I was recently speaking with a member of a church who recently joined their children’s ministry committee. Her church uses a broadly evangelical Children’s Sunday School curriculum, focused more on fun and fluff than the sound teaching of Scripture. So, she recommended to the committee that they take a look at our One Story Ministries materials. The general response was something like: “We want our children to enjoy themselves and have fun in Sunday School, learning things that are more applicable to their lives.” Dismayed, she asked one of her assistant pastors why they were using a curriculum which doesn’t teach the same sound doctrine as the rest of the church. His response (my paraphrase) was: “It’s okay to use material that is lighter and not so theologically sound in children’s ministry. We can correct that later, and in other places in the church.”
Now, I wish this sentiment about Children’s Sunday School was an exception to the rule in our conservative, evangelical and even Reformed churches–but I fear it represents a significant group out there. I sum it up as the “Entertainment Now, Sound Doctrine Later” crowd. The feeling is that we want children to enjoy being at church and hear interesting and relevant Bible stories while they are young; and then, learn all that boring theology later on. So, as the assistant pastor says, we can “correct” the doctrine they learned incorrectly sometime later on–or from the pulpit or in the home. The grand priority in this thinking is to see children who can’t wait to go to Sunday School because it is the most fun that they have all week.
I have addressed in another post that “fun” isn’t the antidote for boredom for our children. It also isn’t the preventative medicine for keeping our children interested in church or the Bible. And, I have written often on the myth that teaching the Bible and sound doctrine is automatically boring and lifeless for children. So, what I want to address here is the false notion that we can simply and easily correct our children’s false or limited views of Bible stories with sound doctrine “later.” This is a dangerous assumption which can reap lifelong consequences. And, from a practical standpoint, it just doesn’t make much sense.
Consider some practical analogies first. Would a father teach his child how to hit a baseball incorrectly, or only some of the rules of baseball, with a plan to correct all that misinformation later? O.r would a school teacher allow students to learn wrong principles of math with hopes of correcting them in a later grade? So why would we knowingly teach the Bible (or not teach the Bible) in a way that will educate our children in a poor theology when they are most impressionable? Won’t they quite possibly have a difficult time un-learning what they think they already know about the stories of Scripture?
I think this perspective in Children’s Sunday School is grounded in a reductionist view of children. It stems from a belief that children can only learn the simplest of things, and that they cannot comprehend the more challenging things of life. To be sure, it takes many years for children to develop brains that can analyze and synthesize more difficult concepts. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn truth from the very beginning of their lives! We just don’t give children enough credit for what they can know and learn from the earliest of days. And, we can often fall into the trap of thinking that keeping things “light” will somehow build the foundation for “heavy” things later.
As Christian parents, we are always in the business of correcting the lies that our children believe, and what they are being taught by their own sin, Satan, and the world. What we shouldn’t have to correct is the teaching in our own churches and Sunday Schools! Our children need to be taught the truth of God’s Word from infancy, over their entire lives, so the Holy Spirit can transform them into lovers of the one, true God.
In his provocative new book, “Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today,” Adam Hamilton challenges the traditional Christian understanding of Scripture. As the pastor of the largest United Methodist congregation in the United States, Hamilton desires to teach a whole new generation (especially agnostics and “seekers”) how to properly understand God’s Word. Unfortunately, this “new” approach which seeks to help people “appreciate” the Bible is not really new. It turns out to be just a rediscovery of “old” theological liberalism. And like all liberals, the core issue Hamilton confronts has to do with inspiration of Scripture.
Here are some quotes from the author, followed by my comments:
In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul writes, “All Scripture is inspired by God…” Christians often assume they know what this means, but Paul seems to have created the word “inspired.” It does not appear in the Greek language before this and is used nowhere else in the Bible. It literally means “God-breathed” but Paul doesn’t go on to explain precisely what he means. It is a metaphor, and metaphors are not precise. Push them too far and they break down.
Hamilton goes right for the jugular with this assertion, attacking one of the clearest statements on inspiration in the Bible. He dismisses this theological truth by choosing to believe that: (1) The Apostle Paul one his own made up the word “inspired” and, (2) He was just being metaphorical. So, consistent with theological liberalism, Hamilton says that we really can’t know what the word “inspired” means. I wonder what he does with II Peter 1:21, which states that prophets spoke “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
When I think of inspired, I think of God-influenced. This leaves open a variety of ways in which the biblical authors were influenced by God.
