There is no substitute for the Word of God; let’s read, teach, and explain the Bible to the children of our churches with joy . . . and with no apologies! But, let’s also intentionally teach, train, and shape our children to think in theological categories along the way. It will be life-giving for them, and for us as well.
The Importance of Biblical Literacy
There is no substitute for parents and church leaders presenting the clear, simple, powerful Word of God to the children in their midst. We need to be reading the Bible to the children in our families and church congregations. We need to be teaching the Bible to the children in our families and church congregations. The children in our midst must become acquainted and conversant with the Bible during their early years; we must ensure that, as much as it depends on us!
However, a focus on reading and teaching Scripture to children does not—and must not—mean that we fail to do our best to educate them theologically as well. And, yes, by theologically, I do mean through the use of the discipline of systematic theology—beginning in its simplest forms (historic catechisms and creeds) and growing more and more substantial and complex.
Kids in our churches, from the earliest of ages, need to begin thinking in theological categories about God, themselves, and the world around them. Here are a few reasons why:
- The theological education of our children gives them mental “hangers” on which to organize the truths, teachings, and stories that they are learning from the Bible.
We all need help with mental organization as we learn; that’s one reason why it’s helpful for expository sermons to have separate “points,” even if those points aren’t specifically noted by the biblical author in the passage itself!
As a child learns even the first few stories of the Old Testament (the Fall, Cain and Abel, the Tower of Babel), it is extremely helpful to make use of a short catechism to teach them a simple definition for “sin”—a theological category that certainly shows up in each of those stories, albeit with different manifestations each time.
- The theological education of our children begins to acquaint them with a particular theological tradition.
I pastor a PCA church, so for us, this means beginning to acquaint our children with the Westminster Confession of Faith and the broader Reformed tradition. I’ll be the first to admit that no denomination is perfect! But, there is a value in going deep in one particular theological tradition, and appreciating the historical development of theological thought throughout the ages.
From an early age, children can have an understanding of being linked to church history and the generations that have gone before—to those who have spoken the same words together about God, humanity, sin, redemption, heaven, and hell.
- The theological education of our children is an intentional shaping of their thoughts about God, which will be unintentionally shaped otherwise.