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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 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.

Copyright 2005.
Originally appeared in Winter 2005. Used with permission.
The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.


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