Authors and Parents Are Rethinking Kids’ Love for Scripture
Written by TM of JC on October 23, 2020
A christian parent’s greatest hope is echoed in 3 John: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (v. 4). Throughout each generation, mothers and fathers have looked for ways to point their children to the Bible as the ultimate source of truth, wisdom, and spiritual transformation. Adults may recall how, in their formative years, they were taught to recite the books of the Bible, learn characters and plotlines of important stories, or memorize key verses, with an emphasis on the godly thinking and behaviors that develop as a result.
While a focus on Bible knowledge and upright living remains essential, several emerging authors are taking a fresh look at how contemporary parents can introduce children to Scripture in ways that cultivate an authentic relationship with God and a committed affection for his Word. Their approach prioritizes the role the Bible can play in children’s spiritual formation, helping kids connect God’s Word with their own deepest longings. They emphasize viewing all of Scripture as a connected text that shines a light on our need for Christ. And they believe that teaching kids to treasure Scripture begins with moms and dads nurturing their own spiritual lives.
Develop Conversational Rhythms
“I think some of us were raised to think that Bible knowledge is something our kids get through church or a program, and we just hope someone smart or holy enough will give them this knowledge,” said author and artist Ruth Chou Simons. “But the reality is, the entirety of how we are told to share the story of God’s faithfulness was set in the context of relationship.”
Simons cites the Old Testament instruction parents were given in Deuteronomy 6:4–9 to continually discuss the ways of God with their children throughout the rhythms of their everyday lives: “Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (vv. 7–9). This passage is at the center of Ruth and her husband Troy’s parenting philosophy.
“We’re told to recount and retell the stories, repeating and reminding each other of what is true when we wake up, when we’re walking, when things are hard or when we’re exhausted, or when we go on our way,” Simons said. When it comes to teaching her own six boys about the Bible, “It all happens within the context of our relationship as we live out the gospel with one another. How else will kids ever find that the gospel is actually beautiful and worthy of their entire lives if we treat it like an academic subject versus something that frames our purpose and reason for living?”
Simons says her own love for Scripture was born out of her participation in lay counseling—because she needed to see change in herself, her marriage, and her family. “I learned the importance of believing rightly when you’re looking at how to change, reconcile, or see transformation,” she said. “If you want to find how to live rightly, you’ve got to start with right believing. Theology means believing rightly and knowing the truth about God’s Word—about who he is and what he says.” This is the idea behind Foundations: 12 Biblical Truths to Shape a Family, Ruth and Troy’s recent illustrated devotional book. Simons describes the project as resolutions to rule the heart. The book emphasizes core biblical tenets in a conversational style fitting for parents and families.
She and her husband view Bible learning and discipleship as an ongoing invitation they extend to their children. “We invite them into the relationship we have with almighty God,” she said. Key to their approach is modeling love for Scripture and habits of open conversation about how God’s Word connects to every aspect of life. For example, just about every morning, the boys come downstairs to witness their dad reading the Bible over a cup of coffee. When it’s time for him to tackle lackluster passages from books such as Lamentations, he may comment that he’s ready for something more exciting, Simons says. But ultimately this demonstrates his belief that every word from God has the ability to change him, so he’s willing to stick with studying all of Scripture.
Another way they’ve learned to invite their boys into their relationship with God is moving beyond attempts at behavior modification when sibling fights arise in order to place the situation within the biblical framework of their need for redemption. Simons said, “I’m learning it’s normal and good to say, ‘This argument we’re having is revealing the very reason we need Jesus, because, left to ourselves, we’re constantly going to fight for what we want. … So let’s apologize for trying to find our happiness in trying to control or change each other. Let’s go to Scripture together and learn how Jesus came to transform us.’ ”
Cultivate Reading and Study Habits
Parents who regularly read the Bible in plain sight of their children while also offering to share what they are learning communicate two important truths. The first, according to Barna’s 2018 Guiding Children report, is that parents are modeling lifelong, humble learning, which helps kids grasp why they need to read God’s Word. Second, it demonstrates that followers of Christ never stop needing Scripture, even as they grow older, says Alison Mitchell, author and senior editor for The Good Book Company, which produces christian children’s books and resources for families. “It’s about making it clear to them this isn’t something you just do because you’re a child,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell emphasizes the importance of children seeing their parents individually and regularly reading a hard copy of the Bible—rather than reading it on their phone, tablet, or other device. While it may not feel as efficient, it leaves no room for doubt that Mom or Dad is reading Scripture instead of checking the news or weather. “I think children can catch the habit of Bible reading by seeing their parents do it,” Mitchell said. “They learn it’s important.”
Mitchell advocates for a multilayered approach in helping children connect with Scripture. Prioritizing family times of reading, studying, or worshiping communally is essential. “That’s the key to how a child learns to engage with the Bible for herself—when families are doing it together,” she said.
