How to talk to your kids about hell

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If you’re a parent and you’re not following Cindy Brandt’s series on raising kids un-fundamentalist, you should. Cindy explains her motivation for the series in her first post:

I am in desperate need of a robust discussion regarding how in the hell to talk to my kids about hell. In other, less eternally-damning words, how do those of us who have grown up evangelical and yet suffer some damaging effects of fundamentalist theology, do the delicate parenting dance of communicating the love of God to our children without transferring some of the harmful teachings we have internalized? 

As the parent of two young kids, one of whom is just starting to learn about God, I need that conversation too. I want to be able to nurture their faith without manipulation or coercion.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do have an idea for how to talk to your kids about hell:

Don’t.*

Not just because the biblical doctrine of judgment is more complicated than most of us realize. (Though it is.)

Not because it’s hard to know what we’re even talking about when we use the word “hell.” (Though it is hard, since most Bibles use the same word for three different terms in the New Testament, each of which had a distinct meaning and origin.)

Not just because “eternal conscious torment,” the prevailing view among evangelicals, is hardly the only orthodox view and probably owes more to medieval literature than the Bible. (Though it isn’t and it does.)

You shouldn’t talk to your kids about hell because, as Cindy writes in her second post, kids don’t have “the emotional maturity and logical capability to process a belief in eternal punishment.”

Put another way, their brains aren’t done cooking yet. The young brain is like “soft, impressionable Play-Doh.” What we tell kids about God when they’re young will stay with them for years—even if they grow up to believe something very different.

Pediatric neurologist Marcel Kinsbourne writes:

What we experience contributes mightily to what we are and what we become… what people experience indeed changes their brain, for better and for worse.

Teaching our kids to believe in an angry, vengeful God affects who they grow up to be. In my experience, it tends to yield one of two outcomes. Either they grow up to be angry, vengeful Christians; or they grow up terrified of an angry, vengeful God, convinced they’ll incur his wrath over the slightest infraction.

In my case, it was both. One minute I could be arrogant and dismissive of those who believed differently than I did, the next moment convinced I was destined for wrath myself—that God couldn’t possibly love me, that God might not be loving at all.

My relationship with God (if you can call it that) was based on fear. And make no mistake: I was terrified.

I don’t want my kids to be terrified of God. Have a healthy respect for God? Sure. Reverence and awe? Absolutely. But my impression of Jesus is that he didn’t go around inflicting terror in kids’ hearts.

Which leads me to another reason we shouldn’t talk to our kids about hell: it makes for a terrible gospel.

I can hear the objections already. You’ve probably heard them too.

Truth is hard. We shouldn’t soft-pedal the gospel just because it might scare our kids.

We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about hell. After all, Jesus talked about hell more than he talked about heaven. (He didn’t, actually.)

I’m a firm believer that we shouldn’t soft-pedal, dumb down, or otherwise misrepresent the gospel to our kids. But what if “pray this prayer so you don’t go to hell when you die” IS a misrepresentation of the gospel?

The core of Jesus’ proclamation was not, “Follow me so you don’t go to hell.” It was, “The kingdom of heaven has come.” This is what he told his disciples to proclaim.

Not “you might end up somewhere very hot and very far from God” but “God is near.”

When the children came to Jesus, he didn’t preach them a sermon about hell. He didn’t warn them about God’s impending wrath. He put his arms around them. He blessed them. He said the kingdom already belonged to them.

Instead of talking to our kids about hell, let’s talk to them about God’s kingdom.

Instead of talking to our kids about some terrible place to avoid, let’s talk about what they get to be part of.  

By the way, this doesn’t just apply to kids. This should be the rule whenever we’re talking about the gospel with someone. Look at the great evangelistic sermons in Acts. How many of them mention hell?

Zero.

If hell was so important, why did the apostles fail to mention it even once as they went from place to place, announcing the—what was it?—good news about Jesus?

