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8 reasons it’s essential to teach kids theology

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October 29, 2020

Let’s play a word association game. What immediately comes to mind when you read the following words?

These are all words found in Scripture except, of course, the last one. We daresay the first nine produce warm, pleasant feelings—even rapturous joy!—as we consider all their gospel truth.

But what about theology? For many Christians, this word evokes a different response. A sigh of boredom, perhaps? A slight wince? A nervous tic? A spine-tingling shiver, as if the very notion of theology could inspire a thriller movie.

We jest, of course. But too often, Christians equate theology with tedious concepts best reserved for pastors, textbooks, and the erudite halls of higher academia. We think, I’ve got a job, monthly bills, a pile of laundry that has learned how to procreate, and my kid’s science fair project is about to destroy the last shred of my sanity. Why should I bother with a bunch of fancy preacher terms—or teach them to my child, for that matter? I just want to follow Jesus.

But here’s the undeniable truth: As R.C. Sproul often said, everyone’s a theologian. It’s just a matter of what you believe about God.

The word “theology” simply means, “the study of God and how he relates to the world.” Theology teaches us about who the triune God is and how he has powerfully worked to redeem his people. It helps us know how to live as devoted followers of Christ. Every believer should be pursuing theological maturity.

In Colossians 1:10, the apostle Paul encouraged the believers to be “bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Emphasis added; see also Prov. 9:10 and 2 Pet. 3:18). Clearly, theology matters. We are called to grow in this knowledge.

But perhaps you’re thinking, That’s fine for adults. But is it possible, or even appropriate, for me to teach theological concepts to my child? The answer is unequivocally, Yes!

Let’s briefly consider eight reasons why it’s essential for every Christian parent to teach their child about God’s nature, character, and how he relates to his creation:

1. Theology is part of every Christian parent’s God-given calling. 

When a Christian becomes a parent, the theological pursuit that should mark their life now expands into a teaching role. As you trust God for your child’s ultimate salvation, you also have the joy of raising them “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). 

As God was bringing Israel into the Promised Land, he gave his children the Shema, a foundational text in Jewish life:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:4–7).

While 21st-century American parents live a far different life than that of the ancient Hebrews, our calling has not changed. We must worship the Lord with all our being and increase our knowledge about him in order to live faithfully, and teach our children to do the same.

2. God is a God of self-revelation.

Unlike many of the gods of ancient pagan myths, God is not an aloof deity, tucked away into the nether regions of the cosmos. He is transcendent yet immanent. Since creation, God has been revealing himself to humanity through his spoken and written word (2 Tim. 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:20–21), his Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10), and creation itself (Rom. 1:20). Of course, God’s greatest self-revelation was through his Son, Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word (John 1:14).

This means God wants us to know him. As a relational God, he wants to be studied and comprehended. In Psalm 27:8, David writes, “You have said, “Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’”

Of course, because of God’s transcendence, there are things he hasn’t revealed to us. But he expects us to worship him with what he has made known. As Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

So we must teach God’s amazing self-revelation to our children.

3. God’s plan calls for a generational legacy of gospel-centered theology.

Psalm 78:4 says, “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”

What is this well-known verse if not a call for parents to pass along a spiritual heritage of knowing and loving God to their children? It’s generational theology at work.

In fact, if you look closely at verses 5–7, you’ll see four generations in view. The Ancient of Days wants us to spread his fame across centuries. But it begins with Christian parents lovingly instructing the current generation that is still potty training, playing tag, and learning fractions.

4. Laying a strong theological foundation for children encourages a lifetime of faith.

A child’s understanding of God ultimately will inform every aspect of their life. Consider these questions and corollaries:

If a child isn’t taught . . .

We could say much more here, but the point is clear: With a strong theological foundation, our children will grow up—by God’s grace—into well-built houses of faith that can withstand life’s tempests (Matt. 7:24–27).

5. Parents are a child’s primary spiritual caretaker.

Perhaps you think this goes without saying. But admit it: There are times when you’ve felt inadequate, disinterested, discouraged, or just plain too busy to lead your child spiritually.

“Ugh … another long day at the office, and I still have to make dinner. Gather ‘round, kids. Tonight’s family devotions are brought to you by VeggieTales!”

We’ve all been there.

Being a primary spiritual caretaker isn’t easy. But it is a God-given calling—and privilege—that should top every Christian parent’s daily priority list, as Scripture clearly attests (Deut. 6:4–7; Ps. 78:1–8; Ps. 145:4; Eph. 6:4).

Need help knowing how to do this?

There’s no one right way to help your child grow in loving and knowing God. Be consistent, be creative, and saturate everything in Scripture and prayer.

6. Children can understand more than we think.

When my youngest daughter was about 6 years old, we were reading about the fall in Genesis 3 during family devotions. At one point, she asked, “Daddy, if God knows everything and he knew what would happen when sin entered the world, why did he create Satan in the first place?”

Gulp.

“That’s a great question, Sweetie,” I responded. “I’m so glad you asked.” (Note the classic parental stall tactic.) We talked about it for a while, as my answer led to more questions. It was fantastic. We were swimming in the deep end of the theological pool, and a 1st grader threw us in.

With a strong theological foundation, our children will grow up—by God’s grace—into well-built houses of faith that can withstand life’s tempests (Matt. 7:24–27).

Don’t think your child can’t handle theology. Kids can understand far more than we give them credit for. And even if they don’t fully grasp every nuance of what you share, it’s important to allow them to ask questions, process big ideas, and grapple with important truths.

7. You will grow in your own faith.

No seminary degree? No sweat. Few parents have one. The Bible never mandates an M.Div. or Ph.D. in theology as a prerequisite for Christian parenting. You’re not a college professor in a massive lecture hall—you’re Mom or Dad. If your child stumps you with a question, don’t be ashamed to say, “I don’t know. Let’s figure it out together.”

All teachers learn more by teaching. Wherever you’re at in your knowledge of God, watch how much you grow as you lead your child down this path.

8. Theology and the gospel go hand-in-hand.

After Jesus’ ascension, his disciples transformed history as they proclaimed the gospel throughout the Greco-Roman world. But early on, their theology needed work. During the Last Supper, both Thomas and Philip expressed confusion when Jesus said he was leaving to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house.

“Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us,” Philip said.

Jesus responded, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9).

The more your child starts “seeing” the Father, the more they will “see” the Son and understand the gospel. Then, as you delight in this good news with them, it will lead you into richer theology, which in turn, will point you and your child toward a deeper appreciation of your salvation. What a wonderful cycle for your family to be in.

Good news: No finish line in sight

As you lead your child on this remarkable spiritual journey, remember: This is not a finish-line achievement. No one will ever walk across the theological graduation platform of life, raise a diploma, and boast, “Now, I have full knowledge of the Almighty!” As David says in Psalm 145:3, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.”

Theology is a beautiful, lifelong expedition of exploring and loving an amazing God whose goodness, power, and wisdom are infinite. Then one day, when we enter eternity, we will rejoice in the unveiled presence of God and bathe ourselves in his knowledge, love, and holiness forever.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

Hallelujah!

Joshua Cooley

Joshua Cooley is a New York Times bestselling author and a full-time children’s minister. His latest book is a 365-day youth devotional entitled, Creator, Father, King: A One Year Journey With God. His other books include The One Year Devotions With Jesus, the Heroes of the Bible Devotional, and The … Read More