Parents Beware: Don’t Let Simple Theology Become Wrong Theology

Don't Let Simple Theology Become Bad Theology | Christian Mom ThoughtsA couple of weeks ago, I went to the local Christian bookstore to pick out some new books for the kids. We have a lot of children’s Bibles, but I wanted to find some good kids’ fiction that emphasizes the role of faith in everyday life.

The first book I picked up was about a young girl who was being bullied by other kids. While these kids were bothering her, she prayed that God would help. On the next page, one of the bullies suddenly decided to leave and take his friends with him. The story ended with the young girl smiling, reminding us that “God loves us and protects us.”

What?!

Honestly, I was thoroughly angered that such a book would be printed. What happens when a young girl who is really being bullied comes to believe that as soon as she prays, her bullies will leave? If that doesn’t happen, did God abandon her? Did God not love her? God is not a genie! This kind of storyline creates false and harmful expectations.

With my “bad theology radar” up, I evaluated book after book and came home empty-handed. When I really paid attention to the messages of these books, I repeatedly found that theology had been simplified to the point of being flat-out wrong.

I don’t want to be overly critical, but the early messages we teach kids really do matter. We’re giving them a foundation for years to come, and need to be sure that simple does not mean inaccurate.

Here are 5 examples of simplified children’s theology gone wrong. When you evaluate what your kids read and watch, be on the lookout for messages like these!

 

1.    We are safe because God is with us.

I see this message in kids’ books all the time, often accompanied by a picture of something like a child in bed who is scared of the dark. While it’s true that we are always spiritually safe because God is with us, it’s not true that we are (necessarily) physically safe because God is with us.

Better Theology: When we’re scared, we can always pray to God for comfort and help. God isn’t like a magician who makes our fear and problems always go away immediately, but we can be confident that 1) He does answer prayers when it is His will, and 2) we will never be separated from His love.

 

2.    We can do anything when God is on our side.

This is the almost universal message of David and Goliath stories. To young ears, it can sound like we just call upon God whenever we want to do something and then we can do whatever we want. The story of David and Goliath, however, is all about God accomplishing what He wants, regardless of human limitations.

Better Theology: God is all-powerful and can do anything that He wants, just as he helped tiny David beat giant Goliath. We don’t always know what His will is, however. As Christians, we always have God “on our side,” but that doesn’t mean that our will is the same as His will. When we pray, we should ask for our heart’s desire as it aligns with God’s will. (The Lord’s Prayer is a great example of this.)

 

3.    God is “up in heaven.”

This expression is so common, we can easily not realize how it shapes our kids’ view of God’s proximity when we say it. I personally spent most of my life seeing God as the “big guy far away.” When I prayed, it always felt like I was writing a letter, not talking to an immediately present God. It wasn’t until I read a book emphasizing God’s nearness that I felt a more personal relationship develop.

Better Theology: God is right here with us, all the time. He is as close as our breath! In fact, the Bible teaches that our bodies are God’s temple, and His Spirit lives within us (1 Corinthians 3:16). Because God is not physical like we are, He is not limited to heaven.

 

4.    When we can’t (fill in the blank everyday task), pray to God for help.

One of our books includes a child praying to be “smart like God” so he can tie his shoes (!). Obviously, we can never be “smart like God” and we shouldn’t expect prayer to be a short-cut over the human work normally required for everyday activities (“please God, let these dishes be done!”).

Better Theology: God wants us to ask Him for guidance and help, but that doesn’t mean we don’t contribute to the goal! We still have to do the work of preparing, learning and doing in life. 

 

5.    Everything happens for a reason.

I grew up hearing this all the time. When I was about 25, I was sitting in a Sunday school class discussion and I mentioned that “everything happens for a reason,” assuming this was common biblical knowledge. The teacher nodded at me sympathetically and said, “It does sometimes help to think that way, even though that’s not what the Bible teaches.” I was shocked, and my whole worldview changed that day.

Better Theology: Romans 8:28 teaches us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This means that even though God doesn’t directly cause everything that happens to us (evil is caused by human choice, for example), He uses all circumstances for our eventual good if we let Him.  

