As the father of a 15 month old, I’m quickly coming to realize that being a parent works your theological muscles! There is so much about parenting that requires theological reflection and practice. Everything from education and schooling to bibles made for children.
One idea that I’ve been thinking about lately is how to pass on the faith to your children. When St. Paul talks about “passing on” or “handing over” the faith he’s literally talking about a traditioning. The Christian faith is not something we invent, nor is it something that simply falls out of the sky into our laps. You don’t get to make the Christian faith up, unfortunately. The life of faith has built into it a traditioning, a “handing over”.
Interestingly, the Christian faith is not dependent on having children. The survival of the people of God is not premised upon “being fruitful and multiplying”. Rather, the Christian faith is premised upon baptism. New folks, responding to the gospel and being baptized into the life of the church.
But what does this mean for children, once they are baptized? What does it look like for parents to “tradition” the faith to their children?
It seems to me that we generally understand this to be the job of the parents. But is this necessarily so? When a child is baptized they too are taken up into the life of the church and made a member of Christ’s body. Thus, the faith of the child is dependent, not upon the parents didactic teaching of the faith, but on the passing on of the faith to the child from the whole church. In worship the child learns the rhythms of a life in the hands of God. In the liturgical year the child learns that time itself is God’s very own creation and it’s fullness is found in the life of Christ.
Of course, this isn’t to say that parents don’t play a roll in all of this. Certainly they do. It’s just to say that the parents roll needs to be understood in light of the life of Christ as present in the church.
Yet, this is precisely the opposite message you most often hear (at least in Protestant churches as I am most familiar with). Within the wacky world of Western Evangelicalism you have all sorts of products geared towards children, products meant to teach them the faith. Take my latest annoyance, the children’s bible. This has been a sort of theological conundrum for me recently. What the hell am I to do with this thing? “Little Girls Bible Storybook”? Lord, come quickly! There’s all sorts of problems I see with this stuff. There’s the obvious selection of particular stories, the kind that look and feel good in a storybook. With selection, of course, comes neglect. There’s the sentimentalizing of the Bible: “Aww, look at Noah with his big boat and all those cute fuzzy animals!” There’s the glaring consumerism: Bible’s made and marketed to a particular demographic (i.e. little girls and their mothers) because there is money to be made, obviously. And of course, this all presupposes that the parents will sit down and read these shitty sentimental stories to their children. One-on-one, parent to child discipleship of sorts.
Let’s be clear, though, can we? This hurts our children more than it helps, I think. Children will not be formed in the faith via sentimental and consumerist products. Well, to be sure, they’ll be formed in a particular faith, but it’s debatable how closely this resembles the Christian faith. I’d like to see us recapture the life of the church here. This is where children are formed, this is where the faith is traditioned to children – not the faith of the parents, but the faith of the church.
What do you think? Am I being too harsh here? Unrealistic? Naive? I’m a first time parent, so I’d love to hear your thoughts!