Take and read: Conversations with Poppi about God

January 23, 2018 by Joe Small


~ Robert W. Jenson and Solveig Lucia Gold, Conversations with Poppi about God. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006.

Christian educator David Ng did not approve of “children’s sermons,” but if churches did include them, Ng proposed two rules for pastors: 1) prepare for the children’s sermon as carefully as you prepare for the adult sermon, and 2) never ask a question. Ng’s rule is not meant to avoid embarrassing answers to questions. It is because children often give cute answers, causing congregational laughter … and a child’s puzzlement and discomfort. Ng observed that the only way adults know how to relate to children is to ask questions. Do children then come to think of the church as a place that expects answers from them rather than listening to their questions?

Robert Jenson, arguably the best American theologian of the second half of the 20th century, listened regularly to his eight-year old granddaughter Solveig’s questions, treating them with respect and answering them in terms she could understand (usually). His answers led Solveig to ask more questions, make comments, and offer musings. Blanche Jenson, Solveig’s grandmother, recorded these regular conversations, which are now available in a delightful book. A tiny sample:


Solveig: So how do we have any idea of what God looks like? How do we have any image of God? How do we know what he is like?

Poppi: We know what he is like on account of Jesus.

S: Yes, but that was thousands and thousands …

P: Nevertheless, we do know about it.

S: But that was (pause) two thousand and three years ago.

P: Sure, but the story about him, what he did and what he was like, has kept on going. Moreover, according to the story, he didn’t just die.

S: Right.

P: He died and rose again, so he’s alive now …

S: Right, he’s at the right hand of the Father.

P: So we do meet him from time to time.

S: Right, right. When you say “right hand of the Father,” he doesn’t have a right hand, necessarily. It could be, I guess, his right side. But what if he doesn’t have a right side?

… and on it goes. Solveig and Poppi talk about everything, from the Holy Spirit to Santa Claus, from Trinity to wine, from sin to salvation. The conversations are lively. Sometimes Solveig is wise beyond her years, sometimes she is silly; sometimes Poppi’s answers are helpful, sometimes they fail to satisfy. But throughout, it is a child’s questions that drive the conversation.

This little book is a pleasure to read, but it has a larger benefit. It may suggest to pastors and church educators how they can listen to children in the church, and ways they can answer the questions they ask.

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