Note on "Teaching" Faith to Teens

Questions about the new curriculum:

I  noticed that your selections for Religion are different from Jen's in your teenage girls' curriculum. Can you tell me why you are using what you are using? And why don't you call it Religion?

Mary Beth is my fourth teenager.When I first started putting together programs of study for the late middle school and high school years, I bought into  the popularly propagated notion that because teenagers are naturally argumentative, we should give them something to argue about and so "Apologetics" is perfect for teenagers. Now, I've reconsidered that a bit.

When I consider my goals, particularly for the early teen years, I most want them to know their faith and integrate it into their being. While I might like them to be able to answer the Mormon at the door or a skeptical evangelical from our neighborhood homeschool group or even the many Hindus who play in our backyard, that is not my primary goal. My primary goal is for them to hear and answer Jesus with joy.

My primary goal is that they know their faith to the very core of their being and that they develop a habit of relationship with Jesus while they are still in myhome. I truly believe that we are all called to make believers of all nations. The most effective evangelists though, are not the ones who have memorized the answers and mastered the art of debate. Instead, they are the kids who have their  sharing spill out of the joy in Jesus those good habits of relationship have helped to cultivate. When they are totally in love with Jesus and happily living in His Church, the apologetics angle falls into place in a very genuine way.

In my house, I've found it to backfire to equip a child with all these tools to "argue his faith." I have hyper-competitive children who might just easily lose sight of the fact that we're standing for truth and defending our Best Friend Forever, thinking instead that the point is just to be right and to win the fight. When the focus is on winning the argument, the discourse sounds dangerously like a fight and is likely to slip into something angry. Mixing the natural inclination to argue with materials that underscore an "us versus them" air of superiority seems to feed a contentious attitude.

The overt focus on arguing the faith can result in a curriculum that encourages too many words on the part of the teen. By shifting the focus to relationship with the Lord and His Church, I am hoping to cultivate good listeners--faithful adults who both listen to the Lord and to each other.

"Religion" is a subject and that is how this component of the course would be recorded on a transcript, but the real goal is a deep, maturing faith. I want to guard against strident, sanctimonious superiority that sometimes comes with a teenage focus on apologetics.   Faith is gift. If we think about that truth, it humbles us.  By keeping "faith"  along that margin, I am constantly reminded that it's not knowledge about the Church that I want to drill into them. It's love for Christ I want to imbue and, ultimately, it's the Holy Spirit who will "teach" this "course."

First off, my children  read these books by Amy Welborn. These are fairly quickly read, basic cornerstones:

Prove It: God

Prove It: Church

Prove It: Jesus

Prove It: Prayer

Then there is a decided emphasis on Peter Kreeft. Peter Kreeft resonates with the people in our home. What isn't listed on the young lady's curriculum are the Peter Kreeft books we read and discussed last year, books that were particularly suited to young teens seeking some answers for themselves. You could say they are apologetics books, but the emphasis is not on winning an argument with someone else. The emphasis is on truly understanding the philosophical underpinnings of the faith for oneself. A family I admire greatly, where all nine children embrace the faith as adults, have shared with me that their father sat with them as teenagers and talked about philosophy and theology on a regular and frequent basis. That kind of practice is not something I can replicate on my own in my home. I don't have the education that father has. But, I can read these books with my children and have those important conversations. Peter Kreeft helps me with the education part. I can't speak more highly of these books:

You will only see two core books listed for this year for my teenagers (Mary Beth's "religion" class and Patrick's are the same). This "living books" decision is a distillation of what has been the most meaningful with my teens in the last eight years of parenting teenagers.

The first book is Kreeft's Catholic Christianity. Many years ago, Catholic Christianity was recommended to me by Nicholas' godmother. Linda is a brilliant woman who has done a masterful job with the academic education of her children. She's also a former Evangelical Protestant, who was passionate about Jesus and winning souls well before she converted to Catholicism. This is the volume that spoke to her--that made sense both intellectually and spiritually. She used it with her young teens before they left homeschooling for Catholic high schools because it best embodied the gift she had discovered in the Church combined with the joy of the Christ of her youth.This book is a careful, well-crafted, articulate walk through the faith in a style reminiscent of C. S. Lewis. It's a step-by-step explanation of what we believe and why we can believe it. It represents the active part of the "religion course." We'll discuss each individual article until the three of us understand it for ourselves.The goal in our discussions won't be winning an argument; it will be helping each other to better understand the treasure of the faith.  I will purchase my fourth and fifth copies of this book this fall. Michael, Christian, and I already have our own personal copies. The next two are for Mary Beth and Patrick to keep.

The second book is the private, personal component of the "religion course." You Can Become a Saint is a book of habit training. If the wisdom in the book is applied and integrated into the lives of my children, they will have habits of a morning offering, meditation and spiritual readingtime management that is ordered towards the will of Godexamination of conscience and night prayer. The book is drawn from Opus Dei spiritually. My family is not an Opus Dei family, but the habits here are time-tested habits of saints throughout time. They are not unique to any particular movement or spirituality. My dearest hope for this "course" is that they will cultivate the habits of a life in constant dialogue with Christ. Those habits will nurture a genuine joy in the Savior that will be organically effusive and will naturally draw people to them so that they might share their joy. In my opinion, those habits will engender genuinely kindhearted young people who are great apologists because they exude joyful charity.

Finally, each of my teens has a stack of biographies of heroes of the faith. Reading stories of the saints offers them a look at the many, many spiritualities that are represented in the body of Christ. As they learn more about themselves through spiritual reading and meditation, they will begin to identify more closely with certain saints over others. In doing so, they will make lifelong friends and companions for this journey  of faith. Stories of the saints are built into every single year of our educational adventure.

These are a lot of words to explain two simple book choices. If, together, we can truly integrate the wisdom of those two choices into our lives this year, our education will be a huge success.