If hell is such an indispensable part of our gospel, why was it so utterly absent from theirs?

So don’t talk to your kids about hell as you share the gospel with them. Don’t prey upon their fears just to get them to say a prayer. Instead, talk to them about the life God invites them to experience. Talk about the kingdom they get to be part of.

Who knows? If we do that instead, maybe they’ll stop fearing the world-to-come long enough to start changing this one.

* A few friends and commenters have observed that, given our cultural obsession with hell, it’s likely that many of us will have to talk about it with our kids—if nothing else, to answer their questions about what other people say. That’s true. The good news is, we have a choice how we talk about it. We don’t have to pass on fear-based religion to the next generation. We can seek to prevent unnecessary fear instead of cultivating it. 

Photo by Palo on Flickr

Two things to remember as you share your faith with your kids

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If I could change just two things about the way we share our faith with our kids, I would reject more coercive methods in favor of those that cultivate their curiosity, and I would worry less about answering every question and focus more on simply telling the story well.

Less heavy-handed sales pitch, more invitation to explore. Less apologetics, more narrative. I’m increasingly convinced this is the way to engage ours kids’ hearts and imaginations with the gospel.

Recently, my publisher filmed a couple videos for my book, The Story of King Jesus, in which I talk more about these two points and how they can shape the way we pass on our faith…

1. Nurture their spiritual curiosity instead of force-feeding them answers.

2. Your job is not to have all the answers; it’s to tell them the story.

Learn more about The Story of King Jesus here.

Three reasons I’m really, really excited about our new Presiding Bishop

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The Right Revd. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church, closed out the 78th General Convention with a powerful address on Friday. His sermon was effectively a call to return to the Great Commission. For those of us who want to see a renewal of discipleship and evangelism in the Episcopal Church, the choice of Michael Curry seems, well, inspired.

There are many, many reasons I’m excited about the election of Michael Curry, including the historical precedent it represents. Here are a few more…

1. He knows the biblical story.

In his sermon, PB-elect Curry read from Isaiah 40—a well-known passage that’s often quoted without reference to its context. Anyone can recite a few verses of Scripture. To use the text well, however, you have to know the story.

PB-elect Curry knows how to paint the biblical landscape. He knows how to tell the story behind passages like Isaiah 40. In his brief sermon, he seamlessly connected this text to Israel’s story—in particular, their painful exile in Babylon—and to its eventual culmination in Jesus.

He knows the songs Israel sang in exile.

His knowledge of Scripture runs far deeper than the ability to rattle off a few Bible verses. He knows the story.

This matters, because if we are to know where we should go—how we should live—we have to know where we’ve been. The biblical story cannot be an afterthought when discerning where God is leading. We need to be soaked in the narrative. We need prophetic voices like PB-elect Curry who know how to connect the ancient story to our world today.

2. He can speak to—and challenge—both progressives and conservatives.

Often, PB-elect Curry sounds like someone who’d be right be at home among evangelicals. He reads Max Lucado. He watched Son of God. (Well, the trailer, at least!) He even worked in a mild jab at Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah (which, incidentally, was better than most of the criticism it got from evangelicals, but that’s for another day).

At the same time, PB-elect Curry marches in the Moral Monday protests. He’s an advocate for justice and inclusion. He understands that reconciliation in Christ has profound social implications. He challenges us to be a prophetic alternative to the “nightmare of the world”—that is, the nightmare of injustice, oppression, and exclusion—because of the gospel of Jesus.

PB-elect Michael Curry defies evangelicals’ caricature of Episcopalians as Christians-in-Name-Only who say the Nicene Creed with their fingers crossed. His faith is robust, vibrant—it’s the fire in his bones.

At the same time, his full-throated gospel proclamation should challenge progressives to embrace—and share—a full-orbed good news. God’s justice cannot be separated from the salvation achieved by Christ, or vice versa.

