Building Faith

A CT Institute forum on how a child learns to love God.

Fowler on Faith

A theologian discusses his faith development theory.

Tough Questions

What should parents do when a child questions the faith?

Final Thoughts

Dealing with the least Christian segment of our population—our youth.


High on the job description for Christian parents is the responsibility to bring their children up “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). As clearly set forth in Scripture, such instruction—formal and spontaneous—is more important than making money, serving the community, or delivering a fine sermon.

The church has long struggled with this mandate. When a false asceticism belittling marriage and family life became popular in the fourth century, a church council was called at Gangra. One of the canons passed at that council read: “It is the office and duty of parents to provide for the bodily care of their children, and also, as far as in them lies, to mold them to the practice of piety. And this care for their children is to be preferred by parents to any private exercises of religion.”

Our problem today is not a false asceticism as much as a false sense of freedom. We make the spiritual training of children subservient to the great desires of self-fulfillment, self-knowledge, and self-advancement—all carried out (in the spiritual realm at least) in the name of Christian freedom and self-worth.

We have done such a thorough job of preaching the freedom of choice, of finding one’s own values, that we neglect the basics of parental guidance—and then wonder why our children neglect our values. As Alan Paton noted in Instrument of Thy Peace, “It is often a matter of the utmost difficulty for older Christians to feel love for young people who appear to have rejected all the values of their elders, and who are unrepentant about it.”

The answer to effectively building the faith of a child is twofold. First, the need for unconditional love remains central. Recounts an old Hasidic story: A father complained to the Baal Shem Tov that his son had forgotten God. “What, Rabbi, shall I do?” The Baal Shem Tov replied. “Love him more than ever.”

Yet unconditional love must have a context. It cannot be treated as an egg set out on the bare limb of a tree. A nest must be built to hold it, to provide a cushion against the buffeting of life. For children, that context is spiritual training and guidance.

What kind of guidance is appropriate? At what age do we teach the truths of Scripture? When can a child make a decision for Christ?

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To help provide some principles for answering these questions, the Christianity Today Institute asked its dean, Kenneth Kantzer, to moderate a forum featuring three child developmentalists:

Donald Joy is professor of human development and Christian education at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky;

David Thomas is professor of adult Christian community development at Regis College in Denver, Colorado;

Wes Willis is executive vice-president of Scripture Press in Wheaton, Illinois.

Also interviewed were James Fowler, professor of theology and human development at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and author of Stages of Faith; and Catherine Stonehouse, director of Christian education for the Free Methodist denomination in Winona Lake, Indiana.

Building Faith: How A Child Learns To Love God

Kenneth Kantzer: At what age can a child understand what it means to love God?

Wes Willis: I was thinking about what Donald Barnhouse said when asked that same question. His observation was that you begin teaching a child about God 20 years before he’s born—the emphasis being that the initial instruction about God grows out of the character of the parent. The way I relate to a child, the way I live, the way I practice my personal and spiritual commitments, all of these are going to influence my child’s perception of God and lay the foundation for subsequent, more explicit, cognitive teachings.

David Thomas: We are beginning to understand that even in the womb the child has a sense of being received in either a positive or a negative way.

As to your question of when a child can consciously respond to that love—understand it and all that sort of thing—I see the answer as being not so much a specific time but a growing into. The process of religious development is truly lifelong.

Kantzer: You want to do everything you can to let children know they come into a home where there is strong love and acceptance. But does that give them an unreal picture of the real world?

Donald Joy: There is a picture in the famous book A Child is Born showing a child who has just been born. He looks very unhappy and bewildered. That expression says there’s enough pain in a child’s experience without telling him he has arrived in a world where there is no welcoming party.

God is present in and with his people. And if the communication of God comes through the life of the family, then the family in some way is an expression of the authenticity of God. God is mediated, in that sense, through this intimate “community”.

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Willis: In terms of trying to cultivate a biblical relationship with my children from the earliest stages, I should be modeling the acceptance and righteous expectations of God. Even now I pray with my boys regularly when they go to bed. I go in and spend time talking and praying with them. And very rarely do I not remind them verbally that there is nothing they can do to stop me from loving them—try though they might. I can get very unhappy with them. But under no circumstances will I reject them.

When we’re teaching children about God, we can fall into the trap of setting up a dichotomy between God’s love and God’s discipline—as if the two were entirely separate. But nothing could be further from the truth. Discipline is an expression of love. We need to demonstrate unquestioned acceptance, but at the same time uphold standards and expectations of obedience to those standards. If I truly love my children, I will discipline them.

Thomas: I think of the word “discipline” in terms of discipleship and learning, not in terms of controlling and manipulating—which is often its meaning in the secular world.

Kantzer: I use discipline very distinctly from punishment.

Willis: Good distinction. When our children don’t exactly turn out the way we want, we get angry. And sometimes that anger turns into a form of hostility and discipline where we, unfortunately, use whatever resources we have to mold that child into our own image and likeness—including our poor understanding of the Word of God.

Thomas: What we want them to be is so far short of what God potentially has in store for them. What we want them to be should almost be inconsequential. We should ask ourselves, “What does God want for them?”

Willis: Exactly. Which means that the healthy Christian development of a child is tied to the continuing development of the parent or the adult.

Joy: Fathers and mothers, just in the business of doing their parenting, are unwittingly the first curriculum for representing God. When we look at what it means to love God, were not looking at God in only one kind of image, we’re looking at God both transcendent and immanent (distant and near).

The Decision To Follow Christ

Kantzer: Can a five-year-old make a decision for Christ?

Willis: I struggled with that when our first son wanted to accept Christ at age five. We had a baptismal service one Sunday and Mark wanted to know what was going on. I explained baptism in terms of a relationship with Christ, and that it is a public testimony of one’s participation in that relationship. I concluded by saying he would someday have to confront that decision himself. But he promptly said he wanted to do it right then and there. I think he made a very intelligent decision at that point, and has confirmed it later in life. I’m not sure that would be the case for every child, but I think we need to be careful not to move a child away from something that seems to be the leading of the Spirit.

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Kantzer: You’re saying you wouldn’t discourage a child, but draw him or her out to see if the decision made is an intelligent one.

Willis: Yes, try to keep it from being meaningless verbalism.

