I Wonder If Sunday School Is Destroying Our Kids

Several years ago I met with a woman distraught by her son’s rejection of Christianity.School design

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.

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 worst 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.

There’s gotta be 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.

Sam


My friend Bob Rinella created a four-week kids Sunday school lesson plan around this article. You can see his lessons at: Heroes of the Faith.

To read more about the beauty of grace and the prison of moralism, see my book, Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids(It cost about the price of a couple large lattes; definitely affordable! You can read it as you sip your latte. And get inspired at the same time.)

BookCover_1500x2400Chapters include:

  • Why Do Our Children Leave the Church?
  • Graceless Goodness: The Problem with Moralism
  • The False Gospel of “Just Do It”
  • The Ugliness of Religious Righteousness
  • The Insidious Danger of “I’d Never Do That”
  • We Read the Bible the Wrong Way

To read more about this book–what people are saying and various quotes–visit my book page.

* To read my answer to objections of my depiction of Esther, see Was Esther an Unwilling Sex Slave or a Compliant Collaborator?

See also, Why Do Our Children Leave The Church?

 


 

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What do YOU think?

796 thoughts on “I Wonder If Sunday School Is Destroying Our Kids

  1. Great article! My husband and I work with youth including teaching Jr. High Sunday School and I totally agree with what you are saying here! So much of our SS curriculum is just so “fluffy” – it’s sad really because chances are that for most kids it’s about all the Bible teaching they are getting each week. We owe our kids more…thanks for sharing!

    • The best part of leading our church’s Sunday school program was changing to the Godly Play curriculum. Not only did it suit our small, multi-age group better than traditional curricula, but it encouraged the children to absorb the biblical stories in full — not edited and presented to ensure the children reached the “right” conclusion. Teachers resist changing because it requires more preparation, but in class the curriculum is calming and consistent, and allows for the most marvelous connections… made by the children themselves. I encourage everyone to leave “fluffy” prepackaged curricula behind.

      • My favorite line out of the Godly Play curriculum is in the lesson about the Ten Commandments: “I know, these are hard. God didn’t say these were the ten easy things to do. He said these are the ten best things to do.” (approximate quote). Kids have no problem seeing the difference. Asking the children to draw their own conclusions in Godly Play leads to some amazing insights. Other curricula out there are also valuable. I also appreciate the Seasons of the Spirit curriculum for older children.

        • Megan, I love that quote…that the commandments are the *best* things to do. It’s a goal. It’s something to strive for…but God’s love is not conditional upon meeting those goals. It’s such an important lesson. <3

        • This post is not intended to criticize but to bring in another view.

          Should we still be teaching our kids ten commandments as the ten commandments? Galatians 3, Paul clearly teaches that “he who does the law live by the law” but there is none who can fulfill the law (all 319 or so found in Deut.)

          So then by teaching the 10 commandments (which i find odd since there are so many more if we are to teach the whole Law), are we not feeding them Judaism?

          If I understand Galatians 3 correctly, Paul says ALL of the law has been fulfilled even the ten commandments and we no longer live by it! Rather we are to obey the person of Christ, with the Holy Spirit as our guide. And some of the old law may happen to “coincide” with the OT law, but this coincidence does not validate the OT law as the path to life (which we mustn’t confuse).

          So ultimately we must be teaching the WHOLE LAW as a historical story of God trying to show Israel that they were transgressors side by side with the grace and wisdom of God to free us from the WHOLE LAW through Jesus Christ and now we are not to obey the Law anymore (for we cannot gain righteousness through it or by it) but only through having faith in Christ and obeying Christ as our King.

          What do you think? (I have a hard time with teaching students/kids the 10 commandments / law without teaching JESUS alongside it and His resurrection)

          • Hmmmm…well, following the Godly Play curriculum means that the Ten Commandments are presented as part of the history of the “People of God”, after leaving Egypt, while wandering in the desert messing stuff up, not just in a vacuum, which I appreciate. Typically, the time before Advent is spent covering the Old Testament, Advent is spent preparing for the change that Christ brings, and the rest of the school year is spent exploring parables and events in the life of Christ, especially the Mystery of Easter and the Resurrection. I encourage students and teachers to discuss the relevance of what they are hearing.

            I have been sitting here thinking about this for a while now :).
            I see the 10 commandments as relevant, but I agree that they need to be presented in appropriate context, as should everything that we teach. Jesus should be there at all times – one of the best questions I got from a student was “What does this have to do with Jesus?” So we worked on answering that together. It was a different situation – we were decorating placemats for Meals on Wheels, but I still love it that she caught me and reminded me of why we were doing what we were doing.

          • I believe the Law exists for one reason. To display the impossibly high standards that a holy, righteous, just Judge holds for his creation. To force us to be honest with ourselves and see that no one ever has or ever will fully and consistently adhere to even a single commandment. To see that even our best is filthy rags, and that justice demands punishment. Just as the rest of the OT does, the Law points to Jesus. It shows us our helpless state and our need for a Savior. The Law was never a path to salvation, because it was never possible for anyone to uphold it. Rather, it was/is a practical visual of the vast expanse between God’s holiness and our depravity. A chasm that could only be bridged by the cross. For these reasons, I believe it is absolutely critical and crucial to teach the OT Law. Not as a moral code to uphold. Not as a way to gain favor with God. Not for the betterment of yourself or those around you. Because, of course, what the Law could not do, God did in Christ. But ultimately we must teach the Law because God has displayed Himself to us through it. This is the standard that God judges us by because it is the standard that He has never broken. It is an accurate description of His character. And it is a condemning picture of our rebellion. If we want our kids to understand the Gospel, they must first understand their hopeless condition before God apart from Jesus. The Law does that for us.

            • Hi Josh,

              You have a great perspective. I agree that the law reveals our shortcomings, our total inability to live as purely as God designed us to live. As you say, our righteousness is filthy rags.

              But I especially like it when you say this, “But ultimately we must teach the Law because God has displayed Himself to us through it.”

              I believe that God’s self-revelation is equally part of the purpose of his law. As Jesus said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (John 5:46) and “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” (vs 46). Or as CS Lewis said, “We come to Scripture not to learn a subject but to steep ourselves in a person.”

              Thanks,

              Sam

          • If we ignored Deut., then Christians can’t get all huffy when some homosexual couple asks to be married! But bacon being forbidden? Mindless nonsense.

    • Sarah, my wife was a pre-school director and involved in early childhood education for 27 years, and we were also involved in junior high ministry back when our kids were growing up. After retiring from the fire department I got a teaching credential in CA and taught at a prestigious Christian school in Westlake Village, including 9th through 12th grade students. I currently substitute for a large school district for middle school and high school. We raised three wonderful kids who are now 40, 36, and 32 and they are believing Christians, married believing Christians, and love God. My wife and I taught our children all about great men of God like Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses in the Old Testament, and Peter, Paul, Stephen, and so many others who lived their lives for Christ that they were indeed heroes that were called righteous men, friends of God, Peter- the “Rock” Christ would build His church on, and Paul, who followed Christ and brought the message of Christ to the gentiles. Our kids desperately need roll models, for in many homes, even many Christian homes, they live their lives in such a way that many are falling away from the faith or leaving their faith. We need to teach them that it is possible to live lives that give God the glory, that sin has real consequences, that they need to be “in the world and not of the world.” and stop justifying being like the world. There is so much that is not “fluff” in the lives of the Bible heroes why not focus on that? This curriculum is sadly wrong and will not benefit the young people you are teaching.

      • Peter is not the rock that christ built his church on….Peter’s confession that JESUS is the incarnate son of GOD is that ROCK!!!

        • The point is not to wrangle over words as we are admonished by the Lord not to do. Taking my words, out of the context intended if you place them in context,

          • This article isn’t encouraging sinning so that grace may increase. I think you’re reading personal opinions in to it. Kids are marching away from the church, 80% don’t come back after they leave high school.

            Why? I am so thankful that the Bible doesn’t skip over their history. Am I smarter than the Bible? Should I edit the Bible? God put the whole story there for a reason.

            God thought it was important for us to see that David was chose, had “mighty exploits”, Knew him personally and yet still arranged to have sex with another man’s wife and then had the man killed to save himself from shame. He never fully recovered from that sin yet still went on and loved God…

            Why do you want to edit this? Don’t be scared of the whole story, or your whole story. What would we do without godly people who openly share about their histories with adultery, gambling, envy, gossip, lying, porn, or sex outside of marriage? God LOVED him in his mess! Should I expect to be any holier than David? I pray I won’t walk into his sins, but what if I do? Does God leave me to my own devices? No. Like with David, he rescues me. Always he rescues me.

            • Thanks for your thoughtful response.

              I loved your thought (expressed as a question): “Why do you want to edit this?”

              All heresies add or subtract from scripture. Let’s not edit; let’s understand.

              Thanks

            • Should “you expect to be any holier than David?” And “what if you do (sin)” you ask? Your editing of the story of David (not mine) left out something vital about David’s sin of adultery with Bathsheba. Following David’s sin, God sent Nathan to speak about consequences. “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you.” You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.” David’s response? “I have sinned against the Lord”. Nathan goes on to say, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.” (God’s abundant grace). Your editing of David’s story leaves out the consequences of David’s sin. “But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will DIE.” (Consequences of sin). Next time you ask, “I pray I won’t walk into his sins, but what if I do?”, always remember that “God’s rescue” is followed by God’s consequences (death of an innocent child) for that sin.” Our students, and their parents I might add, do need to hear the whole story of David as you claim. They look around the church and their own homes, in too many cases, and see hypocrisy- which is the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform. In these times, the world and especially our kids are desperate for the “Church” to live lives that reflect our Lord and his Word. We need to teach them- no, we need to demonstrate to them, by our actions and deeds. They have had enough of adultery, gambling, envy, gossip, lying, porn, and sex outside of marriage. They desperately need role models and the truth. Unfortunately, they won’t find it from Samuel.

            • Ouch.

              Bob, I am strongly in favor of morality. Nowhere will you ever hear me (or read from me) any advocacy of the sins of the flesh. And I hold the traditional Judeo/Christian norms of what constitutes sensual morality. I suspect you and I would have a virtually identical list.

              But–for the most part–attacks on sensual immorality is always about “them,” “those sinful people.” What about us, you and me, other non-sensually immoral people?

              Jesus has lots to say about the moralistic, the pharisees, those who get their identity from their good deeds. It wasn’t the prostitutes and pimps who judged Jesus, it was the moral scribes and pharisees. Even Pilate said Jesus didn’t deserve the death penalty.

              When Paul writes to the Galatians, “Are you ending in the flesh,” the “flesh” Paul describes (here) is not sensual flesh but the flesh of self-righteousness.

          • I think the best part is teaching children the wonderful message about the power, wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit and how he isn’t even powerful enough to empower two sinless people who were God’s own likeness, and whom, even with no sin nature didn’t even have the Spiritual power to stand against a talking reptile full of lies, and embraced the decision that because some talking snake told a lie or two, death was preferable to life with the God who’s Spirit of power and wisdom indwelt them.

            That these sweet children have a wonderful life to look forward to which is filled with religions demanding they do what even God’s Spirit-filled perfectly sinless likeness couldn’t:, BELIEVE, and if they find they simply cannot, they have an eternity of burning flesh to look forward to, willingly supplied by the God who loves them. .

            I love to see the twinkle in their cute little eyes when I show them 2 Peter 3:9 and Matthew 7:13,14 which teaches that God doesn’t even get what he wishes from his own creation because his omniscience, omnipotence & omnipresence means he couldn’t even figure out how to create beloved children who would exercise their free will by choosing righteousness and obedience to God in the belief of true faith over evil, sin and death.

            Why express the Life of the Spirit of the living God within when they may instead somehow decide, in their sinless God-likeness and sin nature-free God-image, to choose the antithesis of their own essence, evil over good, wrong over right, DEATH OVER LIFE?
            Well, because it’s completely reasonable and perfectly logical that evil & death would be impossible for Spirit-filled and sinless creations to turn away from since death would of course be so appealing to true life, and evil so beautiful in the eyes of God’s sinless and Holy Spirit-filled creation of true goodness.

            Then I like to close with letting them know how much the religious love to avoid logic and reason, so I make certain they know never to question or rock the boat with clear thinking.

            Remember, I tell them, the truth is beyond the power of we Spirit-filled believers to fathom, and must be hidden in lies, myth and fairy tales so that we should never ever need to think for ourselves or we might find ourselves cast out with the rest of the Christian wounded.

            God bless. Be warmed and fed.

      • This thread is a couple of months old but dear God the above comment is so disturbing. Where do I begin? “early childhood education for 27 years . . . retir(ed) fire department . . . taught at a prestigious Christian school in West Lake Village . . . raised three wonderful . . . believing Christians, married believing Christian and love God.” Rolling out one’s spiritual credentials makes perfect sense when making a defense of “role model religion.” This brings to mind another impressive bio written by one of our favorite “faith heroes”:

        For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as (σκύβαλα) rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. Phil. 3:3-8

        So Bob, despite your credentials as fire-fighter, teacher at prestigious Christian school, and father to wonderful God-fearing children, can we agree that “circumcision” or “capacity righteousness” is not where it is at? The apostle Paul underscored this point time and time again by making his own failures and weaknesses the subject of his teaching. Consider the a teaching lesson Paul makes out of Peter’s negative example, Gal. 3:11-14. The foundation of the gospel is God’s grace not “great men” so do us all a favor stop looking down your nose at people who are genuinely trying to make disciples by trying a radical new tact . . . choosing honesty with the text and emphasizing “poor in spirit” over “spiritually accomplished.”

        • RE: Christopher. Very well put. We would all be undone apart from Christ. Let me boast in Christ alone. Point to heros as models for behavior (Paul says ‘Follow me as I follow Christ’) but do not put confidence in the flesh.

  2. Thank-you Sam for the bravery to question this established tradition. We need more people willing to look like a heretic to bring real change to an institution like Sunday school that is failing our kids miserably. Whats worse is this very institution then blames the parent when the child departs.

    • Hi Jeff,

      It wasn’t bravery … it was more, hmm, frustration. I want kids to hear the Bible lessons, but ALL the lessons and the REAL lessons, not the moralistic, created lessons.

      And I think we continue these thoughts as adults. When things go wrong, we say, “I must not be in God’s will; I must have blown it.” And, of course we do blow it. But the real lesson is that God is caring for us and directing us in the good and bad. Look at Jesus; he was perfect, yet…..

      The gospel is NOT: we are good so God loves us. That’s moralism. The gospel is, we weren’t so good and God pursued us and loved us; his love makes us great!

    • SInce when do the parents get a pass and the burden and the burden and responsibility becomes that of the church or Sunday school. It is the parents in too many cases who are failing their kids by living lives that do not reflect they believe what the Bible says. Specifically, it says the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man (Mom or Dad included) has much impact in the lives of their children. You have it backwards, because the church is not an institution, it is God’s people, and they need to live like they believe in what they preach. Going to church and dropping off the kids at the Sunday school door expecting them to instill a Godly faith in the hearts of their children is the problem with “the church” today. Sam’s teaching is not brave but shortsighted, or worse. My wife spent 27 years in early childhood education and I got a teaching credential when I retired from the fire department, worked at a prestigious Christian school in the area, and worked with 9th and 10th grade students. I now substitute for middle school and high school students and was very involved with youth when my kids were growing up. The idea that we “burden” our kids with standards they cannot meet is hogwash, because it is Christ through the Holy Spirit that lives within us, that gives us the power to lives that reflect His kingdom. We need more heroes, not less, and students need to see men (and women), and especially their parents, that live like they claim they are. The Apostle Paul changed the world by his willingness to walk like he talked. It is about time more people follow in his footsteps.

      • I agree with you but you are missing the point of the article. Although the article makes it’s point in an all or nothing framework, it’s intent, I think, is to show that we are leaving grace out of the message. It is only when we realize we are powerless, left to ourselves, to be sinless and please God (the point of the 10 Commandments). It is only when I (we) meet Christ, sinless, and holy God, at the cross, suffering for my sin, do I see the extent of his love and pursuit of me. It is in this grace offering, that I did not deserve, that makes me want to please and live for him. That grace offering was the ultimate expression of love. Because of this gift and sacrifice, I desire to surrender all, my life, my goals, my heart and my mind to him. ONLY by living in him, by grace, do I have the power to live a life more and more pleasing to him. Bible heroes are examples of sinful human beings, who desired to live lives pleasing to God. If we leave grace out, we are relying on our own power to be “good”, that is pride. And pride will certainly lead to a fall. Without grace, we have no hope, and are powerless to live the life God intended for us.

      • Man, I hate to see brothers and sisters getting angry with each other

        Regardless of how we “interpret” the Bible, God’s word is God’s word for a reason. We see people who are sinners, because everyone is. We then see the transformational power of God’s love and calling in a person’s life. We do not read about the people of the Bible and identify them as being good of their own inherent goodness. The message in every case is that this person was loved by God, was obedient to God by choice and in the end was changed and used by God. To portray “Pillars of Faith” as inherently good will cause conflict in the minds of children who can not live up. To portray Pillars of faith as changed men and women, obedient men and women will show children how to model the good lessons those Biblical figures represent and give a basis for sharing the transformational message of Christ with the rest of creation, sinners in need of transforming.

  3. Sunday school is just one of the symptoms. It is the mixture of the American Dream, come, work hard, you can get ahead, that is incompatible with the Gospel of grace. It has turned much of the church into the American business church. God loves his church, his people. It is all about relationship and little about organization.

  4. I appreciate this author’s point of view which he states in essence is; “Do we set kids up to “quit” because we teach discipleship requires effort to become godly, “good” people?” Maybe that’s true for some who abandon God but I personally don’t think it is the message of trying to be good and obedient that is driving kids to atheism. (Frankly, the world could use a lot more messages on obedience, righteous living, and submission to God.) I think kids go atheist because they buy into the concept that “science” has disproved God and we no longer should accept “superstition” as authoritative over doing whatever we want to do. Most of the lapsed Christians or anti-God people I know are full of pride, and yes even arrogance, that they are more “enlightened” than the rest of us. If there’s any message clearly taught in scripture it is “the pride cycle”, where men forget God and rely on their own understanding. They reject God because they elevate themselves! So should we stop teaching discipleship in lieu of just teaching “love”? Heaven forbid! If we only teach grace (justification) we ignore the other half of the equation (sanctification.) Teaching kids that God requires nothing, and they are always forgiven even without repentance or submission to God is a) false doctrine b) ultimately harmful. When people are falling asleep or getting lazy, you don’t wake them up by whispering and fluffing their pillow. You blow a trumpet and ask them to get off their butts and DO something…like repent, abandon pride, and “become” disciples of the Master. The scripture says “by their fruits ye shall know them.” It doesn’t say “by their large comfort zone ye shall know them.” So I guess while there is a “nugget” of truth in this authors comments, (teach the love of God) there are also “rocks” of false doctrine, as if Churches are to blame, when really pride and disobedience are to blame. We should not slacken the message that discipleship requires effort just to let weak, nominal Christians stay comfortably asleep in their unsaved comfort zone. Why would we want a church where their members can remain unperturbed by discipleship? A church which doesn’t help its members to understand obedience, and “being good”, is no better than a book club, or Kiwanis, or any other social invention. The woman in this story should NOT be told its the fault of Sunday School teaching her children they need to “be good”. The problem is her kids let pride and laziness and disobedience overwhelm the lessons they should have learned IN sunday school.

    • Hi Garth,

      I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your answer. I agree that we all (kids and adults) need to be taught obedience. Jesus was obedient even to death.

      The problem I have is confusing obedience with the gospel. True–deep–obedience is a response to the gospel, not how we “obtain” the gospel.

      We need to teach kids (and adults) not to lie, cheat, steal, covet, etc. Absolutely. And the world would be a better place if everyone followed the ten commandments.

      But that wouldn’t change our hearts.

      You talk about “proud” people who have rejected the gospel. Sure, I’ve seen them as well. But I bet I’ve seen more religious people who are proud, “Thank you God that I”m not like this sinner….” That pride comes from ignorance of the gospel.

      The gospel says we are worse that we admit (thus no pride) but we are loved more than we dream (thus great confidence). But the confidence doesn’t come from our behavior. Our behavior comes from the confidence we are loved.

      I agree we should teach morals. But let’s make sure we don’t confuse morals with the gospel.

      Sam

      • Pride can indeed cut both ways. I think the parable of the father with two sons, the first who said he would go and labor in the fields (but never went), and the second who refused to go and labor (but later repented and went) was told for a reason. Some who claim to “be saved” but never actually “do” or “change” will find their profession means nothing. “Depart from me. I never knew you.” Others who rebel, but then repent and “do” God’s will shall be welcomed into heaven. I fear too often we leave an impression that God “takes” us to heaven. I view it more as our choice. I fear we err when we teach; “We can do nothing to please God.” I don’t believe that. The bible says the heavens rejoice when a sinner chooses to repent. So, of course our actions please God. I think we must become sanctified as well as justified but many churches only emphasize the justification part that Christ does for us as a free gift. That is not the end of the salvation equation. God does not want robots or he could have made us sinless and kept us in the Garden. God allowed us to fall and then He invites us to come back. But we must choose with our own free will. If we become what we “eat”, why would that principle not apply to our spiritual life? Every day we must choose obedience and faith over sin. So teaching kids to “be good”, to follow the examples of the righteous, to avoid the sins that entice us–all of that should be taught from our pulpits and Sunday Schools. I see you don’t mean to negate that aspect, but the message of preaching the love of God, as if “adding” obedience lessens the message of love, is where I would see a risk of some false doctrine creeping into your message.While I agree we should not take pride in righteous choices, neither should we view them as “optional”. We must change our natures, which we do by what we choose. I don’t think therefore that you can “confuse morals with the gospel” because they are intrinsically linked. They are inseparable. So in a very real sense then, the stories of Abraham, Joseph, David, and Esther ARE the gospel. Children and adults need to see the goal of living a godly life as part and parcel of loving God. “If you love me, keep my commandments.” We can’t do it perfectly. But we cannot disassociate what we “do” with what we “believe.” However one tries to split the baby, the point remains that teaching kids that they need to “be good” is okay.

        • While I see your point so much of the scripture you quote is out of context. For example the depart from me I never knew you, is reserved for those who claim to have done the work of God and spent thier entire lives trying to earn theire righteousness through good works. It ties into the idea that God will spit you out if you’re luke warm being translated as meaning not “onfire” enough for God, when it actually is referring to the mixture of law (usually termed faith in christianese) and grace or the new way of Jesus. Due to the nature of the Law (which is death) if you violated it in any way you were guilty of violating the entirety of it and since Jesus fulfilled the Law you are now held to none of it. Law, or religoius rules breed disobedience because they teach you to focus on sin (a moot point thanks to Jesus) and what is in your heart comes out of your mouth. Repenting again and again has you confessing a sin nature instead of acknowledging a heavenly one. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, it matters who God says you are and what Jesus has done. As far as choosing obedience and faith does it not say that God writes his desires on our hearts? The will of God is not discovered through rigorous religous lifestyles or constant church attendence it is a deep seated change brought by the acceptence of you are in christ and a relationship with the Father leading you to lose your sin nature because you are not focused on yourself and how you can do better, you are focused on the cross.

          ps Also the knowing by the fruit thing is about christians judging non believers not other “lazy christians. in fact we all stand and fall before our own masters as is outlined in Romans.

          • Heleg88: I know some believe as you do, that Christ overlooks any and all evil in “approved” Christians. Therefore when you state; “since Jesus fulfilled the Law you are now held to none of it. Law, or religious rules breed disobedience because they teach you to focus on sin (a moot point thanks to Jesus).” I disagree that “law breeds disobedience”. No. Disobedience breeds disobedience. Your idea that by simply pretending that law no longer exists eliminates sin is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. I perceive you may misunderstand Paul. Paul in Eph 2 and Gal 2 clarifies that he’s talking only about the law of Moses being fulfilled. He’s condemning the Judaizers who were telling his gentile converts they had to ALSO obey the law of Moses. Paul was sick and tired of the “jewish Christians” boasting that their Mosaic works made them holier than uncircumcized “gentile Christians.” Therefore Paul was teaching that the “works of Moses” are not required of Christians. He was not saying “good works” of sanctification are not required of Christians. Christ offers justification. Men must work on their sanctification. Salvation is usually a process, not an event.

            Paul rejected having to obey the law of Moses now that it was fulfilled in Christ. THAT and only that is the “law” that was fulfilled. Therefore, the Ephesians and Galatians did not need to obey the “law of ordinances” contained in the law of Moses. Some Christians twist Paul’s words to think he was teaching that sin is ignored for approved Christians. Christ and the apostles never taught that Christians are excused from sin. They taught just the opposite. In fact, the false doctrine rampant among Christians today is the nonsense that sin no longer counts for a Christian.

