A recent article is entitled Evangelize Don’t Indoctrinate. In it, the author helpfully distinguishes between the need to preach for conversion of the soul and mere indoctrination. However, I think the post goes a little too far on some areas. I believe the author creates a false dichotomy. My response is an excerpt of my booklet, The Power of the Word.
The Right Goal – Wise Unto Salvation
But exactly why are we to teach our children the Scriptures? Many children have grown up in a graceless home, knowing the Scriptures and chafing under the way their pastors and parents handled them. Lois and Eunice, on the other hand, had taught Timothy their Scriptures, our Old Testament, so well that when presented with the claims of Jesus of Nazareth, Timothy trusted Christ as Savior. Amazingly, the Pharisees, had looked at those same Old Testament Scriptures and felt justified in putting Jesus to death.
Let this be a warning to us. It is not just knowledge of the Scriptures. But it is knowledge with a goal, to know Jesus Christ. Let’s spell out some of these goals more specifically.
1. To Know the Scriptures so as to Know Jesus Christ. Jesus said the Scriptures were about him (Luke 24:44, John 5:46). As we study the Scriptures ourselves and as we teach them to our children, our goal is not just more knowledge. Our goal is to proclaim Christ, teaching and admonishing so that we can present our children to him (Colossians 1:29). As we are learning the Scriptures, we want our children to know, love, and obey Jesus Christ and his gospel even better. That means that we know and can clearly articulate the gospel and grace-filled, gospel living.
2. Filling a Bucket: A Body of Material. William Yeats is famously quoted as saying, “Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire.” But Yeats creates a false dichotomy. True biblical instruction is both filling a bucket and lighting that bucket on fire.
The Scriptures refer to the material Timothy has been taught as a deposit (1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 1:14). Jesus rebuked the Sadducees for their ignorance (Matthew 22:29). To know the God of the Bible is to know certain truths about him that he himself has revealed. Children do not know these truths about God. They must be taught them. In the Scriptures, children are held up as positive models of trust and negative models of ignorance (1 Corinthians 14:20). J.C. Ryle is helpful here.
You cannot make your children love the Bible, I allow. None but the Holy Ghost can give us a heart to delight in the Word. But you can make your children acquainted with the Bible; and be sure they cannot be acquainted with that blessed book too soon, or too well.
A thorough knowledge of the Bible is the foundation of all clear views of religion. He that his well-grounded in it will not generally be found a waverer, and carried about by every wind of new doctrine.[i]
3. Lighting a Fire: A Love for the Word. Just as important as putting knowledge in the bucket is lighting it on fire. Let us fill the bucket with gasoline and light it on fire. As a pastor, I have seen too many adults who have grown up in Christian homes who have no real hunger for the word. Why should they have a hunger for it? They “know” it already.
Instead, I want to pass on to my children an example of a continual hunger for the word. I want them to see in me and to develop in themselves a learning posture that searches the Scriptures to know Jesus Christ better.
4. A Sense of Listening to a Speaking God. Too many young people grow up without a sense of God speaking to them. Yet the reason we go to Scriptures is so that God will reveal himself to us. Like Samuel of old, God reveals himself to us through his Word (1 Samuel 3:21).
Too many Christian young people are bored with the Bible. They know (or think they know) all the Bible stories. But what they don’t know is how to hear God. They don’t know how to come to the Scriptures with a problem or with a hint at what God wants to say to them and then to start digging. They don’t know how to take every thought they encounter captive to the word of God. They don’t know how to study a topical subject in the Bible that the Holy Spirit is teaching them. Could this be why Bible reading seems so flat? Could it be because we start with, “You should read your Bible.” rather than, “What do you think God’s Spirit wants to teach you?” As George Mueller has said, “I seek the will of the Spirit of God through, or in connection with, the Word of God.”
In short, we always want to evangelize and teach to obey (Matt 28:19-20). That teaching is aimed primarily at the heart. Head knowledge is vital. But without heart knowledge is damnable.
[i] Ryle, The Duties of Parents,