Train Children to be Discerning

by Jared Moore on February 15, 2013 · 17 comments

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.

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” 

Part 3 of this series can be found here: “Teaching Story Transitions 3: Start with God’s Story

Part 4 of this series can be found here: “Teaching Story Transitions 4: Early Tools for Truth”

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

Jared Moore and E. Stephen Burnett

(Real-life parenting and other tasks can sideline other efforts, as was the case for this series begun last year. Two other featured series, Speculative Politics and the first Speculative Faith Reading Group: The Hobbit installments, occupied the break. Now Politics is over, and we’ve caught up to The Hobbitbook where the first film ended. We now return you to your irregularly scheduled program featuring Pastor Jared Moore: Teaching Story Transitions.)

logo_teachingstorytransitionsChristian books, family manuals, and other materials jump directly from the “children, be sheltered” stage to “parents, shelter your children” — with little discussion of what comes between. That’s why parents must plan how they will teach their children’s transitions.

First we must recognize un-Biblical story discernment. Second, we learn to practice our own discernment — not treating children as innocents corrupted by the world, but sinners who need Christ. Third, we begin not with seemingly practical motives to discern, but with knowing and loving God’s Story. And fourth, we may choose to apply this to teaching our children by using what’s known in classic-education circles as the “trivium” method.

Per the Trivium, a first teaching stage involves mainly teaching children how to use truth-discernment tools. This is the introduction process. As you guide them to some stories and away from others, you begin to train them to do the same for themselves. What do they think about what they see? More vitally, based on God’s Word, what does He think of it?

Then comes the Trivium’s second stage, into which parents and teachers gradually phase:

2. Middle-grade exploration: Challenge children to discern more on their own.

In classical education this is called the “logic stage.” It starts at about the fifth grade and phases out in eight grade. Here, one teaches children to begin thinking more analytically.

Quite naturally children at this age have already begun growing beyond memorizing all the tools of learning (tools taught through catechesis: memorizing the Bible, understanding how Scripture answers man’s basic worldview questions, and so on). Now they are starting to think through the “why” questions behind all arguments. We assume this growth of the human brain is God-designed because He created all things and holds all things together (Gen. 1:1John 1:1-4Col. 1:16-17). Thus we need to capitalize on this development by helping children think through the truth-claims they hear in any stories they encounter.

Our goal is to help children start discerning specific worldviews being presented in media. Remember the worldview questions we asked earlier in part 3:

  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?

Remember also how Christians answer these questions based on 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).

In light of these Scriptural truths, parents need to guide their children to understand how media and stories answers these worldview questions with their own “truth-claims.” Then parents teach their children how to correct the wrong answers with Scripture.

cover_diaryofawimpykidFor example, let’s take a brief look at one popular franchise of stories, in this case stories specifically geared for child readers: the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. My wife, children, and I have enjoyed these books (and film adaptations) about “wimpy kid” Greg Heffley, whose comical struggles are endearing to anyone who has endured the horror of middle school.

See if your children can recognize the stories’ worldview. Ask them how the series answers these questions:

  1. Why does man exist?
  2. What’s wrong with the world?
  3. How is the problem fixed?

Does Diary of a Wimpy Kid argue that man exists for God’s glory? Do the stories show that sin is what’s wrong with the world — that sinful humanity is part of what’s wrong with the world? Do they argue that Jesus is the only cure for the sin disease? If not, what do they say? What claims can we accept because they align with Scripture? What must we reject?

Parents and teachers must also encourage children to recognize immorality in stories, and know the reasons why immorality is in this series. Of course, the prime reason is sin; sin taints everything. Put another way, the characters refuse to love God with all their hearts, souls, and minds, and to love their neighbors as themselves (Matt. 22:37-39). Why? Because their hearts are wicked and selfish, in rebellion against God. They do not care about the things of God. That’s the real problem. What’s the solution? They need Jesus!

