Josh McDowell and Son: Christian Parents Can Help Children Develop Their Own Convictions on Faith by Not Answering Questions

20 Oct


CHARLOTTE – For Christian parents to pass on their faith to their children, they should not answer their children’s questions but respond with more questions to help their kids think through the issues themselves rather than rely upon their parents, famed Christian apologist Josh McDowell and his son, Sean McDowell, explained recently at the Southern Evangelical Seminary’s 21st Annual National Conference on Christian Apologetics in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In raising his four children, Josh McDowell explained that he tried to never answer their questions but to respond to them with another question because he wanted them to develop their own convictions rather than simply become Christians because their parents are Christian.

“I needed to teach my kids to think,” he said, “to think logically, to come to their conclusions. Because if there is always dad’s answer, then they couldn’t develop convictions.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

There isn’t supposed to be a ‘dad’s answer’ and a ‘son’s answer’ on points of doctrine; there should be a shared answer, what together, the community of which you’re both a part understands is the answer on something.

This is why traditions as varied as Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and Reformed, have all made use of catechisms and confessions to teach both old and young, within their flocks. That is why the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 could not understand what he was reading in Isaiah without someone to guide him.

Individual interpretation can lead one astray; after all, “the heart is deceitful above all things.”

If your son asks for bread, should you give him a stone?

Of course not.

So, instead of throwing back a question at him, you say, “This is what we, collectively,  as (fill-in-the-blank) understand this passage to mean; here are some cross-references that support this interpretation; here’s what our tradition says this means.”

Of course, if you’re the head of your own ministry, like Josh McDowell, I suppose you can’t very well point to a tradition older than yourself. In which case, shoot, why not just say, “Because I said so, and I’m the boss around here!”, because that’s all you have to stand on. Which is not much.

I suppose I’ll give Josh McDowell this much: at least he did a better job of raising his son than Tony Campolo or Francis Schaeffer did, since the son is still relatively orthodox – for now, at least…

Yet he’s still leading others astray with his bad advice, which is unconscionable.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”, we are instructed.

Likewise, “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.


21 responses to “Josh McDowell and Son: Christian Parents Can Help Children Develop Their Own Convictions on Faith by Not Answering Questions

  1. Eric

    October 21, 2014 at 12:21 am

    Good article: it’s important to note though that the traditions themselves are the guideposts and not how they may be ‘interpreted’. As a side note, the first Sedevacantism movement began, not with Vatican 2, but under Pope Pius IX in the 1850s, when he declared the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Traditional Catholics believed (and a lot still do, though a minority and usually among the hierarchy) that a Pope could nullify tradition by assuming the powers to speak ‘ex cathedra’. Before Pius’ ruling, the Cardinals could veto a pope’s decision, and even depose a sitting pope, if they really thought he really went too far afield.

    Luckily—at least until now—the popes have had sense enough to make sure that the Cardinals approve of anything they say ‘ex cathedra’ and not forced the issue too much.

  2. Will S.

    October 21, 2014 at 12:40 am

    Eric: I agree that the traditions are indeed the guideposts, but nevertheless, without detracting from that, I think we can all recognize that each tradition has its own unique way of interpreting the Word; if they didn’t, they’d all be the same tradition. What makes us all Christian, regardless of tradition, is that we indeed hold Scripture to be God’s Word, and we are united in that, and because of that, also we are united on the basic, fundamental points of doctrine as outlined, for example, in the Apostles’ Creed (e.g. we all hold to the Trinity, that Christ died and was resurrected in order to redeem sinners, etc.), notwithstanding the very real differences between the respective traditions, which are not to be minimized, by any means, of course.

    Since you bring up Sedevacantism, and the concept of the possibility, within Catholic fidelity, of a particular claimant to the Papal throne as not necessarily being legitimate – I’m not taking a position here on Sedevacantism, as obviously as a Protestant such arguments are meaningless to me – I have been wondering about something, perhaps you can answer: on what basis are antipopes recognized as not legitimate? Is it because of straying from doctrine of early church fathers? Or is it because their election to the office is regarded as not having followed legitimate procedures? Or simply because of the situations of two claimants as pope? Or what?

