Revive Our Hearts Podcast

What's Your Child's Theology

Leslie Basham: Our guests this week, Dr. Bruce Ware and his wife Jodi, asked some children what it means to be made in the image of God.

Jodi Ware: What do you think it means when we say that each one of us has been made in the image of God? Jeremy?

Jeremy: He gives us some of His attributes.

Jodi: Good. Riley?

Riley: He makes us kind of in His own image only a little bit different.

Jodi: How do you think we’re different? Bethany.

Bethany: We sin.

Jodi: That’s a big way we’re different, isn’t it? A big way.

Boy: We were created, and He has always been.

Girl: We have a body, and He doesn’t.

Girl: We drive in a car, and He doesn’t.

(Laughter)

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, July 14. Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I’m holding in my hands a copy of a book that first came out in 1962. Some of you were not alive then, but I was alive. I was a little girl and this book is called Leading Little Ones to God. I’m the oldest of seven children. At that time there were just six in our family. Six children ages six and under.

My parents tried, insofar as it was possible, to have a regular time of what used to be called family devotions. You don’t hear as much about that anymore. But in our family devotions, my parents were reading to us at that time this book that was new, Leading Little Ones to God, by Marian Schoolland.

In 1963, May of ’63, I trusted Christ as my Savior at the age of 4. It was while my parents were reading this book that was a doctrinal survey of the Scripture, an overview of key Scripture doctrines. I have thanked the Lord for that book, for my parents who knew the importance of teaching doctrine to their children. My parents, who were fairly young believers themselves at the time, thankfully knew the importance of that.

I’ve recommended that book to people over the years. But now there’s a new book available, which I am so happy to be recommending. I want to really encourage each of our listeners who is a parent to get a copy of this book and to make a priority of taking your children through the content in this book.

It’s called Big Truths for Young Hearts. It’s a systematic study of key biblical doctrines. I’m so thankful that this week with us in the studio we have the author of that book, Dr. Bruce Ware, and his wife Jodi. Jodi and Bruce, thank you so much for being back with us on Revive Our Hearts to talk about this very important subject of teaching our children about the greatness of our God.

Jodi: Thank you, Nancy, we’re so glad to be here.

Dr. Bruce Ware: Yes, it’s a great pleasure, Nancy.

Nancy: I’m looking at the cover of this book, Big Truths for Young Hearts, and I notice at the top there’s an image of an acorn; and at the bottom of the cover, there’s a picture of a full-grown tree. Now the significance is obvious, but Bruce, any thought about why the publisher might have chosen those images.

Dr. Ware: Well, Crossway Books is publishing this and they did a great job I think on the cover. It does symbolize so much, doesn’t it? We see our children in this acorn stage but realize that oak tree is in potential there. But what kind of a tree will it be? How strong will those branches be? How strong and wide will it grow? How deep will its roots be?

All that depends, of course, on what gets built into them. Parents have the primary obligation before God to be the ones who build that tree strong—deep roots and large branches—because of forming character and a Christian worldview, understanding rightly truth that can sustain them over the course of their lives against the winds that blow and the difficulties in life.

Will they be strong to face those things? That will depend upon whether they really know God. If they understand who He is and have put all their hope and trust in Him.

Nancy: The thing about those young years of your children’s lives is as you’re planting those seeds of truth, you can’t see the product. You can’t see the outcome. It takes perseverance and patience.

Jodi, as your two little girls were growing up, they’re now grown women, but when they were little, did you ever find yourself wondering, "Are they getting this? Is it connecting? What difference is it really going to make in their lives?"

Jodi: I certainly did. Then I was thrilled to see evidence of what God was doing in their lives. I can give an example. When Bethany turned 16 and got her driver's license, I was tempted to be fearful and worried about her safety on the road. She said to me, “Mom, my life is in the Lord’s hands and nothing will happen to me outside of His plan for me. If it is time for me to die and go to heaven, that will happen. And if it isn’t, it won’t happen. I will be a careful driver, but you need to trust the Lord with my life.”

Nancy: There’s some doctrine coming out there.

Jodi: I was rather convicted and encouraged to see that things that we had taught her had taken root in her life and shaped the way she thought about things.

Nancy: She got it.

Jodi: Yes.

Nancy: And now Bethany is a young mom herself. Do you see in her a heart to be passing those seeds of truth into the next generation?