Of course this series doesn’t present sin as the problem or Christ as the cure. Diary goes askew by not correctly diagnosing our disease. Though some stories more closely align with Biblical truth about either — even without direct allusions to the Gospel — Diary of a Wimpy Kid argues the main character’s problems include, “I’m not having my best life now,” or “I’m not cool,” or “My brother is mean to me.” These are understandable. But they’re not our main problems in reality. They’re symptoms of our greatest problem: ourselves.

So what’s the solution? Even if you do “fix” such problems, you won’t live happily ever after because sin infects all creation and all human relationships. Children must face reality: even if people think you’re cool and your brother stops being mean to you, you’ll still die one day and stand before your Creator, and He won’t be impressed. To hell you will go!

That’s the negative side of challenging children to discern. But we must not end there, for if we do we would miss all the ways stories reflect the truth about God, people, and creation. So we must teach children to find these “fingerprints” — after all, all truth is God’s truth and all lies are Satan’s lies. TheDiary of a Wimpy Kid series encourages us toward humility, to laugh at ourselves. It values the traditional family. It doesn’t exalt rampant immorality. It says sin has consequences (though it doesn’t call it sin). It recognizes God’s fingerprints in people (we are His image-bearers). It encourages children to love their parents, brothers, friends, and neighbors. It values human life. It rejects superficiality. The list goes on.

What else may we find? You and your children in this learning stage can find out together as you evaluate the truth claims of stories you encourage them to enjoy. Of course, that can only happen if you are personally involved with media and stories yourself — still hands-on, still guiding your children and practicing your own discernment to avoid material that isn’t beautiful, good, or truthful. But what about the time when your children will finally begin taking the reins of their own discernment? We’ll discuss that last phase in part 6.

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.

1 Alan Cross February 15, 2013 at 11:02 am

I like your 3 questions. I have been using a variation of these questions for several years now, splitting the first question into a question about God and a question about Man. If you think about it, we are all asking these questions and trying to answer them all the time. Our common unity as humans is found in asking the same questions. Of course, we come up with radically different answers.

2 Christiane February 15, 2013 at 11:49 am

Some of the ‘hard-wired’ questions that are universal:

Who and What is God?
For what purpose am I here?

ALAN, you are right about the radically different answers.

3 Jared Moore February 15, 2013 at 9:48 pm

You’re exactly right Alan. Keep on keeping on.

4 Jess Alford February 15, 2013 at 10:43 pm

I didn’t have books or plans of any type to raise my children. I was real with them and tried to answer any question they had with honesty.

The teaching of morals,and truth came from the Bible. When they came of age, each child realized they were lost in their sins and needed Jesus the one who died on the cross for their sins. All my children received
Jesus in their hearts as Lord and Saviour.

I made sure that I didn’t interfere with their decision making process.
The decision was theirs and theirs alone. I owe God everything, WOW!

Great Post, even if it’s 40 years late.

5 Frank L. February 15, 2013 at 11:55 pm

Jared,

As you know I’m not a fan of Harry Potter–just wanted to get that in.

I think you have a real gift for helping parents guide their children to be discerning (apart from you lapse into Potterism), thinking, God-loving children.

One of the great heartbreaks of my life is that I was not the parent to my children that I should have been. In part, I just didn’t have a clue as to how to parent a child. I could tell you everything there is to know about a submarine — but a child, not so much.

I really hope you will consider making this area a significant part of your academic pursuits.

Again, I think you have a real knack for this area of theological discourse.

6 E. Stephen Burnett February 16, 2013 at 12:28 pm

LOL, Frank L. — it may be that Jared and I simply have different tastes in stories. Our contention, though, is there there is no Biblical reason against enjoying the Harry Potter series for God’s glory. Many, however, superstitiously, even mystically confuse folklore “witchcraft” (wands, potions, riding brooms, turning into animals, etc.) with the actual anti-God occult practices Scripture forbids, e.g., trying to gain predictions and means of life-control apart from God’s revelation and life-control.