3. He’s got a big gospel.

We need a big gospel. We need a gospel that can lift us out of the pit. We need a gospel that proclaims reconciliation with God and with each other. We need a gospel that is more than a “get out of hell free” card and more than a blueprint for social activism. We need a gospel that transforms individuals, communities, and whole societies—a gospel that liberates captives from spiritual and economic oppression, from alienation and exclusion.

This is the gospel PB-elect Curry proclaimed in his sermon:

God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to show us the way to be reconciled with God… and reconciled with each other. He came to show us how to become more than simply the human race—that’s not good enough. He came to show us how to be more than a collection of individualized self-interests. He came to show us how to become the human family of God.

This is a gospel for everyone—liberal and conservative, traditionalist and progressive. This is the movement into which all of us were drafted at our baptism, and it is a movement that transcends every other divide:

I don’t care whether your label is traditionalist or progressive; if you’ve been baptized into the Triune God, you’re in the Jesus Movement. I don’t care who you are, how the Lord has made you, what the world has to say about you. If you’ve been baptized into Jesus you’re in the Jesus Movement and you are God’s.

This is the mission of the church. Bishop Curry’s election gives me hope that we will renew our commitment to this mission in the years ahead.

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Images: The Episcopal Church; Hannes Flo on Flickr

In which you get to see me on video talking about my kids’ book…

A few weeks ago, my publisher, David C Cook, shot a few videos of me talking about why I wrote my book and how we can tell a better gospel story for our kids.

Here are the first two…

On why I wrote The Story of King Jesus…

On treating Bible stories as if they were isolated moral fables (and why we should read Scripture as a single story)…

Watch for a few more of these videos in the weeks ahead!

To learn more about The Story of King Jesus go here.

When our kids are the ones sharing the gospel with us

My daughter has asked me to read The Story of King Jesus a few dozen times since we got our first copy. She can’t read yet, but she already knows most of it by heart.

These days, my book doesn’t make the bedtime rotation quite as often as it used to, but it still shows up every now and then. Except now, I barely read any of it to her.

She’s the one telling me the story.

(Yes, she is hamming it up for the camera.)

What if our kids knew the story of Jesus so well, they were the ones telling it to us? Imagine how it might change our approach to spiritual formation if even 4-year-olds knew the complete story—not just the fragmented, piecemeal, “pray this prayer so you can go to heaven when you die” version.

We have a tendency to oversimplify the gospel, reducing it to “four spiritual laws” or a handful of verses from Romans, because we’re worried our kids can’t handle any more than that.

I think we’re wrong.

I think our kids are up for the whole story. I think they’re up for more than we realize.

They’re so up for it, in fact, that pretty soon they’ll be the ones telling the story to us—way better than we ever thought possible.

The liberating power of a good story (a guest post by Cindy Brandt)

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Today I’m thrilled to host my first guest post on this blog, and I’m even more thrilled that it’s from Cindy Brandt. Over the past year or so, Cindy has regularly challenged and inspired me with her writing, especially her widely-read post “How I Kissed Evangelizing Goodbye,” in which she calls on us to “listen to other people’s stories as if your salvation depended on it.”

Cindy has a new ebook, Outside In, highlighting some of the voices we need to start listening to—and making space for in our churches. Read her post below, then get her book.

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I have never met Ben IRL (in real life) before. There is the small challenge of seven-thousand-six-hundred-and-eight-point-oh-seven miles between my city in Taiwan and his in midwestern America. Yet the modern marvel of the internet connects us despite geographical distance. Because of blogging we have had opportunities to engage with each other’s writing, and over social media, I know he has adorable little ones and that he leaves his Christmas lights up until March.*

I won’t speak for Ben, but our interactions online have enriched my life as our stories intersect one another in these small ways, whether it’s delighting in the pictures of his little Oliver’s meme or in celebrating his beautiful Bible storybook.

