Review: Telling God’s Story: A Parents’ Guide to Teaching the Bible

Until recently, my full-time job was talking about Jesus and the Bible with people who didn’t know much about them, first in Central Asia and then among international students at university. So, you’d think, given my background, that the idea of talking about God with my kids would seem like cake.Telling God's Story Parents' Guide

It doesn’t. It feels like I could easily do or say the wrong thing and turn my kids off of Jesus forever. So, even though Oliver’s only 16 months and Margot 3 months, I picked up my first book about sharing Jesus with my kids from our great local library. I picked up the book, Telling God’s Story: A Parents’ Guide to Teaching the Bible by Peter Enns, because I respect Enn’s work as a biblical scholar and thought he would offer a more nuanced take than other similar books. I’m really excited to try his approach with our kids.The book helps lay the foundation for three sets of other books, Years 1, 2, and 3. Each year (a misnomer, really, since they’re actually divided by stage of life) includes an instructor text and a student guide with activity pages. I haven’t seen the student guide, but I skimmed through the instructor text. This post isn’t going to focus on those books, though, since we’re still a few years away from needing them, but if your kids are bigger, you should certainly check them out. Instead, I’ll tell you about the Parent’s guide because it helps with one of the biggest problems that many parents face when trying to teach their kids about the Bible:

What's the Bible say again?Parents quickly realize that they don’t have a firm grasp of the Bible either.

Growing up, I had a lot of wacky and confusing ideas about God and the Bible, some from pop culture (we become angels when we die, right?) and some from my middle school churchgoing experience (writing down your “vision” and making it plain makes it extra likely to happen!). So Enns spends the first part of the book talking about what the Bible is—and what it isn’t.

One of the most helpful things for me was his comparison of the parallels between Jesus and the Bible: they were both divine and human; Jesus didn’t sin and equally the Bible does not misrepresent God; the power and authority of each is derived from God; and, crucially, just as Jesus seemed like any other first-century Palestinian Jew, so the Bible appears like other ancient books. For example, instead of using high, polished, classical Greek, the New Testament was written in a simple, common, everyday Greek. Not something you might expect from “God’s Word.”

He also points out that the Bible is also not a rule book or owner’s manual, and so we shouldn’t expect it to act like one. Instead it requires wisdom. And that’s one of the hardest thing as a parent. We want to just tell our kids, “Do this, not that. Here’s the verse, that settles it.”

But we shouldn’t settle for expediency and short-term results—we have to do the difficult work of acting in wisdom by teaching wisdom to our kids.

As such, like I mentioned earlier, Enns divides the series into three “years”—The Elementary Years, The Middle-Grade Years, and Grades 9-12. In the Elementary Years, the focus is on helping our kids to know Jesus. Since the point of Scripture is Jesus (as Jesus Himself says), we should make Him the foundation for our kids. In the Middle-Grade Years, Enns moves on to helping our kids get the larger vision of Scripture, with the idea being that once they know where the story’s going (Jesus), the rest of the Bible won’t seem like a random collection of stories, but something coherent. We shouldn’t get bogged down in the details, but help them get to know the basic flow of the Bible. Finally, in the high school years, we should help our teens (that’s scary to write down!) to begin to interact with the Bible in its historical context. Many kids too often don’t learn this lessons from their parents or church communities and then encounter strange and confusing ideas out in “the world.” (I’m thinking specifically of The Da Vinci Code and the confusion that one of my friends in high school went through.)

But what about other ways of teaching the Bible?

Once upon a time, God...As I read Enns’ approach, I liked it but thought, what about teaching the Bible stories first, like Noah and the Flood or David and Goliath? That’s the way I’ve typically seen it done. Enns says that some of these other approaches short change the Bible. One of the problems with the “Bible Story” approach (teaching those action-packed stories like the Flood and the Exodus) is that they have the feeling of being children’s stories, and so just as our kids will begin to understand that there aren’t really talking puppies or fairies or magic snow queens as they age, we don’t want these stories that can easily feel similar to be in the same category for them.

Enns also mentions the “Character Study” approach where we look at the lives of important biblical characters like Samson or Moses. The problem with this approach, he says, is that the main point of these stories is not that we should emulate the lives of these people but that they point to God’s righteousness and faithfulness, even in the face of our sin and unfaithfulness.

Additionally, “Book-by-Book” approaches fail because kids just don’t have adult attention spans. (Heck, many adults don’t have adult attention spans.) And the “Defensive” (or Apologetic) approach makes the Bible all about conflicts, bypassing the foundation Enns argues for in this book. Our kids can learn about the difficulties and controversies when they’re older (how old is the earth? why do these parallel stories differ? etc.).

