Introducing Your Child to God
About the Guest
Are you helping your children know God? Bruce Ware, professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Seminary, urges parents to use the ordinary moments of life to introduce their children to God and grow disciples in the faith.
Bruce Ware urges parents to use the ordinary moments of life to introduce their children to God and grow disciples in the faith.
Introducing Your Child to God
Bob: Bruce Ware is a professional theologian. He teaches Systematic Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. So, when his kids ask him a question about God, he's got an edge; right? What about you? What happens when your kids ask you some sticky theological question, and you don't know the answer? What do you do? Here is advice from Bruce Ware.
Bruce: I would just encourage parents to respond positively—even if it's to say: “Boy, Johnny, that's a great question. Honestly, I don't know that I've thought of quite that before. I don't know how to answer it right now, but let's do some work on it. Let's talk to some people, and read some things, and see if we can come up with something on this.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, May 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
There is nothing more important that we can communicate to our children than who God is and His plan and purpose for our lives. We’re going to talk today about how you can do just that more effectively. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. This probably will not surprise you; but when my daughter, Amy, was still less than two years old, I started teaching practical theology to her.
Dennis: How old?
Bob: She was less than two. I used to put her on my lap—in fact, I don't—I think she was still less than a year old. I used to have her on my lap, and she'd be all cute and cuddly; you know?
Bob: She'd be coo-ing up at me. I'd look down at her and I'd say: “You know what? [Smile in voice] You're a wicked sinner. Yes, you are. Yes, you are. You're a wicked sinner.” I was just trying to make sure she understood, from the beginning, her depraved nature. [Laughter]
Dennis: Now, Bob, there are going to be those who listen to that, and they think, “Why would you want to say something negative?”
Bob: It sounds cruel; doesn't it? But the reality is—if she was going to understand who God is, she has to first understand her own desperate condition. I needed to say it for me because—you look at a new little baby—and all you think is how cute they are. We fall into this whole idea of thinking these babies are just adorable, they're so precious, and they're just so good. And the reality is: “In her flesh dwells no good thing.” Well, it does today because she's a follower of Christ; but in those days, she was a wicked sinner—[smile in voice]—yes, she was.
Dennis: We have someone in the studio, who—I want to get his response to your story. [Laughter] Dr. Bruce Ware joins us on FamilyLife Today. Bruce, welcome to the broadcast.
Bruce: Thank you, Dennis. It's a pleasure to be here.
Dennis: Bruce is a professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has two daughters, Bethany and Rachel, and has dedicated a book to these young ladies. It is called Big Truths for Young Hearts.
It's a book about practical theology. Now, is that the way you did it, Bruce? Did you set them on your lap and tell them that they were wicked, wretched, little selfish pieces of humanity?
Bruce: Well, I think Bob was a little more direct than I might have been at two years old [Laughter]; but essentially, what he was conveying is what I hope to accomplish in this book and what I taught my own children too. I mean—boy!—to learn your desperate need for grace, especially, in a culture where we tend to grow up all around us with affirmations of our goodness in an entitlement society. And, my, how important it is to learn how desperate we are as sinners, how weak and needy we are, and how great God is.
Dennis: To that point, there are those who heard Bob's story at the beginning and recoiled at it because what Bob was sharing is really counter-cultural.
Bruce: Absolutely; oh my! It even is within the Christian environment.
As you said, Bob—I mean, you look at these sweet little babies—but, boy, inside is / you can tell already—is this sin nature that is ready to be expressed in a variety of ways.
Bob: And there has been this pervasive idea throughout time that babies are born either with the blank tablet / the clean slate—
Bruce: Right; right.
Bob: —or that they are born fundamentally good, and the culture is what corrupts them. This is why, as parents—and with our children—we need to remind ourselves and them about what the Bible says about them.
Bruce: Yes; absolutely.
Bob: I was so thrilled when I saw your book. In fact, kind of wished I was starting all over again with my own children. You teach systematic theology to seminary students—to not only master students but doctoral students.
Bob: And yet, what you've done here is—you've taken those big truths, and you have made them as simple as possible so that six- to fourteen-year-old kids—
—that's the range you have in mind; right?—
Bruce: Yes; right.
Bob: —so that they can grab onto. I was looking through the section headings—“God'sWord and God's Own Life as God”—and I thought, “Well, in a systematic theology, you would call that bibliology; right?
Bruce: Right; right.
Bob: And then, “God as Three in One,” and there is the doctrine of the Trinity. And “Creator and Ruler of All”—I mean, you've got all of it in here but in simple language.
Dennis: And to that point, Bruce, what I like about your book is—I think it's going to be very healthy and helpful for parents to know what they believe.
