Friday, April 24, 2009

Big Truths for Young Hearts: An Interview with Bruce Ware

Bruce Ware has served as Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary since 1998. His latest book is Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God.

You can read the Contents and the Introduction and Chapter 1 online for free.

I recently had the chance to catch up with Dr. Ware and ask him a few questions about the book.

Can you tell us the origin of this book as you and Jodi were raising your two girls?

I recall one evening when Jodi and I were trying to get our two giggly girls -- who were about 8 and 4 at the time -- to settle down and go to sleep, thinking to myself, "Since they don't want to go to sleep, why not co-opt the time and teach them some theology at their bedside?" So, I started then a pattern that we followed most nights that I was home, of my spending about 15 minutes with each daughter at their bedsides going through the major doctrines of the Christian faith. Of course, since Jodi eventually home schooled both our girls, they got much additional rich teaching from her. But I relish those "bedside theology" conversations, coupled with many other such discussions at family devotions or in the car, cultivating in our children a big view of God, a clearer understanding of the magnitude of their sin and the glory of the cross, and why it mattered to know and trust in God for all of our lives.

So how did it come about to do this as a book?

Bethany and Rachel -- Rachel in particular -- had the vision for this book. For the past several years, Rachel would periodically come to me and ask, "Dad, are you going to write Bedside Theology? -- her name for what is now Big Truths for Young Hearts. I put her off a number of times, feeling badly about doing this. It was clear that Bethany and Rachel really wanted me to do this. They saw the potential help this book could be to parents, and dads in particular, to have a simple and clear way of helping their children grow in understanding the broad range of the glorious truths of the Christian faith. And God used their vision for this book to give me a vision for it also. Kindly, Crossway was willing to take this on, and so I went to work writing.

What was the writing process like?

What a joy this writing was! It brought back to mind our own family times together, and gave me the opportunity to share rich biblical and theological truths that have meant so much to me in my own life, truths meant by God to shape and re-shape who we are.

How central is the gospel in your book?

The gospel is clear throughout the book, since I know how much this means to all of us Christian parents. If children and their parents grow to understand better how great and gracious God is, what a glory is the Christ and the cross of our salvation, and learn more reason why their hope and joy should be in Him alone -- then this book will accomplish what it is meant to do.

How do you envision the book being used?

The main purpose, clearly, is for use by Christian parents in the instruction of their own children at home. As I was writing, though, I often thought of those parents themselves, many of whom have not had the privilege I've had to study and teach theology. Perhaps parents will benefit first, as they then teach these glorious truths to their children.

Besides this, the book is also quite appropriate for use in home school settings, Christian school classes in Bible and theology, and for any new believer (hence the name "young hearts" in the title, including those young in the faith) who wants an overview of the whole of the major teachings of the Christian faith.

One friend who kindly read some early chapters to his own children commented that he would love to use this with new believers in China, where he serves as a missionary. So, I think that those who could benefit from a clear and simple treatment of Christian doctrine -- children as well as others young in the faith -- may find this book helpful.

I suspect that most parents are more comfortable teaching their kids Christian ethics (love God, don’t love the world, tell the truth, don’t cheat or steal, etc.) than they are teaching them Christian theology (how can God be three and one? How is Jesus God and man?). Why is it important for parents to learn good theology and pass it on to their kids?

The Christian faith is not moralism. Yet, we can (wrongly and dangerously!) pervert the Christian faith into this, in our homes and our churches. Our lists of "do's" and "don't's" can become the sum and substance of our understanding of the Christian faith, and in this self-esteem saturated culture, this ends up redounding to the glory of the "self," not the glory of God. So, we need (all of us, Christian parents and children alike) to understand glorious theological truths --
  • who God is in his eternal fullness as the triune God,
  • who God is as Creator of all that is,
  • who we are as created in his image,
  • what sin is and has done to us,
  • why Christ came, who Christ is,
  • what he accomplished,
  • how we receive the benefits of his work on the cross,
  • what God provides for us to grow as his people,
  • what these communities of faith called "churches" are and what they contribute,
  • and what hope we have for life now and forever
-- to provide the substance for what the Christian faith is, the faith that then is to be lived out in ways that reflect the character of God and his claims on our lives.

Only when moral teachings flow out of a correct understanding of the character and purposes of God and a relationship with him by faith in Christ can we see how our lives are meant to be transformed by God's work within us, reflecting his character and redounding to his glory above all else.

And what are some of the most important things they need to keep in mind when learning and teaching theology?

The core of the Christian faith is the God of the Christian faith -- the one and only true and living God, who as Father, Son, and Spirit, is the eternal, self-existent, self-sufficient Creator of heaven and earth, the Provider of every good and perfect gift, and the Redeemer of sinners from deserved wrath and condemnation. Without question, getting "God right" is the single most important area to understand rightly. To go wrong here is to go wrong on everything! How we understand ourselves, our value, our purpose in being and living, the nature of our sin, the need for redemption, our resource and goal in sanctification, and our ultimate ends as God's redeemed people -- all of this depends on understanding rightly who God is.

But then, all these other areas matter also so very much. Getting "ourselves right" -- as those created in God's image but terribly marred and deformed due to our fall, with Adam, into sin -- is so very crucial for understanding the glory and grace of our salvation in Christ.

Seeing Christ for who he is, and understanding the nature of his atoning death, are crucial for knowing our new identities as his redeemed people, who have come to him by faith alone, through God's grace alone.

And then catching a vision for what kingdom living is meant to be, for all of us, regardless of the specific vocation each of us has, is crucial for seeing the significance of each day lived to the glory of God.

And understanding the certainty of God's victory over Satan, sin and death, in Christ, is crucial if we are to have hope that sustains through trials and persecution, as God's people.

In short, every doctrine of the faith plays a crucial place in forming our minds and hearts, to become and live in ways that fulfill God's purposes for us and bring glory to his name.