William Boekestein and I share much of the same vision and passion for teaching church history to children. He is the pastor of Covenant Reformed Church in Carbondale, PA, a father of three young and very bright children, and author of three books in a series for children about the stories behind the Reformed confessions (Faithfulness Under Fire, the Story of Guido Bres, The Quest for Comfort, the Story of the Heidelberg Catechism, and the upcoming The Glory of Grace, the Story of the Synod of Dordt). Recently I have had the pleasure to ask him a few questions about his thoughts and plans. Here are his answers.
1. Some time ago, you wrote an article on appreciating church history (“Avoiding Chronological Snobbery”). How is church history important for children today?
I was recently asked to speak to a local Rotary Club on the topic of “Turning obscure history into children’s books.” I told the audience that if this didn’t strike them as a stimulating topic…it gets worse. The books I have written are about obscure theological history. The “claim to fame” of the main characters in my books is that they wrote religious dissertations and catechisms! But I believe this kind (and other kinds) of church (and secular) history is important for children for several reasons.
First, history is a great teacher. It provides greater perspective than our experiences allows. It provides negative examples of what we should avoid. We learn through our mistakes. But how much better to learn through the mistakes of others. History also provides examples of valor and courage. Fiction can do the same thing (and we love fiction!). But history can appeal more powerfully to our sense of reality. History also helps us to resist unhelpful fads by highlighting the tried and true.
Second, church history is important for children because they need to know that ideas have consequences. The stories I have written describe a time when people were more honest about the significance of ideas. Sixteenth century folks would have laughed at the notion of ideological relativism. I do not endorse the extreme lengths to which people of varying convictions have gone to defend their positions. But we lie to children today when we say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe” or “all ideas are equal.” People in the sixteenth century agreed that what you believe about the mortality of man, the existence of God and the reasons for doing good really matter. The protagonists in these stories dedicated their lives to, and sometimes lost them in, defending ideas.
Third, church history is important because Children better grasp ideas that are connected to people. Suppose you wanted children to catch a vision for Rotary International. You could try expositing to them the four guiding principles by way of explanation and application. But can you imagine a young child saying, “Please tell me more about, ‘The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian’s personal, business, and community life’?” Or you could tell them the stories of famous Rotarians like Admiral Richard E. Byrd, the intrepid Arctic explorer, the first to reach both poles by air, or aviation pioneer Orville Wright, or the famous founders of Walmart, Walgreens and J.C. Penny’s who were all active Rotarians. No doubt their stories would provide concrete and vivid expressions of service in action. If we want to teach our children of the importance of wholehearted service to God (as well as to man) we can tell the stories of people who modeled this devotion in a way that we might never do. Guido de Bres wrote, “Since we have the