The Pitfalls of Prooftext Parenting

This past week, my college classmate and brother in Christ, Jeff Wilson, made the following application in his lecture entitled “Should We Systematize Bible Teaching?”:

We need to be aware of how we teach our children. If our children know what we believe and how to argue with their denominational friends only from prooftexts alone then what we done is we have given them a system and not scripture . . . When we think have done our job because we gave our kids a list of passages one verse at a time that we have given them the breadth and depth of scripture, we are passing on a system more than we realize.

What exactly does that mean “passing on a system?” Systematic theology is a formal attempt to pass on Biblical teaching in a structured, logical framework.

Perhaps a simpler way to understand the idea of passing on a system is through illustration. There are some who believe there is only one way to teach salvation: “The Five Steps.” The first step is “Hear” (Romans 10:17). The second step is “Believe” (John 3:16). The third step is “Repent” (Acts 2:38; 17:30). The fourth step is “Confess” (Romans 10:10). The fifth step is “Be Baptized” (Mark 16:15; Acts 2:38). Oddly, some add a sixth step of “Remain Faithful” (Revelation 2:10). It’s odd because even those who have six steps still refer to them as “The Five Steps of Salvation.” For some, this is the only acceptable method for someone to explain salvation.

“The Five Steps” is a systemization of the truth. That doesn’t mean it is a bad method. But we need to be aware of the dangers of such a systematized approach to knowledge. To be clear, there are more ways to teach the Gospel than “The Five Steps.”

What if those Christians who cannot recite “The Five Steps” can turn to Acts and teach salvation by simply going through the conversions? What if they walk their friend through the conversion of the Jailer? Or, the conversion of Cornelius? Or, even Paul? What if they can turn to Acts 2:38 and use the words of Peter to teach salvation? Is that not just as acceptable and effective as using “The Five Steps?” Yes! Often more effective!

So what is the difference? In regards to our children, teaching them “The Five Steps” and the corresponding prooftexts produces a systematized approach that doesn’t always lead to true faith. In fact, it most often develops very little faith. In contrast, the believer who can walk through the conversions of Acts showing the steps of salvation without reciting “The Five Steps” system displays a deeper biblical understanding of scripture which builds a deeper faith.

When we emphasize “The Five Steps” rather than teaching the deeper understanding of scripture, we appear similar to the Pharisees who tithed their spice cabinets while neglecting the great things (Matthew 23:23–24). We teach a system instead of the Word. All of which means we are falling short in fulfilling the obligation to raise our children in the instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

Avoid the pitfalls of Prooftext Parenting. Share the deeper, greater things of the Gospel with your children.