N.T. Wright for Children?
I finished reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope recently and have been pondering its implication the last few days. This is one of those must read sorts of books if one cares about defining and developing a biblical view of salvation and Christian hope. Wright explores here the concept that the hope for Christians is in the bodily resurrection – not in the gnostic “our souls go heaven when we die” mythology that consumes the imagination of most Christians. He not only reminds readers of that hope, but examines the implications that hope should have on how we think about Christian life, mission, and the purpose of church. Many of us in the emerging church have talked recently about how the gospel is bigger than individualistic decisions for heaven or against hell, and Wright here demonstrates that such limited conceptions of the gospel aren’t even biblical anyway. This of course gets us all labeled heretics, but at least the idea is getting out there that what most people think is orthodox Christian belief is actually not. So it’s a good read – helpful and inspiring in many ways. But I really wish it had more practical suggestions for everyday life.
It’s all well and good to intellectually rethink how we conceive of Christian hope and even start living differently because of that, but I am finding that the popular conceptions are so ubiquitous that they are nearly impossible to escape. In the face of all that I wish Wright had provided more positive examples of how to integrate the biblical view into our everyday encounters. How does one comfort the grieving? Explain death to a child? We’ve been conditioned to be comforted by common cliches even if we no longer believe the theology behind them. New language doesn’t yet exist – much less new books or new hymns (although a few good old ones are still around). But what good is my theology if I can’t convey it to my children? Or how effective is my theology if my children are constantly exposed to false conceptions? If we don’t consider how to convey these scriptural concepts to children all we are doing is allowing the myths to flourish into the next generation.
The world of popular conception is strong. I’ve been there. I’ve lead 5-Day Clubs, AWANA, and VBS. I’ve been trained by CEF and know all the kid songs. I’ve taught the flannelgraphs making promises about heaven the Bible only makes of the New Creation. I remember the Sunday School lessons (complete with charts) on the difference between body, soul, and spirit. I have a toddler and read her Bible storybooks and watch movies with her. I hear the dualistic/gnostic language she is indoctrinated with. Sure I change the language when I read her certain books, but it’s in there. Do I throw away all those books because of a few phrases that promote a Platonic rather than biblical understanding of the world? Do I ban every cartoon that portrays heaven as full of disembodied spirits floating on clouds? Do I never allow her to attend 5-Day Clubs, or VBSs, summer camps, or Sunday Schools because I know the individualistic spin they put on salvation (without any emphasis on community or what we have been saved for)? These are the practical questions that I wrestle with.
I want my children to choose to follow Christ not be manipulated into saying a prayer because they fear hell or want the reward of heaven. I don’t want John 3:16 reduced to “for God so loved Emma…” I want my kids to have better lyrics to sing in church than “Good news, good news, Christ died for ME” or “STOP! and let me tell you what the Lord has done for ME” or “Somewhere in outer space, God has prepared a place, For those who trust Him and obey…” (oh the memories). These things don’t reflect biblical truth so why would I teach them to my children? I want better options.
I’m sick though of waiting for better language and resources. Theology shouldn’t take decades to trickle down to children while we continue to feed them misguided lies. I spend a lot of time thinking about stuff like this, and I still struggle with altering my default language or with catching bad theology/philosophy in Emma’s picture books. We needed better resources yesterday as it were. Forget the N.T. Wright for Everyone devotional guides, I want N.T. Wright for toddlers. I want to see practical theology accessible to all ages. If we can’t be bothered to teach this stuff to our kids in the cradle then why bother believing it at all?