Paul Ricoeur, 1913-2005
Paul Ricoeur, 1913-2005

I’m excited to be a presenter at an upcoming conference called Subverting the Norm. Putting together the presentation in the next month will be a daunting task given all of the other projects I have on the burner, but this conference was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up. It will bring together postmodern thinkers and church leaders to contemplate what a legitimately postmodern church might look like, or already does look like.

My presentation will be called Do(n’t) Tell the Kids: Precritical and Postcritical Naiveté in Ministry with Children and Youth. While these might change, here are shorter and longer descriptions of what I’m hoping to address on April 6. I’d love for you to join us in Springfield. I’d also love to hear some feedback, questions, etc. about these descriptions as I work on the full presentation.

Short Description
Many people have come to progressive understandings of Christianity through what Paul Ricoeur called “second naiveté.” But how should postcritical Christians raise their children? Should we treat traditional Christianity like Santa Claus and let the kids believe it until they are old enough to know better? Or should we teach progressive Christianity from the beginning? What does it look like to build a postmodern church from the children up?

Longer Description
Progressive Christian thinkers like Marcus Borg and Peter Rollins have applied Paul Ricoeur’s concept of “second naiveté” to describe the transition from a fundamentalist understanding of the Bible and theology to more progressive and postmodern approaches. This application of Ricoeur’s thought is typically couched within the personal narrative (shared by many) of an adult Christian abandoning the fundamentalist faith of their childhood and embracing a new way of being Christian.

But what about churches that begin with a progressive approach to the Bible and theology and (presumably) teach a different kind of Christianity to their children? Should these churches replicate the experiences of emergent Christians by beginning with an essentially fundamentalist approach during Sunday School and deconstructing it during adolescence and/or young adulthood? Or should children in such churches be taught a demythologized reading of the Bible and a postmodern form of theology from the very beginning? Given what we know about childhood development, what is the most effective and ethical way to raise children and youth in a thoroughly postmodern church? In what ways would these churches need to be more explicit about their biblical and theological postures with respect to critical thinking and postmodern thought?

In this presentation, I will propose an approach to children and youth ministry that incorporates Ricoeur’s concept of first and second naiveté and envisions the kinds of postmodern churches that would result from such an intentional program of religious education and spiritual formation.

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit

Reader Interactions


  1. John, I am really excited to hear about your presentation (sad that I can’t be there…Spring Break). But the idea that we might be treating the Bible like Santa Claus kind of stunned me. At the same time, we have a fairly clear understanding of child development and how much children are capable of understanding at different ages. So what would it look like, given the way in which young children see the world, to teach a demythologized reading of the Bible? My own approach is to teach the Bible in a fairly straightforward way for preschoolers (which assumes that each story is literally true) and then to teach in a more nuanced way for grade schoolers. For example, we teach Noah’s Ark literally for preschoolers and then in grade school, introduce the idea of “even if this didn’t happen exactly this way, what are the enduring truths about God that we can take away?” And then for middle/high schoolers, I might introduce similar stories from other cultures and for adults, look at the P version of story vs. J version of the story, sharing very openly the idea that perhaps the authors of this story never intended it to be taken literally but were perhaps trying to make a particular point about God and humanity. We do this alongside a fairly progressive and inclusive theology that takes into account the pluralistic world we live in. I would love to be pushed to think more critically about ways to do this, but feel a bit constrained because I feel like we are already teaching in a way that is consistent with the ways young children learn/are capable of considering abstract concepts. Very exciting stuff! Thank you!

  2. Hi John,

    A friend forwarded this post to me. I’d be really interested to read a copy of the presentation you gave if it’s available?



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