Teaching My Children the Bible
As a mother who is also a follower of Christ, I want my children to learn the stories of the faith I follow. Having grown up in the church and having been a children’s pastor, I also know that there are some pretty messed up ways that churches and families often go about teaching the Bible to kids. From the Aesop fablization of the Bible where gory stories like Noah’s Ark become just about cute animals and instructing kids to obey their parents and teachers to sword drills and programs that encourage binge memorization of verses in order to earn plastic jewels in a crown, children are rarely encouraged to enter into scripture and understand its larger story.
But it’s a story I want my children to know – with all its complexities and overarching narratives intact. While the superbly done The Action Bible has helped my comic-book obsessed daughter become more familiar with the stories, I knew that I needed to find other ways to help expose her to more than just the same dozen “safe for kids” Bible stories Sunday schools seem to favor. So when I saw all over Pinterest a pin about a Child Training Bible, I clicked on it out of curiosity. Something in me hoped it was an accessible way for young readers to piece together the complex history that is the Bible so they could better understand the story of God’s relationship with creation. It couldn’t have been further from that.
No, the Child Training Bible is a color-coded system (patent pending) that makes it easy for a child or parent to look up a verse when a child needs discipline. Asserting that the Bible is the answer book for everything in life, the system is described as – “All the things you work on to train your children tabbed and highlighted with a key in the front. Training topics include: anger, complaining, defiance, lying, laziness, and wrong friendships! So when you need the verses you can grab the actual Word and be able to quickly flip to whatever you need!!” I read that and had one of those fingernails on the chalkboard of my soul moments. The whole system was nauseating enough for how it disrespected the entire purpose of the Bible (and ignored the fact that only Jesus is called the Word of God), but then I started reading the reviews on mommy blogs online. Dozens of mothers were lauding the product as the perfect way to discipline and get their children into the word. I only found one single response that questioned using the Bible in such a negative way and then immediately read all the responses accusing that woman of hating the Bible and not truly being a Christian. It was heartbreaking.
Like I said, I think it is important to know the Bible and I desire for my kids to know it as well. I honestly find it disturbing that more and more these days committed Christians (even many of the classmates my husband and I encountered at our seminaries) have no sense of what is actually in the Bible. But systems like this that cherry-pick verses out of context for the purpose of using guilt to manipulate children into a certain set of middle-class American behaviors don’t help the problem. Neither do many of the other popular suggestions for “immersing oneself in the word” that I am seeing these days. Like the suggestions for the “25 (or 50 or 70) essential verses” one should put on post-it notes around the house if one desires ones family (or husband) to be transformed. Bible verses are not magical incantations that through exposure and repetition will change a person. Even daily reminders that one must delight oneself in the Lord or that God grants rest to the weary while possibly useful in helping one feel better about oneself don’t actually enter one into the story of the Bible or the more difficult way of living it calls people to live. And, unsurprisingly, I’ve yet to read one of those essential verse lists that acknowledge the communal (rather than individualistic) nature of being part of the body of Christ or that include anything about seeking justice for the poor and the oppressed.
I have nothing against memorizing scripture or finding encouragement from a saying or two from the Bible. I teach my children passages like the Beatitudes and expose them to music full of scripture. But I harbor no illusion that reading a daily devotion of two or three verses that deliver personal spiritual warm-fuzzies is in any form or fashion “being in the word.” Nor is seeing a verse on a post-it on your mirror, finding a warning verse attached to a TV or computer, or even doing a fill-in-the-blank “Bible” study. Using the Bible in such ways cheapens it and turns it into the Christian equivalent of a Magic Eight ball. The Bible is not an answer book, or a guide to raising children, or even primarily instructions for how to have a personal relationship with God. Yes, the Bible gives testimony to the way of life God desires, but a handful of out-of-context verses can never encapsulate the message of a story that the faithful have been trying to figure out for thousands of years. I want my kids to wrestle with that story, to understand the competing voices and ideologies within the Bible, and learn to work out their faith with fear and trembling as they respect the narrative enough to not reduce it to sound bites.
I know this post is a bit of a rant. And I am sure there are readers who will call me a heretic and hater of the Bible for writing this. But as a frustrated mom, it is hard to find resources that help me encourage my kids to engage the Bible but that also don’t turn it into a shallow shadow of what it is meant to be.