Teaching Our Children the Raw Parts of Scripture
One of the things that I realized the first time that I taught through the book of Genesis is that the patriarchal narratives look far more like something that you would see on Showtime than something that you would hear on Focus on the Family. Whether it is the record of Cain murdering his brother, the sexual sin of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham's sin with Hagar, Judah's sin with his prostitute-pretending daughter-in-law, Simeon and Levi's cruel treatment of the men of Shechem, the betrayal of Josephs' brothers or the attempt of Potiphar's wife to lure Joseph into her bed, you don't have to move out of the first book of the Bible to come across what I like to call the "raw parts of Scripture."
As a pastor, I sometimes have parents express concern about that to which their young children are being exposed in church. Whether it is a reference to the Old Covenant sign of circumcision going on the male reproductive organ or some part of a biblical story being discussed in Sunday School--there is no way to avoid exposing our children to the raw portions of Scripture in a biblically faithful church. In fact, I would suggest that we are called to expose them to the reality of these things in the right way. The Bible is far more raw throughout than many of us wish to admit. In the words of Rich Mullins:
The Bible is not a book for the faint of heart -- it is a book full of all the greed and glory and violence and tenderness and sex and betrayal that benefits mankind. It is not the collection of pretty little anecdotes mouthed by pious little church mice -- it does not so much nibble at our shoe leather as it cuts to the heart and splits the marrow from the bone. It does not give us answers fitted to our small-minded questions, but truth that goes beyond what we even know to ask.1
In fact, the central message of the Bible is the most raw--namely, the murder of the Son of God, who was torturously beaten, scourged and nailed to a tree by men in order to bleed to death for the raw sins of His people. Surely, we are to teach our children that raw truth from their earliest days! As we consider this extremely difficult (and widely debated) subject, here are three reasons to teach your kids about the depravity of men as it is revealed in Scripture:
1. God Commands it. The Lord commanded the Israelites to diligently teach all of His word to their children. In Deuteronomy 11:18-21 we read:
Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth.
Certainly this command, in the last book of the Law (i.e. Deuteronomy), includes teaching our children those raw portions of the first book of the Law (i.e. Genesis). Additionally, it includes teaching them those extremely specific laws against sexual sin (e.g. Exodus 22:19; Leviticus 18:6-18; 23; 20:13, 15-16, 17). This does not mean that we need to go into great detail with our very young children. Surely, the better part of wisdom is to teach them the whole counsel by reading through books of the Bible and wait until they ask particular questions about things that they hear. Even though the Bible is raw in its content, there is a measure of discresion in the way in which it speaks about sexual sin. For instance, it uses the euphemism "uncovering the nakedness" as code language for sexual intercourse. It uses the phrase, "He knew her," to describe a husband's sexual intimacy with his wife. Nevertheless, we must come to terms with the fact that God told the Old Covenant church members that they were not allowed to "mate with an animal" (Lev. 18:23). They were to teach their children this as well.
By never talking about the raw parts of Scripture with our children, we inadvertently suggest that God shouldn't have included it in Scripture. We do not want to fall into the trap of being "more decent" than God. That will only harm our children's faith when they do finally come across these portions of Scripture about which we never had the courage to teach them. When they are faced with these things in the world, they will either not know how to engage sexually perverse unbelievers for the sake of the Gospel (1 Cor. 5:10) or they will be drawn into the perversity of their sin (Lev. 18:24). Ironically, many who think that they are sanctifying their children by not exposing them to the raw portions of Scripture are actually failing to make use of what God has given for our sanctification. God commands us to diligently teach our children the Scripture--including the raw parts--because they are a means to our sanctification (John 17:17) when taught in light of the Gospel.
2. Culture Necessitates it. A friend and mentor recently said to me, "With the increased accessibility to, and acceptance of, pornography we will see an increase in perverse sexual sin in the church." Sadly--though I don't want it to be--I know that this is true. Far from isolating the Old Covenant church from knowing about gross immorality, the Lord instructed them concerning these things on account of the exposure that they would have to them by virtue of their nearness to pagan nations around them. God told Israel that they needed to avoid these things "for by all these the nations are defiled" (Lev. 18:24). It was precisely because of the actions of those around them that the Lord commanded Israel not to practice these things. So too, in our day--with the culture glorying in sexual immorality--it is incumbent on us to instruct our children about what they are to avoid. Ironically, when parents fail to do so, the result is often the opposite of that which they had intended. Many times, children--who have been isolated from the truth of the depravity in the world and of their own hearts--end up running headlong into the perversion of the world when they reach adulthood. Isolating our children from these things does not change their hearts. Their hearts will only be changed by the truth of the Gospel and the sovereign working of the Holy Spirit to regenerate them.