So, Hamilton decides that his definition of “inspired” is more like being “influenced.” As lovers of God, they simply wrote what they wanted to write, just like any modern Christian author. His bottom line, then, is that the Bible isn’t Special Revelation at all. It has a great message, but one certainly can’t expect that it’s inerrant, or certainly not the infallible Word of life. “Inspired,” in Hamilton’s view, is what anyone is who thinks about God.
My premise is that the Bible is the words of people who were influenced by God, and yet who were also shaped by the times in which they lived.
There it is! To this very popular Methodist preacher, the Bible is a collection of human words, not the Word of God. These were human thoughts that were influenced by God as well as by the times in which the writers lived.
When you read more of Hamilton’s thoughts (which I don’t advise), it becomes crystal clear why he rejects the inspiration of the Bible. He just doesn’t believe that “his” God behaves the way the Scripture describes. Here’s just one example:
The violence attributed to God in the Bible is a serious issue that Christians must address. It is inconsistent with the character of God described in many places in the Old Testament, and certainly inconsistent with the Word of God revealed in Jesus Christ who calls his followers to love their enemies. In the Hebrew Bible we find God putting to death 70,000 Israelites to punish David for taking a census. We have God commanding Joshua to slaughter every man woman and child in 31 entire kingdoms in the Canaan as a kind of offering to God. This is what, today, we would call genocide. God commands priests to burn their daughters alive if they become prostitutes. I cannot imagine God calling me to burn one of my children alive, regardless of what they had done.
In the end, people who reject the inspiration of the Bible just don’t like or agree with what it clearly teaches. But when you’re an influential pastor like Hamilton, it is smarter to simply “soften” inspiration into the idea of “influence” in order to make the Bible easier to handle. The sad truth is that this mega-church pastor is writing under the wrong influence as presents his theologically liberal views. No one reading his book will “rediscover the power of Scripture,” since he attempts to strip it of all its true authority!
Praise God that the Bible IS the Word of God, and is the power of God unto salvation through Jesus Christ. The only way agnostics or the confused who Hamilton seeks to reach will have their minds renewed is by embracing the Bible as the inspired Word of God!
As I’ve mentioned before, part of my (unwritten) job description as a Director of Christian Education is to answer the question: “What do you think about the book, movie: (fill in the blank). Quite frankly, I don’t enjoy this recurring question, since my answers rarely gives the questioner a warm and fuzzy feeling. People tend to take their book/movie likes and dislikes very personally!
Every few years, there is a new hot-selling book on near-death experiences, replete with magnificent descriptions of heaven. I remember when “90 Minutes in Heaven” was all the rage in Christian circles. It claimed to be a true story of death and life. Then in 2010, the book “Heaven is For Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back” was released. Not only is it the number one non-fiction Christian best-seller over the past ten years, it has now spawned a movie well-timed for the Easter season. No doubt, Christians and other religious folks will flock to this movie, seeking to learn more about the reality of heaven.
The problem is: God’s Word teaches us that no one has gone up into heaven and returned to tell about it. John 3:13 clearly states that only Jesus Christ can claim to have been in heaven and returned. No one else. Even the prophets in Scripture who “saw” heaven were given a vision of heaven during their lifetime. They did not have near-death experiences and come back to write a personal novel on the subject. As offensive as it may sound, people who claim to have been to heaven and back–even cute four-year old boys–either had terrific hallucinations or are deluded by the Enemy. They do not speak authoritatively about what the afterlife is all about.
I would write much more in this post about this subject, but David Platt says it so much more eloquently and forcefully. Take a moment to watch this short clip:
The argument I hear most from lovers of these sorts of books or movies is: “What if God uses it to bring people to salvation?” Now, how am I supposed to respond to that? What I hear is: “What if God chooses to use bad theology or outright heresy to save people?” Certainly, God can use anything and anyone to bring people to faith. But the real question is: Why are Christians so willing to look outside and beyond God’s Word for the truth about heaven? Heaven is for real because God’s Word says it is real. It alone tells us what we need to know about the Christian’s future home. Anything extra-biblical–even if it claims to reinforce the Biblical truth of heaven–is foolish and dangerous speculation.
Do you remember Christ’s Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16)? The Rich Man wanted Father Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to tell his five brothers about the reality of heaven and hell. Abraham refused, saying that they had “Moses and the prophets,” which was sufficient. In other words, they (and non-Christians today) have the very Word of God to show us the way to heaven. Isn’t this enough?
