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Start Young To Teach Discernment


Brett Kunkle, co-author—along with the Colson Center’s John Stonestreet—of a new book entitled, “A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World” discusses the new book, which seeks to help young people successfully navigate today’s complex culture while staying focused on those thing that are truly important and that have an eternal significance.

Brett Kunkle discusses young people in today's culture

Family Policy Matters
Transcript: Start Young To Teach Discernment

JOHN RUSTIN: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Today we continue with part two of our discussion with Brett Kunkle about his new book, A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, which he co-wrote with John Stonestreet of the Colson Center. This book explores our current culture and how parents, teachers, and anyone who works with youth can help them successfully navigate today’s culture, while staying focused on those things that are truly important and have an eternal significance. Brett Kunkle, welcome back to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you on the show again.

BRETT KUNKLE: Hey, I love talking about these things, so it is a privilege to be on Family Policy Matters.

JOHN RUSTIN: Thanks Brett. One area that can often be a challenge for, not only young people but also adults, is that of technology. You dedicate an entire chapter of the book, A Practical Guide to Culture, on technology. And one thing that struck me was the fact that many young people today have never known a quiet world. In other words, they are often unfamiliar and uncomfortable with just simply being silent. Why did you point that out? Why do you think that is significant?

BRETT KUNKLE: At the beginning of the book, we use an analogy: I live in Southern California. I’m a surfer and when I go out to my local surf break, I have to navigate the waves. But I also have to be aware of what’s going on underneath the surface. There are powerful rip currents that can drag you out and can pull you into dangerous places. And so, I have to worry about the undercurrents that are not as easily detectable, and sometimes you’re not even aware of them until it’s too late and you find yourself in trouble. And so I think technology’s a kind of thing that we really have to be careful of. It’s one of these undercurrents that’s not quite as visible. I’ll give you an example: I was recently with my four kids who are still at home. I took them out for frozen yogurt at a local place and we were sitting there enjoying our yogurt together and there was a mom and daughter who walked in after us. They had gotten their yogurt and they went and sat down right next to us. And as soon as they sat down, I noticed that the mom, in one hand she had the spoon for her frozen yogurt but then in the other hand she immediately pulled out her smartphone. And her daughter was probably five, six years old. And the entire time, mom was looking at the smart phone and the daughter was kind of looking at mom, looking around, eating her frozen yogurt, but they were absolutely silent. There was not a single word exchanged between. There’s a book by Sherry Turkle called, Alone Together, where she addresses this issue of technology. I thought that scene in that little yogurt store captured a mom and a daughter who were alone together.

JOHN RUSTIN: Brett, what are some of those other undercurrents, in addition to technology, that we need to be aware of and keep an eye on?

BRETT KUNKLE: Information is one of them. We live in an information age. A second one we talked about is identity, what it means to be human, particularly in a post-Christian culture. We talk about technology and then we also talk about the perpetual adolescence: how the goal is not to grow up. Let’s take information, for instance: If you think about the world the kids are growing up in today, they will encounter more information— often daily—than someone living just a few centuries ago would have encountered during the entire course of their life. They have all this information—access to information—at their fingertips. So what we want to understand is that information is constantly communicating. It’s communicating ideas about how we’re to think, how we are to live. And ideas, of course, are not merely confined to some theoretical realm. Ultimately the ideas have consequences for all of life, and ideas have victims. So in this age, where we have all this access to information, what we find with young people is that access to information has replaced the pursuit of wisdom, knowing how to live wisely, how to discern. So if our kids, and us, haven’t developed a sense of discernment, haven’t developed a wisdom, then all this information at their fingertips and at our fingertips, could be very harmful, because we don’t know how to live life well with wisdom. We’ve got all this information, we don’t know how to sort it out, we don’t know what information is wise, what information is false. We will have a difficult time distinguishing between what’s really an authoritative source and what isn’t because there’s just so much information. You have all of these different sources. Kids are thinking, “Well, who do I trust?” Because they’re just inundated with information. Often the inability to discern truth from error amongst all these sources leaves a lot of them to be skeptical and cynical about truth itself. So we’ve got to help our kids develop discernment.

JOHN RUSTIN: Brett, how can parents practically position themselves as a trusted source of knowledge and information for their children?

