Bad Theology Is Spreading among Kids like Wildfire!
By David Carl
Theology is a great word. Over the years, however, we have allowed it to become a word that’s only used by theologians who wear wool sweaters and socks that don’t match. We’ve come to believe that theology is something foreign and impractical like medieval poetry—fine for odd little men who work at a university, but the rest of us have reports to complete, clothes to wash, and jobs that leave us exhausted and numb at the end of the day. Therefore we feel that because we live in the “real world” we have other, more important things to grapple with than theology. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Theology is like oxygen—it’s all around us whether we think about it or not. It’s actually impossible not to have some sort of theology. What you think about God is your theology. You may be a Protestant, a practicing witch, or someone just “making it up as you go”—but you do have a theology. Even the staunchest atheist who believes that there is nothing spiritual to believe in has a theology.
In recent years, an “open-minded” school of thought has become prevalent, in which parents wait for their kids to grow up and then allow them to choose a religion for themselves. This concept assumes that these children will operate through their formative years without developing a theology, but this is impossible. This well-meaning, though misguided, method indeed teaches theology very loudly and decisively. Through it, parents teach their children that religion is of very little importance and that all religions are equally irrelevant. And bad theology passes from one generation to the next.
We don’t allow our kids to grow up and then tell us whether or not they want to eat vegetables, learn to read, or take childhood vaccinations. These things are too important! We might give kids the choice of which Happy Meal they want or which toy they would like for their birthdays, but for the truly important things in life, we choose for them. By doing so, we teach them exactly how important these things are.
As a third-grader watches the clouds go by, he’ll ponder the world around him. Unfortunately, most of the answers to life’s questions are out of reach for his young mind. On his own he won’t come up with the notion of photosynthesis, or gravity, or the aerodynamics that allow a bird to fly. Were the child to grapple with these things alone, he would come up with wrong answers. His answers might be creative, even clever, but they would be wrong. That’s why we send him to school. Most of the answers to life’s spiritual questions are also out of reach. “Why do people suffer?” “Why do others have more than me?” “Where did the world come from?” “What will happen when I die?” And I guarantee you a healthy, honest mind will, at one time or another, struggle with the question, “Why would an all-powerful God not answer my prayer?” If a child is left to grapple with these questions alone, he will come up with the wrong answers. They may be creative and clever, but they will be wrong. He may decide: God must not care about what I need. He must be busy with more important things. I must not have used the right words. I must not have gotten His attention. Maybe I need to do something especially good before He’ll give me what I want. Left without good, biblical instruction, the child will arrive at answers to these great questions which will likely result in his disappointment in and perhaps even anger at God. And more bad theology is formed—bad theology that is spreading like wildfire.
In his classic book, The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer tells us, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Our theology—good or bad—will steer our every thought and decision. If we listen to the worldview of the secular, mainstream media, we will conclude that if God exists at all, He’s either indifferent or He’s angry. Either is disastrous. If we believe, for the sake of discussion, that God’s chief characteristic is anger, any reasonable person will want only minimal contact with Him. We will want to stay off the heavenly radar screen until we really, really need help. But how do you convince an always angry God to actually render aid? We might, on occasion, need to perform a kindly act—like giving a five dollar bill to a homeless person. Because of this “selfless act” (actually rather selfish act), we might assume that God would be less angry with us and a bit more inclined to help when we’re in a fix. Sadly, this line of bad theology may be the predominant religious belief system in America today. If we allow our children to think wrongly about God, it will negatively affect the rest of their lives. Nothing is more important than good theology!
How, then, do we go about teaching our third-graders theology? Though not the only way, I believe storytelling is the most effective means. Jesus rarely taught without telling a story. The hard truth is that Christianity is complicated, and most of it is counter-intuitive. To be first, we must be last; to live, we must die. We must learn to resist natural impulses and foster supernatural impulses that we don’t even know we have yet. We won’t come up with this stuff on our own. Some of it is difficult, and much of it is mysterious.
Again, the best way to communicate the deep and the mysterious is through a well-crafted story. Jonah and the fish is an amazingly deep and rich story that you could study for years. Certainly it tells us about a stubborn and narrow-minded prophet, but more importantly, it tells us volumes about God. God wanted to save the wicked city of Nineveh. God cared enough about Jonah to send a storm to swallow him and a fish to save him. God then had the fish deliver Jonah to the very shores of Nineveh. Jonah repented, and the people of Nineveh repented, too. God forgave Jonah and the people of Nineveh—neither of whom deserved forgiveness. This is real insight into the loving, forgiving character of God, and as such, this story communicates really good theology.
We can tell our kids that God is not always angry and that He loves them deeply, but our words will likely bounce right off their armor. To get past their defenses, it’s better to tell them the Old Testament story of the Jews wandering through the desert. It’s difficult to hear this story and not grow angry with the nation of Israel as they are saved from Pharaoh’s army, eat miraculous manna, and follow a cloud and a pillar of fire, only to rebel against God because they miss the yummy food they ate while suffering abject slavery in Egypt. This story will better communicate God’s patient and long-suffering character than any list of well-written propositions. Bad theology is spreading like wildfire, but good theology must be carefully taught, tended, and nurtured over a long period of time.
This is the very reason Insight for Living launched the children’s radio ministry of Paws & Tales. Through the use of story, we teach the kind of good, solid, biblical theology kids need when they are young and will benefit from it the most. We often deal with deep questions like “How does prayer work?” in the episode titled, “The Princess;” and “Is there really spiritual evil?” in the episode titled, “Powers and Principalities.” We’ve even created a wonderful, three-part musical retelling called The Story of Esther that teaches kids about suffering, the loss of hope, the importance of remaining faithful when all seems lost, the final price of wickedness, and best of all, the amazing love and faithfulness of God. At Paws & Tales we are dedicated to using drama, humor, and music to teach kids good theology so that they will know the truth about God. With this as their foundation, they can then begin to grow to love God with all of their hearts, souls, and minds and, then, to love their neighbors as themselves (Matthew 22:37–39). And that’s the power of good theology.