Thomas: In the Roman Catholic tradition there is quite a bit of discussion about the role of confirmation, which, in effect, is the same thing as the age of accountability. Traditionally, we have confirmation in the preteen years. In the last ten years or so, however, with more consideration to the meaning of the liturgical event, we have moved the time back. Currently, each diocese has its own policies, but in general it’s now in the late teen years—very much in line with the concept of making an adult decision. What the churches are doing is mimicking our concept of childhood and adulthood as they are currently understood. Historically, you went right from childhood to adulthood. There was no intermediary period. People married at fairly early ages, and so forth.

Joy: You became a full-time wage earner at 13 or 14.

Thomas: Absolutely. And that, of course, influenced the understanding of human development. Our whole sense of life as a developmental process is relatively new, and a lot of our religious traditions go back to a time when we viewed human nature as being somewhat static.

I think the age of five is always interesting in light of some of the teachings of Aquinas. He argued you could not reach the age of reason until you were seven or so; and a lot of our church law uses age seven as a benchmark for moving into certain practices of required Mass attendance and that sort of thing. It would be very easy for an old-time traditional Catholic to say a five-year-old couldn’t make a decision for Jesus.

Joy: This pushes us to ask where grace is in all of this—and that’s the toughest question theologically to come to any consensus on. That a child belongs to God until he or she is lost is very different from saying that that child is lost until he or she is saved. What I wonder is when justification by faith alone becomes a possibility. That has implied in it an acceptance at the personal level of something that comes from God. It is God’s intervention in my life. It’s not something I do to please my daddy or for the sake of compliance.

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I decided I wanted God to save me when I was eight years old because I had lied and had heard that liars went to hell. That was my first decision. But as my understanding of God and Christ grew, I was confronted with periodic reaffirmation or confirmation of that initial decision. I still find myself doing this, because as I gain greater understanding about God, it calls for a reaffirmation or a recommitment of myself. You begin at a point in life—but that’s the beginning of a process, and not the end of it.

Modern Pioneers of Child Development:

Jean Piaget (1896–1980)

Before Piaget, most educators viewed intelligence as the amount of knowledge a person had stored and how fast this knowledge could be learned. They thought intelligence was fixed at birth. Piaget, however, suggested that growth of intelligence takes place in stages, not by degrees, and that it is not a task of “adding more,” but of transformations of the mind—like the change from a caterpillar to a butterfly.

A Swiss psychologist, Piaget spent many hours observing his own children in natural settings and finding that growth takes place in spurts or stages. These stages are “great leaps” followed by times of calm and integration. He described four major stages.

1. Sensorimotor stage (ages 0–2). The infant makes sense of the world primarily through physical observations—by seeing, hearing, and touching.

2. Preoperational stage (approximately ages 2–7). At this stage there is the new capacity to make sense of the world through language and fantasy. Preschoolers learn through intuition rather than through systematic logic, and they have a creative imagination.

3. Concrete operations stage (approximately ages 7–11). The elementary school-age child has the new capacity to use mental logic but is limited to situations that are real and observable.

Children at this stage learn facts easily, are very literal, and see social issues in terms of black and white, right and wrong.

4. Formal operations stage (often 11 and up). In adolescence and adulthood, an important way of making sense of the world is through abstract thinking. Now there is the ability to solve hypothetical problems with logical thinking.

Piaget found that growth is promoted through interaction with other children and with parents. And progress in stage development is motivated or enhanced as the child encounters perplexing situations.

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The theories of Piaget provide valuable insights for teaching children about God and the Bible. He would suggest that we encourage young people to struggle with problems rather than give them easy answers. He would also suggest we give children plenty of opportunity to explore for themselves and to interact with other children.

Vignettes by Jim Plueddemann, chair of Christian education and graduate educational ministries at Wheaton College, Illinois.

Kantzer: If we are trying to lead a young child to a decision, does that mean a child has to have an idea of what sin is?

Thomas: I don’t think I have to teach them what sin is.

Joy: They know what broken relationships are.

Thomas: As parents and adults in the community, we need to help children work toward reconciling every damaged relationship with siblings, with classmates, with parents. These are the rehearsals for the ultimate God reconciliation.

Willis: I have seen overt rebellion from two-year-olds who very intentionally do precisely what they know they’re not to do. Now, what we need to do is help them understand there is a reconciliation possible.

Thomas: When I look at this question again about a five-year-old making a decision for Jesus, the answer I come up with is that the five-year-old can make a decision for Jesus—as genuinely, authentically, grace filled, and grace empowered as a five-year-old can. That’s the qualification. But as a six-year-old, a seven-year-old, and on into the future, there will be opportunities to make a decision for Jesus in accordance with that stage. God’s presence is always there. That’s a given in this whole process. The main question is the human capacity to sense, perceive, understand, and respond to that spirit, which is always a spirit inviting to fullness.

Kantzer: Certainly the faith of a five-year-old and the faith of that same child later grow’s in intensity. It grows intellectually. But does it grow in other ways?

Willis: It would grow in terms of a person’s sense of responsibility flowing from that decision. Your first decision, Don, was based on self-preservation.

Thomas: This is where developmental understandings and insights will help us. We don’t have to say the egocentric developmental years are antithetical to faith. Instead, we can say that faith experiences—God experiences—during that developmental stage will be full in a different way.

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Joy: And in the mystery of each person’s life, I suspect that if a person comes to an awareness of God even as an adult, there is still that basic, elemental reaction we see in children: I have sinned. I am in a dangerous situation. I need God’s help.

Thomas: I want to come down on the side of the epochal nature of this life-transforming event. It is a beginning, not an ending. I am born again. I am a child of God and can grow as a child of God. There will be many milestones along the way, and the Holy Spirit will lead me to, and hopefully past, each one. There may be a repentance of a different sort at each of these milestones, and there may be growth in my understanding. Certainly God is going to grow in my understanding—but I have started. I have been born into God’s kingdom.

Whose Faith Is It?

Kantzer: You’ve hit on a key point. There is nosuch thing as a genuine faith in Christ that doesn’t include some repentance.

Thomas: It’s really tough for kids to come to that climactic, pivotal event when there has been such careful nurturing in the home. It’s going to be less epochal. It’s not a right-angle turn. It’s a transformation that is more vertical than it is angular.

Willis: That frightens me, because it’s so easy in that setting to absorb and just abide in another person’s—a parent’s—faith.

