Posts Tagged ‘Bible curriculum’

Book List: Bible and Theology

One goal for the summer is to get out a series of booklists with titles we have used over the years. I thought that I had at one point given a list of Bible and Theology books we have used but upon searching find that doesn’t appear to be true. For this topic, more than any other, I think it is important to know where I come from. My approach to education has been largely influenced by Charlotte Mason though I have my own philosophy of education. Most importantly, I am a Reformed Christian (aka Calvinist). If you come from a different theological perspective, this list may not fit your needs. I would recommend consulting your pastor or older (homeschooling) moms within your church for their suggestions.

Bible and Theology Resources

Bible

This may seem obvious but one of the best books you can use to study the Bible and theology is . . . (wait for it) . . . the Bible. I myself am pretty comfortable with just opening up the Bible and reading and discussing  [1], but I realize others may not be there yet.

The Beginner’s Bible — I am not a huge fan of children’s Bibles. In general, my advice would be to try to move tour kids to the full Word of God as soon as you can. But little kids are little kids and sometimes a children’s Bible can be helpful. My husband in particular read stories from this one to our kids. I am less comfortable than I used to be with the depictions of Jesus in the New Testament. This one is at a picture book or preschool level.

The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos —  Vos has another children’s Bible. This one is more at an elementary level. I tried to use Vos’ volume with my preschool Sunday school class thinking it would be easier and found that often the stories were actually longer because of the commentary interspersed in them. If you yourself are uncomfortable commenting on the text, then this might be a way to go as it provides some interpretation along with the text (though as it is written you might not know what is text and what is interpretation).

The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study by Starr Meade — This is a workbook-y series for children which guides you through reading the Bible itself. Again for my tastes it was too workbook-y but we did it aloud and I didn’t have my kids fill in all the blanks (or any of them for that matter). I do like that it divides up the Bible into manageable chunks.

The Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola — This is a thinner volume that guides you through reading the epistles as well as sections from the book of Acts. Viola has his own slant — he is very pro-house church — but it gives some good background to the epistles and their contexts. I would use this one with older children (middle school +).

What’s in the Bible by R.C. Sproul — This is more of a reference book. It could be good to use yourself to get some background on a biblical book you plan to read (part of that getting more comfortable with that text yourself) or to give to an older child to aid their reading. Another similar book is How to Read the Bible Book by Book by Fee and Stuart.

The Life of Jesus Christ for the Young by Richard Newton — I ran across this two-volume series after my kids were beyond the age for it. I actually stumbled across Newton’s work because Simply Charlotte Mason uses quotes from him frequently in their copywork series. I don’t know a lot about Newton’s theology. He seems to have been an Anglican minister (which doesn’t narrow it down much, but they say Spurgeon recommended him. I’d say these are elementary level. A similar set which Charlotte Mason used but which I would not recommend are J. Paterson Smythe’s guides for teachers. You can read about why I don’t recommend them for reformed people here.

Herein is Love series by Nancy Ganz — Though I have not used them, I am including Nancy Ganz’s series of commentaries on the Pentateuch. I have heard very good things about them and Ganz is a member of my denomination. Elementary level again.

General Theology

Bible Doctrine for Younger Children by James Beeke — Beeke goes through basic doctrines at a child’s level. His take on things is not identical to mine. He is King James only (I edited the verses he gives as I read them) and his denomination uses the three forms of Unity which mine does not. But the basics of the theology here pretty solid. Topics covered include sin, the covenant of grace, Christ as mediator, etc. It is a bit workbook-y for my (Charlotte Mason-y) tastes but again I edited a but as I went. We did it all aloud as a family. There are also older children versions of these volumes which seem to cover the same material just at a higher level.

What is a Christian Worldview? by Philip Ryken — This is a thin book, practically a pamphlet. The title is a bit misleading. Basically, this is an explanation of the five points of Calvinism. I gave it to my kids in middle school. It’s a great volume to give to friends interested in what Calvinism is as well.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis — A classic on why one should believe in God. I had my kids read this one mainly because it is a classic and I felt that they should be familiar with it. Of course, Lewis has a number of other volumes that could be good as well.

31 Surprising Reasons to Believe in God by Rick Stedman — This book is similar to Mere Christianity in some ways. It is fairly basic. I believe I had my children skip some chapters as it gets a bit repetitive. We used it in middle school.