            • (Cont’d) Christians are NOT excused from sin and will also stand in judgment. Sin exists because where much is given, much is expected. He who sins against a greater light has a greater condemnation. (John 9:41) Christ raised the bar for heaven. He did not lower it. He gave the sermon on the mount (paraphrasing) about “ye have heard in time past that.adultery is a sin, BUT I TELL YOU THAT HE WHO LOOKETH UPON A WOMAN”… etc. Christ talked about figuratively plucking out your eyes, and cutting off your hand–rather than losing heaven. Why would he say that if sin doesn’t count? Christ taught that Satan desired even Peter, but he had prayed for him that he would not be overcome. Why would Christ do that if Peter was incapable of being overcome it would be better for fallen Christians had they never believed. Paul said; ““Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived:” (1 Cor. 6:9–10). He was speaking to believers. We need to remember that justification without sanctification is only half way to heaven. I believe in free will AND sovereign will. I don’t believe that Christ expects nothing of his disciples. I believe he expects a lot. I believe therefore in a balanced salvation, where Christ has done his part, and offers us grace, but not if we do nothing. (The parable of the 3 servants with talents, where only the one who did nothing was condemned. The other two, though with different yields, both got the same reward.) THAT is what he asks us to do–and that means learning to be good is not an option.

            • Garth, you stated “we must change our natures.” How do WE change our nature? By definition, one’s nature is what it’s built upon. The nature of a rock is to sink in water, whether it wants to or not. Or let me put it another way, how does a dead man make himself “undead (born again)?” He doesn’t, man is incapable of changing his nature – only God can do that. That’s the whole point of God pursuing and choosing us. That’s the whole point of salvation through grace alone . That’s the justification part. You also stated “justification without sanctification is only 1/2 way to heaven,” but as asked by others, how much sanctification is necessary to get into heaven?

              This is not at all to discount the sanctification of a saved person or the discipline/discipleship of a follower of Jesus. Yes, we are known by our fruits and 1John 1 makes it clear that if there is no fruit after an extended period of time there is legitimate reason to question one’s salvation. But sanctification and discipleship is for the saved person, not the unsaved. And yes, I would agree that it seems some in this string have erred too much on the side of grace and forgotten the truth side of the equation – God does expect believers to live a constant life of obedience and repentance, which again is only possible through the Spirit.

              But please remember which comes first – Justification. One cannot be sanctified without first being justified, and one can not earn justification through sanctification. Hence what I see as the point of the original article. It is God’s grace and love that saves, thus that is what should be taught first (along with our fallenness and need for salvation). Obedience doesn’t save. Obedience doesn’t change the heart. I’ve seen my own kids “be good” while still having “bad” hearts (actually I’m guilty of having faked goodness at times too). And without a heart change, there is no salvation.

            • Donny, I think you and I are sympatico. I agree with everything you said and yes, you do have the order right. Indeed, we would have no reason to strive for sanctification if we don’t first grasp and accept the concept of justification (the love of God via Grace). My point all along has not been to promote legalism. Rather it’s been that BOTH justification and sanctification are integral. Theologians, IMO, have too often failed to find the balance between free will and sovereign will. So some pretend that free will is immaterial, as if God must do everything and we just float along on fluffy clouds. Tra la, tra la. I don’t see that in the Bible. When grace alone is held aloft as ALL we need, we miss the mark just as much as those who would hold our good works of discipleship aloft as ALL we need. My concern in this thread is the teaching of being “good little boys and girls” is being represented by some as antithetical to the gospel. It is in fact the second chapter in a two chapter book. I get the sense that some would tear the book in half or even insist that the second chapter poisons kids toward atheism because they only want to teach a cuddly God. It’s ironic that the Jews saw only a vengeful God, to obey out of fear. Christians swing the pendulum too far the other way and see only a “Buddy God” who gives us a hammock while he carries us to heaven full of our unrepentant sins if need be. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

            • My God, how does one man have so much to say. Is there anything in the Bible about someone who won’t shut up. I mean, do you really believe that your barrage of thousands of words is somehow godly or edifying. Honestly I’ve just skimmed through this blog and you are every where. I’m sorry but it looks like megalomania and I know that isn’t one of the fruits of the Spirit.

            • If I didn’t know better Garth I would think you were sent as an angel of heaven. I know your not but I so thankful that you have such a wonderful way to express God’s truth and refute false teaching. It is in many cases destroying believers and their children and leads to the statistics that show so many professing Christians are defeated, sick, dying, or dead. They have nothing to stand upon as they teach their children the false messages and doctrine. I am in a Bible study of 15 men every Monday and all of them have lost one or all of their children to this world. Some were leaders in the Christian community on their campus at high school and now live like world. One of our members, a respected individual in our community and a leader of his church has sons that have departed from the faith they were taught. We saw the signs in their young lives as they went to high school, but were powerless to bring to their attention that they were not addressing the divergence in the lives of their children from the faith and teaching they were providing. We must speak out in these days when so many look to teachers that will “tickle their ears” with what they want to hear in the first place. I am a substitute teacher in middle and high school and I see impact of this culture and the unwillingness for parents to address sin in the lives of their children, in a loving but firm way. This is especially troubling when I realize some of the students come from Christian homes. I worked at a prestigious Christian school for 2 years and saw first hand the impact of not teaching that sin has consequences even when forgiveness is given, whether by our Lord or by an administrator at the school.

            • I agree that he is correcting Judaic Christians. But I’m not pretending the law doesn’t exist…For you and I as Gentiles it never did, Judaic law was never offered to gentiles and we were “lost and in the dark without hope of salvation.” Also I would say that the “a man who looks at a woman” thing is definitely Jesus pointing out to the pharisees who were convinced that they were holding to the standard of the law under their own strength, that no work can meet God’s standard. Its why Jesus had to die, God entered into blood covenant with himself through Jesus and we(as is tradition in blood covenant) benefit as witnesses. And Christ did not raise the bar for heaven, I mean no disrespect but that notion is absurd, in order for a bar to be raised the goal has to be attainable first. And since no one could achieve heaven until Jesus paved the way, he opened the door. No one comes to the Father except through me. Not except through me and all the good stuff you had better have done. If you can santicify yourself from sin than Jesus’ death was unnesseccary because you could have attained it if you tried hard enough. But no you cannot sanctify yourself for God is a being of pure good and justice. And because of that you cannot, as we earthly beings have a habit of doing, quantify sin. If you have lied once in your life than to God you are the same as a mass murderer. It is a single qualifing check box, sin or no sin. And God views our sin (as a being that exists outside of time) as far as the east is from the west and paid for once and for all on the cross of Christ. As far as God is concerned for a believer, sin doesn’t exist. God was not kidding when he said forgave and forgot. For us to keep bringing it up to him again and again in repentance has to be insulting or make us seem downright crazy, because we are confessing to him things he cannot see. “Look Lord I lusted after a woman, please forgive me!” and God is like “What now beloved child, bathed in the blood of christ, are you talking about.” It is the heart of God much as in the story of Mary Magdalene which is often taught with the message of “We all sin.” when its actual message is so much stronger. Mary should have been stoned under the law, but Jesus drew a line in the sand and said “He who is without sin throw the first stone.” and they all left, now the best part “Where are your accusers? Neither do I condem you, go and sin no more.” the important thing here is that at the end Jesus could have held the stone and killed her and been justified under his own stipulation as he was the only one without sin, but no he lets her leave with grace and love which eliminates her desire to sin, the love of Christ having changed her nature.

              And Jesus did say that to Peter, before he died, before the veil was torn. Now we are not overcome because we have the living god inside of us and the helper to guide us and when the devil tries to condem you for “sin” our response should be to point to the cross and say “No I am not that way anymore, I am a new creation.” and then we can walk boldly into the Throne Room and sit at the feet of our Abba Father.

            • There is no biblical proof that Mary Magdalene was the woman caught in adultery. She had been demon possessed. Catholic tradition – not biblical proof – has Mary as a prostitute/adulteress. Just an FYI.

            • “That and only that”?? No, the Scriptures say that Christ died to cleanse us from sin (not just Mosaic law) and save us, and all we do to receive that is believe and confess:

              Romans 10:9-10
              That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

              John 5:24 – Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

              To quote just two verses out of many. Yes, sanctification is a process, and requires our efforts and obedience. He’s called Lord for a reason, after all. Sanctification is becoming more like Christ, in deeper fellowship with Him, and more spiritually mature. But that is different from salvation… we can not earn salvation except by believing, and that is not something that gets “undone” by not believing enough, not living holy enough, or whatever. You’re making the age-old mistake of turning salvation into something that is at least partially reliant on man’s behavior, therefor something we at least partially earn and could take credit for. Only Christ’s blood can accomplish it, and He says that none shall be taken from His hand.

              The idea of salvation as a process is about as legalistic as you can get. How many good works do you have to do, how long of living a holy life, til you know you’ve made it? And if you get that far, how much sin or messing up will wipe it out? What about the thief on the cross who Christ said would see Him in Paradise? He didn’t have much opportunity to work his way up to this supposedly raised bar. Your statements are not only unbiblical, they are the type of thing that discourage believers and destroy faith.

            • @ Rachel. I never said you’re saved because of a quota of good works. I said the cumulative effects OF good works (“free will” choices)–in which we consistently repent and improve–develops our discipleship. (Sanctification) It’s required to BECOME a “just” person, whom God makes perfect by grace. Two steps. Not one. But too many Christians think all they have to do is enter the gate, but not make the actual journey. You ask “how long of living a holy life til you know you’ve made it?” The answer is ALL your life. It never ends. The Bible never states life owes you some guarantee in mortality. Paul calls it “the hope of our salvation.” This notion that you’re suppose to “know” you’re saved now, before your story is over, is sectarian salesmanship. Yes, salvation can be relied upon now if we continue. Christ said we must endure to the end. (Matt 10:22) But in the literal sense, I believe salvation is suppose to remain a future event so we live for Christ ALL of our lives. Therefore, you should always be prepared. Perseverance. It ain’t over till it’s over. The race, as Paul said, must be a good one, right up to our last breath. Yes, we can be assured we have the hope and promise of eternal life, but at no point do the scriptures tell us to coast to the finish line. Why do you allege it discourages believers or destroys faith to live for Christ every day? I think you have it backwards. Thinking you’re saved now, with no further discipleship effort required actually breeds lazy, hypocritical, and vacillating Christians. I’ll take a striving, persevering Christian over a condescending, sleeping Christian any day.

            • I think that the reason kids leave the church is much more than Sunday School. Kids see their youth pastors trying to be trendy, wearing the same clothes they are wearing, which looks ridiculous to them. They get mood music instead of real worship. They get outings instead of Bible studies. I’m talking about generalities, not specifics. And, look down through these comments. Kids see adults picking and arguing over semantics, people who want to “one-up” others over meaningless arguments. They hear their parents gossip at home. They get object lessons instead of Bible memorization. They don’t get standards, that this is right, this is wrong. They don’t get the compass that they need, so they drift. It’s not Sunday School that fails them, it is the church, and the parents who don’t choose more wisely in many cases. Churches that choose “community” over real teaching. That’s just my opinion, though. I grew up in a church that really taught their kids Scripture, truth, the gospel, and how to follow the Lord.

            • Garth, you get it. Well said. I am a Mormon and though we may have things that we would disagree on it is certainly not on this topic. I’ve never heard of such a thing as “approved” Christians and the thought that God would overlook sin for such would mean that He has favorites. He is no respecter of persons and loves ALL of His children. And even though we may have entered the waters of baptism and began a new life as disciples of Christ, He cannot look upon sin with any degree of allowance or “overlook” the sins of anyone. To do so would make him seem petty and would would put Him on a level even with many men in this world, which He is not.

              The price was paid for all of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ and that becomes effective for each of us as we repent and become more like Him.

              You mentioned that where much is given, much is required. We have to continue to do our best to be “even as I am”. (His words, not mine)

            • “Christ offers justification. Men must work on their sanctification.” While I do agree that we do have a huge responsibility in the sanctification process, we should not overlook the role that Christ plays in it. First and foremost: giving us a new nature. Morals are important, but they don’t originate from themselves. God’s purpose for us is that we be conformed to the image of His Son. You are right, sanctification is a process, but in that process we are not alone. Philippians 1:6- “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus;”

              And beyond that, God’s grace doesn’t stop at justification. Jesus as the surety of our covenant (Heb. 7:22) is able to provide in full anything that we fall short in. That is not an excuse for sin, but, the reality is, justified Christians do sin. However, we have a hope in the midst of our imperfect effort to become like Him.

              The Gospel of grace and love goes beyond justification.

            • I think one point that needs clearing up here is that there is indeed a difference between Discipleship and Sanctification. The latter is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a believer to change their nature and thus their motivations. While the former is the practice of good works, and the desire to grow more christ-like, on the part of men in response to sanctification. While the two are intrinsically linked they are not the same thing.

              And if you’re going to quote scripture please, please, please ascertain the proper context and connection.

            • Josh, I agree with your distinction and yes they are intrinsically linked but also distinct concepts. I think I am using the proper context and connections. Hermeneutics is essential, and I’m a stickler for honest context. But just because someone may be use to hearing only one “version”, does not mean when you have it challenged, that the challenger is wrong. Nothing I’m saying is outside of context, but frankly, many pastors have watered the scriptures down to a “feel-good-no-effort-required” message. I believe that is a false gospel message. Look how many preach a message of prosperity, or a message of “salvation only takes a moment”. It’s epidemic in evangelical and charismatic rhetoric. That message was never scriptural. I simply point out how THEY have distorted the context of scripture! Nothing I have said is unsupported by context of scripture. But some Christians have never heard the pre “new-age” version and have not challenged tradition.

            • I don’t hear anyone saying they believe “feel-good-no-effort-required” to you. I hear those conversing with you saying that it is the work of the Holy Spirit in you and your relationship with the Lord after salvation that gives you the power and the desire to be obedient. A relationship with the Lord is not something that takes one second, no one is talking about people who pray a prayer and never go any further. I have been taught both ways and have tried both ways and I can testify that when I focus on trying to be really good and obedient I can’t do it, I fall short every time. However, when I focus on the Lord and my relationship with Him sanctification starts happening. It is Him in me, not me and my goodness….HIm working in me to accomplish His will.

            • I think even the start of this thread was based on the idea that we shouldn’t even discuss an expectation of righteousness, even in Sunday School. The allegation was that kids should not get any message of “performance”, but only of “acceptance” from a loving God who will love them regardless of their behavior. And even more specifically, way earlier the discussion was based on the idea that “there is no law that applies to Christians”. It was alleged that Christians will never have sins counted because they are always and automatically forgiven. Antimonianism concepts like that are what I began refuting. There are also some,– even the premise of the entire thread–that we should not emphasize or even discuss “being good”. The premise was offered from the beginning that we should only teach grace. And nothing but grace! It was even postulated that even mentioning bible heroes would ruin our children who could go atheist if they had any notion in their little heads other than God being warm and fuzzy and never expecting them to actually become righteous. I don’t think I’m wrong therefore to point out how wrong-headed that thinking is.

            • Ryan–I agree Christ in integral in the process and this is why the scriptures consistently use the analogy of a “marriage” between us and Christ. A partnership–a union! I presume in this discussion we are talking that as a given.

            • At the end of the day, I think the important thing to note is that there are levels of validity within what everyone here is saying. With that I would just like to say that I think that getting nit-picky over the details is in some ways just as much an issue. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS THAT JESUS CHRIST BE CENTRAL!

            • I’m just going to enter this debate momentarily and ask, “Where does the Spirit fit into all of this?” I think it is the ministry of the Spirit will support both stances effectively. It’s the third way, not legalism, not antinomianism. I encourage you both to read 2 Cor. 3. As a Christian, your new responsibility is not “work on your own salvation” but realize that you are under new management: that of the Holy Spirit. It’s not a “pull up your bootstraps and try harder, Christian!” it’s an “obey the Spirit”. You see it’s not God who does the saving and us who try our best to be sanctified. God does them both (PTL!). Galatians 3:24 addresses the role of the law, namely, to be “our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” Well, how is our faith built up, and how are we sanctified if we are free from the yoke of the law? Well, Paul answers that in Galatians 5:13-26, which basically says, “LIVE BY THE SPIRIT”.

            • Annette, there is I fear a reality disconnect for Christians from the ideological vs. reality of daily living. Sure it’s formulaic to say “God puts a new spirit into Christians.” But what does that mean in reality? Does the spirit then force you to obey? Are choices some how “less personal” or “done-by-the-proxy” of the Holy Ghost? To say we have access to more inspiration is true. But we are not given some dispensation from making real choices, are we? Those who say that God puts a new spirit in Christians must then answer how that absolves us when we don’t do what we should. If that were literally true Christians would live perfectly. Is our free will suspended? Are we robots? Don’t we still have free will!? So while I agree “obey the spirit” is the goal, we are not literally “externally” sanctified, as if just spectators. Sanctification must be “internal” or it has no power to change us. That REQUIRES agency–our deep involvement by free will. We are not insulated from error and sin. Free will is still the key. Human beings do not have the spirit literally “make” them do anything. Nothing! So while I agree that the Holy Ghost, spirit, conscience will prompt us, it cannot force us. Therefore ultimately we–you and I–not the H.G. actually live our lives. So though it sounds profound, I don’t agree when you say; “You see it’s not God who does the saving and us who try our best to be sanctified. God does them both.” That is not my experience. I propose God’s spirit enlightens, inspires, teaches, but then I must hearken. God does not then literally “do them both.” The HG is a comforter, A testifier to truth. A higher conscience. But it cannot replace my will or God is only a puppet-master and christians mere puppets. I still must choose.

            • Garth, the practical application of “living in the Spirit” is one that is going to look differently for every Christian. That being said, I understand that your experience may not be that you feel that God is doing the work of sanctification. But again, I cannot rely on your experience as a standard of truth. Eph. 2:10 says, “We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” I agree that there is a role that free will plays. I was not denying that earlier. Free will can be used to serve either master, the flesh, or the Spirit. I believe that there are many Christians today that don’t have a clue of what it looks like to “walk in the Spirit”. It seems really wishy-washy and difficult to define. The Law certainly comes in handy for that! But the illustration that made it clearer for me was that of a man who visited a city with the map. Things were clearly laid out but he still ended up getting lost and didn’t end up seeing all the sights he had intended. When visiting the same city a second time, he had a tour guide with him that not only knew what the map was saying but had a much greater understanding of the history, monuments and told him much more than the map ever could. The same could be said about the Holy Spirit. He’s our Tour Guide for life. (John 16:12-15) That doesn’t mean that we always listen to Him or take his guidance but if we do, we’ll learn a lot more, as well as getting to where God wants us to go. Again, this might sound idealistic but I am in the process of learning how to listen to the Spirit’s leading in my life and I can’t even tell you how much of a difference it has made to becoming a part of what God is doing around me. Do I still sin? Of course I do! In fact, the Spirit has convicted me over things that I didn’t even consider sin before I started to listen to Him. Sanctification is certainly a process that requires a person’s free will to become sensitive to the Spirit’s leading. That person still has the free will to either obey or not. But as life continues, this person will realize that being obedient to the Spirit’s leading will produce a harvest of righteousness…not perfection because we’re still in our fleshly bodies.

            • Beautifully said and I can agree with all you said. That idea of a mentor–with me being the ultimate decider–is exactly correct. It is a partnership. I think some christians view it as a pilot-passenger relationship, instead of a pilot-copilot relationship. And, with my view of the key role of free will I would clarify that WE are the pilot, and the HG is the copilot, though one could claim that the more in-tune we become those roles should eventually reverse, for a mature Christian.

            • I really like your honest evaluation how initially we are the pilot but as we become more mature, the roles should reverse. I completely agree!

            • It is Christians like you with all of your theology talk who turn so many people away from church and God. I believe God is much bigger than all this talk back and forth. I believe it is very simple. Love each other and treat each others with love and respect. It is very simple, that is what Jesus did when he came here, and he said to live like him. Period end of sentence.

            • HI Laura,

              I appreciate your participation, and I’m really glad that you believe in loving each other and treating each other with respect.

              But even that–teaching loving and respect–isn’t the final answer. Because we can’t truly love until we’ve BEEN loved. So the answer beneath the answer is we have to receive His love first; and then we can go and love.

              Teaching love and respect alone–I hate to say this–but it is a type of moralism too. Don’t get me wrong: we SHOULD teach love and respect. But we need to rely on His love for us first.

              Thanks

            • Good answer but what about people who have never heard about God and live loving and respectful lives. Or an atheist, they can also be loving. I don’t believe you have to even believe in God to have God in you, he is just there, built into our DNA. I see it all the time, I work with a host of different people, I know atheist or agnostics who act more Christ like than most Christians,

            • Laura, yes, I agree the gospel is just that simple. You sum it up well. But it’s also okay to have books, seminaries, theologians, and deeper thinkers who find the discovery process enriches their faith in God. Isn’t it? While I would never tell you that you’re not allowed to be satisfied with simpler concepts about God, I would hope you would allow others to find fulfillment by asking deeper questions. That’s okay too, isn’t it? What you find simple others might find simplistic. So, I’m glad you embrace the quickly-grasped concept of Loving and Living the gospel. I agree! Condensed to a sound-bite, that’s the same thing I’ve been saying with all this talk back and forth. But let’s agree it’s okay to have more than one way to build love for God. Gee, I hope some folks enjoy discussing big issues without being turned away from church and God. There sure seem to be a lot of books on the topic, so somebody must benefit I suppose from the deeper explorations. I think there’s room for both the surface and the depth, since indeed “God is much bigger”. A big God sometimes generates big discussion. So while saying you think we need to treat everyone with love and respect, maybe you could spare a little for me without suggesting I’m driving people away from God just because some here look a little deeper than maybe you personally need. I’m sure you didn’t mean it to come across that way because I think you can tell I love God as much as you do so let’s be happy there’s diversity in how we find and try to serve that big God.

            • I do respect your opinion, even more now that you showed me respect by not trying to beat me over the head with text and theology. Thank you for that. And I mean that with sincerity. I can appreciate your perspective that, yes some people do desire more in depth study, I misunderstood your discussion for brow beating. That is what I am used to. I read the article and appreciated the honesty in how they were approaching their teaching, I liked the idea of teaching my child that God loves her even if she is bad, that we don’t have to be perfect for God to love us. Because none of us our perfect, and that is to much for anyone to carry. I like the thought that God loves me in my beastly anxiety ridden depressed state, that I don’t have to change for him to love me, that he is going to somehow find me in this place and pull me out of it. Not the other way around.

            • The Greek word for “workmanship” in that verse is better translated as “poem” – we are God’s poetry. Many people may not understand the poem that my life has been – the victories and the defeats – but God is the author, not I. I think the emphasis on “sanctification”, and “obedience”, is used to create people into the image of “The American Christian”, or a good Baptist, or a good “Full Gospel” believer – not a true Kingdom participant. Not judging, just an observation from someone who has 30+ years experience in ministry and life. I refuse to be insulated, and become ineffective in allowing people to read and comprehend the incredible and wonderful message of grace and rest in the poem that I am, and am becoming.

            • I am neither American nor Baptist but I can understand that these labels in themselves have certain baggage tied with them that can in certain ways limit the growth of a Christian. I have recently broken out of a “mould” that also had limiting aspects to it and have found that my walk with the Lord has plunged depths that I didn’t know were possible…and I’m just scratching the surface.

            • i’m disappointed, but not surprised, that this article has generated comments like these. i think of it like “christian-ese”. just like “legalese” for lawyers, where words are meaningless for anyone but veterans of the profession. these are the tables jesus turned upside down. the legalese of the faith.

              the article is about raising kids. and within minutes and hours christians are squabbling with themselves about proper lexicons of salvation and sanctification, which newest curriculums should be bought, whether esther was coerced, chose, repented, forced or participated with consent in sex outside of marriage, and about who has more pride, those outside the church or those inside, and how exactly to quantify that pride. and we wonder why our kids are disgusted with the faith.

              i went to christian schools, had mentors, joined youth groups, led camps, led intervarsity fellowships, went to seminary, learned biblical and modern hebrew, lived in israel, got the designation reverend. and to this day, i feel the presence of God more when i am with those outside the church than inside it. i try, and fail, and try again to be a follower of christ, but I have an increasingly difficult time labeling myself “christian” anymore.

              i have a two-year old, and another on the way. and constantly am thinking about how to pass on the faith, pass on my love for God, and demonstrate the love God has. and i honestly am scared of raising her in the culture of north american christianity. we are the pharisees of the bible. arguing about interpretation, and blind to the opportunity to share healing with a broken world.

              my daughter will not learn about God from the most popular montessori based curricula, or whether we get to sunday school each week. in fact, i’m a little less concerned that she learn as much as what i was taught, and more concerned with how i model Christ to her: do i love the unloveable in a tangible, daily way, including those the church loves the least? am i indifferent to the homeless, the addict, the single mother, the depressed? do i drive by them? why am i not with these people on a daily basis? who am i feeding, literally? how much waste am i producing? how are we sharing our possessions with those around us – not on christmas, not with tithes, but literally every day? Jesus being homeless was not figurative. it was literal. jesus touching the lepers and talking with the prostitutes was not a figurative lesson, so that we could feel good about ourselves when we pray for these people in our comfortable pews. that was the gospel message. a life lived with the un-liveables. touching the untouchables. willing to heal when everyone else just wanted to hear themselves. the gospel. when will we, when will i, take it seriously?

              more and more, it seems the north american church distances itself from the jesus of the gospel.