Joy: I read the Prodigal Son story this morning, and there’s something there developmentally. He came to himself. There was a dawning of that individuation that is an early adult experience. It doesn’t have to be violent. You don’t have to spend your money on prostitutes and end up in pigpens. But everybody’s got to take possession of the self. Until we do, we have nothing to present to God! And very likely, were not ready for that major presentation that says I trust in Christ and Christ alone. This may give us a major Christian education agenda in the church: helping children develop their autonomy. In such a mode, parents become the enablers—they’re in the stands cheering. That’s a dramatic shift away from viewing the family as something you’re always trying to keep everyone in.

A friend of mine tells the story of his daughter who had made a tremendous adult decision regarding a romantic relationship. He wondered how she had been able to break off an engagement all by herself. He later said, half seriously, that it was made possible when she was eight years old. He and his wife had left her in a shoe store with four pairs of shoes. She wanted her parents to make the choice and they said, “Honey, you’ve got to wear them. You make the choice.” They came back every 30 minutes, and after some time the choice was made. My friend said maybe that’s when his daughter began to take charge of her life.

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Well, you wish you could enable parents to see the importance of letting kids decide for themselves when the consequences are still under $40.

Willis: Because later, the price goes up.

Fowler on Faith

In 1980 James Fowler, then a Harvard-trained theologian with background in developmental psychology, published Stages of Faith, the result of ten years of research on the developmental path faith takes in human beings. Although very well received by the academic community, Fowler’s definition of faith as “a person’s way of seeing himself or herself in relation to others against a background of shared meaning and purpose” (p. 4) disquieted many conservative Christians who view faith as man’s unique relationship to the biblical God.

Still, Stages of Faith has proved invaluable to child-development specialists, Christian educators, and Sunday school curriculum publishers in shaping materials aimed at young children. Fowler, now teaching at Emory University in Atlanta, spoke with the Christianity Today Institute about his faith-development theory.

In Stages of Faith you note that your definition of faith is broader than what many Christians are used to. What do you mean by faith?

Faith is a relationship of trust in and loyalty to:

• A center(s) of value. For Christians, this is God. For others, it is whatever replaces God as the most important thing in their life. For those of us reared in a biblical tradition, whatever replaces God is idolatrous. But many place their “faith” in such things. Martin Luther recognized this conception of faith. He knew our trust and loyalty make gods of many things: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21).

• The question of power. As finite creatures, we recognize we could die at any time. So the question is, How do we as finite creatures in a dangerous world align ourselves (reconcile ourselves to power) so as to be sustained in life? People have many solutions. Some try to build stock portfolios. Others try to get tenure in an institution.

• A master story. We are story-creating creatures. At either a conscious or unconscious level, we all have a deep story about what life is really about. It’s the way we answer the question, What is the purpose of life? For Christians, this is the gospel story.

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What are the stages of faith children go through?

Let me first mention primal faith, not a stage per se, but very important. It is rooted in prenatal time and infancy. The mother’s frame of mind during pregnancy and those who are closest to her have impact on the formation of the child. Thus the mother’s faith and the church as an environment that works with expectant parents is very important. During infancy the child forms a sense of self. The parent’s sense of self and life affects the child; it’s important to celebrate the child in ways that make him or her feel like a child of God at home in the world.

Intuitive-projective faith is the first stage of faith proper. It begins about the time the child learns to speak and use language. It’s the stage when the child’s imagination, perceptions, and feelings govern his or her view of the world. The child is strongly influenced by the stories and images of faith we provide. These stories affirm important truths like the sovereignty of God and love of Jesus Christ. However, if we are over-strict in our presentation of God’s judgment, hell, and eternal punishment, we can terrorize a child.

Mythic-literal faith is the second stage. These children think far more logically and clearly about their experiences and Christian faith. They are beyond sorting out the real from the make-believe, and use biblical story to conserve their own meanings and communicate them to others in the community. The child of four or five will hear stories with appreciation but won’t be able to repeat them to you. But mythic-literal children have developed the ability to take the perspective of others, and thus repeat and tell stories themselves.

Any more on the mythic-literal stage?

These children are also beginning to be concerned about where they belong: I’m a member of this family, I’m a member of this religious community, I go to this school. They want to know the story and lore, the history actually, of their social groups. That’s why it is terribly important to share both biblical stories and the story of our particular family of the Christian tradition.

At both of these first two stages we need to take seriously what we do in worship. The nonverbal dimension affects both the children’s conscious awareness of what’s going on and the unconscious. The attitudes of the adults around them, the prayers, the visual symbols in the sanctuary—a child is incredibly receptive to those factors.

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At the third stage, children begin to form their own story?

Yes, a young person at the synthetic-conventional faith stage develops a sense of past, present, and future, and struggles to find the continuity between the self I have been, the self I seem to be, and the self I will become. To do that they must construct a story of their stories. In previous stages they have stories about their experience, but they don’t step back from those stories and reflect on their overall meaning. That seems to be part of what the adolescent is beginning to be involved in.

At what stage does the child begin to understand what God means?

In infancy, actually. Our experiences as infants with our parents give us the material out of which we construct our first images of God. God is not just a projection of our parents. But our parents are our first experience of transcendent power. There is often a great similarity between the sort of feeling image about God that adults carry and their descriptions of their parents.

By four or five we begin to have a mental feeling and representation of God. That doesn’t always take an anthropomorphic shape. A child might say, “God is like the air; he is everywhere.” But they can know that God loves and cares about them.

But pretty soon, God takes on a more anthropomorphic form to begin the mythic-literal stage. He is frequently constructed along the lines of a stern but loving, transcendent human figure. The child constructs a dependable universe in which God rewards the good and punishes the bad. Sometimes we run into what we call 11-year-old atheism when children begin to realize the universe doesn’t always work that way.

What can we do to treat 11-year-old atheism?

Let them overhear us talking about and to God. Then listen to them as they try to make sense out of what they hear.

In Sunday school, it’s important, in the earliest period of childhood, to give gifts to the imagination that convey a powerful sense of God as loving, trustworthy, and dependable. Talk about God as Creator of the world, the God who loves fairness for all people, and a God who cares enough to send us his only Son, Jesus Christ, as a baby. That especially gives us access to the young mind.

When should the question of salvation be raised with a young child?

I think a very young child can have Jesus become a lively participant in his or her life. But to make a once-for-all choice for Jesus requires a vivid image of the alternative—eternal punishment. That creates a dualism in a child’s understanding of the world that we may not have to create quite so early.

