Yes yes, I do realize that it is the end of DECEMBER and here I am working on a book club from November. That’s just the way things go sometimes, right? If I should retitle this “December Book Club” that would only work for like a few more hours, so that’s a dead end.
Peter Enn’s book, Telling God’s Story: A Parents’ Guide to Teaching the Bible, is what we’re working through and chapter three is when the author starts giving specifics about what to teach to whom and when.
In most Sunday School settings, there are lots of lessons about Old Testament characters, in addition to stories about Jesus. Enns argues that “the proper foundation is now what it has been since the first Christmas: Jesus.” He makes the point that “the Bible as a whole is going somewhere, and that “somewhere” is actually a “someone”.”
Before you think Enns is suggesting that we focus only on the New Testament, as was done to the exclusion of the Old Testament in church circles for many years, he is making the case that for our youngest children, we begin with and focus on the person of Jesus. He says “the apostles didn’t start with the background stuff. They got right to the point and talked about Jesus.” As children get older and more mature, then it is time to address the Old Testament and larger context of the New Testament.
This resonates for me because of my years as a volunteer in various churches’ children’s and youth ministries, as well as my time developing curriculum and leading children’s and junior high/senior high ministry. Kids in the earliest grades see things in black and white, and understand concrete ideas most readily. This changes as they get older, but in terms of the focus for grade 1-5, Enns stresses the validity of building a foundation of Jesus and worrying about Old Testament historical context yada yada as children get older.
One thing that makes me bristle is the focus on depravity in children in evangelical circles. We are so concerned that children “come to Jesus” that we sometimes resort to scare tactics rather than focusing on the freedom, direction, purpose and fulfillment Christ brings while here on earth. The focus is so heavily weighed towards the hereafter that it’s no wonder why people tend towards “fire insurance” (a terribly crude term) and a once-and-done mentality rather than seeing how a commitment to following Jesus plays out in our every day decisions. That’s probably why I love this line so much:
What should not be emphasized is the child’s miserable state of sin and need for a savior. …We must remember that our children’s salvation is not our work, it is the work of the Spirit. …To introduce children to the wrath of God right at the beginning of their lives, without the requisite biblical foundation and before the years of emotional maturity, can actually distort their view of God.
That’s not to say that even within the life of Jesus there aren’t many intense, adult-rated moments. Using common sense, it should be obvious that age-appropriateness is of the upmost importance. However, in my experience, common sense and age-appropriate sensitivity isn’t always used when approaching the Bible. People often fear they’ll be “watering down the Word of God” by leaving out certain parts or focusing on some things over others (although I wonder if they’d be so cavalier with the things in Bible of a sexual nature). People think they should start with Genesis and work their way through the Bible, book by book. Have you ever tried doing that? Let’s just say that most folks find their eyes glazing over by the time they get a chapter or two into the books of the law.
Enns takes a logical approach that considers child development and the overarching movement of the Bible narrative. It is the person of Jesus that draws people, it is the stories of how He treated children, how He related to women, how He reached out to outcasts and misfits — these are the stories that draw us to Him. By letting the life of Jesus speak for itself, and by studying the impact He had on the lives of the Apostles, we set a solid foundation on which they can delve into the depths of the Old Testament, historical background and prophetic fulfillment of Jesus’ life.
This chapter has two more sections, one that deals with middle grades and one that deals with high school ages. I think these areas need their own review, so I’m going to lump them together into a future post.
What is your take on this different way of teaching the Bible to our youngest children? Does it seem like a good approach to you? What objections do you have to it?