Puritan children began to study the basic tenets of Christianity at age four. Many memorized the Westminster Catechism at no later than five, and some started as early as three years old. Not all these children were geniuses; their parents simply took the spiritual discipline and instruction of their offspring very, very seriously.
Most of us assume really young kids can't understand theology and doctrine. In some ways they can't, but whether they get it all right away or not isn't the point. The point is that God instructs us to raise our children in His name, and that they're never too young to hear the truths of His character described and expounded.
Spiritual understanding isn't the same as intellectual knowledge, anyway. While it takes hard mental work to do calculus or write a research paper, God's truth comes to us largely through His Spirit. That's not to say we just "let go, and let God"; we're guided by godly men and logic to understand the Bible, but anything we do understand is through God and not our own efforts.
How then can we say what our kids do or do not understand? Our duty as Christian parents isn't to determine what the young ones will "get" and only teach those things; it's to instruct them in all God's truth, and show them the way of righteousness both through God's Word and the example of other Christians (including ourselves!).
We think it's best to start with the story of the Bible, but there are a couple things we don't mean by that. One, individual stories shouldn't be plucked out of context and turned into morality tales; all of Scripture needs to be explored, with a constant focus on Christ as the central unifying theme. Second, the Bible narrative is full of doctrinal insight, and should be read with that in mind.
In our postmodern culture, a lot of noise is made about the redemptive nature and power of stories. We don't disagree—but stories are only redemptive if they impart God's truth. The story contained in God's Word, of man's Fall and Christ's redemptive work, is the only one that perfectly reveals God's truth, and therefore the only perfectly redemptive story.
There's also more to it than just characters, plot, and action. Each part of the story tells us something about God's character and nature, guiding us to deeper faith, deeper love, and more obedient living. These are the things we want and ought to show our kids, the most important elements of any Christian education, and no child is too young to start learning them.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviewshere.
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