Recently, a parent surprised me with her criticism of our children’s Sunday School curriculum. I was caught off-guard, not because I haven’t received other critiques (I certainly have), but because of the nature of her concern. Her problem was that her children already know all the answers to all the stories that are taught in Sunday School. They know the answers presumably because they are being taught the Bible at home and they are in a Christian school that has a Bible class. So while the typical complaint of our One Story Ministries curriculum is that it doesn’t have enough repetition, she feels like her children are receiving too much.
Now, I could sympathize with this parent if our Sunday School curriculum only covered the 40-50 “major” stories of Scripture over and over again, like virtually all other children’s materials. But what sets our curriculum apart is that it teaches ALL the stories of Scripture over a seven-year span in chronological order with no repeated stories (other than our Drill Time questions). So is this parent saying that her children know ALL the answers to ALL the stories of Scripture? If this is true, that should be a great testimonial for One Story Ministries rather than a complaint!
Upon further reflection, I started thinking about my own upbringing and Christian education. Like this particular family, I too was blessed with Christian parents, a strong Bible education in a Christian school, and a solid Sunday School to boot. When I was in junior high, I also came to believe that I knew all the stories of Scripture and all the answers to the important questions. I even remember a time where I told my parents I didn’t need to come to church every week because I knew what the preacher was going to say! Yes, I know you are shocked by my arrogance and pride. Believe me, so am I.
I’m not suggesting that any of these children in question are saying they know all the answers simply out of pride. They may be particularly intelligent kids with incredible memories. Whatever the case, there is a much bigger question here: What do we do with all that Bible knowledge? If we have children in our churches who know all the stories, and all the answers, what are they to do? The simple answer: Live out those answers! Do them!
Knowledge of the Bible must never be the end goal of the Christian education of our children. Learning God’s Word is just the first step in a lifelong process. Even if our children could recite the Bible forwards and backwards, that’s not good enough. From that knowledge must grow a love for God and His Word. By the work of the Spirit, there must be a hunger and thirst to know more about God and what He requires of us. Accordingly, we need to see our children begin to live out God’s Word. The answers they can recite to Sunday School teachers or parents must be coupled with a change of heart, mind, and behavior. Knowledge is to grow and mature into a Godly wisdom, by the gracious work of God.
So, if your children have truly learned ALL of God’s Word and know the answers to ALL of the questions, be thankful for this great gift in their lives. Hopefully, they are not just bored with learning the Bible! See if they are DOING what they KNOW. As we read in James 1:22-24,
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
What a beautiful thing it is when our well-taught children become doers of the Word of God–LEARNING it, LOVING it, and LIVING it!
I have always loved to read. Yet, for as long as I can remember, I’ve loved movies as well. I guess I just enjoy a good story. So when asked: Did you like the book better or the movie? My answer has typically been: Yes! I think of books and movies as two totally different things. They tell the same story two different ways. I don’t go into the theater expecting the movie to be true to the book. So I ‘m not usually the guy pointing out the errors in the movie version of a novel.
But, over the years, I have drawn the line at one book: The Bible. I just can’t treat movie versions of the Bible as equally enjoyable as reading the actual story itself. Nor do I expect any movie to be an accurate portrayal of a particular story in Scripture. How can it be? But now, I find myself questioning if we even need a movie version in the first place–and if we (Christians) should support the efforts.
I remember watching The Ten Commandments as a child every year it came on television. Even when my own children were younger, I continued the tradition. Why? I knew the movie was filled with errors and extra-biblical information, but it didn’t seem to matter. At least they tried to portray a Biblical story! I also remember being 12 years old and watching the Jesus of Nazareth television mini-series along with most American Christians. Again, much was added that was false, and much that was true was left out. There was the wildly popular Passion of the Christ in which churches across the country rented out movie theaters, using it as an evangelistic tool. Now, we have two major Bible movies in the theaters: Son of God and Noah, both claiming to communicate the meaning of the Biblical stories. This time, I refuse. I would rather just read the book.
Now, I know these, and others, are very different films, so I’m not trying to lump them all together. Some have more redeeming qualities than others. And Noah is clearly the most unbiblical of them all. But where they are similar is that they all must take liberties to transition from the brevity of the Bible story to the full-length tale of a movie. Dialogue has to be added. Real historical figures with little descriptions have to be created and even invented. Gaps have to be filled. Author’s intent has to be interpreted. So these films all have to add significantly to the inspired, inerrant, holy Word of God! Therefore, they will always fall short of telling the true story.