    Just wondering. I admit I haven’t read much on it, as I haven’t given it much thought till lately.

  3. Eric

    October 21, 2014 at 1:01 am

    Usually it has to do with election being deemed illegitimate. This was mostly a problem during some of the political turmoil of the Middle Ages, when Rome was occupied by foreign powers who deposed popes and set up their own without the Cardinals’ input.

    I think there were some cases—back in Roman times—where a antipope led a schism and set himself up as pope, but wasn’t recognized because he claimed some doctrine contrary to the Church.

    The problem of course with Sedevacantism is that it doesn’t even recognize an antipope: it doesn’t recognize a legitimate pope at all. Which is actually an impossibility and contradiction because the Catholic doctrine is that the Pope is Christ’s Vicar and it obviously the office can’t be a vacated office without the destruction of the Church.

  4. Will S.

    October 21, 2014 at 6:29 am


    Interesting how the Sedevacantists can claim to be Catholic yet believe the papacy is vacant. It’s almost like they’re Protestants; we don’t recognize the office of pope, so we certainly believe it’s vacant; they’re far more like us than they realize, though they’d sputter at the thought. 😉

  5. Will S.

    October 21, 2014 at 6:33 am

    I suppose a Sedevacantist would argue – I’m guessing – that because the papacy can be vacant between the time when, say, a pope dies or, as Benedict XVI, steps down, and the time when the conclave chooses a successor, that it’s possible for this time to simply be longer. At least, that’s all I could guess. But then, as a Protestant, I really don’t get this sort of thing.

  6. infowarrior1

    October 21, 2014 at 7:41 am

    @Will S.

    Can you imagine the turmoil that may ensue if the pope spoke heresy ex cathedra?

  7. Will S.

    October 21, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Indeed, infowarrior1. I doubt he’s quite that foolish, though; and even if he is, I’m sure his advisors would prevent it. 🙂

  8. Kilrud

    October 21, 2014 at 10:30 am

    I can see where he’s coming from. Asking questions to get people to think over the tough issues of their beliefs is good practice for apologetics. If everything is spoon fed, they might find themselves without nourishment when they need it the most. I remember reading (maybe on this blog) about a young woman that fell away from her faith for a few years because she was mostly exposed to church culture until she left for college. There are other factors there like leftism on modern campuses, and women opting for careers as a first choice. But either way, I tend to agree with Luther in that we are called to live “a profane life.”

  9. Will S.

    October 21, 2014 at 10:50 am

    I see what you’re saying, Kilrud, and I largely agree. I think it would be beneficial indeed for parents to incorporate asking questions back of their kids, making sure they understand the reasons why their church holds to the particular interpretations it has. Maybe making them do a quiz, and giving a reward for good marks? I don’t know; I’m not a father. But I know incentives can aid learning. 🙂

    I came to the Reformed faith as an adult, without the benefit of a ‘covenant upbringing’, as we say in Reformedese. Perhaps that put me at a disadvantage in some ways; on the other hand, I was approaching it with the full faculties of an adult, as something new and fresh to me, which I think was itself an advantage. If only it were possible for all, even covenant-upbrought children, to have that experience. 🙂

  10. Cui Pertinebit

    October 21, 2014 at 11:35 am

    I could be wrong, but I imagine that McDowell means he is using the Socratic method to lead his son to their tradition’s best understanding of the answers, and not that he is simply asking his son open-ended questions and allowing him to answer them however he pleases, without questioning.

    To Eric: I’m an ex-atheist, turned Protestant, turned Greek Orthodox, turned Catholic guy. I almost fell in with the Sedevacantists when I became Catholic, but now gravitate towards the SSPX. I exhaustively researched the role and powers of the papacy, because the historical and theological fact of papal power converted me to Catholicism after I had discovered the Apostolic Tradition and the Fathers in Orthodoxy. But, as I came to the Catholic Church, it was plain that the modern popes are screwing up, big time. So, I looked very carefully into this matter, and I can say that you do not understand it very well.

