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20 Basics Young People Should Know

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Yesterday I recommended some summer reading for elementary-aged children. Today I have a summer challenge for youth—Wayne Grudem’s Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know. Why do I recommend this book for summer reading for your youth (age 16 and above)? Here are a few reasons:

  • It goes right to the core of Christianity by asking and answering the main questions. Questions like…

What Is the Bible?

What Is God like?

What Is man?

What Is sin?

Who Is Christ?

What Is the Atonement?

What Is Death?

What Is Heaven?

  • It is relatively short (158 pages) and is written in an accessible style that most high school-aged students can grasp.
  • Although some students might initially respond to the questions by saying, “I already know that!” Grudem provides even the more seasoned “theologian” something to think about and ponder.
  • There are questions for review and personal application at the end of each chapter.
  • It can serve to strengthen the faith and confidence of a true believer, but also challenge your children to carefully examine whether or not their faith is genuine—providing an opening for some honest spiritual discussions between parent and child.

With all the above to commend it to your young adults, it may require a little incentive to actually get them to read this over the summer months. As parents, we have a lot of means at our disposal to motivate our children. Consider reading it together, modeling structured study and discipleship. Maybe even plan a special event when the book is completed—going camping, fishing, or to a favorite sporting event.

Whatever the case, I highly recommend it. And it could also be the answer to “What should I give the high school graduate for a gift?” question that pops up this time of year.

Introducing Your Children to the Scope of the Bible

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When I taught first-grade Sunday school, we always taught the books of the Bible song in order to acquaint the children with the 66 books of the Bible. And, although they mastered the song by the end of the year, the great majority of children didn’t know much about Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai…etc. “What’s a Nahum?”

Besides being able to name the books of the Bible, do your children know the scope of the Bible—the main message, key events and people, and historical context of each of its 66 books? That may seem like a tall order, but it is an important goal if we are to teach our children the whole counsel of God. Dr. Bruce Ware emphasized this at our conference in April.

For adults, a good study Bible is especially helpful. But what about our children? Here is a resource parents can use with their elementary-aged children that could easily be a 10- to 15-minute daily Bible “enrichment” during the summer by examining Genesis through Revelation—one book per day, 6 days a week.

What the Bible Is All About for Young Explorers (Note: Although there is a newer edition available, I recommend this older edition. The newer edition contains the same basic information but includes an introduction that I would not recommend using with children.)

This book takes each individual book of the Bible and gives children the following information in simple outline form with age-appropriate graphics and illustrations:

  • Writer
  • Title of the book
  • Location
  • Main people
  • Outline of the book
  • Main events and when and where they happened

…and more interesting facts.

Please note that this book isn’t theologically deep. It doesn’t present children with the essential doctrines of the Christian faith in a systematic manner. While some key doctrines are introduced, they are not explored to any great depth…although man’s sin problem and our need for a Savior is woven throughout the book. It is still a great resource for children, providing them with a basic Bible survey that is a key element in acquainting them with the whole counsel of God.

Exploring the Fullness of the Whole Counsel of God

Exploring the Fullness of the Whole Counsel of God

We were honored to have Bruce Ware join us again for the Children Desiring God National Conference as he guided us through Exploring the Fullness of the Whole Counsel of God. Bruce broke the whole counsel of God down into two categories—breath and the depth—to help us further understand its meaning. Video of the conference keynotes will be available at a later date.

Breadth

Bruce shared to steps to keep in mind as he discussed understanding the breadth of the whole counsel of God. First, we need to be a people who come to understand the whole of Biblical content. He recommends using a good study Bible. This can help you understand the historical and cultural background of each book of the Bible, so you can have a better understanding as you teach the Scriptures. When Paul wrote the words, “All scripture is God-breathed…” he had in mind everything that had been written in the Bible, and everything that would be written. Therefore, we ought to pay attention to each of the 66 books of the Bible in teaching.

Secondly, we must learn to see the unity, continuity and development of truth throughout the story of the Bible. As we examine this story, there are many words and themes that are threaded throughout the Bible as important markers along the road. By tracing these key words and themes throughout the Bible, we can see the story that God intended to write developing. However, we do not to just see the developing story within each individual book, but to see the developing story throughout the entire Bible. These things are all-important in shaping both our own worldview, and that of the next generation.

