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THAT’s in the BIBLE?!

Recently, 2 questions about kids and the Bible came up on a parenting message board I’m a part of - 1. how much to censor and 2. how to use the Bible to teach issues of godly character and behavior. Here is my take on those issues that also touches on some good conversation we had at a recent dinner party.


I have 2 beliefs about this.

1. in Christianity we often injure our children spiritually for the unimportant things.

2. we often underestimate how deeply spiritual children are in the important things.

Having said that, we could argue till Christ comes back about what the important things are but I will say this -

Children have a very deep, real and mystical connection with the Divine and they are capable of understanding the characteristics of God that we know are the same characteristics he wants us to demonstrate.

Children also are very sensitive to violence and injustice.

As a general rule I won’t expose my children to religious things that I wouldn’t expose them to in other domains. I’ve never understood how parents who they themselves don’t watch rated R movies took their 9 year old to the Passion of the Christ simply because it was about Jesus…knowing how violent it would be. I’m not going to talk to my kids about how David cut off Goliath’s head because I would never tell them a story like that outside of the Bible at this age, nor would I let them view something like that in a cartoon in any other context. (that’s my judgment, I’m not making a value judgment for anyone else)

I also see no necessity in talking with my kids yet about hell (my oldest is 5). Firstly because I myself don’t believe in an eternal “dante’s inferno-esque” hell and secondly because all it would do is serve to instill fear for really no reason. Along those lines, I refuse to worry my children about the rapture and the whole notion of people being left behind. Now, of course, I’m not a pre-trib dispensationalist so that wouldn’t make sense anyway but I had so many nightmares as a kid about this very thing that it’s close to my heart.

Put simply, I would say, censor those things that really aren’t ultimately important. Does my sensitive 5 year old need to know about the foreskins in the baskets story? Probably not. Or the stake through the head? Not likely.

One of the discussions we had in Revolution awhile back was related to this. Most of us who grew up going to Sunday school see the Gospels and key bible accounts through the lens of a felt board story. It’s hard for many of us to take them seriously and we’ve had to experience an exorcism of sorts to purge our minds of that imagery…but it never fully works.

So whatever we DO tell our kids, it won’t be presented in in a sing song felt board kind of way. If we can’t tell it straight up then it means they’re not ready for it yet.


I don’t focus a lot on the “God doesn’t like it when…” type stuff. We teach godly character in a way that is integrated holistically with life in general. We teach that God is just and merciful and holy and we are created to be like Him but I don’t try to prooftext scripture to drive home the point that Shayel shouldn’t lie. I never want my kids to associate fear and shame with God - holy reverence and a desire for right living but not fear and shame. And it’s very easy at a young age to use fear and shame to manipulate - - even unintentionally.

We really just tell our kids that we are a family and we are to work together to care for one another as a family because we love one another. And we talk about demonstrations of love and self sacrifice in the life of Jesus if it makes sense at that time. We talk about how if everyone just did what they wanted to do, nothing would get done. Sometimes you have to do something that you don’t want to do because if you don’t, the consequence is not desired. We talk about the pay off when you persevere and we talk about how God knows that these things are hard and when people put the Bible together, they knew that some of these lessons would help us remember and so they were included in our Scriptures and they are good things to learn.

Much of this of course comes down to age and maturity as well as localized culture. If we were ranchers and our kids were exposed to slaughter houses, they would probably be able to learn more violent imagery at a younger age. So I’m sensitive to that and certainly not dogmatic across the board. Our kids will learn different things presented differently as they get older but these are my overall guiding principles.

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  1. josh — January 8, 2008 #

    bravo. i couldn’t agree more. and i hate it when people try to justify the crazy stuff about violence. as if that makes it easier for the child to understand. if anything, it just confuses them more and makes it harder to unpackage later on.

  2. Pistol Pete — January 8, 2008 #

    I think it is good to be selective in which Bible stories we teach our children, at what ages. I don’t see this so much as censorship as good judgement. Our children read (or we read to them) selective Bible stories until they were about 10 or so before they started reading through the whole Bible and we were sure to process the graphic parts with them.

