My wife’s cousin has two young children. They are both unchurched and from a very broken home. They recently began regularly attending a local Sunday school and have started asking questions about Christianity and the Bible, which is very encouraging. Recently, the older one was asking questions about the Holy Spirit. My grandmother-in-law said that He was Jesus living inside of us as Christians. I tried to gently correct that explanation by briefly describing each person of the Trinity and emphasizing their individual personhood while still saying each person was God. I didn’t want their beginning of understanding of the Trinity to be modalistic. But, I received blank stares in return and the child lost interest and went off to play. So my question(s) is: how do you go about explaining complex theology to children? What have you found works best? Obviously simplification is warranted, although I also believe that children are capable of understanding a lot more than we give them credit for.
I think it’s great that you noticed the modalism of the answer and tried to give a more helpful answer. My mind immediately went to the catechism that our church has produced for young children. I’m frustrated that I can’t find a PDF copy of it anywhere on my computer, but I have pasted the questions about the nature of God below. I think that would be a good start. @acmcneilly, do you have a copy of that children’s catechism in PDF form somewhere?
- QUESTION: Who made you?
- Q. What else did God make?
A. God made everything.
- Q. Why did God make you and everything else?
A. For His own glory.
- Q. How can you glorify God?
A. By loving Him and doing what He commands.
- Q. Why should you glorify God?
A. Because He made me and takes care of me.
- Q. Is there more than one God?
A. There is only one God.
- Q. How many persons are in the one God?
A. Three persons.
- Q. Who are they?
A. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
- Q. What is God?
A. God is a spirit and does not have a body.
- Q. Where is God?
A. God is everywhere.
- Q. Can you see God?
A. No. I cannot see God, but He always sees me.
- Q. Does God know everything?
A. Yes. Nothing can be hidden from God.
- Q. Can God do everything?
A. Yes. God can do anything He wants.
Here’s a PDF of the Clearnote Children’s Catechism, which is based off of an older catechism, which, if I’m not mistaken, actually dates back to the Westminster Assembly times. Would be curious if someone could confirm the source of it.
Clearnote-Childrens-Catechism.pdf (494.5 KB)
There are a few good books out there which we’ve found helpful:
- The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New by Marty Machowski. This probably most directly addresses the need you brought up, of teaching real theology to young kids. Amazon’s listing says this book is geared toward ages 6–11. I generally recommend anything by Machowski.
- The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung. More of a biblical theology approach, and written for younger audiences, whereas The Ology is systematic. There’s also an ABC’s board book of this, which we like: The Biggest Story ABC
- A fun kids’ church history book is The Church History ABCs
Another resource we use for catechism is Songs for Saplings: Questions with Answers.
Music is quite fun and has made fast work of memorizing catechism questions and answers for the kids (and even for old dad.)