Anyone who works with kids (or has their own) is familiar with the fidget spinner. These flickable, rotating fidget toys are in the hands, pockets, and backpacks of countless elementary-aged kids. Whether you love or loathe the hardware, fidget spinners are the hot item of the moment for lots of kids.
Many kids ministry leaders have looked for ways to capitalize on the fidget spinner craze, seeking creative and clever opportunities to incorporate the attractional toys into their teaching times. It makes total sense to do so. Kids love the colorful, collectable, gyroscopic, ADD-driven devices, and they represent a limited-time opportunity for kids leaders to leverage their momentary popularity to point kids to Jesus in a memorable way that contextualizes the content for kids. I am a big fan of using everyday objects to teach timeless spiritual truths, but we need to use care so that we don’t inadvertently introduce faulty doctrine.
In the case of the fidget spinner it can be easy for a well-meaning kids leader to make a quick comparison of the 3-armed spinner to the Trinity. While the intention in this case may be good (to offer a fresh way to explain that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are simultaneously three and one), the analogy is not good; In fact, it is heretical. Using the fidget spinner as a simplistic representation of this complex theological concept propagates the false doctrine known as partialism. This heresy asserts that the Father, Son, and Spirit are not three distinct and separate persons, but are instead three components of God, each representing ⅓ of the godhead, and that they are only fully God when combined together. Other analogies that are partialistic in nature include the egg (the parts of shell, white, and yolk make one egg) and the three leaf clover. As we handle God’s Word and interpret it to children we must be diligent to do so in ways that are understandable to them, without compromising trustworthy theology.
Partialism isn’t the only bad analogy for explaining the Trinity.
Modalism is a heresy that is expressed by analogies like ice, steam, and liquid as three forms in which water exists; or that one man can at once be a dad, a husband, and a son. Modalism suggests that God reveals Himself in three forms or ‘modes’ but not as three distinct persons.
Arianism is a heresy that espouses that the Son and Spirit are creations of the Father, not eternally existing persons that are equal in nature with the Father. A good example of this poor explanation is that of the sun giving off heat and light. The light and heat are not one with the sun, they are creations of it.
Heretical teachings like these fly in the face of sound trinitarian doctrine as agreed upon by biblical evangelicals. Consider, for example, the language used in the Baptist Faith and Message in a statement adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in June 2000.
“There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe.” “The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as father, Son and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.”
And this from “99 Essential Christian Doctrines: God Is One in Three Persons,” in The Gospel Project Bible (Nashville: B&H, 2016). “While the Bible affirms that God is one (Mark 12:29; 1 Cor. 8:4-6), it also affirms that God exists as three Persons—Father, Son, and Spirit. Each Person of the Trinity is fully divine—the Father is God (John 6:27), the Son is God (Phil. 2), the Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4)—and each Person is distinct from the others (Matt. 11:27; John 10:30; 14:16). This perfect unity within the three Persons of the Trinity is a first-order doctrine; departing from it is to abandon orthodox Christianity.”
What then? Shall we throw our fidget spinners out the window and ban them from our classrooms? Not at all. There are valid uses for the spinners as teaching tools. Use them to help kids remember the ABCs of Becoming a Christian, use them as timers for reciting memory verses or completing activities; just use great care that you are not unknowingly propagating bad doctrine that you do not intend to teach. What we teach really does matter.
Chuck Peters is Director of Operations for Lifeway Kids. A graduate of Columbia Bible College, Chuck has served vocationally & voluntarily in Student and Children’s Ministry for many years.