My book on the theology and psychology of childhood has just been published by YTC press in England.
and here in the us
Below is the back cover blurb and a longer description of the work.
Reverence for the Heart of the Child
The Rev. Leander S. Harding, Ph.D.
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Are children little angels or little devils, or are they like their parents a little of each? Must they go through a definite moment of conversion or can they grow up always knowing themselves to be Christian? How do theological ideas about human nature, sin and salvation affect how parents see and treat children? Starting with Horace Bushnell’s classic and controversial 19th century study, Christian Nurture, Leander Harding brings the discussion up to date with the help of insights from contemporary psychoanalytic thought and Family Systems Theory. Included are practical suggestions for parents and parishes.
In the middle of the nineteenth century Christianity in New England was polarized between Unitarians and Calvinists. At the heart of the controversy was an argument over the nature of childhood. Unitarians objected vigorously to the doctrine of Original Sin and saw children as innocents who needed only to have their inherent goodness brought out. Calvinists under the influence of a very severe reading of the doctrine of utter depravity saw the pre-converted child as inherently wicked and thought that the only thing they could do for their children prior to a revival type experience of conversion was to convince them of their wickedness and their need for a new heart. In the midst of this controversy a Congregationalist minister, Horace Bushnell published in 1849, Christian Nurture. This book based on sermons given in his parish church in Hartford, Connecticut became quickly a classic in the field of Christian Education and the theology of childhood.
Bushnell criticized both Unitarians for their “ostrich nurture” referring to the myth of the ostrich sticking its head in the sand and hoping for the best. Bushnell criticized the Calvinists for an approach to child-rearing which damaged both “the personality and piety of your children.” He proposed that children should grow up never knowing themselves to have been otherwise than a Christian as a result of the Christian nurture of their parents and local church. Bushnell saw children neither as little angels or as little demons but as human beings made good in the image of God, fallen and struggling with good and evil in the same way as their parents and with the same capacity to know and respond to the love of God as their parents.
Reverence for the Heart of the Child, by Leander S. Harding is a fundamental rereading of Bushnell’s classic book. It is his thesis that though this book is often quoted it has been the victim of significant misreading. Harding proposes a fresh reading of this classic in the theology of childhood through a careful analysis of the theology of the day and through bringing Bushnell’s original argument into dialogue with contemporary psychology including Family Systems Theory. What emerges is a reading of Bushnell that is not easily categorized as liberal or conservative and which regains the provocative and prophetic voice of the original. Reverence for the Heart of the Child takes the lessons learned from Bushnell and uses them to critique contemporary Christian approaches to childrearing and Christian Education and ends with practical suggestions for parents and pastors.
The Rev. Leander S. Harding, Ph.D. is an Episcopal priest and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He has twenty five years of parish experience and is a trainer in the Godly Play movement. Many of his writings can be found at his blog, leanderharding.com/blog.