Don’t Water It Down
If theology is the way we articulate what we believe about God, then children are theologians.
BY AMY GANNETT
I’ve heard it from parents of all shapes and sizes and all walks of life. I’ve heard it from homeschool parents and public school parents. I’ve heard it from members of almost every Christian denomination. I’ve heard it from those who casually attend Sunday church services and those who direct entire church ministries.
The mantra goes like this: Theology should be left to the academics and pastors. It’s not something we laypersons can understand. We should really leave it to the pros.
You can imagine the surprise when I, in turn, share with them that I believe kids are theologians too.
Most of us would agree that teaching kids Bible stories is a good, Christian practice. But we may not all be convinced that theology is something we should be teaching our children. Does it seem like something that should be left to the hard-core Christians? Does it seem, in a way, like harsh indoctrination?
I’ve heard these questions before, and I’ve asked them myself too. But if theology is simply the way we articulate what we believe about God, then we have to admit that children are theologians. Just like you and me, they have a concept about God. Kids pick up ideas and ideals about who God is from their surrounding culture, teachers, bus drivers, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, Sunday School teachers, and many others.
A quick test will prove this point. Ask your children what they know about God and give them a minute to reflect. They’ll have something to say — and that something is their theology.
So, if our children already have a view about God, isn’t it a worthwhile investment to see if their theology aligns with His Word? Isn’t the call on our lives as parents to nurture their theology (their view of God) such that it robustly mirrors the God of the Bible?
Teaching children theology can be a daunting task. It’s one most of us don’t feel ready to tackle. Where would we even start? In my years of creating theological resources for children through Tiny Theologians, and in my latest endeavor to help adults connect the basics of theology to their everyday lives in Fix Your Eyes, I’ve learned two simple practices that make this high calling all the more accessible.
Arm Yourself with Theological Truths
I remember the first time I considered what it would look like to teach my daughter about Satan. Our pastor was preaching through the Book of Ephesians, and we came to that famous passage on spiritual warfare. At the time, we were doing family services, so I knew she would be sitting next to me, or on my lap, during the service. I wondered how her little ears would hear it. Though she was too young (12 months old) at the time to process the voice in the pulpit, I wondered if the concept would, in later years, strike her heart with fear? Would she wrestle with nightmares when she first learned this doctrine? And what would I tell her when her questions arose?
This is when I realized how easy it is to reach for theological untruths when we’re put on the spot. Especially when complicated topics arise, it’s easy to reach for comforting platitudes for our children, rather than teach them the complex theological realities outlined in Scripture. I’ve found it a helpful practice to develop a series of biblical truths that are rich in theological content but are simply stated in such a way that their hearts can grab them. So instead of my knee-jerk reaction to tell her that she doesn’t need to worry about the devil, or that the enemy isn’t interested in attacking our family, or — worse yet — comforting her by saying that the enemy isn’t real, I can remind her that there is no one more powerful than the Lord. I can tell her that God is always with her and that she can pray to God anytime, day or night.
I arm myself with these simply-stated truths, like an arsenal for when her questions arise. I have them at the ready so that I never have to wonder if I’m reaching for something untrue or comforting her with unsound theology.
Here are some of my favorite simply-stated truths to keep at the ready:
- God alone is all-powerful.
- God alone is all-present.
- God alone knows everything.
- You can’t keep secrets from God.
- God is always listening; He always hears your prayers.
- You were made by God’s design.
- God loves the way He made you.
- We need God’s help to do what is right.
- On our own, we can’t please God.
Use Theological Vocabulary
I love simplifying concepts for little hearts and minds. I really want to avoid watering down the rich truth of God’s Word when I tell kids about who He is. But sometimes this can push me into another error. It can make me think I have to avoid using theological language altogether when talking with children.
This simply isn’t true, and the countless studies on how much children can process at a young age continue to surprise me. I’ve found it incredibly fruitful to use theological language as the opportunities arise. Using words like trinity or triune,
or words like sovereignty and justice may seem like they will fly over the heads of our children. But you might be surprised, as I was, to find that if we take the time to explain those words the first time we use them with our children, just how much they remember the second time the word comes up. And you might even be surprised to find that they are the first ones to mention it next.
There’s one other benefit I’ve found in using theological vocabulary with kids, and it’s this: When we use biblical language, kids naturally grow more familiar with reading Scripture on their own. When the discipleship language that comes from the mouths of their parents and Sunday School teachers matches the language they find in the biblical text, the Bible doesn’t seem quite so foreign to them. It feels familiar. They recognize the language, and they will feel at home in its holy pages.
The unfortunate alternative is that when children first crack open the Scriptures for themselves, they find themselves bewildered and unsure of how to navigate the theological waters of the text. By using theological language and explaining it in a way they can understand as they grow up, they will likely grow into a more regular familiarity with the Bible itself, making the transition between in-home discipleship and adult self-propelled discipleship much more natural.
Teaching children theology can seem like a daunting task, but there is grace embedded in this call. God hasn’t placed a burden of teaching kids about Himself on our shoulders. He has simply invited us to partner with Him in the work He is already doing in little hearts and minds. It’s God who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will bring children into a saving knowledge of Himself, nurture their love for Him, and continually reveal Himself to them throughout their lives. We simply get to join in the work that He is doing. When we see it in this light, we can’t help but see what a blessing this calling is! Why would we dare not say yes to such a glorious invitation?
Amy Gannett, M.Div., is a speaker, writer, and Bible teacher. She is the author of several exegetical Bible studies. Amy is also the founder of Tiny Theologians, which offers training tools for parents and children’s ministries, equipping them to pass on the Christian faith to the next generation. You can find her online at amygannett.com, and on social media @amycategannett and @tinytheologians.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (August 2021). For more articles like this, subscribe to HomeLife.