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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.)

 

Children Need a Robust Doctrine of God

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Imagine a preschool Sunday school curriculum that presents 64 chronological Bible stories from the Old Testament…all of them focusing on the character of God. Is there something wrong with this? Something missing? Doesn’t the whole Bible point to Jesus? Shouldn’t we make clear that every story points to Jesus?

Before you respond to these important and valid questions, I would ask you to carefully read and ponder this quote from J. Gresham Machen:

…when men say that we know God only as He is revealed in Jesus, they are denying all real knowledge of God whatever. For unless there be some idea of God independent of Jesus, the ascription of deity to Jesus has no meaning. To say, “Jesus is God,” is meaningless unless the word “God” has an antecedent meaning attached to it…We are not forgetting the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” But these words do not mean that if a man had never known what the word “God” means, he could come to attach an idea to that word merely by his knowledge of Jesus’ character. On the contrary, the disciples to whom Jesus was speaking had already a very definite conception of God: a knowledge of the one supreme Person was presupposed in all that Jesus said. But the disciples desired not only a knowledge of God but also intimate, personal contact. And that came through their intercourse with Jesus. Jesus revealed, in a wonderfully intimate way, the character of God, but such revelation obtained its true significance only on the basis both of the Old Testament heritage and of Jesus’ own teaching. Rational theism, the knowledge of one Supreme Person, Maker and active Ruler of the world, is at the very root of Christianity.

(“Christianity and Liberalism,” copyright©2009, pages 48-49)

Could it be that, especially for preschoolers, it is crucial that we first focus on giving them a concept of God as revealed in the Old Testament? By introducing them to key truths regarding who God is and what He is like, are we not preparing young children to better understand the significance of what it means that “Jesus is God”?

As much as it is truthful to say that the whole Bible points to Jesus and the Gospel, we must not dismiss or minimize Dr. Machen’s point. Our children need to be taught a robust doctrine of God. They need to see “God” as He has revealed Himself throughout the Old Testament—His power, love, mercy, sovereign rule, holiness, goodness, faithfulness, etc. These are the antecedents that give meaning to the New Testament’s assertion that “Jesus is God,” and they provide the necessary foundation for understanding the message of the Gospel.

A Timely Message

Children Desiring God Blog // National Conference

For years, while the Children Desiring God leadership team pondered and prayed about future conference themes and speakers, I harbored the hope that someday we would be able to have Dr. Albert Mohler speak. It seemed a long shot. After all, he is not only president of one of the world’s largest and most influential seminaries, he is also a much requested speaker at numerous “first-tier” theological conferences. So, what a shock and a joy—and a testament to God’s gracious providence—that Dr. Mohler will be one of our plenary speakers in Indianapolis. And I believe that his message to us on Friday April 15, Holding Fast the Whole Counsel of God Under Pressure to Conform” will be especially timely in this day and age. Please consider joining us as we hope to be challenged and encouraged by Dr. Mohler.

Here is a little of what we have to look forward to:

 

Children Desiring God Blog // Albert MohlerDr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. serves as the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, one of the largest seminaries in the world. On his website, AlbertMohler.com, Al writes commentaries on moral, cultural, and theological issues. He also hosts two programs: “The Briefing,” a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview; and “Thinking in Public,” a series of conversations with the day’s leading thinkers. Viewed as a leader among American evangelicals, Al is widely sought as a columnist and commentator by the nation’s leading newspapers and news programs and has authored several books, including Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth. Al and his wife Mary have two children, Katie and Christopher and one grandson.

 

 

Resist the Smorgasbord!

Resist the Smorgasbord: Strategies for Teaching the Whole Counsel of God

I once read a book in which the Christian author likened the method often used in the church for discipleship to a smorgasbord—various classes and small groups are offered for people to pick and choose from, mainly based on personal preferences, perceived needs, and “hot topics” of the day. His point was to urge the church to resist this tendency and strive for a more vision-driven, biblical, structured, long-term discipleship strategy. Such a strategy takes into account and incorporates the whole counsel of God and builds in stages—precept-by-precept.

I wonder if we sometimes have a similar “smorgasbord tendency” when it comes to planning for and choosing curriculum for our various children’s and youth ministry classes: What seems good this year? What will the children like? What will peak their (or the teacher’s) interest?…I think we can, and must strive for a more vision-driven, biblical, structured, long-term discipleship strategy—one that seeks to incorporate the whole counsel of God from nursery to high school.

What does this actually look like? To begin with, we believe that there are six basic elements or disciplines that should be included in this long-term strategy:

Elements of Teaching the Whole Counsel of God

  1. A story-based chronological overview of the Bible, which introduces children to the main character of the Bible—God—and acquaints them with key people, places, and events.
  2. A biblical theology that focuses on the main storyline of the Bible, where God progressively reveals His redemptive purposes, which come to their complete fulfillment in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
  3. Systematic theology that teaches foundational doctrines, which summarize the Bible’s teaching on various subjects.
  4. Moral instruction—the commands of Scripture, which communicate ethical instruction, guiding us in the righteous ways of God.
  5. An explicit presentation of the essential truths of the Gospel, leading to a clear understanding of saving faith.
  6. Bible study methods to provide the necessary tools for rightly reading and interpreting Scripture.

A strategic, long-term plan makes curriculum choices at the various grade levels with these basic elements or disciplines in mind. It asks questions such as: Over the span of nursery to high school, are our students receiving the whole counsel of God? Are we introducing these elements at age-appropriate levels? Does our overall strategy reflect a proper biblical balance?

2016 National ConferenceIf you long to explore this topic further and want practical help in structuring a plan for the children’s and youth ministries of your church, I would love to have you come to my seminar at our National Conference in April…

Making a Strategic Plan for Teaching the Whole Counsel of God

This seminar will present an overview for planning and implementing a scope and sequence in your children’s and youth ministry that serves to thoroughly acquaint your students with the whole counsel of God. Starting in the nursery years and moving through high school, we will explore options and strategic goals for various age groups.

Piper Answers: What is the Whole Counsel of God?

Children Desiring God Blog // What is the Whole Counsel of God?

As children’s ministry and youth pastors, teachers and parents, it is critical for us to not only teach children the Gospel, but to not shrink back from teaching them the whole counsel of God. John Piper helps us understand what this means:

 

 

Join us at the Children Desiring God National Conference where we will have the opportunity to spend three days together exploring this meaning further, discovering the glorious truths found with in the whole counsel of God, understanding the ramifications if our children do not understand the whole counsel of God and equipping each other to teach the whole counsel of God to children and youth. We look forward to welcoming back John Piper as one of our five keynote speakers to discuss Understanding the Whole Counsel of God: How Our Children Can Know the Bible is True.

 

Children Desiring God Blog // What Is the Whole Counsel of God?John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminar. For over 30 years, John served as senior pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He’s the author of more than 50 books and more than 30 years of his preaching and teaching is available for free at desiringGod.org). John and his wife, Noël, have five children, Barnabas, Karsten, Benjamin, Abraham and Talitha, and twelve grandchildren.

 

We hope to see you April 14-16 in Indianapolis! Learn more and register now!

 

 

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