Bruce Ware

Depth

We need to grow in an in-depth understanding of passages of Scripture. We cannot sacrifice knowing and understanding the flow of the passage for committing it to rote memory—but that is not to say that memorization is bad. Bruce commends thinking of memorization as a by-product of meditating. Reading and studying the Bible slowly is important in the growth of our Christian lives—the glory is in the details.

Believers also need an in-depth understanding of Biblical doctrines. We must have a resolute commitment to side with the Bible even when that decision goes against our culture. That means, in part, embracing paradoxes in God’s character. Our culture sometimes over-emphasizes aspects of God’s character at the expense of others, and we must not teach his Word that way. The cultural understanding appeals to us in the sense that our culture hates certain aspects of God’s culture, but we cannot shrink back from talking about them. For example, our culture hates the idea that God ordains our suffering, but the Bible says that he does. This doctrine gives Christians hope because it gives our suffering meaning.

What does this mean for you and your ministry to children?
Consider asking these questions:

  1. How can I grow in my understanding in each of these areas?
  2. How can my affections be more stirred, and my heart more moved by these truths?
  3. How can I be used in the lives of the next generation to commend to their heads and hearts the breadth and depth of the whole counsel of God?

 

Gospel “Poles” and the Whole Counsel of God

Gospel "Poles" and the Whole Counsel of God

My family enjoys camping…old-fashioned tent camping. We have a very large tent that my children affectionately call the “Taj Mahal”. The frame of the tent is a series of poles that must first be assembled and then threaded through the proper sleeves of the tent fabric. This takes time. There is no short-cut. But when every pole is properly in place, you simply pull on the guide ropes and the tent goes up and takes its proper shape.

This illustration can be helpful in demonstrating the importance of communicating the Gospel within the whole counsel of God. There are “poles”—key doctrinal truths—involved in properly understanding the significance of the Person and saving work of Christ. As parents and teachers, we should consider how to carefully and intentionally walk through and explain these preceding doctrinal truths with our children. In doing this, the full extent of who Jesus is, what He has done, and why He did it, will make more sense to our children. The Gospel of Jesus will take on its proper “shape” so to speak.

This tent illustration was a feature in my recent seminar “Communicating the Gospel Within the Whole Counsel of God” at the National Conference. In the near future, the entire seminar will be available online for you to listen to. But until then, you might be interested in this seminar handout which outlines 9 key doctrinal themes for communicating the Gospel.

(Note: If you attended this seminar at our conference, please download the handout noted above. The handout distributed at the conference had a section missing.)

 

 

You CAN Do Catechism!

Children Desiring God Blog // You CAN Do Catechism

One of the new seminars at this year’s national conference was on using catechisms for teaching children—especially in the home. In the future we will have this seminar by Sally Michael available on our web site. But until then, here is an excellent article for parents (take note fathers!!!) to encourage you to get started: “The Importance and Practice of Catechism: Fathers-Instruct Your Childrenby Dr. Kim Riddlebarger. He concludes his article with these practical reminders:

First, be consistent. The best way to learn a catechism is simply to keep at it! Take “the tortoise” and not “the hare” approach. You cannot teach your child a lengthy catechism in a couple of weeks! But over time—if you keep at ityou’ll be amazed at how much children will remember and comprehend.

Second, be creative. One of the greatest obstacles to catechism is boredom. Simply reading the question and then expecting your children to recite the memorized answer is no fun for them, and they’ll come to hate the whole idea. Go ahead and stress memorization, but whenever you can, relate the catechism to the Scriptures. Most catechisms give Scripture proofs. And if you discuss the question and answer with your kids, and then relate the catechism to real life situations, current events or to movies and TV, your kids will get the sense that theology is of great value in navigating their way through life…

Third, don’t panic. Many people tell me that they are new to this and there is always the pressure to make up for lost time. Go slow. Quality time is always better than rushed and tense sessions where the kids are tired and the parents are frustrated. Do what you can when you can and have realistic expectations. Even a small amount of catechesis is better than no catechesis.

