Teach Your Children Well

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Book Review: “Teach Your Children Well: A Step-by-Step Guide for Family Discipleship” by Sarah Cowan Johnson

Teach Your Children Well seeks to provide a guide for discipling children. It has activities, stats, and ideas for forming faith throughout the lives of kids.

The first few chapters cover some issues the author sees as important for readers. It starts with “bad news” about faith retention rates, but then goes into good news of faith retention being higher when faith is modeled and practiced at home. This all makes sense, but it also was a little off-putting. I am likely from a different theological stream from the author, and that made some of the comments about children’s faith and the extreme fear of some kind of falling away or even certain moral questions difficulties for me in the book.

Sarah Cowan Johnson then breaks out a bunch of practical things to do with kids, even breaking them down into age-appropriate chapters. Some of these activities were really surprising to me. One example was the practice labeled Ignatian Prayer. In this practice, readers settle into a comfortable position and imagine themselves with Jesus and in conversation with Jesus, ultimately writing down things that strike them and “testing” it against Scripture. I thought this was certainly an interesting way to go about the practice and learn more about oneself while praying and imagining with God. Concrete examples like this are abundant in the book, and provide readers with real ways to integrate faith into the lives not just of children but also themselves.

I do have a few concerns with the book. I mentioned already the fear-inducing method of the first chapter. It seemed an odd way to start off a book that also potentially places a lot of the responsibility and implied liability for the faith of children on their parents instead of on God’s grace. I also am concerned about the somewhat rigorous way several ideas are enforced or implied to be necessary. For example, pages 44-45 feature a “family time audit” broken down into 8 segments and all 7 days. Parents are told to fill in the “audit” with initials of kids or F for family time so they can see what and where they could do differently. It’s presented in a non-judgmental tone, but the “feel” of it is off. It reads kind of like “if you don’t have enough family time built in, that’s bad.” And it may be… but I’m not sure this is the way to convey that. Only one page later, on 46, the author writes, “In addition to time, the other thing parents have is spiritual authority. One simple definition of spiritual authority is the right to make use of God’s power on earth.” I am quite leery about this terminology and the drawn conclusions about where that authority goes. It’s not necessarily seen as an authoritarian way to go over your children’s head on spiritual matters, but again, I’m wondering about the direction. The author writes specifically of confronting “shrieking demons” in Uganda, but then doesn’t build upon what that is supposed to mean in day-to-day life for the readers. A final difficulty is things like the Ignatian Prayer above–some of the suggested activities seem to go against the grain that they appear initially to do. Ignatian prayer at first seems to suggest a calm, meditative conversation with an imagined Jesus, building spiritual muscle by doing so. But then this imagined Christ has to be painstakingly evaluated against Jesus in Scripture, which isn’t bad, but does imply that something is wrong with oneself if one imagines, well, wrongly.

Teach Your Children Well has plenty of activities and ideas for building faith alongside kids. Parents from various Christian traditions will likely find at least something to take away and build upon in the book.

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