David Jensen on children

david-jensenDavid Jensen teaches reformed theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. His delightful book, Graced Vulnerability: A Theology of Childhood (posted on here and here), focuses on the covenant grace of God which welcomes and encompasses vulnerability in human persons. Children (among others) constitute such authentic personhood. He suggests that to be a child is to be three things:

1. Chosen by God;

2. Open and vulnerable to the grace that makes life possible; and

3. A pilgrim, oriented Godward and toward the present.

1. Chosen by God – Children of election

Children are loved because of the simple fact that they are. The divine election

distances a theology of childhood from utilitarian considerations, where children are considered worthy because of something they possess (such as beauty) or provide (such as happiness to a parent). A revised doctrine of election claims first and foremost that children are worthy because God chooses them as subjects of divine love … In a society where genetic technologies promise a day in which parents will be able to select the “best” traits for their own children and filter out what is undesirable or unworthy, election proves subversive: God values infinitely those who are seen as disposable and valueless. God’s electing grace is the eternal yes to our tendency to say “no” to children. We neither choose children, nor do they choose us; and eternal choice precedes both parent and child. (pp. 44, 46)

2. Childhood vulnerability in difference

Living in God’s image, children are metaphors of openness to the One who creates each of us differently. Despite bourgeois longings to the contrary, there is no such thing as a model child … What some of the classic theologians have dismissed as the hallmarks of selfishness – the wails of hunger, the cries to be held – are actually the marks of relationship and dependence of life in God’s world. Infants cry not out of selfishness, but to speak of a profound need for another … (pp. 47, 49)

graced-vulnerability3. The Pilgrim Child

Jensen considers children as pilgrims, as persons who are beginning to question life and to journey in it, who are as much – indeed more – oriented to the present as to the end. He writes:

Children subvert our understanding of pilgrimage in their attentiveness. They are pilgrims not because they are on their way somewhere, not because they are growing up to be somebody, but because they are already somewhere and somebody. Children’s pilgrimages call us to become who we already are: children of God, attentive to the surprise an mystery of creation … To be a pilgrim as children are is to live in the present, and to pay close attention to the immediacy of the journey … This present-orientation of childhood pilgrimage is not hedonistic, but the immediate delight of God’s world: an orientation that is not simply on the self, but on self-with-others … [Children’s] present-orientation affirms the enduring value and significance of human relationships. (pp. 53, 54; see also pp. 121-2)

For Jensen, such pilgrimage involves play (with its decidedly eschatological bent, so Zechariah 8:5: ‘The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there’), imagination and attention.

4 comments

  1. That’s beautiful, and would make for an interesting reading of Jesus’ statement about becoming like little children. I love that idea of attentiveness to the present, which reminded me of Robert Farrar Capon, who talks about the way that children pick up odd sticks and stones as exemplary of a good relationship to the physical world, delighting in the thingness of things.

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