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CarSeat Questions Podcast

March 27, 2024

How to Talk to Kids about Jesus' Crucifixion with Dr. Preston Hill

It is Holy Week. And if you’re a parent, you may be wondering how do I talk to my kids about Jesus’ crucifixion in a way that highlights the gospel, stays true to scripture, but also cares for their tender hearts and minds? We’ve got TWO shows for you. Tune in to a double header this week and next with Dr. Preston Hill. This week we will discuss the Crucifixion and next week we will discuss the Resurrection.

Preston Hill (PhD, MLitt, University of St Andrews) is Assistant Professor of Integrative Theology at Richmont Graduate University, where he serves as the Chair of Integration and Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program. His doctoral research offers the first book-length study of Christ’s descent into hell in the theology of John Calvin. His current research focuses on reformation theology, science, trauma, and mental health. His latest publications include Dawn of Sunday: The Trinity and Trauma-Safe Church (Cascade, 2021), and a forthcoming volume entitled Christ and Trauma: Theology East of Eden (Cascade). Preston is a clinical pastoral therapist under supervision and ordinand in the Anglican tradition.


Podcast Transcript
*Transcripts are autogenerated and may have some errors

Lauren: You're listening to Car Seat Questions, a podcast for parents of curious kids.

Eddie: I'm Lauren and I'm Eddie, and if you're anything like us, you either have a kid or you care for a kid with questions. Questions about all sorts of things.

Lauren: And if you have a kid with questions, you yourself probably have questions like, how do I engage my child on hard topics in a way that is honoring to God and digestible for a developing brain and a childlike spirit?

Eddie: If that's you too, we're glad you're here. We don't have all the answers, and we won't pretend like we do, but we are grateful to know some really smart, godly people whose expertise is in the hearts, minds and souls of little ones growing up in today's world.

Lauren: So for the next half hour, hop into the passenger seat, buckle your belt, and become childlike with us as the Lord takes us where he wants us to go.

Eddie: Enjoy the show.

Lauren: Hey everybody. Welcome back to car Seat questions. This is season three. We're so excited you're joining us for this season. What's changed in our lives. Remember I was pregnant season two. There he is. He's here. That's Ellis our second child. So I'm really excited to join in on season three of Crazy Questions. It's going to be a lot of fun. We've got a lot going on, especially this episode. This is the crucifixion of Jesus and how to talk about it with your kids. Today we're talking with Doctor Preston Hill, a good friend of ours. Hi, Preston.

Eddie: For those who maybe didn't listen to season one, would you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do and tell us a little bit about your family?

Dr. Preston Hill: Yeah, absolutely. Well, this is really fun because we're friends outside of this. We've known each other for a while. We were all at Moody together, um, you and I and, uh, Chesney. And so our families are friends with each other, and so. Yeah. So I'm married to Chesney. We've got two kids, uh, Letty and Nyssa. Four and two. So the idea of car seat questions is, uh, like, very real. We get lots of questions about, like, I was literally thinking about this episode. Um, there were some of the questions that we're going to ask today that literally Letty has asked me, my four year old, and I've had to think, okay, like they've they've like, arrested me and stopped me. I thought, wow. I need to think about it. And this is a great question. Um, so yeah, so that's that's family life. And then, uh, for work life, I'm an assistant professor of integrative theology at Richmond Graduate University. And that means that I the integrative part means that the primary audience for my teaching theology is people trainees to be licensed therapists. So a lot of my time is spent asking questions around the integration of theology and psychology and, um, helping people understand religion, spirituality, theology, uh, in the context of human flourishing and psychological well-being. So I'm also at my university chair of integration. So I really oversee a lot of our universities, like the way we go about relating theology and psychology. So that's kind of what I spend the majority of my time doing. And a lot of it is focused in we have an Institute of Trauma and Recovery that I help oversee. So a lot of these questions are really focused around, uh, really hard topics of suffering and loss and grief and heartache. So that is kind of the world I live in. And it's a really, really rewarding space.

Eddie: Can you either confirm or deny that you are a exceptional pickleball player?

Dr. Preston Hill: Uh.

Dr. Preston Hill: What I what I can confirm at this point is that I love playing pickleball, and, uh, I can hold my own, but I have friends who absolutely, like, I have to mentally prepare to play with them because they are so much better than me.

Eddie: Yeah. I'm, uh, I consider myself an athletic person, and that's like one of the sports that I have not played yet, but I've been really wanting to. Oh, wow. But then I'm also kind of scared that I might actually really like it and really get into it. Oh, great.

