By Susan R. Garrett
Train Up a Child
Why did a New Testament scholar and a systematic theologian decide to write a devotional book for children? Susan Garrett teamed with Amy Plantinga Pauw on Making Time for God: Daily Devotions for Children and Families to Share, published this month by Baker. Here, Garrett explains how the book came to be written.
"Recite them to your children," Moses tells the people of Israel after he speaks the Ten Commandments. "Talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise" (Deut. 6:7 NRSV).
Like many others who care for growing children, my colleague Amy Plantinga Pauw and I have earnestly desired to do what Moses instructed. Each of us wants to give our children more than physical nurture—more, even, than love and security. We want to give them confident assurance that the Creator of the Universe knows them by name, loves them, and desires their love in return. We want to give them knowledge of the Bible, and to instill in them a lifelong hunger to know both the questions it raises and the answers it provides. We want to encourage them to follow Jesus as his disciples. We want to teach them to pray.
The inspiration for Making Time for God—the children's devotional book that Amy and I have coauthored—was born of these desires. About three years ago I set about to find a devotional guide to use with my seven-year-old daughter. We tried a guide for Christian adults, but her eyes quickly glazed over—too difficult. Then we tried several books designed to inspire and instruct children. But these were unappealing for various reasons. A few were not distinctively Christian. The Christian books treated a limited range of Scripture and topics. Some used all biblical texts as the springboard for tiresome moralizing ("Obey your parents," "Witness to your non-Christian friends," "Be nice to the lonely child," etc.). Some were demeaning to women and girls. False-sounding "morality tales" were the rule. A few weeks of sampling these books each night left my daughter and me feeling unsatisfied.
Then it occurred to me that I should write such a book myself. I am trained as a New Testament scholar, so why not? Perhaps I could write a book that would avoid the shortcomings I had noted and help children and their families to establish a good devotional routine. Knowing that I did not wish to attempt such a project by myself, I phoned Amy, my colleague at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. As a systematic theologian, Amy would bring great theological knowledge and wisdom to the task. Since she is also my good friend and the mother of my children's friends, the prospect of working closely with her was very attractive. When I asked her, she said yes on the spot.
We decided that our book should take the form of a "daybook," with an entry for every day of the year. Each would include a short passage of Scripture, meditation, and prayer. Our overarching goal was to write simply but beautifully, and to show children—and their parents!—the richness of Scripture for everyday life. Rather than telling false-sounding tales, we used tie-ins to everyday childhood experiences (here is where our experience as parents really helped us). We drew on nearly all the biblical books, including some difficult or "sour-note" texts such as the story of the sacrifice of Isaac and the disquieting address to God at Psalm 139:19-22. We built on a foundation of sound biblical and theological scholarship. We correlated entries with both the secular and liturgical calendars—giving attention, for example, to both African American History Month and Advent. We attended to issues important for this age group, including violence and loss. Above all, we aimed to write a book that would be interesting and habit-forming for children and parents alike.
Encouraging biblical literacy is an important practice for both Amy and me in our home lives and in our teaching, and we tried to make the format of the book contribute toward that end. Insofar as possible we grouped entries based on a given biblical book in "chunks" of up to ten entries, in narrative sequence. Thus, for example, from February 4th to the 13th, we treat passages drawn in sequence from Exodus 1 to 14. This strategy should help readers grasp the content and flow of particular books of the Bible.
Writing Making Time for God was a joyful experience for Amy and me—and for our kids and husbands, who served as consultants. Amy and I trust each other's theological vision and good sense, and never felt defensive about the entries we wrote or the critiques we gave. Through our collaboration I learned to be a better theologian and Amy learned to be a better interpreter of the Scriptures. Moreover, aiming for our seven-to-twelve-year-old target audience has made us better teachers and expositors. We didn't "write down" to our youthful readers, but we learned the discipline of getting to the heart of a passage quickly and assuredly.
We hope that the book's significant engagement with the Bible and its bold proclamation of the Gospel will satisfy readers across a broad Christian theological spectrum. On the other hand, our attention to issues of gender and race and respect for other religious traditions set this book apart from many devotional offerings for children. Not every parent, grandparent, or adult caregiver who reads Making Time for God will agree with the theology of every entry. Still, Amy and I expect that many will find here an abundant resource to help children learn to love Jesus Christ, know the Bible, pray, and draw confidently on Scripture and Christian tradition as they live and grow from day to day.
Susan R. Garrett is professor of New Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary.
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Books & Culture Corner appears Mondays at ChristianityToday.com. Earlier Books & Culture Corners include:
Acting Like Those 'Evangelicals' | Guilty as charged? (Sept. 30, 2002)
Ugly Evangelicals | Is this us? (Sept. 23, 2002)
Herbie Goes Bananas | The rise and fall and rise and fall and rise of the VW Beetle. (Sept. 16, 2002)
So Far, So Near | A graduate of Murree Christian School in Pakistan, the site of a deadly assault by Islamic terrorists in August, reflects on his growing-up years, on what has changed in the interim, and on the beleaguered Christian community in Pakistan (Sept. 9, 2002)
After the Quake | Bedside reading for the anniversary of 9/11. (August 19, 2002)
How to Avoid the Coming Disaster | "Imitate Japan." "No, don't imitate Japan." Time out. (August 12, 2002)
"Mind Control" and the Christian Citizen | Historian Sean Wilentz's misguided attack on Justice Antonin Scalia. (August 5, 2002)
Speak What We Feel | Frederick Buechner's latest book is one of his best. (July 29, 2002)
The Great Inflatable Shark Hunt | A report from the Christian Booksellers Association convention in Anaheim. (July 22, 2002)
Why Evangelicals Can't Opt Out of Political Engagement | Remembering Jeremiah Evarts and Samuel Worcester. (July 19, 2002)
The Pledge Controversy | Asking the wrong questions? (July 8, 2002)
Reading Danny Pearl | How would the murdered journalist want to be remembered? (July 1, 2002)
A Cry for Help | Sudanese Christians gather in Houston and ask for U.S. support. (June 17, 2002)
Agrarians of the World, Unite! | Wendell Berry's vision, and how Christians should respond to it. (June 10, 2002)