Bruce: Well, I hope that's a side benefit of this—is helping parents just understand a bit more fully the range of our beliefs, as Christian people, that are glorious and wonderful. They breed worship within us, and they cause us to awe and wonder at God and want to follow Him more faithfully. This has got to be good for parents as well as for the kids.
Bob: And I think, if you told the truth, while you were writing this book, you had to be thinking, “I’m sneaking a lot of theology to moms and dads who don’t know it as well as they should.”
Bruce: Well, don't tell them; but the thought did cross my mind. [Laughter] Yes; that's true.
Dennis: Well, and, honestly, I think, when it comes to the concept of theology—to put the cookies on a lower shelf—ultimately, we're just talking about introducing your child to who God is.
Dennis: And when we do that, we have to start basically with: “How has God made Himself known?”
Bruce: Right; right.
Dennis: So, how would you equip a parent to be able to answer the question if a child did ask: “Well, how has God made Himself known? Who is He? How do we know who He is?”
Bruce: Right; right. Well, one thing I did in the chapter, where I began that discussion, was just raised the notion of what it is to keep a secret. You know, if you have a secret from somebody, boy, doesn't it just bother you that you can't find out what that is?—you know?
And, boy, if God had kept Himself to Himself—if He hadn't actually told us who He is—
—we would never know. We cannot discover who God is. We are dependent entirely on the fact that He has voluntarily made Himself known to us—revealed Himself both in the created order—the beauty, and the glory and the wonder, the wisdom manifest in creation—and in Christ, and in the Scriptures. We see the manifestation of God in these multitude of ways that we are to learn who He is and who we are before Him.
Bob: So, you help parents take nature and point children to God by the fact that they can see a tree, and a sun, and a beach, and a mountain, and all of that.
Bruce: Right; right.
Bob: And then, you help them understand that we know who Jesus is through the revelation of God's Word. And when we read that, we're really reading Jesus' story; aren't we?
Bruce: Absolutely; yes, that's correct.
Dennis: Okay; let's go back to Bob's illustration with his daughter on his lap.
Dennis: And maybe, there are some parents who feel a little uncomfortable beginning with where Bob started; okay?—
—with a declaration of the selfishness of their toddler. [Laughter] Okay; I understand all that, but where would you coach young parents today to start? Let's say they're raising children, who aren't teenagers yet—maybe, they do have some teenagers / maybe, they've not assumed this responsibility as they should have—where should they start in terms of introducing their children to God?
Bruce: You know, I think the main goal that you have—whether they are little or older—is to enable them, by God's grace and through the revelation of His Word, to catch a vision of the greatness of God. We have—we live in a culture where many other things are great. I mean, we use the word, “awesome,” for almost everything—maybe, even a hamburger; you know?
And so, helping children grow in a way where they realize how great God really is—how independent He is of this world / how privileged it is for me, a finite, feeble human being, to know Him through Christ—
—what He has done to make Himself known and draw me to Himself.
Dennis: You have dedicated this book to your daughters.
Dennis: How did you introduce the awesomeness or the greatness of God to them when they were little?
Bruce: Well, I'll tell you how this happened—actually, this book grew out of what Jodi and I did with our girls, growing up. I can remember when Bethany and Rachel were, oh, probably six and three years old—squirrelly, wiggly, happy little girls, who didn't want to go to bed at night; you know? [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes; we used this technique as well—they'll use anything.
Dennis: They'll even talk about God to stay awake.
Bruce: So, I thought, “You know, if we can't win this battle, let's co-opt it and take advantage of it.”
Dennis: Yes; absolutely.
Bruce: So, I started meeting with each of the girls at their bedside after they got in their pajamas and got in bed. I'd get down on my knees, and we'd have Theology 101.
For years, I did this and went through the whole of what I teach at the seminary—but just would introduce a verse and an idea / a truth, and expose them to it; and then, we'd talk about it, and they'd ask questions.
Dennis: For instance, what kind?
Bruce: I can remember with Rachel—boy, I think she was four or five years old—I was trying to help her understand the two natures of Christ—that He had to be both God and man in order for Him to be our Savior. It wouldn't work if He was only God, and it wouldn't work if He was only man. The only way He could do this is if He were truly God and man. She struggled with this concept. So, I worked in illustrations and—
Dennis: By the way, so do I.
Bruce: Yes. [Laughter]
Dennis: Don't you, as a theological professor?
Bruce: Oh, absolutely; absolutely right!
Bruce: But, you know, there are some little things that help with this. For example, even to say: “There is no other person like this.”
Dennis: There you go.
Bruce: So, don't try to find an analogy out there that is an exact fit—there just won't be. There won't be with the Trinity. There won't be with the two natures of Christ. And so, you have to accept this by faith. You have to accept that this is what God tells us of Himself, even if we can't find an analogy out there that is exactly like this.