Last, the more that you know about the catechism the easier the whole process will become. You may have to get a commentary on the particular catechism that you use, and you may have to spend some time preparing to catechize. Being an effective teacher means being a faithful student. You cannot teach what you do not know…

1. (“Fathers, Instruct Your Children” was originally published as “The Need to Recover the Practice of Catechism” and was revised for use by Christ Reformed Church. Re-printed by permission, © 1995 Modern Reformation / ACE)

Deep Talks for Strong Faith

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Recently I have been reading through a newly released book for Christian parents by Natasha Crain titled, “Keeping Your Kid’s on God’s Side–40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith.” It’s not often you find a book on Christian apologetics written specifically with kids in mind, so this book has me intrigued. I hope to post a thorough review in the near future. At the end of the book, she gives “10 Tips for Having Deeper Faith Conversations with Your Kids.” I found these to wise and practical—something every parent can be working on. Here are the 10 tips, along with a few quotes:

  1. Commit to continually deepening your understanding of Christianity.
  1. Make spiritual space in your home.
  2. …[a]dedicated time for your family to engage together in growing your understanding of and relationship to God.
  1. Study the Bible with your kids. Really.
    Simply reading the Bible helps kids learn key stories and events. But studying the Bible helps them learn what it all means and introduces them to the importance of interpretation.
  1. Proactively and regularly ask your kids what questions they have.
    …pull your kids’ questions to the forefront of conversation. You don’t need to have all the answers, but you do need to provide the forum.
  1. Ask your kids the tough questions they don’t ask of you.
    …we can’t just react to the questions they happen to have. We need to proactively put all the questions we know are important…right in front of them.
  1. If your kids are struggling with faith, become a detective.
    …find out (1) what exactly they mean when they say what they say, and (2) why they’ve come to that conclusion.
  1. Emphasize critical thinking skills.
     …teaching them how to objectively evaluate the validity of what someone else is asserting and how to draw logically appropriate conclusions themselves.
  1. Work with your kids on how to seek answers to faith questions online.
    Giving your kids research challenges and discussing their process of finding answers can lead to enormously valuable conversations that will benefit them for life.
  1. Teach your kids about religions and worldviews other than Christianity.
     …study and compare the actual beliefs. In addition to other religions, be sure to study the atheist worldview in-depth, given its significance today.
  1. Start today.

(Copyright©2016, pages 249 – 255)

(Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Three Reasons Sunday School Should Include “Theological Study”

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Here are some common words/phrases included in describing the contemporary children’s Sunday school class: fun, exciting, relevant Bible lessons, engaging, loving environment, energetic worship, hands-on activities, faith-building,…etc. All descriptions that may be appropriate—to a greater or lesser extent—and definitely welcoming to many a parent and child.

But I wonder how many descriptions include some reference to “serious theological study.” Not for children? Think again. Here is a wonderful article by Pastor Jared Wilson titled, “Theological Study Is for Everyone.” (And yes, I think “everyone” applies to children and youth, too.) He gives three reasons why this is so. Here are some excerpts from the article:

  1. First, theological study of God is commanded. Having a mind lovingly dedicated to God is required most notably in the great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Loving God with all of our minds certainly means more than theological study, but it certainly does not mean less than that.
  1. Second, the theological study of God is vital to salvation. Now, of course, I do not mean that intellectual pursuit merits salvation. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone (Eph. 2:8) totally apart from any works of our own (Rom. 3:28), which includes any intellectual exertion.

…The exercise of faith is predicated on information…

…Our continued growth in the grace of God, our perseverance as saints, is vitally connected to our pursuit of the knowledge of God’s character and God’s works as revealed in God’s Word… 

  1. Third, the study of God authenticates and fuels worship…True Christians are those who believe in the triune God of the holy Scriptures and have placed their trust by the real Spirit in the real Savior—Jesus

 …We are changed deeply in heart and, therefore, our behavior when we seek deeply after the things of God with our brains. The Bible says so: “Do not be conformed to this world,” Paul writes. “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). The transformation begins with a renewing of our minds. As John Piper has said, “The theological mind exists to throw logs into the furnace of our affections for Christ.”

