Book Review - Get Wisdom!: 23 Lessons for Children about Living for Jesus

Image of Get Wisdom!
by Ruth Younts
Shepherd Press 2011
Paperback 92

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.

[node:bio/handerson body]

1891 reads

There are 5 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

Thanks for the thoughtful review, Hannah. ... and the stimulating attention to morality and sanctification. I think it's one of the great tragedies of our time that we (as in ministry leaders in general but especially pastors) have bred confusion about sanctification.
It is not God's intention that we be confused about our responsibilities as individual believers and parents. And the Scriptures are sufficient to bring us clarity. The confusion has been our own doing.

Anyway, I'm stirred again to see if there is more I can do to help clear up some of that confusion.

In the case of your point about getting wisdom being #1 aside from the gospel... I'm not sure I agree with your critique. That is, we need to be careful not to overstate how "organic" wisdom and morality are to the gospel. The reason is that both wisdom and morality have common grace expressions as well as special grace expressions.
Both believers and the unregenerate are gifted with conscience, moral sensibilities, and a great deal of basic moral understanding. Wisdom cries out in the streets and the marketplace, not only in church sanctuaries.
For the believer, all wisdom and morality are organic to the gospel because responding in faith to the gospel has completely reoriented our relationship to truth and goodness. Since we are new creations, even the common grace wisdom and morality are transformed for us (more accurately, we are transformed toward them).

But large populations of unbelievers can learn and live the basics of moral integrity and wisdom... and some unbelievers even excel in these things. God doesn't just rain rain on the just and unjust but also rains truth and goodness on them. The main distinction is that the unbeliever suppresses the truth (though not all of it) in ungodliness and is deeply hostile toward God (Kevin Bauder's underappreciated post last Mo. is helpful on this). And none of the goodness or wisdom natural man acquires in that fallen state does anything to fix his deepest problem or meet his deepest need.

So... in short, the great thing about wisdom and morality is that they bless everyone who learns them, even if superficially.

handerson's picture

about wisdom benefiting believer and unbeliever alike. My daughter's public school has a believing principal and he is doing a great job of incorporating value-based education into the framework of school life. And I'm not worried about it becoming moralism--all those little heathens need a good dose of "civilizing." Smile But we must all agree that even the common grace unbelievers experience because of morality is rooted in the character of God--whether they realize it or not. And in this I mean that virtues are not independent forces in themselves but flow from the very nature of God.

My criticism came because the book was written in context of teaching sanctification, not simply virtues. I wouldn't have expected the same expression of the nature of wisdom from The Book of Virtues (for example), but if you are writing from a believing perspective and to believing parents, I do think it is an unnecessary distinction to separate the gospel from virtue. And quite possibly a problematic one. Instead, it's vital to draw the connection for believing families, that more than simply being a "Christian" version of The Book of Virtures, that all these virtues are actually rooted in the person of Christ --that He is wisdom personified. And that's what I meant by wisdom being an organic expression of the gospel (i.e in that one of the core doctrines of the gospel is the person and work of Christ.)

(Now's there's a book I'd love to read: how did Christ display virtue while here on earth?)

Also, I do think there is something else in play and perhaps you can offer suggestions to this:

I was struck while working through this book that humility is a key virtue, and that it is humility that brings us to our need of Christ. Moralism happens not when we pursue virtues but when we pursue them in pride and self-sufficiency (so in reality, I guess moralists are not moral after all). But if a person has a proper view of himself, a desire to pursue wisdom, and eventually becomes aware of Christ's sacrifice, isn't he already pre-disposed to embrace it because his heart is humbled and he will recognize the beauty of Christ based on the moral framework already in place? In this sense, virtue itself prepares us for Christ and so embracing him becomes the capstone of wisdom -- thus my statement that the gospel is the highest form of wisdom.

NoahB's picture

[quote=handerson ]

I was struck while working through this book that humility is a key virtue, and that it is humility that brings us to our need of Christ.

In pondering this, you may enjoy reading a book that I recently read: Humility by Andrew Murray.
It's a challenging little read. I have a paperback version, but you can read it online for free here (although it's worded a little differently than my paperback version): http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/murray/5f00.0565/5f00.0565.c.htm

Here's a quote from the online version (speaking of humility):

If this be the root of the tree, its nature must be seen in every branch and leaf and fruit. If humility be the first, the all-including grace of the life of Jesus,- if humility be the secret of His atonement,-then the health and strength of our spiritual life will entirely depend upon putting this grace first too, and making humility the chief thing we admire in Him, the chief thing we ask of Him, the one thing for. which we sacrifice all else.

As you can see, he places a huge priority on humility (To the point of unwarranted reductionism? Possibly, but it was a helpful read either way.).

handerson's picture

I think that there is also a parallel in "the fear of the Lord" being the beginning of knowledge, not being wise in our own eyes, humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God, etc. The thrust throughout Scripture seems to be toward a proper understanding of self and God, in a word humility. And from this disposition, the Gospel can take root and virtues can flourish. But as Aaron mentioned, even this is hemmed by the (humbling) affirmation that the person and work of God is what cultivates our heart in the first place.

Aaron Blumer's picture

Hannah, I get your point in #2. And I agree. So we must be right.
Sanctification is a believers-only thing and "moral development" for us has a completely different dynamic.

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.