Finally, Enns finishes the book with a lengthy and helpful recap of the whole Bible, broken down into Creation, Fall, and Redemption (with Redemption further subdivided into Abraham, Moses, David and Kingship, Return from Babylon, and Jesus). It was definitely familiar material for me, but for many parents it can be incredibly helpful. It reminded me a lot of the summary of the Gospel in Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel, which I’ve used multiple times to share the good news with some of my international friends. It really helps you see how everything ties together.

Overall, I think this book and this series will be really helpful as Elisa and I seek to teach our kids about who Jesus is and what the Bible is. Teaching Jesus first creates a good foundation, upon which we can then build hooks to add the details of the Bible to later. My only criticism is that it doesn’t really offer insight in how to approach Bible teaching in the pre-K years that we’re in now, so I guess I’ll stick to reading the kid’s Bible that we own and trying to talk about Jesus as much as possible.

How do you teach or plan to teach the Bible to your kids? What are some of the difficulties that you’ve faced? What are some helpful tips you might have for other parents like us?

The First Time I Met You: A Dad’s Birth Story

To be fair, there’s no such thing as a dad’s birth story. I did not carry either Oliver or Margot in my body for 9 months. I did not have countless sleepless nights or painful constipation or the constant need to pee. And I certainly did not have a baby surgically removed through my stomach or pushed from my nether regions. As such, Elisa’s actual birth stories (C-section and VBAC) are much more detailed than mine. All the same, I know that the birth of both of our kids has had a profound impact on me, and I want to share with you my experience of them.

OliverScott meeting Oliver

I was scared. Not for most of the pregnancy, no. You see, we’d planned to have a child, so I thought I was prepared. Although I’d initially wanted a girl, having a son had become incredibly exciting. No, I was scared at the hospital. I tend to be an optimist (or, as I like to call it, a realist), while Elisa is a bit, ahem, less optimistic. Leading up to the C-section, which we were advised would be our best option for some medical reasons, Elisa had been worried that something would go wrong, that she’d have to go under general anesthesia, and then she’d never wake up. I, being a realist, shrugged that off and cited some made-up optimistic statistic (the phrase “it is so statistically unlikely” came out of my mouth several times a day). But as Elisa walked down the hall in that hospital gown designed to embarrass people at their most vulnerable moments, it suddenly dawned on me that Elisa’s fear was a possibility. Read More

Parenting Merit Badges

The other day I was thinking about how far I’ve come since becoming a dad. I mean, I had changed a diaper exactly one time before Oliver was born. (One time too many, if you ask me.) Now I can change the diaper of a writhing 16-month-old in seconds.

But feelings of accomplishment aside, I also thought that as parents, we should really have something to show for all our newfound skills (besides, you know, living, well-adjusted children). So I present to you, in no particular order, the Parenting Merit Badges:

Got Pooped On Merit Badge

Got Pooped On merit badge
(Most parents get this in the first week.)

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Dai, Daddy! Die?: Raising Bilingual Kids

Oliver eating dinner

Dai, Daddy! More!

One of the benefits of being in a dual-language household is that there are twice as many words we can claim Oliver might have said, even if he was just flailing his tongue around randomly. Case in point, last night at dinner, Oliver said, “Dai!” which in Italian means “come on!” (and incidentally sounds identical to “die,” which I’m sure won’t lead to concerned parent-teacher conferences in the future). I’m pretty confident it was accidental, but like all good parents, we love to pounce on anything our child says and infuse it with meaning. It seemed to fit the context: I was halving some raspberries for him, which I don’t know why I bother to do since he shoves 17 of them in his mouth at once, and Oliver impatiently shouted “Dai!” as in, “Come on Daddy, pick up the pace!”

 

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Santa Claus is Coming to Town… Or is He?

Santa wants to know what Ralphie wants for ChristmasI don’t remember when I stopped believing in Santa Claus. What I do remember is that I continued pretending to believe for awhile afterward—this without any younger siblings to protect. Maybe I was motivated by greed, thinking that “Santa” was a better gift giver than my parents, I’m not sure.

Elisa, on the other hand, does remember when she stopped believing (because it was, she’ll admit, at an embarrassingly old age). Some kids at school found out that she still believed in Santa and teased her, resulting in an hour long cry.

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Having a Newborn Is Like Having a Vampire

vampire baby

I want to suck your milk!

 

I’m not on the vampire bandwagon. I haven’t seen or read the Twilight series. (To be fair, I’m not in their target demographic of 14-year-old girls and Twilight moms.) I don’t watch True Blood or read Anne Rice, and I thought Dracula was pretty slow and boring when I read it in high school.

That being said, I’ve come to realize how much having a newborn is like inviting a vampire into your home. Read More