Maybe this shouldn’t bother me, but it does. Again, it makes me wonder why we Christians even want to watch these movies. Are we just seeing how close they get to the truth? Are we looking for the errors; watching for the “artistic liberties?” Or, are we just happy that the Bible story is “good enough” to warrant a movie, so we try to support it? Maybe we are just fine with a movie “based on a true story” just like any other historical work. Again, at least the “message” of the Bible is getting out there.
But to state the obvious: The Bible is different! The Holy Spirit inspired human authors to only include parts of individual stories, not the entire story. The parts that are revealed to us are given for a reason. They force us to focus on what’s important in the story and not get caught up with what is not. This is what every good storyteller does–tells the story as HE means to tell it. And God is the Master Storyteller!
So it doesn’t matter how Noah got all those animals in the ark, even if inquiring minds want to know. It doesn’t matter what the eight people talked about on the ark, or how they kept the animals from eating each other. All that really matters is that humans deserve death for their sins and God has mercy and saves those on whom He puts His favor. And, that the only right response to the grace of God is obedience to God. Is that the message of the movie Noah? If it isn’t, why would we support it?
So, when it comes to movies “based” on the Bible, JUST READ THE BOOK. And when you want to know more of the story, read it again.
While on Spring Break last week, Grandpa took all of the sons and grandsons to see The Lego Movie. Just as I had heard and read, it was awesome! As a long-time player of Legos–and even the newer Lego video games–the film certainly was an homage to the toy that has been a part of many a child’s life since 1949. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to!
The Lego Movie’s opening song sets the backdrop for the central theme of the movie. Entitled “Everything is Awesome.” the first verse goes like this:
Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome, when we’re living our dream
Everything is better when we stick together
Side by side, you and I gonna win forever, let’s party forever
We’re the same, I’m like you, you’re like me, we’re all working in harmony
These opening words are so catchy that someone at our family reunion broke out in song every few minutes for the rest of the week! Yet, without spoiling the movie too much, this overly happy song is really meant to be a negative, cynical commentary on those who live according to the rules. In the movie, the evil Lego overlord, President Business, uses the song as a controlling mantra to keep everyone “building” according to his instructions. So in good Lego dry wit, everything is awesome when we “stick together” and when all the figures are exactly the same. In the end, President Business wanted to make all the Lego people and Lego scenes permanently stuck together (literally) according to his plan. Then everything would be awesome–for him!
Now I’m not suggesting that the creators of The Lego Movie intended to poke fun at Christians here, but the film and song did make me think of our culture’s prevailing view of God (the ones who believe He actually exists). To many in our world, God is only a controlling figure (“the man upstairs”) who simply demands people do things His way as mind-numbed robots. This God doesn’t allow freedom or encourage individuality, but only conformity–just like President Business. So this world rightly rebels against rules and commands, and even makes heroes out of those with “free spirits” who do as they please. All authorities are mistrusted because they just use their power to get people to do things their way.
As with most lies, this view is just a distortion or twisting of the truth. God IS in total control of His universe, but He is also totally loving, kind, and gracious in His sovereignty. He DOES command all people to follow His rules, yet these rules are for our good, not for our destruction. “Sticking together” in Christ IS the only way to live this life and achieve harmony in the LORD. Living our dream is ONLY possible when we live according to the way of our Creator. But, while everything is NOT awesome in this life, God does work out everything for GOOD to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
So here are just a few more hilarious lyrics from “Everything is Awesome”:
Have you heard the news, everyone’s talking
Life is good ’cause everything’s awesome
Lost my job, it’s a new opportunity
More free time for my awesome community
I feel more awesome than an awesome opossum
Dip my body in chocolate frostin’
Three years later, wash off the frostin’
Smellin’ like a blossom, everything is awesome
Stepped in mud, got new brown shoes
It’s awesome to win, and it’s awesome to lose (it’s awesome to lose)
Again, these verses are meant to poke fun at brain-dead people who are just following the rules of this life without question. There is no reason to complain because everything is awesome! But the Christian knows that everything is NOT awesome, because we are sinners who live in a fallen world. The truth is that GOD ALONE IS AWESOME and that being His child gives us great JOY even in this un-awesome world!