Introducing Evangelical Theology by  Daniel Treier — I picked up this newer book recently and read through it. It is not designed to be read cover-to-cover, but I did so and decided I would have my two high schoolers read is, or selections from it, next school year. My plan is to have them read a couple of pages at a time and then to discuss it with them. This is an introductory book (as its title suggests) and does not go in-depth on any particular topic. Its strength is that it gives the lay of the land, outlining possible positions, on a number of issues. I will post our reading schedule when I have it typed up (likely in the fall). You can also see my review here.

Calvin’s Institutes — At some point we should all read the quintessential Calvin. I found it much more accessible than I had anticipated (for me) but it is not an easy book. This one is definitely high school level and probably upper high school (though if you have a range of kids as I do some may be getting it earlier than others). I read it aloud to my kids in short chunks over a three year period. I would read a day ahead of time. We skipped some sections and some whole chapters. Calvin often argues against the other opinions popular in his day and/or gives a number of biblical verses as evidence so I did find that there were bits we could skip.  Once you get the hang of how he constructs his arguments, it makes more sense. Don’t feel you need to read the whole thing in order. The last chapter on the Christian life is one of the most accessible and wouldn’t be a bad place to start. One project I have in mind is to arrange the Institutes much as Plutarch is laid out on Ambleside Online in short readings with some notes and questions so if that is something you would use please let me know.

Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof — Of course there are a lot of systematic theologies out there. I happen to own Berkhof’s and to find its concise style fairly accessible as a reference work when I want more information on a given topic. I wouldn’t read this one from cover to cover but it is nice to have such a resource on hand when questions arise.

Personally, I listen to a lot of podcasts and sometimes this can work better for children too. I had one high schooler do a series on theology/apologetics by listening to podcasts, the primary one being the Reformed Brotherhood. You can find the schedule for that here.

Christian Living and Encouragement

A Handful of Stars and other books by Frank Boreham — Boreham is one of my favorite authors. He was a pastor in the early 1900s (I believe) in Australia and New Zealand. His books are collections of short essays. He was not reformed but I still love a lot of what he wrote. He is more pastoral than theological, For kids, I’d recommend the volumes that give brief biographies and talk about the passages that influenced particular people’s lives. Many are available free or very cheap on Kindle.

A Little Book on the Christian Life and Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life by John Calvin — Though he is known for his in-depth theology, Calvin has a few volumes which are brief, pastoral, and very encouraging.

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken — The story of a man’s spiritual journey after the loss of his wife. A tear-jerker.

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss — Another tear-jerker. This one is the spiritual journey of a young woman into adulthood and motherhood. Probably not for boys (not inappropriate, just girly). You (moms) should read it yourself if you haven’t.

Dangerous Duty of Delight by John Piper — This book is essentially an abridged version of Piper’s Desiring God. I have a few reservations about Piper’s view, called Christian hedonism, but I also like the encouragement this little volume gives to delight in God.

Specific Topics

The Hand of God and Satan Cast Out by Frederick Leahy — I believe Leahy was an Irish pastor. His work is solid and fairly accessible for middle school and up. The Hand of God is about God’s sovereignty and Satan Cast Out  is about, you guessed it, Satan. My kids really liked reading about Satan. I think it’s one of those subjects they have a natural curiosity about but aren’t likely to get a lot of preaching on.

Discovering God’s Will by Sinclair Ferguson — It’s been years since I read this book but Ferguson is a solid author and the topic is a very timely one for teenagers.

A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature by Benjamin Wiker — Wiker is Catholic but he is one of my favorite authors (you will see him a few times on this list). This volume is about how things from physics and chemistry to Shakespeare show the Creator.  High school level and up.

Worldview and Philosophy

God-Breathed by Rut Etheridge — This volume is written to teens and young adults who were raised in Christian homes but have become disillusioned or never really gotten what true Christian faith is. I was not crazy about this book but there are some good bits, particularly those in which Etheridge discusses philosophy. My full review is here.

The Deadliest Monster by J.F. Baldwin — I am not crazy about this book but there are some good parts. I appreciated his comparison of Frankenstein and Dracula and, if I am remembering the right book, the French and American revolutions.

How Should We Then Live by Francis Schaeffer — This is the don’t-miss book for this section. We do both the book and video for this book to make sure my kids get it. Schaeffer traces western thought from Roman times to 1980 or so (when he lived) and shows how it played out in the arts as well.

Meaning at the Movies by Grant Horner — I am not a huge fan of  the term “worldview” and how it is used in Christian circles. Even less so of “worldview education.” Yet if that is a thing, it should mean not just learning the “right” worldview but learning how to discern the worldview of others on their writing and art. Horner’s Meaning at the Movies is a good, short book for helping one learn how to discern the view behind a work of art. Movies are short, quick glimpses into another’s mind and kids like watching them. I have my high schoolers do one year of “movies as literature” using this book (see this post for some specifics).

