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» Using the Bible in Teaching Children from JOLLYBLOGGER
At the new Koinonia blog by Zondervan John Walton has an article titled Hermeneutics and Children's Curriculum that dovetails nicely with my last post on reading the bible for God's purposes instead of our own. I agree with him that [Read More]

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What would be some of the recommended curriculum? It is only partially helpful to the average reader to illustrate the need for discernment. To share discernment would be an added bonus.

That is a great question and I wish that I had a more satisfactory answer. I am afraid that I have not encountered any curricula that I would feel comfortable recommending, though certainly my search has not been exhaustive. Maybe someone else has some to suggest. As it stands, I typically have to adjust lessons week by week to avoid the problems. I am currently working on a book that will address about 150-175 of the most frequently used stories and offer my comments about how to teach them, what should be taught, how they should not be used, etc., but I am afraid it is still about 2 years away. Until then, the solution is training teachers to be aware of the problem. Once someone is aware of the fallacies it is easier to spot them and try to correct for them. This is something that church staff and teachers might discuss together each quarter. It might also help to let curriculum publishers know that this is something you are concerned about--if enough people do that, in house changes will be made.

John H.Walton

Dr. Walton -

I was intrigued at seeing a link to your short article from Justin Taylor's blog site, as you had been my son Dan's OT prof when he was an undergrad at Wheaton, and I enjoyed discussing a number of your ideas with him. Excellent summary of areas of real concern! Actually, I would broaden this beyond just children's curricula to also, perhaps to a lesser extent, applying to a lot of adult study guides and curricula, unfortunately. Especially point 3 - all too often I see questions that ask the student/participant to speculate or flesh out a story, in the interest of getting to a particular point of application.

The fact of the matter is that most of us lay church members, though sincere, are relatively untrained in hermeneutics. And even if we've had some exposure, due to the abundance of bad hermeneutics out there, it's easy to unconsciously slip into bad habits. I believe we need constant reminding of good principles - and yet the local church, strangely enough, rarely seems to teach this.

Thanks for your post - a blessing and a good reminder.

Hans Dreyer

Hi Dr. Walton! I was in your ANE class and so was my husband, Brian Tabb, when we were at Wheaton. I now work for a children's publisher -- Children Desiring God. Their heartbeat is really some of the things that you've mentioned in this article. I'd love to know if you've ever seen our curriculum and (if you are familiar with our materials) to hear any thoughts you might have regarding our curriculum.

Thanks.

Kristin

Dr. Walton,

You are very right in your analysis of sunday school curricula and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your insights on this matter. I look forward with earnest joy in getting a hold of that book you mentioned you're working on. May God bless you in your efforts to defend the authority of the Word and in getting its truths out to the multitudes for the glory of God!

I would love to receive information about curricula that are doing their job with hermeneutical sensitivity.

As a former Sunday-school teacher and youth group leader, as well as a student of Ancient Greek, I see your points. I believe strongly in the desperate need our culture has for a biblical world-view and I can see the link to poor children's curriculum.

I also recall reading an article by Barna (forgive me for not remembering its title) which pointed out that the inability of young children to understand higher-order concepts made 'Sunday-school' an ineffective place to train youngsters. So, while I recognize what you're after, I also wonder how much energy our churches should spend on correcting hermeneutics in our programming for small children. Isn't it more important to do such things for middle and high school aged programs? Perhaps I simply have a different, age-based definition of 'Sunday-school' than you are using.

As for experiences in my own church, when I was teaching Sunday-school, our senior pastor's primary goal for SS teachers was that we communicate basic truths, primarily God's love for the children we were teaching. His focus was far more on retention of young families in our church body than upon biblical training for children. I had mixed feelings about that philosophy.

Jessica's point is well-taken. Our lessons for children always have to be age-appropriate. We don't need to TEACH them hermeneutics of course, but it is important that we MODEL and appropriate hermeneutic. Teaching about God can be done in age-appropriate ways.

John H. Walton

Could you recommend an "achievement test" or similar instrument which churches could use to assess the knowledge of its students (to see how effective their Christian Ed programs are)?

Dear Dr. Walton,
I would encourage your readers to check out the Children Desiring God Curricula. It is God-centered and practices faithfully the principles of hermeneutics you have presented in your posted article. Teachers and students will thrive using this wonderful disciple-making tool.
www.childrendesiringgod.org

Dittos on Children Desiring God.

From the little I've seen in relation to a VBS curriculum from Children Desiring God, I support those who say here to check it out. It seems to be very good for children in receiving Biblical truths at a level they can handle, but is still faithful and true to the author's willed meaning of the portion of Scripture.

