The Gospel Alphabet—Teaching the “Antecedents”

The Gospel Alphabet—Teaching the “Antecedents”

Read Part 1: Giving Children a Gospel Alphabet

Here is a really important insight from J. Gresham Machen:

…when men say that we know God only as He is revealed in Jesus, they are denying all real knowledge of God whatever. For unless there be some idea of God independent of Jesus, the ascription of deity to Jesus has no meaning. To say, “Jesus is God,” is meaningless unless the word “God” has an antecedent meaning attached to it…Jesus revealed, in a wonderfully intimate way, the character of God, but such revelation obtained its true significance only on the basis both of the Old Testament heritage and of Jesus’ own teaching.

(Christianity and Liberalism, copyright©2009, pages 48-49)

For children to rightly grasp the biblical truth that “Jesus is God,” and also the meaning of His saving work accomplished through the Gospel, we must teach them some crucial “antecedents.” By way of illustrating this in relation to teaching children, let’s imagine these antecedents to be the alphabet. (See Giving Children a Gospel Alphabet)

Each of the 26 letters of the English alphabet has its own distinct look and pronunciation. This alphabet gives children the foundation on which all their later language skills will be built. In a similar manner, children need a type of biblical alphabet—a foundation—to properly understand the person and work of Jesus—the Gospel. For example, children will need answers to these important Gospel questions:

  • What is the Bible?
  • Who is God, and what is He like?
  • Who am I, and how am I to act toward God?
  • What is sin?
  • How does God feel about sin, and how does He respond to sin?
  • What are God’s commands, and why are they important?
  • Why did God choose a special people for Himself?
  • How and why does God save His people from their sin?

The answers to these questions provide important “antecedents” to explaining the person and work of Jesus. This is why we believe in giving preschool children a chronological Bible survey, beginning in Genesis, in order to provide them with a type of foundational, biblical alphabet. For example, in our curriculum He Established a Testimony, children are taught 64 Bible stories from the Old Testament.

That’s more than a year just exploring the Old Testament. These stories introduce young children to the key people, places, events, and themes found in the Old Testament. During this time, children are not explicitly taught about Jesus or the Gospel, but they are learning essential truths that will serve their understanding of Jesus and His Gospel. Although this may seem like a slow and tedious approach to teaching children about Jesus and the Gospel, it serves to give children the necessary tools for grasping the true meaning and significance of Jesus and His saving work. But here is a common objection to that approach:

Shouldn’t all teaching be Christ-centered and Gospel-focused—even when teaching from the Old Testament? Shouldn’t we clearly and explicitly connect every Old Testament story to Christ and the Gospel?

I will attempt to address that important concern in Part 3.

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