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family devotional

Enculturation Through Memorization

“Every family ought to be a little church, consecrated to Christ and wholly governed and influenced by his rules.”
-Jonathan Edwards

This week we began by considering the command to bring up our children "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord"--or in Paul's words, in the "paideia" of the Lord. Paideia is the Greek word we've translated "discipline and instruction," but paideia has a much deeper, richer, and all-encompassing meaning than simply formal education. In fact, the best way to describe paideia might be "enculturation"!

Reminiscent of Deuteronomy 6 (think back to last week), Paul's instruction is to teach the things of God in a totally immersive way. Teach it. Talk about it. Talk about it when you get up, when you lie down, when you're driving, when you're shopping, write it on things, do whatever it takes. Because enculturation cannot happen in one hour a week at church and in prayers before bed. It's simply not enough!

 “Just a few generations ago a man was considered spiritually responsible if he led his family before the throne of God in prayer, read and taught the Scriptures at home, and led family devotions (among other things). Today parents are considered responsible if they find the church with the best-staffed nursery and the most up-to-date youth ministry.” (Family Driven Faith, 95)

Many years ago when we got serious about discipleship in our family, it was overwhelming--intimidating even! What if I mess up? How can I teach them when there's so much I don't know, myself? What am I supposed to do? How will we know they're learning anything? It made me sick to think about messing up something as profound as the spiritual climate of my family--but the truth was, that's what I was doing by not doing anything! But God knows what he's doing, and we were reminded of a few things: that there are great resources out there (I recommend a couple here), and that children learn in different stages. Knowing those learning stages took off a lot of pressure and introduced us to something that's been done for a long time....

The Trivium (of Classical Learning)

1. Grammar: The fundamental rules of each subject.
2. Logic: The ordered relationship of particulars in each subject.
3. Rhetoric: How the grammar and logic of each subject may be clearly expressed.

All human learning happens in a form of these three stages, but children are naturally much more adept at soaking in everything because their minds are still being formed. They're memory machines in the elementary years (grammar), so they're just learning the basic building blocks, vocabulary, etc. At the jr high age (logic) they begin to make connections, find meaning, and see how the parts fit. At the high school age (rhetoric) they are mastering the subject and beginning to be able to discuss and express it.

So how can this help us disciple our kids?

Knowing how they learn, we can give them what they need when they need it.
Remember the earlier warning in Ephesians 6 not to provoke our children to anger? One way to make life harder is to frustrate everyone by trying to teach too much too fast. Keep it at a level they can handle. At an early age, they can't filter out the bad yet, so make sure you put in lots of good!

Give them the blocks, and that's what they'll use to build.
Catechisms are a time-tested, systematic, question-and-answer method designed to teach kids (or any believer, new or old) the basics of Christian doctrine. Even at an early age, kids can memorize the questions and answers. They may not understand what they're memorizing, but they'll put the pieces together later--and when they're ready, they'll have the foundation. Over time, this information can shape an entire worldview, and pay off as children begin to master the information, own it, and express it themselves. This is the one we use; it's a catechism and devotional all in one. Makes it pretty easy!

Oh, and guess who else learns it while they're teaching the kids to memorize it?