Theological Reflection from a Wesleyan Perspective

Friday, October 03, 2014

How to Study the Bible with Your Kid

8:07 AM Posted by Casey Taylor , ,
When was the last time you studied the Bible with your child? Not reading to them but studying with them. The Bible is the one book we Christians believe gives us a unique peek at God’s will and God’s way - so why not study it?  

I remember Angel, my wife, and me reading children’s Bibles to our kids when they were babies and toddlers.  It became much more difficult to hold their attention for story time as they got older, especially as they were at different developmental levels (one needs a cardboard book while one is starting chapter books).  I’ve been frustrated by our inability to adapt our family engagement with the Bible as the kids have aged.  Maybe you’ve encountered the same obstacles as your kids age.

Despite our setbacks, I’ve discovered that we can effectively study the Bible with our kids.  Having an evening Bible study with your kids is easier than you think.  Here are some simple steps to making Bible study with your kids a reality:

  1. SCHEDULE IT - I’m learning that things that don’t get scheduled don’t get done and vice versa.  You put priorities on your schedule: meetings, gym, dates, etc.  Is helping your child to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ a priority?  Decide how often you’ll do Bible study.  Maybe twice a week, maybe three nights, maybe every.  Whatever it is, schedule it.  Don’t put it on a to-do list.  Put it on the calendar.

  1. HAVE A PLAN - To succeed at Bible study with your child, you need a plan.  Here’s a few options:
    • Catechism - Echo, a contemporary Methodist question-answer catechism to teach basic Christian beliefs, complete with Scripture references (available at store.seedbed.com).  If you explore how our theology makes a real-world difference, a catechism can be an effective tool to learn about God while experiencing God, too.
    • Devotional - Instant Family Devotions, Fun and Active Devotions for Kids, Experiencing God at Home Day by Day.  Many other resources are available; these are just a sampling (thanks to my Children's Ministry Director for some of the suggestions).
    • Sunday School-based -  Perhaps the easiest way to start is by using the tools provided through Sunday School.  At Crossroads, we have a parent-focused Sunday School class (currently led by my wife and me) that studies the same Bible stories our kids study in their class.  We focus on equipping you with tools to engage that story with your child throughout the week.  We provide insights into the biblical text and practical activities to do with your child.  Whatever you do, have a plan.

  1. BE PREPARED - Get your materials together ahead of time for your scheduled Bible study. My Sunday School class (FaithWeaver Parents) often encourages hands-on activities to explore the themes of a biblical text.  We use wadded up paper, draw pictures, sculpt play-do and act out stories.  If you need scissors, paper and crayons for your study, have them ready beforehand.

  1. KNOW YOUR FAMILY - Every family is different, every child is different.  I’ve learned that my kids can sometimes do Bible study together with us but other times it’s more effective to work with them one on one.  Maybe you need to schedule a night where you study with just one of your children, or maybe you grab breakfast at McDonalds and discuss a Bible story.  That’s ok! Just make sure they all get the attention and engagement they need.

  1. EXPECT RESISTANCE - When you prioritize spiritual growth for your family, expect spiritual resistance.  A red-horned devil with pitchfork will not show up and dance on your dining room table but the Bible is clear that unseen spiritual forces resist God’s ways.  I’m not expert in how these evil forces work but I do know from my own experience that anytime we try to take a step forward in God’s way, we meet resistance.  It may be grouchy kids or something that ruined your mood for Bible study five minutes before you’re set to begin.  Here’s good advice: PRAY.  Pray for your kids, pray for your Bible study and pray against any resistance or obstacles to your family Bible study.

  1. SHOW SOME GRACE - Verily, verily I say unto thee, you will have plenty of nights when you got home later than expected, the kids are being a pill or life is just a hot mess and everyone just needs to go to bed.  Brothers and sisters, hear the good news: THAT’S OK.  Don’t be discouraged and dejected by life’s interruptions.  Don’t beat yourself up or berate your kids that you missed a scheduled time of Bible study together.  Get up, dust yourself off and get back on the horse.  Your kids need to see you not only prioritize learning God’s ways in Scripture but they also need to see you model what you’ve learned, and God is big on second chances.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Taking Cues from St. Paul

10:02 AM Posted by Casey Taylor , , ,
I'm finally reading Richard B. Hays' magisterial work The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics.  As a Duke Divinity School graduate, my failure to read this book prior to now is a sin of omission.  Hays offers in Moral Vision a compelling engagement with the New Testament as the faithful authority to Christian belief and practice.  He draws from the New Testament as a whole the great themes which must shape any truly Christian ethic.  

