Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

10 Tips To Raising Christian Kids After Fundamentalism

A common question I’ve received over the years is, “I’ve left fundamentalism, but how do I re-program my kids? How do I raise them differently than how I was raised while still remaining Christians?”

It’s a good question.

For those of us who have moved beyond Christian fundamentalism but still desire to raise our children as Christians, we need to make some massive adjustments in how we raise and what we teach our kids. Thus, here’s some thoughts to consider when raising kids after fundamentalism:

10. Model for them a Jesus-centered approach to faith, practice, and reading the Bible.

For many of us, the one part that got left out of our Christianity was Jesus. Ironic, since he’s supposed to be the main deal. As Formerly Fundie parents, my hope is that we’ll help our kids return to the simple but controversial idea that Jesus, and his example, is our center of gravity in Christian life.

In fact, we must teach them that Jesus is even the lens through which we read the Bible. One of my greatest days in parenting was when my 13 year old came to me after reading about the genocide in the Old Testament and said, “Dad, this doesn’t line up with what Jesus taught us. I can’t believe they actually thought God wanted them to do that!”

Let’s just say, I can’t remember being more pleased in her thinking.

Helping our kids to get Jesus-centered in their approach to faith will have long-range payoff, so it all begins here.

9. Help them see the value of Old Testament stories are rooted in the narrative, not the historical reliability.

Fundamentalism (and even many atheists) view Scripture and faith as a house of cards. If Jonah didn’t really live in the belly of a fish for three days, we can’t trust anything else it says, either. If any of it is historically untrue, it all belongs in the trash… supposedly.

Unfortunately, that’s a very unenlightening way to read Scripture. It’s not even what the authors intended to convey; they weren’t recording history by Western standards, but were engaged in a process of making meaning.

As we raise Formerly Fundie kids, we must help them see that our faith and Scriptures aren’t a house of cards at all. They are stories filled with intrigue and lessons that are still as valuable today as they were back then.

8. Teach them the Bible is an inspired story of God revealing himself to us, but it’s not an owner’s manual for life.

So many of us grow up being taught that the Bible works as an owner’s manual, but as we get older we come to the realization that the Bible simply doesn’t work that way.

Yes, the Bible progressively reveals to us what God is like. Yes, the Bible ultimately shows us that God’s true identity is the character revealed in Jesus. And yes, we are taught to live like Jesus and follow him.

But no, the Bible doesn’t answer all of life’s questions. It doesn’t tell us what to do in every situation we find ourselves in. The Bible simply doesn’t work that way.

Realizing the Bible doesn’t work as an owner’s manual has the potential to be discouraging, but when we help our kids see that the story is one of a progressive revelation that ultimately introduces us to Jesus, we’re invited to begin asking a different set of questions about how to live life well.

7. Help them become love-driven instead of fear-driven.

So much of fundamentalism is based on fear– and I’m not just talking about Christian fundamentalism. The Christian story however, is one where God is so love-driven that he enters human history– not to judge it, but to love the fear right out of it (see John 3).

While hard-line religion is fear-based, Jesus is love-based. It may take a lot of deprogramming to get here, but we must help our kids learn to operate from a center of love instead of fear.

Why? Because fear has the power to destroy the world but only love has the power to transform it.

6. Teach them their worth and value is intrinsic and not tied to their ability to perform.

While fundamentalism will declare one to be a heretic for teaching works based salvation, let’s be honest: Christian fundamentalism is a works based religion. One’s worth and value is directly linked to their performance and compliance with the rest of the group. When you no longer perform or comply, you are ejected from the circle.

Perhaps more than anything, we must teach our children that their worth and value is not linked to their performance or compliance– because trust me, that really messes with your head when you get older.

Instead, we must shower them with affirmation that they are wonderful simply because God made them.

5. Show them the value of authentic community over rigid church attendance.

Church can be important, but church attendance instead of authentic, relational-based community is toxic. The first Christians formed tight-knit circles of friends who all wanted to follow Jesus in the context of relationship, and this formula became the early church.