7 Frank L. February 16, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Stephen,

I understand what you are saying and I agree 100% that you have a right to be wrong.

8 Jared Moore February 16, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Frank, thanks brother. Two of my next three books will interact with these issues. I hope they’re beneficial.

9 E. Stephen Burnett February 17, 2013 at 12:55 am

LOL, true enough, and as brothers we share that right. :-) And yet where am I wrong according to my claim that Scripture forbids only actual pagan occult practice and not also imaginary “folklore” witchcraft?

10 Frank L. February 17, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Stephen,

I’m not sure how to answer that. It is like asking, “where am I wrong to say that Scripture only forbids actual sin and not also imaginary “folklore” sin?”

For example: adultery in a work of fiction is still adultery.

Also, Rowling took meticulous care to research “actual” witchcraft practices. The witchcraft in Harry Potter is just short of a “how to book” on witchcraft.

I know there is a “thin line” between literary folklore and the actual practice of witchcraft. My belief is that where the “ice is thin it is better not to skate.”

But, that aside, I was just kidding about your right to be wrong. None of us has the definitive edge on truth. I get that.

11 E. Stephen Burnett February 17, 2013 at 5:16 pm

I’ve heard the “there’s actual witchcraft in them there books” charge before, and this is the first chance I have to ask for a specific example! I maintain, however, that even if that were true, in the worst case:

a) Christians can read descriptions of actual sinful behavior, including witchcraft or adultery, and not sin. Scripture itself describes certain kinds of sins and even violence (such as Ehud’s assassination of Eglon) to an extent that sickos could want to use those mentions for their own sin. Meanwhile, the prophet Daniel was forced to attend the Babylonian equivalent of Hogwarts and studied actual material about mythology and “magic,” surely including actual divination manuals. Yet God was with him (Daniel 1) and helped him learn, yet without ever sinning and maintaining his faithfulness to God.

b) Every Christian already believes that some among us, whether ministers or movie reviewers or researchers, are somehow qualified to read even the truly bad stuff and warn others. Here I say: why not share that maturity with all Christians if they aspire to it?

But those worst-case arguments are likely not needed here, because:

c) Scripture forbids (as in Deut. 18) specific pagan practices, such as trying to forecast the future by inquiring of dead relatives, for specific reasons; e.g., in Deut. 18, God has His own means of revealing His will by His prophets and righteously abhors the wicked competition). The “Harry Potter” series does not present positive examples of this kind of sin. No one inquires of the dead or tries to use even fictitious “magic” to predict the future or control life. In fact, those who do try this sort of thing (such as the series’s villain, Lord Voldemort) are soundly rebuked.

d) The “magic” of “Harry Potter” is indeed “folklore” magic, based on myths, legend, and newer imaginations; its magic does not work here.

e) Just because a pagan says “oh yes, I frequently use that kind of ingredient in the ‘spells’ me and my pagan friends practice” does not make it sinful. Our standard does not come from asking “what do pagans say?” but “what does the Bible say?”. Christians may, for example, benefit from stretching techniques, originally discovered by pagans, to use in physical exercises. The stretches are not sinful; the “meditation” methods and religious motives for which others use the stretch are sinful. Similarly, many people use Facebook to cheat on their spouses, or the internet for porn; this does not make Facebook or internet use, or this enjoyable discussion between us, also sinful!

“My belief is that where the ‘ice is thin it is better not to skate.’”

… Which has wisdom behind it, particularly if someone is vulnerable to the “sin by association” risk. The best example is the “meat sacrificed to idols” on which Paul elaborated in 1 Cor. 8-10. Yet did the apostle say “everyone should avoid this practice”? Or was his argument more complex, based not in fear of sinning but in love for brothers who may legitimately be led to sin? In this discussion, I do not want to lead anyone to sin, but people often wrongly view as “stumbling blocks” the very things that they are already spiritually mature enough to handle. Or they wrongly assume that a particular Thing that is a stumbling block for anybody is therefore also a stumbling block to everybody.