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Now, I think theologically and strategically there is room for debate about that. Some would say we must prepare our children to live in a world where evil and sin are real. I’m sensitive to that. But I would prefer to leave the dualism to the next stage. I would prefer at the intuitive-projective stage to have a child develop a strong sense of God’s love and grace.

Should all stories of evil and villains and devils be withheld from the child?

The power of biblical stories that represent the demonic, or villains and heroes, can be important for the child at four or five. They give a child a resolution of good and evil by having the good win out. But the tricky thing about biblical stories is that the good, the apparent good, doesn’t always win out. Take the saga of Jacob, the father of Israel. That’s a hard one for preschoolers to come to terms with because of the moral ambiguity in the situation. It’s hard even for mythic-literal children to come to terms with it. They want the good to be rewarded and evil to be punished.

Somewhere toward the end of that period, at 10 or 11, they need to have a real encounter with the ambiguities of biblical history to help see that God is a gracious God whose rain falls on the just and the unjust. It helps them prepare for that 11-year-old atheism we were talking about.

Is it possible for children raised in a Christian home simply to grow into the faith, or is a definite decision necessary?

Both can happen. Many persons do grow up in families where there is no commitment to Christ, and for them the question of conversion becomes terribly important. But children who grow up in communities of faith often experience a gradual formation in the faith so that they never know themselves as not being Christian. But even when that is the case, there come points when children have to be led to recognize how this life orientation differs from alternatives. They must be equipped to see the shape that evil takes to make discriminating judgments and have the strength of character to withstand temptations and moral confusion. So I think it really is a both/and situation.

How would you describe your own faith commitment? Was it a gradual growth process or a definite time of decision?

My father was a Methodist minister in North Carolina, and my mother was a Quaker from Indiana. For me, faith was very much a process of gradual formation, partly because Methodist tradition emphasizes both salvation by grace through faith and sanctification—an ongoing process of growth in grace.

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However, I can remember as early as 8 going to a small revival and answering an altar call. This happened again at 15 at a Billy Graham crusade. I was sitting in the top row of the choir, in front of everyone. Reverend Graham got to the climax of the sermon, gave the invitation, and I stood up before 3,000 people, tears streaming down my face. I spent that night walking, crying, and praying, trying to sort out what this meant, and somehow realizing this didn’t finish my business with God. Although I never doubted God’s existence nor his love for me, I had real struggles about how God related to the church and how the church related to Jesus Christ. That lasted through college and much of graduate school, where finally the ministry of a Jesuit spiritual director and the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius helped get my Christology straightened out.

What are the most common mistakes parents make in teaching their children about the Christian faith?

One of the most common is excessive moralism. We tend to make faith a should/ought/must business. Usually this is done with the best of intentions. It is a combination of wanting to nurture our children into the faith but not having a great deal of confidence in our ability to do that. So we sometimes overdo it, and our lack of confidence invariably comes across to the children as a lack of confidence in them. They experience it as, “You expect us to be bad.” That’s where allowing children to overhear us articulate our faith and love of God is so much more potent than sitting down and saying, “We’re going to get this straight once and for all.”

Does faith development differ greatly from other kinds of childhood development, such as social, intellectual, and physical?

Not a great deal. Mostly, it is an effort to coordinate what we know is going on in other areas of the child’s development with his or her growth in relation to God. The special contribution of faith-development theory is that it gives us a framework to see the interrelatedness of the social, intellectual, and physical elements. Faith is part of the potential that God gives us in creation; there is a push from the human, developmental side to realize that potential for knowing God. But there is also a luring, a coming to us from God’s side. It’s in the point of meeting that the moving dynamic and drama of faith is carried out.

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Kantzer: But is it possible for children raised in a Christian home to simply grow into the faith?

Joy: I have no problem accepting that. My problem is appreciating it. It’s not my experience. If I had to choose between unruffled progressive patterning and what I’ve been through, I would always choose my experience.

Kantzer: Sort of like Augustine. He’s grateful for sin because he now has such a wonderful testimony.

Joy: With me it’s a question of what develops perspective—and it tends to be pain. I look at that, and at the people who have not been stressed and who have not found themselves having to reorganize life—and I can’t appreciate their experience. I celebrate with them, but it’s just a different trajectory. I don’t think it’s invalid.

Kantzer: Wes, do you feel comfortable with that?

Willis: Yes, I do. There is a mystery before which we all stand, and that is the mystery of a person’s relationship with God. And I like the way you put it, Don, when you say, “I can accept it, but I don’t know how to appreciate it.”

Joy: We stress a certain type of religious journey in our leadership, and that becomes a model for everyone else. Then we put these people in the pulpit and there are some people who say, “I know just what you’re talking about.” And that’s wonderful. But there are many others who say it makes no sense, because that’s not their experience.

Thomas: All parents want the best for their kids, and the obvious danger is that we interpret best as it was for us. For those with more than one child, there’s a tremendous temptation to look at who we perceive to be our best child and ask, “Why aren’t the rest of your brothers or sisters like you?” Yet we as parents and co-Christians stand in respectful worship to the mystery of the God-human encounter and its schedule that in some ways is ordained by God. We’re to serve that schedule, assist it, enable it—whatever language we want to use—but we’re not to manipulate it. We have to be reminded of that over and over because we care a lot about our children. The greater and deeper we care, the more we’re tempted to intervene.

Train Up A Child

Kantzer: Can you exegetically unpack the proverb “train up a child”?

Willis: “In the way he should go” probably could be better translated “in accordance with what is appropriate for him.”

Joy: In other words, individuality. But how would you explain “when he is old he won’t depart from it”?

Willis: You are establishing a consistent pattern in the child’s life. But this part of the verse is to be read as wisdom literature. Wisdom literature states probability, not a promise.

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Joy: Not an airtight promise. It’s based on observation.

Willis: You go through the entire Book of Proverbs, and that’s basically the way wisdom literature is. Generally speaking, if you rear a child appropriately you can usually expect him to turn out properly. That doesn’t mean there are not exceptions, however.

Kantzer: What are some keys in helping children understand the seriousness of the religious issue without scaring them to death?

Thomas: Our children today are much more aware of death and mortality than I was when I was young. They live in a scary world, and faith gives them an approach for dealing with it.

I know that in some families religion is viewed not so much as life giving as judgment providing—an extension of the parent’s authority and power over the child. Not surprisingly, then, what religion means to a child is judgment and control. If you don’t do this, you are going to hell. That’s not—for me at least—the message of Jesus.