    The Cardinals have *never* had the power to depose a pope. I read the exhaustive theological investigations done by men like St. Robert Bellarmine (himself a cardinal!), St. Alphonsus Liguori, Suarez, John of St. Thomas, Cajetan, etc., etc. They concluded that, because the pope’s power is monarchical over the Church and directly from Christ, the Church has no authority to depose him by any process. And historically, this is also what we see. At the Council of Basel, the Synod demanded that all three men claiming to be the pope renounce their claim, rather than take the authority to depose one or the other. They conducted the investigation from there. Never in history did the Church attempt to depose a pope.

    However, no (doctrinally orthodox) Catholic believes that the pope has the power to nullify tradition with an ex cathedra pronouncement. Pius IX was very clear, as was Vatican I, in saying the authority to do this was not given to the pope in order to define any new doctrine, but only to safeguard tradition. When the council fathers asked Pius IX what recourse they would now have if a pope taught heresy, Pius IX said: “It’s simple; don’t follow them.” So, nobody was under the impression that the power to overturn tradition was being granted. The same theologians I cite above, were all examining the question of what to do in the case of an heretical pope. They all knew that it was possible. No Catholic is required to believe that the pope’s ex cathedra pronouncements can turn heresy into orthodoxy. The theologians’ investigation on how to handle an heretic pope, involved the following conclusions: 1) an heretical pope, if he is guilty of the sin of heresy (i.e., he knows his belief is probably or certainly contrary to the defined, traditional doctrine, yet believes it anyway), is automatically deposed of his office by Christ, immediately; 2) a pope nevertheless retains the jurisdiction of his office until there is some decree from the Church affirming that he is deposed; 3) this decree does not itself depose the pope, it simply makes public to the Church, the certain knowledge that the pope is an heretic and has already been deposed by Christ, and therefore this decree should not come without a chance to correct himself; 4) thus, until the decree, the Church may have to suffer for a time with popes who retain the jurisdiction of their office formally, and whose merely procedural commands must be obeyed, but who have no authority to teach magisterially, make ex cathedra pronouncements, etc.; 5) the Church must continue to commemorate this pope until a sentence comes, but his heretical teachings, his unjust commands, his objectively evil laws, etc., are all to be resisted and, in the case of doctrine, not at all obeyed. This is the teaching of all the authoritative theologians who investigate the topic, including saintly Doctors.