Have you noticed overly simplified (to the point of inaccurate) theology before? What other examples have you seen?

17 Comments

  1. Faith on August 12, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    I really like the way you addressed some of these common misconceptions. I will definitely keep this in mind for future conversations with my children.



    • Natasha Crain on August 12, 2013 at 1:55 PM

      Thanks Faith! I really appreciate your comment!



    • Charlie on October 11, 2013 at 12:35 AM

      I really struggle with this when teaching Sunday school to littlies. The books my church provide are so simple they are wrong. I struggle to apply scripture to their lives in an accurate yet simple way. I just remembered the Colin Buchanan song. ‘ remember The Lord” it’s a great song with a good simple truth in it.



  2. Pam on August 12, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    Thank you for the article. I have never looked at it that way. I have also heard many of those things growing up….



    • Natasha Crain on August 12, 2013 at 1:56 PM

      Thank you Pam! I’m so glad it was helpful!



  3. Sharon Nichols Young on August 12, 2013 at 4:27 PM

    Not directly theology, but children’s stuff in general… back in the day when my son was younger, I went against the mainstream and turned off Barney because after watching it for a while myself, I was shocked at the underlying messages that were being taught – one of the prominent ones being that (the children) always were going to know better than (the adults), and that you can’t ever really trust an adult – you have to rely on your own instincts/conscience/whatever to guide you. Totally undermines the authority of parents in the home – and they wonder why their young kids defy them while singing “I love you… you love me…” Thanks for making this point even more specifically. We have a responsibility to monitor what goes into our kids minds, and as they grow, give them the means to think critically about what they’re exposed to.



    • Natasha Crain on August 15, 2013 at 6:58 AM

      Thanks Sharon, I totally agree! I have actually never seen Barney, if you can believe that. BUT Curious George is much the same way. I do love it, and we still read the stories for “fun” but the message drives me crazy and I’m constantly driving home the point that we shouldn’t be like Curious George. He does what he shouldn’t and it always turns out for the best! Not exactly the seeds I want to plant, but it does give me an opportunity to talk about that with them.



  4. Christina Cooper on August 12, 2013 at 10:30 PM

    I agree with all of them except number five. I still believe things happen for a reason. Genesis 50:20 says, “What you intended to harm me, God intended for good, to save the lives of others.” To me that explains that yes, everything happens for a reason, whether good or bad. I even think the verse you used in Romans is the same. It still happened for a reason, possibly and probably not our reasons, but still a reason- the reason being what God intends to use as good. I would say to my children, “Everything happens for a reason, even if we don’t understand what that reason is…” Just my thoughts, but the article is great, thanks for sharing!



    • Natasha Crain on August 15, 2013 at 7:10 AM

      Thanks for your note Cristina! A lot of people have written extensively about the topic of number 5 more eloquently than I can in a blog comment, so I would encourage you to Google, “Does the Bible say everything happens for a reason?” for some more thoughts on it. If by “reason” we mean that God either allowed something to happen or caused it, then yes, we could say everything happens for a reason. (God allows free choice, which means he doesn’t cause our bad actions. When someone goes and shoots a bunch of people, was there a reason? Yes, a person used free will to make bad choices. Did God WANT that to happen/cause it to happen? No. One could say he allowed it to happen because of free will, but not that he caused it to happen.) When anything happens, however, he can use it for good (which is what Romans 8:28 is saying). It’s a big, interesting topic – definitely check out some of the articles online! Thanks again!



  5. Brenda on August 14, 2013 at 6:19 PM

    I love reading your articles but I think you are taking some of these much more literal than a child would. I raised my children, who are now adults, on stories like these and Sunday School stories like these but I explained more in detailed similar to what you said. I think the messages are good in most stories they just sometimes need a little more explanation. The stories aren’t bad just are usually short and sweet. I am sure my children turned out ok from these stories and understand the big picture today. Maybe you should give some thought to writing children’s stories:). Love your columns.