Jodi: I have seen her saying very similar things. Trusting the Lord with her baby’s life, both before Ella was born and since her birth. She has said the days of my baby’s life have been determined by the Lord, and whatever the Lord brings, I know that it will be good. She has said those very words, and I’m so thankful that she has that true perspective about her child’s life.

Nancy: Bruce, I think that a lot of people think of doctrine as something that’s just for theologians. It’s just for intellectual gymnasts. But doctrine and theology, the study of God, really are intensely practical. How do they make a difference in a life?

Dr. Ware: Well, the first difference they make, Nancy, in my experience, is not first and foremost things that you do that are a direct result of what you know doctrinally. 

  • It’s shaping your own life.
  • What you love.
  • What you care about.
  • The values that you have.
  • The priorities you assign to things.

This is what gets shaped first and then out of that, as Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34, ESV).

So then the practical result in terms of how we live is a function of what we love. We live out what we love. So really what doctrine is—I mean that word, I suppose, sounds to many ears to be a sterile sort of a term, but actually all it means is teaching. That’s what the term refers to.

These are teachings about:

  • God’s character
  • His greatness
  • His glory
  • His grace and mercy
  • God’s providential ways
  • How He works with us as His creatures, as sinners
  • His goodness to us to come to us with saving grace
  • His warnings that He will punish those who walk in disobedience to Him
  • The end of life and all that we understand will happen at the point when Jesus comes again.

All these teachings of who God is and what He has planned for human life are the doctrines of the faith. Rightly understood they build into us a worldview, a value system of what really matters and what doesn’t that then affects so many decisions we make in our lives and activities that we’re involved in.

Nancy: Okay, let’s turn that around and I’d like just to dialogue with both of you about this for a moment. If you don’t have that kind of foundation in your life, whether as a child or as an adult, if you don’t know how to think rightly about God, if you don’t have those thoughts, that right understanding, how would that impact your life? What might be the evidences? How would it affect what you love, what you value, and what might that look like if you don’t have that foundation of right theology?

Dr. Ware: Well, I think one place I would start with, that is to say every person has a view of God.

Nancy: Right.

Dr. Ware: Everybody has a theology. The shame of the matter is that we instinctively will live out what we love most. So we make other things in life what we ought to make of God.

Nancy: For example?

Dr. Ware: This is idolatry. We make of material things. We make of entertainment. We make of our own image. I mean we live in an age where probably the number one idol of our age is self. Self-esteem has replaced God-esteem.

Nancy: Okay then, think of these moms with teenagers right now who are these teenage gals really grappling with body image issues and what teenager doesn’t? You have two daughters, Jodi, they’ve been through that and we’ve been through that as women. How does right thinking about God inform the way that we think about those very practical issues of: Am I ugly? Am I beautiful? Why am I made the way that I am? Why do I look this way? As you raised daughters, how was theology impacting the way they would think about themselves?

Jodi: I really endeavored for our daughters to think big thoughts about God and trusting His sovereign and meticulous control of everything, including how He made them. So it’s a matter of submitting to His will and accepting what He has given and what He has withheld and learning to be content with that.

So accepting yourself and then forgetting yourself and looking beyond that to loving the Lord and to serving other people. Our flesh encourages us to be self-absorbed, self-focused and being aware of those things and fighting against them.

Nancy: Our whole culture promotes the high view of self . . .

Jodi: Absolutely.

Nancy: . . . which really is counterproductive. That’s where we end up with the eating disorders, cutting and the self-loathing. So right theology is what will bring a healthy and happy and joyful ability to live as God’s women in this world.

Jodi: That’s so true. Another thing that we talked a lot about was fighting against comparison.

Nancy: Oh, that’s a big one.

Jodi: I think that women, perhaps in particular, struggle with comparison more than men do. If you think about it, if you’re comparing yourself to other people, you might think that you’re better than someone else and that lends itself to pride. Or you might think you’re worse than someone else and that lends to self-loathing or condemnation. All of those attitudes are sinful and deny the power of the Lord and His sovereign will in our lives.

So comparison is really deadly. I’ve heard it said that comparison is the death of gratitude. So engendering that mindset of being thankful to the Lord for what He has done and how He has made you to be. That’s been really important with our daughters.

Nancy: I think the tendency is then, if you have teenage girls or boys, is to deal with the fruit, the symptoms. But Bruce in writing this book, you’re really saying, let’s start at the beginning with the ABCs. And the ABCs are who is God?