Below is a powerful quotation from Moral Vision.  In context, Hays' statement is focused on sexual ethics within a section on men and women in Paul's letters.  However, dropping the "sexual" from "sexual ethic" provides us with a matrix of "theological motifs" that Christians should take seriously as we consider how to faithfully follow Christ in the world:

"Any sexual ethic that takes its bearings from Paul will shape the community's discernment with respect to the three fundamental theological motifs that we have identified in Paul: How do our actions manifest the new creation in a sin-dominated world, how do our actions correspond to the self-sacrificial love of the cross, and how do our actions serve the good of the community?

From The Moral Vision of the New Testament (58)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Adam Hamilton's "Making Sense of the Bible"

8:02 PM Posted by Casey Taylor , ,
For tackling tough issues that require careful thought and sensitivity to billions of Christians, Pastor Adam Hamilton is to be commended. Hamilton has boldly gone where many United Methodist bishops have feared to tread. Making Sense of the Bible is borne of a great love for the Bible, along with years of study and pastoral ministry. Moreover, Hamilton is always charitable toward those with whom he disagrees. That point should be underlined because some folks (sometimes rather angrily) insist he should take a tougher line with his theological opponents. His final chapter on faithfully and fruitfully engaging the Bible is instructive. For all these reasons, this book deserves a fair hearing.


That said, Pastor Adam's strength may be his weakness. Hamilton has a thoughtful pastor's ability to simplify the complex. Sometimes that works, but other times it oversimplifies or creates false dichotomies. Pastor Adam and I share many of the same conclusions - not all, but many. However, I am concerned that some of his conclusions set forth here will not ultimately bear the weight his other conclusions require them to bear.

For example, Pastor Adam openly admits he's a traditional Christian fundamentalist on 4.5 of the 5 "Fundamentals (p. 298)," including the virgin birth of Jesus and Christ's atonement for humanity's sin. But Pastor Adam has consciously shifted toward a classically Liberal Protestant understanding of biblical inspiration and authority, one which tilts toward human authorship rather than divine influence upon the Bible. When Liberal Protestants of the early 20th c. took the same route, they eventually left those Fundamentals behind. This move toward a Liberal Protestant understanding of the Bible is my chief struggle with Making Sense of the Bible.  I want to be cautious about declaring a "slippery slope," but others have been down this road before and we would do well to consider their experiences.

Pastor Adam argues that the Bible is no more divinely inspired than a modern spiritual classic or the average preacher (p. 294). Biblical authors were limited to what they "could know in their time (p. 221)." These authors were simply "men seeking to express what they believed was God's will (p. 262)."  Years ago, I encountered this notion of the Bible as a "classic" (by theologian David Tracy I believe).  These aren't new ideas and their consequences aren't difficult to discover.  A diminished understanding of the Bible's uniqueness and inspiration ultimately undermines core teachings of classical Christianity.

Please understand: I am not saying that Pastor Adam has abandoned those core teachings.  Far from it.  I have spent time with him, read his books and listened to his sermons. He does indeed hold to the main contours of Christian theological confessions about God and Jesus Christ.  The Apostles Creed is one of those defining confessions and I know that Pastor Adam holds to it.  My concern is that a tilt too far toward seeing the Bible as primarily a human document may ultimately undermine the logic of holding to those theological confessions of faith.

Making Sense of the Bible is an important effort at clarity and charity at a difficult time in the life of the United Methodist Church. There are some excellent chapters and explanations.  This would make a great group study with the guidance of a pastor or theologically trained lay person.  It's ideas are worth grappling with but Pastor Adam's conclusions should be weighed carefully.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why I Took My Son to Nicaragua

8:28 AM Posted by Casey Taylor , , , ,

In August 2014, I took my nine year old son, Josiah, with me and three other men on a mission trip to Nicaragua.  This was my second trip to the nation and I’m planning the third trip for December 2014.  In large part, I took the trip to network with leaders from the Evangelical Methodist Church of Nicaragua and to build on our existing relationship with Centro de Fe church in Masatepe.  These relationships will lay the groundwork for future ministry partnerships.  We also helped with some home repair of an American missionary raising three girls from at-risk homes.  It was a wonderfully fruitful experience - and I hope the rest of my family will get this experience, too.