BRETT KUNKLE: I think this starts off really young. The earlier we start with our kids the better. You don’t want to wait ‘til they’re in junior high and high school to start teaching them the Christian worldview. This starts as soon as they can speak. This starts at two and three and four years of age. And if I were to lay out a model for parents…—it’s a model I’ve used in my own home with my kids, it’s a model I used when I was a youth pastor, I think it’s something that Christian educators can use. But as I thought carefully about education, I came across classical education, which extends back to the classical Greeks and Romans. It’s formalized by the church in the Medieval ages. The key part of the classical education is called the Trivium—and of course everyone in classical education doesn’t agree on all the details—but the Trivium is a major part. It looks at the human mind of young people. It says look, there’s this three-stage process of training the mind well. And the first stage is what’s called the grammar stage. And the grammar stage—it’s not that you’re just teaching grammar—but at the grammar stage, you’re laying a foundation of learning. So yes, kids are learning grammar, they’re learning language, but they’re also learning the facts of life. You’re dumping into them truth. You’re laying a foundation of truth for them. And if you think about it, young kids have a natural love of learning, this wonder at the world, they’re always asking questions, and you capitalize on that and you lay this foundation of truth. So you’re teaching them, really, the “What.” When a kid gets into fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth grade, the mind develops. They begin to think abstractly. They start asking a lot more of the “Why.” And this is what classical education calls the “Logic” stage. And so at the logic stage, you don’t want to just give them the “What,” but now you want to tell them the “Why.” You want to help them learn how to think for themselves. Okay, we’ve got all these facts, how do I reason through all this data and this information? And you really teach them the “Why.” And then the third stage in classical education is what’s called the “Rhetoric” stage. And the Rhetoric stage is just teaching them how to articulate. Okay, you take the facts, you put them together with good thinking and sound reasoning, and now you articulate the truth. You speak it. This is where debate and writing papers is so valuable, because you’re forcing kids to articulate this. And I think, that just gives us a really basic model for how we can train up our kids. At those young stages, we are teaching them the “What” and for us the “What” of the Christian worldview is simply theology. It’s who God is; it’s what He’s done; it’s His attributes and character. This is where we’re reading to them a lot, giving them a lot of scripture, using children’s illustrated bibles, all these kinds of things where we’re teaching them “What.” And we can do that through reading. We can do that through singing, singing is a great way to get young kids to learn scripture, to learn theology. We also can do this through memorization. Then you get into the junior high stage, you’ve got to tell them why do we believe this? Why is this stuff true? This is where apologetics and worldviews is so important. And then by the time they’re in high school, we get to that Rhetoric stage. We teach them the how-to. This is where we have to get stuff out from behind the four walls of the church and figure out how do we get the kids to interact. This is why mission trips are so good. This is why helping them to engage in evangelism is so good. This is where they should be thinking about how do I reach my friends on campus and share Christ with my friends at school. This where they’re now ready to articulate: “Hey, this stuff is true and Jesus is true” and all that good stuff.

JOHN RUSTIN: It’s building on a strong foundation and then adding those component pieces as you’ve talked about, as they become age-appropriate and opportunities present themselves. I know that maybe some young parents who are listening to the program today may feel a little overwhelmed and think that the challenges are great, especially considering all that’s going on in our culture today. But there really is a message of hope that is woven throughout this book, Brett. Talk about that and just encourage our listeners.

BRETT KUNKLE: As we did the research for this book, there were times when you’re diving into a lot of the bad stuff. Part three [of the book] is the pounding cultural waves. So we’re looking at things like pornography, sexual orientation, gender identity, drug abuse, these really heavy subjects. And I have to say, at times, you look at some of the data out there, you look at the reality and it can be discouraging. And there’s a temptation for us to despair as followers of Christ, especially when we’re tasked with raising up the next generation in this kind of context. But of course, we’ve got to remember that despair is not a good strategy. Despair will not get us anywhere. For the follower of Jesus Christ, we have to look beyond the current cultural moment and we have to look to the larger story, and that is the Christian worldview, that’s the Christian story that is unfolding. You know what, the church was in a moment 500 years ago, and the church was in a moment 2,000 years ago. In fact, when we really look at things, the church has been in much more difficult moments. And so to put that in perspective, God’s story is playing out and we know how this story ends. And we know that 2,000 years ago, Jesus rose bodily from the grave and there is no cultural issue, there’s no unjust law, there’s no bad leader who is going to put Jesus back in the grave. That is where our hope is at. And so what we did in the chapters in part three, is we wanted to end each one of those chapters with a story. We called this section “Hope Casting,” where we wanted to say, Look, yeh, things are difficult, things are challenging, and we’ve got things that we need to do. But look, here’s a story of hope, here are young people who actually care and God is using them on college campuses. Here’s a testimony of a former musician, Brian Headwell, who is part of a metal band called Korn, and he tells his story of being a full-on addict, and then he found Christ and Christ rescued him from a life of destruction and despair. And those are the kind of stories that we end with, because we want to emphasize that even though we have challenges, the power of Christ—it’s the same power that rose Jesus from the dead—is available to you and to me. We’re indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit and we need to go back into the culture with hope that that power can overcome all the darkness that we see out there.

JOHN RUSTIN: Well Brett, that’s a great place for us to end our discussion today. We are out of time but before we leave, I want to l give you the opportunity to let our listeners know where they can go to get a copy of your excellent new book, A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World.

BRETT KUNKLE: They can go to any major book retailer, Amazon, Barnes & Noble,, and they can get A Practical Guide to Culture there.

JOHN RUSTIN: Great! I want to encourage our listeners to do that. I am sure that we have sparked a great interest in many of them, especially young parents and parents of young children out there, so please avail yourself of this great resource, A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World. And with that Brett Kunkle, I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters, and for sharing your valuable insights with us and our listeners.


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