Dr. Ware: Right. Right.

Nancy: What is right thinking about God? Walk us through kind of the outline of some of the topics that you address in this book that you think are important theological truths that parents need to instill into their children.

Dr. Ware: Well, it begins really with the fact that God has graciously made Himself known to us. The doctrine of revelation as it’s called. It’s a wonderful thing to just realize God could have remained silent. He didn’t have to make known who He is, but He has. And He’s given us these truths which really are for us as His creatures made in His image. Those truths that have the greatest potential of bringing to us fulfillment—true satisfaction in life.

I mean one of the most ironic results of the self-esteem cult that we live in today is that it will never bring fulfillment. One of the ironies of the Bible is when Jesus said, if you want to save your life, you need to lose it for My sake. Similar to that, you don’t find true self-fulfillment in self-actualization, self-esteem, self-accomplishment. Rather, you find it in God-esteem, God-accomplishment, God-ability.

I mean this is the heart of God in say Isaiah 40 where at the end of that chapter, you may remember, where He says, “Israel, why is it you don’t see that I am the great creator, the One who made all things. I never grow weary or tired” (see verses 27-28). Why does God want them to know that? So that when they are tired, they are weak, they are ignorant, they will go to the One who has everything they lack. So it’s not our greatness but God’s that founds our self-fulfillment—our fulfillment in being human beings.

So really starting with the revelation of God and who God is, is the foundation for the whole rest of the Christian faith. And then the rest of the book walks through various areas that we believe as Christian people, from the doctrine of Christ—His person and His work, the person of the Holy Spirit and His work. What it means to be a sinner. How we become saved as His people. What it means to belong to the community of faith at church. And then ultimately what will come in the end of time as God consummates His purposes for history.

So it walks us through the whole of the Christian faith from God’s revelation of Himself all the way to the end of history and does so bringing out teachings from Scripture that help form a way of thinking about the world we live in that is God’s perspective on these things.

Nancy: But it’s not just the church’s job. Talk about the importance of parents being actively, proactively, intentionally engaged with their children in this process.

Dr. Ware: Nancy, it is not just the church’s job, but it is the church’s job. So I want to affirm what you’re saying and the direction this is going. On the other hand, I want to say also churches need to take the responsibility that is theirs to provide teaching that they have not done well in many cases.

But nonetheless you’re right. I mean it is ultimately parents who will stand before God and give an account. More precisely even than that, Ephesians 6, you might remember, begins with “Children obey your parents . . . honor your father and mother” (verse 1). So here we have both together. But then deliberately Paul moves to, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but raise them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord” (verse 4).

There is a role that dad has in that home that is primary in terms of the responsibility of raising children to know the Lord. Now, I realize we may be speaking to some women out there, either who are single moms or who have husbands who are not interested in doing such things—maybe believers or maybe not. This becomes very difficult and it requires those single moms or those women who don’t have the support of their husbands to think of creative ways to bring assistance to them in training their children.

Nonetheless I don’t think that changes the norm. The norm is that dads in the homes are to be the ones who take up the mantle and field the responsibility and experience the joy of the privilege of raising your children in a way in which they know the Lord better over the years.

Nancy: I wonder if a lot of men don’t feel—men and women—inadequate, incompetent. Who can do this? I’m not a seminary professor. I’ve never been to seminary. This is stuff that—what if my kids ask questions I can’t answer?

Jodi: And they will.

Nancy: They will and yet God still holds parents responsible for the training of their children in the ways of God.

Jodi: Nancy, I think of the teaching in 1 Peter 3 about the influence that a woman who fears the Lord, a woman who has cultivated a gentle and quiet spirit, the influence that she can have upon her husband, perhaps even an unbelieving husband. I think we could infer that that influence could carry over to children as well (see verses 1-6).

As a woman trusts in the Lord, even if her husband is not on the same page with her, is not taking an active role in leadership, she can trust the Lord, look to Him for wisdom and for direction and form ways in which she can train her children without undermining the leadership role of her husband in the home.

Nancy: And where you have believing parents, which many of our listeners are in that situation, it becomes essential for the parents themselves to be studying the Word of God so that they know the theology themselves and are able to—you can’t pass on to your children something you don’t have yourself.

