Sunday, January 22, 2006

An Intriguing Question to Start Your Week

Ron Stewart at the Northern 'Burbs Blog asks this intriguing and important question: When do we tell our kids about Hell?

Feel free to leave comments here, and/or on his blog. Perhaps this goes without saying, but make sure to include why. I will be back later in the week (hopefully) with my own thoughts on this issue.

HT: Christian Carnival @ Dunmoose

(P.S. Bryan--I'm intentionally putting this up early, so that you'll have time to think and respond.)

01/23/06 Update
I was thinking about Carla's comment, and I realized that, implicit in all this is whether or not you should talk about Hell during evangelism at all. I think you should should (and if you disagree, this question probably won't be so intriguing). Restating the question, then, should we handle children any differently than we do others in evangelism when it comes to the notion of Hell?

01/26/06 Update
Ron returns with a clarification on his original question.

Also, on the original post, one of his commenters has this to say:
I would say at that young age it is unnecessary to bring up hell. Leaving it out isn't doing any harm. It's just like when kids ask "where do babies come from?" You don't go into a biology lecture, right?

I disagree with this approach, and I hope to carve out some time soon to address why.


Carla said...

How is it possible to tell a child the gospel without mentioning hell?

It would seem to me to be impossible to discuss heaven, Jesus, the gospel and sin, without explaining (at least in some way) why the good news is indeed good news.


Kim said...

I guess the question could be extended to what kind of details do you tell a child about hell?

I think with children, we run into the danger of having them embrace salvation more as a means of escaping something rather than embracing the restoration to God. That's the risk of going into too much detail.

Like Carla, though, I'm wondering how to present the gospel without mentioning hell since that is separation from God, and avoiding that separation is good news.

You're going to have me thinking about this all day now.

Gummby said...

Carla: I agree.

Kim: Is that really so bad? I mean, part of the reason our children obey us is to avoid punishment; one of the reasons we obey laws is for fear of punishment. If we do it with these human institutions, to whom God has delegated His authority, why isn't it OK that we do it in the spiritual realm?

I'm not saying it should be our sole motivation always; nevertheless, I also remain unconvinced that fear of punishment should never play a factor.

Hemsch said...

I don't have a problem telling my 5 year old about hell. It's just I know she will really never understand what it is until she gets older. Can a five year old really understand the complexity of salvation in the first place? I say no. But she can understand that Jesus loves her.

Kim said...

I've been thinking about this while out driving around doing errands (I told you I would!).

Since the destinations of hell and heaven are eternal ones, and where we go depends upon our reception or rejection of the gospel, I guess they must be included in a presentation of the gospel.

pilgrim said...

If you're telling them about the gospel and heaven--you have to mention hell.
Downplaying it does a disservice to them.
I wouldn't use it as a scare tactic, but I wouldn't softpeddle it either.

Rob said...

People not not have a fear of hell unless they have some understanding of thier sin. When we talk about hell one of my girls never has even thought that it could be a place for HER. The other has prayed since she was four that God would forgive her sins so she did not have to go to Hell. She also prays for the sister who thinks she is perfect, and her young brothers, too. Each child will understand different truths at different times. Nevertheless, we are told in scripture to teach the full council of God's word, and I don't place any age limits on that.

Dan S. said...

Great discussion. I'm sure my wife, the Home Maker, will wade into this one. She's pretty amped up on this topic. For now, I'll just provide the link to her post from a few weeks ago on this same subject... She says the topic of hell should enter every discussion in which we present the Gospel.

The Mains said...

Sorry I'm so slow to respond. Hell is a tough subject. We haven't taught it directly or explicitly, but it comes up as we regularly have the opportunity to incorporate the gospel in training our sons. Usually like this: We explain that when they don't obey their parents or are unkind to one another, they are sinning against God. God hates sin and the price for sinning is death.

But God loves you so much that he sent his only son Jesus to die for you. If you believe in him, then you will be saved from your sin.

We then pray with them praying that God would show them that they are sinners and that only Jesus can save them from their sins. We pray that they would believe on Jesus and be saved. We also pray that God would help them remember to obey.

Carla made a good point about how hell explains "why the good news is indeed good news." I don't think it would be impossible to have saving faith without an understanding of hell. Fortunately, with our kids (and often with others), we're allowed time and repetition to include the Biblical doctrine in our teaching.

I don't know how much of what we talk about with our kids really makes sense to them. (Our boys are four-, three- and one-year old.) We get some good questions, though. This week after talking about living with Jesus forever in the home he's prepared for us, one asked "Will we live at our house or at church?"

The exercise is certainly good for me. The good news gets more gooder the more we talk about it. Sometimes while I'll talk to them I'll pray that I could talk so they would understand, and often I learn something "new" about the old, old story.

R. Stewart said...

First of all, thanks for linking back to my post that raised the question. The conversation here is interesting, and I thank you all for your thoughts.

So far, my five year old daughter's understanding of sin is at the "sin is doing bad things" level, and her comprehension of the afterlife is that "believing in God leads to Heaven with Him forever" and "not believing leads to being apart from God & family forever" (i.e. Hell, without the actual name or descriptions of a lake aflame.)

I'm not so much concerned about scaring her - and I have no problem with fear being used as an evangelism tool when appropriate since Jesus used it at times. I just don't see teaching a five year old to be quite the same context as correcting stubborn Pharisees, though, so I'm not sure that Hell needs to be divulged in all its horror every time we talk about salvation, especially with children. The reason I am a little reticent about going into detail is because when I was a child, I was more afraid of Hell than I was desiring to be with God. In other words, I saw fire insurance instead of worship. I'd rather my daughters not have the same experience, but at the same time I don't want to keep from telling them things they need to know.

I'm still thinking through this, and I do appreciate the thoughts of everyone who's chimed in here and in another couple of places.

God bless!

centuri0n said...

With Kim and Carla holding down the home front, maybe some Dads need to be listening to their women more than they listen to their bowling boddies.

I had a whole thing to say here, and they already said it nicer than I was going to to. Good for them!

The Mains said...


Good point. Most of what I've gleaned about sharing the gospel with our kids in the manner I described above comes from my wife (who got it from Ted Tripp). She gets a lot of practice.


Julie said...

Although I included hell in early conversations with my son, around age 3, I did not go into details. It was just where you went if you didn't go to heaven. At that point he was more concerned with whether or not he could bring his Rescue Heroes to heaven with him.

A few months ago, he's now 6, he asked me what hell was like and I explained it to him. I think he had a fairly good grasp of it.

Last week we were talking about one of the boys in his class who apparently he's been talking about the Bible with (go Noah!) and he asked me if the boy was going to heaven. I said I didn't know, it depended if he had Jesus in his heart. "So, if he doesn't, then Tyler's going to Hell mom! I have to tell him." My mind immediately flashed to Noah on the playground telling this kid "Tyler, you're going to hell!" and the phone call I was sure to get :-) So we discussed better ways to phrase that w/ his friends.