Systematic theology can conjure up images of big, dusty books. Can it be engaging for kids? If you say no, a new book by author and pastor Marty Machowski will surprise you.
Discover what election has to do with earthworm chunk ice cream… or eschatology with an ant flying a car. Marty is a faithful pastor, an artful storyteller, and a friend. His new book The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New releases this October, but you can pre-order it now from Amazon or sign up to receive an e-mail from WTS books when it is released. I recently had the opportunity to preview the book and correspond with Marty. Here are his answers to my questions.
Jared: What led you to write a systematic theology book for children?
Marty: As a dad, I’m always looking for good resources for my children. I used Wayne Grudem’s Bible Doctrine with my high school children, but when I went looking for a systematic theology to use with my younger grade school children, I couldn’t find a single one. That was when I decided to write The Ology.
Jared: What are the advantages of teaching kids to think systematically about theology rather than just teaching theology by teaching them Bible stories?
Marty: I started out thinking more about biblical theology than systematics for children. Biblical theology helps connect the individual stories of the Bible to the larger story of God’s redemption. But biblical theology doesn’t answer our kid’s questions like, “What is sin?” “Where is heaven?” “Does everyone get adopted into God’s family?” To answer those questions comprehensively you need to pool together what the Bible says in various places about those topics. I think biblical theology comes first, which is why I wrote the Gospel Story Bible before The Ology. But once you have a basic understanding of the larger story of God’s plan of salvation, it is time to move on to study theology more systematically.
Jared: What misconceptions do parents have about teaching their children theology, and how do you address them with The Ology?
Marty: Say the word theology and most people think, hard to understand and boring. But basic theology is not so hard to understand if you break it down into bite sized chunks and there is nothing boring about it. Now if you try to use Berkhof’s 700 page plus classic systematic theology to teach your children, you are in for a serious up-hill climb. As wonderful a book as it is, he is writing for scholars, not school kids. But with a book like The Ology, anyone can learn the basic concepts of theology.
Jared: What tips do you have for teachers who don't want to over-simplify theological concepts but present them in such a way that kids can understand them? You do this so well. What should we keep in mind to help us do the same?
Marty: Children love word pictures and stories. By taking the complex theological concepts and turning them into pictures, anyone can understand them. Take for example the idea that if you break one law, you break the whole law. To illustrate this concept I compared the law to china plates. The Ten Commandments are not like a set of ten china dishes, where if you chip or break one, you still have nine perfect plates left. They are like one flawless plate, which has a border decorated with ten beautiful designs. Each design represents one of the commandments. If you crack the plate through any one of those designs, the whole plate is ruined. Coming up with creative analogies and object lessons can help children think more concretely about abstract ideas.
Jared: You take on really difficult doctrines like election and hell. What would you say to a parent who thinks the harder doctrines should wait until a child is a little older?
Marty: My wife and I never shied away from the bad news of sin and eternal punishment of hell. We believe it is in understanding the bad news that the good news makes sense. The problem with the current generation of children is that they all grow up hearing things like, “You are such a good little boy or girl.” After hearing that a hundred times, they start to believe it. Ask the average adult on the street if they think they are going to heaven and they will tell you “yes.” Ask them why they believe that and they are likely to answer, “I’ve been pretty good all my life.”
As for some of the harder doctrines like election, calling, sanctification, and others, I am only looking to introduce these concepts in the most basic way. Remember, we are all teaching our children theology everyday. The real question is what theology are we teaching them? Too many parents are unwittingly leaving their children with the idea that they have to work their way to heaven, or that it is automatic and everyone goes there. Introducing our children to the more difficult doctrines helps ensure their theology is sound.
Jared: For the most part, you follow the traditional order for teaching systematic theology, but you put the doctrine of God's Word last. What led to that decision? Can you tell me a little about what led to your overall method and outline?
Marty: I wanted to use the story line of scripture as the foundation for my Systematic Theological outline. Of course that story begins with creation, which is the perfect part of the story to introduce who God is. After all he created the earth out of nothing! How is that for a demonstration of his omnipotence! From there, the rest of the topics follow the redemptive story line of scripture. God creates man, man sins, God promises to save, and from there we are introduced to Jesus, the Spirit, the church and so forth.
I saved God’s Word for last because I wanted to encourage further study in God’s Word. I am hoping to use The Ology to create a hunger in children to study God’s Word for themselves. That is why I included a Bible Study program at the end of the book. By ending with the doctrine of Scripture, it leads nicely into the Bible Study at the end of the book.
Marty's new children’s theology is both surprisingly winsome and biblically faithful. I'm thankful for Marty's time answering my questions, and I'm looking forward to the release of The Ology. Check out this preview sample of the book and pre-order a copy today.