Teaching Children about Other Religions

When and how much to teach about other religions is a sensitive subject. Each parent will need to make their own decision, taking into account the age of their children and the child’s own spiritual maturity.

We live in a culture that is bombarding us–and our children–with the lie that every belief is equally valid, and that each person can have their own Truth. Yet just because someone else believes their religion is true, doesn’t make it so. On the judgment day, those who rejected Christ will find that they were deceived.

In our pluralistic culture I believe it is important to teach children what others believe. I would rather have my children learn this from me than see them encounter it for the first time outside our home.

Helping our kids understand what we believe…

There is another reason to teach children about other religions. We can use these conversations as an opportunity to help our children understand their own beliefs more thoroughly.

I take a spiral approach, teaching in more depth as the children get older and more mature. I have always felt that it is not beneficial to teach children too much about other religions when they don’t yet have a firm grasp of the foundational teachings of Christianity.

With the younger ones, we focus only on a few key concepts. It is vitally important that other religions are not taught in a vacuum. Every word that is taught about another religion should be contrasted with what we, as Christians, believe on the topic.

For example, when we studied India we learned about Hinduism, their major religion. One key point is the idea of reincarnation. I taught the children that Hindus believe people may be reborn as a priest if they are good in this life or they may come back as a weed or a bug if their bad deeds outweigh the good ones. At this point, we paused our discussion of Hinduism to talk about what Christians believe.

Does the Christian believe he is saved because of his good works? Can we stand before a holy God on the basis of our own merit? What does the Christian believe happens to a person’s body and spirit upon death? I suggest asking the children to answer these kinds of questions, and then sum up what the Christian believes with a Bible verse or two on the topic.

Learning about reincarnation was an opportunity to remind the children that all our good works are as filthy rags, and that we are saved through faith in Christ alone. Twenty percent of the conversation was about what the Hindu believes, 80% about what the Christian believes.

As we talk about other religions, it provides an object lesson that can help children understand the freedom we possess in Christ. I asked them to think about how stressful it would be if they carried the weight of their salvation on their own shoulders. As it is, they often feel frustrated with themselves when they struggle with pattern sins. How much worse would they feel if they believed their sins were gaining for them an undesirable next life?

The pressure to perform has been lifted from their little shoulders. Jesus wants us to be obedient, but he knows we aren’t perfect. They are covered in his blood and their sins are paid for. I want my children to see this contrast between the futility of man’s teachings and the loving grace of the one true God.

With my oldest son, I go more in depth. Our curriculum, Tapestry of Grace, takes an approach that I have found helpful for years. We make T-charts comparing Christian beliefs on key issues with that of the religion we are studying. For example, we write Hinduism and Christianity in the two columns across the top of the paper. Down the left side are words such as “authority of scripture”, “salvation”, “afterlife”, and “the nature of God”. I draw heavily on the book Bruce and Stan’s Guide to Cults, Religions and Spiritual Beliefs during these discussions. A sixth or seventh grader could easily read this book on their own in preparation for this discussion. Tapestry also makes it easy for me, including relevant scriptures and key points in my teacher’s notes.

I frequently have my 7th grader take these discussions a step further and write a compare and contrast paper highlighting the differences between Christianity and the religion in question on key beliefs. This helps me to really know whether he understands these key points, and forces him to grapple with the issues.

This is also a wonderful time for him to learn how to use a concordance to begin searching out scripture for himself. I found in his last paper that he chose a scripture verse which did not prove the point he was making. We were able to discuss what the scripture he chose was about, what he was trying to say in his paper, and what scriptures would be more to the point. I want him to learn to use the sword of the Word effectively, and writing a paper with scriptural proofs is excellent training.

Model compassion 

In all of this teaching, we should be compassionate toward the lost. Jack’s paper had a disrespectful tone which conveyed that he thought Hinduism was ridiculous. I want him to recognize that unbelievers are intelligent, thoughtful people who have been deceived. Our children need to learn how to communicate passionate conviction in a winsome way that shows love and respect for the unbeliever.

Last week my children learned that the Buddha taught his followers that freeing oneself from all desire is the key to spiritual enlightenment. Six year old Colin must have pondered that discussion all day. That evening, he asked me: “Mom, if the Buddha could have had three wishes, what do you think he would have wished for?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “He probably would have had to give his wishes to someone else, since he was not supposed to have any desires.”

Colin’s insight amazed me. He said, “Well, mom, he could have used one of his wishes to ask for enlightenment, but then he wouldn’t get it, because he would have desired it. See why it’s crazy, mom? He wants enlightenment, but he can’t get it unless he stops wanting it.”

“…by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4: 2-6

Comments

  1. I’ve just begun teaching my children the differences between the Truth and the counterfeits. We end up calling most of the “gods” idols and explaining why they are impotent. Then we talk about what God can do in their place.

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