… Which brings me back to the topic of this piece: that Christian parents who train up their children to discern will, in this “phase” of training, begin challenging their children with materials that include truth and beauty and also untruths and ugliness. The Harry Potter book and film series is an excellent example of a fantasy story that includes common-grace truths and beauties mixed with idolatry — yet I contend the common grace handily wins in the end.

Furthermore, as I like to say, if you say “You can’t glorify God through that,” and even one person says, “Actually, I can and do,” then you must either re-evaluate the original claim or be prepared to call (to his face) the responder a liar, and urge him to repent. :-)

12 Frank L. February 17, 2013 at 6:08 pm

“Liar, repent!”

That was easy :)

Seriously, I’m too lazy to respond to such a long post point by point.

I’ll take (a). You seem to confuse fiction with history; and Daniel utterly repudiated the paganism of Babylon even at the risk of death. Don’t see the parallel.

I’ll take (e). “””Just because a pagan says “oh yes, I frequently use that kind of ingredient in the ‘spells’ me and my pagan friends practice” does not make it sinful.””” So, now even “practicing spells does not make it sinful.” That’s a stretch.

Or this: “”yet I contend the common grace handily wins in the end.”” I’d submit that a better “magic” wins in the end, not “grace.” I prefer to get my “grace” from the Bible, not Rowlings.

You make many causal fallacies in comparing Daniel to Harry Potter and folklore (withcraft) to FaceBook. You could make the same argument about “air.” Obviously I’m wicked because I’m breathing the same “air” wicked people are using.

Air is essential–Potter is not. FaceBook is ubiquitous and efficacious, Potter is not. The Internet is a necessity in our culture, Potter is not. Something can have congruence without being equal.

Again, if you think Harry Potter is the key to evangelizing our world, I don’t think I will try to dissuade you. I think such a discussion — in my opinion — indicates the depth to which culture has been imbedded into Christianity in the West. Again, that is my opinion and I’m far too lazy to get links and footnotes to prove my point.

If you were under my authority in my church you would not be able to take such liberties with Harry Potter. My calling is to keep people off of thin ice.

You are not under my authority (Heb. 13) and therefore I am only sharing my opinion. I absolutely see your point and I can appreciate your position. I can even applaud you if you seek to encounter a few “Potterites” and want to win them to the Lord. I’ll send a donation (footnote 1).

That’s not “my thing” and I doubt if we will be having this discussion in ten years. This, too me, is the danger of “fad evangelism.” It has a shelf life.

footnote 1 — “Not really.”

13 E. Stephen Burnett February 17, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Clearly you’re not “lazy”; don’t run yourself down. Nice length there.

Some responses, ending with the most important challenge:

“Liar, repent!” That was easy

But half-hearted. C’mon, brother, put some heart in it! ;-)

I’ll take (a). You seem to confuse fiction with history; and Daniel utterly repudiated the paganism of Babylon even at the risk of death. Don’t see the parallel.

The parallel is that Daniel, with God’s help, was in pagan school, reading pagan literature, supervised by pagans. He was surrounded by astrologers and “magicians” and divination-folks. Absolutely he did not sin — even while reading their books, with God’s help. Check the passage; I believe that familiarity with it has dulled its impact.

Challenge, then: if some of God’s people can do that with His help, to glorify Him in pagan cultures, then why not me? Why not you?

I’ll take (e). “””Just because a pagan says “oh yes, I frequently use that kind of ingredient in the ‘spells’ me and my pagan friends practice” does not make it sinful.””” So, now even “practicing spells does not make it sinful.” That’s a stretch.

I’m referring not to actual spells, but, say, a particular herb or ingredient a pagan claims he uses or does. Nothing in Scripture gives validity to actual “spells” or “curses” that pagans practice. If you believe these are real and that the Devil has power (over God and after Christ’s death?) through them, then I’m not sure what to say here — only to ask whether Scripture supports this view.

