Sunday, January 31, 2016

Passing on Our Implicit Principles to the Next Generation

The birth of my son grows closer each and every day, and we are growing more excited. Despite all of the excitement, however, I do have genuine concerns. Among them is the concern that I will not be able to teach my son the appropriate principles and reasoning skills he will undoubtedly need in the ever-changing world. What I mean by that is this: it is very easy to teach someone what you believe, but very hard to prevent them from taking that and running off in a completely unintended direction. Sometimes that unintended direction is great: it provides new insights and fresh thinking. Other times, that direction is horrible, and results in apostasy, or immorality, or cruelty, or shameful acts.

What makes the difference? I have heard it often said that a teacher’s students will take writings and teachings much farther than they were ever meant to go. But how does such a thing happen? It seems to me that what is often simply assumed, instead of taught and argued for, are the background assumptions and principles. We may think we are teaching some particular principle, when in fact our children and students hear something completely different.

Here is a concrete example: Christian young people often see homosexual actions and marriage in at least a permissible light (if not a promotional one!), and many adults are absolutely baffled as to where they have gone wrong. Many have called for stronger doctrinal teaching, stronger hermeneutics, stronger ethics, and more. And to a certain degree, all of this would be quite helpful. But I can’t help but notice particular background assumptions that they either have absorbed from the current culture or else derived on their own from the Christian teachings they have heard. “Love one another!” they will say. “Doesn’t this mean that love is good? Who are we to judge? Let them love one another!” They often thus see prohibitions against homosexual behavior as prejudiced as efforts to subjugate black people in America.

And yet I wonder where they would be if the background assumptions never made explicit were taught to them. Namely, some of these principles are: marriage has a particular essence, and is not a “nothing-but” legal contract; God created the biological sexes to function in particular ways; that love, justice, and moral values are all intertwined, not at odds, and thus following God’s moral laws are inherently loving, while violating them is inherently unloving. Many more could be stated.

These background assumptions are strongly tied to worldview. Worldview studies strongly suggest that worldviews, at least initially, are absorbed, and they are done so through culture and immediate influences. This is why parents cannot simply sit back and not teach their children anything. It is not simply that it should not be done; it is that it cannot be avoided. Our children will learn something from us; what will it be?

I suspect one of the main reasons these presuppositions were taken for granted is that they themselves were often inherited by the parents. They assumed it would pass on; but when culture changes, many of the old assumptions do not transfer to the next generation. That can be good or bad. The good news is that worldviews can be changed; assumptions can be challenged. Nonetheless, we are now in a culture that has their own largely unexamined worldview assumptions, and sadly, many times they are not up for debate (e.g., approximately 99% of abortion debates talk past each other. I mean, seriously: if you know a pro-life person opposes abortion because they think it is murder, why in the world would you counter with, “A woman has the right over her own body!”? Unless they have a background assumption that murder is permissible in these cases, they should instead focus on arguments that address the belief that abortion is murder.).

This is where we need good apologetics, theology, and philosophy. And above all that, we need godly wisdom.

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