“10 under 10” : Theologians to Watch in 2013

I am proud to present to you this list of 10 American theologians under age 10, who’s work is as diverse as it is inspiring. Each theologian submitted a piece of work for this compilation and answered a brief questionnaire about their process and influences.*

1) Eric, Age 7

Author of My Favorite Things

What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
Eric Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? I was pretty young at the time, sitting on my mom’s lap, and I was just struck by the simplicity of the form, and how it called me to trust my voice to say what it was that I was seeing. It’s the diagnostic function that theologians too often forget to do. It’s important, you know?
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
In school, we were encouraged to reflect on the blessings in our lives. It’s crazy how much a person can overlook.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
I read a lot of 11 and 12 year olds and they’re all “Look at our big words and liberal use of adjectives” and I’m just turned off. I mean, I know it’s age appropriate and that they’re flexing their cognitive muscles and all, but the waters just get muddied if you over do it. “Good theology” needs to be simple. Not simplistic. No, that won’t do. Just simple. This is following Jesus we’re talking about. It’s not that hard.
What is your current project?
I’m working on a monograph right now inspired by a glass of spilt milk. It’s a theodicy. I’m pretty excited by it.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
I’ve been digging on Rachel Held Evans as of late. Her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood is a great example of cutting through all the doo-doo to find what’s important.

2) Sophie, Age 9

Author of The Princess
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
I’d have to say Make Way For Ducklings. I’m usually a “rhetoric girl,” but it was the theme that really got me on this one. It was the first time that I really remember thinking that the gender construction in our world is messed up. I mean, where the heck did Mr. Mallard go, and for that long?
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
It was my first attempt at a theological anthropology. I wanted to dissect the common aspirations of girls my age. I think I got pretty close.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
Vulnerability. I’m tired of these writers who write as if what we’re supposed to take away is that they’re awesome. I want to see where you’ve been broken and how God picked you up.
What is your current project?
The working title is Sugar and Spice: Towards a Pre-Teen Feminist Theology.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Carol Howard Merritt. Hands down. Her story is just so powerful.

3) Derrick, Age 10

Author of Why I want to be an Archeologist
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
The Missing Piece. I’m not sure you can say anything definitive about salvation and self-understanding if you’ve not read that book. This idea we have that we are somehow deficient, and need to spend our lives searching for that one piece that will make us whole is so destructive. Shel Silverstein did the world a great service.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
“Searching” is a theme in my life. Clarifying what our gifts and skills are is the first step to understanding who God has called and created us to be.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
I need it to do something new. Listen, we’ve all read Barth and Moltmann. Those guys are old hat. I want you to push a few boundaries. Make me see something I hadn’t before.
What is your current project?
I’m working on a lost treasure story. I’m thinking of calling it Seek and Ye Shall Find. Do you think that’s too on the nose?
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
I gotta go with Tony Jones. A Better Atonement is the best thing I read last year.

4) Tanya, Age 4

Author of My Birthday Party
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
Big Fat Hen. She had lots of friends. I have lots of friends.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
It is about my birthday party. My birthday is December 6. Molly was there and Jessica was there and Carrie was there and Stella was there and Hermoine was there and Ginny was there, but Robert was not there. Mommy said I could not have any boys there. Not til I’m 6. That’s this many [holds up fingers].
What makes good theology “good theology”?
I like to talk to my friends. They have good ideas.
What is your current project?
I’m making a play about Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Steve Knight. When he talks about friends it makes me happy.

5) Emilie, Age 8

Author of Stars in the Sky
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
Have you read Snowy Day? There is a sense of wonder and play present in that work that I rarely find in other books of the same era. It really got me excited.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
Our art teacher asked us to make up the reason an artist made one of their pieces. I chose “Starry Night” by Van Gogh. There is such depth to it, and I wondered what it would be like to be a girl living in one of the houses and have that for my night sky. I suppose it was a meditation on our humanity in the vastness of creation.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
There is a boldness to good theology. It is not afraid to “go there,” you know? It’s willing to seek out answers, and be content to not find them.
What is your current project?
I’m writing a choose your own adventure story. It’s early yet, and I’m having trouble keeping the story lines straight. But it’ll get there.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Tripp Hudgins. I like his willingness to ask hard questions and engage with others on them. That takes some guts. I’d know. You should have heard what Danika said to me after reading my story. It was brutal, but I’m better for it.