Dr. Walton, feel free to email me at kristin.tabb@desiringgod.org for more information regarding CDG's God-centered curricula. I could send you more information about our organization and also would be willing to offer you something to review (curric). Please shoot me an email if you are interested.

Kristin

Thank you for your excellent observations. It drives me crazy to see biblical material so often turned into moralistic lessons. If morals are the point, we would be better served teaching Aesop's fables! The Bible is not about making children more moralistic.
Unfortunately, I do not have any great suggestions about better alternative curriculum. The best successes I have had are instances where it is possible to act out the Bible account (e.g., some of Jesus' parables or miracles...) and let the children talk about what was going on.

I just want to agree with those who have recommended the Children Desiring God curriculum. It meets every requirement you mention in your article and makes none of the mistakes.

I have no formal training in hermeneutics whatsoever. I am just a mother who wants to rear Godly children. But you have articulated the exact reason that my children do not attend children's church. The Word of God is living and powerful and I refuse to dilute it's power when teaching my children.

I find this problem prevalent in adult Sunday school as well. When there is a discussion and I find out what people "really" believe, I sometimes find I have my work cut out for me helping people to undo some of their long held beliefs as they grapple with the true meaning of the text. However, it is worth it when you see the light bulb go off in people's heads. The truth that good hermeneutics unleashes can be liberating. I suppose you're right that it starts with children's Sunday school, but for many people that never attended Sunday school as children, their knowledge comes from other sources in which good hermeneutical principles were not taught or used in the delivery of sermons or small group studies. I once led a study in which the people were consumed with why God would ask Abraham to sacrifice his son to the point that it was difficult to get them to grasp the deeper meaning of the passage. And these were adults in their 50s and 60s! We also live in an age where I think people do not want to dig deep and serious Bible study requires you to go beyond the surface. It's almost as if good exegesis is a dying art.

I was going to respond and let people know about the Children Desiring God curricula, but I see that others have experienced this as well. We are using the Children Desiring God curricula, and each week, I am impressed with the guidance to teach children, using Scripture in it's accurate context to help children understand God's attributes. I highly recommend this, and I am very interested in Dr. Walton's feedback on the curricula.

And you were a prof at MBI when I was a student there!

I appreciate the post as well and we've also begun to use the Desiring God material at our church. Another curriculum to check out would be Great Commission from P and R I believe.

Yes! Yes! Yes! Thank you for this blog entry. I teach children's Sunday school and it is common to take the easy road out and focus on the trivial or the people. I'm a part of the curriculum writing team at our church, and have to keep in mind that I need to treat the text as I was taught in seminary and not how it would be easiest to grab out fun illustrations and easy life lessons.

One of the curriculum I would highly recommend is "Generations of Grace," which we've been very satisfied with.

http://www.generationsofgrace.com/

Hi, I'm writing from South Africa where we also have a lack of hermeneutically sound Sunday School resources - and even less access to the good stuff. Glad to hear about "Children Desiring God" and I'll try and source it. The most helpful series I've found is a 4-book series called "Lessons for Life" by Jill Masters, published by The Wakeman Trust, London. The series covers most of the Bible in 4 years. It's inexpensive and adaptable for teachers who don't want a "paint by numbers" lesson plan in which everything is done for them. There's no "busy work" involving colouring, cutting and pasting - just sound Biblical teaching with good application.

Our church also uses the Desiring God cirriculum with some of our classes and it is fantastic. For our younger classes we have been using Great Commission Publication's cirriculum. It has catechism questions worked into the lessons and I have found it incredible that my 3 1/2 year old son knows the questions and answers to 10 basic things about God! Very solid and God focused. Also it is really teacher friendly and the take home papers are great in the younger age categories. Slightly off topic but it may be of interest is the book I have found for doing devotional times with my young children "The Big Picture Story Bible". It is incredible that I learn things from this each time we been through this as it is Christ focused from Creation to Revelations.

