Pastors get frustrated by parents who delegate their kids’ spiritual formation to the Church. Worse, pastors fear we are complicit in this parental learned helplessness, and we wonder “How can I equip parents to raise their own children to stand firm in the faith?”
A terrific aid toward returning that responsibility to parents is Mama Bear Apologetics, a barrier-breaking resource for Christian parents. The goal is to educate moms, so that they can educate their children. That makes it both a youth and adult discipleship book. The women who collaborated on this project should be praised for filling a niche with their book which “cater[s] to the practical needs of moms who want to figure out how to best explain biblical truths and concepts to their kids” (38).
The authors openly address their readers’ most probable concern: Is it worth my limited time to learn about a bunch of philosophies? (Chapters are subtitled Naturalism, Skepticism, Moral Relativism, etc.)
To that end, the first four chapters summon Christian moms to rise up and gain an understanding of the “hollow and deceptive philosophies…of this world.” (Col. 2:8) The book’s twin calls-to-action are for moms first to be informed and then to be intentional in their faith-rearing role. Yes, intentional enough to read a book on Apologetics.
Each chapter eases into an explanation of a godless worldview by hooking the reader with a real-life parenting story. Moms and dads alike will appreciate these case studies of home life, TV shows, and things kids overheard at school. In each case, what first seems typical and harmless is unmasked as the modern manifestation of an ancient heresy, repeated right there at your kitchen table.
The authors want parents to be able to recognize and name several key false narratives widely accepted in American culture. They caution that children also notice these philosophies, so they need to be trained to compare what they hear with truth revealed in Scripture. Importantly, children need this training much earlier than anyone might think. Contrary to the impression that most kids lose their faith while in college, “By the time they got to college they were already gone!” (33). Even high school is too late. “From mid-elementary age onward, we need to be on our toes” (33).
The first half of every chapter teaches a false philosophy. While certainly not a dense textbook, Mama Bear Apologetics challenges its readers to learn the names of influential philosophers, their watchwords, and their ideas. Readers learn how each movement reacts to the others: “Moderns expected that science would provide them irrefutable answers to all life’s questions. When this didn’t happen, radical skepticism set in, which paved the way for postmodernism” (170).
The authors effectively warn Christian parents that so much of what our children read, watch, and hear is untrue and has the potential to damage their faith. The alarm bells ring loudly, and the warnings are appropriate, but the book never devolves into helpless panic. Balance comes via the brilliantly structured second half of each chapter, outlined following the acronym R.O.A.R. (Recognize the message, Offer discernment, Argue for a healthier approach, and Reinforce through discussion, discipleship and prayer.)
The ‘Recognize the message’ and ‘Offer discernment’ sections contain numbered lists of lies told by the philosophy under consideration, as well as winsome counterarguments to those lies. Since these pages contain much more content than a young child could absorb or a teenager could handle, save them as a reference you can consult when you know you need to clarify your critique beyond, “I said so.”
I can’t express enough appreciation for the section called ‘Argue for a healthier approach’ which heads off the stereotype of the angry anti-everything apologist. Christian parents and kids need practice in countering lies, but also in stating positively why Christianity is right and more beautiful. Apologetics needs to include both, and this book is up to the task.
Two useful features wrap up each chapter. First come prayers for guidance in raising strong children despite the -isms under discussion. These work best as personal prayers, or perhaps during a quiet minute during Bible study. Then discussion questions force the reader to internalize the chapter’s material and begin to apply it to their family. A separate Mama Bear Apologetics Study Guide promises even more activities, in addition to the blogs at mamabearapologetics.com. I found that the end-of chapter activities provided more than enough prompting for a lively Bible study.
Bible study groups would not require much doctrinal advisory with this book. The authors’ stance on the retained image of God makes for some uses that would be unfamiliar in our circles, and we Lutherans would have much more to say about our kids’ original sin and the sacrament of Baptism with its daily meaning.
Wisely, readers are regularly reminded that “we demolish ideas, not people” (230). When trying to persuade, especially with kids watching, we need to watch our tone and our target.
To what extent should this book tell us to turn the conversation to Jesus? I wish it included more examples and advice for segueing from a cultural lie to the cross of Christ, or his active obedience, or his resurrection. Jesus isn’t missing from this book, but I didn’t see his name as often as I wished. Gospel peace and promise was especially prominent in the end-of-chapter prayers, but parents need all the reminders we can get to speak the gospel to our kids.
Finally, not a critique but an observation: I was surprised to hear discernment talked about like a long-lost treasure. Perhaps because Lutherans don’t attempt to provide an all-encompassing culture (books, movies, music) like American evangelicals might, we’ve always had to evaluate works for their doctrinal content and alignment with our confessions. In a non-Christian society full of nearly infinite information, honing the art of discernment is game-changing: Filter everything that comes in, discard what is bad, and keep what is good (Rom 12:9; 1 Thess 5:21-22).
Mama Bear Apologetics aims high: Alarm parents enough that they take threats to their children’s souls seriously enough to study false philosophies and counter them with better Christian responses. It achieved that goal with me. The authors also stopped short of grinding a political axe or bemoaning a helpless situation. If you need a resource on your shelf to give to parents of elementary, middle, and high schoolers, here it is. Set up an 11-week Bible study for parents to cover Part 2 (chapters 5-16).
Consider checking out the book’s sequel on sexuality as well, following the same motto: “We can’t defend against that which we do not understand” (18). It’s called Mama Bear Apologetics Guide to Sexuality: Empowering Your Kids to Understand & Live Out God’s Design.