Can little children understand the gospel?

Discussion in 'Family Forum' started by Jack K, Aug 29, 2014.

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  1. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    I've been challenged recently by preschool teachers, a handful of times, to defend the idea that kids of that age are actually able to understand the gospel. I've thought about it and finally decided that if forced to give a yes-or-no answer to the question of whether little kids can understand the gospel well, I choose to say no.

    The full response is linked below. In spite of answering no, I end up giving several examples of gospel truths most little kids can understand and words that help communicate those truths.

    Let the fur start flying.

    Can little kids understand the gospel?
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2014
  2. John Lanier

    John Lanier Puritan Board Junior

    I don't think that question can be answered in a general sense. Some are able to understand at a young age and some are not.
  3. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    John the Baptizer
  4. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Exactly. The Spirit can produce some level of understanding and response even in the youngest children, and even where understanding clearly is incomplete and still in its infancy.
  5. Cymro

    Cymro Puritan Board Junior

    Children are not to young to learn to sin, and so not to young to learn Christ.
    One by natural propensity, the other by the Spirit's regeneracy. My daughter
    was 9 when she made confession, she is now 50 and hitherto has not deviated
    from her profession. There is that famous example of a 4 yr old in J. Edwards
    church making a profession of faith and remaining consistent to it even to old
    age. The Spirit is not limited by age, and can regenerate in the womb.
  6. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I think I agree with the sentiment more than I disagree; however, I do not want to drive that wedge too deeply between the "rudiments" of Christ and a more fully-articulated gospel of Christ.

    The gospel of Jesus Christ may be simply defined as the set of propositions conveying the knowledge that explains his Person and Work. These propositions may be very limited, conveying only the roughest rendition of the truth. But it is still the truth that is conveyed, and also received. It is an "unfinished work," but as Reformed theology teaches, we are to grow our whole lives long in grace and truth. We should never arrive at the point where we say, "I'm satisfied with my knowledge of the gospel." We might as well say, "I'm satisfied with my perfect and complete knowledge of Christ; can we talk about something else now?"

    Can an infant love its mother? C'mon, really? What sort of propositional truth can that child really understand? What about when it's 1yr old? Naw, it can say "mama," but what does that word even mean? No, children clearly cannot love their parents or anyone else until they can fully grasp the abstract concepts that explain what love is, right?

    A child can be presented with non-propositional expressions of the love of Christ, in covenant, starting at birth (if not earlier). Just like the context of a child's life starts to explain the reality about him even without words, words are added to the unspoken reality of experience. The building blocks are given early, to start the child off with vocabulary by which he may express the reality of his experience. It is possible for children to believe in Christ, of whom the parents and others speak and explain as integral to the reality they all--including the child--inhabit.

    This is the story of my life. I can't speak for everyone. But I was introduced to Christ as an integral part of my reality before I could possibly offer any kind of explanation for Who and What he is. Early on, I learned his Name. I started to sing about him in songs like "Jesus Loves Me." What do I know as a 2yr old? Mommy loves me, Daddy loves me, I've had other people say they love me; Mommy and Daddy have told me that Gramma and Grandpa love me, and that Jesus loves me.

    Who is Jesus? Is he some "picture" of a dude in a dress and a beard sitting on a rock holding hands out to a bunch of kiddos? No, the name "Jesus" comes along immediately with other language like "dying" and "rising," "Lord" and "Teacher." Faith is context and vocabulary. But children differ one from another, and each comes into intelligible possession and ownership of the spiritual environment at different times.

    Our children do the same thing with their physical environment. Don't tell me my two month old child couldn't tell some difference between returning to lie on mom's and dad's bed in our own house, where she'd previously lain for several weeks of nursing; and the days she just finished spending on the road visiting family out of state, confined to a car seat, lying on a strange mattress, smelling strange smells, hearing strange sounds. She has already begun a process of familiarity with her home environment. And in short order, she will definitely "own" this environment as hers.

    We know that with some children, there is also a process (sometimes, tragically begun very early) by which they are alienated from what ought to be their comfort. The "fault" may lie in many causes, both internal and external. A grown man may become alienated from his homeland. People, who have even come to an ability to propositionally express and explain the faith they were taught, nevertheless apostatize from it.

    We know the truth of Christ is a supernatural gift of knowledge. Those who receive it savingly by divinely appointed means are blessed forever. Our children can begin the process of spiritual apprehension long before they are capable of explaining how they know what they know. And their first faith-expressions can over time be refined, rather than radically corrected, toward more accurate and precise verbal testimony; along with a living witness of the hope that is within them.
  7. MarieP

    MarieP Puritan Board Senior

    Oh my Presbyterian friends, is a Baptist going to be the first to quote this passage? ;)

    Luke 18
    15 Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 17 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”
  8. Scottish Lass

    Scottish Lass Puritan Board Doctor

    At 4 1/2, Gracie can tell you she's a sinner, she can tell you about God, she can tell you Jesus died on the cross and rose again to pay for sin. She can answer the first 35 questions of the children's catechism. But after all that, she doesn't truly understand "died," and therefore, I think, still lacks in truly understanding the gospel.

    your mileage may vary
  9. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    God does as He wills.....

    Jer 32:17 “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You. 18 You show lovingkindness to thousands, and repay the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them—the Great, the Mighty God, whose name is the LORD of hosts. 19 You are great in counsel and mighty in work, for your eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings.
  10. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    I was regenerated in a RC church and remember looking at a crucifix hanging prominently above an alter and I remember this from 1st grade being a 6 years old. I knew what death was and believed Jesus died for my sin. Also when the priest came into the 4th grade to "explain" The Trinity I accepted his explanation even though I did not understand The Mystery. To tell you the truth at 53 I am not that much closer in my understanding of The Trinity today as I was in the 4th grade. ;) I understood The Gospel and had faith at a very early age and I have said this time and again most evangelicals I know think they had a conversion when they were adults and to tell you the truth I believe most of them are completely wrong when The Holy Spirit did His work. :)
  11. Cymro

    Cymro Puritan Board Junior

    I watched a programme Saturday night on Prof D. MaCleod being interviewed on his life.
    He testified that he was given to prayer at 4yrs old, though he did not make a profession
    Until he went to University.
  12. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    This question becomes particularly important when considering the cognitively disabled. As a dear friend recently wrote in his thesis, the church for a long time has viewed these individuals as exceptions, a kind of asterisk to the rest of the church, rather than recognizing that in our falleness, our capabilities are closer to that of the disabled man rather than to a person who could somehow respond in faith by our own knowledge and faith. Only by the Spirit's illumination in grace can any of us respond to the gospel.
  13. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    This is pretty much how I tend to think about it, too.
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