We are writing new stories all the time. I bring my mosaic of accumulated life experiences into every interaction with other dynamic people I encounter in life, and when our stories connect with one another, we create new ones together. As we listen and learn from each other’s experiences, our hearts open a bit larger, our understanding grows a bit deeper, and our lives get a lot richer. This is the magic of stories. When the storyteller speaks their story, it serves to elaborate someone else’s story. Good stories don’t demand or take from their audience, they add value to their lives, empowering them to live more fully into their own stories.

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As Christians, I believe our best chance of impacting other people’s lives is to intersect God’s Story with theirs. Doctrines and systematic theology tell us about God, while God’s Story shows us how to enter into life with God. Propositions and agendas demand a decision, while a good story compels and woos one’ heart.

The Story of God is a living, ongoing narrative, embodied both in the text of Scripture and in the context of faithful communities. It doesn’t remain static, but evolves and expands as it touches lives and creates new stories.

However, sometimes we have not told this story in the right way. We have used it not as a living story, but as a definitive script. We have said, if you want to be part of the story, you must become a character and read the lines. People are not liberated into living their own stories more fully, they are flattened and captured into a confined narrative. We limit the gospel when we require people to act a certain way, speak certain words, and even believe certain things in order to be part of God’s story.

An encounter with a living God’s story never erases or diminishes the story of the person who approaches it. That’s not how it works. God’s story affirms, validates, and celebrates the beauty of each individual story as they are. But our lives never remain the same after we intersect another story—the power of stories is such that it affects profound change in our lives. It doesn’t strip us of the rich history and mosaic of our accumulated life experiences, it makes us, as Dr. Seuss says, “you-er than you”. Somehow transforming us into more fully human, more fully ourselves.

As stewards of God’s story, we must take care to not misuse the story of God as a way of diminishing individual experiences, or absorbing them into a dominant script. This does grave injustice to the stories we bring.

In my book, Outside In, I identify ten different kinds of people, those who doubt and those who grieve; people who are sarcastic or intellectuals, those who are single or disabled, or any combination of the above and I examine how they could have had their experiences marginalized by the community of God. My hope is that we can work to ensure God’s story is one that affirms the real experiences of every person, and allow their unique and beautiful stories to encounter God’s story in a way that transforms all of our stories—moving forward the Story of God in all its vibrant diversity.

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_MG_9851_2aCindy Brandt writes about faith in the irreverent, miracles in the ordinary, and beauty in the margins. She is more interested in being evangelized than evangelizing, a social justice Christian, and a feminist. She blogs at cindywords.com, tapping words out from the 33rd floor of a high rise in Taiwan, where she lives with her husband, two children, and a miniature Yorkie.

 


*Yes, it’s true. I left the Christmas lights up till March. Here is photographic proof of my shame…

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But IN MY DEFENSE, this is March in Michigan we’re talking about. If you want to take down the lights any sooner, you have to bring a crowbar because they will be frozen to the roof.

Telling the story well: God’s good world

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About this series: I believe “getting the gospel right” means telling the story well. This idea inspired me as I wrote my book for kids, The Story of King Jesus.  In this series, I’m sharing a few aspects of the story that I believe are key to telling it well. 

God made the very first people
so he could share his home with them. 

He gave them a job to do:
take care of his good world. 

                                    – from The Story of King Jesus

Last year, we bought a kids’ worship album for the car. My daughter wants to listen to it ALL the time. She knows every song by heart—including the popular Hillsong Anthem, “Forever Reign,” which opens with the line, “You are good, you are good / when there’s nothing good in me…”

Let me tell you, there’s something jarring about hearing your 4-year-old daughter sing, “There is nothing good in me.”

Yet when it comes to the gospel, that’s how we typically start, with the idea that our sin defines our whole identity. It’s the first letter of the Reformed mnemonic, TULIP. Total depravity. It’s the first way station on the “Romans Road” plan of salvation. For all have sinned and fall short.

But that’s not where our story begins.

Our story begins in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3. And, yes, it matters where we begin.