It was never about “Church,” but was all about relationship and community in the context of living out faith. As we raise Formerly Fundie kids, may we teach them to focus on Christian community instead of hollow attendance– because that’s where life is found.

4. Teach them to generously serve without blindly following.

As a parent I want to teach my child to be engaged and to serve generously. However, I don’t ever want her to blindly follow or to just submit herself under some patriarchal religious “authority.” That’s a road to abuse, not Christian living.

Let us teach them to generously serve, yes– but let us also teach them to maintain a healthy skepticism about folks in positions of authority.

3. Help them develop empathy for others– especially outsiders and those who are different.

In fundamentalism we were taught to fear outsiders, to be careful about being “unequally yolked,” and to stay away from all those slippery slopes that could harm our faith. In Jesus however, we find a man of empathy who not only wanted to know the outsiders, but actually preferred doing life with them.

To develop empathy for others– especially those we consider outsiders– is to draw our children closer to the realization that we are all beautiful image bearers of a Living God.

2. Show them they can hold their opinions with both conviction and humility.

Moving beyond fundamentalism doesn’t mean that we have to live with a wishy-washy faith– but it does mean we must develop humility in how we hold and express those beliefs.

I want to raise children who are confident in what they believe, and determined to follow the way of Jesus. But I also want to raise humble children who value listening to the wisdom, insights, and experiences of others.

Our goal is to raise Jesus followers, not the religious internet trolls of tomorrow.

Finally, what is perhaps the single best thing we can do for our kids after fundamentalism:

1. Encourage them to ask the hard questions.

 One of the things off-limits in modern fundamentalism is that pesky question-asking-stuff, which only furthers this false notion that our faith is some house of cards that only stands because no one has asked a certain question… yet.

The best way to teach our kids that our faith is legitimate? Best way for them to discover the beauty of faith for themselves?

Encourage them to ask the hard questions. Praise them for it. Wrestle with the questions along with them.

And then teach them that it’s okay for us to not arrive at answers, but to learn contentment in the tension of not having them.

 …

Parenting is hard. Parenting as a Formerly Fundie can be even harder.

But I think if we make a few simple changes to what and how we teach our kids, we’ll be able to raise a new generation of Jesus followers who are immune to the lure of right-wing Christian fundamentalism.

Our grandkids will thank us.

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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  • As someone not raised in a Christian home, I find the idea that “the Bible is not a manual for life” frightening. If not the Bible, what? My disorderly affections? The human in the pulpit? The male I married? I entirely understand how overwhelming it might seem to try to follow several thousand commands God gives … not to mention sorting out which one to follow when they seem to contradict. But God wrote the Bible for all people in all times and circumstances. Of course there will be contradictory direction. And the author is always available to clarify what I’m to do now. Without the Bible as a manual for life, I have no useful ground from which to formulate my questions to God. Just my own culturally conditioned whims. Which start me much too far from godliness for God to get me much of anyplace by relational direct revelation.

  • The main consideration being voiced here seems to be the parents’ religious issues and opinions, not what would benefit the kids. Maybe they would be better off without all this Jesus stuff.

  • Religion is a scam designed only to enable leeches to escape justice for their fraud.
    Keep that foolishness away from children or teach them how to defend themselves from it.

  • I wonder if I might offer some tips that I, as an evangelical/fundamentailist/traditional/conservative/inerrancy-believing Christian, try to follow in raising my own kids:

    10. Teach them a Jesus-centered approach to faith, practice, and reading the Bible.
    9. Help them see the value of Old Testament stories is rooted in the narrative, not [merely] the historical reliability.
    8. Teach them the Bible is [many things, including] an inspired story of God revealing himself to us, not [merely] an owner’s manual for life.
    7. Help them become love-driven [while maintaining proper “fear of the LORD,” which is of course the beginning of wisdom.]
    6. Teach them their worth and value is intrinsic and not tied to their ability to perform.
    5. Show them the value of Christian community over rigid church attendance.
    4. Teach them to generously serve without blindly following.
    3. Help them develop empathy for others– especially outsiders and those who are different.
    2. Show them they can hold their opinions with both conviction and humility.
    1. Encourage them to ask the hard questions.

