Foundations matter. A good friend of mine bought a really nice plot of land for a great price. He wanted to put his dream house on this land. His wife started looking through books that have all different kinds of houses in them. They picked out the five houses they loved most and brought them to the architect. The architect looked at what houses they had chosen and then said, “You can’t have any of these.” My friend was taken aback, and the architect went on to explain that the reason the land was discounted so much was because there was a foundation that was already laid. He then showed them the few options they had because they had to build on the foundation that already existed. My friend had dreams, desires, and hopes, but the foundation that existed forced him to revise his plans. Foundations matter.
Our kids face challenges—some small, some much greater. Our kids have hope. What makes those hopes become a reality is the foundation that has been laid in their lives. Foundational truth is what will keep our kids when challenges come. When life gets difficult, what they believe matters.
I used to think that kids couldn’t understand “deep” things. I used to think that theology was for bearded professors who smoked pipes and dreamed of cracking the space-time continuum. It’s true. I’m ashamed to admit that for a long time in my life I looked at theology as an obstacle to “real” ministry. I started working with kids in my early 20s and shamefully thought that theology and doctrine were of no use to me, as they were too weighty for kids. Most Christians and many churches have no use for doctrine as we have successfully made Christianity a personal thing. Understanding the personal nature of Christ’s sacrifice is very important, but thinking that Jesus is my personal genie in a bottle is devastating. It’s plainly seen in our worship music. Much of it nowadays is focused on me and my relationship to God—the personal side of our relationship with Him. Hymns seem to be more focused on the unchangeable truth of who He is. This is unfortunate, because few things connect theology with the non-theologian like music does.
I have come to the realization in my life that theology matters. It matters not because we want our kids at age six to pick a side on the age old Calvinist vs. Armenian battle. Theology matters because we do what we believe and we teach through the lens of our experience and understanding. What we believe about the church affects how we relate to the church and what we teach our kids about the church. What we believe about justification affects how we walk out our Christian faith and demonstrate that to others.
R.C. Sproul famously said that all Christians are theologians, and you know what? He’s right.
“Every Christian is a theologian. We are always engaged in the activity of learning about the things of God. We are not all theologians in the professional sense, academic sense, but theologians we are, for better or worse. The ‘for worse’ is no small matter. Second Peter warns that heresies are destructive to the people of God and are blasphemies committed against God. They are destructive because theology touches every dimension of our lives. The Bible declares that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Those ideas that do grasp us in our innermost parts are the ideas that shape our lives. We are what we think. When our thoughts are corrupted, our lives follow suit. We all know people who could recite the creeds flawlessly and make As in theology courses while living godless lives. We can affirm a sound theology and live an unsound life. Sound theology is not enough to live a godly life. But it is still a requisite for godly living. How can we do the truth without first understanding what the truth is? No Christian can avoid theology. Everyone has a theology. The issue, then, is not do we want to have a theology? That’s a given. The real issue is, do we have a sound theology? Do we embrace true or false doctrine?”
As pastors and leaders we have a responsibility to think deeply about what we’re teaching our kids and why. Why? Because we are laying a foundation—a framework—in which the kids we are teaching will use to view Jesus. Through this framework they will deal with problems, disappointment and pain. Much has been made and should be made about college-age kids walking away from their faith. It’s a complex problem for many reasons, but in my experience, it often has to do with a weak faith that never produced hope. When we teach our kids simple truth, when our lessons are devoid of hard truth and difficult implications that we have had to wrestle with, we turn our faith into a plain Jane vanilla faith that is completely powerless to help when life gets tough. When we write lessons and teach lessons that are applicable only to life in elementary school and devoid of the paradoxical beauty that will transfix kids in college, we do them a disservice.
We tend to teach kids in a formulaic: 1 plus 1 equals 2. Do this and that and God will do that. When we teach kids only for what they need now, we’re laying a foundation that will never stand firm when trials come. When they get to college armed only with a “Sunday school faith” their agnostic professors will devour their proverbial lunch. Teaching our kids theology starts with us understanding what we’re teaching. The famous German theologian Deitrich Bonhoeffer taught Sunday school to kids and said, “If you can’t teach theology to a child, you don’t understand it yourself.” Teach the basics. Don’t make Christianity a problem you have solved but rather something beautiful that is still unfolding in your life. When we have a simple view of Christianity, we tend to find Jesus useful rather than finding Him beautiful.
Our responsibility is to think through why we believe what we believe. We need to own our theology, because we have a responsibility to teach it to our kids and model it to the next generation. Am I a theological savant? Nope, but in the years to come I want to do everything I can to think through deep truths, distill the truth of them and deliver them in a way that kids can digest and apply them to their lives.
A few years ago I was putting my kids to bed and my middle boy had a rough day. I told him he needed to make better choices. He’s only four years old and he said, “Okay, Dad. I’ll try harder.” I told him, “You don’t need to try harder. What you need to do is trust more. You need to trust Jesus because we all need God’s help.” I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking they have to try harder. I want my kids to grow up thinking they have to trust deeper.