The university I attended for my undergraduate degree was actually a part of Colonial Williamsburg. We were seeped in history and most of us loved it, no matter our major. Our library was full of rare documents from people like Thomas Jefferson and other historical figures. As a result, one of the principles we were taught was the idea of researching primary source documents.
A primary source document is considered to be the closest source you can find to an actual event or person. So for example, when I wanted to do a paper on the man who built many of the historical homes on the Appomattox River, I didn’t read a book about him. Instead, I went to the historical society library in Richmond and had them pull everything he had ever personally written – from letters to diaries to inventories and wills. Those documents painted a more accurate picture of the man than one painted by someone else who had their personal interpretation of his life added to the mix.
So what does this have to do with Christian parenting? For Christians, our primary source document is the Bible. (I’m not ignoring the translation aspect, but that’s a more advanced level of this topic.) All other writings on the topic are considered at best a secondary source. Any book on Christianity. Any theology treatise. Any commentary. Any document written by someone and not included in the Bible is a secondary source.
As we mentioned before, secondary sources have an element of opinion in them. There is no such thing as bias free writing. People interpret events through their filters – past experiences, past knowledge, etc. Those filters can subtly or even radically change the interpretation of the original information. The reader of the secondary source may think they are getting an accurate interpretation of what a certain scripture means, for example, but that may or may not be true.
The intent of the writer of the secondary source is really of little relevance to you and your children when it comes to Christianity. Whether it is by an innocent misunderstanding or a deliberate attempt to mislead others, the result is the same. God’s Words and their meanings have been altered – at times drastically – from God’s original intent for us.
I tell my students they are to “trust” no one. I don’t care how “great” a Christian or speaker they think the person is. All of us – except for the inspired writers of the Bible – are susceptible to getting things wrong from time to time. They cannot and should not base their theology on any teacher or preacher outside of the writers of the Bible itself. Your children must have it drilled into them – they should double check everything by the scriptures themselves.
There are no exceptions to this rule. I have heard many very famous preachers say later in life, after more study and life experiences, they have changed their minds about what a passage of scripture meant. So which should your kids follow – the original idea the preacher had or the newer idea? Just because the idea is new and more enlightened in their viewpoint doesn’t mean it is any more accurate.
Teach your children not to let anyone – and I do mean anyone – get between them and God’s Words. It’s okay to read Christian books and listen to preachers and teachers, but they need to double check everything by the Bible for themselves. If what they read leads them to a different conclusion, they need to keep reading and keep asking questions.
Your children can also benefit from this research habit when it comes to popular culture, history, politics, science and a variety of other issues. Your primary source is always going to give more accurate information about what the original person thought and believed than someone else’s interpretation of those documents.
Teaching your children to always go back to the source – the Bible – for learning who God is and what He wants for them and from them is the very best way you can protect your kids from false teaching and from being lured away by Satan. It is most definitely worth the time and effort it takes to instill that habit in your kids.