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?
The title of this post is not a typo.
The Book Club I joined with began in November, so I’m sticking with that as a name, even if it doesn’t quite fit anymore. Go with me on this, okay?
Have you ever had someone else complete your thought? Or maybe someone said the exact thing you had felt but never could articulate? Maybe someone was able to succinctly sum up a series of ideas you had? It is a bizarre feeling, to have the sense that someone tapped into your brainwaves and put them out into the world. When it happens, all at once I can feel elated, overwhelmed, dejected and as if I’ve found a like-minded friend.
- Elated because finally someone else said what needed to be said. How wonderful to feel like you’ve been heard.
- Overwhelmed because sometimes that person is able to take your thought to its logical conclusion or application and the implications require a paradigm shift I might not be ready to implement.
- Dejected because why couldn’t I communicate that complex thought so eloquently?
This has been a year of reading books by brave, creative people who have put into words the stirrings I’ve felt for many years, a discontent with simple answers and an unwillingness to engage with questions.
Peter Enns‘ Telling God’s Story is becoming one of those books.
Yes, I know that I’m only supposed to be writing about the second chapter (which is long overdue by any standard — I was supposed to be doing this through November and here we are in December!) but that doesn’t mean I haven’t read ahead a bit. Even though my reading took a hit in November, this is the one I’m ready to come back to. Like any good book, I’m finding it hard to put this down.
Chapter Two: What the Bible Actually Is (and Isn’t)
The chapter starts with an seemingly simplistic question: what is the Bible? This is followed by a series of other questions: what do we expect to happen when we read it? What is the Bible there for?
The author goes on to ask us to step back from that question which is most often applied to Bible reading: how does this apply to me?
Instead we are asked to look at the Bible with a different question in our minds:
“What do we have the right to expect from God’s word as a book written in an ancient world?”
Enns asks us to consider how Jesus’ existence as a human does not detract from his being the Son of God. He then goes on to assert that the Bible does exactly what God wanted it to do, even using expressions and ideas of the ancient world. The anchoring of the Bible in ancient times does not take away from the inerrancy of it, nor does it keep it from “doing exactly what God wants it to do.”
The Bible is Not an Owner’s Manual
In some ways it would be so easy if the Bible did spell out every little thing for us. Some people believe it does — seriously, there are a lot of people out there who have been taught that the Bible IS an owner’s manual and that on every single thing that we should do or not do, every attitude, every current issue, examples of applicable/transferable rules, attitudes, and lessons can be found.
I tend to lean this way, even though I know there are limits.
Enns suggests that “we need to learn the kinds of issues the Bible addresses so we can learn to ask the questions of the Bible that the Bible is meant to answer.” He then gives us the disappointing news that “what is not being addressed are specifically modern situations.” He says that when we read the New Testament in particular, we see “a portrait being painted for us of what a life in Christ looks like.”
We’re getting near the end of the chapter at this point and Enns uses a personal example to illustrate his statement that “…I want to introduce you to what I think is the single most important biblical concept for living a Christian life, not only today, but during any era: wisdom.” Because the Bible doesn’t say specifically DON’T EVER GO TO ANY R-RATED MOVIES Enns must use wisdom when parenting his son and when deciding what to say when his son asks if he can watch the movie Saving Private Ryan. His answer must be based on wisdom; wisdom from knowing his son, knowing about the movie, knowing Biblical admonishments and exhortations, and wisdom from learning to trust the Holy Spirit’s voice.
This is the paragraph that stood out to me most from the chapter:
…if we learn to hear what the Spirit is saying through these ancient yet transcendent writings, we will see that the Bible is much more than we bargained for. The Bible is not a book primarily devoted to what we should do. Instead it is devoted to telling us who we are and how our behaviors should reflect that reality.
Rather than just having a religion or a faith-by-rote, isn’t it true that we all wish to have a faith that is an identity? I’d want my family to live out our faith in actions, attitudes and self-worth even if we can’t name all the books of the Bible in order.
Some people get so hampered by wanting to do exactly the letter of the law of what they think the Bible spells out that they forget the spirit of the law, the reason guidelines exist and what they were originally put there to accomplish. The result from this is often a rigid, fear based faith that is spindly and brittle. I believe God has something more for us, something much more robust, verdant and lush, filled with joy and courage. I think that’s where Enns is headed in this book, and I’m excited to see where he takes us.
Do you expect to find every answer to every question you have in the Bible? Do you think it is dangerous to consider the idea that every answer might not be there? What expectations do you have of the Bible?
Today’s post is a lazy (or pragmatic) woman’s attempt to kill two birds with one stone. Lisa-jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday has become part of the rhythm around here, and I’ve enjoyed the community involved there. This month I’m also participating in an online book club organized by Abi Bechtel. We’re reading Telling God’s Story by Peter Enns. Therefore, today’s post is based on the word prompt “Truth” and the first thing that came to mind was informed by book club, so I’m hybridizing the two.
