Help! I'm Raising a Modalist
This article is part of the Help! series.
Understanding Biblical Truth
For as long as I (Jess) can remember, I’ve thought the idea of homeschooling my kids would be great fun. While it may not be for every family, it’s just something I’ve always looked forward to. We are nearing the end of our second year and teaching our littles has been a highlight of these years. Surprisingly, one of my favorite parts has been learning about animals with our children. We’ve learned so many interesting facts that may be even more fascinating to me as an adult than to their little minds that believe nearly anything you tell them. Have you ever thought about how big manatees really are or how many eggs an alligator lays at once? So many baby alligators! It has been humbling and awe inspiring to learn so many new facts about animals that I thought I had a basic understanding of.
While learning about animals is fun and has enthralled my children and I alike, unless they pursue a future in zoology these facts aren’t going to do them much good in life. What does matter is teaching their little hearts the big truths of theology. So often we hear parents lament that they can’t teach their children theology because they don’t know it well enough themselves. Friend, in my 30-some years of life, I have spent most of my Sundays at church and the majority of my education has been at Christian schools, and yet there are still so many aspects of theology I do not fully understand. But as Devon and I venture to teach our young children theology, I am learning with them and asking questions alongside them that help us all to understand Biblical truth more deeply.
When we start talking about the Holy Spirit and the Trinity, I would venture to guess that for most of us who have not formally studied theology, there are many areas we feel inadequate or unqualified to teach on. If you opened this article not even knowing what the word modalism is, let me encourage you that I (Jess) had to ask Devon what modalism was. Modalism, by the way, is an old heresy that teaches that God is one person who manifests himself in different forms or “modes.” At one point he is God the Father, and then he becomes God the Son, and still later becomes God the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit
Help kids understand and love the third person of the Trinity with a fun, illustrated board book that clearly explains the nature of the Holy Spirit.
How can we avoid unintentionally communicating to our littles untrue things about God? How can we keep them from thinking that God is only one person, or perhaps on the other hand that there are three distinct gods (tritheism)? The nature of God is difficult to comprehend as an adult, much less as a child. With such a great task and with eternal consequences at stake, we want to offer three ways to help you teach the children in your life about the big truths of our big God.
If the homeschool animal lessons have taught us anything, it’s that learning together with our children is one of the best ways to teach. They see me not as the know-all teacher but in some ways as a student with them as well, humble and asking questions and responding in awe to the answers. This in turn encourages them to ask questions so that we can find the answer together.
I think the key here is that we are learning together. While I may have learned some years ago that orcas are actually dolphins, learning about animals together, with the awe of a child, has made it so fun for us all. When I’m teaching my children and I don’t know how long it takes for a tadpole to become a frog, I look it up and we learn together. Why, then, should we feel ashamed to not know the answer to theological questions? Teaching your children about the Holy Spirit may feel intimidating if you don’t quite feel you understand him fully yourself. The beautiful truth is that in teaching your little children, you will likely get to know, appreciate, and love the Holy Spirit even more.
If they ask you a tough question about the Holy Spirit or the nature of God in general, don’t feel ashamed if you have to pick up a theology book, or talk with a wiser person in your local church about it. Learning together about our Triune God is a wonderful way to teach your kids and instill in them a deeper desire to know him more.
Incorporate the Holy Spirit into Your Prayer Life
Praying to God is a Trinitarian act. The general flow of the New Testament is to pray to God the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. All three persons are involved in prayer. How can we use prayer to better teach our little ones about our God? We can use Scriptures to pray for the Holy Spirit to do the things that the Bible says the Holy Spirit usually does.
For example, John 14:16-17 tells us that the Holy Spirit is our comforter or helper. You can pray with your kids that the Holy Spirit would comfort them in times of fear or pain. When my three-year-old wakes up in the middle of the night because he thought he heard thunder and becomes afraid, we can pray and ask God to send his Holy Spirit to comfort him and to help him know God’s nearness.
Learning together about our Triune God is a wonderful way to teach your kids and instill in them a deeper desire to know him more.
The Bible also says in John 16:8 that the Holy Spirit convicts people of their sin. When you pray for the nations with your kids, you can ask that God would send his Holy Spirit to those people and convict them of their sin and help them to turn to Jesus in repentance.
The Holy Spirit is also described in John 16:13 as being a guide. As you pray with your children for wisdom in making decisions, ask the Holy Spirit to give you guidance. Your kids listen to you when you pray. They will hear how you pray about the Holy Spirit and, by God’s grace, learn more about who he is and what he is like.
Catechize Your Children
Memorization is essential to being able to both comprehend and evaluate key ideas or thoughts. We can never expect our kids to wrestle with a complex question such as whether or not to put pineapple on a pizza if they’ve never been exposed to either the Italian pie or the exotic fruit. They must first taste each in their own regard, and then combined before they come to the natural conclusion that the pair make an excellent match.
The same goes for understanding theological concepts. One of the greatest blessings in training our children so far has been seeing them memorize and joyfully recite their catechism. Just last night, an hour after bedtime, our almost 6-year-old began to belt harmoniously at the top of her lungs several of our catechism questions. “How many persons are there in God? There are THREE persons in one God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (dun, dun, dun). There are three persons in one God!”
She was having the time of her life singing about the Godhead. Now, did she fully comprehend that God eternally exists in three co-equal and co-eternal persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and yet these three are one God? Doubtful. But by memorizing a children’s catechism she’s having the language of the Christian faith instilled in her at a young age. These words will travel with her as she grows and, by God’s grace, will guide her as she thinks about God in the future. When she’s asked about God and what he’s like, hopefully she’ll remember that there are three persons in one God.
Communicating the nature of God to children is no small feat. But it is both necessary and worth the investment of time. Our encouragement to you as you engage in this messy and glorious work is to learn alongside your littles, incorporate the Holy Spirit into your prayer life, and to catechize your kids.
Devon Provencher and Jessica Robyn Provencher are co-authors of The Holy Spirit, The Church, and Creation.
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