Can 3-year-olds understand big theological ideas like justification or the holiness of God?
Maybe not the big words. But R.C. Sproul and Sinclair Ferguson are writing some well-illustrated stories to help preschoolers start early on theology.
Already a big league teacher of theology and philosophy, Sproul aims his Ligonier Ministries at an adult lay audience and has taught many seminary classes. But he didn't want his grandchildren to wait to become adults to learn theology.
He authored The King Without a Shadow (1996) to explain holiness. He wrote The Priest With Dirty Clothes (1997) to illustrate the imputation of Christ's righteousness, as in Romans 5:19. Then in The Prince's Poison Cup (2008) he explains Christ's suffering for us. He ventured into biography, telling the story of Martin Luther through the eyes of children in The Barber Who Wanted to Pray (2011). His latest book, The Donkey Who Carried a King (2012), gives the gospel through the donkey's perspective, learning humility from carrying Christ into Jerusalem.
Sproul's fellow teacher at popular Reformed conferences is Scottish theologian Sinclair Ferguson, currently a pastor in South Carolina and faculty member at Westminster Theological Seminary. He recently joined Sproul in this preschool children's book crusade. Ferguson's Heroes of the Faith series started with early church figures such as Ignatius and Polycarp. Ferguson tells their stories in simple format, with a picture on every page. His projected time line for 28 stories will end with the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the London preacher and Bible commentator.
Sproul and Ferguson have taught systematic theology classes, preached many sermons, and offered Reformation doctrines to thousands. But books read aloud for 1- to 6-year-olds can make even more enduring impressions on young minds. In that sense, Sproul and Ferguson may have their most lasting influence on a very young audience living through most of the 21st century.
With similar aims, California author Simonetta Carr has launched a children's biography series designed for reading aloud to preschoolers. With a picture on every page, she covers big names in church history-John Calvin, Augustine, and the Puritan John Owen. She also includes Athanasius, who defended the orthodox view of Christ in the early church when it meant fleeing into the desert from his persecutors.
Carr thought children should understand the history behind the Nicene Creed, through the life of Athanasius. A homeschooling mother of eight, she lamented the shortage of biographies for the very young. She outlined her idea for the series and tried to get a seminary student to take up the task. He didn't catch the vision, so she used her children as her focus group to launch her series.
Over in Scotland the mother-daughter team of Carine and Catherine Mackenzie has offered a range of preschool biography and doctrine for several years. Carine's series, "Learn About God," has colorful illustrations on every page, with just a few words to explain the attributes of God. ("God Is Kind," "God Has Power," "God Never Changes.") Catherine's biographical series includes Calvin and Luther, as well as missionaries such as David Livingstone and Hudson Taylor.
Reading aloud to preschoolers is a big challenge for most adults. The little ones squirm and wiggle and often don't seem to pay much attention to the text. Keep their hands occupied. Give them the keys in your pocket or your cell phone. Disable the emergency call button. They do listen and will catch the excitement and enthusiasm of the reader.
Since a big chunk of our learning comes in the first four to five years of life, Sproul, Ferguson and others are on the right track in bringing big Bible truths to very young minds.