Since the publication of Robert Coles's The Spiritual Life of Children in 1990, academic interest in how children view God has burgeoned. Secular and Christian researchers alike have found that children have spiritual lives independent from the influence of their families and other social factors. Donald Ratcliff, the Price-LeBar Professor of Christian Education at Wheaton College, has studied the topic for three decades. He has written and edited a number of books, including Children's Spirituality: Christian Perspectives, Research, and Applications, and most recently, ChildFaith: Experiencing God and Spiritual Growth with Your Children (Wipf and Stock, 2010). Ratcliff spoke with CT associate editor Katelyn Beaty about how parents can guide their child's spiritual growth while acknowledging his or her choice.
In the introduction to ChildFaith, you write, "Don't consider this book a prescription for successful spiritual nurture." Why the disclaimer?
Personal experience. My wife and I have three wonderful kids, and we tried many different things to influence them spiritually. But they each made choices and continue to make choices. There is influence, but there is no cause and effect.
We celebrated the Old Testament holidays in our home. My wife and I thought, This is great. Our kids are going to dive right into the Scriptures. And it worked well, for a couple of years. Then our oldest son said, "Dad, we're not Jewish. Why should we do this Jewish stuff?" I realized that, while we had done our best to make it connect, it didn't. So after talking with our other kids, we felt we could back off of the holidays.
We have to be sensitive to where kids are, and adapt to where they are to the extent that we can.