What do you say to your adult daughter if she tells you she’s not convinced of God or that she’s at least not on good terms with God?
Pastor-theologian Michael Jinkins, in his new book Called to Be Human: Letters to My Children on Living a Christian Life
,writes simple theological letters to his daughter (Jessica) and son (Jeremy) about their particular issues: Jessica faces doubts about God and the gospel and the church and Jeremy faces discernment issues about vocation.
Think though about a general question: What would you tell your daughter (or son) if either of them expressed probing doubts about their faith? (We’ll deal with Jinkins’ responses to his son in another post.)
There’s an issue here that complicates everything: private letters made public, especially when they are written in order to publish, cross boundaries. In some senses, your child’s nursing of doubts deserves to be private. But once they are made public, the relationship gets complicated. Why? Because now readers can question the judgment and wisdom a father passes on to the adult child. I know I found myself saying things like this: “Well, I’d say something else.” Or, “I’d sure say that differently.” Or, “Why not approach this whole issue from a different angle?” And letters to one’s daughter and son are very personal and we can’t know the daughter or the son well enough to say “that’s what I’d say to that specific person too.” Anyway, Jinkins published the letters and I a a reader — and critic.
Jinkins’ approach, which draws on Bible and all sorts of traditions, envisions Christianity as forming true humanity, but he’s not reducing God to humanity but instead enriching humanity into only fully human as we live in faith before God. Jenkins is a theologian and administrator at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and he prefers the view that the Christian faith is faith vs. knowledge.
For his daughter, his wisdom moves along these fronts: all relationships seemingly get thin or stormy and that the longing is important. “Longing for the longing for God is not far from longing for God” (14). Faith involves fussing, feuding and fuming with God. And “Church is the place youi go not because you have the faith to be there, but because you trust someone else has the faith you need” (16). He also reminds her of her baptism. And he knows God has faith in her. And he knows she’s not motivated at all by what comes after death … these are the sorts of issues raised in this probing, vulnerable, sometimes rambling, theological set of letters to children.
“I am proud of you because I love you,” he tells her in one letter.