But why would I take my nine year old into the second poorest country in Central America?  Let me share five reasons:

To see how the Majority World lives.  We in the United States live in the most privileged nation on the planet.  Our family lives in a town where most folks are financially comfortable.  The latest gaming systems and annual trips to Disney World are part of life here for many people (but certainly not all).



I love my country and our town.  I admit: I'm privileged by where I get to live and serve.  I'm right where God has called me to be.  Precisely because of my call to serve here and because of the Bible’s clear warnings about money, I must draw our attention to the needs in our world.  Material abundance without a firsthand awareness of the poverty that many in the world live in can dramatically skew one's reality.  Almost half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day.  Clean and consistent running water is not the norm for billions of people.  No matter how hard some people around the world work, they will face government corruption and economic hardship the likes of which few of us have ever known firsthand.  

My kids have felt the pressures and pleasures of American materialism ("But he has the latest greatest video game, why can't I?"  "I want name brand shoes, too!").  We enjoy the stuff we're blessed with.  God "richly provides everything for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:13)."  But in the same paragraph, the apostle Paul warns about the dangers of wealth.  I want to nip privilege and materialism in the bud early.  I absolutely took my son to Nicaragua to see people living in cinder block homes with a hot tin roof.  I took him into a Third World jail to see and to serve.  I had to find a way to explain why and how their government works very differently from our own.  I pray that his encounter with the Majority World will change how he sees material things and money.

To develop friendships cross-culturally.  While I should have done a better job working on Josiah's Spanish before our trip (and mine!), I was impressed by the bonding he experienced cross-culturally with other kids who he couldn't verbally communicate with well.  He learned a little Spanish and they were learning some English.  Their language differences didn't stop them from playing soccer and catch, zip-lining together, sharing a table, or worshiping together.  I hope to help him maintain contact with his friends with hopes of one day seeing them again.  I took my son to Nicaragua to help him make friends, not just across the street but across the sea.

To gain a bigger vision of God's Kingdom.  It's easy to think your little slice of the world is the whole world - until you see the rest of the world.  Molehills look like mountains until you cross the horizon and see a mountain range you never knew existed.  Hearing the testimonies of others who have answered God's call, whether to serve across seas or in their own native land, broadens our vision of God's Kingdom.  Worshiping with other Christians not so subtly reminds you that your way isn't the only way - or even the best way.  And that worship gives you a foretaste of God's New Creation described in Revelation where every nation and language worships God together.  I celebrate our congregation's ministries but I took my son to Nicaragua to see that God's at work all over the world.

To test taking a child on an international mission trip.  I raised a few eyebrows when I told people I was taking my nine year old son to Nicaragua on a mission trip.   But where others saw insanity I saw opportunity.  I have issues with kids being segregated in churches away from older generations.  Our church's Family Ministry is intentionally trying to shift toward a philosophy of ministry that equips parents to disciple their children instead of dropping their kids off to have the religious professionals do it for them.  
With that philosophy in mind, a parent and child on mission together just makes sense.  Understand, I'm not looking to babysit nine year olds overseas while their parents are at home.  But if a parent wants to take their child and the child has enough maturity for the experience, game on.  I took my son to Nicaragua to open a way for others.

To share a significant experience with his dad.  I keep looking for opportunities to spend one on one time with my kids.  A few years ago I took Josiah with me to St Louis where I was a workshop leader at a conference.  We stayed in a hotel together, ate out and checked out the zoo and art museum when everything was over.  It was a blast!  When he asked back in January (my last trip to Nicaragua) if he could go next time, I said, "Maybe."  He raised all his funds through support letters.  We worked hard, met new friends and had a lot of fun together.  I took my son to Nicaragua to share a special time serving together.  I pray that as he grows into a young man this will be a significant moment with his dad and in journey with Jesus.

*****

UPDATE (11 Sep 2014): I'm encouraged by the several parents who have shared with me their desire to serve with their children after reading my article.  If that's you, your words affirm my decision and commit me to taking my other kids - and my son again - in the future.

Thursday, May 29, 2014