Teaching Story Transitions 3: Start with God’s Story

by Jared Moore on July 27, 2012 · 11 comments

This article was originally posted at my site. Only some of my articles are posted on SBC Voices. If you would like access to all of my articles, you can follow my feed here. You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.

Part 1 of this series can be found here: “Teaching Story Transitions 1: Mediating Extremes”

Part 2 of this series can be found here: “Teaching Story Transitions 2: Your Children aren’t yet Saints” 

Feature link: http://www.speculativefaith.com/features/teaching-story-transitions-1-mediating-extremes/

 Series link: http://www.speculativefaith.com/series/teaching-story-transitions/

Jared Moore and E. Stephen Burnett

So far in this series, we have explored several don’ts — discernment methods Christians often practice that are not based in Scripture. Part 1 and part 2 explored these:

  1. Drawing “fuzzy boundaries” is not Biblical discernment. Parents and Christian leaders ultimately have no reasons besides “I said so” to say one thing is good and another bad. Children, as they grow, may soon see right through these “standards.”
  2. Having few to no boundaries at all is also not Biblical, and unhelpful to children.
  3. Both of these views are based on the false idea that children are basically good!
  4. By contrast, the Biblical motive for enjoying stories and media is instead to discern and enjoy such a story or creative work, for the glory of God and for our benefit.

How do we reject the false notions, and replace them with truth? With none other than the true “story” that every Christian professes to believe and follow: the Scripture, God’s Word.

Rejecting un-Biblical discernment

1. Protecting your child’s “innocence” is a myth. In fact, protecting your children from outside evils, in an attempt to protect their “innocence,” is not the gospel.

Your children are not innocent (Rom. 3:10-1823). Instead they’re merely one decision away from gross and immoral sin. So why may we think they’re “innocent”? Maybe because we don’t think lying and disobeying one’s parents are as evil as God says (Rom. 1:29-31).

So beware the temptation to think of discernment in terms of “protection” from outside evils. If you believe the Bible, evil desires have already infiltrated your child’s heart. You cannot protect your children from evil because they are already evil! You cannot save them from this evil world because you cannot save them from themselves. Even if you could protect them from sinful outside influences, you still cannot protect them from themselves.

The problem is not your children being exposed to evil, but that your children desire evil.

The problem is not that evil exists; the problem is we are evil. Yes, we also need protection from this evil world, but true protection is only through being reborn in Christ. Our minds must be renewed through the Spirit’s influence of the Word of God to our lives. We must be reborn in Christ (John 3:3), and our minds must be renewed by God’s Word (Rom. 12:2).

As Christian parents, teachers, and leaders, we must realize that children are sinners. Thus, we must provide ways for children to see their need to submit to God through Christ, Scripture, and their conscience, so that regardless of what sins they encounter, they still have the tools to submit to God instead of succumbing to evil.

I have mentioned that Scripture is the key to discernment. Yet we must also admit that God’s Word itself details many evils! Some are so perverted that even most unbelievers reject reading about them: necrophilia, bestiality, incest, orgies, rape, murder, etc.

So why does God’s Word show them? To show our sin contrasted with our magnificent God, thus revealing our sin and sending us running to Jesus Christ for salvation.

Thus, should children of all ages be exposed to such evils in Scripture? The answer is not easy. That’s why Christian parents, teachers, and leaders must first themselves practice discernment. Of course, we will likely not always agree on when, for example, an eight-year-old should read a chapter like Judges 19 (although if you have given him a Bible, and he is a boy, chances are he has already found it!). That’s why what follows is my opinion as a Christian pastor, husband, and father. My words also must be compared with Scripture.

2. Parents may choose when to expose his or her children to various evils in Scripture, but if you wait too long, your surrounding culture(s) will choose for you.

As parents and Christian leaders, we must constantly examine and discern our cultures. Based on those, we can anticipate when our children will be exposed to various evils, and teach them how to practice Christian discernment, as preemptive strikes.

