Youth & Kids

Stories that shape: The place of Biblical theology in child development

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Much-loved author Morris Gleitzman was recently appointed as the 2018-19 Children’s laureate. A laureate’s role is to promote literacy, which Gleitzman believes equips ‘young readers to embrace an often dark and uncertain world with optimism, resolve and creativity’.[1] For him, children need stories to learn resilience, insight, problem solving, empathy and more.

This is certainly true. We become the stories we share together. Knowing this, I try to make sure the stories we share in our house are worth sharing. For our science-loving child, who spends her days testing hypotheses and making mess in general, there is plenty to encourage her in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). We own the entire series of Juliet Nearly a Vet, Zoey and Sassafras and Andrea Beaty’s picture books Ada Twist, Scientist and Rosie Revere, Engineer.  For our fun-loving second born, there are books packed with humour and mischief-making such as Clementine, Ivy and Bean, Squishy Taylor and much more. The stories we share together become their stories.

It should not surprise us that the Bible uses stories. Stories that shape us. Yet Scripture is not just a random collection of disjointed tales; rather it hinges around one overall big story. The Bible has many parts, but they all lead up to the gospel: the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection as fulfilment of Scripture to bring in a new creation.

The process of teaching how each part leads up to Jesus is called biblical theology. Some people mistakenly think biblical theology is just teaching an overview or timeline of events. It’s much more than a history lesson though; it’s teaching how we can properly think about everything coming together in Jesus’ saving work. It’s not easy to teach this in a way that isn’t arbitrary or that strips a passage of its distinctive details (by jumping to Jesus too quickly). But it’s something worth persevering at doing well because it allows us to figure out how the gospel is the heart of Scripture.

The gospel story is the most powerful story we can share with our children. In it, we don’t just learn by living vicariously through the protagonist. Our identity becomes so tied up in Jesus’ work that it changes us in a concrete way. We share his story and are renewed in his image.

Of course everyone needs biblical theology, but why in particular do children need it? Children need two things as they develop: both a secure base and also a little push to go out exploring and become something of their own. The gospel gives them both. A secure base—God’s unconditional, unchanging love in Jesus. But it also calls them to venture out and change into the image of Christ. The story of the new creation in him changes them.

Take for example two of my children. One wins every award that you can win; and one doesn’t. For the first, she knows her worth comes from being loved by God not her achievements. Yet at the same time we tell her that her cleverness and kindness are great gifts to help others as she lives out the gospel. The second knows her worth is not in achievements either and she is secure enough to persevere when some things don’t come as easily for her as it does for others. She does this with the creativity, grit and humour that comes from being secure in Christ. Such perseverance is one of the most important parts of the Christian life. Each child is different but shaped by the security and vision the gospel casts in their lives.

You can’t tell your kids the gospel too many times. And they shouldn’t roll their eyes at the ‘Jesus part’ of an application. If they do, perhaps we need to work harder and be smarter at teaching our kids about grace.

There are good kids’ Bibles that give a clear biblical theological picture.[2] Some people say you should read kids a ‘real Bible’ instead. The truth is: kids need both. It’s not good to pit them against each another. One teaches them to read the parts (individual passages) and one teaches how the parts come together in the gospel. Keep using a variety of tools and books to teach them the gospel story in various ways.

When the repetition of teaching a little one becomes tedious, we need to remind each other how worthwhile teaching them the gospel is. Gleitzman believes stories are key to thriving in a dark, uncertain, daunting and unsettling future. Undoubtedly many stories will help them on their way, but none quite as much as the story of the sinner, unconditionally loved and transformed in the image of Christ; perfected to worship God forever.

[1] ‘Morris Gleitzman on why kids need books in a “dark and uncertain world”’, ABC News, 12 February 2017 (viewed 11 March 2018): http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-12/morris-gleitzman-on-why-kids-need-books-author/9421494?pfmredir=sm

[2] Our favourites include The Big Picture Interactive Bible (B&H Kids, 2013) and David Helm’s The Big Picture Story Bible (Crossway, 2004).

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