  3. Michelle — January 8, 2008 #

    I think this is one of the best parenting tips I have heard in a long time. If more parents and/or adults would stop using God as a weapon, our world would be a much kinder place.

  4. Anna — January 8, 2008 #

    I really liked one thing in particular you said in this post - “I won’t expose my children to religious things that I wouldn’t expose them to in other domains. I’ve never understood how parents who they themselves don’t watch rated R movies took their 9 year old to the Passion of the Christ simply because it was about Jesus…knowing how violent it would be.”

  5. Sherry — January 8, 2008 #

    Great post. I agree with what you have said, especially about the special “spirituality” of children. The see things I think better than we do. No doubt Jesus recognized this when he told us to come to him as little children. We come best when we come openly and humbly and in trust. This seems natural to children.

    We watched that Kid Nation a few weeks back. What was most shocking is that kids know right from wrong, and invariably know when they are wrong, and admit it readily and ask for forgiveness. We take that from them somehow. As adults we are loathe to admit either mistakes or to apologize. These kids formed no lasting angers with each other, simply because they got over their differences quickly and returned to cooperation. A nice lesson for us all.

  6. Maria — January 8, 2008 #

    I agree with you on the issue of leaving out the graphic parts. On the other hand, I sometimes find myself annoyed by the way kids Bible stories paraphrase (and distort) the stories to make a very churchy view.

    I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of prooftexting good or bad behavior. I want to teach those ideas in context, whether as you say, the context is our family caring for each other, or what God is like and how he wants us to live in the bigger picture.

  7. Mak — January 8, 2008 #

    Pete- well, the way I see it, there are things in the Bible that we do not show or tell our kids - that’s censorship. Censorship is not by definition inherently bad. But yes, good judgment is certainly a valid way to put it as well.

    Maria - I agree with the paraphrase thing, which is why I made the felt board comment. If we’re going to put stories in sing song coloring sheet formats making an event like David and Goliath so sterile it’s barely recognizable, we’re doing more damage than just not telling the story at all.

    Sherry - thanks, great illustration of how wise children can be.

    Michelle - thank you, very good way of putting it…not using the Bible as a weapon.

    Josh - thanks :) and I absolutely agree, confusion certainly doesn’t need to be added to something already quite complex.

  8. Tia Lynn — January 8, 2008 #

    I am friends with a couple that would not allow their children to watch CARE-BEARS because, you know, it’s “demonic,” but let their kids watch the cartoon version of the Jim Elliot, the missionary who get harpooned through the heart with a huge spear by scary looking natives, falling face down into river with blood oozing out of his back…..But it’s a Christian video, so kids will intrinsically understand the context of his death and not to be afraid, right? I am so glad I am not the only one that finds these things bizarre….

  9. Mak — January 8, 2008 #

    exactly Tia, it is bizarre…and in many ways it’s how I grew up. I couldn’t listen to “secular” music or watch things like the smurfs but I was subjected to 80s left behind movies that put such fear in me I had nightmares for months if not years…and it was not “healthy fear” as some have argued with me before, it was fear that I might have missed confessing a sin that night and so my whole family would be raptured and I’d be left alone - and I was in the 4th and 5th grade when this happened - so it’s not like I was 4 or something.

  10. Bonny — January 8, 2008 #

    What a surprise! I completely agree. Very well put, Mak.

  11. Rachel — January 8, 2008 #

    Mak - I had a very similar experience with 70’s and 80’s christian apocalyptic movies. They traumatized me spiritually for most of my growing up years - if I could change one thing about my childhood, it would be that I never saw those movies.

  12. Rachel — January 8, 2008 #

    BTW - that painting would be of Jael about to drive the peg through General Susa’s head in her tent from the Deborah story, right?

  13. Mak — January 8, 2008 #

    jael and sisera yep. a representation of them anyway hehe

    And I’m “glad” you have those feelings because it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who was similarly traumatized. I share you feelings about if you could change one thing that would be it.

  14. Ariah Fine — January 16, 2008 #

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, I’m thankful to be able to start thinking about these things before my kids are at that age.

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