In Genesis 1, with each successive act of creation, God delights in the inherent goodness of what he’s made. On the sixth day, God surveys everything and sees that it’s not just good, it’s very good. Seven times God sees that it’s good—which, for the discerning Jewish reader, signaled something. The number seven signaled completion. In Genesis, it signaled the complete, utter goodness of God’s creation.

That includes us, by the way. Whatever else may be true about us, God made us good.

Obviously, a lot happened after Genesis 1. But why do we skip this part of the story when sharing the gospel? Why do we bypass Genesis 1 and go straight to Genesis 3?

Is it because we’re afraid of thinking too highly of ourselves by saying that God made us “good”? Is it because we think our salvation depends on our willingness to grovel, to confess utter worthlessness before a reluctantly forgiving God?

Some Christians seem to almost revel in their portrait of human depravity, as if trying to outdo one another in capturing the wretchedness of our natural state—as if thinking the more we beat ourselves down, the more God will somehow be lifted up.

Except it’s not our natural state, and acting as if it is actually leads to a diminished view of God. In Genesis 1, we see that we are good—not because of anything we did, but because God made us that way. Our goodness is not something we came to on our own; it’s a gift. It’s the very first gift, the very first act of grace.

In God’s story, grace precedes sin.

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Starting with the world as God made it also helps us to see where the story is going.

If God made the world good, then he can make it good again.

If God made the world good, then salvation—whatever else it may entail—is going to involve this world, its rescue, its remaking.

If God made the world good, then it changes how we understand our role as citizens of his kingdom. To return to God—to renounce sin and exile—is to return to our original mission: to take care of God’s good world.

If God made the world good, then our salvation is not from this world; it’s for this world.

Of course, the story doesn’t stop at Genesis 1, and neither should we. We cannot skip right over Genesis 3. We should not underestimate its impact on the rest of the story. To paraphrase N.T. Wright, we cannot whistle in the face of darkness when confronted with Hiroshima or Auschwitz… or (we might add) Ferguson. Guantanamo. Bhopal. ISIS.

The darkness is real. Our sin is real. It’s why the world needs saving.

But telling the story well means starting in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3. God made the world good, and he is making it good again.

This is where we should begin when sharing the story with our kids.

Next up: Making the world right and good again…

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Passing on our faith like Moses

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Today I’m writing for More to Life Magazine about how the Israelites shared their faith, how it can shape the way we share our faith with our kids, and how it inspired my book, The Story of King Jesus.

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Last year, my daughter turned four. As a parent, I feel the same burden many Christian parents feel: I want to pass my faith to my children. I want my daughter to know Christ. I want her to walk with him for the rest of her life.

But I also know the odds are against her.

Research shows that a majority of young people who grow up in church disconnect from their faith or their church—or both—later in life (source: Barna). Let that sink in: more than half of those who make a decision for Christ as children will exhibit no meaningful sign of it by the time they reach adulthood.

It’s not for a lack of effort on our part. Over the years, we’ve come up with a host of tools to help us share the gospel—the Sinner’s Prayer, Four Spiritual Laws, the Romans Road…

Anyone remember the Wordless Book—or its relatively more recent incarnation, the Wordless Bracelet?

But our tools and methods for passing on our faith are failing us. More importantly, they’re failing our children.

So what do we do? The answer might just be closer than we think…

Read the rest at More to Life Magazine.

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Getting the gospel right? Or telling the story well?

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When I was in seminary, we talked a lot about “getting the gospel right.” We read books about it. We wrote papers on it. We attended conferences about it. We each had our own (often conflicting) ideas of what it meant.

It’s easy to see why “getting the gospel right” is such a big deal for Christians. We believe the gospel has the power to change everything. So it’s worth making an effort to get it right—or at least try.

Yet the older I get, the less at ease I am with this phrase, for a couple reasons. I’d rather talk about “telling our story well.”

