We have had the opportunity for the past week to be serving as the speaker for Junior week (8-10 year-olds) at Summer Camp. Last night as I was preparing to teach I decided to do a little bit of reading. Immediately before going up to speak I read an article on “Teaching Children the Bible.” “Appropriate,” I considered. “Maybe this will be just what I need as I teach these kids.” I don’t pretend to be very good at communicating at this age level, and this week has been a learning experience for me in this regard. “I need all the help I can get,” I thought to myself. Then I read the article.
The purpose of this article was to combat the “ethical” model of teaching narrative. For sure, there has in our churches been an unhealthy emphasis on the moral lessons of narratives to the detriment of pointing listeners –children or not – to Christ. This article, however, painted a picture of despair whenever any ethical conclusions are derived from narrative, suggesting that such a treatment of narrative would leave listeners discouraged, inadequate…hopeless. If, at the end of our teaching, an ethical conclusion or point is made, this article would have us believe, we have missed the point of the narrative – and Scripture as a whole.
This article is part of the larger “Gospel-centered” movement which has been dominating the Evangelical world for the past several years. There has been an emphasis by Kellar and others that the key point of sanctification is not effort, per se, but simply “preaching the Gospel to yourself.” This article, however, brought the issue frighteningly to home.
I am by no means questioning the central role of the Gospel. Indeed, I have spent the majority of my week showing the children what a “precious pearl” and “treasure” this Gospel message is, and “how beautiful are the feet” of those who take that Gospel message to the lost and dying around us. By no means is the Gospel to be put on the “back burner.” However, to abandon the ethical or moral requirements of Scripture for the sake of so-called Gospel centrality is to get our teeter-totter way out of balance.
This week I have been teaching through the Armor of God. As we have gone through the elements of the Armor, the first and primary emphasis has been on our being “soldiers of Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3-4). This means we must have a relationship with Christ – you must be believing in the Gospel! This is the starting point. But when Paul tells us to “Put on the whole armor of God,” he doesn’t say “now sit still and the Holy Spirit will put this armor on for you…just make sure you think about the Gospel.” No! He says “put on the armor of God.” You! Put it on! Every day! Put on that Belt of Truth. “What does that look like,” you ask? What a wonderful question! Let me show you from the narrative of Scripture what that looks like. Here’s Abraham. The Father of Faith. Did he put on the Belt of Truth every day? Sadly, no. He and his wife agreed to habitually lie about their relationship. Here is the moral: put on the Belt of Truth. But the under-girding for this moral? God is the God of Truth, and to lie is to fight for our Enemy. Abraham fought for the enemy.
Or how about a positive example? Rak, Shak, and Benny. Are they “heroes of the faith?” Insofar as they illustrate for us what it looks like to pick up the shield of faith and use it to quench the fiery darts of the Wicked One. Is there a moral? Absolutely! “Have faith!” Why? For bragging rights? Because we’re supposed to “be good”? Because “without faith it is impossible to please God.” How do we know what that kind of faith looks like? They illustrate it for us.
You see, the question isn’t one of this or that. It certainly is the case that much teaching has been Gospel-less moralism…obey-your-parents-because-the-teacher-said-to-and-you’ll-get-a-star-next-week. But the problem isn’t with the moral. The moral is right. The problem is with the foundation. It should point to Christ. We must point to Christ. But in pointing to Christ, we don’t abandon the moral. We ground the moral.
As is typical, some have seen an issue within Christianity, and have forced the pendulum to the opposite extreme. And, as usual, the solution is with balance. The narratives ought to be used to illustrate a Biblical ethic. But in illustrating that Biblical ethic, the narratives must be rooted in Christ. It ought to be shown how the narratives relate back to a relationship with God through Christ. Herein is the balance we ought to seek as we teach children – and all our flock – the narratives of Scripture.