You may remember my post last summer when I directed you to read an insightful article on the blog, Beliefs of the Heart. The article, by Samuel C. Williamson, was called “I wonder if Sunday school is destroying our kids?”
Since that time, this one article has grown into a book—one that should be on every person’s reading list. Seriously, this is the best book I’ve read in a long time (and I read a lot of books). If you read Williamson’s original post, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The book explains how our churches teach us to be good and moral. We take the “heroes of the faith” and point out their good points, then tell our children to “have faith like Abraham” or “love God like David.”
If they succeed in getting it right, they become proud. When they fail and discover they can’t measure up, they feel condemned. But no one mentions the times that Abraham, and David—and Samson, and Esther, and all the rest of the heroes in Scripture—screwed up.
Even more important, we leave out the part about Jesus getting it right on our behalf, and how we can therefore repent and be forgiven, redeemed, and empowered. We’re teaching morality at the expense of the Gospel. And as the author points out, morality without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit just produces Pharisees.
Williamson goes on to remind us that the purpose of the Law isn’t to produce good, moral people, but to demonstrate the impossibility of achieving that goodness apart from God.
This is an easy read, a short book with short chapters. Still I spent several weeks getting through it—not because it was boring, but because it was so packed with insight. I needed to stop and think and digest what I was reading. Many of the books on Christian maturity that I’ve read lately have started with a simple idea or premise, and then rehashed and padded it until most of the book is fluff. This slim volume is all meat.
Let me quote a few statements to illustrate my point:
Morality is good, desirable, lacking in some degree in all of us, and probably not preached enough from the pulpit. We need moral people. In a world where darkness expresses itself in everything from petty theft to genocide, healthy morals enable us to peacefully coexist. And that is good. Essential, even. It’s just not the gospel.
We are converted by the unbelievable hope of God’s love for the undeserving, but we lecture on behavior.
Scriptures insist that “Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborer’s work is useless” (Ps. 129:1 par), but our hearts habitually act on their own. We say to God, “Just give me the blueprints,” and then we grit our teeth, furrow our brow, and start laying brick. … God wants friends, not independent contractors.
See what I mean?
When I first started reading, I thought, “This is a great book for new Christians, to teach them the difference between the law and grace. A few chapters in, I realized, “This would be the perfect book for a seeker—Williamson presents the gospel so clearly!” And as I neared the end, I decided, “This is exactly what a long-time Christian needs to read. The author reminds us that our goal isn’t good behavior, but letting Jesus live in and through us!”
Actually, the title of this book is somewhat misleading. It doesn’t just apply to children in Sunday school, but to all of us. So, I encourage you to get this book and dig in. You won’t leave the table hungry.