A few years ago, toward the beginning of my time in my current position, I set to evaluating some of the children's curriculum at Riverview, specifically the Group Hands On curriculum that we used in our Children's Church ministry. What I found was not encouraging; in fact, it was downright bad teaching.
Many Christians and Christian curriculums have, in large part - at least when it comes to teaching children about the Bible and God - diminished the presence of God as the main character of Bible stories, and have instead replaced him with the human characters around which the stories are told. In other words, a lot of focus is placed on teaching how the human characters in Bible stories reacted in certain situations, what they did or did not do, and what happened as a result of what they did. Very little attention is given to the God who directs and sustains all life (including the human so-called heroes of Bible stories).
Here's an example: the way most children's curriculums ("curricula?" I never know which word to use when referring to the plural) teach the story of David and Goliath in such a way as to make the application something like "we can be brave when we trust in God." Is this true? Yes, indeed. Trust in God can certainly help us take bold steps when we know he is on our side. But if this is the lesson we learn from the story of David and Goliath, we are completely missing the point of that story. The point is to show that God is greater than everyone and everything - even the most powerful armies, and their 9 foot tall giants. Nobody is stronger than God. Nobody can ever defeat God. He will always have victory over his enemies. In the story of David and Goliath, we learn these lessons by observing how God used a human being (David) to prove these things. The story isn't about David, bravery, trusting God, or anything else. The main point is to display the glory and power of a great God. We can certainly learn things about David, being brave, and trusting in God from the story, but these are secondary lessons.
Another lesson I came across when reviewing our curriculum a few years ago was that of Jesus calming the storm. The curriculum asserted that the lesson of this story for children to learn was that "Jesus keeps my family safe." So kids were supposed to hear how Jesus calms the storm, and then apply that to their families safety and rest assured that "Jesus keeps my family safe." While this is not only clearly not the point of the story of Jesus calming the storm, it's blatantly false. Jesus does not necessarily keep everyone's family safe. What if, after having learned that lesson, a child's family was killed on the way home from church that afternoon? What would that kid then think of Jesus? Jesus is a liar, and he absolutely cannot keep my family safe, because they just died.
Cut to this article on The Cripplegate that I linked to from Tim Challies' blog. They make some great points about the main point of the story of Daniel in the lion's den. What do we see in that story? We see Daniel, a man of great faith and great bravery - certainly an example for all Christians to emulate. But these aspects of the story are not the main point. As the article points out, the main point of the story is Daniel's God. How do we know this? Because of what King Darius said as he left the lion's den that day: "I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end."
Was King Darius impressed by Daniel's faith and courage? Maybe. But not nearly as much as he was impressed with Daniel's God. God is the main point of every story in the Bible, and it's time to start teaching that to our children (and adults, for that matter). At Riverview we've switched to a curriculum that is much more God-centered and exalts him for who he is, and how he uses people throughout scripture to declare his glory.