The other evening I was reading a book to my daughter. It was entitled Little Book of Bible Verses. It is a lovely book; full of beautiful illustrations and Bible verses with a few comments and questions about those verses.
As I read to my daughter I became increasingly agitated. The good news is that her attention span is not yet terribly lengthy, so she was off to the next toy before we passed the half way mark. I sat there stunned as I completed reading through the book while she played. By the end I was rattled.
So, what could possibly have got me so worked up about a Little Book of Bible Verses?
The verses were all quite nice. There was a verse about God’s Word being a light to our path. One about trusting God to be happy. A few about praising God and a few more about being a good, kind, gentle and patient. There were also a couple verses about God’s faithfulness and the good gifts he gives. The closing verse was a prayer for God’s blessing.
As I said, each of these verses are wonderful on their own. But why was this little book so irksome to me?
Well, in the whole book there was only one slight mention of Jesus (only in support of a command for us to forgive), and there was not one mention of the Holy Spirit. The closest this volume ever got to the grace and mercy of God was Lamentations 3:22 which mentioned that God’s love never fails. Jesus, our Saviour and King, was left in the shadows in this Little Book of Bible Verses. The Holy Spirit, the one who convicts, comforts, guides and empowers us didn’t even make the cut.
Is this the version of faith we want our children to be rooted in? Is this the story we want them to cling to? Trust God and be a good person?
May a hearty “No!” resound.
The presentation faith in this book is a version that far too many people fall prey to and it is known as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It suggests that there is a God who created and ordered everything. He is good and nice and he wants all people to be good and nice. If you are, you will go to heaven. (For an extended description click here).
Is that really the story of our faith? What if I can’t be good and nice? What if I find myself racked with selfish sinfulness? How do I make sense of the evil and pain that surrounds me day after day in this broken world?
When we come face to face with these questions we can’t simply remind people to be better and trust God. No. We need to point them to Jesus. It was in Jesus that God has revealed himself to us most fully. It was Jesus who was the perfect righteousness that we could never be, who made it possible that we could be reconciled to God. The story of Scripture revolves around Jesus – the God-Man, the Saviour, the Teacher and Friend who defeated sin and evil and now reigns supreme! We must always point our kids first and foremost to the cross and resurrection of Christ.
Why anyone would ever present little kids an array of verses from Scripture without pointing to Jesus is beyond me. In my mind it is a travesty. A Christ-less faith is an empty faith.
One verse I remember learning as a kid in Sunday School was ‘Be ye kind, one to another” (Ephesians 4:32). I also remember learning the list of the Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control (Galatians 5:22). Perhaps my memory is poor (that’s actually quite likely!), but I don’t remember as much focus on the verses about how God has reconciled all things to himself through the cross, or about our identity in Christ, or about how as believers we are filled with the Holy Spirit.
Learning the Fruit of the Spirit is a prime example of this. We learned the list of good characteristics we ought to see in our lives… but we did not memorize the imperative of the passage which called us to walk with the Holy Spirit and to be led by Him. By learning only the list of the fruit, the message presented was that these are the things we need to work harder at, rather than the idea that if we experience the Holy Spirit personally, this fruit of good character will be the result. The message was ‘work harder to be good’ rather than ‘let God produce this in you’. Teaching like this leans toward Moral Therapeutic Deism – God is good, you be good and everything will be okay.
Verses challenging kids toward ethical living are important. It is obviously essential for us to discipline our kids and to teach them to be kind. Absolutely. But, this cannot be the foundation of the Christian story that we present to them. It cannot be the main thrust of Scripture that they receive from us. No. That focus, that foundation, that core of the Gospel must be Jesus. The Son of God who lived, was crucified, risen to life and now reigns as King. Our kids must hear us say ‘Jesus!’ over and over and over again. And not just the nice, friendly Jesus we are supposed to be like, but the divine Jesus who gave his life, defeated death and will one day return in power to restore justice.
The Christian faith is so much more than ‘Be Ye Kind’. It is about Jesus. As parents it is our responsibility to present the story of the Bible to our kids in fullness. In light of this, I will not be reading ‘Little Book of Bible Verses’ with my daughter again. This book will no longer have a place on our shelf.
What are your thoughts? How have you experienced the influence of ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’? What is your advice for raising your kids in a way that points them to the full Gospel Story of Scripture which points them to Christ? Please post a comment below.