About a year ago, I found myself in a tense (in a healthy kind of way) conversation with a coworker. We were working on developing a curriculum for youth groups across Canada to use, and we’d had some feedback from an advisor letting us know we had too much Bible in it. Kids can’t handle theology, this person said, get them out of it and into doing something as quickly as possible.
The curriculum developers who we had contracted to work with us on the project gave similar cautions—not that any of them were anti-Bible, but in their experience, they tended to not use nearly as much Scripture as we were suggesting. My coworker, being a reasonable human being, was weighing the feedback and trying to determine how much merit it had. Me—being me—said, let’s put even more in! In the end, we wound up with a product I think we’re all pretty proud of—one that has a good balance of theological instruction along with application, and challenges participants to actually read their Bibles.
Ever since, though, every time I think about that situation, I keep wondering how this mindset came about.1 Why do some of us think children and teenagers can’t handle sound doctrine? Why do some seem to believe that it’s okay to teach children to behave Christianly but not point them first to Christ?
Reading Spurgeon’s Autobiography once again has reminded me that this is not a new problem—it is, in fact, a relatively old one. He wrote:
It is said by some that children cannot understand the great mysteries of religion. We even know some Sunday-school teachers who cautiously avoid mentioning the great doctrines of the gospel, because they think the children are not prepared to receive them. Alas! the same mistake has crept into the pulpit; for it is currently believed, among a certain class of preachers, that many of the doctrines of the Word of God, although true, are not fit to be taught to the people, since they would pervert them to their own destruction. Away with such priestcraft! Whatever God has revealed ought to be preached. Whatever He has revealed, if I am not capable of understanding it, I will still believe and preach it. I do hold that there is no doctrine of the Word of God which a child, if he be capable of salvation, is not capable of receiving. I would have children taught all the great doctrines of truth without a solitary exception, that they may in their after days hold fast by them.2
Here at home and in our church, we’ve really embraced this—and our kids seem to enjoy it (even if they don’t always understand it). Every morning, Emily and the kids work through the day’s lesson in XTB, a daily Bible reading and activity book for kids ages 7-11. They talk about it and ask questions. They look up what they don’t understand in study bibles and commentaries and ask me to help fill in whatever gaps I can when I get home. We’ve had some pretty cool discussions because of this.
On Sundays we use The Gospel Project for Kids, a three year chronological Bible study showing kids how all of Scripture is about Jesus. And because of that, our kids and every kid in our church, is working through serious topics like what it means for God to be the Creator of all things, how sin separates us from him, and even really hard to handle passages like Joshua 7-8, dealing with Achan’s sin and the Israelites’ defeat of Ai.
Why do we do this? Because Spurgeon is right: “there is no doctrine of the Word of God which a child, if he be capable of salvation, is not capable of receiving.” Kids can handle it—maybe better than us adults.