“’John is saved, though Mary isn’t, and we are not quite sure about Bill,’ two Christian parents speaking of their own children, all under the age of twelve and who are completely aware of what is being said, and they react accordingly.” Some time ago I read a Christian book about children and came across this affirmation.* Of course, such thinking is familiar to me (meaning that I am aware of what theology and attitude to the faith lies behind it) but nevertheless I was struck by the “reality” of this seemingly ordinary and well accepted Christian consideration of those parents about their most loved ones; it sounded to me like the parents were saying that John (“like us, the adults, who are saved”), is lucky, he is saved as God has chosen him and reassured him; Mary, unfortunately, is not saved and if she does not do something about it, she will perish; and Bill – the poor thing – he is still nowhere, neither recognised by the Lord nor condemned by Him (see chapter 13 for more details about the author, his book and opinions about children, including my own reflection on the relations between God and the child). And the children “happily” accept their parents’ theologising.
Being struck by such “theological reality” experienced by many Christian parents (and certainly, by their children, too), I started researching into theology and children but soon I noticed that for quite a time I was struggling with the research without any evident success. Then I realised that I needed a push, an inspiration, an example of how such research or theological exploration or practical work with children is done. For a couple of years I left all my writings on the topic and continued with my teaching and mission work until the long-awaited push and inspiration came to me. Several years ago two important events again turned my entire attention to children and young people in the context of Christian nurture: I met Christian scholars and theologians who for a long time have been working with children and writing about them (and I got to know their writings), and then I was invited and took part in several conferences and consultations with the general title “child, Church, mission.”
Getting to know more about the different Christian movements that work with children (such as the 4/14 Global Window, Child Theology Movement, Holistic Child Development Programmes, Global Children’s Forum, Compassion International, etc.) made me further develop the theme of “child, Church, mission” from the perspective of the Orthodox churches; some years later I found myself interested in developing the theme from the perspective of the wider Church, that is, from an inter-Christian point of view. But an ever more increased interest in the topic and the long-awaited push came at a 2011 conference in Nairobi where I met Dan Brewster, the then Director of Holistic Child Development Academic Programs for Compassion International, and Keith White, the founder of the Child Theology Movement and the carer of children in need at the residential Millgrove in South Woodford, London; there I learned what it means for Christian scholars, theologians and child careers to work with and serve children for several decades while being not fully satisfied with what has been done and always longing to do more. Certainly, there are more aspects of the child-Church-mission link that needs further development. At least this is what I felt and what made me start further research on the topic and write on it.
I was specifically interested in the Child Theology Movement and wanted to further reflect on what has been achieved so far; at the same time I wanted to make Orthodox church leaders and theologians aware of this movement and of the work done by the above mentioned organisations (and I even translated into Bulgarian Dan’s book Child, Church, Mission and distributed it as wide as possible) and was struck when I found that they are not interested in these at all! I was both ashamed and disappointed and could not believe that these Christians cannot be interested in the child! Because this is what in fact my Orthodox fellow brothers and sisters showed: complete ignorance of the fact that Jesus loves children and treats them in a very special way – in a way that is not like any other relation of Jesus to people: He most clearly affirmed that the Kingdom belongs to children and that we the adults must turn and become like them; we the adults often argue who would be the greatest in the Kingdom and never think in the way Jesus thinks: unless we humble and try to see Jesus and the Kingdom with the eyes of a child, we will never enter it! This is what I tried to explain to Orthodox Christians, and what an answer did I get in response? “Who cares about those little ones, salvation is about spiritual struggle and great spiritual endeavours, let children live their life and not bother about their salvation: they are anyway condemned as this is what human nature is, unless people get to know Jesus.”
This is why now I try to find ways of further developing certain aspects of Child Theology so that they are recognised and accepted by Orthodox Christians (but also by any other Christian denomination as my reflections in fact try to see issues of CTM more from an inter-Christian perspective than a specific denominational consideration). I am convinced that Child Theology is theology: it is not a social movement neither psychological research where the child is put in the centre of the conversation; Jesus is at the centre and we as CTM researchers theologise on His words and actions when He refers to children. CTM as theology is much more appealing to Orthodox Christians as for them there is no other theology but Church Theology – the one that the Church has developed over the centuries and that was inherited by the different Christian denominations. But I hope that CTM and its theological reflections will show that the theology that is being developed “with a child in mind” is truly a Church theology (meaning – Christian theology) that has been “hidden” until recently; but the time has come for this theology to be announced to the world.
So, I am very much hopeful and even certain that CTM will further develop and expand as more and more theologians, scholars and Churches get to know it and get convinced that this theology is as important and needed as all other types of theology that proved important for the Church (such as Systematic, Practical, Historical, Biblical, etc. theologies). And I hope that researches from different Christian background will contribute to this theology and also to the work of the Global Church with children and young people.
* The quotation comes from John Inchley’s book All About Children, London, UK: Coverdale House Publishers, 1976: p.13.