Jesus Love Me, So I'm Told?
On good word I retell that the honorable and sometimes infuriating Karl Barth once said that the whole of his theology boiled down to "Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so." Sure Karl. Your Church Dogmatics has 9000 words. Given me 10-15 years to get on that.
Perhaps even to those who are unaware of the complexities of Karl Barth, this seems too simple. Perhaps to others who are theologically astute and capable of rattling off common criticism of Barth, the "important doctrines" of justification, sanctification, glorification, ecclesiology and eschatology are deserving the attention they receive even when it is a detriment to the church. And while I will never agree with every word spoken by Dr Barth, I'm pretty sure he got this right. So put another way, if I had to choose between a full wealth of systematic theology or the simple "Jesus love ME", I would most certainly chose, every time, the later.
Why do I spend the time talking about Karl Barth and detrimental theology? Sure, I lost the battle inside my house to name my son Karl. But I was able to win the "middle name battle" hence Judah's name Markus (Karl's son). But that really isn't the point. It is, however, a funny tangent capable of inching us closer to the proximity point. Through son we discuss children. Through children we discuss my oldest. Finally we arrive! The real point has to do with my daughter and advent. Yes, I know I did no lead up for Advent. But hey, its December and you already know Christmas is coming.
More to the point through direct means, our house has been celebrating advent during family worship recently. This has been a challenge since it coincides with our family beginning to practice family worship. There is much singing and minimal reading involved at this stage.
If you don't know my daughter it's important to inform you that she loves singing. That might somehow even be an understatement. The Sound of Music continues to reign in our house but Kenzie's new favorite song is "Jesus Loves Me." It is in fact, I'm pretty sure, the first religious song that she knows completely. And because she knows the song she asks for the song quite specifically when our family time nears. You can imagine the joy this attitude brings parents when they hear such tiny blessings coming off the lips of children. Some of you may have experienced this yourself. But everyone who shares the heart of Christ should experience that joy (Matt 21:16).
The song comes effortlessly off her mouth. Flawlessly one might say. So imagine that, the full and simplified doctrine of Karl Barth (!) can come off my daughter's lips before she has reached the age of two.
What education does she still now need? What truth about God is she lacking? That Christ came and died for her leads directly from "Jesus Loves Me." That the Holy Spirit empowers her to covenantal faithfulness stems from "Jesus Loves Me." How many children have the awesomeness of the Godhead on the tip of their tongue? Why do we build up some new paradigm of definitions that mandate belief for orthodoxy? And how often does the church respond to these simplifications like the Pharisees echoing and requiring as commandments our dogmatic nonsense?
But I shouldn't be misunderstood, I love hearing my daughter sing. For those who truly know me it may be a shock that I almost cry when I hear her request to sing the song. But I also strenuously love theology. Systematic and Biblical Theology are the definition of "relaxation" in my house. A Bible and stack of commentaries are common sights when I'm preparing to teach. The antithesis is not naturally between "Jesus Loves Me" and Systematic Theology. But far beyond crying, my heart breaks to know that many parents and churches introduce the antithesis by failing to build upon the truth "Jesus Loves ME." They can't build upon it because they don't live it. So instead we want to explain to our kids "why." Or "how." Or under "what circumstances." And all this we do while telling them to sing "Jesus loves me, Perhaps this will be so." These things should not be. Covenant children deserve better. (Don't worry no paedobaptism rant is in store. All forms of baptism can be equal opportunity offenders.)
My family is merely singing. And yet my daughter is being taught the finer theology of one of the finest theologians. If I would choose the simpleness from that song over the most refined systematic theology, why would I ever let "the church" do something different? And yet if I ever teach her to set aside "Jesus loves me" for even a moment I've done the deed myself. And who am I to get in the her way of her salvation?