How should we teach our children about the Trinity? Five Minutes with Joey Allen
In the most recent issue of the magazine, “The Trinity and the Christian Life: Why a Triune God Makes All the Difference,” Joey Allen checks in for five minutes in order to talk to us about how we should teach our children about the Trinity. Joey, his wife Christy, and two little theologians Claire (6) and Joe (3) have worked in a Muslim South Asian country for over five years. Joey holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Georgia and a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. Joey is the author of the Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers series, which includes The Gospel, The Trinity, The Scriptures, and The Mission, published by New Leaf Press. Here is the interview with Joey:
As parents, why is it so important to teach our children about the doctrine of the Trinity at a young age?
I am baffled that teaching the Trinity is often seen as something other than teaching about God. Parents and teachers treat the Trinity like a spare tire—it’s good to have, but not necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth.
No one would argue that the gospel is optional, and yet the gospel is a trinitarian reality. The gospel becomes unintelligible without a concept of the distinct persons of God. For example, 1 John 4:14 says, “The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” This simple gospel verse opens our eyes to the persons of the Trinity working together to bring about our salvation. The Trinity is more like the engine that drives our understanding of the gospel—therefore, it is utterly indispensable.
Since God is more wonderful than anything in the Universe, we want our children to experience the joy of knowing God. To know God as he really is, as he has revealed himself in the Bible, is to know him as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Media bombards even the most sheltered kids, teaching them explicit and implicit messages about God, themselves, and the world. If parents do not intentionally instruct their children in the truth of God, Satan will not miss his opportunity.
The Trinity can be very difficult to understand. What is your advice to parents as they explain the Trinity to their children?
With a unanimous voice, the godly men and women of old declare that faith comes before understanding. Indeed, faith is the door that opens our understanding. So my advice would be, “Don’t worry about your child’s ability to understand the Trinity. Simply teach them what is true.”
Adults struggle with the mysterious nature of the Trinity. Children just accept it. Children exhibit remarkable faith. My three-year old son believes that there is one God who is three persons. He has never once asked me, “How can that be?” I wonder if this isn’t the kind of child-like faith Jesus said was necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven.
How can parents avoid heretical definitions of the Trinity in their efforts to simplify such a complex concept for their children?
Parents can avoid heretical definitions of the Trinity by not trying to simplify a complex concept. The Trinity is deep. Let it be that way. We want our children to have an exalted view of God. Ask your children if an ant can understand an airplane. In the same way, we can’t come close to grasping God.
Allowing your explanation of the Trinity to be complex doesn’t mean you have to go into details about the economic Trinity or the speculative notions from contemporary scholarship. For very young children, simply teaching that there is one God who has always been the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit may be enough. As they grow, so can your explanations.
David Covington said, “Mystery is not the absence of meaning, but the presence of more meaning than we can comprehend.” The doctrine of the Trinity is mysterious, yes, but we can teach our children with confidence what Christians have always believed about God.
What about illustrations and analogies? Should we use them when describing the Trinity to our children? Why or why not?
In my Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers book on the Trinity, I don’t use any illustrations or analogies. I don’t want children thinking God is like an egg or water. Whenever we equate God with something in his Creation, we fall into error.
I don’t think illustrations or analogies are bad, as long as we clearly understand that they are only illustrations or analogies. Augustine, for example, used analogies quite freely. His meditations on 1 John 4:8, “God is love,” provide some of the most profound insights into the nature of God that theologians have ever considered. I think kids can understand that love needs more than one person, so if God is love, we understand that God is both the lover and the beloved. This kind of description may help children understand the Trinity better.
The gospel itself gives us tremendous insight into the Trinity because in the gospel we see the Father sending the Son, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to take the wrath of the Father in order to invite us into the eternal community of God. Parents who get a hold of this truth will love teaching the doctrine of the Trinity to their kids.
Read other interviews in the new issue of Credo Magazine:
The Trinity and the Christian Life: Why a triune God makes all the difference
One of the dangers every church faces is slipping, slowly and quietly and perhaps unknowingly, into a routine where sermons are preached, songs are sung, and the Lord’s Supper is consumed, but all is done without a deep sense and awareness of the Trinity. In other words, if we are not careful our churches, in practice, can look remarkably Unitarian. And such a danger is not limited to the pews of the church. As we leave on Sunday morning and go back into the world, does the gospel we share with our coworker look decisively and explicitly Trinitarian in nature? Or when we pray in the privacy of our own home, do the three persons of the Trinity make any difference in how we petition God?
In this issue of Credo Magazine, we have brought together some of the sharpest thinkers in order to bring our minds back to the beauty, glory, and majesty of our triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But we do not merely want to see him as triune, but recognize why and how the Trinity makes all the difference in the Christian life. Therefore, in this issue Fred Sanders, Robert Letham, Michael Reeves, Scott Swain, Tim Challies, Stephen Holmes, and many others come together in order to help us think deeper thoughts about how God is one essence and three persons, and what impact the Trinity has on who we are and what we do as believers.
Matthew Barrett, Executive Editor