For one thing, I’ve seen firsthand how “getting the gospel right” nurtures a particular kind of arrogance. I’ve seen it in myself. I became convinced that me and my like-minded cohorts were the only ones who had it right. Everyone else was “compromising” the gospel in some way. After a while, even minor theological disagreements were conflated with the gospel itself. Soon, everything was a gospel issue. “Getting the gospel right” became a euphemism for agreeing with me on, well, whatever I decided you had to agree with me on for the sake of the gospel.

Two, we talked about “getting the gospel right” in the same way you’d talk about getting the answers right on a test. “Getting the gospel right” meant ticking the boxes next to a list of propositional statements, making sure we thought the right kind of thoughts about abstract theological concepts.

There’s just one problem. The gospel, as defined by scripture itself, is not a list of abstract concepts. It’s not something you can reduce to a few spiritual laws or sum up with a handful of verses extracted from the book of Romans.

What we often call “the gospel” is really just a set of propositional statements that we’ve separated from the story.

None of which is to say these statements are unimportant. But abstract theological concepts are NOT the gospel.

The gospel is a story.

Which means if we care about “getting the gospel right,” then we need to tell the story well.

This is not a new idea. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the people of Israel were told to share their faith with the next generation by telling their story of rescue. Not by delivering a theological treatise. All the decrees, laws, and rituals—they were not the story itself. They were not “the gospel,” as it were. They were prompts to tell the story:

When your children ask you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the decrees and statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?” then you shall say to your children, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”

Getting the gospel right means telling the story well. It means telling the whole story. It means it matters what kind of story we tell. For example…

  • Is our story about personal salvation only? Or is it about something bigger?
  • In our story, are we saved from something, or are we also saved for something?
  • Is the story we tell about escaping this world or transforming it?
  • Do we begin our story in Genesis 3 or in Genesis 1?
  • Are we passive agents in our story, or does God invite us to play a meaningful role?

I want to tell the story well for my children, which is what led me to write The Story of King Jesus.

Over the next few posts, I’d like to share some aspects of this story that came alive for me as I wrote. We’ll look a few key phrases from the book, which I believe are central to the story we should be telling our kids:

“God made the world to be his home.”

“Taking care of his good world.”

“Making the world right and good again.”

“Our king gave us a job to do.”    

When we make these things part of the story we tell, I believe we can offer our kids a faith worth living for.

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Image by Nick Lee

Six things I’ve learned reading The Story of King Jesus to my daughter

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Every night before bed, my daughter Elizabeth gets to pick two books for us to read.

As far as she’s concerned, The Story of King Jesus will always be the book I wrote for her—and it is—so it’s been making regular appearances in our bedtime routine. We’ve read it a few dozens times now since our first copy arrived.

For my part, the book is an experiment of sorts. I believe we shortchange the gospel when we reduce it to a handful of Bible verses or condense it into a formula you recite. I believe we shortchange our kids when we fragment biblical narrative into isolated stories and treat them as moral fables. I believe our kids deserve a bigger gospel. They deserve to have the Bible presented as a single, coherent story.

The Story of King Jesus is my attempt to do just that. I want to prove it’s possible to share our faith without shortchanging either the gospel or our kids.

My daughter is 4-1/2. She’s just now taking her first steps of faith. I know better than to declare victory yet. But what I’ve witnessed so far gives me a lot of encouragement.

Here are six things that I’ve learned while reading The Story of King Jesus to my daughter…

1. She can (and will) use the book to delay bedtime. And I’m all right with that.

OK, I don’t know what implications it has for nurturing her faith. But Elizabeth knows how to use the book to stretch out her nightly routine.

The most sacred bedtime rule in our house—we read each book ONCE—is in tatters when she gives me those big, sad eyes and asks me to read “her favorite book” one more time. Yeah…she knows how to play me.

I find myself in less of a rush, too. I’ll confess… I’ve sped through some of her books at bedtime (Goodnightstars-goodnightair-goodnightnoiseseverywhere-THEEND), but I slow down for this one. Because this story matters. I want her to absorb every word.

