Teach Theology to Children
When I share the importance of teaching our children theology, most parents give me a puzzled look, like I’m suggesting they teach neurophysics to a 3-year-old. When folks think theology, too often they picture dusty books written with small print and ten syllable words. While seminary shelves are full of those thick theology books, theology doesn't need to be complicated or difficult to understand. Take the word “theology” itself. It simply means “the study of God.” So teaching your children theology is teaching your children the truth about who God is and how we can relate to Him. I’ve never met a Christian parent yet who didn’t want to teach their children about God. They’re just not sure where to begin.
The truth is, our kids are exposed to theology every day, and our culture is all too happy to dish out a diet of bad theology. For instance, our kids are regularly exposed to a worldview that assumes the universe created itself. They are told that mankind is basically good, and education is the answer to the world’s problems. They learn that the earth is what is in need of saving and animals are more important than people. Television and movies regularly expose our kids to characters who live quite comfortably without God.
Before you panic, our kids are exposed to good theology too. Every time they look up into the night sky, it shouts, “God created me.” That’s how Psalm 19 opens when it says, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” Kids can observe that people can do things animals will never be able to do, like have a conversation, read a book, write a poem, create a painting, and best of all, we can love. We alone are made in the image of God. Every time you as a parent pray for help, confess your sin, speak a scripture, sacrifice for others, or love your kids, you’re teaching them good theology. You just need to help them recognize it.
I know what you’re saying: “I want to help my kids learn good theology, but I don’t know where to start.” Theology is given to us in the Bible through a story. And like a good story, you first need to get to know the characters. Then you learn the basic plot and story line. After that, you can study the impact of the story on people and the claim the story has upon our lives. Follow that same simple pattern when teaching kids theology. Teach the youngest children the main characters first, teach growing children the story line, and train the older children to study and apply the message of Scripture to their lives.
Help kids learn the characters of the story. (2- to 6-year-olds)
Understanding the main characters of the story helps us understand what the Bible is about. This is how God’s Word opens: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). God is the main character of His own story. Teaching our children about God is the most important theological truth we will ever teach them. Even toddlers can start learning about the God who made them.
We learn a lot about God from the first chapters of the Bible. Genesis tells us that God existed before the creation and through Him all things were created (Genesis 1:1). That means we owe our lives to God, and we need to live for Him. As a painting reveals something about the artist, so the creation tells us something about God. God is amazing! He created the stars above (Genesis 1:14), the birds in the sky (Genesis 1:20), and animals that run on the ground below (Genesis 1:24-25). God formed the oceans and filled them with fish (Genesis 1:20). He created the moon for the night, the sun for the day (Genesis 1:16), and all of it was good (Genesis 1:25).
The first chapter of the Bible even gives us a hint that our One God is made up of three distinct persons. The opening chapter of Genesis mentions the Spirit of God (Genesis 1:2), and teaches there were multiple persons at work in the creation. Did you ever notice the plural grammar of verse 26 when God declares, “Let us make man in Our image.” Later in the New Testament the Apostle Paul makes the Son's role in creation crystal clear when he writes, “by Him all things were created” (Colossians 1:16).
Simple Truth: The greatest scientist can’t even count the stars, but God knows them each by name.
The second main character of the Bible story is mankind—people. It is important to teach our youngest children the truth we learn in the Bible about people. God created people. That means that unlike God, we have a beginning. God made men and women in His image (Genesis 1:26), which means you can recognize things about God by looking at the people He created. As I described earlier, we can do things that the animals God created cannot do. Best of all, we can know and love God—and that’s what we were made to do!
Simple Truth: Parrots can only repeat what they hear, but the youngest of children can write a new song, never sung in the history of the world.
The third main character of the story is Satan, who in the form of a serpent tempted Adam and his wife, Eve, (the first couple) to turn away from God (Genesis 3:1). That’s where sin entered the world and destroyed man’s relationship with God and with his wife, Eve. Sin ruins everything. Because God is perfect and holy, He had to punish sin. So God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, where without the tree of life they would die (Genesis 3:22-24).
Simple Truth: Telling the truth has always been good, and lies have always been wrong.
Teach kids the basic plot and story line. (5- to 10-year-olds)
Once your children learn the characters of the story, you want to teach them the basic plot line of the Bible. While the Bible is made up of 66 separate books, they altogether tell one story—the outworking of God’s promise to save man from sin.
God’s promise of salvation first comes to Adam and Eve right alongside His judgment of their rebellion in the garden. God promises that one of Eve’s children will crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15) and covers Adam and Eve’s shame with animal skins (Genesis 3:21). God's covering of Adam and Eve with animal skins is meant to teach us that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). From that time, every lamb sacrificed in the Old Testament in worship points forward to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
Simple Truth: Jesus is the promised son of Adam whom God sent to crush the head of the serpent.
Similarly, every priest who offers those sacrifices points forward to Jesus, the great high priest (Hebrews 4:14). Every king who fails in Israel, points forward to the need for a king to come and lead his people to salvation. Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16) who fulfills that need. Every prophet points forward to Jesus, who is the Word become flesh (John 1:14). The prophets knew that God was going to send a Savior for mankind (1 Peter 1:10-12) and foretold the coming of this Prophet, Priest, and King.
Simple Truth: The Bible is the story of how Jesus came to save us from our sin.
Present the claim the story has upon their lives. (8-year-olds to adult)
Once our children understand the main characters and the plot of the story, it’s time to help them understand the claim the story has upon their lives. It is not enough to know good theology; we must respond by faith. Faith requires two ingredients. First, we must believe (John 3:16). We must believe that Jesus is the Son of God who took on flesh and lived a perfect, sinless life (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus died upon the cross to take the penalty we deserved (Romans 4:25), and He rose again on the third day, proving His victory over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:4). But it is not sufficient to simply believe the facts of the Gospel story, we must also repent, or turn away from our sin (Acts 20:21). That’s the second required ingredient of saving faith. The New Testament presents these two ingredients, repenting and believing, side by side from the moment John the Baptist introduced the ministry of Christ (Mark 1:15).
Simple Truth: You never have to teach a child how to sin; we are born with sin. That’s why even children need Jesus.
So, we introduce our children to the main characters, teach them the Gospel storyline of the Bible, and challenge them to place their trust in Jesus. Then, through prayer we invite our all-powerful God to take that simple Gospel message, which is the power of God for their salvation, and soften their hearts of stone (Romans 1:16).