            • Well said! While reading a few of the comments~I was thinking the same thing. Bottom line~~ parents are failing our kids~~ NOT: the teachers~ NOT Sunday School~~NOT the church. Prayer might have been ‘taken out of school’ ~but CHRIST lives w/i the heart of man~~ & THAT ~no one can mess with. We~as parents~ have failed our children to be Bold~Compassionate~Bright Light examples~ therefore~our children are confused & rejecting.
              Tammy

            • Pretty story (from a wordly point of view), but it is this story that is the lie, not the preaching of good examples of faith in the Bible. This story attempts to mesh many great doctrines of the New Testament into one new recipe for understanding the Gospel. Unfortunately, if there were a way to do it, I reckon the apostles and Jesus would have come up with it first. But as it is written (2 Timothy 4:3):

              “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” (NLV)

              This new doctrine leaves out the new nature we have in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), instead focusing on the relationship between God and the “old nature”. This “old nature” is under wrath from God regarding the unsaved (Romans 9:22), and it is reckoned to be dead for the saved (Romans 6:11). Nice try, Satan, but no dice (talking about the spirits that inspired this, not the persons who wrote it)!

          • I would disagree that salvation is instant. To my limited understanding, salvation itself is a process that doesn’t end until your last breath. The Eastern Orthodox call it “deification”.

            • Salvation is a multifaceted idea. Justification, which is all that is absolutely required for admittance into heaven, happens at the moment of acceptance of Jesus as lord and savior, thus allowing for deathbed conversion. While Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a believer to change their nature. Both combined create what is known as Salvation.

        • I agree that morals and the gospel are intrinsically linked. The challenge is the order: most churches teach be good to get the gospel. This is wrong. The order is: get the gospel (as a gift), allow the Good News to work morality from the inside out i.e. receive His love, receive more of His love, and then keep on receiving His love….morality will naturally follow without effort.

        • As I read all these posts and counter posts it appears to me that it many of the respondents know it all, whether it is God’s will or science. Providing evidence, whether it is statistics, observations, or Bible quotations.

          I don’t know God’s will, all I have is faith. Faith is not knowlege – so for example I would not say: ” So, of course our actions please God.” To me nothing is of course. I would say: “I have faith our actions please God.”

          For some children, youth, and adults it is this expression of certainty, this knowledge of God will, that is confusing as they try to understand there own faith or the apparent lack of it.

          People who know God can make understanding and trusting once faith difficult. Some will go to extreme in the name of God, knowing that God wants them to act. They may then get the attention by the world through news coverage. Whether that certainty of knowing God’s is expressed in acting on their position on war, abortions, immigration, or many other issues, they make it hard to distinguish a faith in God and knowing God’s will.

          Abraham Lincoln expressed it so well: “I can only trust in God that I have made no mistake.” I understand that he acted in faith, with doubt, to do what he believed to be right. He never knew whether he was right, not before, not while, not after doing it.

          I don’t know whether the suggestions provided in the post or the many responses identify a path forward to a better Sunday school curriculum,. I do feel that the discussion may be improved it is more focused on faith.

        • Garth, I wrote Sam as a result of my daughter-in-law’s reference to Sam’s teaching and, after reading the article, was very concerned with what I read. She is raising our grandkids with ideas such as Sam’s and it is having an adverse affect on their lives as she doesn’t think their sin is that big a deal and they are loved by God anyway, so what’s the big deal. We are praying that our son, who was raised to understand and believe as you have clearly set forth in your reply, will take the leadership role and address the actions and words of his children. We raised 3 kids who are now 40, 36, 32 who love the Lord and have made a difference for the better in our society. I am thankful that your words had the right balance of love and truth. I only hope that others who read them will understand the importance of raising their children to live lives that reflect their confession of faith.

      • “The problem I have is confusing obedience with the gospel. True–deep–obedience is a response to the gospel, not how we ‘obtain’ the gospel.” Well said! I think that for too many believers, performance has taken the place of grace. I know I have struggled with this in my own life, often beating myself up whenever I fell short of God’s standard. Such feelings of condemnation are not of God (“For there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”) but from the flesh and the devil. Our pride makes us feel like we can somehow measure up to God’s standards through our own performance, moraltiy or good works. Then when we fail, guilt and shame set in, robbing us of our security and peace in Christ. When we beat ourselves up over our failures, it is an affront to the gospel. It is like saying to Jesus, “Your blood wasn’t sufficient to cover my sin.” Thank you for reminding us of the sufficiency of God’s grace.

        • Julie,

          You wrote that so well. Thanks. I especially love your line, “It is an affront to the gospel. It is like saying to Jesus, ‘Your blood wasn’t sufficient to cover my sin.'”

      • Beautiful, simple and well said: “True–deep–obedience is a response to the gospel, not how we “obtain” the gospel.”

      • Only a few of the Ten Commandments have any relevance in this world, unless you believe god is a self-aggrandizing ass. Teach kids to treat others how they would like to be treated. That would make the world a better place. Teaching them to “obey god” forces them to decide which version or which god at some point. Most of the atheists I know left the church at that point. The bible says love your neighbor, not love the ones who agree with you.

      • Beware of the proverbial pendulum! I agree that we gain confidence knowing that we are loved by God but “Confidence doesn’t come from behavior” is not entirely true. Faith is strengthened and grows in confidence when we obey God’s commands and apply the principles He has revealed to us in His Word. As we obey the reality of their truth impacts our lives and others. That certainly has an effect on our confidence. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

    • As one of those kids who abandoned God (and much later, returned) I’d like to add that it was absolutely the hypocrisy between what was taught and what was practiced that drove me away. I sat in Sunday School and youth group and service listening to adults tell me all about how important it was to be “good” and make “good” choices and be a “good” person, like God wanted. Then I watched the way they acted towards others and the way they allowed us kids to act to each other, and I realized they were all full of crap.

      I had no particular faith in science, and I didn’t believe God had been disproved. I just saw people in church pretending that they were wiser than the rest of us, better than the rest of us, and definitely more “enlightened” or closer to God than the rest of us. I even spent a year exploring the various congregations in my town, trying to reassure my mom who is a devout Christian, trying to find a church that fit what I felt to be true. So many of the biblical stories are about love (yes, anger and retribution and testing, but ultimately love), and yet so few of these “Christians” showed love for one another. In the end, I failed, and in my teen anger and frustration, abandoned Christianity entirely.

      Luckily, years later I met a few people who showed me that there were Christians beside my mother who worked to practice unconditional love for others, and I re-read the Bible for myself, and some of the writings of Luther, and returned to Christianity on my own. I stopped relying on fallible humans, and started trying to practice some of my own love and grace for others and myself.

      And when I finally agreed to teach Sunday school, I made certain that each Sunday I emphasized the parts of the lesson that taught about God’s love and Grace, and how flawed each of us are: myself, the biblical figures, the kids, other adults, etc., and how God loves and accepts us anyways. I know that was a message I needed to hear growing up, and I hope it helped some of my students.

      So no, Garth, I don’t think kids are primarily abandoning faith due to science and Enlightenment arrogance. I think it’s far more likely that many of them are abandoning faith due to regular human arrogance–the arrogance of church adults who want our kids to be better than we are, but in our hopes forget the reassurance kids need about being regular people. And the arrogance of kids, often teens, who feel that no one older “gets it” or is right about anything. Hopefully we can keep remembering that it’s not about us, it’s about God’s love and grace, and just keep working to show that more authentically every day.

      • Hi Eve, I so enjoyed reading your post! I have to agree with you! I RAISED my kids, just like everyone else, expecting them to turn out GOOD! They did, but, also left the church. About 12 years later our youngest son returned. During that time both HE and I, did considerable growing! I personally have grown a lot over my 64 years of life! I used to be VERY stanuch in what I believed, and THOUGHT everyone else should believe the same! But, as the years rolled by, and I came in contact with more and more people, I realized that we are not ALL in the same place of our spiritual walk with Jesus, and that we have to give people latitude. We cannot FORCE them to believe as we do! That is what I like so much about Jesus! He created us with a mind, to make free will choices! But then on the other hand, He also gave us a set of rules to live by, called the 10 Commandments. The first 4, deal with our relationship with God. The last 6, deal with our relationship with others. Notice He gives us 6, and Himself 4! I think that proves that He is MOST interested in us as human beings! I am so glad that I have learned, at least I hope I have, to be more tolerent of people and what they believe. God is good, and He gave us His Word, the Bible, to instruct us, to care for us, to see how much HE loves and cares for us. God bless!

      • What I love about your answer, Eve, is that you experienced it personally. I love that you are able to articulate your journey so beautifully. I, too, am a SS teacher & I know I want to be real & practical so that my girls can see God’s word as a tool for their everyday life. A balance between grace & truth requires so much wisdom. The examples in scripture of men & women like Abraham & Esther can encourage our students that if others can stay faithful to God during hard times, then maybe they can too. Sometimes it’s in the way we teach them the biblical principles. Great things to consider from all these discussions…

      • Thank you Sam – I am really glad that I have had an opportunity to read some of the posts on here because it help me to understand some of the feelings I have experienced in my life as a Christian.

      • “…the arrogance of church adults who want our kids to be better than we are, but in our hopes forget the reassurance kids need about being regular people”- I absolutely agree with you eve.

        I am in a similar situation to a younger you, where I have abandoned the church and Christianity having grown up as part of it and a deep believer as a father. I have not returned to the Church and religion despite retaining a belief in God. I’m agnostic I suppose.

        When I was growing up, all I ever felt was guilt- that I couldn’t go one day without doing something that was labelled ‘sin’ whether it was swearing, or lying or judging. I never felt absolved instead it was a vicious cycle. Get to the end of one day, repent and pray, wake up again and start the whole thing again. I never felt loved or clean from ‘sin’ that was going to send me to hell.

        I grew sick of this about 4 years ago. Since then, I have felt freer and a whole lot better as a person. I have learnt more about being a good person from being away from the church than being in it. Moral decisions and actions became choices rather than being ‘extorted’ into it. Science is my profession, and rather than weakening my belief in God, it has instead supported it. I cannot look at the wonder of the world around me and its beautiful complexity without feeling that there was a hand in creating it. “Randomness” does just not cut it as an explanation.

        Reading the original article was a bit of a revelation. It was nice to be reminded that there are different perceptions and ways to think about what we are taught. It made me think that perhaps there is hope for me after all, and that maybe I need to do some more thinking about changing my perceptions. I need to do some reading and come to my own conclusions. Your response was lovely in that I was reminded that I am not alone in agonising over this issue, and gives me hope that one day I will sort it all out.

        • Some good thoughts in the article. The entire gospel does need to be taught. However, there is one part of the article that made me want to throw out an observation/question: It was the sectino on ‘There’s gota be a better way’. Stressing the message so much like that appears to be very similiar to a lot of modern day thinking. That is to say, you can go around doing whatever you want, God will love you regardless. A lot of people have that mind-set and I think a lot of people do end up leaving the church because of exactley that. As long as they claim to believe in God, they can live however they want because He will always love them. A lot of error can come out of this if not mixed and tempered with teaching of what God requires out of his followers.

      • My siblings and I grew up in a conservative Baptist church along with most of our extended family. We witnessed a lot of legalism and backstabbing, gossip, and far worse. Disillusionment came early for us. Many of the extended family are not involved in church or are practicing what I call “moral relativism”, picking the parts of the Bible which they like and ignoring the rest, going along with whatever the world decides is okay. Many were disillusioned by the two-faced nature of the numerous “Sunday Christians” who would teach in our classes (or from the pulpit) and then go home and lead a different life.

        Myself and all four of my siblings are still in church and still believers. My brother is an associate pastor at a church in another city. His is unmarried because he believes God wants him as he is; available for anything the church needs. He once rode a bicycle to another city for the 8th graduation of one of his youth members simply because she had no one else coming.

        My youngest sister is the wife of a youth minister and a Sunday School teacher (who doesn’t use any curriculum, just uses the Bible and *gasp* studies and prays to prepare for her class each week with her husband. Our other sister is a stay at home mother with seven children, who is very involved in her church but more involved with her kids (who know more scripture than I did at their age). She reads to them from the Bible every day and has them articulate back what it means to them (refusing to accept any form of “what she said”). If their study makes them late, so be it. She wants them to know that God is more important than anything.

        I myself am involved in a rapidly growing church (we just bought a new building and it was full on its second Sunday). I also served in the military for four years and spent most of those four years explaining to others why I believed what I believed, which made me take a hard look at exactly that. My faith has only deepened.

        Looking at my cousins who were raised in the same church but ended up in jail or worse, many often wondered what went wrong. I never had to. The difference was our parents.

        My parents have always lived a life in front of us that showed us that they meant exactly what they said. We were poor because my parents gave to others far more than they ever kept. They still do. When we gave our toys to children who lost everything in a fire, our mother didn’t let us give the ones we didn’t want. She asked us to give up the best ones. I was seven and I never forgot what that felt like, especially since the kids didn’t even want the toys. Mom said, “That’s not why we give. It’s the giving I want you to remember.” And I do.

        They’ve always paid their tithes in full, even when we were short on rent. The bills always got paid. They said to serve faithfully and we were at church for every service, every work day. They still are. They invited strangers into our home and loved them like family. We still do. My sister says we were spiritually spoiled.

        My parents have spent my entire life showing me what being a Christian meant. I never needed Sunday School for that.

        • Sarah,
          What a lovely tribute to your parents. I would agree with you. My parents lived their faith in front of me. They enhanced what I learned in Sunday School. They made it real, not just stories. Along with that, they pointed me to God every day and loved me unconditionally.
          My heart aches for those who cannot see the unconditional love of God because of the sinfulness of humanity.
          My heart aches for those who will not see the holiness of God because of the influence of the world around them.

    • 1. If you start your comment with “I appreciate the authors point” your really not listening and you just want to be heard.
      2. this is well written and very lengthy just to say he still believes in doing the same things over and over and get no real change.
      3. Comments like this prove why we need more articles like this.
      4. The generation is being asking for a different realism our generations grew up in. Remember the message of the Gospel never changes, but the way we approach others with it needs to change.

    • Thank you for that response! I believe the reason why those (young and old) give up on GOD is because we fail to grow in our relationship with GOD! We are fed milk too long and we don’t understand GOD because we walk in past mistakes and hold on to guilt (satan) that keeps us from getting closer to GOD! Satan’s assignment is to hold us back from fulfilling the purpose GOD has for us. If and when we realize that when we turn our back on GOD through unbelief or other sins, it’s just an assignment won by the adversary! I’m listening to a series of sermons entitled, “Christian Maturity”. The lessons explains that we are created for GOD through his will and to estabish a relationship with Him. We all were once enemies of GOD (estranged from GOD via Adam and Eve).
      But GOD rescued us from this separation through Jesus Christ! We as Christians must realize that this is a LIFESTYLE that is easy – the bible states, His Yoke is Easy! I now understand that I have the favor of GOD, and am free and although I will be judged by HIM, I am confident in my salvation and that I can live from this point on to the life of Santification. With GOD I will strive to study GOD’s word more and know this help me live a holy life. I know that GOD will cover me because he LOVES ME. I love this new revelation and am excited to spread the word to others.

    • I agree that the pride of “enlightenment” has gotten a hold of many young people. Where the article resonates with me is in the fact that the sort of teaching she gave as an example can lead to works righteousness, another form of pride.
      Ultimately, it is God who changes the heart. Many of those children that were in Sunday School may have been unregenerate, even still.
      Children need to know the depth of their sin in order to begin to comprehend the magnitude of God’s love. Then, striving to live godly lives in not an unbearable burden.

      • Teaching needs balance and a balanced presentation of Biblical truth. I don’t know what curriculum you have reference to but our Randall House curriculum has maintained this balance. Grace is truth but obedience is truth also. Jesus certainly hit obedience hard and was insistent upon it’s necessity. He came to save sinners and transform them into saints. His expectation is not sinless perfection but is a full reverse from the sinful lifestyle of the unregenerate.
        David was a man after God’s own heart from his youth. When he fell into sin God called him on it and turned him back to righteousness. It is the pattern of one’s life that shows who’s Child one is.

      • It’s apparent that the church is in a race and the opponent is the world. The problem is that the church is not running to win. They are competing with the world in a losing effort. The church is typically running a decade behind. It’s refreshing to see someone who realizes the superficial approach employed by many of the church’s teachings. Press on.

    • While you may have a point for why SOME children leave the church I am a prime example of this article. I left the church for many years and did not return until recently when I learned about grace. We were taught that every time we made a mistake (sin) that we were no longer saved, and that the true Godly leaders needed to be perfect. As an adult I understand where they are coming from, but it is still a wrong teaching. As a child I saw everything very literally and not teaching grace to children is a mistake that is costing us dearly. If we do not teach grace, how will these future adults know how to give grace to those around them, instead they are only taught to be self centered about their own supposed perfection rather than understanding that all have sinned and all who have asked have experienced the grace of God.

      • I wrote this as a reply after Garth Aamodt’s comment on July 23, 2013 at 9:28 am. Why the random placement of my comment?

    • Outstanding comment, Garth. Each of us is responsible for our relationship (or lack thereof) with God. We can blame others, but ultimately, we either seek or reject God on our own.

    • Thank you for that insight! You are correct in every detail. If there is a shortcoming in SS it is the failure of providing lessons concerning the evidences for creation that are out there. Atheists are winning the battle by interpreting them from a non- creation slant while the Christian as a whole wont even give the creation side of interpreting the same data. Our world is scarred and “old” looking because the surface was completely destroyed by the world wide flood of Noah. The media and education systems totally dominate these data interpretation to Satans parallel to creation of a multi billion year ago beginning. When these kids are fed this in school as fact but are not getting the Bibical interpretation of evidences in church ( pulpit and SS) they see no reason not to go along with the “world” and ultimately reject the Bible since no one will defend it’s clear teaching on Creation in 6 literal 24hour days. II Timothy 3:16. God is good and loving but also wrathfully when it comes to sin as evidenced all throughout the Bible.

    • First thing- “We should not slacken the message that discipleship requires effort just to let weak, nominal Christians stay comfortably asleep in their unsaved comfort zone.” – how can a CHRISTIAN have an “unsaved comfort zone?” Maybe a comfort zone, but an unsaved one?
      It wasn’t until I was in college when I finally heard someone talk about Jesus’ LOVE for us and how we should actually show Christ’s love to people, instead of just telling them about it. Many Christians are scared to preach the “love” message because they’re afraid of being perceived as a ‘soft’ church. By the time I was 20 years old, I was terrified that I was not good enough for God. I must have said the “salvation prayer” about 500 times. I was terrified that the fruit of my life wasn’t good enough (” by their fruits you shall know them”) – I heard that scripture all the time, and I was so afraid that meant I wasn’t “really” saved. I became a Christian in order to avoid going to Hell, and then I struggled with obedience, as we all do. Because my motivation was avoiding Hell, I lived in fear.
      The thing with the love message is- I want to follow a God that LOVES me. I want to change because of love, not because of fear. When I finally heard someone talk about how your life can change because of God’s love- because that is the most powerful thing about His message- that’s when my life changed. I’m no longer afraid. I trust that He is indeed abounding in love and faithfulness. I agree it’s important to talk about repentance and abandoning pride- but ultimately Love is what changes lives. Christ’s love for us is what led him to the cross. I was told to repent and be obedient ALL THE TIME growing up. It wasn’t until someone put an emphasis on the “softer” side of God that my life started resembling Christ’s. Just because this article stresses love doesn’t mean that everything you mention flies out the window. The focus on love, in my personal experience, is critical to spiritual growth.
      And most people I have met have become atheists because of hypocrites WITHIN the church, not messages outside the church.

      • @ DenadawD: Yes, we should serve God out of love not fear. But if you think every self-described “Christian” is “saved” you need to re-read Matt 25. Lots of “christians” sleep in an “unsaved comfort zone.” In other words, maybe they said a 20 second prayer, or walked up at a Benny Hinn revival, or got saved in a tent revival, and that’s the last time they’ve ever thought about God. Some even go to church on Sunday and then with the arrogance of someone who “knows” they’re saved sleep with their neighbors wife, lie, cheat, and steal. They think they’re saved without evidence of salvation. I fear there are too many deceived “insulated christians” who believe they have a “get-out-of-jail-free” card. (Google search for Pastor Paul Washer and hear his discussion of unsaved Christians, the “dry, dead bones of unconverted church members.”) God is not a buddy or a playmate in my opinion. I’m glad you prefer the love verses, but that doesn’t erase the Holy God verses where a righteous God also rebukes. His harshest rebukes are actually toward believers! Christians who think sin doesn’t count for them are deceived IMHO. I agree we should obey God out of love, not fear. That’s called free will. Christians who think God’s will “replaces” theirs, and therefore absolves them of their own discipleship, are deceived. That’s what I meant by some Christians who do nothing, are asleep in their “unsaved comfort zone.” Christ warned multiple times about the fallacy of “effortless discipleship.” Churches who preach an unoffendable God are forgetting Paul’s warning; “For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim 3) Heaven is for repentant sinners, not unrepentant sinners.

        • So your saying we’re not saved by grace but are expected to continually earn our salvation by acting appropriately… Which is it? A free gift or an earned right? There is no logic under the sun that can assimilate these two. IMHO

          • I’ve never used the phrase “earn our salvation.” I’ve said that the grace of Christ (justification) is ALWAYS coupled in scripture with our also becoming righteous (sanctification.) How one splits that “becoming”–whether by indwelling of God’s spirit or the free will choices we make–still must result in personal righteousness. (Not perfection but “just” men, made perfect in Christ.) Therefore, when some Christian pastors ONLY emphasize grace alone, they err. When others ONLY emphasize works alone, they err. BOTH are two sides of the same salvation coin and my rebuttal was against some on this thread who proclaim being “good” is irrelevant to being saved. That, IMO is false doctrine. James spent a whole chapter describing how the two are combined, with both faith AND works. Some christians today almost have an aversion to the word works, as if it’s a swear word. No. Works, or rather what we become through our disciple-living, are the other half of the salvation equation. So it’s not that feigned goodness saves you. But the acts which MOLD us into true disciples of God intrinsically will also build a righteous person. One who claims salvation, while eschewing righteousness–or in this thread even condemning being “good little boys and girls”–is not understanding the duality of salvation. Free will is still a key and many modern preachers only preach Sovereign will. The Bible teaches both. We need to also teach both.

          • I view salvation as a “covenant”. It is a marriage contract. If you married a woman who then never lived in your house, ignored you, and blew off any attempts you made to be together it would unavoidably lead to…divorce. So is your marriage a free gift, or an earned right? Christ makes a contract PREDICATED on your abiding by the terms. The terms on our end are discipleship/sanctification. Christ even offers to give us the holy ghost to prompt, remind and inspire us. He stands at the door and knocks, but he can’t force us to let Him in. To the degree we allow the HG to work within us, the covenant, over time, becomes solid and secure. Those who blow off that “working” toward sanctification will find themselves “divorced” on judgment day, if they don’t repent. That’s why I said Salvation has two co-equal components. Justification AND Sanctification as taught in the scriptures. These are both biblical principles so I’m not sure why you find it impossible to assimilate these two. I actually find it impossible to NOT assimilate these two or else one must ignore Matt 7, 25, the entire book of James, much of Paul’s epistles, and hundreds of scriptures that preach man’s role in obtaining salvation.

        • “Christians who think sin doesn’t count for them are deceived IMHO.” What exactly do you mean by “count”? Do you mean it in an aspect of condemnation or notice? Or something else entirely that i haven’t thought of.

          • Josh, I was refuting the idea of “antimoniansim” where a contributor had written that there is absolutely no law applied for Christians because sin cannot count against a “saved” Christian. Nonsense. The Bible actually directs its harshest criticism and condemnation for believers. Paul–the author most cited for preaching grace, is also the most cited author for the verses which condemn sin in the saints of his day. I am not aware of any scripture, which says Christians will not also be judged for their actions in mortality. Those who preach only a “reward” phase to judging Christians, are not validly citing any specific scripture. That is only a man-made (and I believe false) interpretation of scripture. But the scriptures actually say just the opposite: Example: “But I say to you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” That does not exclude Christians. Christ never said anything about Christians escaping judgment day. We will face it like everyone who’s ever lived. But the difference is that the assets of Christ will then be applied to our deficit. Our “credit” if you will, will be greater than our “debit”. But we will also feel great remorse, swallowed up in the applied atonement of Christ. Those who cannot apply Christ’s “credit” will have no relief to their guilt and remorse. Ours will be assuaged. But using Christ’s mercy as a license to sin on earth would be an offense to God for which we will have to give an account. I believe we will all feel ashamed on that day, but oh so grateful to have a creditor who co-signed for our debts!

