August 18, 2014—The Child in Christian Thought, ed. by Marcia J. Bunge (Religion, Marriage, and Family series. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001. 513 pp. $24.00. ISBN 0-8028-4693-9) is a collection of essays on the concept and theological thinking about the child throughout Christian history. The book is part of the larger “The Child in Christian Thought,” a project by editor Marcia Bunge that strived to inform current thinking on children, the church, and families by tracing the concept of the child and childhood through the history of Christian thought.
The book is a study in historical theology that attempts to answer specific questions regarding:
(1) How selected theologians and movements speak about the nature of children,
(2) How do they speak about the roles and responsibilities of parents, the state, and the church in nurturing children,
(3) How those thoughts relate to the larger theological framework and concerns of those theologians and movements,
(4) How the ideas of children, church, and family are related to particular social, cultural, and political contexts, and
(5) The implications of the various ideas throughout Christian history for contemporary thinking on children and the obligations parents, church, and society have for children.
The essays examine the thoughts and writings of key theologians such as: Chrysostom, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Menno Simons, Francke, Wesley, Edwards, Schleiermacher, Bushnell, Barth, and Rahner. In addition thoughts on children from such movements are the Jesuits and Ursulines, the eighteenth century Pietists, and the black woman’s clubs of the nineteenth century are examined. One chapter examines contemporary feminist theologians’ thoughts on children. The treatment of movements in addition to theological personalities helps provide balance to the span of ideas presented. At the very least, the collection of essays reveals that the notions of the nature of the child in Christian thought is more varied than is often assumed. A case in point: the idea of the sinful nature of the child runs the spectrum from born innocent to born depraved as a result of original sin. But even among those theologians who attribute a state of sinfulness to children, the idea about the nature of that state, and the recommended response of church and parents, is not uniform or uncritical.
Taken as a whole, the collection of essays offered in this volume provide a sweeping view of the development of the thought and theology about the child, from the New Testament era to the nineteenth century. The contributing writers do a responsible job of interpreting the writings and messages of their selected theologians, many of whom dealt with the idea of the child primarily in response to more central issues of their day.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.
His books on Christian education include The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H).