In the March 18, 2013 issue of The Presbyterian Outlook, retired PCUSA pastor and adjunct professor of religious studies Earl Johnson, Jr. wrote an article directed at church leaders entitled, “Are we teaching children violence?”
“Are we teaching children the Bible?” is the better question.
Problems with the pedagogy proposed
Phrases like “avoid teaching Bible stories,” “violence is always wrong,” “Parts … can simply be left out,” and “how a text should be read,” are indications of a view of Scripture that falls beneath the threshold of respecting the Bible and all its parts as the inspired Word of God. The elevation of “educational theory and psychological development” suggests a bias toward the Enlightenment exaltation of reason over revelation. The stated goal of teaching – “enabling children to become open-minded peacemakers” – suggests that we will read the Bible through the lens of our own experience instead of reading our experiences through the lens of the Bible. This is a perverted pedagogy on so many levels.
Add to that the recommendation that “if we think we must approach these texts with children,” we just lie to them by telling “them in modified ways” what the Bible does NOT in fact say. It is expressly contrary to the Bible itself for an individual to edit out parts – advocated here as just leaving them out. We are charged to teach the entire Word of God, not just the parts we like. Now, I understand that we must do so in age appropriate ways and that there are parts of the Bible that we do not include in preschool or early elementary courses of study. But to suggest that you might teach one of those stories but edit what the Bible says to fit your perception of how peace is made offends the most basic of honest hermeneutics.
Children don’t yet know what they don’t yet know
I am also concerned by the suggestion that teachers ask very young children what they think or how they imagine God feels. In order to answer a question about God’s character, we must first have minds that are Reformed according to the Word of God. Only with an understanding of who God is, revealed in the Bible, can children then learn how to think righteous thought. Without that instruction their thinking will become futile. Bible study is unto spiritual formation and part of that is bringing the thoughts and imaginations of God’s people into alignment with God’s revealed character and will. We do not conform the Word to what we think or what we imagine, but instead submit ourselves to the active and present power of God’s Holy Spirit to conform us to it.
When the author suggests that children be asked, “What would Jesus teach us to do in situations like that?” he is suggesting that Jesus is not Himself the eternal Word of God, through whom the Word recorded in the Bible was written. Jesus, as the co-eternal second member of the Trinity, is teaching us through these texts. The Word in flesh cannot be bifurcated from the Word written. It is a false teaching to suggest that the God who speaks in the Old Testament is in any way different or distinct from the God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not spring onto the scene when He was born of human flesh. He has always been present and active and speaking and teaching.
Children must be taught the truth, including the violence done in sin
Finally, avoiding all reference to violence as the article suggests, how is one to teach the truths of Holy Week? From the cleansing of the Temple, to the arrest and brutal treatment of Jesus by the Romans and Jews, to the blood-thirsty mob, to the scourging and the crown of thorns that appears on the cover of The Outlook where this article appears … all is violence. And then there’s the ultimate violence of the crucifixion. Surely you are not suggesting that there are not age appropriate ways to teach our children about the reality of salvation that comes through a God who was crucified for the violence we do to Him through the reality of sin every day.
Children need to understand the violence done to God through sin and the solution He offers to them through Himself. In order to teach that, we have to teach the Bible.
The author asks if we’re teaching children violence. The better question might be are we teaching children the Bible?