Thursday, March 20, 2008

resources for teaching children (1): systematic theology for kids

I think we often underestimate children.

We feed them Bible stories with the uncomfortable bits taken out (the flood minus God's judgement), tell them pretty stories about the donkey in the stable (and completely miss the point of the Christmas story), and avoid big theological concepts because they're too difficult or disturbing (atonement, hell, incarnation, sovereignty).

If you read my blog you'll be aware of one reason I think children are capable of more: my son Thomas, who at 4 years old asks questions like "Does forever mean it never stops?" "If God is everywhere is he right here?" "Can God do everything at the same time?" and "Where was I before God made me in Mummy's tummy?".

Despite the parent's tendency to find genius in their children, I don't think he's particularly unusual.

I am incredibly grateful that my parents read even the hard parts of the Bible to my brother and me, and talked freely about grace, judgement and God's sovereignty. As a result, these concepts always seemed natural to me. Even when, as a young adult, I toyed with abandoning convictions like predestination, they were there to welcome me back when I learned them for myself from the Bible, fitting like a second skin.

So Steve and I don't just read children's Bibles to our kids, we also read them books of systematic theology. No, I don't mean John Calvin, I mean age-appropriate books.

Our favourite is Leading little ones to God, which we're reading during our weekly family Bible times at the moment. It includes 86 devotions on everything from God's attributes to repentance and faith. It's still as reliable and engaging as when my parents read it to me, and our whole family enjoys it.

Someone awesome is a beautifully written and illustrated book which not only teaches, but inspires awe and praise. It answers questions like "Can I see God?", "Why doesn't God talk to me out loud?" and "Why did God make us? Was he lonely?". It's led to some great family discussions and prayers. (Skip the page on the end times, or better still, discuss it with your kids!)

We'd like to try Training hearts, training minds, a series of family devotions based on the Shorter Catechism, and teach our kids some of the catechism as well as Bible verses. My Christian life has echoed to the refrain of the first answer I learned as a child: "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever."

We also want to read Bruce Ware's Big Truths for Young Hearts to our children when they're a bit older. This is on my shelf, and it's a fantastic resource for teaching theology to pre-teens and teens, with short chapters and questions for discussion on topics from creation to predestination and the Trinity. What a find!

Someone also gave us a little gem of a book for preschoolers called My God is so big. I dug it out of our shelves yesterday and I'll be reading it to Thomas soon. Perhaps it will help answer some of those wonderful questions he's been asking.

Children have big questions, and they need big answers. Let's not sell them short!

Any other suggestions are welcome - just add a comment.

Expect a follow-up post about teaching theology in Sunday School: I want to tell you about some excellent material I've come across, and some I'm working on.

And I want to reflect further on, and share some resources for, teaching kids Biblical theology, Bible stories, Christian biography, and ... well, you'll have to wait and see!


mattnbec said...

Hi Jean,

Any thoughts on what the age ranges are for these books? You mention pre-schoolers for the last one, but any thoughts on the others? If you were only buying one, which would you suggest (even if only as a starting point)?


Jean said...

Defininitely "Leading little ones to God". We read it to all our kids as a family. Certainly you could read to ages 4-10.

The same age range would apply to the "Awesome" book. An older child (6-9) could read this to themselves with pleasure.

Don't know about the catchism one - we're still working through "Leading little ones". My guess is, again, you could use it with a range of ages during family teaching time.

There are lots of simplified catchisms and teaching books for young children, I'm not familiar with all of them, obviously!!

There are very helpful lists for younger children at Girltalk, and Desiring God - I'll check out where if I get a chance, and post the links.

mattnbec said...

My Mother-in-law has mentioned that 'Leading Little Ones to God' was one they used with my husband and his two siblings too!



JW said...

I'm not sure if you're still reading this. However, since it is now 5 years later and your children are older, I thought you might now have suggestions for theology for middle school kids.

If so, would you mind suggesting some here?