(“Theological Study Is for Everyone” at www.ligonier.org)

I highly recommend that everyone read the entire article!

(Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Catechizing: Bring it Back!

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This week, I’ve had the privilege of getting a sneak-peak at Sally Michael’s new seminar, “Catechism: Out-of-Date, or a Tried-and-True Teaching Tool of Eternal Truths?,” which she will be presenting at our National Conference (a mere two and a half weeks away!). It is an excellent seminar in which she draws upon the time-tested wisdom of our Christian forebears. Here is one sample of one such man. Sally quotes John Murray from his article titled, “Catechizing: A Forgotten Practice”:

The foundation of all religion, Isaac Watts reminds us, is laid in knowledge. Scripture attaches great importance to knowledge and gives a foremost place to the mind and understanding. It is through the mind that truth enters the man, influencing the affections and directing the will. True it is that knowledge may remain in the mind and, without the influences of the quickening, life-giving Spirit, be inoperative in the life, yet the fact remains that knowledge—knowledge of truth—is the very basis of the Christian life. Hence the need for instruction in the doctrines of Christianity both for the believer and the unbeliever. Ignorance and error are effects of the Fall and it is upon them that Satan’s kingdom is built. Knowledge and truth are the grand weapons by which it is overthrown and Christ’s kingdom established in the individual and in the world.

[Murray] comments that the:

 …new antipathy to dogmas, creeds and catechisms virtually put catechizing out of the Church. Today we are reaping the results of that false approach to the Christian life. Ignorance and unbelief are rampant in our land, the Church is without an authoritative message, and often even evangelical Christians are weak and unstable. Is there not cause to ask whether the time has not come to revive the art and practice of catechizing?

(cited from the link found at www.monergism.com)

[Sally says], “I agree with John Murray. Let’s bring catechizing back to the church. Let’s not be afraid to teach the doctrines of the faith to our children. Let’s put a solid foundation beneath them that will give them answers to the assault of the postmodern worldview, and let’s arm them to face the challenges of life with a faith built on the solid understanding of who God is and the unshakable hope of His promises to His people.”

(Image courtesy of Paul at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Calvary: Holiness, Wrath, Love, and Grace

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Yesterday’s post talked about the importance of not allowing the story of Jesus’ death on the cross to become a “flyover” as it were between Palm Sunday and Easter. But as we tell the story of the cross, we must also give children a proper context in which to understand what really happened. The crucifixion narrative is grounded in some huge theological truths. Consider this helpful statement from Jerry Bridges:

The love of God has no meaning apart from Calvary. And Calvary has no meaning apart from the holy and just wrath of God. Jesus did not die just to give us peace and a purpose in life; He died to save us from the wrath of God. He died to reconcile us to a holy God who was alienated from us because of our sin. He died to ransom us from the penalty of sin—the punishment of everlasting destruction, shut out from the presence of the Lord. He died that we, the just objects of God’s wrath, should become, by His grace, heirs of God and co-heirs with Him.

(The Practice of Godliness: The Practice of Godliness: Godliness has value for all things, 1983, page 24)

And this statement from David Wells:

 …without the holiness of God, grace is no longer grace because it does not arise from the dark clouds of judgment that obscured the cross and exacted the damnation of the Son in our place. Furthermore, without holiness, grace loses its meaning as grace, a free gift of the God who, despite his holiness and because of his holiness, has reconciled sinners to himself in the death of his Son.

(God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams, 1994, page 144)

Notice the words “holiness,” “love,” “wrath,” and “grace.” All of these words provide essential truths for understanding the story of Jesus’ death on the cross. Often, especially with children, we are tempted to skip over God’s holiness and wrath and jump right to His love and grace. But, as both men point out, God’s love and grace gain their proper meaning, richness, and depth in the context of His holiness and wrath. If children do not have a basic understanding of these attributes of God, Jesus’ death may seem like some sort of tragically unnecessary event, or we may risk minimizing their heart’s desperate need for a Savior.

Want some practical help to include these important themes in telling the story of Jesus’ death on the cross? Check out tomorrows post, “Telling and Explaining the Story of Calvary.”