Set the timer to five minutes.
Two nights ago my son asked me about heaven.
He asked if it was really gold.
He said he used to feel scared of it, but now he feels better because he read in a kids booklet that there’s no crying or sickness there. This was a relief.
Then he did it. He asked what happens to the people who don’t have Jesus in their heart when they die. Do they go to heaven?
I want to be truthful, but I want to give him security. How can I do both when I feel like there is such a broad cannon of interpretation within Christendom? How can I tell him the questions in my own heart about the strict interpretation I was trained to accept? How do I tell him what is true?
The words of a former professor, Greg Boyd, popped into my head. I studied with him while at Bethel for more than one class, but his World Religions class was the scene of this truth bomb. I have come back to it again and again.
He said something similar to this, but this is not an exact quote…
Imagine you are a beggar with a loaf of bread. Another beggar comes to you holding a loaf of bread. It is moldy and dry. The beggar is breaking off bits and eating them. You say to him, “That bread may make you sick. It may not. But I can tell you for sure that the bread I have is good. It is life giving and you will not get sick from it.” And you share your bread with the man.
It goes along with the concept of there being a wideness in God’s mercy, which I love.
So what did I tell my son?
I told him that many many people who love the Lord have studied the Bible for years and years. These people have come up with different ideas about what it says. I gave him a couple short examples of what I meant.
I told him it is up to God to decide about who hangs out in heaven with Him, and He wants everyone, but that the simplest, most straightforward, reading exactly what the Bible says, is by asking Jesus into your heart…which he’s already done.
It’s not a fantastic answer.
Is it true?
Yes, sort of.
See what I mean?
Sorry if this was hard to follow today. It was hard to corral my thoughts into a linear, succinct form.
May I ask how you interpret some of the hard, fast rules of entrance into the pearly gates? If you are a person of faith, how has your understanding changed from when you were a child? How do you handle the Big Questions of faith with your kids?
Most of my life has been punctuated by Sunday School.
There were the many years when I participated in it.
There were the years when I was the teacher.
Now there are these years when my children go each week.
And it never really occurred to me to ask “why” about Sunday School until recently.
My dad, a retired ordained minister in the Covenant church, made the comment recently that Sunday School is a modern creation born of a desire to provide a place for children to learn to read since they were working every other day of the week. (Here’s a link to get the short version of Sunday School’s development: http://bit.ly/17uv3sB)
As someone who has grown up in the church, worked in various youth programs, and been responsible to create curriculum for those programs, I know that the regular idea is to make lessons that show God’s acitivity in the world, and use the scriptures to teach character lessons.
I wonder if I was coming at it all wrong.
In my conversation with my dad, it came up that you really don’t want to use a lot of “Bible Heroes” as such because they were a mess. Lessons ought to focus on how many mistakes these people made and yet God was able to accomplish great things through them, because He is great.
Instead, we usually focus (for example) on how David was “a man after God’s own heart” and gloss over his adultery and scheming, including arranging to have his competition sent to the front lines in order to get him killed.
Dude was sketchy at best.
Here’s another example. At our church a few months ago they wanted to teach about friendship so for some reason they chose the story of Job. If you’re familiar with the story, Job goes through some really hard trials. His friends hang with him for a while, but then they basically tell him to throw in the towel.
The lesson taught only focused on the first part of the story, and happily the teacher chose not to include the detail that God allowed Satan access to Job. My first and third graders were not ready to deal with that information. It was a poorly planned lesson that pick and chose details for their illustration of the point the creators were going for, regardless of whether that was the point of the actual Bible story.
All of this is to say that there might be a better way to go about teaching our kids about the Bible.
In the month of November I’m going to participate in an online book club. The book we’re going to read is Peter Enn’s Telling God’s Story (http://bit.ly/1coKmHn). I haven’t read any his books before, but it sounds like this book has a different take on teaching the Bible to kids.
The premise of Telling God’s Story is that for 1-4th graders the focus should be on learning all about Jesus, then 5-8th graders focus on the overall narrative of Israel, and high schoolers focus on the Bible’s historical context. I’m really interested in exploring a new approach to valuing the Bible and teaching it in a way that honors it.
I’ll be blogging about book club, and the fabulous woman hosting it is Abi. She’s a riot and is on a really interesting journey that I resonate with in many ways. If you’re interested in reading along with us via her blog, you can find it here: http://bit.ly/1aQVwOB It would be fun to do this together!
What are your memories of Sunday School? Was there a point when you started having friends there, rather than just merely sitting next to other kids? What’s your view of Sunday School now?