Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to KidsWritten by Jack Klumpenhower Reviewed By Bud Burk
Jack Klumpenhower has served the church well through his good work in Show Them Jesus. You know you have a good book on your hands when Jesus remains in the foreground from beginning to end. This is the primary theme of his writing and he stays true to this theme. The truths about Jesus’ righteous life and sufferings on the cross as our substitute never fade. Klumpenhower writes for two audiences at the same time: parents in the living room and teachers in the classroom. This demonstrates his wisdom, as both are crucial disciple-making contexts that ideally work together in harmony. Adults need to grow and be changed and then in that context turn to love and lead children. We “are called to teach the good news—all Jesus is and all he’s done by his life, death, and resurrection to save those who are joined to him—and to treasure it as we work with kids” (p. 3). In sum: adults treasuring Christ in turn lead children, and by grace they too will treasure Christ.
The first five chapters of Show Them Jesus answer the question, “Why teach the good news?” and the remaining six chapters explain “How to teach the good news.” Klumpenhower challenges disciple-making adults to speak often of Jesus’ name and work as they lead and love children. If children do not hear Jesus’ name and the power of the gospel as a regular rhythm in their homes and at church, they will unintentionally separate their need for him in their life of faith from the moment of salvation. It is a great gift to children when their parents and teachers speak Jesus’ name with a countenance of joy, humility, and love. Children must see worship taking place before their eyes. Living rooms and classrooms that are led by glad-hearted and hopeful adults who are marked by the gospel of Jesus Christ take the corners and edges off family devotions and classroom structure, and transform them into a rich environment of family worship and classroom joy. The aim is worship.
Children’s hearts need to be trained to comprehend their deep need for the gospel of Jesus Christ for sanctification. They must learn early on that when they sin there is a place to run (avoiding despair) and when they do well there is a place to run (avoiding pride). There can be a tendency for the Christian parent and teacher to call young hearts to character-building merely by hard work merely. Klumpenhower helps us understand that the net result of hard work apart from grace is moralism, and one does not need the filling or the leading of the Spirit for mere moralism. Children are born with independent hearts and they will lean towards self-sufficiency in increasing degrees as time goes by. They need Jesus before and after salvation. “For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people, training us . . .” (Titus 2:11–12).
A child who sees his need for Jesus, and who by grace comes to him and keeps coming will treasure Christ above all things. This child “won’t have to pretend God is easily satisfied with a little churchy behavior, but he will dare to draw ever nearer to a holy God. This is because his sin and God’s holiness just show him how much more he’s been forgiven. They enlarge his love for Jesus” (p. 57). A child who is growing in love for Jesus will find himself thinking primarily “I don’t want to break his heart” as opposed to “I don’t want to break his rules” (see p. 66 for a fuller development of this point). Both are fitting statements, but one is driven by affection, which gives rise to joy—evidence of life transforming grace and the ministry of the Spirit in the heart.
Having established in the first five chapters why our children need to see Jesus for salvation and sanctification, Klumpenhower then helps adults know how to teach children Christ in the whole Bible with special guidance concerning the OT. He suggests asking a few simple questions upon reading an OT story in anticipation of Christ: “what is God doing for his people in this story . . . how does God do the same for us—only better in Jesus . . . how does believing this good news change how we live?” (p. 102). Children’s hearts are guarded against moralistic teaching while in the OT, as parents and teachers (often just one step ahead of them) themselves learn how to turn to Jesus while in the OT. We want our children to feel a little restless in the OT, which is intended to lead them to the glory of the Son and the good news he brings. “Anywhere you turn in the Bible, God’s saving work forms the backdrop. Laws, prophecies, poems—all exist within the story of salvation. The good news is the Bible’s drumbeat. To ignore it at any point is to misplay the theme song” (p. 88).
We want our children to delight in Jesus resisting pride in their good, resisting despair in their bad. On both accounts they are dependent upon the good news that Jesus has brought us, and at a personal level they are dependent upon Jesus himself. But we desire hearts that are joyfully dependent. A joyful heart is a worshiping heart. “We who have felt the power of the good news know that we’re most eager to obey when we’re most delighted with Jesus. Although we still struggle with sin, we’re destined to worship eternally with the best of motivations, and by God’s grace our lives today already display some of that wonder” (p. 208), and that wonder and delight in Jesus is being seen and heard by young watching eyes and listening ears.
I recommend reading this book with three different contexts in mind. First, read it for your own growth in the faith as you learn how to treasure Christ throughout the whole Bible and know the freedom of the power of the gospel to guard against despair and pride. Second, read it with your own children in mind. Keep asking the question as you read “how can I apply something I read in this chapter in my own living room today”? Third, read it with the children in your classroom in mind. You have less time with them, so it is important to take the heart of each point or chapter bringing it forward to the classroom. How might you speak of Jesus Christ and the work he has done in increasing measure that builds on itself cumulatively over time?
I heartily recommend this excellent gospel-centered book first for those who lead and train children.
Bethlehem Baptist Church
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Other Articles in this Issue
PASTORAL PENSÉES: Keeping Eschatology and Ethics Together: The Teaching of Jesus, the Work of Albert Schweitzer, and the Task of Evangelical Pastor-Theologiansby Stephen Witmer
Jesus and the authors of the New Testament consistently link how Jesus’ followers are to live (ethics) with when they live (eschatology)...
The Gradual Nature of Sanctification: Σάρξ as Habituated, Relational Resistance to the Spiritby Steven L. Porter
Possessing a helpful explanation of the slowness of spiritual change can be encouraging to Christians who are not growing spiritually as quickly or consistently as they might have hoped...
Participants in What We Proclaim: Recovering Paul’s Narrative of Pastoral Ministryby William R. Edwards
Many have written on the difficulties of pastoral ministry, backed by research into the demise of those who become discouraged in the work...
In light of John A. D’Elia’s A Place at the Table and Stanley E...
A trio of recent books raises important questions on how Scripture is handled in halls of (certain kinds of) learning and how such handling affects Scripture’s perceived truth and message...