Several years ago I met with a woman distraught by her son’s rejection of Christianity.
She said, “I did everything I could to raise him right. I taught him to be like the ‘heroes of faith,’ with the faithfulness of Abraham, the goodness of Joseph, the pure heart of David, and the obedience of Esther.”
She wondered why he rejected Christianity.
I wondered why it took him so long.
The regression of the gospel and the loss of Christianity
In Marks of the Messenger, Mack Stiles describes how the gospel is lost through generational teaching:
- The gospel is Accepted –>
- The gospel is Assumed –>
- The gospel is Confused –>
- The gospel is Lost
Stiles continues, “For any generation to lose the gospel is tragic. But the generation that assumes the gospel is … most responsible for the loss of the gospel” (emphasis added).
We are that generation. We assume—and therefore destroy—the gospel message.
Here is how we destroy the gospel message
Look at almost any Sunday school curriculum. You’ll find:
- Abraham was faithful, and God made him the father of a nation. So be faithful like Abraham.
- Joseph was a good little boy (unlike his “bad” brothers), and God made him Prime Minister of Egypt. So be good like Joseph.
- David had a pure heart (unlike his brothers), and God made him King of Israel. So have a pure heart like David.
- Esther was an obedient girl. God made her Queen of Persia and she saved God’s people. So be obedient like Esther.
- Finally, if we fail to be good, Jesus will forgive us (a “P.S.” tacked onto the end).
What’s so bad about these Sunday school lessons?
Nothing really. Except that they lie about God, they lie about these “heroes of the faith,” they lie about the Bible, and they lie about the gospel. Apart from that, they are pretty good. Oh, they also create “younger brother” rebels and “older brother” Pharisees.
Is the gospel our central theme, or is it a “PS” tacked onto the end?
The gospel storyline
The message of the gospel—the entire storyline of scripture—is God’s loving pursuit of people who run from him as fast as they can and who live lives unworthy of his love.
That’s why it’s called grace.
But our Sunday school lessons teach us to be good little boys and girls, and God will love us and use us. It’s the total opposite of the gospel. It’s a counterfeit of the worse kind.
The inside out of the gospel
The wonder of the gospel is not the love of the beautiful; it’s when Beauty kisses the Beast.
The Beast isn’t loved because he has changed; the Beast is changed when he is loved. Joy doesn’t come when he’s loved for his beauty; joy overwhelms him when he is loved in his hideousness.
If the Beast were loved for his beauty, it would be an unbearable burden. Any day he might be scarred, and soon he will certainly be a wrinkled old man.
So why do we burden our children with the unbearable load of “being good little boys and girls like the heroes in the Bible”? We wouldn’t load a pack mule with the burdens we place on our children.
Let me show you a better way
Let’s teach the wonder of the gospel. Let’s show our kids that God loves us … simply because he loves us. In our beastliness. That he loves us before we are good.
That his love isn’t vague sentimentality, but it cost him his most precious treasure to turn us into his prized possession; that the storyline of the Bible is God’s Search and Rescue mission to find the dying Beast and kiss him into joyous life.
- How Abraham was an idol worshiper and God loved him and pursued him;
- How Joseph was a narcissistic boy and God loved him and pursued him;
- How David was a murdering adulterer and God loved him and pursued him;
- How Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer and God loved her and pursued her.
Our heroes weren’t loved because they were good; they were good because they were loved.
We may believe in the innocence of youth, but our children know better. They see the children in the schoolyard (and they see us at home!). They don’t need the counterfeit gospel of pack-mule-moralism; they need the kiss of the Beauty.
Maybe we do too. Besides, it’s what the Bible in fact teaches.
So what do you think?
- Are you offended at my depiction of Joseph and Esther?
- Do you agree that our Sunday schools may be creating our worst nightmares?
- Which do you think is the gospel, loved because we’re good or good because we’re loved?
Comment below under, What do you think?