I wholeheartedly agree with the assessment of the problem, that of poor hermeneutics being tolerated in children's church, sunday school, youth group, etc. I believe the major part of the problem lies in the reliance upon these programs over and above the God-ordained pattern of Fathers, TEACH your children". This, in turn, is made difficult by the failure of the church in general to teach soundly from the pulpit continually. In my own church, we do not segregate anyone from the weekly believers' meetings on the basis of age. Yes, EVERYONE (from two or three days old to, well, ninety plus) is in the meeging for all of it. And I have seen, for years, very young children pay attention and GET solid substance weekly as the pulpit ministry is served. We take great care to train young men how to study and teach using proper methods, inclluding hermeneutics, sound doctrine, and the rest of it. Hearing a wide variety of different teachers week on week helps to settle in everyone's minds and hearts what is "proper". We also speak, continually, on the importance of the heads of households to engage in this sort of teaching in their homes on a regular basis, training their young children in proper methods. I have witnessed twelve and thirteen year old boys instructing, properly, younger ones, defending their own beliefs accurately to strangers, participating actively in the weekly discussion of the word as it is ministered from the pulpit and round the table during our meal and fellowship time afterward. Will these youngsters be well equipped to lead their own families? Absolutely. They have been dicsipled well from near infancy. Most of them would make the typical children's/youth church leaders seem like rank amateurs and incompetent by comparison. What is the main difference? From a very early age they are instilled with a love for the Word and given the proper tools to handle it, being raised up at their Father's elbow as he does the same. Boredom is done away with, the lessons go deep and take solid root, and bear healthy and abundant fruit. Do away with sunday school, children's church, youth group, even young adult groups, instead teaching by strong example the Fathers so they are equipped and motivated to TEACH their own children. And please, spare me the futile efforts in trying to explain why it can never work. I have seen it, firsthand, for too long for such pleas to find anyplace to root. I firmly believe the pattern of age-segregated and "appropriate" "teaching" is very unbiblical, and the sooner it is done away with the sooner the church can begin reclaiming some of her lost ground. Imagine a church where everyone past the age of about thirteen can rightly exegete and expound upon God's word.... and stands ready to do so when needed. Remember, in Israel in OT times, ALL Jewish boys could recite the entire Torah from memory by their Bar Mitzvah at age thirteen. Still do, among practicing Jews. And we settle for wimpy children's church? We aim too low, and even miss that. Expect much, make the investment to equip them to deliver, and see what happens. I have... and it is refreshing and encouraging beyond belief.

Excellent article! This is something I've been incensed about from the first time I taught a Sunday school class and discovered I couldn't use hardly a single lesson as it was without my own conscience protesting that I would be presenting a twisted, trivialized, de-contextualized, misapplied version of Scripture.

I suspect, in addition to the failure of parents to take sufficient care in the training of their children (as pointed out by the fellow above me) that there is a failure among the leaders of the church as well to pay attention to the spiritual needs of their children. The Puritans are an amazing example here--John Owen, for example, wrote a children's catechism almost first thing upon beginning at his first church. What would happen if children were taught using curricula prepared intimately for them by their own elders, and lovingly taught by their own parents? Wonderful things.

My personal experience confirms this. I had noticed the first 3 points when I was still IN Sunday School. Bugged the heck out of me.

Dr. Walton,
Thanks for writing on this subject. I recently returned to seminary this Fall so the title definitely caught my attention.

I hope that you will continue being a voice for this and I am encouraged to see that someone who serves in your role actually take the issue of what children are receiving in churches seriously.

As I prepared to return to seminary to let God deepen me as a Children's Pastor, I was told by my [now former] pastor that "I don't need a degree for what I do" - he was speaking of children's ministry. Other pastors on staff had degrees, however it was his opinion that as a CP it was not necessary for me.

As I combine that statement from a pastor with the awareness that many seminaries do not even offer a Children's Ministry track. I wonder if the church is in essence failing children.

OK, I just went off on a tangent there, but I just wanted to say thanks for taking ministry to children and excellence in the area of hermeneutics as serious as you do for adults. It's quite refreshing! I continue to search and do research, etc. But what I find is that curricula either do one of two things:

#1 They present solid material in boring fashion and the methodologies are so outdated that children and teachers are bored stiff

or

#2 They have all of the frills and thrills, bells and whistles (which I believe are crucial), yet lack substance

It would be great to have an array of curricula that handled both well. I plan to do more extensive research as part of my studies. This post has definitely created a spark!

I agree with all of these points! And I'm thankful for the recommendations made here. I have been trying to find a curriculum that I feel comfortable with for 2 years!

Dr. Walton:
At Great Commission Publications, we resonate with your hermeneutical principles. As a ministry of the PCA and OPC, we publish Sunday school curriculum and other resources that are rooted in the Westminster Standards. And a central aspect of that is to teach Scripture holistically, with a God-centered focus and avoiding moralistic, speculative application. Information on our "Show Me Jesus" curriculum can be seen at www.gcp.org. We'll be glad to send you a set of samples -- let me know.

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