I know Jesus said he had all the power, but is that the same power that Pokemon and Digimon characters have?” “Moses parted the Red Sea, but have you seen what Harry Potter’s done lately to Voldemort?” “And, of course, it wasn’t a big deal for the big fish to spit out Jonah. He also did it for Pinocchio and Gepetto.” •••
Ever feel as if you’re having to wade through a cultural morass of mythology to help children understand that God’s Word is no myth? And that while God’s truth is truth, all the things children are exposed to in their culture aren’t God’s truth? With amazingly realistic and believable visual storytelling (television and movies), it’s getting harder for children and adults to distinguish reality from fiction. Soap opera production companies regularly receive fan letters, not to the actors, but to the characters. The emotions experienced by some devoted TV viewers when a beloved character dies often rivals the grief of real-life losses.
Those of us concerned with teaching the Bible to children seek new ways to clear up this clouding of truth and imagination. We try to demythologize the Scriptures, to make a clear distinction between Moses and Harry Potter, between Peter and the characters from Pokemon, between Jesus, our Superhero, and X-Men. And so we should. But it’s not easy.
As many teachers know, kids not only find the fictional TV and movie personalities more interesting, they sometimes have trouble thinking of people in the Bible as anything more than fictional. In one sense, the solution seems obvious: Parents should limit and supervise their children’s exposure to pop culture, making sure they fill their lives with truth, goodness, and beauty (Philippians 4:8). Quite true, and something all parents should aspire to. But what about the children’s church leader, standing alone before 25 energized kids with GameBoys in their pockets? Many children in our day haven’t been brought up with a balanced exposure to pop culture, and the task of making the Bible seem real can be overwhelming at times.
So how do we do it? How can we demythologize the Bible for the children we serve? The Divine Drama If we treat the Bible as a single, unified historical account, with Christ as the central person, we’ll begin to see the Bible not as “Neat Tips for Living” but as the great Divine Drama, the most exciting account ever written. In seeking to demythologize biblical accounts, we must keep in mind both that the Bible is a story of mythological proportions and that it’s, in fact, true history. We must consistently emphasize this in our lessons — and our teaching style — whatever part of the Bible we’re presenting.
I heard once of a student who said the one phrase in the Apostle’s Creed that he couldn’t bring himself to say was “under Pontius Pilate” (as in “He suffered under Pontius Pilate”), because that put a historical date on Christ’s life. The student could believe in a nice moral fable, an inspiring myth, but the problem was, Christians always insisted that the thing actually happened. Teachers, then, need to remember that the account of Christ begins, not with “Once upon a time” — or the contemporary counterpart, “Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away” — but it begins with “In the time of Herod, king of Judea.” The Not-So-Boring Truth In a pluralistic society where our beliefs are only one of many options, how can we impress upon children the importance of Christ and his love, the forgiveness of sins, and all that’s encompassed within the Christian message? How can we answer kids’ question: “So what?”
We have one great weapon in this battle: the account itself. Those who think of the Bible as nothing more than boring theological propositions or a how-to manual must reorient their views. You really have to work to make the gospel boring. The account of God becoming Human, and being murdered by Humans, only to conquer death itself to save Humans may be shocking, but never boring. Christianity has doctrine, to be sure, but it’s revealed to us primarily through the moving, exciting, dramatic, sorrowful, joyful, true accounts of Scripture in letters, poetry, history, dreams, and visions.
This is what we need, then: a new generation of parents, teachers, and pastors who understand the Bible as phenomenal history, and who will tell, with passion and wonder, the greatest account ever written. We must pass on the great chronicles of the Divine Drama, without altering the script. Practical Principles As you strive to teach biblical accounts to children, remember these practical principles. • The Andy Griffith Principle — In one episode of The Andy Griffith Show, Opie and several of his friends, bored by history class, complained that they shouldn’t have to learn such dull stuff. Andy — with true aim, targeting the imaginations of the boys — reminds them that history is about “Indians and Redcoats and cannons and guns and muskets and stuff.” He then tells them a slightly overcooked version of Paul Revere’s midnight ride and “the shot heard ’round the world.’ ” As the story intensifies, the camera closes in on the boys (and Barney!) — eyes wide, mouths open, muscles tense, completely absorbed in the story. Learn from Andy. Become a skilled storyteller. Beware: It takes practice and is anything but easy. But it’s worth the effort. And as long as you don’t lose sight of the big picture, it’s not so bad to remind kids that the Bible is made up of “heroes and villains and swords and spears and shields and stuff” (Hebrews 11:32-38).
• The Anti-Chronological Snobbery Principle — C.S. Lewis referred to those who despise history as engaging in “chronological snobbery.” In contrast, the Scriptures teach us to look to the past for examples, both negative (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11) and positive (Hebrews 11). But don’t stop at the end of the Bible. Church history is overflowing with incredible accounts of faith, courage, and adventure. We Christians need to be much more familiar with our history. Need a couple of ideas to get you started? Try looking up the amazing accounts of Polycarp and Thomas Cranmer.
• The Application Principle — Theologian R.C. Sproul encouraged Christians to read the Bible “existentially,” that is, “to put ourselves in the life situation of the characters of Scripture…feeling the emotions of the characters we are studying.” Get inside their skin; ask yourself how you would feel and react in their situations. This is a great way for children to apply the Bible to their lives; teachers can point out that, as Christians, the children are themselves figures in the great history God is writing. William Chad Newsom is a freelance writer in Greensboro, North Carolina. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.