Reading the Bible with Children and Youth

By Caldwell, Elizabeth F. | Currents in Theology and Mission, August 2013 | Go to article overview

Reading the Bible with Children and Youth


Caldwell, Elizabeth F., Currents in Theology and Mission


Consider the questions you have heard from parents or those questions raised by children:

* There are so many Bible story books for kids, which one do I choose?

* Yep, I have a Bible at home, got it for confirmation, don't really know where and how to begin to read it or understand it. That's why I bring my child to church.

* We give Bibles to second graders, what should we give?

* Why is there so much violence in the Bible?

* Doesn't the Bible contradict itself?

* Jesus healed so many people. Does he heal people today?

* What stories do we make accessible to children at what age?

* What do you do when the Bible is wrong? Do you change the view of God that is presented?

Is the issue reading the Bible with children, or is it also helping parents learn how to read the Bible with their children and to listen to their questions? Before offering some practical suggestions and resources on this topic, it's important to be familiar with some of those who are thinking and writing about the larger topic of growth in the life of the Christian faith.

Christian formation

In an article in the Journal of Family and Community Ministries, Yust, Csinos, McLauren, and Jennings write about the spiritual formation of children in the emerging church movement. They agree that the spiritual formation of children happens when congregations invite them into worship and every place where they can participate in experiences of being God's faithful disciples (i.e., learning through socialization). Yet they also value the importance of catechesis which John Westerhoff has defined as a primary function of helping "the faithful individually and corporately meet the twofold responsibilities which faith asks of them: communion with God and communion with one's fellow human beings; that is, to nurture that intimacy of spiritual life which expresses itself in social justice, liberation, and the political struggle for whole community, peace and the well-being of all persons." (1)

These religious leaders also believe that children learn about the faith by participating with other persons of faith who "model the life in which they want their children to be formed." (2) The second way that catechesis happens is when there is a context in which children can

   come to understand that God's story
   intersects with and informs their
   own stories. Catechetical models
   must place a priority not only on
   the words and actions of Jesus, but
   also on Christian narratives and the
   ways in which children find their
   places within them. All human beings
   live by narratives; for example,
   many people in today's world live by
   the story of consumerism, which says
   "you are what you own." Christian
   narratives are culturally specific ways
   in which God's people interpret and
   enter into individual faith stories in
   terms of overarching and enduring
   theological themes. (3)

These authors are suggesting that the narratives we teach and live with our children make a difference in how they are formed as Christians. Most churches would say that catechesis as defined by Westerhoff is what they are doing or hope they are doing with their children and youth. But which narratives of the Christian faith are taught and when are they taught and what interpretive skills do we both model and teach with our children and youth?

A reality of the life of many parents today is that many are not comfortable or at home with finding their way into the Bible, nor do they possess the language to engage in the conversation of Christian narratives and the life of faith, or at least they don't think they do. "Reading the Bible, which can open a person to the depths of the mysteries of God and faith, is a scary thought to those who believe that experts should tell them how to read and what to think." (4) Many have grown up in Christian homes, were even confirmed as teenagers, but believe that pastors and educators (the experts) are better at forming their children in faith. …

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