    Therefore, any pope who attempts to clearly overturn tradition, is simply not acting within his competence. The Church is in a crisis right now, where three popes of modern times have been heretics. The man currently called Pope Francis is very likely not the pope, as there are reasons to believe the resignation of Benedict XVI was invalid (duress, and gibberish Latin in the critical sentence announcing the resignation), and an even stronger reason to believe that the election of Francis was invalid (canon law, which must be followed in papal elections for validity, mandates a maximum of four ballots a day; Francis was chosen on the fifth); this doesn’t make one a sedevacantist, it just means Benedict XVI may still be the pope! We live in interesting times, where confusion and heresy prevail. The Lord foretold a great apostasy, and we see it: nearly all of Catholicism, has ceased believing the Catholic Faith! Catholics are absolutely right to reject the whole apparatus of modernist teaching, of new forms of Mass and the other Sacraments, of Ecumenism, etc. The popes are simply very wrong – heretical, even – on all these points, and their “ex cathedra” or papal powers give them absolutely no authority to overturn the Church’s defined teachings on these points. If they made an ex cathedra statement against them (which they have not, as of yet, thank God), this would only prove that they had already lost their office. The point of the pope’s ex cathedra power, is to give the Church the certainty that when: 1) there is a pope not touched by suspicion of heresy, who 2) soberly and in fidelity to tradition, with proper theological consultation, issues an authoritative clarification of doctrine to the whole church, 4) this definition can be known to be binding, and 5) this and all similarly defined doctrines are so not because the Church continues to consent to them – as was coming into question with the advent of modernism – but because they are irreformable in and of themselves. That was the definition of Pastor Aeternus: that such decrees are “ex sese, et non ex consensu ecclesiae, irreformabiles sunt” (of themselves, and not by the Church’s consent, unable to be changed”). “Papal Infallibility” sounds to the untrained ear, therefore, like it is giving the pope a power to proclaim new teachings, when in reality it is a great protection for the modern Church, because it tells us that even if apparently the whole Church has withdrawn its consent from the heresies definitively condemned in the century prior – Ecumenism, Indifferentism, Moral Relativism, the Humanistic concept of “Rights,” etc., etc. – the faithful Catholic of today can rest assured that the failure of modern “Catholics” to assent to these solemnly defined teachings, up to and including the popes, in no way nullifies their binding, doctrinal authority. It is the nature of the times, when all of Western civilization has fallen into a “be nice and don’t rock the boat” mentality even in regards to deep, intrinsic evils, that the Church finds Herself unable to do the shocking work of convening a synod to say, “Hey; these popes have completely gone off the rails.” But it is my belief that this will have to happen, probably soon enough, and we can expect a decree recognizing that the popes since Paul VI, either through invalidity of election or through the sin of heresy after election, were indeed deprived of office and acted either as antipopes, or as popes deprived of teaching authority for a time.

    Sorry for the long explanation, but I just finished my studies on the topic a couple weeks ago, and saw there was some confusion. The Catholic doctrine is easily misunderstood without some focused study.

  11. Kilrud

    October 21, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    Although I was raised in a household that lent strongly towards Reformed Presbysterian, I can’t say I’ve heard of Covenant Upbringing. I presume that it’s raising a child in an almost exclusively Christian environment. As for approaching the reformed faith as an adult that allowed for a sense of freshness, I can understand that about faith in general. It got to the point that up until recently, I didn’t fully comprehend the significance of Christ’s death because I heard about it so much, instead passing it off as “Oh, he’s God.” And I wouldn’t be surprised if most people in our culture hold a similar feeling – Christian or atheist. Makes me want to create a story with someone who suffers similarly for the sake of others , without being obviously allegory, to recreate that sort of impact and appreciation.

  12. Will S.

    October 21, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    @ CP: “I could be wrong, but I imagine that McDowell means he is using the Socratic method to lead his son to their tradition’s best understanding of the answers, and not that he is simply asking his son open-ended questions and allowing him to answer them however he pleases, without questioning.”

    I would like to think that, but I wonder how much he even knows about that, if anything at all.

    @ Kilrud: Well, I’m within the continental, i.e. Dutch tradition; it may be that some of our jargon is different than that of Scots Presbyterians. 🙂

    And while indeed the broader meaning is bringing up a child within a Christian home – thus I do qualify – they tend to reserve it for themselves, or at least that’s the interpretation I’ve gotten.

    ” As for approaching the reformed faith as an adult that allowed for a sense of freshness, I can understand that about faith in general.”

    No doubt. I did have a Christian upbringing, and I never abandoned the faith, even as I moved from mainline Protestant to evangelical, and finally to Reformed. But I would indeed imagine that the experience of a new convert to the faith itself, as a whole, would indeed have a similar experience. The one disadvantage, compared to someone like me, is they wouldn’t yet know their Scripture as well – but they’d hopefully have time to learn. 🙂

    “It got to the point that up until recently, I didn’t fully comprehend the significance of Christ’s death because I heard about it so much, instead passing it off as “Oh, he’s God.” And I wouldn’t be surprised if most people in our culture hold a similar feeling – Christian or atheist.”

    Indeed, I’m sure that is a real danger.

    “Makes me want to create a story with someone who suffers similarly for the sake of others , without being obviously allegory, to recreate that sort of impact and appreciation.”