On that note I also used Deconstructing Penguins by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone in middle school. The book is the story of their book club for kids. You could have high schoolers read it but it is better to read it yourself and then read the books they sued and discuss them. Along the way you will both hopefully learn something about delving into the ideas behind a book. I like that the Goldstone’s use fairly simple books. My opinion is that it is easier to start with books that are too easy for your kids. I have a number of posts that narrate out book studies based on Deconstructing. The first one is here.

My oldest son also did a year on political philosophy. You can find the full booklist for that here. A couple I would highlight that you might want to use and which come from a Christian perspective are Benjamin Wiker’s 10 Books that Screwed up the World and 10 Books Every Conservative Must Read and The Consequences of Ideas by R.C. Sproul.

Politics

Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became Our State Religion by Benjamin Wiker — Another Wiker book. Very well done. High school level plus.

Founding Sins by Joseph S. Moore — This is a wonderful book. Again, one everyone should read. If you think the US was founded as a Christian nation, you need to read this book.

Messiah the Prince by William Symington — This is the classic Reformed Presbyterian work on Christ’s Messianic Kingship. I usually have my kids skip some chpaters as they don’t really need to read about Christ’s rule over the church. There is a simplified and updated version called Messiah the Prince Revisited but I think it loses something.

Creation and Evolution

The Darwin Myth by Benjamin Wiker — Wiker does a great job of showing how Darwin’s personality and beliefs affected his famous theory.

We usually cover this topic as part of high school biology. I have my kids read books on a couple of sides of the issue and then for their exam for the term write what the various views are and what they find most convincing. I also have a post on dinosaurs in the Bible here. 

Gender Related Issues

It is hard to avoid these subjects today and your kids will encounter them (of they haven’t already) when they go to college. My gender and marriage booklist is here. I have my teens read Rosaria Butterfield’s conversion story in her Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and the position papers of the RPCNA, The Gospel & Sexual Orientation and Gender as Calling: the Gospel and Gender Identity (published by Crown and Covenant).

Art

I have one child who is particularly interested in art and it is one of those subjects in which one needs to think a bit about how to do it Christianly. Two books I would recommend for that are:

Liberated Imagination by Leland Ryken (my review here)

The Christian, the Arts and Truth by Frank Gaebelein (my review here)

Church History

History Lives series by Mindy Withrow — A four volume set with manageable chunks on church history from the earlier times on. I did find it a little bit undiscriminating in who it calls a hero of the faith but overall it is very good. Begin reading it aloud in the elementary years.

Sketches from Church History by Houghton — There is also a student workbook which I would skip but the book itself is not badly written. Middle school level I believe.

Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken — A wonderful, fair book on Purtian life and belief. We included it in history but it could also be read with theology or church history.

Here I Stand by Roland Bainton — Classic life of Martin Luther.

The Reformation 500 Years Later by Benjamin Wiker — A Catholic writing on the Reformation = I don’t agree with everything here but it is a well-wrtten, easy to read book and may make you think. It does a good job of showing all the threads that played into the Reformation. I gave my kids specific questions to answer in place of straight narrations. You can find those here. My review is here.

Nebby

[1] My degrees are in biblical Hebrew though I think that ultimately every Christian should be or get comfortable with their Bible, while acknowledging that we do not read it apart from our interpretive traditions.

Psalm Study: Psalm 12

Dear Reader,

This is the latest in my chronicle of our psalm studies. For an introduction of sorts see this post on Psalm 8.

Click here (opens a Google doc) for my translation and arrangement of Psalm 12.  I have given some questions on the second page but these are mainly for you to use in directly your conversation after you have all had a chance to analyze the psalm on your own.

The first step, as always, is to sit down with your colored pencils and mark up the psalm. Look for repeated words and ideas. Look for contrasts. Look for parallel lines. Really, whatever you notice is fine. This is a “no wrong answers” sort of exercise.

After about 10 minutes, call your kids back together and ask them what they have noticed. My well-practiced kids started with which lines they thought were parallel. We agreed that this psalm has lots of pairs of parallel lines — 3&4, 5&6, etc. There was some dispute about what to do with lines 9 through 11. Notice that there are an odd number of lines here as I have divided up the psalm. We agreed that this is unsettling in an otherwise so orderly psalm. But remember that these line divisions are arbitrary (as are the ones in your Bible). If I had divided line 9 into two parts: “From the plunder of the poor” and “from the cry of the needy” the parallelism would have worked out much better. Lesson 1: don’t be afraid to disagree with how things are laid out. Verse divisions were added later and even then they do not always correspond to where a sentence or thought should end. Feel free to play around with them.