6) Simon, Age 9

Author of I’m Awesome
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
The Velveteen Rabbit. At first I thought it was stupid and a waste of my time, but then, as it got going, I started to recognize what was going on. I couldn’t wait for the end to see if I was right. And I was! That was when I decided to stop wallowing. I was a depressed kid until I was about 7, but TVR showed me that once I’m loved none of that stuff matters. It was…well, it was awesome.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
When we started the school year, we had to write a short piece on “Something I want everyone to know about me.” I think the title speaks for itself.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
I hate reading stuff that dances around, afraid to step on people toes. Have you read any of the Old Testament prophets? Those guys did not care who they pissed off (Don’t tell my mom I said that, please.).
What’s your current project?
It’s a lenten devotional called God Loves You, So Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Nadia Bolz-Weber. I’m not sure she’d write about it like I do, but that is a person who understands what it means to be loved. Like seriously. Her confidence is epic because she is not afraid to just be the person God saved.

7) Claudia, Age 6

Author of Being Wet Is No Fun
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
Toy Story. I like this film a lot. In a world of pretending, here are toys (people?) that do their level best to not pretend. I mean, yes, they’re pretending for Andy’s sake, but it’s actually an act of honesty on their part. They are being what Andy needs. When the time comes, they allow Andy to be fulfilled by their very presences. It’s a powerful metaphor for the Incarnation, if you think about it.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
I wanted to play with the idea of honesty, of really practicing naming something what it is. No games. No messing around. No big words. Just – plain and simple – what is going on.
The reviews have been very gratifying.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
Honesty. Truth telling.
What’s your current project?
I’m almost done with a study of the modern ethical impact of the prophetic utterances in the Old Testament. It’s tentatively titled My Brother Did It.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Andrew Root. His work on the Incarnation and relationality has altered my perception of myself.

8) Won, Age 7

Author of I Can See the World From Here
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
Oh, The Places You’ll Go, by Suess. I know that’s everyone’s answer, but it was just so defining for those of us who care about how context affects theology. Where we’ve been sets us up to go amazing places.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
My family had just visited the top of Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO. Have you been there? It is unbelievable to peer out of those little windows and take stock of the layout of the city and the river. It really gives you a sense of being grounded in a certain locale. I wanted to capture that.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
You’ve gotta know where you stand in history. You need to know the relevant questions that people are asking. For instance, if I’m not aware that the hot topic on the playground is that cliques are forming and some kids are being left out, how can I even think I can speak into that?
What’s your current project?
A collection of essays exploring the imaginary friends of the great saints of the church.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Diana Butler Bass. While not a “theologian,” per se, you would be hard pressed to find someone who understands our current context better than she does.

9) Gillian, Age 3

Author of My Dolly: A picture book
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
Big Red Barn. The attention to the ordinary was refreshing. Then, when I found Good Night, Moon, it was like I was raptured.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
It’s a study of the things right in front of us that can show us God.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
It begins in the particular, then moves to the universal. I think some theologians forget that we are existential creatures, and their work suffers for it.
What’s you current project?
I’m actually taking some time off from writing to do some speaking. I’m doing a big retreat this Spring in my sister’s room, and have lined up the keynote slot during some play dates at a few friends’ houses. This summer I’m booked for an event at the city pool. I’m really excited about that one.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Jan Edmiston. It’s almost like I’m reading a theological Jerry Seinfeld, in that she finds the truth in the most mundane of events. It’s powerful.

10) Jerrod, Age 10

Author of 10 Things I Like About Grass
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
It was an oral family story called The Tale of Sassafras. The story itself is not actually that important to me. What gets me is the fact that this story had been passed down in my family for years. When I realized where it had come from and the ways it probably had been changed to reflect the time. I was hooked.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
It was one of my early essays. I think I wrote it when I was, like, 5.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
I think good theology is the daily act of trying to make sense of things.
What’s your current project?
It’s a paper I’m presenting for the annual conference of the American Elementary School of Religion, called “What will the faithful Christian response be when the Zombie Apocalypse occurs?”
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Bruce Reyes-Chow. Talk about trying to make theological sense of things on a daily basis, huh?
*h/t to The American Reader for the inspiration.

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