Thursday, April 2, 2009

Is using a child's imagination to teach the Bible harmful?

Parents & Christian Educators: I'd love your perspective on this issue!  This article addresses the use of imagination as we impart knowledge to our young ones. The author is a strong advocate for using a child's natural creativity and propensity toward fantasy within the framework of Christian teaching, while others are not.

This morning, Eli's "Bob the Builder" team got into an argument.  Muck was not being kind to the others, especially Scoop.  Perhaps some may regard this as a 3-year-old having silly fun with their imagination.  And I agree.  I just also happen to believe that these are the life moments-no doubt based on imagination moreso in the early years, and reality as a child grows older-that invite critical lessons about God's love and following Him.  So did we have a theological discussion about these inanimate objects? Yes we did. I asked Eli to tell me the problem (which he had fabricated), and he shared all about the conflict in this group of friends, who started it, who was sad because of it.  We then talked about God, the kind of behavior God expects, and what options these friends have as a result. He determined the results in his play. Today, Eli shared that apologies were given and everyone was being kind together.  We've had similar situations where, sadly, Mater or Bob or even a cuddly teddy bear needed a time out and faced the consequences for their behavior.  Sometimes I bring biblical stories right up into these scenarios.  What is the penguin's name that was on the ark?  Oh, and their wife's name?  Oh, they had trouble walking up to the ark?  Who helped them?  Really, the dogs did?  That was kind.  Some educators find this dangerous territory.

"There is a group of teachers who feel quite strongly that children who are young and just hearing about the stories of the Bible should not simultaneously be exposed to fantasy characters...[They believe that] by mixing truth of the Bible with imaginary characters or stories a child runs the risk of thinking the Bible stories are therefore not true."

So this means Santa at Christmastime?  Moreover, this means that sweet book we have from the donkey's perspective, as he carried pregnant Mary into Bethlehem?  At FHPC, we utilize an evangelical, relevant, bible-based, experiential curriculum called FaithWeaver.  And it was our curriculum that came up recently in this very discussion!  Sunday School teachers (especially 1st/2nd) - you will recall teaching this story last month and the controversy it stirred. 

Here are some following excerpts for further thought, or just click on the link below and read the entire article.  Does the author go too far?  Is he right on?  Please comment on your perspective!

"FaithWeaver Sunday school curriculum...seeks to immerse children into the bible through the use of active and interactive methods. It contained a story the other Sunday that has sparked several heated exchanges with me and a variety of Sunday school teachers over a character named Freddie the Fish. The story of Jesus calling the disciples and telling them that he will make them “Fishers of men” is itself a very true and remarkable story. It contains, however, a metaphor of fishing that is apt for those who heard Jesus speak to them—they were after all fishermen. But to tell the story with some sense of identification for a young child, our editors have seen fit to include a made-up character named Freddie the fish. A teacher yesterday felt that to include this character in a real story was, and I quote, “to confuse what is real and true about the bible and is a first-step in an evil direction.” 

"The reality is, we CONSTANTLY introduce imagination during the study of scripture…it is just a slippery slope that often we do not recognize because we’ve always done it. Take, for instance, the ubiquitous flannel-graph board. We “picture” Jesus but clearly it is a paper representation of Christ, not the “real” thing! So are children thus deceived into thinking that Jesus is not “real?” Or take Veggie Tales characters (which proponents of the reality of scripture would avoid with young children) or the old Lutheran show, Davey and Goliath or even Adventures In Odyssey or the McGee & Me series. These all portray unreal characters to help illuminate the bible. But you don’t have to stop there. Throughout history, art has been attacked for it’s idolatry since it is a “graven image” and therefore Jews didn’t use animals or people in their mosaics, only plants and vegetables. During the Renaissance there was a clear uproar over the Sistine Chapel’s art that Michelangelo painstakingly created."

"...I find that children are highly elastic in their imagination! They can stride comfortably between the real and the make believe. It is only with children who’ve been traumatized by what is REAL who revert to seclusion within fantasy that is pathological. But this is not the norm! It is the exception. And candidly, do we think that the REALITY of scripture, it’s TRUTHFULNESS alone causes people to wholly accept it as real? To state that fiction or make-believe is so harmful it to open ourselves up to the opposite and equal contradiction…that the whole truth convinces!"

"...If Jesus spoke in parables which themselves were fiction, what does that say about the Bible? It is truth, but it is not ALL REAL. It is a representation of what is real and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, instruction and correction in righteousness, certainly. And it contains truth. But to think that the stories of scripture—in order to be accepted–have to be literally true finds deep contradiction in those pesky parables which clearly are FICTIONAL STORIES!!!"


Natalie said...

This is a great topic Kim and a great write up. I completely agree, in fact, Christopher and I were just talking about this the the day. It's not so much the story or the names of the people involved but the actual meaning and purpose of it that matters. I actually really liked the idea of the penguin-dog ark thing and I do think that it really does help children to identify with the Bible and it's increasingly important stories.

Nancy said...

The important part is directing our children to the bible so they learn to always turn to the word and let God speak to them. I strongly believe that The Lord will speak to them at very young ages and give them clarifications to their thoughts. Many times those clarifications come through their Sunday school lessons, Sunday school teachers, believing parents and grandparents and faithful friends. I personally think the FaithWeaver curriculum does a good job in providing materials for the kids to take home and gives scripture to read and talking points to help encourage discussion. My kids have been raised thus far on the FaithWeaver curriculum and I have heard them witness to friends about salvation and thus far I have not heard them make up a grand fictional story fueled by their imagination. And they have BIG imaginations! I think this shows that teaching children with imagery is a great way to help the “real” story stick so when the time comes The Lord can use them and guide them with His words and thoughts. Everybody has an imagination to varying degrees and if we learn to stay in the word God will keep us and our kids straight. I too love the penguin-dog idea...AWESOME!