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?
I have an energetic, adorable young friend. Let’s call him Crash. Crash has had a number of thrills and spills, many of which have landed him in the emergency room. He is six and a half years old and has already broken both arms and each of his legs. He’s crazy like that. Actually, he’s not crazy — he’s just an active boy who happens to fall in very unfortunate ways. One of his falls was particularly dramatic. He was staying at his grandparents farm for the weekend. Mom and Dad were away. There was a rock pile that just screamed his name, and he had to climb. It was marvelous fun…until he descended and the boulder descended quickly after. It fell on him and crushed his foot. It could have been so bad. It could have done long-lasting, serious damage. It could have required reconstructive surgery on his ankle. In the worst case scenario, it could have been fatal. So although Crash had to wear a cast on his leg for most of the summer, his parents felt blessed. It was the way they communicated that blessing and awareness of God’s protection to Crash that impressed me. They taught Crash the concept of an “Ebenezer” from the Bible. In the Old Testament, people would pile up some rocks as a makeshift monument to God after a milestone experience. Then later, when people saw the pile of stones, it would call to mind God’s faithfulness in difficulty. An Ebenezer served as a testimony to the people who experienced the event that demonstrated God’s faithfulness, and those who heard about the event. My friends rejoice in the scar on Crash’s foot because it is in the perfect place. A little further up, he would have had serious damage to his ankle, which has a difficult and long recovery time. A little further down and his toes would have been jeopardized. The boulder fell on a soft spot of Crash’s foot, the perfect spot for a boulder to fall. They physically brought the boulder back from the grandparents house and placed it in their yard, calling to mind the protection Crash had from further injury. Crash can even articulate how God was watching over him and points to his ability to jump on one foot (the foot that was squashed) as proof of God’s goodness. ******
This really got me to thinking. How often do we hide our emotional scars and see them as a sign of weakness, rather than celebrating the healing, recovery and humility they produced? Instead of showing off our scars and testifying to God’s power, we hide them as a source of shame. We messed up, we miscalculated, we didn’t think before acting, and something unwanted happened. We could be upfront with this, but usually our instinct is to conceal our screw ups. Somehow we think people have an image of us as infallible. We think will disappoint them if we even admit we are capable of mistakes; imagine how bad it would be if something actually happened. But if we are honest about our shortcomings, we discover that, like scar tissue, we are stronger in that area than we were before, more aware of the dangers or the growth we need. And our relationships are stronger and deeper because they are based on mutual honesty and understanding. [Brene Brown has a lot to say about this (http://www.brenebrown.com), and she’s written books and traveled the country talking about shame and vulnerability. I highly recommend learning more about her.] Too often Church is a beauty pageant, with people prettying themselves up before they arrive, hiding their hurts behind a smile and a handshake. Do we think we will let others down if we admit we are the sinners Christ came to redeem? Isn’t that supposed to be common knowledge? As we continue down the path with Jesus, we get a few things sorted out, but we are still human and still fallible. Sometimes we start to think we’re not. Maybe we even start to become more like the Pharisees from Jesus’ day, the ones who thought they had it all figured out and were quick to point out other people’s shortcomings. We must fight this, no matter how secure we feel in our faith and relationship with Jesus. Because as much as we want to deny it, we are still in need of further transformation. We can always become more fully liberated to be the best version of ourselves. When we get cocky and condescending, it is a hiccup in this process, whether we are aware of it or not. No matter how much we think we’ve got it figured out, there is always more growth we can do. Do you have scars you could celebrate rather than hide? What do you communicate to others about their mistakes? What relationships can you trust to make more authentic and how?
I’m loving these Five Minute Fridays. Each week, Lisa-Jo Baker (http://lisajobaker.com) chooses a word prompt and people write unedited for five minutes flat. The idea is for me to get out of my own way and just write without the burden of perfection. It’s been fun to meet other bloggers and see the different ways people go with the prompt. Anyone can be a part of the action, so maybe you want to try and link up sometime soon?
Five Minute Friday
One of my friends, a curly-haired henna head, is a gifted artist and performer. She says and does things that other people would never dream of doing. For her, it is no big deal to get in front of people and say outrageous things that are both hilarious and inappropriate (maybe that’s why they are so funny?).
Another friend is quiet and reserved. She serves behind the scenes and avoids any extra attention. She’s thoughtful and considerate.
What might send my one friend thrills of excitement would send my other friend to the bathroom with dry heaves.
Here is a good general principle I’ve found: what is a brave step for one person is easily accomplished before breakfast for someone else. Courage comes when you push past fear to do the thing that scares you.
Putting the pen to paper may be a huge step of bravery for one person.
Saying aloud the question they’ve had in their minds may be that step for someone else.
Just opening a search for a new job may be a huge act of faith, regardless of whether an interview is ever secured.
For me, today, my act of bravery is to say aloud that as a Christian, I do not have all the answers. I’m starting to think that the Bible might not have something literal to say about every single aspect of the nuances of modern life.
I do not feel comfortable with the representation the loudest voices are making on my behalf.
I’m tired of hearing about “speaking the truth in love” to people with whom there is no relationship, which would give the slightest responsibility to speak that truth.
I’m tired of the Church being a force of marginalization, polarization and alienation.
I want to be a source of absurd grace, which I truly see in the example of Jesus. So why does it feel like an act of bravery to say that out loud? Maybe it is because the Church only lets grace apply to certain areas of life and not others. Maybe there is an unspoken understanding that there really is a hierarchy of sins, and that some acts are worse than others. So your act of homosexuality, abortion or being a female leader takes up more of the apparently exhaustible bounty of Christ’s grace than my selfishness, envy or gossip. Don’t bogart the grace, man. Is that really what we believe? Cause that’s what it looks like. God’s love is not a limited commodity.
Whew. Well, that came out of nowhere! Thanks for letting me share from the heart. Apparently this is what happens when I silence my inner editor/censor. Putting this out into the world really does scare me, but I am being brave today, hoping we can start a respectful conversation.
What is your reaction to this post? Do you have opinions or feelings about “absurd grace” or the idea of a hierarchy of sins? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. And as always, thanks for reading!