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Volume 10, Issue 1: Whole Counsel

Theology for Preschoolers

Chris Schlect

A few weeks ago, my four-year-old son recited 2 Corinthians 5:21 from memory. Then I asked him a series of unscripted questions about justification, imputation of sin, and imputation of righteousness. He answered them perfectly, in his own words. Someone in the room interjected, and warmly asked, "Is Jesus inside your heart?" A puzzled look came over my little boy's face. "I don't know," he replied, and his confusion was evident. I silently rejoiced. My son was thinking in biblical categories, and that last question hailed from pop theology, not biblical theology.

There was a time in my life when I thought that teaching creeds and catechisms was patently unspiritual. I believed, fallaciously, that whatever was recited from rote memory was, inherently, neither genuine nor personal. Thankfully, these opinions changed by the time my first child was born. Since then, the greatest selling point for creeds and catechisms has been their obvious benefit to my own children.
A chief objection I once brought against catechizing is that answers are merely recited, and kids don't understand a word of what they're saying. My experience confirms that kids often don't understand what they recite, but why would that make catechizing objectionable? At age two, my children learn questions like these: Q: What does God reveal in nature? A: His character, law, and wrath. Q: What more does He reveal in His Word? A: His mercy toward His people. Q. Where is God's Word today? A: The Bible is God's Word. Do they really understand all this at age two? Of course not. (Do we adults?) My kids recite the words without much thought; it's a game to them. We play the "game" in the car, on walks, at meals, and whenever else we feel like it. We laugh a lot, and stop whenever it grows tiresome. I remember going through these questions with my son in this fashion. Then one day at church, after the Scripture reading, I pointed to my Bible which was in his lap. "What's that?" I asked. "The Bible." Then I asked, "Where is God's Word today?" He began to recite, "The Bible is—" He stopped himself, then his eyes widened and a bright smile came over his face. "The Bible is God's Word!" he practically shouted, no doubt distracting many who sat near us. He understood.
Some months ago, my three-year-old daughter was learning the questions on God's attributes. One night she awoke crying and scared. I held her in my lap and asked Question 13: "Where is God?" "God is everywhere," she dutifully recited through her tears. I then asked, "Then is God with you in the dark?" She paused and thought. "Yes!" she answered, and her cry began to let up. "Is God with you in your bed?" Her cry became a half-giggle as she answered again. That night may have been her fiftieth recitation of Question 13, and that night she began to understand it. A few days later, she fell out of fellowship with her sister. Her mother and I had been out of the room, and couldn't tell who had wronged whom. "Where is God?" I asked, and the pat answer followed. I continued, "So God was here when this happened, wasn't He?" "Yes," she said. "Then God knows who took the toy." Instantly, tears began to flow from a tender three-year-old conscience. She understood.
I have found memorized prayers to be equally beneficial. When my children began to speak, sometime in their second year, we taught them to pray this prayer:
Heavenly Father,
You are good,
and holy,
and righteous,
and just.
We are sinful
because of Adam
and because
of what we have done.
Thank you for Jesus,
who gave to us
His righteousness
and took from us
our sins.
Thank you for the saints,
for baptism,
for the bread and the cup,
and for all good things.
In Jesus' name,
To teach them the prayer, I said a line and they would repeat it after me. By age two, they could recite the entire prayer from memory, needing little prompting. My two-year-old recites it like this: "Heavvy Fawdo, yowo good, an howwey, an wychus, an dus. . . ." She understands very little of it. But as circumstances bring opportunity for instruction, as they do daily, I find instruction to be far more natural and effective when the lesson ties into what she has memorized. Often we add petitions at the end of the prayer, and after discipline we add specific confession after "because of what we have done." After teaching this prayer to three of my children, I've become convinced that its familiarity is what makes it such a useful tool for instruction. One Sunday I was called upon to pray before our congregation, and I prayed this prayer. When my son heard these familiar words prayed aloud in church, he began to realize what corporate prayer was.
The Bible warns us against vain repetition. But children are natural repeaters. Their repetitions are hardly vain.

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