            • I’m very confused by what you are saying. Are you saying that we are saved by grace alone, but should still work at being better people? Or that we are saved by grace PLUS being good, and if we are relying only on Christ’s death that we will go to hell?

            • Since theologians haven’t resolved this in 2000 years, it’s not likely we will. The scriptures talk about 2 parts, justification and sanctification. How we interpret those two “chapters” that lead to salvation is the question. I don’t claim perfect knowledge on this doctrine but in my opinion when we accept Christ he grants us justification (grace), meaning he “vouches” for us and his perfection compensates for our imperfection. Nothing we can do can fill that deficit except for Jesus Christ. It all begins there. But does it end there? Some say the deed is done at that point. In this thread, some opine that laws, sin, failure, falling from grace is at this point off the table for a “saved” christian. But, we also see the scriptures add a 2nd mandatory part. Sanctification–which I believe largely requires our free will. Accepting Christ begins a “covenant” relationship, or a 2-way promise. What then is our part of the promise? (This is the part that some denominations largely ignore.) Matt 7:21 says; “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” in 24:13 Christ says; “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”

              There is no version of someone being “saved” who doesn’t also achieve sanctification. And naturally, if we love him, we try to keep his commandments. Obedience is therefore both an outcome of our “covenant” with God, AND requires our daily free will choices. Christ can’t mold us to be “like him” without our willing participation. He can entice, inspire, coax,–but never force. So, if we are ONLY doing the first part–accepting Jesus, and then NOT doing the 2nd part–becoming sanctified, as Paul says we “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”, then sadly, we have broken OUR part of the covenant. I am NOT saying we do it alone. That’s why we accept Christ first so the HG can be our companion to help us do the 2nd part. That’s all I’m saying. But those who stop after accepting Christ are not obeying the full message of salvation and I doubt they can claim heaven if they don’t persevere into sanctification. How much of that requires free will is the debate. But I don’t believe we are forced into sanctification without our full, direct and voluntary participation. To me therefore, our own actions directly affect our salvation even AFTER we’ve accepted Christ. (Blasphemy!) But I find it permeates the entire new testament but is being ignored or re-interpreted by others to suggest accepting Christ alone finishes salvation. I don’t buy it.

      • Well said.

        I also lived in fear and guilt for my constant ‘shortcomings’ as a Christian child. They taught Jesus’ love for everyone, but attitudes within the church never reflected this love. It was a vicious cycle where I never felt good enough, and I was constantly stressed that I was going to go to Hell. I was an obedient and quiet child, and instead of being shown that I was ‘good’ enough my self-esteem and confidence was constantly undermined. Faith in God began to be not enough.

        Eventually I began thinking that I might as well not bother, since I was never going to repent enough to avoid Hell anyway and this scared me.

        If God loves me, why did he want me to feel like this all the time?

        I cut off contact with my church and with Christianity in order to properly deal with my issues with this. It has been through this break that I have begun to find a perspective.

        Someone told me a little while ago that God moved through her and that she felt that God wanted her to tell that he “loves you regardless of what you think and who you am now”. It was a profound moment where my perception began to change. If he still loved me with all my questioning and challenging, then he didn’t want me to feel guilty when I was ‘good’.

        Children who are confident in God’s love aren’t arrogant, they are simply children who understand that they are supported and encouraged to be the best that they can be. Children don’t need Christianity to tell them how to ‘be good’, being good comes once they are confident and happy within themselves, and this comes from having a secure knowledge that God loves them whatever happens, and that all he asks is that we try to improve. ‘Obediance’ can be taught and forced, but for a child to not ‘rebel’ against it they must accept that they are not obedient because they are told to be by the Bible. They are obedient because they know that it in this way they show their love to themselves, to their parents, to society and to God.

        Love and teaching obedience and repenting are NEVER mutually exclusive. Through love we learn the important of obedience and begin to WANT to repent because we have hurt someone we love, rather than it begin something we MUST do in order to satisfy an unsatisfiable attitude that some hold and propagate within the church.

    • I disagree with your premise of why kids leave the church and choose atheism. If they choose atheism it is probably because they have chosen morality over the immorality and hypocrisy of the church. At 8 years old I saw the hypocrisy in the established Christian religion… the greed, selfishness, and hatred (racism, homophobia, sexism) most “christians” acted with in their daily lives.

      I agree however that teaching discipleship is not the problem… it is the inherent hypocrisy of the way “christians” act in the world verses the example of Jesus Christ. As I said earlier – even an 8 year old can see the difference.

      I left the church because I believed in the teachings of Jesus Christ not because I didn’t.

      Also science and religion can be compatible… science doesn’t disproved the existence of God – it can neither prove nor disprove it. I am a scientist who is also spiritual… there is not a conflict for me…

      It is time for the church to accept responsibility for its dwindling numbers and come to terms with its own behavior which is driving away its young members. You cannot love and hate at the same time!

    • I agree with you Garth….. it’s easy to blame SS. I grew up with those stories. It was the “milk” of the word a child can understand. As I grew in the Lord and read more of the stories and ATTENDED SUNDAY SCHOOL…. I got the meat. It’s not the curriculum that drives young folks away, it’s the traditional church and the feel good teaching we are seeing and hearing on the T.V. I don’t remember having some revelation as I studied deeper into those stories in the Bible that I was lied to or the version was wrong. We want a type of church where we are told about the “gate”….. Heaven….. but we don’t want to hear much about the “way”….. the day to day walk. We want to hear about the “way” as in “I am the way the truth and the life.” But we don’t want to hear about the truth. Like the woman at the well. Jesus told her he does not condemn her but then he told her the truth…..”go and sin no more.” I see so many Christians that sit in church and continue to live the way they want. God has forgiven me they say. Who are you to judge…..the “judge not” verse is the just another way of saying let me live anyway I want and keep your mouth shut. I grew up with those stories, the hellfire preaching and I never was driven away. I did a personal inventory and let the H.S. clean my closet. I knew what I needed to do to improve and no one had to tell me. I never resented the “down where we live” preachin’. It made me a stronger Christian. Not so much nowadays. I see a lot of baby Christians still on the milk. Living together not married. Drinking to excess, cheating on taxes. Stealing from their employer. Oh, it’s little things but instead of living as close to the line as possible, why not live as far from it as possible. The world needs to see we are different. Not self righteous but different. If we are self-righteous….. the Holy Spirit will show us and we will know by the ones that want to hear our message.

      • ummm…. Living together while unmarried, drinking to excess, cheating on taxes, and stealing from one’s employer are little things? My, my, the world has changed. I thought a little thing was something like taking a cookie from the cookie jar after mommy said no.

        • Well there’s nothing whatsovever wrong with living together while unmarried. It harms no one. Would you rather live in a world where children are shamed for being illegitimate? I think today’s society is more moral.

          • You really think todays society is MORE moral?? More moral than …what? than when? Based on what? The fatherless rate is higher. The single-mother ratio is higher. The children being raised by grandparents is higher. The children on gov’t assistance has never been higher. So in what way is unmarried, often temporary, uncommitted cohabitation equal to marriage? The stats suggest that as a demographic shacking up actually IS harmful. If you mean society today is more moral because it is more “accepting”, or more “laissez-faire” that’s probably true. But that has nothing to do with “morality” but only with lowering the bar on discernment. But the easy way to become less discerning is simply to banish discernment. Stats do not support that living together is as stable as marriage. Living together is certainly more “tolerated” or “ignored”, but it doesn’t logically follow that one can say that equates to claiming “there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with living together.” And I haven’t even mentioned the religious admonition, but only the socioeconomic impact. God also has declared that marriage and family units are the “best” path. I think if we look at good, better and best, shacking up cannot be claimed as the “best” path, though I grant there are some people who make it work. But usually only be emulating a real marriage. Why those that make it work at that point don’t get married is a mystery to me.

          • Just to be clear i am talking about a man and a woman living together while unmarried, the problem with that is that it leads to sexual sin, leading to said illegitimate children, bastards as they were called. And in all honesty it was more a shame to the parents then to the child, some of which did roll off onto the child understandably. But i think we can agree that the shame on the parents is justified. as for being more or less moral, i don’t see a huge difference in behavior, merely potential social ramifications, which come and go as time passes.

      • Jim,

        There is a problem with that kind of religion (“…be kind”). The problem is that we fail; or–if we succeed–we look down on others who fail.

        We all need a humility of a standard we can’t reach but a love that reaches down.

    • I left because the older I got, the more it became clear that there isn’t evidence for the things I was taught. If the church wants to have an honest conversation about why people leave, great! But the church will have to listen with sincerity to those of us that left. This nonsense of “they just want to do whatever they want to do” and “it’s all about pride” might make the believers feel better, but it isn’t true. In my opinion, one of the church’s greatest mistakes is forgetting that Christianity is a religion of faith, not ironclad evidence. If you preach it as faith, we won’t be so shocked when we grow up and learn the evidence isn’t there. If you preach it as fact, you can expect us to continue leaving.

      • I don’t really buy that, for two reasons. Churches that preach the Bible as fact are gaining more members and making more converts than those who preach the Bible is merely a tool of faith. Those are the cold hard statistics. Plus, my experience is the exact opposite of yours. The older I got, the more it became clear that there is enormous amount of evidence for the things I was taught. Have I studied more than you perhaps? I have no idea. But I wonder if you have more faith in what the world says than what God says, and therefore you are quick to conclude the world must be right… If so, you are deceived along with the world.

        • I doubt there’s much point in comparing our degrees to see who’s more educated. Secondly, appealing to God as a way of arguing for the existence is God is a logical fallacy called begging the question. If persuasion is your goal, you’ll want to cease using phrases like “the world” in conversation with people who are secular. “The world” is a Christian clobber term. It doesn’t mean anything to the rest of us.

  5. So much of what has been taught in Sunday School is a magnification of the thing I think plagues our faith the most…fear. Being good little boys and girls has little to do with the gospel, but it feeds the myth that we can create a realm of safety around our children, and teach them that if they just strive enough they can please God and behave.

    • Hi Doug,

      Actually, being “good little boys and girls” is what the gospel says we can’t be until we receive his rebirth.

      Of course this is hard. God wants us to behave well. The issue is that we can’t until we repent and get a new heart. (And even then, we blow it all the time!!)

      Sam

      • Sam,

        Thank you for sharing the gospel! We all have sinned, are sinning and will sin. But God in His great love for us, sent His Son to take our place as a sinner and to die for us and now, every day, we get to put on the robe of righteousness bought for us at Calvary. I know who I am, the woman at the well, the prostitute caught in the act, but God has saved me, is saving me and will save me and carry me all the way home to the arms of my Daddy, God. I pray for faith to please my Daddy, God and I thank Him for the Holy Spirit who lives in me, heals me, teaches me and guides me on my way home, to be with God and to be holy as He is holy. Holy does not mean perfect, it means I repent when I need to, cry out for help when I need it and hold on to Jesus. I am a children’s minister at a church of about 1000 and I find your diagnosis of Sunday School(adult and children) to be sometimes, unfortunately accurate. People do mistake moralism for the gospel. I hear in my women’s Bible studies, and I read in “Christian books” all kinds of “shoulds” “do’s and don’ts”.

        God wants us to be great receivers of His love First!! and in His love, abiding in Him, He gives us the power to obey and the grace to repent when we fall and falter. A righteous man falls seven times and gets up, keeps getting up and running to Daddy God who loves him, heals him and dusts him off and says go again.
        Romans 8 says we know we are the children of God because we are led by the Spirit of God, not because we are “good little boys and girls” oh how I love His Spirit. He is good and does not burden us by the law, the law brings death, but grace came with Jesus and he yokes us lightly with Him. Hallelujah!
        in grace and love,
        Margo

        • Margo,

          I love your bold, humble, confident, “I am the woman at the well, the prostitute caught in the act, but God has saved me, is saving me and will save me.”

          That identity humbles us (we are the woman at the well) and it gives us confidence, “God pursues us to the utter ends of the earth.”

          Thanks

        • I don’t think the problem lies with our churches teaching character values tied to Biblical stories. As a parent I believe that my children are watching me intently and forming their opinions on faith, God, the church, and more based on what I say and do. Am I teaching/ showing them love when they are unlovable (yet sinners)? Am I showing them how to reach out to hurting people? Am I showing them His love? I talk to my children about Biblical people and what we can learn because I believe the Bible is the greatest source of Truth and knowledge but as parents we also model that behavior and fess up when we mess up.

          • You’re missing the intent of this piece. We’re teaching character values without the context of where those values came from and how they got there. The idea of SS is being used as a convenient catchall.

            I do agree with you about how your kids look at you their parent. That’s always most important. But when they see you immulating Christ, I hope they also know how you’ve sinned and see you ask forgiveness for those sins. And when you do mess up or see them mess up, instead of saying – be like Abraham – say “You know, Abraham messed up, but God loved him through it and he became the spiritual father of billions of people!” Now, that’s the gospel.

            • Jonathan, you completely got it when you said, “You’re missing the intent of this piece. We’re teaching character values without the context of where those values came from and how they got there. The idea of SS is being used as a convenient catchall.”

              Thanks

  6. Sam – This is as clearly and as beautifully communicated as I have heard the Gospel for a long time. God has transformed my mess into a message and continues. Thanks for your heart and strength.

  7. I moved a lot growing up, and it was a struggle to establish a routine of going to church because we so often had to find new ones. I begged to go with my parents to the regular service, because I hated Sunday school. I honestly didn’t understand what was going on, and got in trouble for asking questions.

    Like this:

    “Why did God ask Abraham to kill his son?”
    “Because he wanted Abraham to prove his faith.”
    “Is God going to ask my dad to kill me?”
    “No.”
    “Why not?”
    ….I think I got a vague answer that was something akin to “because Jesus.” Even knowing that Jesus supposedly died for our sins, I didn’t understand. I was afraid of God.

    And then there was this:

    “So, God killed everyone except one boat of people and animals?”
    “Yes, he had to. Everyone else was too wicked.”
    “In the whole world?”
    “Well, no, not all of them.”
    “And everything died.”
    “Yes.”
    “But weren’t there children?”
    “I guess there were.”
    “Why did God kill little children?”

    The other kids in the Sunday school class got scared. The teacher was angry at me for questioning God. She even told my parents. Now, my dad is the son of a minister and theologian, and he was angry that she expected a six year old not to ask questions, or that she was in charge of children and not prepared to answer tough questions like this. I don’t think I ever went to Sunday school again.

    The problem is, children in the church are treated like sheep. Adoring, unquestioning, and faithful. We hear vague explanations of sin, but I never understood it to be anything other than “bad things”. Like not brushing my teeth? Like reading with a flashlight under my covers? Then, at seven or ten or whenever, suddenly it goes from coloring in pictures of smiling animals on an arc, looking at loving paintings of Jesus in soft-focus pastel, to stories of sin and destruction, where God seems like some terrifying comic book supervillain, getting angry and smiting those less powerful than he. And we’re supposed to like this guy?

    Keep in mind, we’re never given a timeline for all of this, at least I wasn’t. At some point, God flooded the world, at some point, Jesus saved us with his sacrifice, at some point Abraham was asked to prove his faith by sacrificing his son, at some point God annihilated a city (again, because of some vague concept of “sin”).

    I left church with the feeling that God was a dictator. I didn’t get those concepts of love and forgiveness and grace as anything more than “you’ll be loved if you don’t screw up, and if you do screw up, you’ll be forgiven (because Jesus), but you also might be drowned or smitten if God is having a bad day…only you won’t (because Jesus) because God is past that now (because Jesus)”. I mean, you can maybe see why I was confused.

    I’m ambivalent with my faith to this day. I’ve felt great shifts, I’ve even been healed–though a lot of me wants to write that off as coincidence. The truth is, I’ve never been really invested. My brother and I made it difficult for our parents to take us to church because we hated Sunday school. Finally, we stopped. That was probably the best thing that happened, because both of us came back to Christianity on our own some time later, though I’ve struggled with it because my questions weren’t answered until I met my best friend’s father, who was willing to look things up and talk about it. Unfortunately, it’s such a painful spot in my past, such a time of feeling stupid and attacked, that I have not made room for it in my life. Churches talk about God like he’s an abusive father, flooding earth and smiting cities that stop following his rules, only stopping when his son takes the blame for all the wrongdoing.

    I agree with you: where is Grace?

    Point is, kids will have questions. If you want to raise a strong Christian, don’t ask them to be unquestioning believers. Guess what? If you help them do the research and figure out the why and talk about how you feel about it, you’re more likely to inspire trust and real faith.

    • Hi Lauren,

      Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and personal response.

      And I agree, we need to let kids (and adults) ask questions. It will strengthen us. I think too many people are afraid of asking questions. But when the sufferer, Job, asked questions, God eventually reveals himself to Job.

      (The funny thing is that—as far as we know from scripture—God never answers Job’s question of, “Why?” But seeing and knowing God was good enough.)

      Understanding God is hard…and simple, and beyond us. But he wants us to know him. And mere morality doesn’t help us understand him. It is the way he wants us to live, but in our rare moments of honesty, we admit we can’t do it. And that’s a pretty good place to start. You might even call it the gospel.

      Thanks

    • God killed everyone but Noah and two of every animal which is impossible, and then he killed his son to forgive humans? Would you kill your son to forgive mankind, when all you have to do is say, “I forgive you”? What an evil terrorist of a God to believe and worship. Never would I expose my kid to that kind of hate.

      • I feel sorry for you that you have such a warped idea of the love of God! If it were not for Jesus, you would not be able to ask for or give forgiveness. since Jes and God created this earth AND us, man, without them we would not even exist! If for that reason alone, I am thankful to them, I want to serve them! You can choose as you please, because that is the way God made you. – with freedom of choice. God gave us breath nto breath, and He can take it away, simple as that!

      • I too was raised in the ways of the faith, and even taught SS and led worship. But eventually I tired of pretending that the answers christianity gives for the mental gymnastics that one must perform to believe it’s fallacies, it was too ridiculous to continue the charade.
        I’m now a contented and peaceful ex-Christian, and never have I regretted my journey out. A very heart-rending road, but extremely worth it.
        Don’t assume that your kid was raised wrong if he rejects Christianity. He just may be following the evidence where it logically ends.

        • I’m curious, what fallacies might you be referring to? And logic can lead different minds to many different places even with the same information, exercise caution when relying exclusively on a conclusion based solely on logic.

      • God did not kill his son to forgive mankind. God sacrificed Jesus to redeem mankind. Man’s interaction with God was extremely limited before the sacrifice of Jesus. The reason for this is that God, being perfect, cannot condone the presence of imperfection. We needed an intermediary to go between us and God. One that could represent both sides equally. Ordinarily this would be impossible, how can a single person be both fully perfect and yet possess the potential for imperfection? Or, to put it more simply, how can a single being be both fully God and fully man. This is one of the great conundrums of Christianity, one that really cannot be understood by human minds. But nonetheless it needed to happen and it did happen. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and his subsequent (and oft forgotten) resurrection, allowed for interaction between flawed humans and the perfect God. This interaction was the conduit God used to send his message of grace and forgiveness. God could finally say “I forgive you” to his fallen, broken creation. I would say that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was not hateful, but in fact it was the purest expression of love that this world has ever known. That one Jesus would become human, exercise the greatest humility ever known, and then allow himself to be brutally murdered by the very one’s he had come to save, and yet not count it against them, in fact using it to bring them into redemption. That, my friend, is love.

  8. Maybe you are correct. But I cannot imagine being who I am today, without my lifelong exposure to Bible stories and faithful SS teachers. They created a foundation in my life that is deeper and more solid than anything I could have built on my own. Maybe my experience was an exception?

    • Hi Berry,

      Thanks for the reminded. I do NOT want to disparage all those faithful Sunday school teachers who have faithfully shown up year after year. I think Sunday school is (or can be) a great thing.

      I also think we should teach the Sunday school lessons, but ALL the Bible lessons, but just, “Abraham was good so God chose him.”

      In addition, we should teach morality, but not morality so we can be loved by God.

      I had good Sunday school teachers. They encouraged questions, discussion, and … the truth. And they were not afraid to say that the truth (about us humans) was ugly at times.

      • After reading quite a lot of thoughtful comments here, and very much enjoy learning all the differing aspects of thought patterns ~ I just wanted to share 2 things.
        1. I work in a Christian lifestyle store & see every day many different aspects of the faith. My prayer is that Jesus’ prayer will be answered when He prayed that we will be one as He & Father are one.
        2. Recently, in my spiritual growth, the Lord adjusted my belief in a lie (that developed thru experiences). When He showed me my error, I said “I’m gonna need some scripture to back this up with Lord” ~ immediately, the stories of people in the Bible that I was taught in SS came back to me. I’m so thankful for the scripture foundation given me, even though I too rejected the legalism of ‘religion’ a long time ago.
        I am one of Jesus desciples, just so you know I didn’t reject the Lord, but only the error I realized later. I ‘measure by motivation’ and my parents motivation was honorable.

        • Hi Connie,

          Thanks for your comment. Remembering my old Sunday School lessons encourages me as well. But the part that encourages me most is when God comes after us even after (maybe especially after) we fail:
          – King David after adultery
          – Hosea goes after his wife who abandons him
          – Jesus goes after Peter after Peter denies him

          The encouragement for me is the breadth of God’s love. I’d much rather stand on that than the strength of my own morality.

  9. Sorry for typos; out of time for proofing.

    “Spirit” means something. We teach our kids to be principled, disciplined people of character – or we try to. That is how the Greeks did it, and that’s how Western Culture does it. The men and women of God throughout scripture had a third element to their life which is common in all of their stories. There was a Spiritual connection which tied them all together, and we find Jesus saying things like “worship God in Spirit and in Truth”.

    We do not look for what a Spirit-being does almost anywhere. Character, virtue, ethics, morals, these are excellent instructors and great bases for life. But, if you want to have the best kind if life, you’re going to need an artistry which goes deeper and wider than all of the philosophy in the world. You’re going to need a Living Spirit, and that means something actionable.

    Who at church ever taught you what it means to be a Spirit being. They told you that Eve ate an Apple – (does not happen), what it actually says is that she ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Bible is filled with fruit, and always it’s the outgrowth of spiritual things. “I’m the vine, you are the branches… whoever doesn’t bear fruit will be pruned”, “bear fruit worthy of repentance”, “if you love me you’ll obey me”, “the work of God is to know the Son”.

    The first reference in Genesis to knowing was “knew they were naked”, and the next is “Adam knew is wife and they conceived”. All of this is related – to “know” the son is to be spiritually intimate with God and create fruit – fruit which should be worthy of repentance. “Foxes have holes, birds have nests” – in foxholes baby foxes are made, in birds nests, baby birds are made.

    We are teaching our children to think, act, and reason Greek. Greek is all about form. “The Hand of God shall shelter”. We think about five fingers and a palm. When David wrote stuff like that, He was a Hebrew, and he wrote into a Hebrew culture. Hebrew is all about function. What does a hand do? It grips you, it pulls you up, you can cover with it, you can be warmed by it.

    Who is teaching the children? Who is teaching the adults? We smugly go about arguing about biology, when there is a world waiting for us to lift up our eyes for one moment, to become like John the Apostle. “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day”. He went somewhere, which was his to go, and we skate right over that. Our kids are being taught emaciated spirituality by the nearly-dead-from-hunger. We have only succeeded in letting the occult take all the interesting things, hiding in our churches, and using the word “spiritual” to essentially mean “meaningless”. If you substitute the word spirit with “unknown, meaningless, without point” you’ll find that most of the statements where those are used make equal amounts of sense with how you were first taught them in Sunday School.

    • Hi Joshua,

      Thanks for your great response. It reminded me of a great Sunday school lesson I had when I was about twelve.

      The teacher reminded us of Peter’s cowardly denial and then we read the Act chapter where Peter boldly proclaims the gospel. She asked something like, “What changed in him?” She continued, “It was partly seeing the power of the resurrected Lord, and it was the power of God’s spirit in him that made him bold. It wasn’t his inner-boldness (he didn’t have it); it was a spirit changed life.”

      Thanks for the great reminder.

  10. I have totally seen the exact thing you are talking about. When we set out to start our church and embark on making disciples with grace instead of law, the children’s ministry was left out in the cold. I encountered the problem you speak of when it came to finding Sunday School materials. We were NOT going to directly, or indirectly, say to the children that if you act better God will like you more but that was the only “curriculum” I could find.