Dr. Preston Hill: That's that's amazing. How have you not? I feel like Chicago would have a lot of pickleball courts.

Eddie: Yeah, but we weren't living in Chicago when it, like, started to get big, I guess.

Dr. Preston Hill: Right.

Eddie: So I really have an opportunity to.

Lauren: To play because we're in the suburbs.

Eddie: Yeah. I don't think a lot of my friends were even playing pickleball anyway.

Lauren: But you missed out.

Eddie: Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Preston Hill: There is no court in Chattanooga anywhere. Not. I have so many friends that are scheming there. Like, this would be huge if we built a court and made a little, like, restaurant inside of it. And I was like, yeah, that's a brilliant idea.

Lauren: Yes. Corn dogs, hot dogs. That's what I would be there for.

Dr. Preston Hill: Yeah.

Eddie: Well, we're not here to talk about pickleball, unfortunately. We are here to talk about, um, Jesus crucifixion. And how do we how do we talk about the crucifixion with our children and, um. And, Preston, I know you like you mentioned, you are, uh. Having to actually go through this right now, um, with Letty. And so, uh, I think we could just dive right in with, you know, why? Like, how do we explain the the why as to, like, why did they kill Jesus?

Dr. Preston Hill: Oh my gosh.

Dr. Preston Hill: Let's go. Go go ahead.

Dr. Preston Hill: Just go right for it. So yeah, I'm just picturing a kid like a child saying, why did they kill Jesus? And it's just like, uh, you know, as I was thinking about some of these questions, it just occurred to me that this is like kids ask a lot of hard questions, but a lot of really, really good questions because they're just so shameless and just so curious and honest. And it's so hard for us as adults to do that. I really admire kids. Um. And, you know, thinking about these questions like the death and resurrection of Jesus is. It's it like it's everything. It's the thing. So this is like, I just want to recognize these questions are. Like some of the hardest that Christians for the past two millennia have been wrestling with. Like, questions like this are fundamental questions. So as I was thinking through this, I was like. It might like my mind. I thought I could provide, like in my head, what I think is the actual answer. And then I was thinking, how do you say that to a kid? And with these questions, the gap between the answer and what you say felt almost infinite, like it was just huge. So it was like, how do I do this? But I love this first question and I just thought, you know, why did they kill Jesus? Just like. What's the honest answer? Um. They killed Jesus because he was a troublemaker. Like he he something about the way he was inviting people to rethink their relationships, their relationship with God, their relationship with like the whole the whole cosmos with. Uh, economics with politics. It was all just so countercultural. It was upside down. So how do you say that to a child? I think I think the best way or one way you could say this to a child is, um. Why did they kill Jesus? They killed Jesus because he asked people to do really hard things for the sake of love, for the sake of others. Jesus Jesus liked to love people that you weren't supposed to love. And. That caused a lot of trouble. And. It became so, so threatening that they eventually killed him because he was he was doing the right thing, and the world around him didn't want him to do the right thing.

Lauren: So because he was a troublemaker, what about him? Did people not like why did people not like him?

Dr. Preston Hill: Well, he was he was a it's hard, you know, he was a troublemaker, but like, a really holy troublemaker. So he was, like, making trouble in ways that God really liked. I'm sure you could come up with an illustration where kids would understand this. Like if someone is bullying like someone, your best friend is being picked on by a group of people, and you step in and you say no and you start causing trouble for the bullies. You're causing trouble. You're being a troublemaker, but you're doing it. You're doing it because it's right and it's good. And there's there's a sense I think kids can understand this idea of. Like, why didn't people like Jesus? It wasn't because he was a bad guy. It's because he was a really good guy and the world around him was so bad it couldn't understand or accept what a good guy looks like.

Lauren: Everybody else was troublemakers.

Dr. Preston Hill: Everyone else didn't know real troublemakers.

Dr. Preston Hill: He was just trying to. He was trying to love the world and the world around him. Is it right we go back to this is John one like his own didn't receive him. The world didn't know how to receive him. I think this is a really profound idea that a child really can get. Like people didn't like him because not because he wasn't likable, but because they didn't know how to love what was lovely.

Lauren: And if if God is all powerful and all knowing, and we're just talking about this story and we don't know maybe the rest of the story, why did God not stop Jesus from dying?