Or this: “”yet I contend the common grace handily wins in the end.”” I’d submit that a better “magic” wins in the end, not “grace.” I prefer to get my “grace” from the Bible, not Rowlings.

Hmm, perhaps this is a derivative of a “sufficiency of Scripture” notion that not even Scripture itself makes. I’m not looking for a definition of grace from any author, much less J.K. Rowling (no -S). Rather, I see how secular literature may, because of God’s common grace in the world (Matt. 7, Romans 1, Acts 17) reflect His truth. This isn’t out of some desire to Use anything as an Evangelism Tool (more on this below). Stories and culture have more God-honoring purposes than that (more than evangelism, though not less).

You make many causal fallacies in comparing Daniel to Harry Potter and folklore (withcraft) to FaceBook. You could make the same argument about “air.” Obviously I’m wicked because I’m breathing the same “air” wicked people are using.

I think you missed my point. Rather, I’m making a reducio ad absurdum point. I’m asking, “If you believe that a pagan’s motive in using a Thing can ‘transfer’ mystically to a Christian’s motive, then why not apply this to Facebook or the internet?” A Thing is a Thing is a Thing, brother. If a “Harry Potter” book can be in some sense “infested” by evil, so can a website or technology.

By the way, is the idea of a Thing being somehow infested by evil a Christian idea? Or is that a more-pagan understanding of sin/evil?

Air is essential–Potter is not. FaceBook is ubiquitous and efficacious, Potter is not.

Mere opinion (I still haven’t seen firm Biblical passages as proof!). Many silly arguments have been based on “you don’t really need that thing.” Both Facebook and the “Harry Potter” series are “efficacious” — but again it sounds like you and I would have different ideas of what this effect is for.

Again, if you think Harry Potter is the key to evangelizing our world, I don’t think I will try to dissuade you.

You don’t need to. And I can understand this misconception, based on Christians’ constant lameness with pop culture: either fearing it as some toxin in the air, or seeing it as perfectly Good and to be Used to pack out the churches or supplant the Bible in our message.

So let me clear up what seems to be a huge misconception: I’m not interested in using this story, Christian or “secular,” primarily as an Evangelism Tool. The chief end of man is not “to evangelize.” Nor should the chief end of any story, creative work, or Thing to be “to help in evangelism.” Here’s where I like to ask the crucial question: what do you think a chief end of any story or creative work should be? (Hint: not just Evangelism.)

Again, that is my opinion and I’m far too lazy to get links and footnotes to prove my point.

An opinion with which I am familiar, and have addressed with Scripture — I was really hoping, though, to have my own “iron” sharpened with a sample of your research about how this series supposedly includes actual God-forbidden witchcraft formulae.

(By the way, if you’re able to research this at all, that again proves my point that in Christ, Christians can have the strength to face such things and not be automatically dragged into sinful behaviors.)

If you were under my authority in my church you would not be able to take such liberties with Harry Potter. My calling is to keep people off of thin ice.

I rebutted the “thin ice” argument above with appeals to 1 Cor. 8-10. The Apostle Paul did not use any “thin ice” argument to oppose certain personal enjoyments. He argued based on love for one’s fellow siblings in Christ, and specific recommendations for how to show love whether or not one enjoys controversial “meat sacrificed to idols” in public or private. Why reject this reasoning in favor of a questionable, and possibly worldly, “thin ice” argument?

I do appreciate your motives in this discussion, and recognitions of the limitations of this internet venue. That’s also why I feel free to discuss my enjoyments without worrying about violating someone’s conscience — Scripture in its “conscience” discussions (in 1 Cor. 8-10, and Rom. 14) clearly speaks in a context of local churches and personal discipleship, not in a context of broader communication.

I can even applaud you if you seek to encounter a few “Potterites” and want to win them to the Lord. I’ll send a donation (footnote 1). […] This, too me, is the danger of “fad evangelism.” It has a shelf life.