    That could be a great read, if handled well, I’m sure.

  13. infowarrior1

    October 21, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    ”If they made an ex cathedra statement against them (which they have not, as of yet, thank God), this would only prove that they had already lost their office.”

    They could give a better name than ”papal infallibility” in this case when he speaks ex cathedra. Otherwise what you call untrained hearers will think the church is some sense having a form of cognitive dissonance by proclaiming on one hand: ”papal infallibility” yet by proclaiming heresy he loses his office which contradicts the definition of ”papal infallibility”.

  14. Eric

    October 21, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Thanks for the long and scholarly reply. A few points:

    “The Cardinals have never had the power to depose a pope.” By the letter of Canon Law this is true, but Cardinals actually have done this: they can force a resignation through other means. Some conspiracy theorists claim that Benedict XVI was forced out (personally I don’t believe that) but some popes of the Early Middle Ages, yes.

    “No traditionally Orthodox Catholic believes that the Pope can overturn Doctrine ex cathedra”. True again; hopefully I didn’t give the impression that the Pope could. I mentioned that the Sedevacantists of the 19th Century interpreted Pius IX’s ruling to imply that he could.

    “The theologians investigations on how to handle a heretic pope &c..” I’m glad that you spelled out those five points since they should convince some Christians the utter impossibility of the pope ever being the Antichrist, as some teach.

    “The Catholic Doctrine is easily misunderstood without careful study.” True again—Canon Law is NOT for everyone! LOL

    I disagree that the post Vatican 2 popes will be declared illegitimate. I do think there’s a possibility of a Vatican 3 overturning most of the precepts, but these popes will remain although looked upon the popes of the late 15th/early 16th centuries have been since the Council of Trent. The Church is having rough times now, but it’s been through worse things.

    I remember an anecdote once where a reporter—I think from Italy—said to Benedict XVI that the church sex abuse scandals had led American pundits to proclaim that the ‘Catholic Church was finished and would never survive’. Benedict reportedly replied ‘Yes, the pundits have said so for the last two millennia.’

  15. Kilrud

    October 22, 2014 at 10:32 am

    I’ll have to read your post a few more times to get everything, but thanks for your explanation on Papal Infallibility. I’m most definitely not a Catholic, but I’m careful not to oversimplify the positions of that church as some others in my Protestant circles. That same straw-manning and refusal of comprehend is is apparent in atheists who mock Christians. Also,I’ve never heard a Catholic denounce ecumenicism. Some Protestants hold that movement as a sign of the times.

    I’d have to convince my mystic writer friend (who attends a really neat looking Anglican Church out on BFE) to flesh out such a story, while I would do the art. Anyways, the sad thing is that despite my upbringing, I failed to learn much scripture. I probably learned more while I was fallen away from the faith.

    Interesting note: “Anti” also means “in place of”

  16. Will S.

    October 22, 2014 at 10:54 am

    @ Kilrud: “I probably learned more while I was fallen away from the faith.”

    I have known many heathens who had an interest in end-times prophecy, which has always fascinated me; some of them knew at least part of the Scripture (Daniel and Revelations) surprisingly well…

  17. Kilrud

    October 22, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Well, a skeptic has to be careful of what they’re skeptical of 😉

  18. Will S.

    October 22, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    No doubt. 🙂

    I suppose some of them would have said they believed in all that, but didn’t identify as Christians; one guy was nominally Jewish, but I sincerely doubt he was anything other than an ‘ethnic Jew’, not a synagogue-attending type; more like a perpetually stoned goofball and womanizer.

  19. Eric

    October 22, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    That’s the way ‘anti’ is to be understood; in Latin it can mean ‘in place of’. The term “Antichrist’ has that same meaning: not ‘against Christ’ but a ‘false Christ’. Many Catholic thinkers hold that Antichrist will be a character who mimics Christ, including being able to perform false miracles.

  20. Kilrud

    October 23, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    Reformed Eschatology holds a similar position, only they’ve already pegged the title of the false Christ.


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