For example, recently in my church’s van, an eight-year-old boy asked me an inappropriate question about something he heard in a movie. Because of the constant barrage of media all around us, this kind of situation is already inevitable. That chance is more than doubled if your children spent time around older children, or especially children whose parents do not practice discernment. They will be exposed to various evils sooner than you want!

That’s why you must anticipate this exposure. You must be active to teach your children aBiblical worldview, before inevitable other cultures teach them an un-Biblical worldview.

Replacing with Biblical discernment

That sounds wonderful. Most of you are by now agreeing. But if you’re a parent, you may be asking how that works. How do parents know at what pace to move for the sake of their children? From the 12-year-old who seem unfazed by written violence and perhaps should be more worried about it, to the six-year-old who would have nightmares about cartoons?

We certainly can’t claim this process will be the same for every family and every growing and maturing child. But we can suggest some general guiding principles.

That brings us back to a concept introduced at the end of this series’ part 1. It is also the beginning of how we may think more positively, replacing the bad discernment principles and practices we may have absorbed from our cultures with good and Biblical ones.

3. To grow in discernment, we must teach children the entire true Story of Scripture.

Because this is a lifelong process, we need to provide our children with a basic summary of Scripture, a foundation upon which to build their entire view of God, His creation, and man. In other words, we must train them to answer man’s basic worldview questions.

Nancy Pearcey, author of Total Truth and tutor at Rivendell Sanctuary, lists three worldview subjects that all humanity examines, questions, and answers:

  1. Creation: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
  2. Fall: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
  3. Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?

Almost every movie, TV show, song, or book seeks to answer at least one of the above questions. Many try to answer all of them. Your or your children’s friends, family, and acquaintances also seek to answer at least one of these questions.

Of course, the problem is that most of these stories and real-life people come up with very wrong answers, or even worse, some wrong answers and some right answers! That’s why discernment is essential for Christians to live in our evil age, where wickedness and lies are placed side-by-side and interlaced with truth.

For the Christian, there is only one sure Word that answers these questions — the true and first Story that God, the ultimate Storyteller, has written. According to Scripture:

  1. Creation: The only God who exists created all things, including you, for His own glory (Gen. 1; especially Gen. 1:26Col. 1:16-17).
  2. Fall: Adam and Eve sinned against God, and all creation including humanity fell into sin (Gen. 3;Rom. 3:10-23Rom. 8:20-22). Thus, all humans are sinners, which means that we are what is wrong with the world (Rom. 3:23Gal. 3:22).
  3. Redemption: God the Son incarnate, Jesus Christ, came to earth to fix what Adam messed up. Jesus Christ — through His life, death, and resurrection — is the only answer for the sin problem (Rom. 8:1-39John 14:6).

To enjoy God through all stories, we must take captive all ideas to Christ. We must destroy all the evil ideas the world exalts, for the God’s knowledge to reign supreme (2 Cor. 10:5).

Thus, instead of “helping” your children by sheltering them, truly help them by teaching them a Biblical view of the world upon which to build their lives. Though the world parades its wrong answers, if you help your children answer man’s basic worldview questions with Scripture, they will be able to grow in discerning the difference between truth and lies.

On the other hand, if you keep believing the myths that children are “innocent” or that they can be sheltered and kept “uncorrupted” by the world, you will not provide them with the necessary Biblical worldview so they may learn to live Godly lives in an evil age. You must discern what the world tells your children about who humans are, what’s wrong with the world, and how to fix it, so that you can then teach your children how these lies disagree with God’s true answers (Deut. 6:5-7). Our children will then be able to remain distinctly Christian in spite of living in a progressively unchristian world.

Much of this takes a monumental education effort — sometimes a literal education. In part 4, we’ll explore how one education method, classical education, may offer parents guidance.

This article was originally posted at my site. Only some of my articles are posted on SBC Voices. If you would like access to all of my articles, you can follow my feed here. You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.

1 rick July 27, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Garbage in – garbage out is a myth. Brown cows eat green grass and give white milk. That’s because it is transformed by internal processes. Worms eat compost and give us rich, fertile soil. There are some processes designed to transform garbage into something useful.