Again with the Evangelism Tool conception! :-P Not my motive. I enjoy the series for my own good and God’s glory.

14 Frank L. February 18, 2013 at 2:34 am

You make it easy.

Evangelism is how Jesus said we glorify God

You missed that discussion.

Protecting people from thin ice is loving them.

Much I agree with you on but we disagree fundamentally on evangelism. That is an unbridgable gap

We cannot find common ground but I wish you the best

15 E. Stephen Burnett February 18, 2013 at 10:55 am

Still waiting on those Scripture references … without those to answer mine, I think you’re right that we have less common ground (regrettably, less than I thought when we started out!).

On glorifying God, that is certainly not limited to evangelism.

The chief end of man is not “to evangelize.” The chief end of man is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” That’s not only a historic confession of the Church, but firmly based in Scripture:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

This includes sharing the Gospel with the lost (and reminding other believes of this truth). But it is absolutely not limited to overt Gospel-sharing. The Gospel is the foundation upon which redemption is built — redemption of souls, the body, and of all creation. Ultimately the only thing that will not be redeemed is the damned.

Another logical conclusion: if only Overt Evangelism glorifies God, then no one in this discussion has glorified Him. :-) So far no one has yet presented overt evangelism; alas, we have instead assumed we know the Gospel and can discuss based on that!

Of course, I don’t believe this. But that is the conclusion of a view that says “we only glorify God through evangelism.”

16 Frank L. February 18, 2013 at 3:16 pm

By this is my Father glorified that you beat much fruit I came to seek and to save the lost.

I could keep going but Scripture never convinces anybody of a position counter to the one they hold.

You cannot glorify God unless you follow Christ. His objective was the cross to redeem the lost sheep.

I am simply not going to accept that God has a personal agenda apart from seeking His lost children. The words and life of The Lord seems clear in that regard

As I said, I have been to this dance before and quoting Scripture is to no avail once minds are firmly established as mine is. I don’t wish to hide behind the cross. My goal is to pick it up and follow the passion of The Lord.

A life without evangelism simply does not glorify God in my understanding.

17 E. Stephen Burnett February 18, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Brother, I’m not sure if you’re at all paying attention to what I wrote.

By this is my Father glorified that you beat much fruit I came to seek and to save the lost.

Is “bearing fruit” limited to evangelism? I’ve contended that it’s not. Yes, absolutely it includes evangelism. But it’s not limited. Christianity is not simply a pyramid scheme in which “the chief end of man is to evangelize.” Again, if that’s the case, then you’ve failed to glorify God every single day that you haven’t told someone new about Christ. Thank God for those opportunities, I say, and thank God also that we can glorify Him even when we’re not directly “preaching.”

I could keep going but Scripture never convinces anybody of a position counter to the one they hold.

Yet here I’ve repeatedly asked for Biblical evidence — especially different readings of the texts I’ve offered — yet you’ve declined to give it. Why this apparent preference for fatalism rather than respectfully engaging me as a (wayward, in your view) brother, or at least human?

At least show me where the “Harry Potter” series specifically includes actual pagan “spells” or witchcraft. That was the original purpose of this debate. :-D I asked not to bait you — or if I did, it was a very poor debate, because I already offered the Daniel 1 argument for engaging even actual pagan literature — but to try to learn from you. Earlier you said that you had done this research, and I accepted this claim as true.

You cannot glorify God unless you follow Christ. His objective was the cross to redeem the lost sheep.

As a repentant sinner who now benefits from His life, death, and resurrection, I absolutely follow Christ. Certainly that was His objective. With that agreement, I have no idea why you’re saying this here. :-P

I am simply not going to accept that God has a personal agenda apart from seeking His lost children. The words and life of The Lord seems clear in that regard

Then if they contradict what I’ve said above, based on Scripture about how Christ’s redeemed people live and discern, please demonstrate.

A life without evangelism simply does not glorify God in my understanding.

Who has claimed we must live lives without evangelism?

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