Additionally, culture necessitates that we instruct our children for the sake of the defense of the faith. It will severely hurt our effectiveness in witness if we are not conversant with and able to explain the raw portions of Scripture. I have many times been challenged by an unbeliever regarding such things as herem warfare. It is important for us to explain to our children why it was that God commanded Israel to eradicate all the inhabitants (men, women and children) of the Promised Land. Of course, we need to know more than simply that He commanded it--we also need to know why He commanded it, in order to explain it. (Here is my attempt to bring in the importance of the redemptive-historical element). We need to be able to teach our children how to distinguish between the those ceremonial laws in the Old Testament--that were only for Israel until Christ came and fulfilled them in redemptive-history--and the moral laws against sexual sin found in the same books. In his article, "Old Testament Law and the Charge of Inconsistency," Tim Keller has done an excellent job of helping us defend our faith in this regard. Our children need to grow up learning about all that God has revealed in Scripture and how to defend the faith in relation to it.
3. Our Hearts Need It. I sometimes wonder whether those who are overly cautious and overly zealous to protect their children from being exposed to the truth of depravity in the world--as it is revealed in Scripture--are simply not wanting to face up to and confess their own depravity. Allow me to explain. In legalistic, fundamentalist homes, there is often an attempt to isolate from the knowldge of the depravity of world in the name of holiness, while not owning up to the fact that we cannot isolate from the depravity of our own hearts. The self-righteous heart wants to acknowledge depravity "out there"--and insist that contamination merely comes from nurture--rather than pointing the finger "within"--and insisting that depravity is in all of us on account of the sin nature that we have all inherited from Adam. Without doubt, we want to guard our sinful hearts--and the sinful hearts of our children--from an unnecessary contamination of the depravity "without' (by what we perceive to be an overexposure to it)--but we don't do so by not talking about it. We do so by acknowledging that we have the same nature as those who practice such things, and that our God has taught us about the evil of these things so that we may--by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel--avoid them.
That being said, I do believe that there is a right way to expose our children to these things. There can be an inappropriate crassness with which these things can be presented to children. In some homes, the pendulum swings the other way. Immature parents (and, yes, there are immature parents in any given church) who joke about perverted things can--and most certainly will--do irreparable harm to their children. Additionally--as I have already noted--when the Bible warns against sexually perverse sin, it does so in very specific ways--but it does so with a measure of verbal propriety. Thankfully, there are many other things in the Bible than these raw parts. This means that our children should be getting a healthy diet of all the different parts of Scripture and truths taught in the Scriptures. The raw parts are necessary parts, but they are not the only parts. They should be taught in proportion to the other truths of Scripture. When we are committed to reading through books of the Bible with our children, this will work itself out for us.
When a pastor is about to preach through a book of the Bible that contains raw parts (e.g. Genesis, Leviticus or Judges), it would be a good thing for him to help prepare the parents for what their children are about to hear. If a minister is about to preach on Judges 19, it might be wise for him to give the parents of young children some notice--not so that the parents will keep the children out of the service that Sunday, but that they would be prepared to talk with their children about these things if their children ask them questions after the service. As a pastor of a congregation with many young children, I personally do not dwell at length on the raw parts of a text; however, I do not, skip over them since I am obligated by God to diligently teach the whole counsel. By giving the parents a "heads-up" regarding an intensely raw portion of Scripture, a pastor is really coming alongside the parents as they instruct their children in the home.
There is always a spectrum regarding when--as well as to how much or how little--we expose our young children to biblical teaching on sexual sin, violence, etc. I lean to the side of exposing them for the sake of the reasons set out about. Others, however lean to the side of protecting their minds and hearts from what they deam to be unnecessary exposure. I am certainly not insisting that I have it all figured out. There is an inescapable uncomfortableness in talking about these things because of the shame of sin. I am not suggeting that we should have the "Rated-R Children's Story Bible," but I am suggesting that we do our children a disservice by skiping over the raw parts of the Bible in most of our children's story bibles. After all, we do have to ask the question, 'Where's Drunk, Naked Noah on the Sunday School Felt Board?" Teaching our children the raw portions of the Bible--as challenging as it may be--is a necessary part of the sanctification process for them. May God give us wisdom to do so for the good of their souls.
1. An excerpt from Rich Mullin's booklet, The World As Best As I Remember It.