3 engaging ways to teach children the faith

What children’s books taught me about the devil’s tactics

June 7, 2021

On a rare day away from the kids several years ago, I hurried to a major bookstore. My career as a children’s book author was just beginning, and I felt I could reasonably justify a long, quiet afternoon knee-deep in picture books as “market research.” 

Grabbing 20 or 30 books off the shelves, I eagerly settled in. I didn’t choose them for any particular reason — some I had heard of, many I hadn’t — but all had claimed coveted spots on endcaps or display tables. In other words, these were the most anticipated, critically acclaimed, and best-selling picture books the store had to offer. So even though I wrote for the Christian market and these were general market books, these were the ones I wanted to learn from. 

And learn I did. What I found that day would shape the way I write, read, and choose books for my kids forever. And it wasn’t necessarily good news. 

Not even our children’s books are safe

To my astonishment, roughly 20% of the picture books I had randomly selected off the shelves ended up containing cleverly disguised jabs or outright antagonism toward God, religion in general, or Christianity specifically. While that may not seem overly shocking on the surface (especially considering our current culture) remember this: their target audience was 4 to 8-year-olds. 

From the outside, none of the titles gave any indication that they would be addressing matters of faith in any way. The covers were adorable, the titles clever, the themes silly, the writing excellent. They were doing their job well: enticing children to want to read them and parents, grandparents, and picture book lovers to buy them. Yet tucked within their pages were subtle, but insidious messages: God is a joke. God is a jerk. 

This story is fun. God is not. 

What should this tell us? What we already know. There is a war for our children’s souls, and our enemy does not play fair. Not even our children’s books are safe. 

What would Jesus do? 

What should we do? Why, fight fire with fantastic stories, of course. That’s what Jesus did, after all. Throughout the Gospels, we find Jesus telling stories. Stories of farmers and wayward sons and lost coins and found treasures. Jesus loved to teach truth through tales. 

And because Jesus truly knew his audience — “For he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:25b) — storytelling allowed Jesus to package his message in a way that would reach their specific situations, concerns, and heart-deep motivations. 

When it came to ministering to children, it seems doubtful that Jesus would have switched ministry tactics. Children gravitate to good storytellers, after all. Especially ones that make them laugh. 

Because it’s built into their nature and not explicitly stated in Scripture, we tend not to give it much thought. But as miniature image-bearers of God, a child’s play-seeking, fun-loving default mode must also represent an element of God’s character. If children love fun, then so must God, right? 

Not so sure? Look around.  Since God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20), what are we to deduce about God’s character through, for example, his creation of ticklish armpits? Or oh-so-fun-to-chase and easy-to-catch lightening bugs? Or maple seeds that helicopter to the ground? Or (forgive me) the uncouth, but giggle-inducing noises made by excess air leaving the body? 

What should these creations tell us about God? Among other things, he’s no dour-faced, destroyer of fun, that’s for sure. From infancy, God designed us to laugh, just as he also designed things for us to laugh at.

It’s not surprising then that Satan would take what children love — stories, fun, laughter — and use them for his purposes in children’s books. He’s not overly creative in his tactics, after all. He relies on starting with something God created and twisting it. God is a jerk or a joke. Anti-fun or anti-real. Following him is pointless, boring. Joyless. 

Beating the enemy with stories 

And this where we beat the enemy at his own game. It begins in our homes and on our bookshelves. 

1. Start with the ultimate story

God’s redemptive plan from Genesis to Revelation is the most important story we can give our kids. We are ambassadors for Christ, the first ones our children will meet. And what we value, they will value. When God’s Word is regularly quoted in our homes, frequently read from, and naturally applied to everyday situations, our children benefit eternally. 

Though we may wonder sometimes if it’s doing any good, we are promised that God’s Word will do its work. “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose it, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). 

Giving our children stories of truth from the Bible, spilling over with God’s love and the salvation offered to us through Christ, are the greatest, most important stories we can tell them. Definitely, absolutely we start there. 

2. Follow up with grace-filled, faith-based books

In our desire to reach our children’s hearts with truth, we often supplement Bible stories with faith-based children’s books. This is a good thing. (For me as a Christian children’s book author, this is a very good thing.) 

Sometimes though, in our determination to point our kids to Christ, we act like we don’t know our audience at all. We woefully package our message in didactic tales of warning: Don’t do this. Always do this. Be good. Be good. Be good. We forget that children are all-natural joy-chasers, and that Jesus went to the cross for the joy set before him (Heb. 12:2)! The pursuit of joy is biblical, good, and God-glorifying. 

Therefore, vigilantly avoid books that propagate legalistic moralism. Yes, teach your children to love righteousness and hate wickedness, but give them the why behind it. For joy (Psa. 45:7)! Surround them with stories of grace. Lean heavily on messages of hope. Remind them that it’s through Christ’s righteousness alone that they’ll find forgiveness, purpose, and lasting joy. 

Grace-filled, faith-based books are harder to find in bookstores and libraries, but they’re there. Dig through the shelves. Read the whole book before you buy or check out. Do your homework on that popular book before you “buy it now,” and don’t purchase just because you recognize a celebrity author, Christian publisher, or a famous series. Often times, the best books are not the best-selling books. 

3. And, seriously, make them laugh

Setting those outwardly antagonistic-to-the-faith books aside (which are, thankfully, still in the minority), most general market children’s books do their job well. A lot of giggles can be shared reading The Book with No Pictures or Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. But why should they have all the fun? 

Several years ago, after a particularly silly moment at a concert of one of my favorite Christian bands, Rend Collective, the lead singer memorably reminded us in the audience, “Seriousness is not a fruit of the Spirit.”

We worship the Creator of truth and of joy. Of salvation and silliness. Of fun and freedom. God isn’t a jerk or a joke; he’s the God of hope. Christian children’s books should be the most hopeful and hilarious books on our shelves. 

As a children’s book author, this is my goal. As Christian parents, this should be our goal too. Give them stories of grace, saturated with unchanging truth. That’s what Jesus would have done. And make them funny, for goodness’ sake. I believe that’s what he would have done too. 

Fight the enemy’s fire with fantastic stories. And have fun doing it. Your children certainly will. 

Hannah Hall

Hannah C. Hall is a bestselling author and speaker with over one million books in print. Her newest book, Penguin and Moose Brave the Night, releases June 22nd and follows its Selah award-winning predecessor, Penguin and Moose. She is the author of the popular "God Bless" series, and her first … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24