    Simply wanted to emphasize that these virtues do not require a departure from traditional orthodoxy, and are not exclusive to “post-fundamentalists”, as I fear may have been inadvertently implied.

    • Hello Daniel,

      Coming over from another site, reading your various comments, trying to understand your perspectives.

      You wrote here: “6. Teach them their worth and value is intrinsic and not tied to their ability to perform.”

      Then are you saying that you disagree with Calvinist leaders who claim that all humans are “worthless,” that God made some humans to be “toilets” and “spittoons”?

      Those last two quotes are from two different Christian leaders speaking on the radio. I turned on a couple of days when in despair at the loss of my dad
      and the hopelessness of life because of Christian determinism.

      But I was still a Christian (had been one for 55 years).

      The first thing I heard the one day was that ALL humans are “worthless_–have no inherent value, none at all.:-(

      Somehow, I still didn’t give up. Several weeks later, I again turned on the radio as I headed south to see my grieving, suffering mother.

      The Christian leader, a famous Calvinist, stated, that God makes some humans “toilets” and “spittoons”, and that he has no problem that God has hated and pre-damned some humans.:-(

      That, I guess was the final end for me.

      ALL the reasons that I had accepted Jesus as my savior in a dramatic encounter so many years ago,
      now I realized were all delusions, that Christianity is totally, completely the opposite of everything that we believed it to be.

      How can you think that
      “their worth and value is intrinsic”?

      Are you of a very different branch of Calvinism?

  • A small typo. I don’t wish to appear paltry here, but in “In fundamentalism we were taught to fear outsiders, to be careful about being “unequally yolked”,” it should read Yoked.

  • Thank you for posting! I, too, am raising non-fundie Christian kids, after my hubby and I were raised in more fundamentalist homes. I really appreciate this post– 7 and 9 in particular– and I’d love to share it with some friends. But first, could you please edit “yolked” to “yoked”? It may seem minor, but the Biblical imagery here had to do with oxen, not eggs. Thanks!! (I don’t want a minor typo to distract from the great message.) Thanks again, and I’ll be reading more and checking out the FB page! 🙂

  • A few comments from a “fundie” (I’ve been preaching in independent Baptist churches for 42 years – Jack Hyles preached the commencement address for my college graduation).

    For starters, I gladly wear the label “fundamentalist”. I wonder how many of your readers even understand the term. In no way do I see it as something to “move beyond”. Historically fundamentalists are those who rejected the liberal theology that was creeping into churches and maintained the fundamental doctrines of the historic Christian faith such as the inspiration of the Scriptures, the deity of Jesus Christ and salvation by grace through faith. In addition, they believed it was Biblical to separate (ecclesiastically) from those who denied these cardinal doctrines of the faith.

    I suspect that your biggest “beef” with fundamentalists is with their so-called “legalism”. I say “so-called” because I don’t know any fundamentalist who believes you get saved by keeping laws. Nor do I know any who would say that anyone is necessarily spiritual just because he keeps a certain set of laws or rules. Do not make the mistake, though, of saying that a saved or spiritual person will not keep said laws (maybe we should use the term “commandments” John 14:15).

    Now some comments:

    #10 – In every church I’ve ever been a part of it’s always been about Jesus. One of my favorite events in the Bible is the appearance of Jesus to the two disciples on the road to Emmaeus. It says of Jesus, “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:27. And to be sure, if Jesus is deity, He commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites for their wickedness just as He will judge the wicked when He returns.

    #9 – You’re spouting basic theological liberalism. Very dangerous!

    #8 – I can hardly believe you would dare make this statement! The Bible is absolutely a manual for life (Matt 7:21-24; 2 Tim. 3:15-17). How can you read Proverbs, for example, and not see it as a manual for life???