Bob: You know, I have two questions here—as you try to explain the two natures of Christ to a four-year-old or a five-year-old. I guess the first question is: “How many four-year-olds or five-year-olds are really paying attention or care? Aren't they thinking about Legos® and about whatever they were watching on TV this afternoon?”
Then, the second question is: “Can they really get it at age five or don’t—aren't you just hurting their brain?”
Bruce: Right. [Laughter] You know, on your first question, Bob, I was surprised at how curious little children can be about these things.
I mean, goodness, you give them the opportunity—help them understand a few little things / give them the opportunity to begin asking questions—and it is just surprising how much comes out of them, how much they are thinking about these things, and how interested they are. I can remember times when one of my girls would come up in the middle of the day, the next day, and a question would be on their mind from what we had talked about the night before. I really think we underestimate the level of curiosity and the level of ability that children have to think through these things.
Bob: Probably a lot of parents, though, are thinking, “But I'm not Bruce Ware."
Dennis: Yes; that's what I was just thinking.
Bob: So, my daughter is going to come ask me some question. I'm going to go: “I have no idea. In fact, can we just talk about something else, like Legos, where I do have some understanding?”
Bruce: You know, I think what happens often in those cases is—we discourage, then, our children from being the curious, probing, thinking people that they could be because we don’t know the answers.
We don't know quite what to do with this. So, without really even realizing it, we can shut them down. Instead, I think I would just encourage parents to respond positively—even if it's to say: "Boy, Johnny, that's a great question. You know, honestly, I don't know that I've thought of quite that before. I don't know how to answer it right now, but let's do some work on it. Let's talk to some people, and read some things, and see if we can come up with something on this."
Bob: I remember a dad, who came to me one time; and he said: "You know what my son asked me the other night? My son is eight years old, and he's really bright. He said, 'Dad, God knew what the devil was going to do; didn't he?' ‘Well, sure.’ 'So, why did He make him in the first place if He knew what he was going to do? Doesn't that make God the one who really engineered this whole thing?’” The dad was like, “I don't know!” He was intimidated by that and felt like a failure, as a dad, because he didn’t have a quick answer for his son.
Bruce: Right; right.
Bob: So, I guess my question is, “Why did God create Satan in the first place?” Then, my second question is—yes, people are going, “I bet you're that dad.” No, it was a friend of mine. But the second question is, “What do you do if you feel intimidated?” You said you just say, "Boy, I've never thought about that"; but you feel a responsibility: “I better go get the answer."
Bruce: You know, you're the dad—and in Ephesians 6 it says—fathers in particular—it's interesting because that passage begins with parents, generally—you know, to “Honor your mother and father”; but then, Paul speaks specifically to dads—he says, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger but raise them up in the fear and the admonition of the Lord." One of the ways we do that is by helping them learn who God is / what He has revealed and truths—that can shape their worldviews, shape their characters, help them grow up in a way in which they truly think as Christian people and help them grow that way.
If we don’t know the answers to these things, boy, what it does is—it stimulates us to be better searchers out of truth.
Dennis: There’s nothing wrong, then, with a parent saying, “You know, I don’t know the answer to that—
Bruce: There is nothing wrong.
Dennis: —“today, but you know what?”—and I said this many times with our children—“I’ll go find out, and do my best to answer this question. I may call a friend.”
Bob: “I’ll get Dr. Ware’s book.”
Dennis: Well, this book has got a lot of answers around, again, the fundamental issues of the faith.
Bob: So, why did God create Satan?
Bruce: He did not create Satan as Satan. He created a good, glorious, magnificent, beautiful angel, whom He gave freedom to fall. And this angel did fall. God, of course, knew—
Bob: —from the beginning.
Bruce: —from the beginning.
I would hold that He, in one sense, controlled what happened because He, certainly, as an omnipotent God, could have prevented that from happening; but it was part of the divine plan, from the beginning, for there to be a world in which God would manifest the fullness of who He is, as God—as a redeemer God, as a God who was full of grace and mercy—which means there needs to be salvation / back it up, which means there needs to be sin from which we are saved.
This is not some accidental happening that God goes: “Oh my! What shall We do now? Let’s move on to Plan ‘B.’” But it’s actually part of Plan “A” from the very outset.
Bob: And there are some things that your kids may ask, where you do have to fall back on the secret things belong to the Lord, and we're just never going to know these answers; aren't there?
Bruce: Oh, there are. Deuteronomy 29:29 is that passage, Bob, as you know; and your point is absolutely true.
