Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Children Interpreting the Bible

I remember when I was about 10 year old asking a Sunday School teacher if "Thou Shalt Not Kill" meant animals. She said she did not know. I also remember very clearly someone telling me about the veil between the main section of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Holy of Holies. The teacher said that people tried to break that veil using oxen and other animals so they could know God. The seperation between the God and man was broken when Jesus died on the cross; there was an earth quake that broke that curtain giving mankind access to God I also remember a Vacation Bible School lesson how each one of us is unique and we are not a number. I did not get it. I was being raised in a rural farm community and computers were a novelty, not a force for making the world impersonal to me.

Here are three clear communications from a good church with good teachers that simply missed the mark in Bible interpretation, missed the mark on the facts of the Bible and missed the mark on application of the Bible.

Why did these lessons go wrong? I think pure and simply that there was a lack of concerted effort to train the teachers.

When one gets the same message from two different places in a short amount of time, one should pay attention, perhaps God is trying to say something. The first time I got the message was reading my text book for class called "Creative Bible Teaching" by Lawrence O. Richards and Gary J. Bredfeldt. The authors have a whole chapter on how the church does a poor job of teaching Bible to children when the point of Cain and Able is that God gives us bodies. It is true that he does create our bodies, but I think the story of Cain and Able is about those who do not worship in faith hate those who do. The story of Noah is not about cute animals being gathered into the first zoo with a back drop of a beautiful rainbow. It is about God moving sovereignly to judge sin and you and I should not fall into the same type of sin. When Jesus feeds the 5,000 using a boy's lunch, it is not a story about sharing, even though sharing is a very good manners. (We all should have good manners, but good edict is nice but one does not need divine revelation to nice.) We spend years and years misteaching the Bible that is it any wonder that people who have been raised in the church miss the point of a simple story.

The second lesson comes from the Jollyblogger who also has an article on this same theme. He quotes John Walton who says that often children's lessons....

1. Promotion of the Trivial

2. Illegitimate extrapolation

3. Reading Between the Lines

4. Missing important nuance

5. Focus on people rather than God

You may need to go to follow the link to jump to Walton's expanded version to get all of that.

In one sense it is understandable that people who write lessons for children try to meet them where they are. That is a good thing however, we should not think of the Bible as a book that says what ever we would like it to say. It says what could not be known without revelation from God. It does not teach us good manners. Mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, and a host of other people are qualified to teach a child to be polite. (And again it is good to be polite.) But teaching children that their ultimate purpose is to worship God, that is not intuitive and must be learned from God revealing himself through his mighty deeds. The first commandment is that we are to worship God who defines himself and says how he desires to be worshiped. Are we teaching our children to break the first and most important commandment when we substitute new meanings to lessons from the Bible?

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