August 31, 2023

Should Young People Study Theology?

Nathan W. Bingham & Stephen Nichols
Should Young People Study Theology?

Is the study of theology designated for a specific age group? Today, Stephen Nichols explains why it is important for Christians in their formative, younger years and believers of all ages to study theology.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: Joining me in the studio today is Dr. Stephen Nichols. He’s the host of the 5 Minutes in Church History podcast and a teaching fellow here at Ligonier Ministries. Dr. Nichols, should young people study theology?

DR. STEPHEN NICHOLS: I would say all people should study theology no matter what age you are. But let’s stick with the question: Should young people study theology? Absolutely. Theology is the understanding of who God is. It is, in its most literal definition, the study of God. And all of us, as creatures of God, need to know who our Creator is and need to know who God is. So, it’s incumbent on all of us, no matter what our age, to study theology.

Now, we can get into a couple of variations on this question and ask, first of all, Why should young people study theology? And I think as we explore that answer, what we find is this is a crucial moment to establish foundations that one will build on for the rest of their lives.

As we study how we develop cognitively and behaviorally, we understand that there are two key moments in our lifetime when we undergo significant stages of development. One is that age of two to five and another is college. So, if we define young people as from two to college, we are finding that those moments in their lives are bookended with when they are undergoing their most significant cognitive and behavioral development, and it’s at that time that we need to have theology present in their lives and for them to take seriously the study of theology.

Well, this raises another question: How do we teach young people theology? And I think that’s important. I’ll go back to an example from our New England Puritan friends back to the New England Primer—one of the first books they printed. They printed the Bay Psalter and they printed the New England Primer to teach young children how to read, primarily so they could read the Bible. But when you go back in there, it’s the ABC—and when we studied the alphabet, when I studied it in my public school in the 70s, it was apple and aardvark and banana and baseball.

Well, here’s what these New England Puritan kids got. For the A, they got:

In Adam’s Fall
We sinned all.

Now, we’ve got Adam and we’ve got all, so it’s a helpful way to learn it. It’s a rhyme, which is helpful, and we can’t discount that. This makes it fun for kids, makes it memorable for kids, but this is theology. This is the doctrine of original sin. This tells me that I am created, as Adam was created, directly by God and also tells me that I’m fallen. Well, that’s pretty crucial to my identity, and so right off the bat, these little New England Puritan kids running around are being taught who they are.

And then, we come to the B:

Heaven to find;
The Bible Mind.

So now, we know this is the authoritative rule book for my life. This is God’s revelation to me, for me, who has fallen in Adam, to come back home and to be reconciled to Him.

And then the C:

Christ crucify’d
For sinners dy’d.

Now, just think about that. Learning the ABCs, what did we learn? We learned who we are, we learned the role of the Bible in our lives, and we learned about who Christ is. That’s theology. And I think it was very clever that they were inculcating this at an early age.

When I think about teaching my students sometimes, I think about the mental furniture I want them to have—the ideas, the principles, the key people, the key thoughts that I want them to have—so that as they engage life, and as they learn more, and as they read Scripture, and as they grow as disciples, they have a framework to think through things and they have principles to discern and to evaluate as things come into their lives. And that, to me, stresses all the more the importance of teaching young people theology—and also realizing that we have to be good teachers of it to young people so that we’re giving them the mental furniture in these years that are formative for them that then will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

So, should young people study theology? Absolutely. And I think it’s quite an exciting task for all of us to be involved in teaching them theology as well.