Raising courageous kids

February 3, 2016

Several years ago, one of our children had developed a pattern of lying whenever he was caught doing something wrong. My wife, Judi, asked me, “What are we going to do about this?” I immediately retorted, “I’m going to ratchet up the discipline and put a stop to this!” Then she said, “Sure, we have to discipline him for it, but what positive steps can we take to address it? I think he lies because he lacks courage. Why don’t we focus on positively training him toward courage and bravery?” After I had contemplated how much more perceptive her thoughts were than mine, I was struck that what she was saying made perfect sense. So we began a plan to teach and train him toward courage and bravery, and we saw quick results.

Judi’s thoughts were in line with what C.S. Lewis said about courage when he wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” You would think that books on parenting would be replete with helpful information on how to cultivate courage in your children. And for Christian parenting books that are at least 50 years old, that is true. But in recent Christian parenting books, raising courageous children is rarely mentioned. In fact, good manners, mild behavior, good grades, and above all safety, have become the preeminent contemporary parenting virtues.

“I would rather learn that you perished at sea than that you dishonored the missionary society you are going to serve,” are the words William Knibb’s mother shouted from the window as the twenty-one-year-old left his home in Kettering, England, and headed toward the port to board a ship for Jamaica. Knibb said the words of his mother instilled in him the courage to fiercely preach the gospel and fight the slave trade during his tenure in Jamaica as a missionary. As I read older biographies of men who left for war, those kinds of sentiments were almost commonplace. Mother’s would tell their sons, “I would rather you die with courage on the battlefield than for you to live as a coward.” Those kinds of words sound strange, irresponsible even, to modern ears where self-protecting safety is seen as the highest virtue.

In parenting seminars, I will often ask parents to estimate how often in a year they tell their children to be careful and safe. Once they settle on an estimated number in their mind, I ask them to also estimate how many times in a year they challenge their children to be courageous, brave, bold, or to take an action for the sake of someone else that might put them in harm’s way. The response is almost always the same; they tell their kids constantly to be careful and safe, and rarely ever tell them to be self-sacrificially courageous and brave. There are enormous deleterious consequences in raising a generation of people who believe that there is nothing more important than their personal comfort and safety.

Many parents are aghast by thought of teaching their children that there are times they should put themselves in harm’s way and consider it inherently reckless. The distinction between recklessness and courage is an easy one to make. Recklessness has no higher purpose than the danger itself, whereas courageousness is self-sacrificial for a higher, others-centered, good. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is acting on the premise that there is something more important than fear. Or as the great American theologian, John Wayne, put it, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway,” and I would add, saddling up for the self-sacrificial good of others.

Here are some simple suggestions for parents to help in raising courageous kids:

1. Start early

A toddler who hides behind a parent’s leg when someone speaks to them, or looks at the ground, may not simply be shy—it might be that they are selfish, lacking in others-centered courage and thinking more highly of themselves than they ought. As you discern this in your child, make it an issue—a discipline issue, if necessary. Train toward courage, and celebrate courageous actions, from the very beginning of child training.

2. You are not  special

Do not saddle your children with empty, yet feel-good, flattery about their inherent specialness. Teach them, that, yes, they are made in God’s image, but like you, they are ordinary, they have some strengths, and they have plenty of weaknesses as well. The real question is what they do with their strengths and weaknesses. Tell your children that inherent giftedness and intellect are overrated and overvalued. It is self-sacrificial courageous actions are truly special.

3. Courage is more important than your safety

Paul tells Timothy, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Simply put, if the gospel is true, a safety-first, safety-centric worldview is a lie. A world where nothing is worth suffering and dying for is a world in which it is difficult to discern what is worth living for. Teach your children that love itself is an aggressive act that is often costly and demands courage. Defending the defenseless, speaking truth in love, and helping those in need, will often put them in harm’s way.

4. Just fight theory

Though this might seem disagreeable to some, I tell my sons that I do not only believe in just war theory, I also believe in just fight theory. For instance, if one of my sons is walking down the street with his sister and a boy walks up and tells her, “You are ugly, and I hate you,” and my son punches him in the nose, I would never say, “Don’t you ever hit anyone again, and I mean ever.” He may have overreacted to the situation, but his instinct to defend his sister is a good and right one, and it is my job as a parent to clarify both the good and the bad. I teach my sons to turn the other cheek when it involves them, but if someone harms their sister or mother, they need to be God’s instrument to turn that person’s cheek.

5. Celebrate courage and bravery

Make courage and bravery a major part of your family vocabulary. Read about and talk about courageous people in history. When your child does something that demands courage, celebrate it with a special meal or treat. Train toward courage. If your child does not naturally talk to people, assign them to initiate a conversation with five people at church each week, and hold them accountable to do it. At the end of the week, ask each family member to share something they did that week that they did not want to do in their gut, but they did it anyway because it was right and helpful to someone else.

To live as if nothing is more important than personal safety is to live an empty, selfish, and ultimately dissatisfying life. That kind of entitlement mentality only leads to self-referential pride and discontentment. Jesus is our model and embodiment of true self-sacrificial courage. His meekness was not weakness, his humility was not moral feebleness, and his courage was costly. No one can be both safe and large-hearted.

We often complain about the selfish culture, while at the same time teaching our children that nothing is more important than them and their safety. As C.S. Lewis observed, “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of the virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are ashamed to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” We dream about our children leading noble and courageous lives, while we train them daily toward cowardice.

David E. Prince

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24