Teaching kids to study Scripture—not just read it—can begin at a young age. Quina Aragon, a spoken word artist and author of the children’s Bible story picture book Love Made, takes a simple, age-appropriate approach with her four-year-old daughter. Aragon says she’ll often begin a brief time of Bible study by asking her little girl to repeat a few phrases she learned from Bible Study Fellowship’s children’s program. “I’ll say, ‘The Bible is … ’ and then my daughter will shout, ‘God’s Word!’ Then I’ll say, ‘And all God’s words are … ’ and she’ll shout, ‘True!’ And then I’ll say, “And the whole Bible is about … ’ and she’ll shout, ‘Jesus!’ ”
Aragon focuses on just a little bit of Scripture at a time. “Lately we’ve been discussing a few verses from the book of Mark,” Aragon said. “I’ll open my Bible and point to the letter M because my daughter has begun learning the alphabet. I’ll say, ‘M is for Mark.’ Then I explain how the numbers represent chapters and verses. We’ll read three or four verses, and I’ll share one concept or point from the passage that she can repeat back to me. Then I’ll pray and give her a chance to pray.”
Mitchell suggests another idea for studying Scripture with children of multiple ages: Create a visual prompt using a large poster with the question “What is God like?” written on it. “Every time you read a story in the Bible that tells you something about God’s character, write or draw it on the paper,” Mitchell said. “You’ll see how he’s good, loving, merciful, and what his grace looks like. It will build and build.” This is one way for children to learn about the attributes of God and begin processing life experiences through the lens of knowing and trusting his character, Mitchell explained.
Wonder and Ponder Together
How parents choose to talk about the Bible and its stories is just as important as setting out to do so in the first place, says author Lacy Finn Borgo, who recently wrote the book Spiritual Conversations with Children and also works as a spiritual director for kids and adolescents. “In an information-filled society, it can be tempting to primarily present the Bible to children as information, rather than as a way to encounter God,” Borgo said. “However, this doesn’t lead to a lifelong sustaining relationship with God—which is the point of Scripture.”
Beyond teaching information, Borgo suggests that parents focus on their child’s spiritual formation when imparting Bible knowledge. She encourages parents to view Scripture as a conversational partner or as an opportunity to help their kids encounter God in the stories of the biblical characters who’ve experienced God throughout the ages. When reading a Bible passage, Borgo recommends parents pose a few key exploratory questions. “They can ask, ‘What is it that you wonder about this story? What is it you wish would have happened or not have happened?’ ” she said.
This kind of thought process opens the door for children to more deeply ponder Scripture and ultimately identify their own desires and longings, Borgo says, and that gives them a place to meet and experience God. “It’s in learning to hear their own heart longings that they come to eventually realize their very deepest longing, which is for God himself.”
Establish a Vibrant Theological Foundation
After starting a family, Danielle Hitchen went searching for board books for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers that introduce early theological concepts. Her own love of theology began in her college years when she participated in a great books program. “We started with Homer and worked our way to C. S. Lewis,” she said. “I read a lot of theology as part of that, and it was so formative to my own faith.”
Hitchen was hoping to find something similar to the BabyLit primers, which reformat classic literature into books for young children. “I thought, ‘Surely someone has done this with theology.’ So I started looking around. I couldn’t find anything.”
So Hitchen began writing herself and has since published seven theology-focused board books for babies and toddlers. Some introduce vocabulary that connects a word’s meaning to how it’s used in a Scripture passage. One correlates numbers with biblical concepts such as the Pentateuch (for 5), the “I Ams” of Jesus (for 7), the Beatitudes (for 8), and the fruit of the Spirit (for 9). Hitchen’s latest book, We Believe, is an alphabet primer that highlights the meaning of words such as Ascension, Eucharist, Incarnation, and Kyrie Eleison.
“The hope is to start building a child’s faith vocabulary,” Hitchen said. “The foundational building block to learning any subject matter is to first learn the vocabulary of the subject. I think teaching kids these truths will help them love truth over time.” She believes equipping even very young children with the theological and doctrinal concepts behind beloved Bible stories will help deepen their faith and give them a lifelong foundation upon which their faith can grow.
In a similar vein, Aragon’s picture book, Love Made, weaves in theology as it explores the beauty of the Trinity through its telling of the creation account. Not only does the book define the Trinity for kids, but it also outlines the emotive forces of love and joy that propelled the Father, Son, and Spirit into collectively fashioning the world into being. “The joy God had with himself was so big he let it spill over into what we call creation,” Aragon writes. Love Made builds upon this idea to also discuss the creation of new life in human families, saying that a child is formed as “someone who reminds us of God’s delight in us,” just as the members of the Trinity delight in one another.
Mitchell’s body of work emphasizes theological concepts by prompting children to see the Bible not as a compilation of isolated stories but as a unified text that tells one continual story. Her recent picture book Jesus and the Lions’ Den (which received a CT book award) highlights “Jesus moments,” using illustrative prompts to help readers recognize when someone in the story is a little like Jesus. In this case, Daniel was unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to die, just as Jesus was. Daniel was rescued from a den of death; God brought his Son out of death.
In her books, Mitchell hopes to help children understand how many central Bible figures are shadows of Jesus, pointing toward the fulfillment Christ brought as