Dr. Preston Hill: It's so good. Obviously. Like I love this. Just thinking to the mind of a child, God. God can. God can stop people from dying. This is like a classic theodicy question. Why doesn't God? Why doesn't God stop bad things happening to good people and good things happening to bad people? Um. I don't know the answer with like, I don't know the answer to that big question, but you focus in on the story of Jesus. And the answer kind of is really clear. If you just boil it down, why didn't God stop Jesus from dying? This is a hard answer, but it's because Jesus asked him not to. Mm. Jesus asked God. You know. If possible, let this cut pass. But you know what? Not my will but yours. There's scriptures about for the joy set before him. Jesus says, I, you know no one takes my life. I lay it down of my own accord. There's this there's this huge sense in the scriptures and in the story, the whole Christian story that. Uh, God didn't stop Jesus from dying. Not because God wasn't willing to or God couldn't, but because Jesus Jesus wanted to die. Now, that's a really scary thing to say to a kid. But it's true. Like, why didn't God stop Jesus? You'd say to the child, Jesus, Jesus wanted to die. He didn't want God to stop. Stop his death. And then the child obviously is going to ask, why would Jesus want to die? And our answer has to be because to show you how much he loves you.

Lauren: Yeah. And you think about in a small term, a lot of parents would say you would die for your kids, right? If you're going to if it's going to get them out of trouble and get them out of harm's way, you're going to do whatever possible to save them. And maybe you don't say that to your children because that'll freak them out. But what's true, you know. Yeah, I would jump in front of a car and push you out of the way if that's what needed to happen.

Dr. Preston Hill: And you can say it in a way that is age appropriate. You can say, um, you know how you know how I would do anything for you. You know, if you're talking to your child, you know how I would do anything for you? Jesus loves you even more than I do. He would do anything for you, even if it means he has to die. Mhm.

Eddie: Yeah. I think that's, um. I've been reading lately, just about like the, um, there's a lot of other, um, religions who who tried to use these questions to kind of like debunk Christianity or that Jesus is God or that, you know, and and I always find the debates really interesting. Um, and of course, you wouldn't really have these conversations with children, but it does like open your mind to just like the thinking of, of this idea of, uh, you know, Jesus crucifixion. And so, um, and along those lines, like one of the popular questions is, well, if Jesus is God, right? We confirmed that Jesus is God. Well, then how does how does God die? Right? Yeah. Right.

Dr. Preston Hill: Yeah. It feels I love it. It's like with each question we're getting closer and closer to like some of the most like profound questions of Christian orthodoxy, like in the history of Christian doctrine. Um, because this really is like one of those profound questions. And the thing I love about this question, especially given the last one, is, you know, I teach atonement classes on atonement. And one of my favorite things to point out to folks is, um, you know, it comes from all the way I teach is from Callistus, where who's an Eastern Orthodox theologian that lots of people love. He had these four rules for, like how you think about atonement and one of the rules. And it was just like guidelines for how to think about atonement, like from a, from a like good guidelines for how to think about atonement.

Eddie: Well, so really quick for the listeners who may not know what atonement is, can you explain what atonement is?

Dr. Preston Hill: Yes, absolutely. Atonement. Uh, literally, it comes from it's a made up word by William Tyndale, uh, when he was translating the Bible. He's trying to translate a word for reconciliation. He's like, how do I translate this? It means like that. This thing and that thing are separated from each other, but they become one. They at one ment and he does atonement. And so that's how the atonement just means how Christians think about and talk about the way that God and humanity have been restored to one another as friends, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. There's something about Jesus's life and death and resurrection that allows us to be perfect friends with God. Again, that's all atonement is talking about. It's obviously like a huge thing to talk about, right? And you can get it really wrong really fast. And one of the ways you can get it wrong. And this is why I love this rule from this theologian Callistus, where just always ask yourself when you're talking about atonement or the cross or the death of Jesus, does the way you're talking about it separate Jesus from God? And if it does, you might want to think about whether you've gotten something wrong. And the way you're approaching it. And that's why I go back to that previous question we were asking why didn't God stop Jesus from dying? Well, Jesus is God, and God and Jesus want the exact same thing to restore and love the world. I think that's a big shift, that honestly, it's a big shift in my life that I had to do some reparative work to understand the cross that way, and I don't want my kids to have to do that reparative work. I want them to get it right, right at the start. I don't want them thinking, you know, the father and the spirit were asleep, and Jesus snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to go save the world. Like God and Jesus are doing the same thing here. They want to save the world. Um, they're the same. Like God is Jesus. So I think that's such an important thing to teach the kids. Like, just for their own spiritual formation. Um, it's not that God is doing something to Jesus because Jesus wants to save the world. It's that God and Jesus are doing something together because he, God, God, Jesus, they, they, if you have to use that language, want to save the world? Um, but then obviously you come to this other question like if God is Jesus. How can God die? The technical answer is, um, right. God. This is the technical answer that you don't say to a kid, God. Uh, the divine person of the second member of the Trinity can do anything a human can do by virtue of his human nature, but not by virtue of his divine nature. So, you know, that's why I'm Mary is. She's not just the Jesus bearer. She's not the the crista tacos. She's the Theotokos. She's the god bearer. Um, so it's always been like a Christian thing to say. Whatever you can say about the human nature of Jesus, you have to be able to say about the divine person, God, because of the incarnation. So Mary didn't just bear Jesus, she did. But in bearing Jesus, she gave birth to God. Um, but not because God can be given birth to, but because God, when God takes on a human nature in that human nature, God can be given birth to. And the same is true of death, that God. God can die by virtue of the human nature of Jesus. So you say all that to a kid? Of course not. What do you.

