With recommendations from Paul and Tedd Tripp, Tim Challies, and Kirk and Chelsea Cameron, it would be difficult to pick up Ruth Younts’ newly released Get Wisdom! without high expectations. As the Director of Christian Education at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Moore, SC and mother to five adult children, Younts has spent a lifetime teaching youngsters and this book is the fruition of that experience. It is a series of lessons designed to teach children about the virtues of the Christian life or as the subtitle expresses it, “living for Jesus.”
Targeted at early grade-schoolers (K5-4th grade), the twenty-three short lessons each address a specific character trait like humility, trust, meekness, and contentment. Each lesson begins with an opener, includes a memory verse, definitions, guided discussion, and ends with a role-playing activity. Instead of simply being a text, the lessons rely on discussion and active participation from the children, all while keeping the main point firmly rooted in Scripture. It could easily be used in family devotions or a weekly teaching setting such as a mid-week or Saturday Bible club. And despite the famous names listed above, the greatest recommendation I can give comes from my three children—ages seven, five, and two—who beg to read it every evening.
Greater Theological Context
In some ways, Younts is brave to tackle the topic of character development as any more it seems that such teaching can quickly become a theological minefield. The confusion surrounding justification vs. progressive sanctification (that has been embodied in such controversies as the New Perspectives on Paul and Federal Vision movements)—even our own circles’ tendency to rely on structures to produce godliness—can tempt us to neglect teaching on Christian virtues at all. Simply put, in our attempt to avoid moralism, it’s easy to avoid morality altogether.
And the danger is more than theoretical.
On several occasions, I’ve found myself engaged in conversation with theologically-savvy young parents who are trying to come to grips with how their grace-based soteriology relates to rearing young children. They ask questions like, “What role does law play in parenting? What about grace? If I discipline my children, am I merely relying on behaviorism? And how can I teach them about God’s righteousness without simply encouraging them to keep a moral standard?”
Younts seems fully aware of this context and begins Get Wisdom! with a discussion about how Christian wisdom relates to the gospel of grace. She defines wisdom as “knowing and understanding the truth, obeying the truth, and making decisions based on the truth.” (p. 3) She then makes every effort to affirm that these character traits mean nothing apart from a realization of our own sinfulness, trusting the saving grace of Christ, and recognizing that He is the One Who empowers the change in our hearts on a daily basis.
Still, she does say that these virtues must be acquired and that “every child of God—both adults and children—should work hard to show these traits more and more because we love Jesus and want to be like him.” (p. 1) And yet, at some level, even this interplay between disciplined obedience and grace is difficult, because like my five-year-old son asked one day, “If Jesus is the One who gives me a new heart that helps me obey, why hasn’t He done it yet?”
Isn’t this exactly what the rest of us want to know too.
The greater difficulty is this: sanctification is not a simple process and has stymied more than one theologian in history. Reducing it to terms our children can understand isn’t going to be easy unless we take time to understand it ourselves. And ultimately, if we don’t, we run the risk of rearing either Pharisees or libertines.
And One Small Quibble
As I mentioned, generally speaking, Younts does an excellent job of clarifying the relationship between justification by faith and the need to “work out your own salvation.” She understands that Christian virtues must be rooted in a relationship with Christ and that we pursue spiritual maturity through His strength.
Still I have one small quibble with Yount’s paradigm and it comes in the opening sentence of the Introduction. She says that “apart from the gospel itself, nothing is more important to get than wisdom.” (p. 1) While this may seem minor, I feel that stating it this way misses a slight, but necessary, nuance—the fact is that the gospel itself is the highest form of wisdom and that these character traits, instead of being virtues distinct from the gospel, are an organic expression of it. In reality then, the gospel is not simply the linear starting point for character formation; it is the essence and means as well.
This is ultimately what we must teach our children. We must teach them that as much as Christ was the fulfillment of the Law, He was also the fulfillment of Wisdom. We must teach them that honesty and trust and love and all other virtues flow both from Him and unto Him. And if we teach them this, if they truly understand wisdom, they will recognize their need of Him because pursuing virtues like humility, contentment, and courage will reveal both their own inadequacy and His sufficiency. And this then is the wisdom of the gospel: the same truths that humble us to see our need of Christ are the same truths that point the way toward Christ-likeness.