We did have one contrary opinion. My oldest thought that lines 2 and 17 were really parallel to each other. Note that they both end with “sons of men.” They also express similar ideas. I introduced the term “bracketing” to describe what is going on here. Often a psalm will have similar ideas, perhaps even exact repetition near the beginning and end. These verses function as bookends to the psalm. Note that understanding these lines this way need not be in contradiction to the parallelism we saw. Both things can be true.

My younger son noted that there is a lot in this psalm about people saying things and the mouth area. He couldn’t say anything at that time about why he thought that was so but I said we’d get back to it in a bit.

We then proceeded with the questions on page 2. We’d already covered “what did you notice?” so we went on to question #2: “What kind of Psalm is this?” One child said “praise” but her answer was rejected in favor of “a cry for help.” I told them this is usually termed a “psalm of lament” (they really should have known that word though, pros that they are). We noted that the psalm ends with the wicked and that there are “ongoing troubles” (younger son’s words). The tone, they said, is  one of sorrow or lament (now they know the word).

Question 3 asks what the wicked do in this psalm and how they are described. Our answers: worthless, “sons of men.” My oldest supplied the answer his brother couldn’t earlier: “sons of men” shows their connection with Adam (see the footnote; the word is the same: adam). As Adam sinned so they follow in his footsteps. Of course this phrase can be used various ways in the Bible but I think the connection to Adam and his sin is intentional here (see question 7). When asked what specifically the wicked do, what their sons are, they said talking too much, flattering, being vain. We discussed the “walking about” in line 16. Though it sounds Australian a good translation in English might be “prowling.”

What does the Lord do? He speaks, will save and guard the poor and needy, and cuts off lips (they liked the gore this implies though I don’t think it’s literal). We noted again that what the Lord does is in the future — He will save and guard. Salvation has not come yet in this psalm. We also compared the Lord’s speaking and that of the wicked (see question 6). The Lord’s words are pure and firm. God created through speech. The wicked’s words are smooth and deceitful.

Question 5 gets at two Hebrew idioms. It took them a minute to get it but to speak “great things” is to boast, i.e. they speak great thimgs of themselves. Smooth speech is flattering (we have to define that for my youngest). It is smooth because it says what people want to hear.

Now it’s your turn — what do you see in Psalm 12?

Nebby

 

Discipling Children (part 3)

Dear Reader,

So in part 1 I outlined the problem as I see it. In part 2  I talked about my view of children as members  of God’s covenant community (i.e. the church). So this is part 3, and we get to practical applications.

If children of believers are to be considered as part of God’s people, how should be treat them? Well, I would argue that we should treat them like any new believer. Obviously they start out with very little concrete knowledge of their Creator. So we should cover the basics. We would do this with any new believers, make sure they have their basic theology right. In some ways, kids may have more to learn because they start from zero. On the other hand, many adults have learned things wrong and to they really start from negative numbers.

If we are treating children as believers, then we do not need to be giving them constant altar-calls. They may not have a point of decision in their lives that they can point to as the moment they were saved, but neither do many adults. A point of decision isn’t  necessary. Sometimes I think we grown-ups keep pushing for this because we want assurance that our kids are safe eternally. We want  a dramatic change for them. But dramatic changes are no assurance for anybody. Drama often means emotion and not substance anyway. A long, boring life lived in faith is better than one teary moment if it is not built upon.

What we do need to do for our children, as for any new or younger believer, if to disciple them. To teach them more and more of their Savior, His Word, and our own position before Him. I am big on teaching theology to kids. I think they can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. The only good theology curriculum for kids I have found is James Beeke’s series. I wish there were more out there. But there is also just the Bible. Nothing can be more edifying than studying God’s Word directly. And delve into it. Go beyond Genesis. So often it seems like my kids hear the same stories again and again in any Christian Sunday school or group they go to. Let’s give them more meat! Romans for all!!

Sorry  . . . where was I?

Oh, yes, then comes all the virtue stuff. Curricula for kids seems to be just full of instructions on how to behave. It makes one think that what we really want is well-behaved kids who won’t embarrass us in public rather than saved kids. Now obviously there two categories shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. In fact, my whole point is that they are not. Want good kids? Teach them theology.