Dr. Preston Hill: What.

Dr. Preston Hill: Do you say to a child given all of that? And I just love thinking through that. And this is where I think, like, what's theologically accurate may not be the most, uh. Pedagogically useful. Like, what may be the best way to teach someone isn't by spelling everything out, but you also don't want to lie to them. So how do you say it? Um. I was kind of thinking through this like. If if Jesus is God, how can. How can God die? And maybe you can say something to a child like, you know the truth isn't that God can't die. The truth is that God is the only person in the whole world who can never stay dead. God's the only person who. Who? However much you try. However much anyone tries to kill him or put him to death. However much someone tries to put God down, God can't be held down. God always comes back. God is life and that's why Jesus rose. So I think there's a natural tie in here to that really is there's something profound in how you talk about that. I think this is the same idea behind like how Kes Lewis talks about the deeper magic, like when you kill Aslan, the witch didn't know the deeper magic. Love that is willing to die will always lead to new life. Do you think it.

Eddie: Now, I don't want to get stuck in the weeds because unfortunately, as like, Bible students, you know, like, at least for me, just my my brain goes there and, um. Do you think it would be somewhat accurate to, like, say that when Jesus came and took on human form? Would it be accurate to say that God limited himself? To take on human form, to be able to ultimately die right for our sins, to then be. You know, resurrected. Do you think that is an accurate statement or a somewhat of a description of that process?

Dr. Preston Hill: This? Uh, I think it is, because, I mean, Paul thought it was so like in Philippians, it's the kinetic hymn, like the part about Jesus, you know, Self-emptying, uh, is like, I still remember learning that that passage in Philippians two is a hymn. It's like an early Christian worship song. So, like, Christians were singing like the earliest worship songs Christians were singing. One of them was. Uh, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, the lowest economic person in that society in Philippi. And it's like now, how do you make sense of that? I don't know, but like, yeah, that's an accurate thing to say. Clearly, that's that's at the heart of Christian worship and spirituality is to just like, fully embrace that, um, when God, the fact that God became human means that God's heart towards suffering and grief and death and dying is one of openness. It's not one of self-protection. God's not self-protective toward loss. That's how God's different from us. God knows the secret. That openness in the face of loss can always birth new life. And that is just sick. That is awesome. And, you know, I think it's like the heart of all ethics that kids have to learn that adults are still learning how to be open in the face of loss. But yeah, I agree. I think self-emptying is good language.

Eddie: Yeah. All right. Preston. So as we, as we, um, start to wrap up our conversation about Jesus and the crucifixion, um, is there another way for sins to be taken other than Jesus dying?

Dr. Preston Hill: Oh, boy.

