Apologetics and the Down Side of Tradition

Mark Mittelberg: "Are we willing to step back and examine our inherited beliefs?"

alcohol and drug addictions

negative attitudes toward people of different religions or gender

poor and sometimes destructive communication patterns

tendencies toward overworking and under-resting

parental neglect of children

unhealthy eating and exercise habits

abusiveness between family members

We should respect our elders but also step back and make an honest assessment of their habits and lifestyles before we lock into their patterns of thinking. We need to candidly ask ourselves, “How did their beliefs and actions work out for them? Do I want to see similar results in my own life?”

If we’re to resist passing down through the generations what my friend Bill Hybels calls “a broken baton” of harmful habits, beliefs, and attitudes, then we’ll have to pause and consider our own lives very carefully—and probably make some challenging course corrections along the way.

Nowhere in our lives is a critical evaluation more needed than in the area of faith. Most of us grew up with some kind of inherited belief system, whether Christian or otherwise. If we’ve passively accepted what we’ve been taught as sort of a hand-me-down religion, then we have, knowingly or unknowingly, signed up for the Traditional faith path. It is the most common approach people use to “choose” their beliefs—though it’s usually not a choice at all.

One way or another, you were initiated, baptized, consigned, or commissioned into a particular set of religious beliefs (even if it’s the beliefs of atheism, which some practice quite religiously). Today you might wear the label of whatever group those beliefs represent, but if pressed, you couldn’t give a compelling reason for why you think you’re in the right faith. For you, it’s just a tradition—which might explain why you sometimes have felt halfhearted and noncommittal about your beliefs.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily make the faith you grew up with wrong or bad. In fact, chances are that at least some elements of what you’ve been raised to believe are helpful and true. But if you got your faith as a hand-me-down, then it’s sort of the luck of the draw. If you think about it, you’re just banking on the hope that somewhere back in your family history, somebody carefully examined the whole realm of questions about God, spirituality, and what is before coming to a conclusion about faith.

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But that’s a huge roll of the dice. Because these are the same people who were working sixty or eighty hours a week in order to get by; moving from place to place trying to find a better life; learning new cultures and maybe even a new language; and perhaps (going back to our earlier list) trying to overcome their inbred prejudices, struggling with various addictions, fighting with other family members or factions of society, and so forth. How much time and energy do you think they were able to carve out for serious reflection about spiritual realities?