Somewhere between “Jesus Loves Me” and high school cynicism, the childlike acceptance of pat answers about faith is lost—often forever. While many parents find this transitional period daunting, they don’t want their kids to leave the Christian faith just because they didn’t get good answers to how prayer works or whether dinosaurs were on Noah’s ark.
Honest Answers: Exploring God Questions with Your Tween by Janelle Alberts and Ingrid Faro is designed to help parents tackle the God questions that make them sweat. The authors know that when tweens start asking questions, they’re already old enough to understand the answers. Alberts and Faro are determined to equip parents with the language, theology, permission, and confidence to join in the discussion—and to learn how to offer deeply doctrinal answers in a way that connects with their children.
Q: Honest Answers is divided into four parts, addressing some of the biggest faith questions that come up. What are the four areas you tackle?
The Bible, including how it was put together, how history supports it, and the points of view of the writers.
Prayer is the next area. We talk about how to pray, how sometimes we don’t get the answers we are wanting, and sticking with God regardless.
The intersection of faith and science brings up a lot of questions for our kids. How do they handle situations that come up in school when what they learn there doesn’t line up with what they learn at church?
The church and its history—its past, present, and future.
Q: How is Honest Answers designed to be used?
Rather than a book for parents to read when questions arise or to give their children to read, it’s a discussion book.
Parents can tackle one or two small chapters a week for maybe twenty minutes at a time the family picks—maybe Sunday evenings before bed, for instance. “Parent primers” are for parents to read on their own, then the “honest answers Q&As” are a way to talk through that information with their kids. They can tell their kids, “Our family is planning to start something new—reading a few short questions and answers each week so we get to know some church stuff that we haven’t talked about before.”
The Q&As are an interactive, structured, no-stress way to review with your kids what you just read yourself. Parents can read the intro paragraph, then kids read the Q&As aloud, or everybody can take turns reading them.
Q: When it comes to answers, why can’t we just let the Bible speak for itself?
Actually, the Bible does speak for itself. In fact, Honest Answers highlights academics who do not even go to church, and yet, because of the clarity of Scripture, they defend the Bible as the source where the value of human dignity originated, and they defend the notion of “agape” love that comes from Jesus.
With that said, the Bible includes stories with slavery, killing, and “good” characters who turn out to behave deplorably as well as heroically. There are also “bad” characters whose lives sometimes transform incredibly, depending on the page. Plus, the Bible has ancient cultural subtleties that are not obvious to our kids (or most of us adults for that matter), which can tempt our kids to ignore whole parts of Scripture altogether.
As parents, we do not want our kids to do that. We’ve caught on to the cautionary tales from our ancestors of yore in which Bible stories or prayers became religious incantations when handled incorrectly.
To address that, our book helps parents engage in dialogue, or dialegomai. Dialegomai is a Greek word in the New Testament that means to discuss, dispute, or reason. It is what Paul did in Athens and refers to wrestling with and talking through who God is and what he’s all about. We want our kids to ask questions and talk about them openly and honestly, even when we don’t have good answers.
Q: What are the most important things to emphasize both about oral tradition and the oldest written manuscripts when it comes to the compilation of the Bible?
One thing we can tell our kids is that oral tradition is not the same as the game of telephone. Oral tradition was really, really strict. Assigned people were trained to pass down stories with crazy specificity. It was a way many cultures like Bedouins, Native American tribes, and African, Middle Eastern, and ancient Near Eastern tribes passed down their cultural stories. Preliterate people did and still do handle cultural stories through oral tradition.
We can also let our kids know that maintaining the details of an oral story is very different when we know the people, care about those people, and know that the circumstances are grounded in real-life situations.
As for the manuscripts themselves, we have more than ten thousand fragments to help verify the accuracy of the Bible. This is thousands more fragments than the most famous and well-documented ancient Near Eastern literature besides the Bible: the Iliad. We have fewer than two thousand fragments of the Iliad.
There are lots of other points of interest to discuss that we share in the book, but the essential goal is bringing a few talking points to our kids’ attention so they’re not afraid to dig in and learn more on the matter.
Q: Is it okay for kids to have friends that don’t believe the same things that they do, whether it be related to science or denominational differences? Is it acceptable to agree to disagree?
Even people who think a lot alike, attend the same church, or are in the same family will not agree about everything. The church body has hands and feet—different people who bring unique talents and considerations that our kids will benefit from. That said, our closest relationships affect how we think about important matters, so building a strong community calls for a thoughtful, purposeful approach. What we can tell our kids about that process is that we have reached a time in history in which we all come to conversations with such a fight face that discussions are shutting down.
Social scientists have begun investigating what drives that kind of polarization, and a word has emerged: disgust. More than being afraid of one another’s ideas, modern people are disgusted with those who disagree with us.
Our Scriptures and belief structures do not allow us to be disgusted with people, at least not in that way. Mad, sure. Disagree, yes. But our marching orders are that love motivates our way, not disgust. So the more we instruct our kids that simply getting and keeping their own bad attitudes in check will make them agents of change, without having to agree with everything others believe.
Conversation (dialogue) with people who think and believe differently than we do can also help us ask questions. And without questions, we don’t get answers. God is big enough to handle all our questions, and we should not be afraid of or avoid people who disagree with us or question us either.
Q: Is there one piece of encouragement you’d like to leave with parents of preteens?
We’d like to leave so much encouragement! But we’ll stick with this simple thought: possibility abounds.
Tween years are a vulnerable, confusing, unsteady time in our kids’ lives, and although that’s scary, it’s also a time that they are cracked wide open in their need for something that’s real and true. They are desperate for answers that do not trivialize their questions as “little” and that carry a gravitas weightier than their fear of having no one to sit with at lunch.
Trivial is where God starts to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff about himself with our kids. God showing himself in the little things is what shows our kids how to cling to God in the big things. And God is showing himself to our kids. God offers us a church body with endless possibilities of community and support, a Bible that is possibly the greatest material gift known to humankind, and prayer, which harnesses for our children the infinite possibility of utter unaloneness.
Janelle Alberts spent her early career in PR departments for Microsoft and UPS, boiling down logical, clear corporate messaging. She now attempts the same for parents who love Scripture, often featuring bits we’ve never heard but wish we had.
Alberts wrote her first faith column for the Akron Beacon Journal in 2010 and has since been a regular contributor to various online sites including Christianity Today’s Gifted for Leadership, RELEVANT magazine, and others. Honest Answers is her first book.
Alberts and her family make their home in Ohio.
Visit her on Facebook (@AuthorJanelleAlberts).
Ingrid Faro is dean of academic affairs and associate professor of Old Testament at Northern Seminary. She is also associate professor of Old Testament at the Scandinavian School of Theology in Sweden. She has an MDiv and PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Faro is an international speaker at conferences and churches and writes on topics that include navigating evil and suffering, abuse and power dynamics, women in the Bible, forgiveness, the goodness of God, identity in Christ, discipleship, and leadership. Her motivation is to encourage people, help them navigate the pain and sufferings of this world, and grow in thriving relationship with God and others. She is the coauthor of Honest Answers.
Faro has two married children and three grandchildren. She lives in Illinois.
Link for the book at Amazon: Honest Answers.