Dr. Ware: Right. Right. I will say this, Nancy. One of the thoughts I had in writing this book that primarily is for children is the thought though that probably a lot of parents who read this book will be introduced to some ways of thinking about God and His ways that the Scriptures speak of that they may not have yet learned in their own lives.

A lot of adults out there have not had the advantage of being in a good church where they’re taught well or having gone to a Bible school or someplace where they can learn some of these things. So I’m really hopeful that not only children, but also parents will be introduced to some of the great and glorious truths of the Christian faith, gain a vision of God themselves that perhaps they may not have had in the same way through the study of this book together.

Nancy: And that leads me to say that this is a book that would have value, not just for parents, but for anyone who wants to become more familiar with the great truths of God’s Word. When you think about it, how would you explain to somebody what the trinity means—God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, co-equal, co-eternal, three-in-one? What does all that mean? Not only can you explain it to a six-year-old, but can you explain it at all?

Some of these great truths of our salvation and Jesus being God and man and the incarnation. These are rich truths that are at the heart of our faith and that enable us to praise and to enjoy the Lord in the way we were created to do. So this is a book—short chapters. How many of them?

Dr. Ware: Sixty total. Six-Zero.

Nancy: And each one on a different aspect of theology. They’re in categories.

Dr. Ware: Yes.

Nancy: But this would be a great resource just for reading as an adult and brushing up maybe on some of the things. Maybe you heard this as a child but you haven’t been familiar with it recently.

Something that can be used in a home school curriculum. There are a lot of different ways this could be utilized and be a benefit to God’s people. If you’re using this book, Big Truths for Young Hearts, with your own children, perhaps in family devotions or as a part of your home schooling, or perhaps doing it with other children, it’s set up in a way that is really manageable.

As we said, the chapters are short. It won’t take an hour to go through this. And then at the end of each chapter, Bruce, you’ve given some helps that make it even more useable for families. Tell us about those.

Dr. Ware: Right. Well, at your suggestion, Nancy, and others who took a look at this at an earlier edition, I took your suggestion to add some questions at the end of the chapters, discussion questions, to prime the pump a bit. Now obviously these are not all the questions that could come out of these chapters, but they’re at least something to get the discussion going a bit.

My experience with our own children is that all you have to do is prime the pump and you find out there’s a lot more going on in their heads and sometimes in their hearts than you had any idea. So it just helps the discussion get going.

We also provide a key verse or verses that really encapsulate the richness of that particular doctrinal study for that chapter that children can memorize or parents can at least read through with them and talk about that one verse and see how rich it is in teaching about that particular theological truth.

Nancy: Well, the book is called Big Truths for Young Hearts, and I cannot stress how important it is that our generation be teaching the truths about God and His greatness and His great salvation to this next generation. We’ve got to be passing that on.

I don’t know that there would be any more effective way for Satan to hinder the advance of the kingdom of God and the church of Jesus Christ than for parents to fail at this task. So I want to encourage our listeners to get this book. Get it for your children. Get it for your grandchildren. Give it as a gift to moms who are just having babies and say I know it may be a little early to start on this, but you’ll have it when it’s time and the time will come sooner than most people realize to start planting these seeds of biblical thinking about God—theology—in young hearts.

As you plant those seeds, those acorns, by God’s grace they’ll take root. They will produce fruit and in time we will see oak trees—those solidly planted, mature, developed trees of righteousness. Young children growing up into adults who will be able to withstand the assaults and the storms, the temptations and the tests because their hearts have been firmly planted in the truth of God’s Word.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking with Dr. Bruce Ware about his book, Big Truths for Young Hearts. We also got a lot of insight from his wife Jodi. You just heard a lot of reasons to get a copy of this book. Your children will learn a lot from it. You’ll learn a lot. You’ll discover that theology isn’t just a topic of study, but something you need to live out day by day.

We’d like to send you the book, Big Truths for Young Hearts. It’s our gift when you donate any amount at ReviveOurHearts.com. Or you can call 1-800-569-5959.

Bruce Ware plans on joining our listener blog, giving you a unique opportunity to ask questions or share your observations. That’s at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Well, you’ve probably seen statistics about how many young people are abandoning the faith they’ve observed while growing up. Is there anything you can do about it? Nancy will address that with Bruce and Jodi Ware tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

Dr. Ware: One, two, three . . .

Children: I love theology!

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