Lewis Foster, a professor at Cincinnati Christian University and one of the translators of the NIV and NKJV, once said that the Bible is simple enough for a child to wade in the shallow end, yet profound enough for scholars to spend a lifetime exploring its depths. That’s true, but it doesn’t mean that children should only wade in the shallow end. They should also learn to swim in the deep end; to study, understand and apply the Bible themselves.
So how do we help children learn how to understand and apply the Bible themselves? Here are five suggestions:
Be a swimmer. We (parents and Bible teachers) must first be seen to be swimming in the deep end if we want to teach our children how to swim. Sharing a Bible story or teaching a child a biblical principle, but not living out the truth of the story or applying the principle to our own lives is hypocrisy. This is foundational – the precepts of the Bible must be seen to be informing every facet of our adult lives.
Start with the basics. Swimming lessons should begin with the basic strokes. Teach the major themes of the Bible and how they fit together. Help 4-8 year olds learn how God made them (creation), loves and wants to know them (birth and death of Christ, Gospel) and has a special place prepared for them (Heaven). Teach 6-12 year olds the essential stories of the Old and New Testaments and how they fit together. [The beautifully illustrated 5Series is an excellent resource for 4-8 year olds and the award winning, Big Bible Challenge, is ideal for teaching the major themes to 6-12 year olds]
Use swimming aids. Floatation vests, kick boards, goggles and other devices are helpful when someone is learning to swim. Similarly, use biblical games, dramas, films, music, and online resources to help facilitate a core understanding of the content of the Bible. [Highly recommended: Guardians of Ancora, Max7 and the Bible App for Kids]
Float. Swimming can be tiring. Children must also learn how to rest/relax in water. In other words, we must teach our children how to contemplate/meditate/reflect on the Scriptures. Children must soak in the Word until they get wrinkled! For this to happen we must explore creative ways to help children open themselves to Scripture, to really listen (Lectio Divina for kids), to be spiritually transformed.
Dive in. When our children have learnt how to swim, it’s time for them to jump into the deep end! If the elementary schooling system can expect children to master mathematical theories and computations that many adults cannot do, then we should push the limits with our Christian children. Challenge them with basic theology (Theo Presents Big Theology for Little Kids), apologetics (Childsize Apologetics: A New Approach), ethics and other biblically related studies.
There’s much more that could be said about how to help children understand and apply the Bible themselves. When I started drafting this post I jotted down the importance of teaching children how to ask the right questions of the text, how to encourage biblical exploration, wondered about if and at what age we should teach them doctrine, wondered about how we might teach them to use basic research tools (Bible dictionary and commentary), how to equip them to do basic exegesis and hermeneutics (without mentioning these two words), and I also mulled over how we can do all these things in a way that inspires our children to act on the Word, i.e. put it into practice.
So what would you add? Please make a comment …
© Scripture Union Canada 2016