There are many areas, where we just have to acknowledge the revelation of God that doesn't give us an answer to this and be fair and honest about it. Don't begin speculating and begin coming up with all kinds of crazy things when God hasn't told us.
But, on the other hand, the rest of that verse says, "But those things that are revealed are for us, for our children." So, I think we can appeal to the first part of that verse too quickly before we've made sure—
Bruce: —that, in fact, there is nothing here that's been revealed—so, “Let's look, let's study Scripture, let's learn what God has told us so that we don't cop out. On the other hand, we don't want to answer presumptuously.”
Dennis: We are, in essence, finite creatures.
Bruce: We are.
Dennis: God, by His nature, is infinite and beyond a finite person's understanding. Yet, He has revealed enough of the secret of who He is to make Himself known; and we, as parents, have a God-given / God-mandated responsibility to teach our children and to introduce our children to Him.
One of the things I like about your book and how it starts—even in the very first chapter that you teach—you know, we’ve been dealing with a couple of extremely lofty theological concepts—the dual nature of Christ, and the “Where did Satan come from?” and “Did God create him?” You begin on a simple level of introducing a child to the greatness of God by looking at a flower and by worshipping God, thinking about all of the detail around a flower. Then, you zoom back to the Milky Way galaxy, where God created it in a spoken word—that has hundreds of millions of solar systems and suns that comprise the Milky Way galaxy that show the grandeur and the greatness of God way beyond our comprehension.
Bruce: Right; right.
Dennis: And that's where a little child lives.
Bruce: Yes, yes, yes; absolutely. The more that we can help our children, even visually, picture some of the ways—because Scripture does this—picture some of the ways in which God's greatness and glory, His wisdom, His power, is manifest—I think will help them, even in their own little hearts just begin to cultivate and grow in a sense of the wonder of God and what an incredible privilege it is to be His creature.
Then, to realize—back to the beginning of the program, Bob: “As a sinner, I don't have rightful access to this God. All of the greatness that is His—I have no right to. I am a sinner and deserve, instead, His condemnation.” So, now, we talk gospel and the greatness of this God shown now in His mercy to send His Son and bring forgiveness of sin.
I mean, the whole package is just glorious; isn't it?
Dennis: It really is. And as you're talking, Bruce, I was thinking of Psalm 127 and how children are a gift from God. I've said, for many years, here on this broadcast, that we mistakenly think, as parents, that God gave us children to help them grow up. He, in essence, gives us children so we finish the process of growing up ourselves.
And I think what your book is doing here—there is no question what your book is doing because you know what the problem is? And this is why I'm going to challenge each of our listeners to think about getting your book and beginning to go through it because a lot of our listeners have lost the very thing you were talking about. They have lost the majesty, the glory, and the wonder of God. They have sat in the pew in a church, and they have lost God in the midst of life.
And they are in need of being freshly re-introduced to a God of wonder, majesty, and praise.
Then, after you've got the real disease—just a little bit—you don't have to be a theological professor—but after you've just got the disease just a little bit, then, pick up your child's hand—even at the age of two, three, and four—and begin to introduce them, with just small nuggets, to the God who is and the God who is a great redemptive God.
Bob: Well, and to get some help in doing that, get a copy of the book that Bruce has written called Big Truths for Young Hearts, which is probably not going to work for a three-year-old because you do write it a little higher level than age three; but you can take some of the key ideas in this book, and you can simplify them as you talk to your three- or your four-year-old. Or you can just read the book at the dinner table if you’ve got kids who are elementary, or even junior/senior high age kids.
This is a book to help your kids understand the basics about who God is.
It’s a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God by Dr. Bruce Ware. You can order online, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.” Again, ask for the book, Big Truths for Young Hearts, when you get in touch with us.
Now, we have got a special anniversary celebration today. We want to say, “Congratulations!” to Roger and Jean Cooper. They are FamilyLife Today listeners. They are celebrating 59 years together as husband and wife. They were married in 1957. I won’t tell you whether I was born then or not, but it was around there; okay? So, “Congratulations!” to the Coopers on 59 years of marriage together—
—that’s quite a milestone.
And we’re all about milestones, here at FamilyLife Today. We’re celebrating our 40th anniversary as a ministry. We know that for some of you, who are listening, you would not have gotten to your last anniversary if God hadn’t used FamilyLife in some way in your marriage. We’re grateful for the opportunity that we’ve had to minister to hundreds of thousands of couples over the years. We want to celebrate anniversaries right alongside you for years to come by continuing to provide practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and your family, day in and day out, on the radio, on our website, at our events, through our resources.
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Tomorrow, we want to talk with Dr. Bruce Ware about how we help our children understand big ideas on more than a superficial level. How can you help your child understand what sin is and what it means to be a sinner? We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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