Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Quiz for the Children Under my Care

Normally I will teach a lesson to the children in Awana each Wednesday evening, but last week I decided to do something a little different. I often wonder how much of what I, or any of the other Christian teachers in their little lives for that matter, am saying actually gets through to them and affects their thinking. So in my first ever attempt to create and facilitate a test, I went to some of the traditional Baptist catechisms for some questions. I also created a few of my own that were specifically targeted for these children based on the lessons that we’ve been going through in the past few years.

I ended up with 13 objective questions, 10 subjective questions, 2 extra objective questions, and an open “ask anything you want answers to” question at the end. I must say that even though I see ways to improve the way in which the test was prepared, presented, and completed, I am grateful for some of the things that this reveals. Specifically, I thought that the answers to four of the objective questions and one of the subjective questions were quite revealing. And I want to look at a few of those and provide my thoughts.

Question: How does God see me (because of Adam’s sin in eating the forbidden fruit as well as my own sins)?
  • Correct Answer: Our Condition by Nature, is very bad: it is sinfull; and Cursed - Ephes. 2.1,2,3. Dead in sins. Rom. 5.12. 18. Gal. 3.12 (45%)
  • Friend & sad/sinful; good & bad (18%)
  • "mad and sad" (9%)
  • Misc. Wrong Answer (27%)
First of all, the first answer to the question above (as in the rest of the objective questions) was the answer that I was looking for. In order to answer the question correctly, the children didn’t have to give a long and detailed answer that one would expect from a teacher, theologian, pastor, or other mature Christian. The children just had to show that they had the right idea. For example, if the child answered the question with the word “sinner” or “guilty”, that would be sufficient to be correct.

Even though 100% of the children answered the question of the penalty of sin correctly (i.e. death and hell), I was concerned to see that about 45% of the children don’t have a correct understanding of man’s position in sin. I understand that the children who answered with the idea that God is both mad and sad at our rebellion is pretty close to the right answer, but because of the emphasis that we’ve had for a long time in our lessons, this was close to the right answer, but not close enough. In other words, the 4th – 6th graders have had about one and a half years of teaching focused on this issue. But even if I threw that category into the general “correct answer” pot, there are still close to half of the children who missed it entirely. This means that I will need to address this issue in a different way. Not in a way that provides a different answer, but in a different way that will help the children to understand the correct answer better.

Question: If my sin deserves an eternal punishment in hell, what did God do so that He could forgive me as well as punish the sin that I have committed?
  • Correct Answer: Penal Substitution - Jesus Christ Died for my sins, bearing my punishment (9%)
  • died / died on the cross ["Jesus" and or "sin" not specificially named] (82%)
  • "send His Son" (9%)
Now perhaps I was being a bit too much of a stickler on this one (I don’t think that I was), but an answer that referenced “dying on the cross” without referencing Christ’s name specifically or the reason (i.e. sin or the wrath of God) that He had to endure that were just not acceptable. Some may think that I’m being a bit too harsh, but I don’t think so. The question itself didn’t mention Jesus and the world in which we live in is so devoid of the true meaning of the idea of the crucifixion that an answer by any Christian, child or adult, that leaves out the name of Christ our Lord is not acceptable.

The resolution to this problem may be as simple as making it clear to the children that any answer to this type of question – whether on a test or in person – that leaves out the name of Christ is just not good enough. And even though people assume that the hearer might know that they’re referring to Jesus (especially if this question is in a church context), we must not neglect to forcefully proclaim the name of our savior.

Question: What does God require of me, to redeem me so that I can escape His wrath because of my sin? Hint: Think of what you would tell someone else if they knew that they deserved to go to hell because of their sin and they wanted to be forgiven.
  • Correct Answer: Repentance and Faith (10%)
  • Faith in God OR Repentance from sin [both not given] (45%)
  • Misc. Wrong Answer (45%)
If there is any one subject that we have dealt with more than the fact that the 10 Commandments is the tool that God has given to illuminate our sinfulness and to lead us to Christ, it has been the subject of the gospel. The gospel is clear that man must have a repentant faith in Christ in order to be saved. Both of these elements (repentance and faith) are essential for salvation. Faith without repentance of sin shows that the faith has not permeated the individual with the fruit of a changed life or a willingness and desire to change. Repentance of sin without faith is also fruitless because the individual does not understand that a sinner is saved by grace through faith and not by works. And repentance without faith is essentially an attempt at works righteousness.

Both faith and repentance of sin are gifts from God to believers. And it may better be summarized that the faith that alone saves a man is a repentant faith. And again, to have virtually all of the children answer this incorrectly or incompletely was very disturbing. So much of our Christian lexicon needs to be tightened up. Cliché phrases and concepts such as “Jesus is my personal savior”, “the sinner’s prayer”, and others need to be more clearly explained and understood. Otherwise, like it is in much of the rest of evangelicalism, the true meaning of these phrases or concepts will be lost as will be those who hearken to the wrong understandings of them; lost.

Question: What does it mean to have faith in Jesus Christ? Hint: think of another word that we use to describe what faith in Jesus Christ is.
  • Correct Answer: Trust in Him alone (45%)
  • Repent of Sin (10%)
  • Misc. Wrong Answer (45%)
And if I were to feel better about the previous question, this one here did nothing to help with that. If you ask a child what it means to believe in something, they may answer by saying that you have faith in it. But if you ask what it means to have faith in something, they will usually revert back to answering it by saying that you believe in it. Consequently, I am concerned that so many people don’t understand what it means to have faith as the Bible describes it. For years I have used the analogy of sitting in a chair or walking across a frozen lake.

If I have a chair made up of spaghetti noodles or a lake that has one eighth of an inch of ice covering it, it doesn’t matter if I have all of the faith in the world that these things will support me when I put my weight on them. No matter how much faith I have, when I sit in the chair or attempt to walk across the lake, I will fall. Likewise, if there is a chair made of granite and a lake that has four foot thick ice covering it in its entirety, it doesn’t matter if I have the least amount of faith in the chair or the ice, because when I sit down on the chair or step onto the lake, they will support me and I will not fall.

And in using these examples, the illustration of faith that I have brought out is with the word trust. And in explaining what that means, I have repeatedly said that an example would be that you not only believe that a chair can hold you up if you sit down on it, but you actually sit down on it. That is the example of trust that I use in order to give the children a picture and an idea to associate with the concept of faith. So, when over half of the answers were essentially nothing more than “really believe”, I see that the concept of what true faith is has not yet broken through to many of them.

Question: Do I really want to read the Bible on my own?
  1. Yes (36%)
  2. No (9%)
  3. Kind of (36%)
  4. Not Really (18%)
While some of the answers to the objective questions that I asked were frustrating and concerning, none made me sadder than this one. I understand that I am working with young children, but the fact that 27% have really no interest in reading the Bible on their own initiative and 36% “kind of” have a desire to do so just breaks my heart. I understand and believe that a true desire to read the Bible doesn’t always translate into a good solid regular reading time, but if you don’t have that desire it will not translate into a good regular Bible reading time.

I don’t have any way to change this response. My teaching, their parents’ teaching, or a fist-full of sermons and applications will not change this heart desire. The only thing that a father, a teacher, a mother, or anyone else can do is to pray that God would change their little hearts into ones that desire Him and His Word. I pray that I would not neglect this great task before me, as a teacher or as a parent.

May God grant grace to these children and cause them to desire His Word. May God also grant grace to so many adults in our churches who, if they answered this question honestly, would answer in the same way.

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