parents, are you moralists or theologians?

Of course the two aren’t mutually exclusive.  

But what’s your bent when you teach your kids what Christianity is all about?  I admit that it’s easier for me to fall into teaching my kids the moralistic part of Christianity as the main point.

Bruce Ware, Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary, has a new book out called, Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God.  Justin Taylor interviews him about it on his blog.  

Here’s the killer excerpt:

I suspect that most parents are more comfortable teaching their kids Christian ethics (love God, don’t love the world, tell the truth, don’t cheat or steal, etc.) than they are teaching them Christian theology (how can God be three and one? How is Jesus God and man?). Why is it important for parents to learn good theology and pass it on to their kids?

He follows up the question by saying:

The Christian faith is not moralism. Yet, we can (wrongly and dangerously!) pervert the Christian faith into this, in our homes and our churches. Our lists of “do’s” and “don’t’s” can become the sum and substance of our understanding of the Christian faith, and in this self-esteem saturated culture, this ends up redounding to the glory of the “self,” not the glory of God.

How much time do I spend making sure my kids understand the morality of Christianity compared to the time I spend diligently teaching them the truths of who God is, why Jesus came, and the total depravity of man.  We do talk about them, but is it primary?    

Moralism is easy.

It’s easy for grown-ups and kids.  We all know what to do with a rule.  Don’t lie.  Be kind.  Pray often.  Don’t envy.  And then we either feel good about keeping it or we feel good about breaking it.  Or guilty.  But massive weighty truths about God affect us differently.  They actually have the power to transform our mind, our heart, our worldview.

Here’s some truths that Dr. Ware says we all need to embrace, learn and teach:

  • who God is in his eternal fullness as the triune God,
  • who God is as Creator of all that is,
  • who we are as created in his image,
  • what sin is and has done to us,
  • why Christ came, who Christ is,
  • what he accomplished,
  • how we receive the benefits of his work on the cross,
  • what God provides for us to grow as his people,
  • what these communities of faith called “churches” are and what they contribute,
  • and what hope we have for life now and forever

I haven’t read Dr. Ware’s book, so I won’t endorse it.  But the stuff from his interview sure is helpful.  

How do you navigate being a parent-theologian?  It’s a big job isn’t it?!


5 thoughts on “parents, are you moralists or theologians?

  1. As a family, and in our church, we lean more toward theology (Apostle’s Creed concepts), not textbook terminology–mostly because we were not taught it and it seemed more real to not use a lot of extrabiblical vocab–although there’s nothing wrong with them knowing it.

    Most morality we handle through the 10 Commandments and biblical directives. We tried not to tell them things were wrong unless they really were wrong. We never had rules for how long your hair should be, what to wear to church, etc.

    We have only begun discussing reformed theology in the last year or two since we are just learning it ourselves.

  2. This is so important. I grew up with a very moralistic view of my faith. I was a Christian because I did this or did not do that. Sharing the importance of the cross with my kids is what I have longed to do. When the boys sin (disobey, hit each other, talk disrespectfully) I want my first response to be correction and then redemption. “This is why you need Jesus.” I also try and be honest with them when it is oh so obvious that “this is why I need Jesus.” The cross is the forgiveness of yesterday and today and the power for tomorrow.

    Good post!

  3. Amen Andy!

    It can be so easy to rebuke a child for sin (hitting, disobeying, etc), and then even take Scripture and use it in a purely moralistic fashion. To my shame, I’m guilty here.. but God is my Helper.

    For instance, if the kids are complaining, I’ll say, “We do everything without complaining or arguing,” because the Bible says so. But even that verse without the power of the Gospel can be twisted into dangerous moralism.

    Without an understanding of sin, Jesus, God’s sovereignty, and forgiveness, even the Bible can be “used” as a rule book, rather than the Power of God for Salvation.

  4. Thanks so much for posting this. It is so easy to slip into moralism and to forget the gospel in my own life and especially in parenting. I’ll definitely want to get a copy of Dr. Ware’s book.

  5. I’m right with you Abby. “Train a child up in the way he or she should go . . . ”

    I believe that teaching the what and neglecting the why leaves our children without a true moral grounding as they grow up and have to make moral decisions for themselves, outside our direct sphere of influence.

    Teaching them the why behind the what also makes us as parents revisit the fact that our moral behavior is driven by our belief in and relationship with the living Word.

    My first semester at college I had to read two books in a Christian formation class: Knowing What We Believe and Knowing Why We Believe. I don’t really remember what they were about, but the titles stuck with me. Our faith transcends reason, but it is grounded on a solid Rock.

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