How Christians bring up baby

18 August 2009

Ronni Lamont reads child-rearing guides in which small voices are the highlight

Can God Really Help You . . . Bring Up Your Children?
Andrea Webster

Matador £7.99 (978-1-848760-69-1)
Church Times Bookshop £7.20

reviewed with

Toddling to the Kingdom: Child theology at work in the Church
John Collier, editor

The Child Theology Movement £4.99 (978-0-95609-930-3)

NOT LONG after I was first or­dained, I arrived early to the local clergy chapter. The small talk re­volved around the coloured clerical shirts that were newly available. “I’m a grey man, my­self,” said the area dean. He was indeed.

As time has passed, I’ve dis­covered that, contrary to appear­ances, I’m a grey woman — in that I now think theologically in terms of grey, rather than black and white. Thus I found these two books challenging, as they both come from a more Reformed stable of theology than I would now gravitate towards.

Can God Really Help You…Bring Up Your Children? by Andrea Web­ster is more a personal testimony — which then tells you about how faith informs Mrs Webster’s style of family life — than a book of child-rearing strategies. It was this element that was my stumbling- block. She is very keen to tell how much her faith in God has changed her life, as indeed it clearly has; but her fundamental Evangelical stance (“just give God a chance”) lacks theological depth.

The hermeneutic of the book is interesting, as much of the quoted New Testament is believed literally by her, and there is an implied belief in creationism; but the more obvious instructions on child rearing from Proverbs are filtered to give a modern understanding.

There are no references to recent work on child spirituality or faith development in evidence, nor are any such sources quoted; and modern gurus are dismissed as “trends”.

As a personal testimony, this book gives a clear call for others to discover a fresh faith such as Mrs Webster now clearly enjoys; but the thinking fails to contribute to the child-spirituality/theology debate in any depth.

Contributing to the debate, but apparently on a parallel track to that of most of the other work around at present, Toddling to the Kingdom is offered as the thinking of the Child Theology Movement ( which has held consultations over the world since 2002. (I would recommend a trip to that website before reading the book, to help with context.)

These consultations considered the transformation made to Christian theology when we “put a child in our midst”. I found the book made more sense as I progressed through it, and came to terms with its structure: a series of papers and reflections, contributed by theologians from four continents, complete with brain-storming lists and diagrams.

Again, the theologians are all from the Reformed wing of the Church, asking questions that often revolve around themes of sin, atonement, and salvation. I applaud the exploration of what sin is, and the ways in which we misunder­stand the word, but I find challeng­ing questions such as, “Do children have a place in the Church before conversion?”

I also applaud the writers’ bravery in placing children at the centre of the gospel as messengers as well as listeners to the voice of God. This is a theological work in which chil­dren’s voices are heard, and their voices are the highlight. But at times the stories appear to have been inserted so as to remind us of the key message of “the child in our midst”, rather than so as to develop the argument.

The experiences of children’s lives across the globe are highlighted, and should be noted; and the inter­national and cross-cultural nature of the dialogue is also to be com­mended, although much of the commentary is by Keith White and Haddon Willmer, who are both English theologians.

The book has been produced in-house, and there is an assumption that the reader is familiar with the contributors’ previous works. This, combined with the occasional typographical error, means that an external editor would have helped reveal a better book within.

The Revd Ronni Lamont is a freelance writer and trainer.

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