    So, I started creating my own. Week to week I would seek out illustrations and games that would show 3 things, 1: God loves you no matter what 2: You can trust Him no matter what, and 3: He made you exactly the way you are ON PURPOSE, because you are His masterpiece. It has been a journey. Along the way I have been shown by that Spirit you speak of, that it doesn’t really matter if I get it right. What matters is that I (or others) am there to love them each week. Consistent love is maybe the only thing we truly have to show HIm to them. Backing that up as we sure Bible stories of God loving unloveable people is great. So are hugs and encouragement.

    For those looking for help with the ideas, I have found one place that has done a good job creating lessons that share this message. Go look at “Because of Jesus” lessons on line. These are great to have when you need some new ideas.

    • Hi Tracy,

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. I too have been part of movements where we try to do things right, and find it harder than we expect. I guess we need grace everywhere! Even (especially) as we try to do things right. As you say, you can trust Him no matter what. No matter how much I screw up.

      Here is a link to the lesson site that Tracy recommends (I don’t know it, but I like what Tracy has to say): http://www.becauseofjesusbookstore.com/category.aspx?categoryID=42

      Sam

  11. Hello, A couple friends shared this on facebook. It’s my first visit to your blog. I agree with your premise here and think it’s very important to not over simplify these stories for Children. I do want to offer a critique though on your inclusion of Esther in this list – while she surely had faults that didn’t change God’s love for her – her story is one involving kidnapping and rape – sex slavery – not of a willful choice to have extra-marital sex with a non believer. Certainly she was used and loved by God and no doubt made sinful choices somewhere in her life, but I think “sex outside of marriage to a non believer” is not what we should list as Esther’s fault. If we want to focus on God’s continual love for a matriarch despite her sinful actions, there are plenty of women from which to choose.

    • Ni Nicole,

      I appreciate your desire to honor Esther. She is one of my very favorite Biblical characters.

      But you are wrong about her early life. This is not an example of rape and sex slavery. (There are too many real, tragic examples in the world–let’s not water down the suffering they experience with Esther’s story.) Though I admit, Esther’s world was horrific.

      But Esther willingly participated in a “beauty pageant” (what else would you call it?) that would result in her being at least a concubine and maybe married to a non-believer. Let’s not water down the truth.

      Her almost contemporaries (Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) were commended for NOT giving into the new culture diets, etc. Instead, Esther completely compromises. Completely.

      What I love about her story is not her early “goodness” but the goodness God puts in her. She goes from a compromiser to a Majestic Queen when she finally says, “If I perish, I perish.” She is changed from the inside out.

      She is someone I love. But let’s not pretend she was an unwilling rape victim.

      The gospel is not that God loves us because we are good. It is we become good when we are loved.

      Thanks for entering into this discussion.

      • You’ll have to prove that Esther was willing to participate, because Scripture doesnt show that. Esther 2:3 states that government officers were in charge in each province to pick whoever they thought was beautiful, and bring them to the capital city of Shushan. Esther 2:8 says that Esther was TAKEN, not that she went willingly.

        So, I think you are calling her character into question unnecessarily. Some have overplayed and read things (that arent in the text) into the story in order to make it more dramatic, i.e. , the compromiser who then got “totally changed”. But why think Esther was a compromiser? I am interested to know. She lived during a time when people in power like the king could do anything they wanted, especially to women.

        There is a lot we would like to know about the circumstances under which Esther ended up in the palace, and her night with the king. But Scripture is quite silent on these details, and so it is unwise to speculate.

      • Seriously, this is entirely silly. The entire premise for your criticism of her is silly. You might as well call Daniel, Shadrach, Meshac and Abednego evil and like Balaam for serving the King of Babylon.

        Esther had no power, and she wasn’t asked to worship the Kings gods nor deny her people. Daniel and those others *faithfully* served the same Kings who were doing these things. They served a State, and all States create abuses for power – look at Haman. If you want to tag her for something, then point out that she and Mordecai didn’t return when the people were called upon to do so.

        This entire line of reason is facile.

      • I was really horrified by this statement as well. All it take is the smallest understanding of how women were treated in ancient cultures to know that Esther would not have had a choice in the matter.

      • I think the problem here is that we are thinking about a modern society with a modern definition of marriage. Things worked differently in ancient times, particularly for royalty (i.e Solomon). Marriages were less for mutual consent and happiness then they were for convenience, status, profit, etc. And the in case of royalty it was both for personal pleasure and for keeping up appearances, a king with an ugly wife/first concubine/whatever was not exactly the best image for a country. While she was certainly not kidnapped, again in the modern understanding of the word, she was bound by law to obey any orders that came from the throne, the alternative being… unpleasant at best. To compare the situation Shadrac and company to Esther is comparing apples to oranges. The former were concerned with the food they ate and with continuing their general well-being. Esther is obeying the laws of the land and the culture of her day with her alternative being imprisonment, actual rape, or death. None of those alternatives serve God in any way. I doubt that Esther enjoyed the situation that was forced on her, but she made the best of it for the good of her people.

      • I LOVED 99% of the article, except for the gross misinterpretation of Esther’s situation. As a Jewish woman living in Persia during the diaspora, she had about 0% choice on whether or not to participate in the king’s beauty contest. The king issued an “order and edict” to bring girls in to the harem (not ask them if they wanted to participate) (Esther 2:8). In fact, the verse says that Esther was “taken to the king’s palace,” and there is no indication that she wanted to go at all. Just knowing some of the historical context and the non-citizen, powerless position of women at the time, I would argue that Esther was a victim of sexual slavery, not a promiscuous woman.

      • I would also add that Esther was a Jewish girl under the authority of her uncle, Mordecai. In that time, that meant he would have absolute authority to arrange her marriage (ie life). The Scriptures tell us, “she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions just as she had always done when he was bringing her up.” (2:10). While the book of Esther does not spell out exactly what happened in her home when the king’s edict to “bring all of the beautiful virgins to him” was issued, historical context makes it more than reasonable to conclude that she did whatever it was her uncle told her to do. She had no rights or power in that society to do anything else. Did she have sex with a non-believer outside of marriage? Her “night with the king” would lead us to believe that is so. But she was following the orders of both the king’s edict and her uncle’s complete authority.

        • Her and the other women were already concubines (legal wives) of the king when they were brought in for their one night.. People are confusing the contest to become the queen, with marriage to the king. they were all married to the king at that point. Only one of them became queen and wife, a step above concubine. The other concubines that did not get chosen were not released to marry anyone else, they remained the king’s concubines. So, there was never any unwed sex. But as you have stated, none of this was ideal or Esther’s choice. She didn’t participate in it willingly. It sounds like a movie version if you put it that way instead of the Biblical version.

    • I’m so glad you stated that, saying that Esther had extra-marital sex with a non-believer as very inaccurate. Thank you We are constantly swayed by the Evil one to twist the truth of scripture.

  12. This post is poorly written and doesn’t really explain HOW the things taught are lies. You give a curriculum and what Sunday schools are teaching but there is no explanation as to why these things are “lies.” I understand your premise but it’s so unclear and confusing to people who do not know the Bible well.

    • Hi Khong (I don’t know your real name),

      Do you really think this post would be confusing to non-believers? It’s not written for non-believers, so maybe you’re right. But I doubt it.

      I think the distinction is clear between “religion” (trying to be good in order to get God’s love) and the gospel (being loved even before we deserve it, and letting that change us).

      I hope that is a welcome distinction. But I admit, this post was written mainly for believers.

      Thanks for disagreeing with me. I like it. But…I disagree with your disagreement 🙂

      Sam

  13. There is SOME truth to what was said, But! When a baby is born – do you give it meat and potatoes, vegetables, bread, salad, drink, and desert all when it is born? Of course not! As he grows, you introduce things slowly, in small portions – gradually increasing them as they grow! As a child matures, so does his learning and understanding of the Bible and it’s characters! When you first start feed a baby solid food, you want it to TASTE REALLY GOOD, or he MAY NOT LIKE IT! But as he grows older, he acquires a taste for the SAME food, but with added seasonings! Just so in Sunday, or Sabbath School! Do these classes maybe carry the Bible stories to long range, to where the kids bet bored with them? Sure! But, that doesn’t mean you throw out the baby with the bath water!

    • There are different kinds of milk though. You can teach a child the basics of morality, while also teaching them the basics of grace. The problem the author has with many sunday schools is that they choose to teach only the basics of morals and not the basics of grace, which i think we can agree is not actually that complicated in practice.

  14. A little troubled by the inclusion of Ester, since it wasn’t really her choice to get slated for the king’s harem.

    Nevertheless, my most vivid memory of Sunday school is telling my teacher that God created the world in six days, not seven, as she had told us. By the seventh he had already finished, so it didn’t count. I got in trouble.

    • You were right, Segertsch, your teacher was wrong! he DID create the earth in 6 days! Read the Genesis account! Then in Exodous you have the 4th commandment Exodous 20:8-11, with verse 11, stating that God created the world in six days! Here is the fourth commandment in its entirety:
      8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
      9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
      10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
      11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

      So, give yourself a pat on the back for being correct!

    • And I told my first and last Sunday school teacher where babies come from, after she told us they were from storks, on top of a whole bunch of other things I quickly deduced were lies and myths….and at that point in my life I may have been five, but I had already seen the birth of my little brother, the natural way, from the moment he popped out…

      That was the end of it.

      You’re losing your children because they see the emperor is wearing no clothes, and not because they don’t see the clothes, but because in all honesty, the emperor is stark naked.

      • My question is, why are they even bringing that up in a sunday school class? That particular topic has little to do with God directly, birth, not sex.

  15. Isaac said it well in his comment, I’m going to need you to prove that Esther went willingly. I read that she was “gathered” and put into “custody.” There was no entry form for the Pageant, she didn’t get to show up in her best dress one day and go home if she wasn’t chosen. she was taken from her family and put in custody in the king’s courts. The king who ordered this collection of beautiful women had just tossed aside his wife for refusing to parade around for his drunken guests. I feel like the king wasn’t much for allowing women to have an opinion over their life.

  16. I agree with your premise that in telling these Bible stories we loose the message of the gospel. But in your four points at the end, I think you’ve made some assumptions that aren’t necessarily in the Bible. You’re assuming that Abraham was an idolater, but is that actually in the Bible? He lived in a land of idolaters, but so did Noah and Melchizedek. And does the Bible really say that Esther slept with a nonbeliever? And even if she did, do we really want to make that a central message when we teach young children? And David’s sin with Bathsheeba came late in his life, after many years of faithfulness. I’m concerned with our making a case for the gospel by inserting our assumptions into the Biblical stories. I don’t think we need to do that – the message is clearly there.

  17. As a teacher of 4-5 year olds, I see the need to be age-appropriate in teaching. Not sure that we will be discussing adultery, prostitution and premarital sex anytime soon. While I see your points and agree with presenting the need of redemption, teaching what children can understand and relate to is also important developmentally.

  18. I dont think the solution is to not teach children to obey biblical commandments, and to not strongly encourage them to be like abraham and david and esther and joseph. If all of the emphasis is put on “its ok, you can sin all you want and God will still love you”, that will just create a lawless child, who fits in with the church crowd, but loves and lives for sin. The new testament is filled with asking believers to examine themselves, to see if they are bearing fruit, and if they are truly changed, and born again. I think there must be balance between teaching grace, and teaching the seriousness and importance of conforming ones life to living like Christ, and following examples of abraham and joseph and david and esther etc. And lastly, either way, whatever opinion one has, i am sure, that the idea of trying to raise your child the right way so that they will surely be saved leads one to think that salvation depends on what kind of parenting you are born into. I firmly believe that salvation is of the Lord, and no amount of good child rearing philosophy will save the child. Imo, its the parents job to raise up children in fear of God, and teaching them the gospel, and pray that God may have mercy on them and give them a new heart and mind.

  19. Abraham would have killed his son for his God. He’s not a good person or a good role model. The world is messed up and we don’t need kids growing up believing bad things and doing bad things just because the bible says it’s good, when in actuality it’s not good. Morality must be secular and free of religious corruption.

    • I feel sorry for you! You have not been taught real values! Read the Bible and don’t just pick out things that you concur with! Read it ALL! It is self explanatary!

      • The Bible is actually what turned many of us AWAY from faith. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an atheist ex-christian who has not read the Bible. Between the countless Yahweh-ordered genocides, slaughter of children (like the first-born Egyptians and the children who called Elijah bald), endorsements of slavery, and more, this is a book full of cruelty and horror that makes our stomachs turn, all spearheaded by the Christian god. Are you sure that you’re not picking out the things you concur with as well?

        • I find it ironic that people from nations built on slavery and genocides, over the table of many false covenants, fought a war to enforce national unity, killing tens of thousands, whose descendants fought a divisive culture war in order to secure the right to wantonly kill unborn children, mostly for the sake of convenience, can find in themselves the prejudicial hypocrisy to judge actions identical to their own without trying to understand why.

          The genocide of the Canaanites was about human sacrifice. A doctor’s office doesn’t make killing babies morally superior. You’re in a glass house throwing stones. We’re not better than those people.  In fact, we’re the survivors and the descendants of murderers, accomplices, and victims.  Our civilization is still perpetrating the exact same things and your tax dollars are buying bullets.

          • I am quite aware that human beings, past and present, are capable of committing monstrous atrocities. The issue is that according to the Bible, they were ordered by GOD. Human war and bloodshed is terrible enough, but for an all-powerful creator to order the deaths of defenseless children is absurd and sickening.

            • So if God orders it it’s monstrous, but it’s acceptable if we choose to do it on our own? Ok.

            • I believe that if you would actually read my reply, you will find that I said it is an atrocity either way. The evil is, however, COMPOUNDED when the awful action is perpetrated by an all-powerful deity. It’s like torturing a baby. You are so much more powerful than that baby, and it can’t fight back. That’s what humans are like to God.

            • The genocides in the old testament committed by the Jews were a case of them acting as executioners of God on a national scale. To many this does not seem to be a defense but hear me out. The people’s God ordered killed were also guilty of atrocities. They had the chance to repent and turn from their ways but they refused, so God, in his divine right as creator, acted as judge and jury and sentenced them to death. What you read in those books was the ending of the longstanding patience of God with the immoralities of an entire people. Had they turned and repented they would have been spared, like Nineveh. And had their been some righteous people in the city those would have been spared. The point is, neither condition was met, and thus civilizations were destroyed.

            • No baby, no toddler, no small child deserves to be executed. No pregnant woman should be violently murdered. To say otherwise is to be completely devoid of human empathy. I believe they call those sociopaths.

        • Hi Kate, Josh, and all,

          Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hope that my comment will be loving and will help to explain God’s love and mercy even in the midst of His justice. Please forgive any errors or offences.

          As I read through the Old Testament, some of it was hard to understand, but further study gave some answers:

          – The Canaanites served gods who called for child-sacrifice. Because Israel let some of the Canaanites live, the Canaanites were around to influence Israel to do the same thing. God says, when talking about Israel: “They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.” (Jeremiah 32:35)

          – Israel (the Jews) wandered around in the wilderness for 40 years after making themselves and their God known as a potential threat to the Canaanites. They even took quite a while to take over the land. Plenty of time for mothers with children to evacuate if they heeded the warning. Throughout the Bible, God’s patience is shown – His anger has a long wick. At the time of Noah, “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5). But God waited for Noah to build the ark – how long must that have taken? Enough time for news to get around and for people to turn back to God and turn away from their evil ways if they wished. How many lesser plagues came to warn the Egyptians before the last terrible plague came?

          – the “children” who mocked Elisha were more like a large gang –there were at least 42 of them (2 Kings 2:23-24). Also, the word may be better translated “young lads”, and applied to the 12-15 year-old age range (Pulpit Commentary), or even up to ages 28 or 40 (side note from Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, http://biblehub.com/2_kings/2-23.htm ). Gangs composed at least partly of adolescents (or even kids) can be a serious threat, although only God knows what was in their hearts.

          – Long before God told Abraham to kill Isaac, God promised very clearly that Abraham would have a multitude of descendants from *Isaac* (e.g. “Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.” – Genesis 17:19). Abraham’s hope was that, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8), or that God would save Isaac somehow, even bringing him back from death. Abraham trusted that everything would work out because God loved him and had made that promise to him. Abraham knew from experience that God was loving and followed through on His promises (e.g. the birth of Isaac in his old age), otherwise he would have been a fool to follow Him. I think what the author of this article meant about idolatry was that Abraham was tempted to make his son more important than his God. This would have been unfair to Isaac as well, because no human can fully bear the burden of being God to another person. I know because I’ve tried to make friends and a boyfriend fill the gap of God in my life, and their response was to put some healthy distance between us. Only God can love me perfectly all the time – doing what’s best for me and not just what’s easy.

          – God’s love extends to what happens after death; I believe that what happens then is by far the biggest part of our story. So, for example, it may seem wrong to me for my Christian friend to die young, but if she is now in heaven with her best friend (Jesus) and not suffering any more, then that may be what’s actually best for her.

          Hope that helps. Love & God bless,
          ~Leah

    • Crog,

      You say, “Morality must be secular and free of religious corruption,” but that is virtually impossible. Everyone has a religious opinion even if that opinion is that there is no God.

      Every moral statement is based on some belief. You cannot escape it. If your “morality” is based purely on nature–no God–they you have an equally huge problem. Nature teaches strong over the weak. Annie Dillard explored this in her Pulitzer Prize book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

      “Consider the former, the world is a monster…. There is not a people in the world that behaves as badly as praying mantises. But wait, you say, there is no right or wrong in nature: right and wrong is a human concept! Precisely! We are moral creatures …in a universe that is running on chance and death, careening blindly from nowhere to nowhere, which somehow produced wonderful us…This world runs on chance and death and power…but I cherish life and the rights of the weak vs. the strong. So I crawled by chance out of a sea of amino acids, and now I must whirl around and shake my fist at that sea and cry SHAME! … We little blobs of soft tissue crawling around on this one planet’s skin are right, and the whole universe is wrong. The world is a monster.

      “Or consider the alternative… Nature is fine … our feelings are just freakishly amiss. The frog that the giant water bug sucked had a rush of feeling for about a second before its brain turned to broth I however, have been sapped by various strong feeling about the incident almost daily for years ….

      “All right then–it is our emotions and values that are amiss. We are freaks-the world is fine! Let us all go have lobotomies to restore us to a natural state. We can leave the library then, go back to the creek lobotomized… and live on its banks as untroubled as any muskrat or reed.

      You first”

    • yes he would have but learn the whole story please! Before they went up the mount to worship, Abraham told his servants that the lad and I will go up to worship and the lad and I will return. Abraham knew that somehow Isaac had to live as he was/is the child of promise through whom God would make Abraham the father of uncountable descendents

    • Morality that is free from religion is not morality. Religion provides something that the secular world cannot, a moral baseline. It defines what is perfect and good. In a secular world absolutes do not exist, thus morality is relative and debatable. Taken to an extreme, secular morality can justify genocide or rape. “Just because you say it is wrong does not make it wrong.” With a secular morality there is no real good or evil, there is only convenient. With a god, regardless of which god, there is an image of perfection to strive for and to measure up against.

      • If morality is determined by religion, then everything ordered by that religion would become a moral duty. How do you know it’s not right to kill a man for picking up sticks on Sunday, stone your child to death for being disobedient, smash your enemies’ children against rocks, kill family members who won’t convert to your religion, own and beat your slaves, or sell your daughter into sex slavery, unless you apply your own sense of morality to the things you read in the Bible? I can cite all of those verses if you like.

        Both rape AND genocide are sanctioned in the Bible. I don’t think it’s secular morality we should be worried about justifying those.

        Morality is doing what is right, regardless of what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, regardless of what is right.

  20. We love Him because He first loved us … even when we were “unloveable” and lost in sin. That is the essence of the gospel. I do want my kids to be “good,” but I want that goodness to flow from a heartfelt, deep, passionate love for Him because of their relationship with Him based on His saving work on the cross. I do not want them to be “good” because they wrongly think that being good will bring them close to Him or keep them close to Him. Thank you for writing this article, I think it brings to light a very important issue.

    We decided to get back to “basics” with the kids who attend our church. They bring their Bibles each week, and we open up those Bibles and read the verses in them together. The kids read them out loud … yep, they read it for themselves instead of us feeding them a summarized version of what the Bible says. They LOVE it. We are a small house church, so all the kids study together. The five-year-olds and the thirteen-year-olds are all studying together, they help each other, encourage one another, and all the kids who are old enough to read get to read. Honestly, we’ve seen a great response, the kids feel ownership of what’s being discussed because they’re participating, reading the Word together, and discussing what it says. We don’t try to make a story fit in our effort to teach a virtue. It doesn’t take expensive curricula to teach the kids the Bible. We have found the Bible, the Living Word, can speak just fine for itself! And by the way, our kids group is bigger than the adult group and growing all the time. We have about 20 kids all together from age 2 to age 13 and it works great.

  21. This was definitely written by brainwashed religious person. People leave religion because they have a good education and they know that religion is false.

    • Religion is false, you are correct. Jesus is not about religion and his interactions with the religious system was all about questioning and proving religion to be false. As for brainwashing…our brains need some washing!

    • does a good education involve a detailed look at “religion”? If so then your opinion is valid, but in large part i do believe that education skips out on any serious study of religion in general and Christianity in particular.

  22. Great article, thanks. Been something I’ve been thinking for awhile now. I think a key one that could also be highlighted is Noah. Built a boat in the desert where it had never rained before. Be obedient like Noah! Later, Noah gets smashing drunk and passes out naked.

  23. I think the writer neel ds to look at more Sunday School curriculum. I know what we use teaches grace & salvation form preschool all the way to the grave!

  24. I agree with your article in that I don’t think Sunday School is benefitting our children with an emphasis on morals, and I couldn’t agree more with your assessment that a changed heart must first be in place for God to finish the good work that HE began in us. Then and only then can we walk in the good that HE has prepared for us to walk in.

    We humans (not just Christian) have a very “religious” sense about us in that we feel the need to do something to earn our “final state of being and abode”. In my humble opinion, this emphasis does nothing but feed that thinking. As Christians we cannot depend upon these morally good deeds for our “salvation” for we are told that they are as filthy rags if presented as the basis of works for righteousness nor do these works seem to be credited to us after salvation in that Scripture credits these good acts to God “…working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.”

    Charles Spurgeon said that a Christians greatest need was to hear the good news of the Gospel. If this is true with Christians, at whatever stage of their walk, then I certainly think it to be true of children. I believe that we need to paint pictures from Scripture that rightfully and truthfully paint us for who we are without Christ…not-so-great sinners with an overwhelmingly great need! Now, paint God in understandable terms, as HE really is in all of His infinitely righteous, holy, all-knowing, present everywhere in time…at the same time!, loving, gracious, faithful, patient, wrathful, self-sustaining, ALL GLORIOUS personhood! Infinite Greatness, infinitely capable of supplying the overwhelming great need of a not-so-great…finite…sinner! Once the great GAP has been painted, then…paint the most beautiful picture of atonement using any and all of the incredible pictures from Scripture, which of course point to Christ, the Son of God, as the covering for our sin-filled lives. Our great need supplied in God the Son, as pre-designed by God the Father, administered to us by and through the amazing work of God the Holy Spirit!

    Shouldn’t Sunday…school…church…whatever! be all about GOD!

    Teaching about morals create nice little fences but when we get older we are going to test the limits of any and all restraints. At least if at some point in my youth I decide to walk away from God, I have a much clearer picture of what I’m really walking away from!

  25. Just one thought – I know you were giving a brief overview of the characters, but sometimes the problem is we don’t really know what God was teaching us through these people – Esther – the grace is not that God pursued someone who was a fornicator, but that God was preserving His nation through her – a nation that was running from Him. The point of Esther is not God working in her, but God preserving His nation that was running from Him. If we focus on just the tiny little details and miss the big picture, we also do our children a disservice and they grow up realizing they are still confused about even these little “child’s stories” and then give up because “who can really know, right?”

  26. Hmm…yes and no, and I think the biggest question mark in my mind, Sam, is that you’ve left a gap in your premise. You say that it’s wrong (“a lie”, even) to teach moral lessons as a way to get right with God, which is true, but you do confirm the value in teaching moral lessons for their own sake. What I think you fail to establish is that the PURPOSE of SS curriculum teaching morals is to try to show kids how to get right with God; you did not explore the possibility that the purpose might be to help kids begin to get familiar with the various stories in Scripture, and help them find ways to apply lessons therein to our lives today. That is, teaching moral lessons for their own sake, which you have agreed holds merit.