    #7 – Doesn’t have to be either/or: how about both (Jude 23, 24).

    #6 – False on so many levels. “Christian fundamentalism is a works based religion.” What!? Every preacher I’ve ever heard could preach the house down about grace! But there is plenty of room to preach works as well. (Eph 2:8-10; James 2:17-20) Does this affect our worth? Of course not. Does it affect how much God loves us? Of course not. Does it affect how well we please God? Absolutely. And we should strive, as did Jesus, to do always those things that please our heavenly Father. (John 8:29)

    #5 – Your premise is correct. “Rigid”, “hollow” attendance w/o community would “miss the boat”. But I don’t know any who would say that it does. Your statement that it was “never about the church”; however is incorrect. “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.” (Matt 16:18; Eph. 3:21; 5:25) BTW: Not quite sure what you mean by rigid? Don’t you believe in being faithful to your local church body?

    #4 – I would agree with your statement, but your tone in the description is quite negative and condescending toward spiritual authority (Heb 13:7, 17). It is wise, though, to “search the scriptures” to make sure things are on the right track.

    #3 – I like this one with the caveat that empathy doesn’t equate to accepting every form of deviance that comes down the pike or squelch the caution that all should exercise as we walk through this world. (Prov 13:20; James 4:4)

    #1 & 2 – Agree totally though “opinion” is a pretty soft word. If all we have are opinions, we could be in a mess of trouble. And, no, we do not have all the answers; however, we do have “all things that pertain unto life and godliness”. 2 Pet. 1:3

    Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. Ephesians 3:21

  • You continue to denigrate the Old Testament as in point 9 due to your formerly fundamentalist upbringing. At least you had the opportunity at an early age to discover the bible and read it. As a Catholic we were programmed away from that opportunity. So many of us had to wait until were inspired to read the bible on our own and search for the meaning. I understand that all fundamentalist churches are basically autocratic organizations of men. But, what does that have to do with the veracity of the Old Testament? Do you have any proof that any of the Old Testament stories are historically inaccurate? If so i’d love to see some.

    • I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

  • Empathy for others, based on God’s love for every single person. That’s where so many of us fall down, I think. It involves humility, non-judgment and a dependence on God rather than self-help. That’s how I am trying to correct with my adult children the mistakes I made as a young parent.

  • Fantastic post, as usual, Benjamin. I have already emailed this to my wife and a dear friend and will definitely share it only. Wonderful stuff here!

  • ‘In fundamentalism we were taught to fear outsiders, to be careful about being “unequally yolked” …’ Who brought eggs into the discussion?! (I had to Google this and I found out that “yolked” does have different meanings. However, “unequally yoked” itself comes from 2 Corinthians, which uses the image of two unequal oxen that can’t work in tandem.) Great post, by the way.

  • This approach, to me, is very reminiscent of a book by Peter Enns called The Bible Tells Me So. Have you read it? If not, I highly recommend it.

  • You don’t have to beat the crap out of them with belts, garden hoses, sticks etc. when disciplining. Then tell them how much you and God love them. It’s ok to use intelligence, critical thinking and unconditional love without violence in that area of parenting.

  • A central thing about this article that gives one pause is that it’s talking about “Fundamentalism”, which is a very real thing and should be discussed, but the general principles are those that apply to most of Christianity– from traditionalist Catholicism to evangelical Protestantism to hard-line members of mainstream Protestant churches to other groups.

    The belief that as a parent you should actively use fear and threats to force people in line, well, that’s… something that draws upon the belief in hell existing and God as the judgmental, genocidal father forcing his children into hell if they don’t measure up to his standards. In other words, it’s something that’s in canon for Christianity broadly speaking and is believed by most Christians. Yes, not ‘all’. Yes, nothing like ‘nearly all’ or a ‘consensus majority’. But still, most Christians fall into that category. And so all of the negativity dished out to kids comes from that– the concept of God as sentence-giver of spiritual genocide for all but a small clique after death.

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