Joy: Every day is sufficient to its own problems. Around our house there’s no unfinished business. That’s part of our daily reconciliation in the face of our mortality.

Thomas: We have a good friend who had an interesting experience with her son when he was right around five years old. He was misbehaving terribly, and she couldn’t figure out why. She finally sat down and started talking to him. Come to find out, he had heard that if you are good, then when you die you will go to be with Jesus in heaven. But what he understood was if you are good you will die—and go to be with Jesus in heaven. He wasn’t ready to die, so he was going to be as bad as possible so he didn’t have to go to heaven and be with Jesus.

Joy: A similar thing happened at a funeral. Talking about the woman who had passed away, the pastor said God needed her in heaven because she was such a good organist. And this little kid said, “I’m not going to get good at anything.”

Willis: Boy, that would really cut down on piano practicing, wouldn’t it?

Kantzer: How do we teach children to hate sin yet love the sinner?

Willis: It’s modeled in our attitude toward those who overtly sin, those who disagree with us, those who cut us off the highway.

Joy: Teaching tenderness toward people and a confrontive attitude toward sin is best done through prayer. This happened in our home. We were youth directors for ten years, and we didn’t spare our sons anything. We recounted the tragedies around the breakfast table in prayer, naming names—and often doing so through tears. Our kids would see these people come and go and know something bad had happened. I think they discriminated between the sin and the sinner. Destructive things had happened, they had consequences that were sometimes irreversible. But these people were important to us.

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Thomas: If you discuss things ahead of time, it often helps the child react better to a particular situation. It’s wrong for families to bury their heads in the sand. These things are a part of modern life. We do best if we can give our children good reasons for rejecting sin.

Kantzer: What are some guidelines to follow in shaping the gospel message for children without altering it?

Willis: I’m uncomfortable with the term shaping. If by shaping we mean simplifying, boiling it down to the lowest common denominator, that’s fine. The gift of teaching is the gift of simplicity—simplicity without distortion. The greatest teachers I’ve ever had are those who, after they’ve taught, left me asking the question “Why didn’t I see that myself?”

Kantzer: In other words, we should aim to make things simple so long as we don’t get too simplistic and falsify them.

Willis: Yes, recognizing some of those truths are beyond what some people are prepared to grasp.

Thomas: I think Jesus is a good example here. He taught very simple stories about what the kingdom of God is like. But we know that you can understand those stories on all kinds of levels.

Joy: The most telling thing about Jesus is that he never taught without a parable. So that’s the rule I would use. You don’t begin with doctrine. You don’t use the interpretive material, the wisdom distillations, all the abstracts. You begin by asking how this timeless treasure can be represented for children.

Modern Pioneers of Child Development:

Erik Erikson (1902–)

Plato taught that the education of children should begin before birth, and he described a detailed curriculum for children at different stages of growth. But educators since Plato have often neglected the study of child development.

Erik Erikson has done much to overcome this neglect. He sees human development as a rocky road of crises or conflicts.

Positive resolution of each conflict is essential for subsequent growth and healthy development. He describes eight major turning points in the human life cycle, the first five stage: leading a person through adolescence.

1. The first crisis for infants is the issue of trust. “Is the world dependable?” “Can parents be trusted to provide for physical needs?”

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If this crisis is not resolved positively, the infant learns a basic mistrust for the world that results in lifelong developmental lags.

2. When the child learns to walk and talk, a new set of challenges is created. Two-year-olds emerge from almost total dependence to an awareness of newfound independence. “I can do it myself, Daddy becomes a major theme. Children feel a growing sense of autonomy when they are able to accomplish tasks on their own and feel shame when they fail.

3. At about the age of three, children begin to wonder if they will ever measure up to other adults. In their doubts, they begin to identify with and imitate adults. They learn to take initiative. And if they fail they experience guilt.

4. School-age children face the crisis of comparing themselves with other children. At this stage they either gain a deeper sense of mastery and industry or they experience a sense of inferiority.

5. Adolescence brings about a crisis of identity. As teenagers gain a new perspective on themselves, they also develop a new sense of self-consciousness. Unresolved identity at this stage results in role confusion.

Erikson describes developmental stages for the entire life span. His adult stages include conflicts of intimacy versus isolation, generativity versus stagnation, and integrity versus despair.

Parents, pastors, and youth workers can gain insights for promoting spiritual growth through the study of Erikson’s developmental tasks. Scripture does not promise an easy path for spiritual growth. And thus Christian educators can play an important role in helping children resolve the crises in their lives.

Kantzer: Give us an example of boiling something down to its essence and then oversimplifying.

Thomas: Take teaching a child to pray. We are prone to say, “God will answer all of your prayers.” What we’re implying is that God is ultimately disposed to your best interest all the time, without fail. It’s an absolute. And if you don’t get what you want, you’re bad or something. But that is an erroneous conclusion.

The simplicity thing is a complex issue. And the task of the adult is to take the complexity of his or her faith, seek to understand what its simple underlying principle is, and communicate it back to the child—knowing full well the child will experience that principle at his or her level of understanding. The good teacher can say amidst all this complexity, Here is the kernel. And we are not to burden the child with the complexity of the adult. I think that’s another mistake we make. We often think a child has to know and experience and believe everything in the entire deposit of faith. Rather, we should ask ourselves what are the fundamentals, and then how should they be taught to the child at every stage of his or her development.

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Willis: Another area we oversimplify is the doctrine of Satan. I believe in Satan, yet I think there are very few children who are actively tempted by Satan. I think of a friend’s child who made the statement, “Satan really tempted me to do that.” Well, she was plain disobedient. It was a clear-cut example of “the Devil made me do it” syndrome.

Kantzer: What are some common mistakes parents make in teaching their children about the Christian faith?

Joy: Ultimately, the faith is something that must be responded to individually. We can train. We can nurture. We can do all of that. But ultimately, they respond.

Kantzer: One mistake, then, is to assume we can do more than we can.

Joy: And forget God’s Holy Spirit works in children as well as in us. Many evangelical churches demean the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We try to manipulate. We try to force. We try to cajole. We try to intimidate—all the while forgetting that it’s God’s Spirit who convinces. Not us.

Thomas: Parents also assume the Spirit works only in formal religion. Moreover, we fail to understand that the Spirit can work through anyone in the family—parents as well as siblings.

