others go madly fanatic about nonsense. This is why intellectuals don’t make great sports fans.

But to grow up for Jesus, children need a joyful enthusiasm about their faith. They need to delight in Jesus before they understand him. They need mountain-top experiences at camp and VBS. They need their parents to share their enthusiasm and be outwardly expressive about their love for Jesus and their church.


In my observation, intellectuals in our culture tend to believe that a slightly jaded, ironic faith is better equipped for the ambiguities of life. It pains me to recall that I sometimes dampened the fervor of my children’s faith from a misguided desire to give them the mature, adult version. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14).


Now, I say intellectual parents have a difficult journey, not an impossible one. Many intellectuals are awesome parents. Here’s a suggestion. We can all cultivate an emotional faith in Jesus and a deeper intellectual insight. A Christian intellectual needs a mind on fire and a child-like faith. Let’s use our intellectual powers to see deeper into the beauty of Jesus and the church, and then share that wonder with our kids in age-appropriate ways. Stories are a great way to do this.


May our gracious Father save all his children from the foibles of their parents.




Layton Friesen is the Academic Dean at Steinbach Bible College, Manitoba

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This article was originally published in The Recorder Vol 61 No 2

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