Dr. Preston Hill: Um. You know. So again, it to some to some Christian communities, the answer to this question is like a very high stakes question, because the I think some of the energy behind this question for some people is like, uh, know that he has to he has to take our sin, he has to die. And just for people to acknowledge the diversity of of orthodox, classic ecumenical Christianity that many people in the tradition have said, actually, no, it wasn't absolutely necessary for Jesus to have to die or to take our sins on him in order to to save us. Um, it was a kind of given this world, given the world we live in. Um, it was a necessity. So, uh, was there any other way for Jesus to save us other than, uh, sins? Was is there another way for sins to be taken other than Jesus dying? Um, I mean, for example, this is just the example I'll use, and then I'll get to the kid answer. Um, but the example I go to is I literally just taught this in a class from John Calvin. A lot of people don't know that. So many places in Calvin's preaching. In Geneva he said a ton. He said God could have saved us by a snap of his fingers. God could have saved us by a single word of his will. And so then you say, well, then why? Why did Jesus die? And Calvin's answers, because that was it was a better way to show us how much he loves us to die for us. And I often use the example of like, if I have a business and say, Letty, my daughter grows up and she ends up working for the business and embezzling money. And then I find out. And I'm heartbroken and we need to be restored. And I say to Letty, you know what? You're forgiven. Like, you don't need to pay this back, I forgive you. Um. We are set right. Now atonement has been achieved. We've been made one. But she says back to me, dad, I really just don't feel right about this. I still just don't feel right about it. And then I say to her, you know what? I'll pay it back from my own account. And so now the money is back in the business and we've been made right. Now, was it necessary for me to do that? No, I already forgave her. But in order to feel for her sake, so that she could know that we are right. I sacrificed myself, and that's the image that Calvin uses. I find it a really beautiful, convincing idea. Now, how do you sell that to a kid? Um. I think you say something like. Uh, is there, you know, is there another way for sins to be taken? Other than Jesus dying? He said to the child. Maybe. Maybe, maybe, maybe we could have been saved another way. But Jesus loved us so much. He wanted us to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that we are absolutely saved and reconciled. Um. He was willing to do the most the most intense, extreme thing. He was willing to do the costliest thing to save us. He he just wants us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt. That we are okay. We're okay with God. You're okay with God, child, and you'd never have to wonder. You can always look at the death of Jesus. God loves you so much he was willing to die for you.

Lauren: So it's kind of like the assurance to, like, make us feel safe and secure in the forgiveness. Not that it like that. It's not going to get taken away.

Dr. Preston Hill: Absolutely.

Lauren: It's a lot to think about. And, you know, prepare to talk to our kids about. We talked in season two with someone and he said we were talking about modifying, you know, Old Testament stories that are a little spooky for kids. And, um, and he was like the only story we like, haven't we don't modify is a crucifixion story, and we tell it in all its detail, no matter the age, just because it's necessary to understand what Jesus did for us. And, um. I've just been thinking a lot about that. And as we continue to parent and. Walk with our kids and showing them who Jesus is is how we how we talk about this story with them. And so thanks for your insight into this and helping us learn how to teach our kids better. And thank you to the listener for joining us on this episode, and we hope that it was helpful to you. Uh. Be sure. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast so you get it. Where wherever you get your podcasts, Spotify or Apple Podcasts and rate and review. And we only want five stars for these children and.

Eddie: Um, for this angels.

Dr. Preston Hill: For these.

Lauren: Angels, these sweet babies. They only deserve five stars. Please. Uh, before we close, I'd like to do a benediction for us. You want to pray?

Eddie: Preston, would you join us in our benediction?

Dr. Preston Hill: Yes.

Eddie: To him who is able to do far more than we can understand. He gave us the wisdom to raise our children, to first love God above all else, and love others as themselves.

Stay Connected


Eddie Cuevas

Eddie Cuevas was born and raised in the inner city of Chicago and is an alumnus of The Moody Bible Institute. Eddie and his wife Lauren both met at MBI, and now live in the western suburbs of Chicago with their 2-year-old son. Eddie serves as the Contracts and Subsidiary Rights Manager for Moody Publishers and continues to have a strong partnership with MBI. Eddie will tell you that he is a devout Chicago sports fan (except for the Cubs), a musician who is currently a member of a chamber choir in Chicago, and enjoys modern board gaming…oh, and enjoys spending time with his son of course.  


Lauren Cuevas

Lauren Cuevas is a radio producer by day, TikTok and ice cream enthusiast by night. Lauren spends her days producing Mornings with Brian on Moody Radio Cleveland and enjoys the evenings with her husband Eddie and son, Trey. On an evening alone you can find her watching 80's movies or binging the next true crime podcast. Lauren is an alumna of Moody Bible Institute and lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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CarSeat Questions

Has your child ever asked you a BIG question? One of those questions that makes YOU think? If that's you, you're not alone! Kids are curious, and they have questions...questions about all sorts of things. This is Car Seat Questions - a podcast for parents of curious kids. Each episode is designed to help you answer your kids' questions in a Biblically sound and age appropriate way - to encourage their curiosity and consider their childlike spirit.

New episodes release every Wednesday.