Joy: On this last point, if we can listen to our children we can learn something about the mystery of life, about its processes, and about the presence of the Spirit. Listen to their prayers, for example. A person’s prayer life is like a window to his or her soul. If we allow our children the opportunity to express themselves in spontaneous and open ways, it can be a very powerful message for us—if we’re humble enough to listen. Maybe that’s part of this very rich picture of Jesus saying “unless you become like the child.” Unless you see as children see, you won’t see everything there is to see.

Willis: We also make a grave error in trying to take the school model and impose it upon the home. We have done very poorly in most schools in terms of teaching, but that’s the very model we take into our homes. Instruction in the home has to be spontaneous—growing out of life. I am not opposed to specific times for teaching truth, but I think these should be a very small part of the religious training in the home. The family is a laboratory, and it’s the ideal place to teach Christian truths in relationship, in tension, in context, as opposed to the school model where it’s out of context, out of tension, and perhaps terribly distorted.

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Modem Pioneers of Child Development:

Lawrence Kohlberg (1927–)

Kohlberg revolutionized the understanding of moral reasoning, theorizing that the way children reason about moral issues develops in stages, based on cognitive ability.

He developed his theory by interviewing young men and posing moral dilemmas. He was interested not so much in their answers to these dilemmas as in the reasons for their answers. And he found that the young men moved through three levels in their moral reasoning.

The first level is self-oriented, and called preconventional. The motivation for choosing right or wrong is based on the physical consequences of the action. When children are motivated by fear of punishment or by a desire for reward, they evidence this first level. Children at this level may picture God as a policeman or as Santa Claus.

The second, or conventional, level of moral reasoning is society oriented. Right or wrong depends on “social convention.” Motivation for “doing the right thing” is to please the peer group or the rules of society. Motivation for Christian living may be based on the need for a feeling of belonging to a caring group.

The third level is postconventional. The motivation for moral reasoning here is based on universal principles of justice rather than self-interest or the rules of society. Kohlberg says the Golden Rule is a good example of this highest level.

Kohlberg feels there are at least two ways to promote higher levels of moral reasoning. First, children move to higher stages when they experience a just, moral community, and second, when they have the opportunity to discuss moral dilemmas. Thus, parents should be encouraged to provide a fair, loving home environment where moral questions can be discussed.

Structured Training: In The Home And Out

Kantzer: What place should formal religious training have in the home?

Willis: In Deuteronomy 6 parents are instructed to love God with all their heart and soul and mind, and to talk about spiritual things when they lie down and when they rise up, at home or in the way. I take “the home or in the way” as more of a spontaneous kind of thing; but the “lying down or rising up” seems to convey an idea of regular training. Still, the predominant emphasis of this passage—verses 7, 8, and 9—is showing truth in our actions, our thought life, and in the atmosphere of our homes.

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Therefore, I suggest parents do things that are fun for their children as well as instructive. We found the thing our family enjoyed more than anything else was reading out loud together. We have read the Chronicles of Narnia twice, the Tolkien trilogy, missionary biographies, and, of course, the Bible. We try to do this on a systematic basis. Obviously, we can’t do it every day—and we don’t worry about missing a day. We try to have a lot of variety and do things appropriate to the understanding and development of each child. And we don’t impose an artificial school model on them, but we do it as a natural outgrowth of everyday family life.

Thomas: Also, there is a kind of annual cycle in the family. I think it starts in September with school. Certain events you are all experiencing can become a focal point for prayer, for discussion, and for Scripture reading.

Joy: Holidays provide a beautiful opportunity for this.

Thomas: Sure. The family has a kind of liturgical year all its own revolving around holidays, the seasons, and the realities of everyday life.

Personal Reflections

Kantzer: What do you remember most, positive or negative, about the way you were taught the Christian faith as a child?

Thomas: My father was not overtly religious. His religion was something very private. Our family would pray together at certain times, but Dad would rarely join us. And that was always a big problem for me. But I remember one day walking through the house and just happening to look into my parents’ bedroom. There was my father kneeling alongside the bed praying. You could have knocked me over with a feather! This was a dimension of him I never knew existed.

What I take from that as a general principle is that parents are always on display, always being watched in different ways; and a child will have a pretty good sense of what’s authentic and what’s not. Certain things done because you say, “We have to do it this way,” or “This is the way it’s always been done,” don’t have nearly as much power as the situation where somebody does something totally unexpected. These moments of religious development can’t be planned. They just happen.

Willis: It’s also important for a child to sense the parents’ religion isn’t just a part of what they do for the sake of the child—they do it for their own sake, their own needs.

Joy: I could amplify David’s remembrance. When I was 16, 1 was trusted with the family car to drive some friends to a music festival. I can’t imagine not phoning home to tell my parents my carload wanted to stay for a dance that followed, from 10:00 P.M. until midnight, but phone I didn’t.

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After stopping by a local hamburger joint for something to eat, I finally got home around 2:00 A.M. As I tiptoed through the house, I noticed my parents’ bedroom light was on. I could hear voices—they were praying. If they had ever been anxious about me, that anxiety was gone. I heard them praying about my future, my life choices. They were committing me to God in a very special and mature way. I didn’t feel at all put upon.

Kantzer: Would you have been upset if they had been praying that their son not be wayward?

Joy: I have thought about that because a lot of that kind of praying goes on. And it’s a common mistake parents make. Parents anticipate evil. I saw this again in the passage in Luke 2 where Jesus’ parents look for him for three days. Have you ever wondered where they were looking for Jesus? When he was found, Jesus might have said, “I’m exactly where you should have expected me to be.” Had I heard my parents pray in such a way, it might have prompted me to experiment with some bad things.

Thomas: What’s coming up here is the impact of the father on the religious development of the home. Culturally we think the woman is the one who passes on the religious traditions. But we simply can’t isolate it to the man or the woman.

When a man freely, spontaneously, and authentically kneels down before God or prays for the goodness and the richness of his son or daughter, we see a gesture of humility or dependence that probably comes less naturally to a man than a woman.

Willis: That’s exactly where my mind was going. Through my growing up and even into adulthood, I have found it very easy to accept God as omnipotent, omniscient—a transcendent Being. But it’s been much more difficult for me to perceive of a loving, accepting, gracious God. I perceived my father as being aloof, distant, authoritarian; and I never saw any sensitivity or intimacy expressed at all. The intimacy of prayer was foreign to me, because I didn’t have that with my father.

