I recently came across this quote from a parent caught up in a cyberspace debate about teaching children the Bible:
I don’t believe the Bible is false. I believe the Bible is a tool to help us know God. I have wrestled a lot with what to teach my kids. Kids have the capacity to think in a concrete black and white way. I want them to find Christianity to be the foundation of their lives, but I don’t agree with what I consider to be mainline evangelical theology. I will teach them all the Bible stories, but I won’t interpret them. I hope their faith will evolve with their ability to synthesize an abstract world.
Let’s start with some points of agreement. I’m glad she doesn’t believe the Bible is false! And, yes, it’s true that children move from being concrete thinkers to abstract thinkers as they learn and mature. I also appreciate that she wants her children to think for themselves and have their own personal belief systems. Finally, even though she isn’t an evangelical Christian, it’s wonderful that she believes Christianity should be the foundation of her children’s lives. These are all very good thoughts.
But what are we to do with this statement: “I will teach them all the Bible stories, but I won’t interpret them.” Now, maybe she means that she would read Bible stories to her children but not comment on their validity or truthfulness. She would let them figure out on their own if these stories are believable and true, or simply made-up myths and fables of old. If this is her desire, that’s a very difficult (and sad) thing to do as a parent! Our natural inclination as adults is to tell children a story AND assert that it is either true or false.
Or, it could be that this parent would tell her children that the stories are true, but not tell them what they really mean (or how to think about them). This decision might flow from the fear that her children would not think for themselves, but just robotically accept what she would tell them to believe. Again, her goal to have their faith “evolve” as they grow up mandates that she leave the interpreting of Scripture to them.
So what’s the problem here? For starters, this well-meaning parent does not seem to understand what teaching is all about. The root of the word “education” denotes “to lead out.” To lead out of what? Well, for one thing: to lead out of ignorance. When we teach anything, we are always interpreting–we are always in the process of leading people to what we believe is true. So, you could read a Bible story to your child without comment–but that’s not the same as teaching it. Teaching the Bible begins with simple observation, but always progresses to interpretation (and then application).
To push it a but further, refusing to interpret Bible stories for our children goes against how God has designed the learning process (and us). When our children are young, they may just ask as to read the story over and over (and over) again. But as they grow, they will naturally begin asking questions about meaning and significance. “Why didn’t he obey, Daddy?” “Why did God do that?” “What does it mean to transgress God’s law?” Now, if we choose to ignore these questions or just expect them to figure them out on their own, we will frustrate the process. We are not designed to figure things out for ourselves–nor will our sinful hearts and mind allow it.
Finally, just because we teach our children what the Bible stories mean–what they teach us about God and ourselves–doesn’t mean we are forcing them to believe what we believe. They still have to come to faith themselves! All we are doing is presenting them with the truth, and leaving it to the work of the Spirit to make it real in their hearts. Their “ability” to come to the faith and have it “evolve” (mature) will only be possible if their hearts are gripped by the grace of God and by faith in Christ! So, don’t be afraid to interpret God’s Word while you teach, even in your own weakness as a parent. Keep growing in your own faith and your knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, and teach your children ALL the stories if Scripture!