Just because garbage goes into a mind, doesn’t mean garbage comes out. It all gets processed, evaluated, weighed, and disposed of.

And then there’s the definition of garbage. Is the Left Behind series non-garbage? Joel Osteen? Rick Warren? Chick tracts?

2 Doug Hibbard July 27, 2012 at 5:46 pm

For the way a cow is designed, green grass is not garbage. It’s food.

Yes, worms eat compost and turn into something useful.

But feed a cow grass with the wrong chemicals the milk is useless. Put that worm in compost mixed with old oil and it’s dead.

That’s the point of the garbage-in/garbage-out expression. There are some things that no human process can truly fix and make useful.

And the definition of garbage? Well, that’s what discernment via the Scriptures are supposed to guide us in, right?

3 Christiane July 27, 2012 at 2:47 pm

For any person to be capable of sin (evil actions), consciously, requires an awareness of morality and the formation of a moral code. Children are not born with such an awareness . . . it comes with maturity and with the proper Christian formation, and that formation begins in the family home.

Teaching morality is important, and surprisingly important in that teaching is the modeling of Christian behavior, as your child DOES watch carefully and DOES absorb much of your own values through observing your actions.
The ‘do as I say, not as I do’ is confusing and harmful to our young. It gives scandal to the young in exhibiting lack of integrity to them.

The best teacher for helping parents?
Our Lord Himself as He was with people when He was among us
. . . He ‘modeled’ for us ‘how to live’ like no one else.

The requirements for the Christian formation of a child include modeling kindness, patience, love, gentleness, faithfulness, peace, self-control, goodness and don’t forget JOY . . . your child first knows God’s love through you . . . that’s a big responsibility.

Give abundantly of the goodness of Our Lord to your child . . .
Christ is his greatest protection against the evil in his world.

http://www.mustardseedrecording.com/assets/images/fruit-of-the-spirit.jpg

4 Christiane July 27, 2012 at 9:24 pm

JARED,
I don’t understand where this kind of thinking about children comes from:

“You cannot protect your children from evil because they are already evil!”

From what doctrines is it taught that children are evil?

5 E. Stephen Burnett July 28, 2012 at 6:56 am

Hello, Christiane! I’m the secondary author and editor of this series with Jared. Thanks much for your interaction and Scriptural testing.

My counter-question: From what doctrines is it taught that they are basically good and somehow escape the truth of man’s sinful nature? “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) is just one Biblical evidence.

More specifically, David discusses his own sin and need for repentance and a clean heart from God, a sinful nature that dates back to his birth:

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

Psalm 51: 1-10 (boldface emphasis added)

6 Frank L. July 28, 2012 at 10:45 am

Mr. Burnett,

Am I reading you correctly in your use of DAvid’s “sinful nature from” birth to suggest that a baby who dies in infancy goes to hell?

There are those who believe this–I’m not one of them.

I think you are confusing ontological terms of our nature with judicial terms of our “guilt.” Taken to the extremes you would have to suggest that a person can be guilty by possessing the propensity for committing a crime.

While some try to use the poetic descriptions and Hebrew idioms such as David in the Psalm you quote to hold to “guilty by nature as the same as sinful by nature,” I do not believe that is what the whole of Scripture teaches.

I don’t want to speak for Christianne, but I believe that is what she is getting at–she can clarify if she’d like.

7 E. Stephen Burnett July 28, 2012 at 11:12 am

Hey back, Frank,

Am I reading you correctly in your use of DAvid’s “sinful nature from” birth to suggest that a baby who dies in infancy goes to hell?

Isn’t that another topic, though, outside the main topic about whether children are basically good or basically evil? Along with many wise Christian leaders, I agree that God’s grace very well may cover someone who dies without conscious salvation, who has a natural bent toward evil but not the conscious will to use that to commit sin (this can apply both to children and to the mentally disabled). That, however, is outside the question of what a child’s nature is.

I think you are confusing ontological terms of our nature with judicial terms of our “guilt.” Taken to the extremes you would have to suggest that a person can be guilty by possessing the propensity for committing a crime.