    I highly doubt that curriculum writers in general have intended to suggest anything along the lines of getting right with God (that is, salvation) by being good enough (although I suppose even then you’d have to allow for the larger church doctrine context — if the church as a whole teaches a more saved-by-works theology, then one might expect some consistency there). The problem, or at least the question, comes down to the implementation — how are the average everyday SS teachers putting the curriculum to use? Are they using these lessons as moral lessons while also teaching the actual gospel? Are they simply teaching from the book, not mentioning the gospel, and thus erring by omission simply by not clarifying the gospel distinction? Or are they actually teaching the kids to try to be good enough to get right with God? In reality, I suspect a thorough survey would reveal that full gamut and more, while your assertion (allegation?) in this post implies the vast majority would fall at the latter end of the spectrum.

    I’m completely willing to accept the reality that what you allege occurs, even before reading the numerous confirmations here in the comments. I’m just not willing to swallow the anecdotally-based assumption that it’s the standard SS experience. But I do agree that it should not be that way at all, and that SS teachers should strive to weave the grace of the gospel into everything they teach.

  27. I guess my concern over what you wrote is the phrase, “Look at almost any Sunday school curriculum”. Have you? This is a pretty damning statement towards a very helpful ministry (/vocation).
    I am not affiliated with any publishers or writers of curriculum, but I am a teacher. There IS good curriculum out there. Your argument is more likely to be an issue in a Sunday school classroom left to its own devices rather than one that is provisioned with well chosen curriculum. Our reaction should not be against quality tools that enable lay people to disciple and instruct in holiness, but against poorly run publishing houses, ill-informed curriculum choosing committees and untrained individuals who misuse God’s word.

  28. I do not like how you chose to include Esther because I do not believe that she went willingly. She was taken to go to the kings palace. Also the Bible tells us that she was there : for such a time as this…” That being said, you make a good point that we need to be careful to show that these heroes of the Bible we just that because of how God used them in His plan not what they did on their own. I can remember many of my SS teachers and I know that they wanted to be sure to show our need of the Savior first and foremost. It is sad that too many of our SS curricula has not made the gospel the emphasis. You can do this so easily. I am the VBS director for my church and we chose to move away from one company to another because we saw a move away from the gospel as the focus. Thank you for writing this. It made me stop and think about what we are doing. I am on the Christian Education committee at my church as well and will bring up this point as we look for find something that works for us.

  29. I wonder how some here can say they believe the Bible to be the word of God, and yet think the stories that make up the Bible lead to atheism. Really? The stories full of moral lessons of people like Abraham, David, Joseph, Esther ARE the Bible. They’re not incidental morality tales we should think diminish the Bible!–and then some here opine that it’s too bad Sunday School teaches children to “be good”, as if that diminishes the love of God. You probably ought not be saying the Bible is the word of God, if you then criticize the “god-breathed” stories that God felt were important enough to put into the Bible. God expects his children to become good. That’s what is called discipleship. Paul didn’t say he’d run an apathetic race or fought an average fight. Good is both the fruit of salvation and the evidence for salvation. Teaching children God expects them to do more than raise their hands once a week and then live as they choose is exactly what the Bible stories are for. Faith without works is dead. I’d rather hear a good Bible morality story than hear another praise song any day of the week. I don’t go to church to feel good about myself. I go there to see what I need to do to be a better disciple of God. Discipleship is work. Free will counts. Keep the Amway convention kind of churches if you just want motivational swaying in the pews, but otherwise preach the stories of Abraham, Joseph, Daniel and Esther to me as being “good” is how I try to see the countenance of the Savior when I look in a mirror.

    • I think it’s more an issue of an incomplete teaching. Those OT stories are good to be taught but teach them in the context of the whole story. They’re not intended to be pulled out as individual lessons which is what has happened and I agree that compartmentalized, it is a dismal story but with the running thread of God constantly bringing the people back to Himself, it is wonderful. Encourage the asking of “what does this story teach us about God….about ourselves….and how does it point us to Jesus?” Without Jesus, there is no hope.

    • The stories led me to agnostic-atheism after 34 years as a Christian. Well, let me say, the stories and people like you.

      You are pretty much saying “This is the interpretation that feels right to me, so I will follow it as truth and reject any other interpretation.”

      I am sorry if no one has had the stones to tell you, but This is the very definition of pride and ignorance.
      I could care less about heaven and hell, because if they exist I am not the one who controls where I go. I can’t imagine a God who thinks that infinite torture is a just response to a finite lifetime of “sin”. I also would prefer not to be around people like you who spend your entire life defining who and what is worthy. Setting yourself against the “other” so that your righteousness is more well defined. The bottom line is that people who do things solely to get a reward or avoid punishment are either being manipulated or trying to manipulate someone else.
      No one can know the unknowable, and if there is a God then he surely transcends our understanding and knowledge. He exists outside of space and time, and if your mind can even begin to fathom the complexities of that reality, then you are a better man than me.
      What I know is that doubt exists and few are willing to travel down that road if it means sacrificing the conformity of faith and community. But how can faith be whole if you have never considered that it may be unfounded? When seeing my own doubt through, I found that there was too much for faith to overcome. This is how my mind works and according to you, how God made it to work. If I am to be punished for being honest about how I understand things to be, then so be it. My guess is that I would not have made the cut anyway.
      What I can control is how I treat others, how I parent my children, how I treat my wife, the integrity with which I perform my job, and how I maintain my possessions. Whether or not this desire to be the best person I know how comes from a god or from myself, it matters little. What matters to me is not what I believe, but rather how I act.

      • Well, first you’re attributing a lot of things to me apparently, which I never said nor believe. If you’re referring to my last contribution above I was simply talking about the need to “live” whatever you preach. Isn’t that what you just said? I said; ” I don’t go to church to feel good about myself. I go there to see what I need to do to be a better disciple of God.” So if that is “pride and ignorance” you are using a different dictionary than I am. My entire point has been that being “good” should be expected of all who profess to believe in a “good” God. Is that an offensive interpretation to you? I frankly didn’t think that concept was controversial. Or maybe you’re saying it doesn’t take a “god” to engender “goodness”. Fine. I agree atheists can also be good people. If you missed it, I’m promoting being true to whatever makes someone “good”. So calm a bit and realize you’re saying the same thing I am, but then condemning me for having just said what you’re essentially repeating. Color me confused. Do you really mean it when you say you’re offended that you think I’m defining who is “worthy”? Where did I say that? No, I said if people claim to believe in God, then they ought to quit excusing themselves for not living up to that belief. I don’t pretend to define “how” they live specifically, but at least walk your walk. Whatever that walk is. What onerous rules do you think I’m expecting when I say “be good”? I also never said anything about a hell of infinite torture for a finite life of sin. I don’t believe in that either. But I don’t think you can claim logic in saying; “I could care less about heaven and hell, because if they exist I am not the one who controls where I go.” Sure you control it. I’ve never heard anyone say that religion claims eternal life is up to a roll of the dice. Of course you determine your future, as do we all. I don’t think anyone’s ever accused God of being a god of whim.

          • That person from 2 years ago doesn’t exist today. 2 years ago I was as alcoholic. I’ve been sober now for 11 months. Life and learning more about our Lord GOD/JESUS moves on. May our Lord JESUS move you to change your Life to serve JESUS Christ, also.

            • Been there, done that for 34 years. Looks like you’ve replaced one obsession for another. At least this one wont kill your liver (just your ability to use reason and logic). Stay sober, man. Good luck.

  30. I was a youth pastor (grades 7-12) for 5 years (I’m now a missionary in France where there is no sunday-school for the average person). One of my best “sunday-school” series I took my youth through was something called, “Real Bible Stories.” We would take the bible, read the straight text and then discuss it.

    It amazed me and my youth how much veggie tails, flannel graphs and other bible story vehicles added things, or wrapped up the stories in pretty morals. Often my youth would wonder what happened to the rest of the story, or would be surprised at the whole story. For example, I don’t remember seeing a flannel graph depicting Noah getting drunk, naked, and being carried by his two sons. I love all of these bible story vehicles (especially veggie tails), so I am not meaning to knock any of them. But I think Sam hit it on the head that we teach our kids to “be good.” The bible tells stories of real people and the majority can not be wrapped into good moral stories.

    I remember my senior year of high school I asked every christian I knew, “Why do we follow God’s commandments? If He will forgive us because of Jesus, why bother trying to be good?!” If the point of scripture is simply to be obedient so God doesn’t smite us like Sodom and Gomorra or send a great flood, then now that our sin is paid for, why be good?? My youth pastor’s daughter said, “Because God said so and that’s enough.” That answer wasn’t enough for me. Because if it is simply He is bigger and He said so, that is simply the fear of the God’s wrath, which with Jesus sacrifice God’s wrath is satisfied, so that answer didn’t work. She was close to the answer though, but I would change it to, “because God said so…and I want to please Him, because of how much He loves me and has done for me” the same way that the prodigal son wants to live under his father’s house and rules.

    When I was a youth pastor I felt so much pressure not to screw up the innocent church kids that had all their awana verses memorized and were seemingly so “good.” The majority of the former church kids I knew seemed to question their faith when they really hit puberty and gained the ability to think in terms more grey. When the world is black and white then “being good” can be a “good” answer. But for the real world, it doesn’t compute. (Honestly the non-churched youth were often much less rebellious and more excited about following God) This blog really captures why so many youth pastors struggle with the “church kids.”

    Yet, I understand why sunday school teachers don’t go deeper. It is hard to explain grey concepts to a class of children when the majority do not have the ability to think that way. It is much easier to gloss over the deep questions and just teach kids to be good and to listen to their parents, have them pray the sinner’s prayer (even if they have prayed it several times before) and fill the rest of the time with fun “christian” games for however long the senior pastor preaches for. Especially if you are a sunday school teacher who hasn’t really read the bible much and grew up with the same exact lessons (since the majority of teachers are simply willing or guilted parents who just want their kids to listen and obey Jesus/and themselves).

    Not sure how to end this but simply to say, great blog! It will be a struggle to fix and figure out how best to implement the thoughts, but keep it up!

    • “Because God said so and that’s enough.”

      This is quite actually a very Jewish line of reasoning: why do we follow this faith/ Because God Said So! Period. And that is what Blind faith Is. You follow because He said so, and for No other reason because that one reason is all you need. You may want more, you may want to Justify your faith, but in justifying it, you reduce to a reason. Remove that reason, and you have no reason to maintain your faith.

      In all honesty, Faith in God is very similar to obedience of your parents, only God is supposed to take over once you outgrow your parents. And what does God want you to do? Whatever it is your Church asks of you, of course, for your Church is his divine voice!!

      How much money does your Church process in a year?

  31. So, hang on. Instead of teaching kids to be good, teach them that it’s okay if they’re murderers; God will love them anyway? Perhaps not the best way to instill moral values into a child.

  32. Good article!!! That’s why we are careful with who teaches and what they teach our children at our church. More importantly to add is that meat (real truth from God’s Word) and not fluff need to be preached from the pulpit. Where you find fluff in SS, you usually find fluff from the pulpit.

  33. “Lessons I learned in Sunday School” – This has got to be one of the most moronic articles I have ever read. The title alone set me off. Evidently, whoever wrote this article didn’t do their research, nor did they go to Sunday School; but if they did, they didn’t pay attention. In Bible times, speaking of Esther, it was totally the custom and expected that when a man and woman were engaged it was as if they were married. A woman was to live with her betrothed for up to a year prior to the marriage celebration. It was the custom. The King, “the unbeliever,” chose her. She didn’t choose him, but she stayed in obedience to God (God pursued her) and to save the lives of a nation. David DID NOT have a pure heart. He sought after God’s heart. He spent many years in anguish. Yes, he slept with a woman that was not his wife. However, he was King at the time and it was expected and it was the culture that a King, as well as most men in high authority, would have many concubines. It was just how they did things; not a whole lot different from today. As for seeking out Uriah and killing him, yes that was wrong. David paid dearly for that, hence the death of his beloved son, which he never got over. Let’s mention Tamar, though not described in this article. Tamar was 14 years old when she was sent to marry a man whom she had never met and was not of the same culture as she; soon after, her husband died. As was the custom, she married one of his brothers. He too, died shortly after they were joined in marriage. There was only one brother left. Her mother-in-law hated her. Her mother-in-law worshiped idols and believed in witchcraft. Her father-in-law (Judah), however, had believed in and followed God at one point in his life. He had married an unbeliever and he had lost his way, but Tamar could still see God in him and his desire for God. Her mother-in-law sent the third son away to save his life. Judah left for on a trip. Since Tamar couldn’t be with the third brother, she followed Judah and disguised herself as a prostitute to seek him out. They ended up together. They had a son, thus the beginning of the line of Christ. Had two men not perished and Tamar not prostituted herself would the lineage of Christ ever existed. Absolutely! God had a plan. He always does and it is always perfect and on time. God does use us for His purpose, which IS our purpose. Furthermore, anyone who has truly read through the Bible and really listened in Sunday School (or church) would know that the only perfection that has ever been or ever will be in this world is God. God purposely uses the downcast, the ugly, the lonely, the weak, the criminals and the hardhearted to change the world. I could go on, but I will refrain. How do I know all of this and why do I believe it? BECAUSE I WENT TO SUNDAY SCHOOL! The reason kids and even 30 somethings aren’t strong in faith or don’t attend church IS BECAUSE THEY DID NOT GO TO SUNDAY SCHOOL. If a child is not plugged into a church or does not regularly attend a church by the time they are 18, they won’t as an adult. We have got to quit shooting ourselves in the foot by writing about, believing in and agreeing with such articles as this ridiculousness. WE HAVE TO QUIT BLAMING GOD, CHURCH AND SUNDAY SCHOOL for the condition of today’s kids. Wake up parents. Your kids are a by product of YOUR environment. If you don’t believe and live by the examples set forth in the Bible, then your kids aren’t going to believe it or live it either. Kids watch what you do, they don’t listen to what you say. Are all churches perfect? Absolutely not. Have some churches actually taught in the manner described in this article? Confidently, I can say yes. However, it is not the norm, nor is it the majority. How dare this author put this blame and burden on the church; just like the burdened pack mule he described. Blaming Sunday School for state of today’s kids is absolutely absurd. To say that Sunday School and it’s methods are the ruination of a child’s life is irresponsible and shameful. Quit passing the buck! So, we all need to get our lazy selves out of bed on Sunday Morning and take your kids to Sunday School and really listen.

  34. Unless I missed it in your Sunday school message, I think you missed the whole entire point of Christianity. Jesus Christ died for our sins so we could have eternal life in heaven with god. We can never earn our way in through good deeds or by being nice people. The gospel isn’t just gods love, (granted he doe love us and want our love in return) the message should be believe in Jesus Christ and that he died for our sins. That should be the Sunday school message. We the believers should be teaching the rescue plan to our children.

    Just my opinion.

  35. “They see the children in the schoolyard (and they see us at home!). ” That sentence in relation to this article is pretty much the exact reason I refuse to seek God through Christianity.

    • Sometimes Christians (or people who think they are) can keep people from pursuing God. I’m sorry you feel this way. I do understand how it’s possible too. But sometimes people don’t let God change them. Don’t give up on God because of people. I’d really encourage you, if you wanted, to read the Bible, maybe start with the book of Luke or John, and not let people’s hypocrisy or own issues reflect poorly on God as He says He is in the Bible. Make sense? =)

  36. I’m so glad to see that other people are recognizing the need for more emphasis on grace and acceptance despite our wretchedness, or more accurately, because of it, and that the only hero of the faith is Jesus. Thank God that we don’t have to try to be like the forefathers of our faith, because Jesus already did it all for us. What a totally freeing message, to just depend and rely on Jesus, and have faith that He will work in us and change our hearts to love God and love others!

    • I agree with the need for Grace and acceptance, But, this does not free us to go and do as we please, and expect God’s Grace blanket to cover us forever! It does not! “I die DAILY!” Meaning we have to be in tune with God every single day, submitting our lives to Him! Asking Him to USE us in whatever capacity He wants! It means following His Commandments, each and every one, not just those we pick and choose. They are Commandments, not multiple choice. We must ask DAILY what His will is for our life! Sometimes it may not be easy. We can have all the GRACE in the world, but, if we do not do His will and follow His Commandments, it is all for naught! God Bless! This is WORKS for God, not for us! When we follow His Commandments, and do what He asks out of love, that is WORKS! Faith Without Works is Dead!

      • Another thought! If we are NOT following the right Christ, and feel it is RIGHT, it is still Sin! Sin, in that we are NOT following the True Christ!

  37. First, I agree with several of the criticisms by commenters above but will add my two cents.

    I think this is a very lazy, inaccurate generalization of Sunday School. The descriptions of what is taught is troubling. Multiple examples from actual Sunday School curriculum of what you claim are the themes in Sunday School would be nice to substantiate your characterization (or caricature) of SS curriculum.

    Also, accepting some of your descriptions, I don’t know what is contra to Christian doctrine that Abraham was faithful. Paul praises Abraham in Galatians for his faithfulness. It was because of his faithfulness in God that he was deem righteous! Your descriptions of what is taught about both David and Joseph are not accurate in my experience. I have NEVER heard David described as having a pure heart in Sunday School. I would describe the general theme of David is he trusted and listened to God by slaying Goliath and God had a plan for him to be King. Don’t see how those themes draw kids from the message of the Gospel. Joesph is taught as being his father’s favorite and Joseph, incorrectly, lorded it over his brothers. But, God had a plan for him, Joseph remained obedient and faithful and God used him. Again, don’t see how this leads kids away from Christ. And, Esther being obedient? She WAS obedient. Obedience is required to be a true believer in Christ. Again, don’t understand how that is contra to the Gospel and turning them away from Him.

    Just as troubling is the author’s solution to the supposed problem:

    “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.”

    “God loved him and pursued him”… and then teach what? Teach “love” Jesus and He will “love” you? Teach “Go and sin no more?” Teach Teach Paul in Romans, ” What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” Left alone, the “better” curriculum would seem to possibly draw our kids towards Antinomianism. Furthermore, they seem as misguided in their overly broad, incomplete generalizations of Abraham, David, Joseph and Esther as the author’s generalizations of current curriculum.

    But let’s even assume though for a moment that the criticism of Sunday School is fair. It still misplaces blame. Folks blaming our pastors and churches for our kid’s not coming to faith is LAZY. Parents, not our pastors, are the priests of our children, and ultimately responsible for the teaching our kids the Gospel. The church is to assist us in that. Our pastors get our kids 1-3 hours a week. Parents and The World get them for the remaining 165 hours.

    It would seem parents and The World have much more of a chance at impacting our kids’ faith than Sunday School. If we are to lay blame it is not at Sunday School but primary education and pop culture. Parents, we have surrendered our kids to a public education system that HATES the Gospel and excels at teaching moral relativism. We even do the unfathomable and pay tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to send our kids off to colleges that REALLY hate the Gospel, anything than can’t be “proven” by science is bogus and there are no absolutes. We send our youth off to what have become seminaries in paganism and we are dumbfounded as to how they turned from the faith of their parents?

    Let me be clear, I understand that for many parents public school is the only option and unfortunately we live in a climate where college is required for any meaningful employment. Parents have to navigate the best they can through the morass of The World, be in it but not of it, and ensure their kids get a quality education and means of being productive in this world. Many kids go through our Godless education system with their faith intact. Some kids are strong in their faith and use their experience in school to be salt and light on their campus

    My point is to simply illustrate how their are probably more instructive areas to look at as to why our kids are turning from the Gospel instead of trite criticisms of Sunday School.

    Teaching kids about faithfulness, obedience and that God has an absolute morality for his Children that is to be followed isn’t the problem. They are foundations to a more enriching and complete understanding what it means to be a follower of Christ later in life

  38. Great read Sam. The free online doco ‘Divided – the Movie’ has some interesting content regarding the origins of Sunday school itself. I’d love to know what you think of it. – Victoria

  39. [Sorry for not responding much to all these great comments. I’ve been on vacation.]

    Many readers have disagreed—and some even offended—by my article’s comments about the moral uprightness of Abraham, David, and Esther. I’ll defend those comments later (in another comment), but first:

    Why are we upset when we find out those Biblical heroes weren’t so heroic?

    Shouldn’t we be encouraged by God’s grace toward them? If God works only through the morally perfect, where would that leave us? (Or do we have a high opinion of our own moral uprightness? “Thank you God I’m not like this sinner….”)

    Why does it bother us so much? Shouldn’t it encourage us? God can work through us too, before we’re perfect. And his work will change our hearts to want to live for him … as all of them (Abraham, David, and Esther) eventually did?

    I oppose antinomianism (the belief that God’s grace means moral behavior is irrelevant). But I also oppose self-righteousness.

    God want us to live morally. Yes. Let’s strive to be moral, righteous, and gracious, to love God and our neighbors.

    But let’s hope in God’s righteousness and love, not our own.

    • Sir, we are critical of your mischaracterization of Sunday School.

      ” If God works only through the morally perfect, where would that leave us?”

      Do you honestly believe Sunday School teaches that the heroes of the Bible of were morally perfect? Please substantiate this claim that the majority of Sunday Schools are teaching moral purism as a condition of faith as doctrine.

      Arguing that teaching kids that Abraham was faithful, Esther obedient is somehow teach “self-righteousness” and a rhetorical and logical leap that falls short.

      Also, please explain how teaching a six or 10-year old that David had sex outside will somehow bring him or her to a fuller understanding of grace and sanctification? Aren’t we also supposed to shelter our children from certain aspects of the world to maintain their innocence?

      • I can support his claim, for many years i was never exposed to the fact that the “heroes of the faith” were not perfect demigods. And when i finally was it was through the teaching of my parents, not sunday school. The criticisms presented in this article may be a little to widespread, however they are valid for many churches (see above comments for further evidence). And as for explaining to a 10-year-old about David’s mistakes. I honestly see no problem with exposing him to that information within a controlled environment such as a sunday school. While there is something to be said for maintaining innocence, there is more to be said for not horribly skewing an impressionable child’s perspective of people. And in most cases you will get little more then “ewww” out of children who are exposed to this kind of information. As long as it is not held up as something to be emulated then there is no problem. This is not to say that a certain amount of restraint is not required. There are many events in scripture that do not hold as obvious lessons and are graphic in nature that do not need to be told in a class room of young ones (like the women who killed an enemy king by impaling him with a tent pole).

  40. Abraham, David, and Esther did not begin as moral paragons, but God broke into their lives and changed them. And that is what we all really want, God’s life in ours; because we can’t do it on our own. We can learn from their mistakes (to live better) and we can be encouraged by God’s grace.

    Abraham:
    • Abraham began as an idolater and God called him out of it: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods” (Joshua 24:2).
    • Abraham also deceived Egyptians about his wife (out of fear) and tried to fulfill God’s commands on his own by sleeping with his wife’s maid.

    David:
    • One reader defended David’s taking Bathsheba because all the kings in those days had large harems. This doesn’t excuse David’s betrayal of a friend, nor does “everyone’s doing it” justify any action.

    Esther (I understand if you disagree with me about Esther, but I think the scripture is pretty clear about the early vs. the late Esther):
    • The book of Esther contrasts Vashti (who stood up to the king) and Esther who does everything Hegai (the king’s servant) suggests.
    • The book of Esther contrast Esther with Daniel who is also taken captive, but Daniel refuses the non-kosher food while Esther does not.
    • It even contrasts early Esther against the later Esther. We first see her doing what others tell her to do; in the end she boldly acts, saying, “If I perish I perish.”
    • , The word “taken” is not as clear as some readers think. In Esther 2:7, her uncle “takes” her as his daughter (Hebrew word “Laqah”). In the next verse, Esther is “taken” into the palace—the same Hebrew word. (I’m not saying that Esther was willing, but scripture doesn’t show her fighting until later when she boldly enters the court without invitation.)

    The gospel is always about God changing us from the inside out. Should we try to be moral? Of course! Should we teach morality? Of course! Should we place a feather of faith in our morality? Not in a million years.

    • Sir, you keep making this claim that Sunday School is guilty of teaching some sort of moral purity by only focusing on the positive aspects of the men and women of the Old Testament and their relationship with God and leaving out the negative.

      How odd a claim since Paul himself did the same in Romans Chapter 4. He makes not declaration of Abraham being an idolater, makes no mention of his deception the Egyptians and he even makes no reference to him sleeping with Hagar out of lack of faith.

      In fact, Paul says:

      “18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”[d] 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

      No mention anywhere of all of Abraham’s sins and transgressions.

      Paul mentions him again in Galatians 3 and mentions nothing about his transgressions for context. Only that he was blessed for his faith.

      In Hebrews 11, the writer outlines the men and women from the Old Testament, praising them for their faith, listing the positives of their lives and none of the negative.

      “8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b] considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.”

      Again, no mention of their lack of faith by trying to have a child through Hagar, just praising them for their acts of faith. But you would have us believe that leaving out all of the sin they committed is somehow presenting Abraham and others as “moral paragons” and cheapening the message of God’s grace. If Paul and the writer of Hebrews can do it, cannot Sunday School curriculum teach it as well without teaching a message of moral purity?