Joy: We see Jesus using the intimate term for father, “Abba.” It’s almost a bringing back of that distant father into the daddy intimacy.

Willis: As a matter of fact, I came to realize that as I see and understand Jesus, I see the father. Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the father.” Studying the person of Christ and how he related has given me a much better understanding of how I ought to relate to God.

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Tough Questions

Dr. Catherine Stonehouse is an educator in charge of Christian education ministries for the Free Methodist Church. In the following, she draws from the pioneering work of Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg in explaining how to handle difficult Bible passages and a child’s questioning of the faith.

Those “hard-to-teach” Bible stories

Quite often, a child’s favorite Bible stories are those we would choose not to tell because we don’t think they help their view of God. And yet, in a home or church where Christianity is lived, there is no way children can be “protected” from some of the biblical content that is hard to sort through.

God has given each child a system for filtering out a lot of what we adults view as problematic. One of the things that came out of Lawrence Kohlberg’s research in the area of moral development was that people do not comprehend a moral statement or moral reasoning more than one level above where they function. In other words, people at one level of development will hear a person at a higher level talking about something and will think they understand. But what they have actually done is taken that content and made it fit their limited thinking.

Let’s take, for example, a child’s biblical understanding. After reading or hearing a difficult portion of Scripture, a child doesn’t usually ask the kinds of questions an adult might ask if confronted with the same passage. Thus, when a child does raise a question, the parent needs first to understand what he or she is really asking. It’s kind of like the child who asks, “Daddy, where did I come from?” The father thinks, “Oh, dear. This is the time for the sex education.” But after he has told the whole story, the child responds, “No, what I really meant was, What town was I born in?”

When we are dealing with difficult passages of Scripture, we should just let the story unfold. If a child has questions, explore those questions, making sure we’re getting inside the child’s mind and responding to his or her question rather than another question that same portion of Scripture might naturally raise in our own mind.

Questioning faith

One of the elements of developmental psychology most helpful in understanding faith and the child is Jean Piaget’s causes of development: Heredity and maturation, direct experience, social interaction, and something Piaget calls equilibration.

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• In connection with heredity and maturation, what Piaget is saying is there are certain things that just cannot be handled until the biological makeup has developed to a certain point. For example, I can’t think abstractly until my brain cells develop more fully. Thus, when we are dealing with faith (or, for that matter, cognitive development or moral reasoning), let’s be patient—and let children be children. Let’s realize there is no great advantage in rushing things. And particularly with young children, let’s not force them into any type of experience or response. Let’s instead present the love of Christ, live the love of Christ, and let our children be a part of the rich fellowship of the church.

• Understanding the love of God will grow out of experiencing that love. And that direct experience comes to children as they experience the life of the family and the church worshiping and talking about God together. Any nuclear family needs the broader context of the family of God. The children need to see the love of God and the grace of God reflected not only through their parents but others in the body of Christ.

Social interaction—question-and-answer, dialogue, talking-things-through—is very important.

We have found that children who are exposed to a wide range of people will develop their moral judgment more rapidly than children who relate to a very narrow circle of people. There is more opportunity to grow and develop as we know more people, as we see them experiencing God, and as we tune in to their ideas.

What the grace of God really does can only be seen in the context of relationships. And the relationships within the home are extremely important, but limited. Children need to see interaction at broader levels with more different kinds of people. This is especially critical in the teen years when kids are establishing their independence. They often can’t “hear” their parents, or listen to what they have to say on certain points. Often another trusted adult can come alongside them and become listener, confidant, and counselor.

The peer group is also a natural influence for this time of transition from dependence to independence. And that’s not bad if it’s a good peer group. Teens need a Christian peer group. During this transition time, the peer influence can keep children committed to Christian values while they work to make those values their own.

• That leads me to what Piaget termed the process of equilibration: the discovery that what I thought was true is different from what somebody else I trust believes is true. I’m faced with a conflict I have to resolve. And I either have to reject the new information and cling to what I thought was true, or adjust my understanding of the world according to this new information.

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At this point, we hope we will make strides into new ways of perceiving things: We are willing to make major adjustments in our way of perceiving what is right and what is wrong; in perceiving what God is doing, who he is, and what he requires of us. The role of parents in these times of questioning and inner struggle is to be supportive. A communication that is clear and open, where children know they can have doubts and ask questions, is extremely important.

Parents should not be afraid of questions about faith, but view them as positive signs that their children are ready to gain new ground in their spiritual understanding. Parents should not give pat answers or put their children down for questioning their faith, but they should try to understand the root of the question and guide their children to find satisfying answers. In that way, we can help them move along into new areas of development.

Overlooked “Necessities”

Kantzer: What don’t modern parents know about relating faith to children?

Joy: I suspect they know what they need to know about faith, honesty, integrity, and making their words congruent with their beliefs and practices.

Willis: I would tell them to relax: don’t worry so much about relating faith—live it.

Joy: Yes; and if your behavior in a discipline episode is not congruent with how you really value that child, tell the child. This repentance and congruency ought to characterize the relationship between parent and child.

Willis: It’s much less important for parents to be right than it is for parents to show how to act when they are wrong. If I lose my temper and get mad at my son, I need to apologize to him and show him how you deal with getting mad inappropriately. I’ve sinned. I’ve gotten forgiveness. Now, would you forgive me?

Thomas: One of the things I think is so important—and this is very much in line with an image of God—is that the child understands the parent as consistent and faithful. And that very much ties to Wes’s concept of not doing things in anger. If we let emotions guide our parental reponses, we will be inconsistent. And that confuses our children and creates all kinds of emotional problems. But it also confuses because so much of reality is experienced through the parents’ relationship. It confuses children about the nature of the universe—as to whether this is a trustworthy place or not.

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Kantzer: It’s much more self-respecting never to be wrong.

Willis: But children understand our motivation far better than we do.

Thomas: I think parents need to appreciate their children more as gifts of God. They come from God. We don’t own them. In some ways, then, we don’t bear absolute responsibility for their successes or failures.

Willis: The whole concept of stewardship comes into play here. We talk about being a steward of time and money. We are stewards of our children, too. We need to view them as not so much a gift from God but as a trust from God, conserved and used for a period of time.

Joy: How can we practice that so our stewardship does not become ownership?

Willis: One of the things Elaine and I have tried to do with our boys is build meaningful memories. We’re trying to do things the boys will look back on in 20 years and say were good experiences.

