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Transmitting Imagination to our Children

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series

"Preserving the Truth in our Worship"

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I have suggested in this series that in order to preserve the truth in our worship, we must be concerned about how we are shaping the imagination in the presentation of biblical truth. This is no more important than with our children. It is my fear that most Christians do not recognize that before a child can even comprehend facts, his affections and imagination are already being shaped. In fact, I would suggest that most Christians never really even consider the moral imaginations of their children. Sure, we say we are targeting their hearts, and by teaching them biblical doctrine their hearts are certainly influenced.

But do we realize that a child’s imagination is shaped far before he or she has the capacity to comprehend doctrinal facts? In other words, far before a child can comprehend his need to love the one true and living God, before he or she can comprehend the concept of a god at all, the child learns how to love. Far before a child can comprehend his need to fear and reverence God, the child learns how to fear and reverence. Far before a child can comprehend his purpose to worship God, the child learns how to worship.

What happens with most churches, though, who see only the need to teach their children’s minds, is that in order to teach such truths, they are willing to use almost whatever means necessary to do so. So they use puppets to teach Bible stories, never realizing that their children’s imaginations are being shaped to view biblical truth as something light and trivial. Or they use cartoons to teach moral lessons, never realizing that their children’s imaginations are being shaped to view morality as something silly or “adventurous.”

This problem is seen most acutely with children’s music. Christian parents, educators, and publishers have the noble goal of teaching their children about God, his Word, and how to obey him rightly, but they set such truth to irreverent, trivial, or even downright banal music, forgetting that far before their children learn these doctrines, they must learn how to imagine those truths rightly. I do not question the noble motives of these people for an instant. But I do question their understanding of how children are taught to worship.

Children learn to worship God primarily through participating in rightly ordered worship. Children learn to love God by first learning how to love. Children learn to reverence God by first learning how to reverence. Children learn to fear God by first learning how to fear.

If we fail to preserve the truth, both in its factual and aesthetic correspondence to God’s reality, I am convinced it will be due in large part to our failure to shape our children’s imaginations in our desire to teach them the truth.

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.