    • Natasha Crain on August 15, 2013 at 7:14 AM

      Hi Brenda, Thanks so much for your comment! I totally get what you’re saying. Kids don’t immediately jump to conclusions about what things mean and don’t mean. But I do believe that over time, those seeds start to form ideas of who God is that can lead to incorrect expectations. With number 5, it really shook me for a long time as an adult, and it was a direct result of hearing this casually over years. One day when my son was trying to scare my youngest daughter, my other daughter told him, “Alexa, you don’t even need to be scared, God is with you.” While that was cute and funny at the time, and I was glad she was thinking in those terms, it also started me thinking down this train of thought. If my kids were in real danger, would I want them to assume God would rescue them? So, yes, I totally understand what you’re saying and I’m not about to throw out our kids’ library of books. 🙂 Like you said, we just need to be careful to flush out the message in more detail. That’s really what I was trying to say (not that we should all go home empty handed)! Thanks for bringing that up. 🙂



  6. Maggie Brown on August 19, 2013 at 7:36 AM

    Natasha,
    This article really connected with me and thinking about the future of raising my young kids. I think the problem with some of these messages we are getting from good Christian children’s literature are often superficial at best, but not always biblically accurate as you pointed out and there is a danger that over time the messages don’t go deeper or the inaccurate messages become our foundation. If you have a moment, I am interested in the title of the book you mentioned that emphasized the nearness of God and helped you develop of more personal relationship with God.



    • Natasha Crain on August 19, 2013 at 8:25 PM

      Hi Maggie, Thanks so much for your comment! The book I read was “Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference” by Phillip Yancey. I really love his writing. As I was going on Amazon to find the exact title, I saw he has another book even more directly related to this topic (though I haven’t read it): Reaching for the Invisible God. You might want to check that one out too! It’s going on my reading list. 🙂



  7. marcia on August 29, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    Thank you for sharing this, those are some good things to think through. I think I especially like the one about “God is in Heaven”. I do say that to my kids because they seem to want to know where He is physically, and I hesitate to say He’s everywhere because it’s so hard to understand. However, you are right, that is the truth and they need to hear truth even if they can’t quite comprehend it, and in those other scenarios they need to know truth even if they don’t like it (you may be bullied or get hurt but you can still pray and ask God for comfort). May God be glorified as we seek Him and strive to stick to truth and not twist it for our own convenience!



  8. Kelley Mathews on November 5, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    Natasha,
    Good word! As a seminary graduate, good theology is a subject dear to my heart, and my husband and I tend to explain things to our kids in much more detail than they really want to hear sometimes. I would add to your list something to the effect of “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” I hear that in a popular Christian song heard on stations like Air1, KLOVE, KLTY, etc (“What He Said”–I think that’s the name). The thought probably comes from the line in Corinthians about God not allowing us to be tempted beyond what we can bear, that he always gives us a way out. Temptation is not the same thing as hardship— I would argue that the Bible teaches that we WILL face trials we cannot bear and that that is why we need to turn to Jesus.

    As a side note, in my home we listen to Christian radio daily—where we hear theology, good and bad, from favorite artists in catchy tunes that stick with us. It’s just as important for us to be listening to the words in those catchy tunes so we can help our kids know what is true versus what just sounds good. I know my kids listen to the words!



  9. Kelly Thompson on February 24, 2015 at 6:31 AM

    Thanks for sharing this. A friend led me here after having a deep discussion about how to navigate the current events of ISIS with our tween daughters. We don’t want them to live in fear but at the same time the reality of our world is sobering. I would add that our home schooling family has enjoyed reading missionary stories and testimonies. There are some great literature resources available that bring home the truth of God’s faithfulness in a fallen world. Gladys Alward and David Livingstone’s stories are some of our favorites. Great discussions with my kids when life is hard, evil is present, but the Lord has conquered and our hope lies in His salvation and presence that lives forever. It has also encouraged them to be diligent in sharing their faith even when there may be consequences. Our world is falling apart, we must be intentional in parenting to strengthen and challenge our kids.