Friday, January 29, 2010

Will Our Children Have Faith?

How to pass on the faith? Miroslav Volf, a theologian, and a Christian parent reflects on passing on his Christian faith to his children ( the book is Against the Tide). It is a thought and a desire every Christian parent has. It can be a disappointment, too. Most Christian parents feel they have done less than a competent job passing on their faith to their children. Volf says he is not interested in just passing on his faith so that his sons are Christians, "in some sense". He would rather his children not be Christian at all than be indifferent ones. Nor, does he want his children to posses a Christianity that is zealous to the point of manipulating faith to promote ones own selfish ends. What he hopes to pass on is a faith by which to live and for which to die.

Statistics tell us that most children adopt the faith of their parents. But, what kind of faith is passed on? Franz Kafka once wrote to his father that his attempts to pass on his Jewish faith to his son were unsuccessful, "it all dribbled away while you were passing it on.", he said. Volf's father was the child of a Catholic father and Baptist mother and he drifted away from their faith when he was in his teens. He came back to it when he was in a European concentration camp. At first, he turned away from God, cursing God for allowing so much human misery and suffering. But, then he encountered another man who was going through the same deprivations yet he still helped others all the while keeping a sparkle in his eyes. This strange man spoke to Volf's father about God's power and love in the midst of hell. No sooner had Volf's father embraced the Christian faith than he was appointed head baker for the camp who then appointed his evangelizer as his helper. After the camp, Volf's father became a pastor whose faith was "genuine, deep and intense." None of it dribbled away as he passed it on. Yet, Volf, the preacher's kid, decided believing in God was too much trouble intellectually and practically. Volf says he found his father's faith too much to bear: "his faith was too demanding and was at odds with the prevailing cultural sensibilities." So he rejected it. He was brought back to it later in life, he says, through his mother's prayers. Every night when her prodigal went out she was on her knees praying for him. "It was not enough for me to be handed a robust faith; I had to be made to want a faith that in Bonhoeffer's words, "bids me come and die."

Right language about God matters; godly life matters even more. Yet, neither will suffice, he concludes. If the seed sown by word and deed is to grow and bear fruit, it will need the life-giving water of God's Spirit. So I abandoned trust either in statistics about religious belonging or in the genuineness and strength of my own faith. I vowed to pray.