This article is part of the 5 Myths series.
We Are Theology Practitioners
First things first: Everyone is practicing some form of theology—including our children. Whether we know it or not, our kids are theologians because God made them to be theologians. The question for Christian parents, church members, and friends is, How do we help children be good theologians?
To start, one of first things we need to do is overcome some potential stereotypes regarding the relationship between kids and theology. In short, we need to break a few myths—myths we’ve faced ourselves while growing up, or myths we’ve simply overlooked, or perhaps even some we’ve perpetuated on our own.
To help our kids becoming sound theologians, let’s evaluate a few of these and see what God has to say about them.
Myth #1: Kids don’t want theology.
This first myth finds its roots in the idea that theology always has to be stuffy and boring. And though there is some truth in this myth (let’s be honest, the church often struggles in showing us how beautiful and joyful theology can be), the problem seems to be more in practice than in source. In other words, theologians are the problem, not God. God is the creative one—he invented fun and imagination and he fills his creation with both. He even creates us and our kids to be creative and imaginative like him.
Theology doesn’t have to be stuffy and boring. Instead, we can take our children back to the source materials—to the stories of Scripture filled with drama, humor, suspense, wickedness, and intrigue. We can tell our kids tales from church history that will overwhelm, excite, and leave them wanting to know more.
But, perhaps the most humbling, we can let our children help us rethink and reexamine our theology too. Some of the best theological questions posed are those that come streaming through the imagination of a child—an imagination that grown-ups have often forgotten.
So, it’s not that kids don’t want theology, it’s that they may not want our vision of God because our vision of God isn’t as big as theirs is anymore.
Myth #2: Kids can’t handle theology.
Next, many of us think that theology is too complex for children. We find that theology requires a certain intellectual sophistication to be grasped, one that our kids don’t have. The thinking is, what kid can grasp the Trinity or the hypostatic union? Why should we overwhelm our little ones with such weighty subjects?
But that’s the problem, right? It doesn’t have to be overwhelming—but even more what’s the problem with being overwhelmed by our infinite Lord? Isn’t that where we all should stand? Furthermore, what adult can give a full account of the Trinity or a complete description of the hypostatic union?
We don’t withhold addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division from our kids because they can’t do calculus or trigonometry. No, we start math with the hopes that our children will be able to advance into more complex theorems and equations. And so it should be with theology (1 Tim 4:12). It’s not that our kids can’t handle theology, it’s that we don’t give them credit and, in many ways, we haven’t thought through a proper progression of teaching our children theological truths in ways that correspond with their development.
Everyone is practicing some form of theology—including our children
Myth #3: Kids have no place in their lives for theology.
Third, the contemporary world says that theology is unnecessary because it isn’t as important as other things in our lives. The world moves too fast, our calendars are too full, there are too many shows on Netflix, and there are too many video games to play. School curriculums tell us what we really need. We’re so busy that we’ve turned “truth” into soundbites and farmed out religion to the pastor and the youth leaders for Sundays only. We no longer have time—and as the culture preaches, no need—for either us or our kids to do a “deep dive” into the deep things of God.
Now, this myth is built on a false assumption: that theology is less important than the things of this world. We are so busy making our kids busy that we don’t even recognize what is really and eternally significant. Instead, we’re so caught up in building our kid’s earthly resumes for earthly fortunes that we’ve forgotten to tell our kids about the living hope that leads to an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance kept in heaven (1 Pet. 1:3–4).
We need to correct this assumption for ourselves and our kids. Because when we make God-centered theology peripheral, we make true joy and happiness peripheral too. When we say there is no time for theology, we teach them that worldly idols are worthy of their time when knowing God in Christ through the Spirit is not.
Myth #4: Kids can get their theology from someone else.
This myth begins with the ways we’ve learned to outsource our spiritual lives. We now leave things up to the “experts.” We leave theology to the theologians, sermons to pastors, and youth ministry to youth ministers.
Now, as parents, we have to come to grips with why we do this. Yes, the culture teaches us to trust specialists but there are probably deeper reasons. Perhaps we find it too difficult to think hard about theological ideas ourselves. Or perhaps we don’t think we have time to ponder who God is and what he does for us. Or maybe we don’t think we have the chops to answer our kid’s questions about our faith.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Here’s the thing: kids will get their theology from somewhere. The question isn’t if they will ask about God, the question is where they will find their answers. The big questions are always there, especially in the hearts of our children, and the world is always at the cultural altar ready and willing to (mis)lead them into irreverent worship.
Now, we would never leave our kids alone and unsupervised in the ocean, would we? Why then would we leave them to fight the currents of our culture on their own? We need to walk with our kids, even when it’s difficult, even when they (or we) don’t want it. Not because we have all the answers, but because we know the One who does. Our children don’t want experts, they want parents who love them and who will care for them and help them with their big questions about God and life.
Myth #5: Theology is the end in itself.
Now for the other end of the spectrum: there are those who love theology and teach their kids to love theology too. However, they do it for the wrong reasons. They love theology simply for theology’s sake.
And that is the myth: that theology is for knowledge alone—that knowing all the right answers to God is the goal of our life and our children’s lives. But that’s the problem. When we do this, we teach our kids to love theology for their own pride; we teach our children to use theology to wield theological authority over others.
But this often leads to something much worse. We teach our kids that theology can be used, not only to exercise authority over others but that our theology can even exercise authority over God himself. You see, if God is on the “operating table” of their intellect and our theological commitments, then we can begin to think that we stand over him and are able to control him.
And here is the corrective: Theology isn’t the point—worship is. And we need to teach this to our own hearts as well as to our children’s hearts. To put it another way, doctrine should always lead us and our kids to God himself. We need to help our kids get their motives and assumptions right. We need to help them pursue theology to find God relationally while helping them see that none of us can ever master God in full. And that should make every heart, no matter its age, sing because it sets us all up for a life of seeking and praising God in a way that never gets old or boring because that worship will have no end, today or forever.
Ryan Lister is the author of Emblems of the Infinite King: Enter the Knowledge of the Living God.