      Look you and I agree on the theology. By grace alone in faith alone in Christ alone, absolutely! If we don’t admit our sin and the sin of the world then we cheapen the gospel, Christ’s death on the cross and conquering of death for us.

      I just don’t see how teaching a bunch of 4th graders that Abraham, David, Joseph, etc were all wretched sinners who God loved and pursued anyway will lead them to a stronger faith when they are older.

    • Where does scripture directly contrast Esther with Daniel and company? And if it does, does it have to do with the food? Or the general compliance?

    • “The book of Esther contrasts Vashti (who stood up to the king) and Esther who does everything Hegai (the king’s servant) suggests.”

      You really want to blame Esther for being obedient when women in her culture were taught that they should be obedient and submissive, especially to the male leaders in their lives? Even her approaching the king, while it may have been bold, was in direct obedience to Mordecai’s instruction that she go to the king and ask him to spare her and her people.

  41. I don’t believe all Sunday schools teach that we are only loved if we are good. I know that the church I went to, Centerview Baptist Church in Jacksonville, NC, taught that we are “saved by the Grace of God, because He loved us while we were still Sinners”. However, I do agree there are lots of legalistic churches out there that push burdens like the enemies of Jesus Christ did. “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders…(Mtt. 23:4)” This is a good link-http://www.openbible.info/topics/burden. Your writing is powerful and I like that you speak your heart and truth!

    • There is certainly a lot of junk being taught in churches, both legalism and moral relativism. We just don’t need to make broad characterizations about Sunday School compounded with long leaps of logic that they are why kids are turning from Christ.

  42. These days we are not very committed to attending Sunday School. We are not necessarily against Sunday School. We do however believe Sunday School does need some revamping. Our children have both been hurt by teachers in Sunday School. Our oldest is resilient and bounced back rather quickly so we let it go. Our youngest is not quite so resilient. He begs us not to take him to Sunday School. We learned from our oldest some things that happened that caused the problem. We tried to talk with the teacher to find out what happened from her perspective so that if we need to address our children at home that we could, but the teacher will not discuss it. That is a situational issue I realize. However, I have also noticed that the Gospel keeps getting watered down more and more and more. Then I have seen in several churches we have come in contact with a devaluing of parents. One church had a youth group leaders and and Sunday School teachers who even called parents cryptonite.

    The potential for Sunday School’s value is very high, but there are issues that need to be addressed and corrected. I came to a relationship with Christ out of my Sunday School experience so I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath. Sunday School does need to be evaluated and revamped to be the sharp sword that it could be.

  43. I agree with you. I would also add that kids need to see their parents as sinners saved by grace, too. Parents need to model the need for Christ and His grace both with their own struggles as well as their reaching out to those in need. Also, kids need to be able to fail and then receive grace from their parents before they will ever believe God can give them grace.

  44. I’m not sure my comment “up front” went through. First it turned gray. Here it is again. Notice that the “heroes” are all from the Old Testament. I have been upset for years that Sunday school lessons and sermons are seldom from the four Gospels and focus on what Jesus said! I know–little boys want to hear about David’s rock imbedded in Goliath’s head, and not about offering the other cheek.

  45. Very thoughtful article. I would say that if parents are relying on one hour of Sunday school to combat an entire week’s worth of atheism in school they’re barking up the wrong tree. It is our (the parents) responsibility to teach our kids to know the Bible, to rightly interpret the Bible and to apply the Bible. I see the Church spending hours on homework but little on teaching Christianity. It is not the church’s fault for this, it is the Church’s fault for this. If my boys turn away from The Lord, they and I will be responsible for that. Not their Sunday School teacher or even their pastor. One reason that we home educate is to educate them in the way they should go. We quickly got past the stories and into inductive study by the time our boys are seven. If they don’t continue to follow The Lord, that’s their decision. But we have done what we are called to do in raising them for Him.

  46. Hi,

    I’m sorry to say I have to disagree with the topic, have you ever taught Sunday School to little kids? I have, for 12 years now. I have never taught that the kids have to be “good”, any good SS teacher knows that would create a confused child. Teaching adultery, sex, and narcissistic behaviors are difficult to teach to 4-8 year olds. However, teaching them that God can take sinful people (which every kid knows they are btw) and use them, is an incredible lesson.

    I would appreciate more topics that deal with how teachers should stick to the Bible and create relationships to show the kids the love of God, instead of taking one instance your life and pointing it to people who are actually trying to teach the kids.

    -a SS teacher

  47. Add to that the tendency to a.) make the child the focus of learning and b) try to make EVERYTHING FUN!!! Problem is, the world around us is telling them a different version of fun, and it’s presented as MORE fun than Christianity. And they follow…because, in part, they know that if something isn’t bigger than THEMSELVES, then it’s not worth following. And we have the GOD of Heaven and Earth to present to them…yet we focus on the child, for fear that God isn’t enough. And they pick up on that. That is what one calls a problem.

  48. I agree with most of what you are saying but I just have a question about one thing: Esther arrangement with the King of Persia was a marriage contract; she was not one of the king’s concubines, no she was the queen of Persia. So I am not sure we can really say that she had sex out of marriage. Plus there is no mention of God in Esther so to be honest I am not sure we should teach kids “How Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer and God loved her and pursued her.” Instead, I was taught that Esther reminds us that God sometimes works in the background using people for His will. Just a thought.

  49. Perhaps it would be confusing to talk about Noah, who “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” and “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” Or even more confusing if we brought in Job, who “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”

    Frankly, I see no issues lauding the righteousness of Bible heroes. While they may have committed sins, we shouldn’t be teaching kids to focus on their failures. Especially, with modern-day heroes of the faith, we should be emphasizing who they are in Christ. “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” – 2 Cor. 5:16.

  50. Another “hero” of the faith was Samson. But when you study the Judges text, you find that he constantly allowed himself to be in places of temptation that he never should have been. After all, God set him apart as a Nazarite. Yet, in his guilty & often perverse state, God still graciously pursued him, & even used him in the end, to accomplish a specific task….all in spite of how Samson lived: as a man who thought he was strong enough to handle any temptation. Basically, God graciously used Samson in spite of himself. That’s the message of the gospel: God loves you in spite of yourself.

  51. I guess the only tweak I would have on this is that we have to fail at goodness to realize our badness. So a call to goodness does set us up with an understanding of our need for a savior.

  52. Our Sunday school literature teaches all these men and women were sinners who even through their faults were given grace and wisdom and faith. I totally disagree with this article.
    Bring your children to church, but the foundation of their belief begins at home. If they don’t have the Christian support system at home, it is harder, but coming to Sunday school will help them, not hurt them.

  53. I don’t know, but I think that the story of the way children used to be reared speaks for itself. Maybe they have too much time on their hands. This is the story of young Timothy Dwight, grandson of Jonathan Edwards.”His mother was the third daughter of Jonathan Edwards. She possessed uncommon powers of mind, and for the extent and virtue of her knowledge has rarely been exceeded by any of her sex in this country. Though married at an early age, and mother at eighteen, she found time, without neglecting the ordinary cares of her family, to devote herself with the most assiduous attention to the instruction of this son, and her numerous family of children, as they successively claimed her regard. Perhaps few instances can be found, in which this great duty has been performed with more scrupulous fidelity, than in the case now under consideration. With a mind originally vigorous and discriminating, she had been accustomed from infancy to the conversation of men of literature, who resorted in great numbers to her father’s house; and thus was forcibly taught the importance of that learning, the effects of which she had so often had opportunity to witness. It was a maxim with her, the soundness of which her own observation through life fully confirmed, that children generally lose several years, in the consequence of being considered by their friends as too young to be taught. She pursued a different course with her son. She began to instruct him about as soon as he was able to speak; and such was his eagerness as well as his capacity for improvement that he learned the alphabet at a single lesson; and before he was four years old was able to read the Bible with ease and correctness.”

  54. Thomas Sullivan commented on Beliefs of the Heart:

    I don’t know, but I think that the story of the way children used to be reared speaks for itself. Maybe they have too much time on their hands. This is the story of young Timothy Dwight, grandson of Jonathan Edwards.”His mother was the third daughter of Jonathan Edwards. She possessed uncommon powers of mind, and for the extent and virtue of her knowledge has rarely been exceeded by any of her sex in this country. Though married at an early age, and mother at eighteen, she found time, without neglecting the ordinary cares of her family, to devote herself with the most assiduous attention to the instruction of this son, and her numerous family of children, as they successively claimed her regard. Perhaps few instances can be found, in which this great duty has been performed with more scrupulous fidelity, than in the case now under consideration. With a mind originally vigorous and discriminating, she had been accustomed from infancy to the conversation of men of literature, who resorted in great numbers to her father’s house; and thus was forcibly taught the importance of that learning, the effects of which she had so often had opportunity to witness. It was a maxim with her, the soundness of which her own observation through life fully confirmed, that children generally lose several years, in the consequence of being considered by their friends as too young to be taught. She pursued a different course with her son. She began to instruct him about as soon as he was able to speak; and such was his eagerness as well as his capacity for improvement that he learned the alphabet at a single lesson; and before he was four years old was able to read the Bible with ease and correctness.”

  55. I love most of the article and I realize some people are going to take some of it the wrong way. Can you show me where it says or hints at Esther having sex with an unbeliever? I realize 2:6-11 tells us that she was in the kings harem and was highly prized but did he have sex with everyone in the harem? Even if she did it does not tell us she did so willingly, in which case it might change the way it was presented in the article above.

  56. I would much rather children not be taught that they are beasts at all. Stop telling children that “God” is good because he loves us even though we are unworthy sinners. All that exists does so by the will of God, right? The, whatever I am, I am nothing less than exactly what he made me. If I am flawed, if I am beastly, if I am a sinner, it is because He created me that way, and I’ll not ask ask a child to ask forgiveness of God for something God is responsible for.

    If a clock doesn’t keep time properly, who is at fault, the clock, or the clockmaker?

  57. If young people are leaving religion in higher rates than before it is most because they can do so without the same kind of social censure that people faced in the past. American culture has changed, people that would have stayed in church to fit in, get approval from society, be seen as a good person etc. now feel free to leave.

  58. I agree with a portion of this comment, but I find the comment about Esther unbiblical and offensive. It is an ” in” interpretation of topic among the neoreformed to say that about Esther. In that culture she had no choice. Someone you or someone else heard has probably been listening to too much Mark Driscoll. I am deeply offended on behalf of all women who have been forced into marriage or sex all over the world and shamed because of religious culture. Recently in Egypt a norwegian woman was jailed because she was raped. What kool aid would cause someone to teach this?

    • I so agree with you! I am so TIRED of some kind of Theology that makes victims twice victims! Where are the men who defend and protect women? ( I am married to one!)

    • Yes, exactly this – I was mostly nodding along until the bit about Esther, she absolutely had no choice and shaming rape victims is about as sickening as it gets.

    • I completely agree. Nowadays we’d call what happened to Esther a form of rape. It has many parallels to Bathsheba’s story, although it has a more victorious ending.

  59. Definitely agree on – How did it take the child so long to reject religious hypocrisy? But as to using the pagan psychological myth of Beauty and the Beast to describe the work of the gospel on a rebellious sinner – OUCH! How could you be so hypocritical to rightfully judge against the rewrite of the history recorded in the Bible for the sake of imaginative power and false godliness, but then use an immoral story of dark evil who turns into imaginative power and false godliness to explain the gospel yourself?!? OUCH!! What a lie. Apart from that, what you said is pretty good. I will also say that I agree with other statements you made in other comments, and that many other people making comments added important directives to understanding this problem in “churches”, and that I do think your understanding of the situation Esther was put into, is incorrect. I specifically note Esther 2:8 So it was, when the king’s COMMAND and DECREE were heard, and when many young women were gathered at Shushan the citadel, under the CUSTODY of Hegai, that Esther also was TAKEN to the king’s palace, into the care of Hegai the custodian of the women. Esther 2:8 Also if you read the king’s advisor’s decree and their thoughts about putting women in their place so they don’t rebel against their husband’s demands like the demand that the king placed on Vashti, then you understand that this was not a casual setting. I welcome any thoughts or corrections from Scripture that you may have. The Word of God is our only authority to dispel lies that are all around us. May God bless you!

  60. This is exactly why, when I was a Sunday School teacher, I always picked my own materials. I was teaching 4th and 5th graders. They needed to hear that even though these “hero’s” were flawed, God loved them just the same.

  61. This is such an important post, Sam. So many parents are asking, how do we reveal the good news of God’s grace to our kids? And how does Sunday School fit into this?

    I remember when my wife was helping out at a Sunday School and the official curriculum mandated she teach the Ten Commandments. To five year olds. “How do I do that?” she wondered. “Make sure those kids know their heavenly Father loves them whether they keep the commandments or break them,” I suggested.

    The fact is, Sunday School will always be Plan B. Plan A is parents revealing the unconditional love of the Father to their own kids. But it certainly doesn’t help when Sunday School curricula send a contrary message promoting performance-based Christianity. Thanks for this excellent and thought-provoking post.

  62. This is one very misguided post. Sunday School is usually 1 hour once a week. Somehow we are saying that that 1 hour is the cause of someone rejecting Christianity. Is it possible that something in the other 167 hours per week would have a bearing on one’s spiritual life? Maybe the family life, or the school, or individual freewill?
    What is wrong with having Bible heroes? If anything, my experience has been parents low expectations for children, not too high of expectations.
    What is the point of this article? How can a person have a lesson Abraham without mentioning his great faith? Or Job without pointing out his great patience and dedication to God?
    we cannot go wrong by noticing II Timothy 3:15 “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

    • @ veritas399e: I agree and well said. I’ve met people who look for justification for leaving God. Why not blame the pastor, or the “hypocrites”, or the Sunday School? C.S. Lewis (Screwtape Letters) talks a lot about how humans inherently look to “avoid guilt”. Easier to blame someone else to excuse slothfulness,, than to actually face the guilt of an undisciplined and undiscipled life.

  63. Personally, I WAS raised on ALL these lessons and that was not my problem….my problem was the hypocrisy in the church. The leaders of my Youth Group picked the popular kids to “do” everything, or they even “hung out” with them. I babysat for their kids and they gave me a glass of wine at age 16! They had affairs with one another “while on youth events.” I thought “WHAT A JOKE!” If it were not for my Mother praying for me and seeing her EVERY DAY on her knees in prayer for me, and in God’s word there is no telling where I would be! I saw the TRUTH in my parents (thank God), not in church leaders! Jesus IS the Gospel and without Him we would have nothing. BUT once you are a believer you DO have the power to turn from sin and live a right life, not a perfect life, but a life filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the believers that the gift of the Holy Spirit was coming to “help” us and give us the power to live according to His ways. I do have some concerns/questions….. when you question the Old Testament saints, God NEVER calls Abraham an idol worshiper…does He? The opinion that Joseph was narcissistic is just your interpretation…right? God called David a man after His own heart and there were times when he was filled with the Holy Spirit…right? My biggest problem is Ester…..she would be what we call a modern sex slave, she did not have a choice AT ALL. These people desired what we now have IN JESUS, they desired to have the Holy Spirit, they looked forward to what we have, yet they worshiped God because they believed Him. I find it hard to put down those saints when God does not……My question is; why is it that this Gospel message that I keep hearing ex: “its all about the Gospel,” why is it that the ones I hear are the ones who excuse sin? That we are no different than anyone else, that we all have sin (which I agree), but they never talk about the Holy Spirit and that Jesus now resides in us. His mind CAN be in us and we will look different than the world. Does one only think that we stay the same until heaven? Or do we become more and more like Him? I do not have a problem with teaching my children about Joseph, I believe there are valuable lessons that they can learn about being one who “flees from sin.” I do not have a problem with Ester, God used what evil men always do to women, and that is abuse them, I do not have one problem of teaching them that God preserves His children, and there might be sometime He will use you (in your darkest of days), if Christ is reigning in your life, if He is your Savior and His Holy Spirit is welcome in your life.

  64. Having been a children’s ministry director for 4 years about a decade ago, I have to say, AMEN to this. Yes, we need to be teaching Biblical truth (and not just to kiddos) about suffering, trials, rebellion, and grace.

    On the defense, though, I have to say that my passion as a children’s ministry director and a teacher for many of the children over the years, is that the children would see other adults in the church speaking and modeling the same Biblical truths they heard at home from their parents. Of course, for me and my husband, we were blessed with good Sunday school lessons when we were young believers and didn’t know how or what to teach our children. I think it’s a wonderful sense of the family of Christ for children when Sunday school reiterates what they are learning and seeing at home and recognizing their bigger family–all acknowledging the same Biblical truth.

    One last note, if anyone wants to find some good biblical material for children’s Sunday school, go to Children Desiring God, material endorsed by Pastor John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist and written by members of his congregation. EXCELLENT material w/topics like, the names of God, being like Jesus and God’s promises.

  65. If Moral Therapeutic Theism is a common belief of the young in the church, I think we best go back and carefully look at what we are teaching. The issues you bring to light are not just causing young folks to leave, but sending many in the church off on the wrong path.

  66. I’ve been teaching Sunday School to pre-readers. I don’t feel it’s going well. I wasn’t raised in Christianity but I see both problems mentioned in the article and in one of the answers. If you teach all grace, there seems to be no concept of sin in the child’s life. If you preach works, you get despair. I’m not sure where the balance is.

  67. Both stories are true. We can recieve mercy but we need to strive to be a good person. We can bever be perfect, so we keep needing Jesus. We can learn nice lessons from the heros in the bilble. They were also used because they kept their trust in the lord though they were sinnfull. God wants us to live a renewed life not only to accept simply grace…

  68. I admittedly am very sensitive lately, but this article gave me a lack of peace towards unity. Our family moved from a church much like the one described because of much of the reasons you cited. We did not see our kids growing toward salvation at all, and it scared us. However, I feel your words are too harsh and your title is divisive. I do not think we can blame any church Sunday School for being the reason our kids leave the faith. This week alone, I witnessed a church full of youth and adults spending their time on a summer weeknight to teach young unbelievers how to play basketball. While the kids are there, they also teach them about Jesus. They certainly use the watered-down gospel everyone despises, but they were sharing more Jesus than I was. i have to wonder what The Apostle Paul would have said to them, and also to me had he been there. Just an encouragement that perhaps our message can be shared without tearing down another’s system that is showing some results.

  69. For me personally it was that at a young age (8 years old) I could clearly see the hypocrisy of the church and most people who called themselves Christian. They told us to love they neighbors as thyself, but demonized and spit hatred at the LGBT community, were racist and blamed the poor for their plight, called people on welfare lazy. Just turn on Fox news to see what hatred fills the heart of many so-called Christians. I learned early on that the Christian religion was not Christian at all. How can Christians be against feeding the poor and healing the sick (i.e. time to support universal health care)…. to me most people who call themselves Christian are filled with hate and greed and simply lack compassion and love. Thank heavens for the example set by my grandmother – a true Christian if ever there was one.

    I left the church because I believed in the teachings of Jesus Christ… not because I didn’t believe.

  70. This is great! Many people need to hear this! He loves us enough to accept us where we are, but loves us too much to leave us there!

  71. This article is a lie, particularly where it accuses Sunday School teachers lying. It misrepresents what goes on in Sunday school (I have been committed to Sunday School for 58 years). If encouraging children to be good is a “burden,” it’s a most blessed and refreshing “burden” for people of all ages to joyfully carry. As for love, let’s affirm it both ways–to the good and the not-so-good. This article is wrong-headed and misdirected. There are real dangers out there for kids and Sunday School is generally NOT one of them.

  72. I loved your points and agree with you though I think your example about Esther may be a bit of an exaggeration. She was not in that situation through her sinfulness.. but obeying the Lord’s direction for her life however odd it looks to us (cultural differences at work here I think). The glory of the gospel is indeed what our kids need to hear. I will say that I feel our living example and teaching at home can help our kids understand these stories better than any Sunday School teacher.

    But the fact is that, it’s OUR love for the Lord and OUR transparency, and OUR
    response to OUR OWN SIN which will make the biggest difference in how
    our kids see the Lord in regards to their own faults and failures. Sunday school teachers cannot undo the living testimony.. day by day.. of our lives as parents. We must not rely on a once a week class for our children’s spiritual well being or grounding.

    Still you make a very very good point. I enjoyed reading it and am glad you are challenging the ‘prettied up’ versions of Sunday school stories now being taught to children at church.

    Considering their world at public school, in their neighborhoods, on online game servers and on tv is being bombarded with immorality at every turn, they need to know at a much younger age than in the past, that Jesus died to save sinners and those sinners are in the bible. Yes they are our heroes.. but they were heroes with fleshly weaknesses who responded to God’s grace. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

  73. For me, I would agree with the title of your article….except I would push the word “wondering”, up to “pretty darn sure”. 🙂 Also, I would agree that people are leaving the church in droves. Oh, and I also agree that we’ve been lied to about
    God and the Bible and the gospel.

    On the flip side I strongly disagree with your premise that people are leaving Christianity because, as implied in your article, we’ve leaned a “works based gospel” by being told, as children – in Sunday school, how faithful and good and obedient these OT figures were.

    To me the Scriptures are very clear as to how these characters are to be remembered. Yes they all had flaws. Yes, God worked with them anyways. But the overall story and message of their lives as they are remembered in the whole of Scriptures is not through focusing on their sin.

    You seem to be taking a sinful incident, or two in each of their lives and blowing THAT up into the story. If my kids went to your sunday school I’d be worried that they would run outta there enjoying every kind of lascivious concupiscence and stating that “I can be beastly because God loves me anyways.”

    None the less, back to the other flip side. Sunday school has indeed helped to crumble many a Christian’s walk because it does have us believing lies. So you had that right. You diagnosed the symptoms correctly but I feel you got the disease wrong.

    And here’s the real cause that so many are leaving the church (are you sitting down?):

    Bible verse memorization.

    WHAT???? Yeah I said it: Bible verse memorization. Before you bail on me here as a nutcase, hear me out. The whole scam of prizes, gold stars, chocolate bars and maybe winning a book, all for memorizing individual numbered sound bites (verses) is what has greatly contributed to our downfall.

    Consider: as kids, we memorized these verses…but they were verses torn from their context, butchered by our English translations, and worst of all used as “summary statements” to envelop entire theologies. Thus, as we have grown up we have grown up with wrong doctrine based on wrongly dividing the Word of Truth way back in Sunday school. And this wrong doctrine in perpetuated in our churches and cemeteries…oops, pardon me “seminaries”.

    The classic example: John 3:16. A very true verse. Still, no one memorizes John 3:18 though. Our western greek linear mindset of “believe” also gives this FALSE notion of solely being a mental ascent; this vague sense of “truth in our hearts”. No one points out that to “believe” in the Hebrew sense is to “hear and obey”. Yes you believe it “in your heart”, but you also walk it out.

    Perhaps it might be better understood as: “For God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever hears and obeys will not perish but have eternal life.”

    “Sounds like works based salvation”, you say. Well, it is and it isn’t. We can do nothing to earn our salvation. Agreed. It’s all through Christ and His blood.

    But that faith, without works, is dead. When one turns one’s life over to the Almighty, if there is not change in behavior…no “hearing and obeying” then, dare i say, perhaps there was not “turning over of one’s life” in the first place. Will He thus be stating Matthew 7:23 to such as these?

    Again, take Col 2:16. We all “know” what that says and means: don’t judge people for eating whatever or not keeping the Sabbath etc…

    Again…another verse taken out of context, with our English “interpretation” making it say the EXACT OPPOSITE of what it really states. But, yet there it is again: a numbered sound bite, a single verse…quoted to sum up a “theology”, thus wrongly dividing the Word.
    I won’t get into Col 2:16 but once one delves into this verse and looks at the context closely and examines the original Greek you will see what I mean.

    Anyways….so now, today, the cows are coming home to roost…the lies of our theology are peeking through the cracks. This current generation has a very high BS awareness radar. They can tell crap when they see it. Having flashing lights and rocking worship doesn’t cut it anymore. A preacher that spews pop psychology and funny stories is so transparent now and is thus found wanting. So the kids…they are leaving.

    We need to start REALLY reading our Bibles. We need to really start to pray and start walking in obedience. Let the masses leave, the ones that want their ears tickled. We need to repent and return.

  74. Agreed! As a youth pastor, one of my favorite things to do with church kids who have been taught these fluffy Bible stories all their lives is to point out bits and pieces they don’t see in Sunday School that make the characters REAL, inadequate, and HUMAN. Love it!

  75. Awesome perspective. You’ve really got me thinking about how I am teaching. What I do know is when these children (I work with K-6) understand how God loves them, and when they “get” the gospel, they become some of the most passionate disciples of Him.

  76. So many good thoughts. I agree that performance is not how to obtain salvation! Once you are saved though obedience should start to follow. I am very concerned by the number of people who say they are saved but don’t care that their performance remains terrible. God in a life will transform it. If transformation isn’t happening then check your connection with God!

