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A Skunk at the Garden Party

Updated: Feb 12, 2022

Looking at how things have been going the past few years, one thing we parents and church youth leaders really need to turn our attention to in apologetical discipleship of our kids is how social dynamics are used to work them over and pressure them to compromise.

I know: overtures about “withstanding the world” are common in evangelical circles, a dime a dozen. But I’m talking about a much deeper, substantial coaching. Judging by the fruits, we have work to do in that area--kids and adults are easily intimidated and pushed around by rhetorical strong arming and manipulative socialization, so perhaps we aren’t doing as good a job as we think.

All our talk about “the world hating us” has been largely ineffective. At the end of the day, there is a strong desire for respectability that runs deep in the evangelical church. Like everyone else, we still want to belong to the inner ring, so the world leverages it to great success. There has always been pressure from the world, but in the last 5-10 years the heat has increased exponentially. For instance, almost any college freshman orientation program today will be a rogue’s gallery of progressive bromides assumed as axiomatic fact. That was the case back when I was in college, but it is so much more so now. The unspoken assumption is that all students will gladly go along to get along, accepting their initiation into the secular progressive fold by reciting the correct catechism. It takes a special kind of kid to be able to resist that. The usual pattern of home and church discipleship is incapable of producing kids like that. I’ve seen this “go along to get along” dynamic play out in my classrooms. As hard as I try to create an atmosphere where they don’t feel like they have to walk on eggshells, there’s still a lot of tip toeing around. The one phrase I hear the most in my class discussions, by far, is “I agree.” Not with me necessarily--I’m the annoying guy who won’t leave well enough alone and just keeps asking questions, so they disagree with me all the time, but they agree with each other very quickly, along all the lines you can probably instantly think up.

Out of all my students this year, there are two that buck this trend in a way that stands out. One is a very quiet conservative Christian student, who week by week, is taking small steps, getting better at being bold. The other is a Muslim student. This guy has absolutely no problem being the skunk at the garden party, being the lone voice in class defending common sense. Almost every day in some way or other he points out the emperor is naked, and doesn’t back down when others get on him about it. Total stud.

One day, after I heard him talking to other classmates about “micro and macro evolution,” I had to ask. I’ve *never* heard any student, Christian or otherwise, use those terms. Only those intimately knowledgeable about Intelligent Design talk that way. So I pulled him aside and asked “hey, where’d you learn that stuff?” His answer? “My dad. He reads a lot of theology and science, and he teaches me and my siblings all that stuff.” No wonder! That’s something I wish I heard more Christian students say. The need to help our sons and daughters be like that kid in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is immense. That’s not going to happen by the status quo lifestyle. That takes consistent, explicit, formal, and frequent discipleship in the home, where apologetics is a central facet of the training, where we are explicitly showing them how things like socialization and mass media works to pressure them to compromise. My Muslim student didn’t get that way by accident.

It doesn’t matter how busy your family is. Find a way.

Sounds like a big task, but lets make it practical. Here are some things you can do:

1. Make apologetics central in your home discipleship. Few things are better when it comes to boosting confidence in the faith than knowing what and why you believe. This isn’t sufficient, but it is necessary. Dude: DON'T LEAVE THIS UP TO THE YOUTH PASTOR! MOM, DAD: it is on YOU. YOU! You don’t need a phd in philosophy. Just start simple, with resources already out there. For example, at dinner time a few days a week look over and discuss a video or meme Tim covers in his Red Pen Logic page.

2. Tell them stories about when you faced down pressure to compromise.

3. Read them stories from those who have gone before us, stories of great faith amid suffering and persecution, stories of men like Richard Wurmbrand.

4. Read Lord of the Rings to them. Here’s why.

5. Talk to them often about the pressure the world will exert upon them, what tactics the world will use, and what it might feel like to face it. Read them C.S Lewis’ essay “The Inner Ring. Talk to them about how the social shaming game is played, and prepare them for that freshman orientation they are bound to encounter if they go to a secular university. Don’t wait until their senior year to start talking about this.

6. Read J.D Vance’s testimony to them, or at least relevant parts of it. Pay special attention to the part where he talks about the role socialization played in his own brief falling away.

7. Impress upon them the absolute necessity of joining a multi-generational church with a high view of the Bible, immediately upon arriving on campus (if they are going to college).

8. For your own reading, read Rod Dreher’s Live Not By Lies. When your kids are old enough (sometime in high school), read it with your kids. 9. Most importantly, pray. Often.

At some point, we all, our kids included, will be called to be that “skunk at the garden party,” that kid in the emperor’s courtyard. We *all* need to get comfortable being seen as weird. As Dreher says, “be weird, it’s important.” It is on us to prepare them for that challenge that awaits. In a lot of ways, that challenge is already upon them.

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