Thank you so much for following along the Raising Children Un-Fundamentalist series. For those new to the series, welcome! I talk about power dynamics between parent/child in part 1, (not) talking to kids about hell in part 2, letting children live their own story in part 3, and how to raise children with a vibrant faith, instead of a defensive faith in part 4.
Today as the FINAL post of the series, I want to address the role of the Bible in Raising Children Un-Fundamentalist. I invited Bible professor, author, and speaker Peter Enns to speak with us on the subject. I asked Peter Enns because he
1) is an expert on the Bible, holding an MDiv from Harvard and a PhD. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and has written several books about Scripture,
2) talks about the Bible for normal people (easy to understand, not nerdy academic),
3) has written a series of curriculum to help parents teach the Bible to children.
I’m grateful we get to learn from him today, and I hope you enjoy this interview:
A lot of us grew up being taught the Bible is 100% accurate and authoritative for our lives, only to grow up disillusioned by the ways the Bible has been wielded to harm and judge and divide. How can we then teach the Bible to our children in a way that shows them the love of God as revealed in God’s word even while navigating our own complex relationship with the Bible?
Well, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I don’t want to appear as if I am building a wall between the Bible and the Christian life—not at all—but I don’t see teaching the Bible and teaching the faith as simply two ways of saying the same thing.
What often happens is that knowledge of the Bible, treating it as a legal document, becomes the default model of Christian formation. Parents and churches must place Bible learning in its proper context–within a life of faith marked by humility and love of God and neighbor.
I also think centering spiritual formation on the person of Christ and letting the complexities (and problems) of the Bible orbit around Jesus rather than the other way around is not only wise but utterly Christian.
What are some of the ways the Bible is traditionally taught to children that may not be the most helpful?
The most common problem I’ve seen is thinking of the Bible as stories with a moral to be learned and obeyed. Biblical characters, like Abraham, Moses, & David, are taught as models of Christian conduct. It’s very unlikely that the Bible was written for this type of moral guidance, partly because the biblical characters are so inconsistent and at times, morally ambiguous.
Such an approach builds a style of reading the Bible that encourages an “owner’s manual” approach to the Bible, where verses are there to tell us what to do. I think that sells the Bible short, and children raised with this mentality will begin to view the Bible as inadequate. If their faith is rooted in this sort of thinking as then their faith will suffer as they wrestle with questions beyond moral conduct.
The Bible isn’t an owner’s manual. It’s not an apologetics manual.
For older children (middle school and high school), another problematic approach is a “defensive” posture, where the Bible is read to be protected against other views. Again, I think the Bible has a lot more value for us today than as an apologetics manual.
How can we honor the development of children in the way we share the Bible with them?
By creating a culture at home that honors their questions. To do that, parents can also be open about what they do not know. I wonder how refreshing it would be for children to see their parents being puzzled about portions of the Bible and saying so without the fear that God is now somehow displeased. Parents feel a lot of pressure to raise their children “right” so they want to provide them with answers to life’s most difficult questions.
But this is more than parents should expect of themselves. Parents simply do the best we can and trust God not just in educating our children but trusting God with our children wherever their paths may lead. Looking back, I think grown children will remember their parents’ example more than their lessons.
You have named your series “Telling God’s Story,” can you explain why you feel that encapsulates the essence of teaching Bible to children?
The idea is to help children (and their parents) see the Bible as a narrative, a story that culminates in Christ. That’s why we begin the curriculum with lessons about Jesus and the Gospels, so the center of the Christian faith is understood, and then the earlier portion of the story—what we call the Old Testament—can be seen in light of Christ.
As a narrative, the Bible is not really a rule book or verse-by-verse guide to life, but a story that models for us a life of faith, a story that we are always thinking through to see how and where that story and ours intersect—and all of that done mindful that the Spirit is with us.
What do you think should be the goal Christian parents have for their children in terms of their faith?
I think their goal should have their children as adults in mind. What kind of faith will they be when they are 25, 35, 45, and on? Keeping the long term in mind affects what we do when they are very young.
I see the goal as something that needs to be achieved through something other than fear or manipulation. Rather, “growing” in our children the love of God, our need to live a life of trust in God, humility and love toward others, and to do so with honesty and integrity, knowing that God can handle it.
Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and tips with us, Peter, appreciate you taking the time to visit the blog.
Please consider checking out Telling God’s Story curriculum. I have purchased it myself, and especially recommend the Parent’s Guide, it is very helpful in providing an un-fundamentalist approach to teaching children Scripture. (Note, I am not getting paid to say any of this!)
This concludes my blog series on Raising Children Un-Fundamentalist, however, I am not yet done talking about it. I will be moving the conversation to other spaces online and especially through my email newsletter. Please subscribe if you’re interested in more resources sent directly to your inbox.
You can also join my Facebook Group based on this series by clicking here.