Joy: You sound like Peter Drucker. He discriminates between doing things right and doing the right thing.

Willis: It helps bring an awful lot of things into perspective. Do I want to sit here and read the newspaper, or should I go out and watch my sons play soccer? If I think of it in terms of what is going to be most important to my children 20 years from now, things are suddenly brought into perspective. I realize that what I’m doing now is helping build a firm foundation for their future families.

Thomas: Parents also need to be supportive of their children. I was at a game once where a kid struck out with the bases loaded. Right after that happened, the parent was out on the field giving a batting lesson to his son. I said to myself, “This is awful, this is evil. This should never happen. He should be out there supporting his son.”

Willis: The parent had never failed!

Thomas: Obviously. In the family there should be an abundance of forgiveness. I remember somebody saying the home should be a safe place for children to fall. If they are going to fall, let them fall there.

Willis: And they should learn how to get up.

Thomas: And then they can get up. Parents should not place the urgency and demands characteristic of the “outside” world on their children inside the home. We live in a very competitive society. The home should be a place where competition will not be the rule that runs our roost.

Joy: Moreover, we’re so caught up in an age of spiraling affluence that we probably need to underscore the fact that there is no substitute for the parent—a parent who not only lives with the child, but interacts with the child, exercises generosity, fairness, discipline, and all that. To take a second job or feel you’re doing the best thing for your family by increasing your income can be very destructive, especially in the years before 15. Some guys ought to resign their traveling jobs and become a parent who is available.

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Kantzer: Instead of teaching them about God, we often teach them about our own values.

Joy: And we are representing God to them. They’re forming their impression of what this God is like from this God-like representative who has been given to them. And you can’t represent God very well when you’re always out of town.

Kantzer: Anything else?

Thomas: Well, good parents will be good parents if they are good to themselves, if they take care of their health and all that sort of thing. Presence is fine, but if you are present as a grouch or someone who is tired or critical or depressed, that’s not good, either. You need to take care of yourself, develop your own social life, intellectual life, spiritual life. All of those then become resources for the children. The better you are for yourself, the better you can be for them.

Final Thoughts

Christian parents say their greatest treasure is their children. We can understand why. A child is a life of infinite and eternal value—placed in our hands to be shaped and protected.

But neither is it any great surprise to realize children are also our greatest worry. George Gallup, Jr., warns us that the youngest adults—those just growing out of their teenage years, often still living in their parental home, and still regarded by most Christian parents as their children—represent the least Christian segment of our population.

They are least likely to believe in a God who cares for them. They are most prone to reject such basic Christian doctrines as the deity of Christ or salvation through faith in him. They are most liable to overthrow fundamental values of honesty, truth telling, sexual faithfulness, and regard for the rights and property of others. And they are far more disposed to disobey the law, to cheat or steal, and to flaunt their liberation from the lifestyle accepted generally by the older society in which they were reared.

Some Christians, though deeply concerned, view this situation with optimism. They remind us there is nothing new under the sun. Young people have always been disposed to sow their wild oats.

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Other parents take a dimmer view. Teenage rebellion has always been with us, they agree, but it has never been so deep or widespread. Television and the redefining of the family unit—the single-parent and working-parent home—have changed the basic societal structures that for nearly two millennia have undergirded traditional life.

While the true nature of society’s moral/religious character lies somewhere between these extremes, every Christian parent nevertheless knows it is his or her duty to rear children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We are to carefully, diligently instruct them in the moral and ethical teaching of the Bible so that when they are old they will not depart from it.

The older Protestant theologians provide us with some helpful biblical insights at this point. Repentance and regeneration were, for them, lifelong processes. Repentance was a transformation of the whole state of the soul, including, but not limited to, godly sorrow for sin. And regeneration, so the Reformers argued, is the renewal or the rejuvenation of the soul instead of an instantaneous new birth into the family of God. Salvation for them was both instantaneous and a process.

The importance of this for child rearing lies in what it implies regarding obedience to God’s command to train children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Child rearing is not simply trying to foster a single act of repentance/faith/conversion/justification/and the New Birth. It is a multi-decade process of shaping the soul of a human person.

But even more important than encouraging a child to form Christian values, and impressing upon his tender mind the basic doctrine of the faith, is instructing him in how to make moral and spiritual decisions. Our task is not to make our children into our own image, but to make them into the image of Christ. That means our goal is not to instruct them precisely in what we know to be the right, but to enable them to become self-instructing persons who make their own decisions in the light of the Word of God. Instruction in what to do is not enough. We must also provide instruction in how to do it. And for this, a child needs not only instruction, but exercise in the practice of making decisions.

From a parent’s point of view, it is usually much easier and invariably much safer to tell a child what he should do than it is to get the child to make his own decisions. But this is to forget the fundamental role of nurture that leads to maturity.

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Making decisions is the only way a child becomes mature. In a child’s early years, it is our duty to push him or her into making decisions just as a bird encourages its awkward fledglings to venture into flight. Without being pushed to decisions, the youngster will tend to remain dependent on the parent. His religion will not really be his own, but one simply adopted from that of his parents’. There will come a day when the parents’ decisions are not enough. When asked why it is right for him to do a particular thing, it is appropriate for a 5-year-old to respond, “Because my mama says so.” But a 15-year-old dare not give that response when he is challenged by his peers. If a child does not come to accept values because they are his own, he will, when challenged, reject his parents’ values. In fact, he may, and frequently does, feel that he must reject his parents’ values just to prove his own independence and personhood.

Parents represent God in the life of their children. But it is terribly important that they represent the fundamental attributes of God and not just his divine sovereignty. The essential attribute of God, according to biblical teaching, is not his sovereignty, but his holy love.

Of course, we are very unworthy and inadequate representatives of God’s love and holiness. We must remember we are sinners and must warn our children that part of us does not truly reflect God. An essential part of our representation of the holy love of God depends upon our honesty in recognizing our own sin and shortcomings. Quick and serious repentance is the nearest we can come to the absolute holiness of God. Our children see all too quickly our faults. But when we fail to confess our faults, we add to our daily sins the devastating sin of dishonesty and lack of integrity.

Just as we are wont to think God does not really love us when he fails to give us our childish desires, so our children need strong and sure proof of our unbroken love if we are to picture to them the Hosea-like love of the God of the Bible.


Dean, Christianity Today Institute

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