Here is an excellent resource for your family or classroom: John Leuzarder’s book The Gospel for Children: A Simple, Yet Complete Guide to Help Parents Teach Their Children the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

(Image courtesy of bela_kiefer at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Intellectual Faithfulness in Christian Education

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As preparation for my seminar “Engaging Active Minds in the Learning Process,” I’ve been reading some really inspiring and challenging books and articles, which have led me to believe that the problems of our day are greater than I first assumed. For example, in the introduction to his excellent book, “Essentials of the Christian Faith,” R. C. Sproul makes the following observation:

I believe we are living in the most anti-intellectual era of Christian history ever known…I mean against the mind.

We live in a period that is allergic to rationality…We have become a sensuous nation. Even our language reveals it. My seminary students repeatedly write like this on their exam pages: “I feel it is wrong that…” or “I feel it is true that…” I invariably cross out their word feel and substitute the word think. There is a difference between feeling and thinking.

There is a primacy of the mind in the Christian faith. There is also a primacy of the heart…

With respect to the primacy of importance, the heart is first…

However, for my heart to be right, there is the primacy of the intellect in terms of order. Nothing can be in my heart that is not first in my head. How can I love a God or a Jesus about whom I understand nothing? Indeed, the more I come to understand the character of God, the greater is my capacity to love Him.

(copyright©1992, page xix.)

Taking these thoughts a step further, Dr. Al Mohler lays out the great challenge before us:

Christian faithfulness requires the development of the believer’s intellectual capacities in order that we may understand the Christian faith, develop habits of Christian thought, form intuitions that are based upon biblical truth, and live in faithfulness to all that Christ teaches. This is no easy task, to be sure. Just as Christian discipleship requires growth and development, intellectual faithfulness requires a lifetime of devoted study, consecrated thinking, and analytical reflection.

(from, “The Glory of God in the Life of the Mind,” at www.albertmohler.com)

Those of us who teach children and youth are especially susceptible to this “feelings” focus. Why? Here are just a few things I have observed (and have sometimes been guilty of in some measure):

  • It is much easier to illicit positive feelings from children than it is to actively engage and challenge their minds. Fun music, activities, puppets, skits, etc. make the children “happy” during the class time.
  • This kind of rigorous training is hard work for both teacher and students, requires a greater time commitment from the teacher, and may even require some guided training.
  • We don’t want Sunday school to feel like school.
  • We fear that teaching and challenging the mind will necessarily lead to spiritually heartless intellectualism.
  • It may bring to the forefront innate inequalities in the students’ intellectual abilities, posing a possible threat to a child’s self-esteem. (I am not referring to children with specific learning disabilities here.)

Yes, these are all challenges to overcome, but they must be overcome. As Dr. Mohler asserts, “this is no easy task.” But an increasing amount of evidence demands that we take this lack of Christian intellectual faithfulness seriously.

Consider these statistics that author and parent Natasha Crain notes in her article, “What Your Kids Need for a Confident Faith”:

61% of kids who were involved in church as recently as their teenage years become spiritually disengaged by their 20s—not actively praying, reading the Bible or attending church.

This finding, based on the extensive surveys of researcher George Barna, is the alarm that has sent pastors, youth leaders, and young adult ministries desperately searching for answers. Multiple independent groups have since conducted their own studies and have identified the same trend—with some estimates of those turning away from Christianity as high as 88 percent.

Why is this happening? Having studied the various survey results in depth, I think it’s fair to summarize the collective problem in one sentence: A lack of robust spiritual training has resulted in a featherweight faith for many of today’s young adults, and that faith is being blown away by attacks from our secular culture.

Young people are turning away from faith because they’ve accepted the popular claims that Christianity is irrational, antiscience, intolerant, and based on an irrelevant ancient book. These claims have compelling answers from a Christian worldview, but young people aren’t leaving home equipped with those answers…Most kids growing up in Christian homes aren’t receiving anything remotely resembling the spiritual training they need to have a lasting faith.

(found at www.christianmomthoughts.com)

(Image courtesy of potowizard at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

 

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