Even her regular interruptions are more easily welcomed because, well…

2. She asks surprisingly good questions.

The other night, she interrupted me as we got to the exodus part of the story, where God’s people “were slaves in another country.” We’ve read these words many times, but this time Elizabeth wanted to know what slavery is.

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So we talked about how some people try to own and control others, how this is part of what we mean when we say “God’s good world is broken.” We talked about how “making the world right and good again” (another phrase from the book) means making it a place where everyone is free, where everyone is treated with respect, and where we love everyone they way God loves us.

I love that she’s asking the kind of questions that will help her connect her emerging faith to the world around her—so she can see that God doesn’t just save us from something; he invites us to become part of making the world right and good again.

Kids need to see that our faith makes a difference in this world, not just the next one. The gospel is about far more than where we go when we die. As Benjamin Corey wrote, it’s not about escaping this world; the gospel about transforming it.

Watching Elizabeth process The Story of King Jesus, I’m reminded that our kids know how to ask good questions. We don’t have to shove answers down their throats. We just have to nurture their innate spiritual curiosity.

3. She is naturally drawn to Jesus.

Elizabeth lights up whenever we get to the part about Jesus. As soon as I read the words “something new happened” and “God sent someone special,” she gets fidgety with excitement. She wants to recite the next part before I can read the words, “God sent his only Son, Jesus.” She wants to take in every picture of Jesus doing “good things everywhere he went,” and she wants to tell me about each one. (Some of her interpretations are more creative than others.)

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The Bible is all about Jesus. Jesus fulfills and transforms Israel’s story all at once. The purpose of the Bible is not to serve as some kind of rulebook or user manual, but to point to Jesus, the true logos, the final Word of God.

When we keep Jesus at the center of our gospel, our kids find someone with whom they can connect—perhaps more easily than we do.

4. She’s connecting some of the dots for herself.

The other night, when we got to the part about the kings of Israel—“Some kings were good. Some were bad. Mostly, the kings did whatever they wanted.”—Elizabeth added, “Yeah, just like the very first people.”

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She already gets that Israel’s story is an echo of the garden story—God creates people, gives them a home, offers to live with them, but the people go their own way and lose their home. She’s starting to get that this is our story as well, that it’s not just a story about people who lived a long time ago. She’s starting to understand that what God wants for the “very first people,” and what he wants for Israel, is what he wants for us: to make the world right and good again so we can live with him once more.

5. This story can hold her attention.

My daughter doesn’t have a lot of sit in her. I don’t think she’s ever sat through an entire movie—except maybe Frozen, and that was only once. Come bedtime, her ability to focus, such as it is, usually goes out the window. (In other words, she is a normal kid.) But for all the times we’ve read The Story of King Jesus, it still holds her attention. She wants to know the story behind each image. She’s learned parts of the book by heart. She talks about it during the day.

I think we have a tendency to sell our kids short. We turn the gospel into sound bites. We give nuggets of Bible stories, rendered unrealistically cute and reimagined as moral fables, because we don’t think our kids are up for more than that. We should have more confidence in them and in the story we tell—because, well…

6. She—and other kids like her—can grasp the big story of the Bible, if we give them a chance.

I remember years ago teaching a Sunday school class using a “youth-friendly” denominational curriculum. The kids in my class were bored senseless. I couldn’t blame them. So was I.

So we ditched the curriculum; instead, I started telling them the big story of the Bible (because it was clear no one had ever done this for them). The atmosphere changed immediately. Kids who had been sleeping with their eyes open sat bolt upright. They started asking questions. They wanted to know where the story was going.

As Scot McKnight wrote in The King Jesus Gospel, “We need to regain our confidence in the utter power of proclaiming the one story of Jesus.” To this, I would add we also need to regain our confidence in our ability to tell this story well—and in our kids’ ability to embrace it.

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The Story of King Jesus is available at bookstores now.

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