Yet the main question this series (and this installment in particular) raised is not one of guilt and resulting punishment, but of sinful nature. A child is not corrupted by an Outside Thing, but but his own decisions that arise from that sinful nature, e.g. spiritual deadness that all humans have (Ephesians 2) apart from Christ.

While some try to use the poetic descriptions and Hebrew idioms such as David in the Psalm you quote to hold to “guilty by nature as the same as sinful by nature,” I do not believe that is what the whole of Scripture teaches.

If I understood you right, I believe I agree with you. God does not condemn for the dead-in-sins sinful nature, but for the choices we make because of that nature. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin,” the Spirit-inspired Apostle Paul assure us (Romans 14:23). Jesus was also clear that some would suffer worse judgment than others, clearly based on their deeds. If the opposite were true, then Hell would be the same for Chairman Mao as it would be for the wise kind Buddhist guru who at least lived more according to God’s common grace. I agree this is not what we see in Scripture. But again, all this is only a related issue!

The main point here is that children are not the extreme “neutral” or even “innocent” stereotype that many Christians believe — perhaps because they have patterned their thoughts after those of the childlike-ideal-venerating world rather than on Scripture. Rather, children have an evil nature, like all of us, and if they make a meaningful choice to abuse any story (or song, book, movie, etc.) for evil purposes, committing a sin, the fault lies with them. And thus the solution is not merely “parent, remove the temptation” but “Christ, redeem the heart.”

If someone comes along and says, or implies, that infants or young children are just as evil as the Gestapo, I will join you in defending the Biblical truth that God punishes according to works. So far, though, no one has said that, and if they do say that, I’m sure someone will be available to write a series countering that myth!

8 Frank L. July 29, 2012 at 1:16 am

Thanks for the post. I was looking at it from a different angle.

9 Christiane July 28, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Hi E. STEPHEN BURNETT and FRANK L.

where to start . . .

I think I was thrown by the phrase ‘children are evil’ which is not believed in my own Catholic faith . . . it may be believed among some who hold to certain Calvinist teachings about ‘total depravity’, but even they are alive to the scriptures that speak about Our Lord and His love for children who, in their humility, model for us that we too must walk humbly with Our God if we would enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

It could be that I over-reacted to the ‘language’ (the phrase) and did not understand the full meaning of your words, Mr. Burnett, and if that is the case, and it might be, I am in error, but I do not see children as ‘evil’, nor do I believe in the ‘total depravity’ teaching of Calvinism.

My own belief is that, in light of the doctrine of Original Sin, we are born, having been wounded in our nature by original sin, and we are subject to error and inclined to evil in exercising our freedom. We are wounded, yes, but we still may ‘choose life’.

I think FRANK L. understands something important:
original sin does not make us ‘guilty’ . . .
we choose freely, knowing fully we are sinning, and that makes us guilty when we violate our God-given conscience . . .

Little children don’t have the full ability of adults to form good judgments and make good choices . . .

small children may do bad things, and the consequences of their actions may be horrible . . . but their culpability is diminished by the fact that they have not yet reached ‘the age of reason’.

maybe this helps a bit ?
that is my hope

and thanks to FRANK L.
for his contribution to the discussion :)

10 E. Stephen Burnett July 30, 2012 at 11:14 am

I think I was thrown by the phrase ‘children are evil’ which is not believed in my own Catholic faith . . .

Gotcha. In this case, our differences may be deeper than this relatively surface-level issue. (What got you reading from SBC Voices, if I may ask?)

it may be believed among some who hold to certain Calvinist teachings about ‘total depravity’, but even they are alive to the scriptures that speak about Our Lord and His love for children who, in their humility, model for us that we too must walk humbly with Our God if we would enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Of note: based on the Scriptures I noted above, all informed Christians believe the doctrine of man’s sinful nature from birth. This is not merely a “Calvinist” distinctive! :-) It also does not contradict any truth about God’s special love for children or why He was able to compare their humility to ours. This is a tricky issue, to be sure, but if anything God’s love for children (and the possibility that He saves them, in their ignorance, before they are able consciously to exercise their sinful nature) makes Him all the more incredible and gracious; it does not speak to any great moral “neutrality,” much less virtue, on their part!

