Sunday School doesn’t necessarily destroy kids. Some children come through their childhood-Christian education with their souls relatively unscathed. However there is a big ugly problem that well-meaning sunday-school-teachers (and parents) inadvertently pass on to their children: moralism.
What is moralism? Moralism is a tendency to make judgments, to ‘moralize’ For Christians, it represents the perversion of the doctrine of grace. Often Suday school, our way of reading the Bible, our parenting methods and are way of spiritual formation is characterized by moralism. We want our kids to be good, but being good is so much less than the gospel of grace. Grace is the good news that despite how many times we screw up, fall short, and how rotten we are to the core, God loved and pursued us anyway.
In Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kid? Samuel C. Williamson shares a collection of essays exploring the problem of moralism and the power of grace. People are not changed by submitting to high-moral-standards. We are changed when we lay hold of the gospel of grace–the good news of all that God did for us in Christ. When we get grace, we are set fee to live differently.
This book is short and the chapters are short. Sometimes Williamson is so pithy that it feels like reading an abridged version of an early Rob Bell book. But in this book he makes a lot of points. He talks about how Esther was likely complicit in sexual sin and the manifold ways that moralism poisons the well. Okay I don’t agree with him totally on Esther, but his point is that we turn bible characters into heroes to emulate and that subverts the message of the Bible itself. No human person (other than Jesus) is the hero of the Bible; the hero of the Bible is the God who has compassion on his people. [My personal feelings on Esther is that whether or not she was complicit in her status as a court concubine (before she was the wife), she was still a victim of some pretty ugly power dynamics. She isn’t the hero, but there are still aspects of her character that are ‘heroic’].
I agree with Williamson’s concerns to defend the gospel of grace. Moralism is a real problem. Still this book has a bit of an antinomian feel to it. Grace is primary but law is eternal and any parent will tell you that cultural, legal and moral expectations are necessary elements in raising children. I don’t want to shame my kids for not ‘measuring up’ but I also don’t want them to not know the good and the right. I think moral education is important and I wonder if Williamson poo-poos it too much. Still I agree that Grace and God’s goodness stand at the center. I give this book three and a half stars.
Notice of material connection: I received this book free from the publisher or author via SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.