I am indebted to the Common Room for pointing me to this quote from Charlotte Mason:

“Character is not the outcome of a formative educational process; but inherent tendencies are played upon, more or less incidentally, and the outcome is character.

I should like to urge that this incidental play of education and circumstances upon personality is our only legitimate course. We may not make character our conscious objective. Provide a child with what he needs in the way of instruction, opportunity, and wholesome occupation, and his character will take care of itself.”

We spend so much time and energy urging good values upon our children. But we  cannot change another’s heart. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. All we can do is lay before them the Word of God and pray they He will apply it to their hearts. Good behavior will hopefully follow, but it should not be our primary target.

I am not saying that we should ignore glaring problems if they are present. We would do this with an adult we were discipling. If anything we have responsibility to do it for our children.  But if no glaring problems are present, I would just continue to study God’s Word. And along the way behavior related topics would come up, but I can’t see making them my focus. Why do we try and behave well anyway? It is not to earn our salvation. That is impossible. It is not to satisfy some legal standard even after we are saved. We “behave well” (or at least we should) out of thankfulness to the one who has saved us. So if we want our kids to behave (meaning obey God first and only us their parents secondarily), then I think we need to teach them thankfulness to God. What will produce thankfulness? How about learning more about what God has done for them? More of His character. More of our own fallen state even. More THEOLOGY!

So what do you think? Have I made my case? The argument I can come up for to counter my argument (that’s a mouthful) is that the parent-child relationship is not identical to any other. Parents are called to guide and shape their children in a way that no other relationship duplicates. So perhaps we are justified in being more concerned with our child’s behavior than that of any new believer who comes to us for discipling. To which I would respond that that is true, but I still think the best way to guide and shape our children’s behavior is by pointing them to their Creator. If we don’t understand the reasons why we obey God (thankfulness, not to make mom or dad look good or to earn our salvation), then the lessons are not likely to adhere long-term.

Nebby

God’s Law (and more on Bible curricula)

Dear Reader,

I think we tend toward error when we begin to think of God’s law as a list of do’s and don’ts. There are do’s and don’ts of course. It is hard to avoid that. But God’s law seems to be more of a complete whole. I view it as a big sheet of glass or a mirror. If you break off one corner, you say the whole thing is broken. You can’t break one part over here and claim that the rest of it is okay. We see this in James 2:10: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” God gives us lists of things to do and not do because our minds need this. We need to be able to break things down and make them practical. “Love my neighbor”? What does that mean? Well, it means don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t covet, and so on. “Love the Lord” means don’t worship idols, don’t take His name in vain, and on and on. But if we focus too much on these specific commands, we forget that they are meant to flesh out the whole of the law not to completely sum it up. It is much easier to have a finite check list. But the check list is a aid; it is not the whole law. God’s law is a standard. A standard of perfect holiness. Of course we are unable to keep it. It is our goal. When Jesus talked about the commandments in Matthew 5, He showed that the spirit behind them is much more than the simple meaning of the words. For example, “do not murder” also includes within in “do not hate” and “do not call names.” The best summary of the law is what we find in Deuteronomy 6:5 (and again in the New Testament): “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Even the second commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, flows out of this first one. The law of God is at once simple–the whole may be best stated in but a few words– and incredibly complex. One could go on and on about what it means to “love God” and not cover all the bases. That is why God must write His law on our hearts.

All of this is why I find myself so dissatisfied with most kids’ Bible curricula. They seem to be focused a lot on individual commandments. There is a lot of morality in them. Now, morality is not something I am against, but it seems like we come at our kids a lot with rules that they need to obey and we rarely get to the heart of the matter. Obedient children are great. I love obedient children. But obedience to a set of rules is not our goal. Holiness is. Holiness though is hard to teach. So we boil it down into easier to chew bites. What I really want for my kids is for them to know God. So I would rather they learn about Him, and about their own need for Him. And hopefully as their faith grows, so will their obedience (to God, not me; well, secondarily to me and my husband). This is how it is for all of us–faith proceeds works. First we believe (by grace) and then we are able to follow (also by grace). It is no different for children than for adults. When we disciple adults who are new believers, we may address specific sin issues in their lives which loom large. But we don’t say “great, now you are saved, here is a long list of rules. Let’s study them in depth.” Neither should we do this with children. I guess what I see is just a very ineven balance between teaching kids who God is and what He requires of us. With children we tend to focus on the latter. My argument is that while we should know both, if we are going to err on one side or the other, it is better to focus too much on who God is. What he requires should come out of that anyway.

Nebby