Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, “What does the whole Bible teach us today?” about any given topic.
Dr. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine
I know what you are thinking, “Isn’t that a bit much for kids?” Fifty years ago I would have agreed with you, maybe even 20 years ago. Today is a different day. There are many reasons for this, but I think D.A. Carson’s analysis is most concise in this matter. He says, “One generation knows the gospel, the next assumes the gospel, the third generation denies the gospel.”
When I was growing up as a kid, and I believe even my first few years as a children’s pastor, we lived in a season where the gospel was assumed. As a kid, there were no sports or school activities on Wednesday night so kids could go to youth group. Stores were closed on Sunday so people could spend time with family and observe the Sabbath. We lived in a culture that Christian ideas, thoughts, and standards pervaded our country, for better or worse. This is still true In the south to some extent. I think the feeling when I was growing up was that you didn’t need to give kids as deep of a grounding in doctrine and truth because it was everywhere. There was stuff you learned for sure, but I think many things were assumed. As parents and as pastors we can no longer assume anything. We live in arguably the most secular age our country has ever seen. We must proactively teach our kids the stories of the Bible, the truth underneath the stories, and most importantly the Person to whom those truths and stories point.
That is the context for why we need to teach our kids systematically. Here are a few reasons why it matters.
1. Feelings matter but they most often lie to us. If our kids are not grounded in truth, their feelings will move them to love Jesus until they no longer feel like loving Jesus. We all need to know God and experience God. Knowing what is true places an anchor in our soul that though storms may rage we will be moved, but never drift. Truth anchors us in hope: the Rock of Ages.
2. Systems create categories that allow for understanding to take root. Randomly teaching kids Bible stories has some value, but systems allow us to teach the whole counsel of God to our kids. Our kids need to hear the stories of Daniel and David but they need to know the God of Daniel and David. I believe that happens through systematic teaching of doctrine in a relational environment. By reading my kids systematic theology, they have been asking questions about God they have never asked because it is creating categories about who God is that never existed in their minds before.
3. Kids need truth that is over their heads. I know, I know… hold off the dogs. Hear me out. I am a firm believer that we need to teach not just stories of animals and adventure to our kids. We must teach our kids all of who God is before they fully understand. I appreciate all the brilliant people who tell us how kids learn. We should listen to them but not be discipled by them. What I mean is we must teach kids a faith they can grasp today, but we must also prepare them for the faith they are going to need tomorrow. To prepare kids for future faith, we must give them deep truths that will provide grounding in the face of storms that challenge their faith. As parents and pastors, we must give kids a faith that is big enough that they can grow into it rather than a faith that is so simple they will outgrow.