But anyway, speaking for myself at least, our emphasis in this series has been on children who are older, who are able to think more about a story and who are past that time — whatever it is in their case — at which they do make conscious decisions to use a story for good or for bad. The issue of infants, “age of accountability” and all of that goes beyond the focus of this series on older children who may learn Biblical discernment.

I do not see children as ‘evil’, nor do I believe in the ‘total depravity’ teaching of Calvinism.

It is true we may be saying the same things in different ways, or with different emphasis. Yet here you seem to be denying the doctrine of man’s sinful nature (I prefer this phrase over the vaguer “original sin,” which was confusing to people even more it was so horribly misused in the play Inherit the Wind).

My own belief is that, in light of the doctrine of Original Sin, we are born, having been wounded in our nature by original sin

This, too, may be another way of saying the same thing as I’ve been saying. I would encourage you, however, to consider Scriptures such as Romans 1-3 and Ephesians 1-2, which have persuaded me that mankind is not merely “wounded” in sin, but spiritually dead in sin. All Christians, be they “Calvinists” or “Arminians,” believe that God in His grace must act to enable any meaningful choice to repent and be saved. Both can ally against the false doctrine of “Pelagianism,” which says that sin corrupted our environment, leaving us “neutral” to choose. This, by the way, is the default belief of many Christians (professing or actual), and this notion also makes it into many stories whose themes claim that “being yourself” or “following your dream” is the chief end of man.

I think FRANK L. understands something important:
original sin does not make us ‘guilty’ . . .
we choose freely, knowing fully we are sinning, and that makes us guilty when we violate our God-given conscience . . .

As an aside: I believe it was John MacArthur, in a sermon, who more specifically outlines the conjoined truths of man’s deadness in sin, yet God’s punishment based on our sinful actions — which, apart from Christ, are inevitable and sufficient to condemn us to eternity of punishment.

small children may do bad things, and the consequences of their actions may be horrible . . . but their culpability is diminished by the fact that they have not yet reached ‘the age of reason’.

… Which brings me back to the reminder that this series is focused on older children who have reached what you call “the age of reason.” They have gone beyond merely being “entertained” or distracted by media, such as cartoon shows or movies, and have reached the point of using such a story for good or evil, according to the desires of their hearts.

As before, thanks much for your interaction, Christiane!

11 Christiane July 30, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Hi Mr. BURNETT,

thank you also for the dialogue . . .
well, I am from a family of mixed heritage of faith . . .
I am Roman Catholic through my father from Canada, and my maternal grandmother, of blessed memory, was a Southern Baptist.
Years back, when the Westboro Baptist Church protested on TV, I was horrified . . . I knew my grandmother was not ‘like that’ and I came looking to Southern Baptist people on blogs to find out what was true FROM THEM, from their own thoughts and their beliefs . . . and so I found them not to be like the Westboro folks, thank God.

I know that in your theology you have thought much about evil and sin and how to keep from it.
In my own faith, we do not take ‘evil’ lightly, but we know that the power of Christ over it is a reality . . . a great reality.
Our Lord Himself tried to comfort and strengthen us with these words which are recorded in the holy Gospel of St. John:

“These things I have spoken unto you,
that in Me ye might have peace.
In the world ye shall have tribulation:
but be of good cheer;
I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.” (John 16:33)

I am sure that if we look for sin and evil, we will find it.
But we are the ‘Alleluiah’ people . . . the Lord Who leads us is Risen,
and He has given us HIS peace, not the ‘spirit of fear’.

The difference is that we are enabled, through Him, to ‘go forth’ into the world to love Him and to serve Him.

One of the great signs of those who bring Him into the world is that they do not have ‘a spirit of fear’ . . .
in their ‘going forth’, they bring the holy Peace of Christ to those who have lived in fear in the darkness, and in need of His Light.

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