Theology is a great word. Over the years,
however, we have allowed it to become a word that’s used only 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. By definition, theology is “a system or school of opinions
concerning God and religious questions.” You may be a Protestant, a practicing
witch, or someone just “making it up as you go”—all have a belief system, all
have a theology. Even the staunchest atheist who believes that there is nothing
spiritual to believe in has a theology.
In recent years, there has been an
“open-minded” school of thought in which parents wait for their kids to grow up
and then allow them to choose a religion for themselves. The concept is that
these children will operate through the formative years without a theology, but
this is impossible. This well meaning, though misguided, parent has indeed
taught theology very loudly and decisively. She has taught her child that
religion is of very little importance and that all religions are equally
immaterial. With this teaching, bad theology has been passed from one
generation to the next.
We don’t allow our kids to grow up and
then tell us whether they want to eat vegetables or 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
birthday, but for the truly important things in life, we choose for them, and
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 educate him. Most of the answers to
life’s spiritual questions are also out of reach. Why do people suffer? Why do
others have more than I do? Where did the world come from? What will happen
when I die? And I guarantee you that 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, as
was true in the physical realm, 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 that will likely
result in his disappointment and perhaps even anger at God. This is how 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, the 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—such as giving a five dollar bill to a homeless person. Because of
this (actually rather selfish) “selfless act,” God might be less angry with us
and a bit more inclined to help when we’re in a fix. Unfortunately, this bit of
bad theology may be the predominant religious concept in America today.
If we allow our children to think wrongly about God, it will negatively affect
the rest of their lives. There is nothing more important than good theology!
How, then, do we go about teaching our
third-graders theology? Though it is not the only way, I believe storytelling
is the best way. 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, you must be last; to live you must die. We must learn to resist natural
impulses and foster supernatural impulses that we don’t even know we have yet.
You won’t come up with this stuff on your own. Some of it is difficult and much
of it is mysterious.
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 a wicked city. 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 Nineveh repented, too. God forgave Jonah and Nineveh—neither of which
deserved forgiveness. This is real insight into the character of God, and as
such, this story communicates really good theology.
We can tell our kids that God is not
always angry and He loves them deeply, but that will likely bounce right off
their armor. To get past their defenses, it would be better to tell them the
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 eat miraculous manna and follow a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire,
only to rebel against God because they miss the tasty food they ate while
suffering abject slavery in Egypt.
This story will better communicate God’s long-suffering than any list of
well-written propositions. For that matter, a few episodes of Little House
on the Prairie will give better direction on how a good man will work,
sacrifice, and fight for his family and his faith than any list a mother could
make. 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 theology kids need when they are young and
will benefit from it the most. We often deal with deep issues such as How
does prayer work? in the episode entitled “The Princess”; Is there
really spiritual evil? in the episode entitled “Powers and Principalities”;
and even a wonderful, three-part musical retelling of “The Story of Esther”
that teaches kids about suffering, the loss of hope, 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 base they can then begin to grow to love
the Lord their God with all of their heart, soul, and mind and, then, to love
their neighbor as themselves. That’s what happens when you combine a humble
heart with good theology.
David Carl is the creator, principal
writer, and director of Paws & Tales, the children’s radio ministry of
Insight for Living. The Paws & Tales radio program can be heard weekly
across the country and around the world. For more information on Paws &
Tales, log on to www.pawsandtales.org.
Originally appeared in Winter 2005. Used with
The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.
Paws & Tales