  77. This post is amazing. So full of truth. I am currently doing a blog series on how I have been on a journey away from legalism – and this post right here captured so much what I’ve been trying to share! I was one of those “good Sunday School girls” that ended up having a pretty whacked out view of God. Thank you so much for being a voice for grace. I hope that the next generation of young people (my son included) can grow up knowing about how God pursues us even when we are not good.

    And here is a link to my current series in case anyone is interested in reading how a disillusioned “Good Christian Girl” found her way into accepting God’s grace: http://beautifulinhistime.com/category/personal-and-spiritual-ramblings/the-wilderness-between-legalism-and-grace/

  78. I can definitely see this being a problem. You should always teach that it is only because of God these things happened and not anything that one person did. If any one had chosen to ignore the calling they could have, and God would have given it to someone else. They didn’t and were rewarded, but it was because of God’s love.

  79. See also Noah who was spared for his goodness while the rest of the planet’s population (men, women, children, infants) was eradicated. After the flood, he promptly got drunk and sired children by both his own daughters. Weird that these ancient tales are presented in any sort of moral context!

    • I think you mean Lot, nephew of Abraham sired…(after they thought the world was destroyed when S & G were annihilated.) Actually, if these ancient tales were just fiction, I think they would have cleaned that up to sanitize them. No one claims the Bible is about perfect people, or even good people necessarily. Jonah, Samson, David, Noah, Peter, Paul–the whole reason they have a moral context is BECAUSE we see all of these imperfect people still fulfilled God’s purposes–inspite of being unworthy vessels. Maybe a future Bible would tell us about John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner and other magnificent train-wrecks, if they then are able to surmount their weakness and serve God.

      • Right, I was conflating my OT stories. Sorry.

        Genesis 9:20-25 details Noah’s being found naked and drunk after the flood.

        Anyway, refer to the Lot story, yes. My main point is the magnificent injustice behind this sort of thinking. Prey up on whomever you like. Kill people by the scores. Steal another man’s wife. Rape pillage. But then ask for forgiveness and you’re golden.

        Live a quiet, dignified life without harming others, but happen not to believe in Christ: Face eternal punishment and damnation. It’s this belief that is abhorrent and anti-human. … Having been raised fundamentalist, I’m quite acquainted with all the Biblical “logic” which is used to justify this abominable injustice, I just don’t think it makes sense. Nor does it reflect the machinations of any sort of just God.

        • I agree Robert. The idea of “acceptable” Christians–who then live a debauched life relying on a get-out-of-jail-free card because of their misunderstanding of Grace– is indeed a silly notion. I don’t believe that either. That’s why all my comments here have been about the two-step process of justification (grace) AND sanctification (discipleship.) Many christians have made-up a lot of silly, self-rationalizing theology. Teaching that sin is ignored for Christians is one of those heresies. Teaching that all non-Christians (many who died never having a chance to hear of Christ) are damned is also a silly notion and would ask us to pretend a God so unjust, is still to be worshipped. You ask all the right questions and the same ones I’ve wondered about too. I have found answers within the Bible but not within most of the denominations. They too often teach a God I don’t read about in the Bible. Throw out the nonsense that preachers preach if it can’t reconcile fundamental truths. But that doesn’t mean to throw out the VALID God concepts, just because men are too blinded to preach them in their original purity. We’ve screwed a lot of doctrines up. I feel God will judge all men by what they had knowledge of on earth. Those who lack, without fault, will have a first chance to gain that which was withheld from them for their brief span on earth. I believe this is why judgment day is a long way off, to give us time to “set right” the gap between mortality and judgment. A great learning process continues when we die IMO. It’s not over the moment you die and much of these imbalances will be balanced in the spirit world, before the final judgment IMO.

          • Thanks for this thoughtful response, Gath. If I’d been exposed to this sort of compassionate Christianity when I was younger, I may never have been prompted to leave the fold.

  80. We miss stuff like “the last 15 years of David’s life was a down hill mudslide … yet God in His redemptive way allows him to make one final great decision and calls him a man after God’s own heart.

    Thanks for this … it is refreshing to find others searching for The Story in it all.

  81. Thanks for this view and the pursuit of God’s Greater Story. So often we miss stuff such as “David’s life was a downhill mudslide for the last 15 years … yet God called him a man after his own heart.” The message is about rescue and redemption – the earlier we can show that to our kids, the better choices we can present to them and the more ingrained it will become.

  82. What a crock…on so many different levels. UGH> Ps. Joseph was not narcissistic…only if you have to have him that way to make it fit your pattern. You are using EXTRA-BIBLICAL nonsense to say Ester had sexual relations outside of marriage. I hardly think the woman who risked her life for God and his people was busy fornicating also. UGH> Of course they were all sinners and needed forgiveness. But these people are examples (Check out Hebrews) of those who went on before us acting in OBEDIENCE (Yes, I used the O word) because of their faith in God’s promises.

    A Sunday school teacher gave me the gospel of Jesus Christ when I was a little girl. There was plenty of teaching about these men and women …failings were included. Christ was exalted, but godly heros of the faith were properly noted Yes, I want to be a Daniel. I pray I could be like Ester. I want to have the heart of King David. All these men and women were opposite of the HEATHEN…These men and women feared and loved God. OF COURSE HE HAD DONE A WORK IN THEM. I am getting tired.

    The reason kids are leaving the church is because the world is alluring, and the world is in the church…So what happens is that young people get a good dose of the world at most services. And they are choosing the world. But they do most often come back …beaten up by the God of this world. Mislabeling the problem that young people in the church have…and that causes them to leave the church…only exacerbates the whole sad situation. This article is a disservice to the Christian church.

    I do believe Sunday School curriculum can improve. But what you offered is not an improvement.

  83. great article.
    I think a big problem is families who rely on Sunday School to teach
    their kids/home about the Bible. It’s true that an hour once a week is a
    tough place to really tackle the whole story…so teachers gloss over,
    and try to send the kids home to behave.

    Sunday school originally started to teach kids to practice good hygiene.
    Bible/faith stories should be taught and lived at home…and reinforced at church.

  84. I think a huge issue is teaching all the OT stories as factual events when as soon as kids become old enough to study and especially in college will learn about historical criticism and the latest scholarly research that demonstrates that most if not all of the stories were myths of the Hebrew people meant to form an identity and a cultural understanding of who God is. Churches have got to stop teaching the creation story as a literal event.

  85. I question your comment about Esther. No where in Scripture is having a concubine regarded as sex out of wedlock. It was (and is) not God’s perfect plan of marriage between one man and one woman. Her sin was having a union with an unbeliever.

    • Again (see other comments), doubtful that is was her choice at all. She was rounded up, and then chosen by the king. Women didn’t really have agency in this time period. (Much as they still don’t in much of the world).

    • I agree! She was taken as a concubine ( a 2nd wife) along with 399 other women. Then one of the concubines, Esther, was made queen. Jacob had 2 wives and 2 concubines (2nd wives) and their children were his legal heirs. So for one thing, Esther didn’t choose to become a concubine of the king, but when her night with the king came around, it was not out of wedlock as this article suggests. She was lucky enough to be made queen and wife and put above all the other concubines, but the other 399 women were never allowed to leave or marry another. They were considered 2nd wives of the king.

  86. Legally, once taken by the king, she’d be considered a wife of sorts (and if this is still an issue, then every person taken by king in the Bible should also be considered a harlot of sorts) according to MHC (http://isword.org/windows/service.php?Ver=MHC&Book=Esther&Font&Chap=2&Verse=8 section II).

    tl;dr: Esther was not a hartlot of some sort. She would have legally been the king’s wife.

    And the idea that she should have resisted seems a bit pompous considering we know almost nothing about the situation.

  87. Just some observations by a passer by, I’m not a regular viewer here. Hope you’ll be patient with this viewpoint.

    The Scriptures record man’s history as well as the story of some men and women.

    In various ways and at various times God spoke, the Bible record shows if and how people acted. The way we act and make decisions reveals what we believe.
    James tells us that faith without works is dead, being alone.

    God is watching, so are our children and neighbors.

    Some acted in faith, some acted poorly, sometimes these same people acted better. Many repented and embraced a trust in God, in spite of obstacles.

    God still tests mankind to see what their faith is and if there is faith, in God. Are we people who believe the teachings of Moses, of Jesus, of the Apostles by making them a vital part of our decision making?

    Psalm 119 gives specific instruction and basic principles for life and for decision-making. Psalm 1 records the contentment of a man who makes wise decisions. This is the Bible Jesus read, both these Psalms Jesus read..

    Jesus was a man of His teachings; He learned and practiced what He taught. In Matthew 23 Jesus tells the people to do what the religious leaders say BUT not what they do. In effect He is saying, “I will not ask you to do things that I have not also done”. The people then, and we today, are attracted to Him because He speaks with that authority, that authenticity. His words have been proven on the test track of life, they are powerful.

    Many principles for godly living are seen also in the natural world around us, our children need to hear our awe and the joy we have of discovering new dependable ways displayed in the world we share. What we learn here is what we take on to Glory.

    The teachings of Jesus, of Moses, the prophets and apostles are vital, we have a responsibility to teach these as the basis for making the best decisions in our lives and our children’s lives. They bring God’s perspective, and even more we can see the Person of Jesus Christ, that He lived what He taught.

    The teachings are basic and vital; they are reinforced as we practice them. Knowing and trusting the Person of Jesus Christ, our teacher, brings life. That is the emphasis of John 15. He wants us to be our best by putting His teachings to the test in our lives; without even realizing it, we model faith.

    Perhaps we cling to formulas, to easy solutions; perhaps we need to show the things we teach are worth living. Its risky stuff, there will be others who criticize, maybe even taunt and question, but God wants us as parents to teach and to live what we teach. He will walk with us; faith brings an expansiveness to life.

    Abraham, Joseph, David, and Esther each acted in faith, even though they made some mistakes. They each also knew God’s approval in their lives.

    Hebrews 11 takes the high road, recording great decision-making.

    Stephen risked everything when he reviewed God’s faithfulness in spite of stubborn neglect and even rejection. He exposed the hollowness of their religious formulas and as they stoned him he declared the glory of God and the presence of Jesus Christ.

    Oh how blessed we are to have the holy record of those who have preceded us and been faithful. Let’sencourage each other to stay focused on Jesus, walking and living with Jesus Christ, as the Holy Spirit leads us.

  88. There is definitely some validity in this article – that we don’t have to earn His grace, which was given to us at the cost of Jesus (His son). If you teach from the point of the character, it is all going to be about them. But, if you teach from the point of God’s grace, and faithfulness, it leaves you/kids in awe of God.

      • hey Sam, it is a good short brief to remind teachers of sunday schools. I am a member of the Sunday School – and i do appreciate such reminders. Have shared it with other teachers 😉 Thank God for you! Have a lovely day.
        Xiu Jing

        • It is God’s way. He wants us to need each other. You remind me of the gospel, I remind you.

          We all need God, and the people he Chooses to use.

          Sam

  89. I guess my counsel would be neither approach.

    Get a good complete Bible story book like Eggermeiers. It tells all the major stories of the Bible in order from Genesis to Revelation in a straight forward fashion, without the author inserting her theological bias. Read it from start to finish to your kids, over the course of a year or so. You don’t need to comment much about the stories, unless the kids ask you questions. If they do, discuss it with them.

    For most kids, the Bible stories will catch their imagination, and they will really look forward to hearing the next one. They will absorb the sweep of Biblical history. They will see how all the stories hang together and form a magnificent whole. They will see God working with and in and through His people. They will develop a healthy fear of the Lord, based on his power and might and holy righteousness as well as coming to understand his great love for each individual that He has created. They will see the centrality of the gospel in the Word of God. Nothing can compare with the Bible. Give them all the stories in order. After you have done that, introduce them to the Bible itself and it will make so much more sense to them.

  90. This article makes a couple of decent points, but I almost wrote it off because your title is so over-the-top absurd. Obviously if Sunday school teachers are teaching that curriculum then it should be a modified, as any serious Christian, much less any Christian educator could see plainly. But Sunday school, even poorly taught Sunday school is not “destroying” our kids. Poverty, war, attacks on education, the crushing debt of college, the inability of some children to find stability at home, human trafficking, etc… Those are destroying kids. And the articles titled with absurdly hyperbolic titles in the interest of attracting eyeballs are, as you so succinctly put, a lie.

  91. While I am not an atheist, I to have left the bondage of what passes for Orthodoxy behind in favor of a spirituality that makes more sense to me. The straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak wasn’t the Bible stories in and of themselves, but the refusal of the church of my youth to accept that these were a combination of myths, legends and allegories. What drove me away was the mental gymnastics needed to ignore basic scientific principles like evolution because the two Genesis creation myths (and yes Genesis 1 and 2 are completely different accounts with different creation orders). That is why I and many others of my generation have left for greener pastures.

    • So you left Orthodox Christianity because of Genesis? Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There ARE other ways to look at those chapters.

      • Genesis is just one glaring example. There are many more, such as the whole Christ died for our sins sacrificial atonement motif, the belief that Christianity is the best/only way for salvation, the faith vs works argument… Not to mention all of the scholarship that brings into question many of the stories that Orthodoxy insist are infallible truths.

  92. It seems like the point is made pretty clear in Sunday School that God uses imperfect people to do his work. Also, I think that Sunday School lessons usually demonstrate God’s mercy and redemption. Perhaps people turn away from the church not so much because of the lessons of ‘heroes’ from the bible as much as the general attitude that those that are perfect will be loved best and those with flaws are not as important. This article is a good reminder to Sunday School teachers to reach out and love each child and to recognize the ‘good’ that is in them, despite their shortcomings.

  93. Read the book “The Cure” it really details this. Of course this problem might not be such as issue if most Sunday School teachers were more Biblically educated people…

  94. I buy into the thought that we need to teach the gospel as it is portrayed in Scripture i.e. that God loves losers and sinners. Our Bible heroes are some of the biggest sinners and losers (murders, adulterers, idolaters, liars, etc.) I really do want to teach the whole truth, but how do you tell a group of 4 year olds that King David was a scum bag, had sex with a married woman, and then killed her husband. A painting of that scene wouldn’t look good on the nursery wall. In children’s ministry people invest time in teaching behavior modification because that’s what parents do at home to. It’s sad when we distort the word and use it for our own ends, but the reality is we want our kids to change their behavior so badly we’ll stop at nothing to make that happen, even if it means we leave out some of the sketchy details like Ester sleeping with men out of wedlock. Somehow we’ve got to be able to teach kids God doesn’t bless because we are good but God blesses us because He’s God.

    • Little kids do understand “David thought he was so perfect that he could break any rules he wanted to. He was married AND had a girlfriend, which was wrong for him to do (most know this is wrong already). He got rid of his wife and the girlfriends’s husband, which was really bad. David caused a lot of problems for a lot of people, but God forgave him…”

      • Hi “With and ‘E'”

        I love your comment and you give a perfect example of how we can describe these faults to young kids. They have an innate sense of fair-play–and they would know that David was being unfair to his wife if he also had a “girl friend.”

        We don’t have to explain adultery to a five-year old. We can demonstrate unfairness.

        I love your example. Thanks.

  95. Sam I don’t know if you’re a Catholic, this fine web site says you’re too hip to be posting for some Catholic parish, but I personally would make you the head of catechesis for my whole diocese if I was a bishop — which will never happen cause you have to be a priest, and women can’t be priests. Just sayin’ this is one darn fine explanation of how to treat the gospel message. Many blessings for the work you do for the young and the ‘new comer’ to the faith! Peace and grace.!

    • Hi,

      I’m so sorry i didn’t respond to your comment earlier.

      Thanks for your gracious and great comments.

      No, I am not Catholic, nor a priest, nor a woman. But my brother is a Catholic and teaches at a Catholic seminary. Does that help?

      Seriously, I appreciate your kindness.

  96. I’m sorry. I don’t usually do this, but I just had to sign in to say that Esther didn’t exactly have sex outside of wedlock, as you describe it. I’m pretty sure she was one of the many girls in the city who were plucked up to become one of Ahasuerus’ wives. You’re misrepresenting the details of the story in attempt to draw a modern parallel which simply does not exist. And as for Joseph being a silly narcissist, I guess the real question is did his prophetic dreams come to pass?

    If you really want to get to the heart of why kids don’t take the church seriously anymore, perhaps you should more closely examine why megachurch evangelicals eschew dignity and solemnity in their worship services and replace them rock bands and slick Power Point jumbo-trons.

  97. “So why do we burden our children with the unbearable load of “being good little boys and girls like the heroes in the Bible”?” Ummmm, is it possible that you just said this? To reiterate, you are wondering WHY we BURDEN our children with the UNBEARABLE LOAD of BEING GOOD little boys and girls like the heroes of in the Bible…in what world is it a BURDEN to aim at BEING GOOD?!? Please tell me I do not live in that world…

  98. I agree that the “lies” in the article, when left out of context, may heave undue burdens on our children. There are good points within this article, I am concerned though, that there is a lack of parent’s responsibility within the article.

    It seems to me that there’s an unfortunate trend with blaming the public school systems and now blaming the “Sunday school system” or church.

    At most, churches have 2-4 hours a week with our kids, and we somehow blame the church for the kids fall from faith. As a former youth pastor I was always blown away when parents felt the kid’s entire spiritual well-being was my job and not theirs.

    Our culture has shifted from personal responsibility to something totally different, which I feel is reflected in the article.

    Isn’t our job, as parents and spiritual leaders within our house, to fill in the gaps that Sunday School has left out? Maybe as a church, we could be doing a better job of teaching in full context, rather than nice warm fuzzy, super-hero wrapped lessons. But let’s also not forget our job as parents.

    • Let’s also remember this:
      “Goodness” is mentioned in the NT as being a fruit of the Spirit. There is much value in “goodness.” Jesus was the ultimate “good.” We are to emulate Him, even as we look to Him for our salvation. Our poor attempts at “goodness” certainly do not save us, however!
      Being “good” may not be as bad as it’s chalked up to be.

  99. Let’s not forget Sunday School has raised many faithfuls as well. Isn’t it prideful to erase all the good Sunday School has done based on a few stories that prove there’s room for improvement? Where’s the grace and gratitude in such an article that negates the ministry of so many faithful servants throughout Christendom? How can one know that the Holy Spirit is NOT at work in Sunday School as is? Imitation of faith is what the Bible commends. (Heb 11; parable of the talents; 1 Cor. 11:1; Job 1:8; Gen 26:1-5). From the parable of the soil, and the account of Jesus feeding 5000, Samuel’s kids, Eli’s kids, Judas, Adam and Eve, we learn not all will stay in faith even when they have close encounters with God. We are just fallen creatures! It is part of the Gospel that most will reject and few will repent. But by attacking how Sunday School is taught is NOT the Gospel way. If you don’t agree with the Sunday School curriculum/teaching method/etc, here’s what I believe God would want us to do: Treat the Sunday School teachers to a nice lunch, talk to them as people, thank them for their service, edify them as children of God, exhort them as saints redeemed by Christ’s blood, care for them as members of divine family, ask them about challenges in ministry and pray fervently for them. See if God would not transform your heart and theirs to glorify His Kingdom.

  100. The central point of this article is spot on! For too long children have been steeped in biblical moralism that is a training ground for terrible Christians. However, I disagree with the article’s reform. Though I do believe that the grace of God throughout the testaments is important for children to understand, I think that a Christocentric theology of both testaments is needed more. Yes, Abraham was an idol worshipper and sure Joseph could have been a brat (there is no evidence of this claim)- but the Scriptures aren’t about personal salvation they are about the story of God caught up in the story of Jesus. I pray for a curriculum that teaches children that Jesus was the better David, the better Joseph- the best prophet, priest, and king. Kids love story just like God. Tell them the story of God.

    -Eric Walter

  101. Easy to be critical . . . I agree in principal, but if you’re going to blast every curriculum that ever was please contribute to change by designing a better one. Thanks.

    • there are better ones already though… and not everyone who is able to see the flaws in a design possess the ability to correct them. But they can bring the flaws to the attention of those who can make the corrections. That seems to be the point of the article. Well, a sub-point at least.

      • Well put . . . I just sometimes get tired of people that constantly point out flaws in things yet they are not ready to step up and actually help with change. Thats where my comment came from. I totally agree with you man.

  102. I can’t believe that when you read the story of Esther that’s what you get. Esther didn’t have sex outside of marriage; she was conscripted into a system of sex trafficking like most other beautiful women in the kingdom. I agree with your premise that the “Be good and God will love you” version of Sunday school is bad, but I’m pretty sure you’re version is just as bad. The Bible doesn’t regard Abraham simply as an idolater or Joseph as a narcissist or David as a murderer. Each is praised for his heart or even his deeds. The Bible is complicated and presents God and people as complicated, as we certainly are.

  103. But to counter all those stories, there is the parable of the Prodigal Son. His father loved him and welcomed him home despite that fact that he was NOT good. Actually, many of the “heroes” struggled with being disobedient or making the wrong decisions, and yet God stayed with them. When they are finally transformed by God’s love, they are bolstered with the strength to become heroes. That was the message that was taught to me in Sunday School.

  104. While I think this critique is spot-on, I would think again about the approach to the OT stories mentioned. These are not stories first and foremost, as the comparison with Beauty and the Beast might suggest, of God’s redemption of sinners (the inclusion of Esther here is especially troubling). Primarily, these are stories that indicate the power of God to enact his will for his people, despite the obstacles put in front of them by the world and, most crucially, despite the obstacles that they themselves occasionally become. That God DOES redeem them is in fact not a necessary part of the plot; it is ADDED grace. There is the troubling example of Judas to consider here.

    But overall, I do appreciate what you’re trying to say.

  105. Love this! A great curriculum for teaching God’s faithfulness throughout the Bible regardless of the human’s strengths or sin, is the DesiringGod Children’s 2 year Bible Read through program! I also really enjoy the Jesus Storybook Bible for this too!

  106. “How Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer and God loved her and pursued her.”

    Considering that she and many other women were taken from their homes to be used by a king (likely without consent), I find the implication that Esther is somehow guilty for her first sexual encounter being outside of marriage to be in very poor taste.

  107. I really don’t think it’s the message, it’s the structure: Sunday School structure was a great invention 150 years ago, and it made sense for those times, but the structure has taken the basic responsibility for Christian Education out of the hands of the parents (parents, who themselves may not be even attending worship let alone Sunday School). Until the Church ‘gets it’ that the faith is about relationship, healing pain, and giving people skills to improve their relationships with each other and God, the Church will continue its decline.

  108. How about Esther was chosen to join a harem of a crazy, brutal king and God still used her? I don’t ever remember reading anywhere that she went willingly, or unwillingly – her choice and “purity” status in this seems to not have anything to do with the point.

  109. I really think that you gave Esther a bum wrap…She didn’t really have a choice in the matter. She didn’t just “have sex before marriage”.

  110. I love this article. In our Godly Play class when we ask, “Where do you see yourself in the story?” the children often say that they see themselves making mistakes. They are more honest than most adults.

  111. I can see truth in what you’re saying, for sure. We shouldn’t utilize opportunity for teaching children by teaching them idealized circumstances and life-styles. However, I still believe that Sunday School is extremely important; we simply need to stop “dumbing it down.” Sure, they (depending on their age) may not be able to grasp everything, but we should speak to them with depth and personal examples from our own lives, revealing how to respond when we distance ourselves from God through sin, and how He will always take us back with mercy and grace. That being said, we should draw closer to God, thus desiring to live a life that reflects Him. There’s no reason to enforce a “sin so that grace may abound” attitude. They just need to know the full story.

  112. Kat Michael’s comment is encouraging. Am very far away from Sunday School but care about this. Megan O’Rourke Jones speaks of a Sunday School play about the Ten Commandments. Why can’t we concentrate on lthe new covenant with Jesus using the beatitudes He gave us and the two prime commands, Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” From recent reading, we should know about the Ten, but our lives should be built around the Beatitudes and the New Covenant. Some preachers call this the Gospel of Grace.

  113. `before we are good’?

    I hate to point out the obvious here, but a typical atheist argument is that Christianity is great at solving the problem it’s just given you in the first place.

    A better thing to teach would be that good and evil exist, in all times and places and people, how to identify each, and to try and choose the right course.

    I think the problem of sunday school as presented is oversimplification.

  114. if you’re pinning all your hopes of your Children following God on Sunday School, you’re probably not going to get the desired result.

  115. I would make one criticism of it, namely “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”. The author probably understands that God loves us, not out of some ambigous “okay now I love you without any means sort of way” but rather “the wonder of the gospel” is the death of Christ on behalf of sinful man. But I would agree with the premise of the article and have been thinking about this myself.

  116. I feel putting the blame on Sunday School for your child’s rejection of Christ is really extreme. They are in Sunday School for about 1 hours a week. It is the parents job to mold and shape the child.