Earlier this week, a package turned up in the mail containing the book Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids: How Moralism Suffocates Grace by Samuel C. Williamson (Beliefs of the Heart Press, 2013). The book is a quick read at around 86 digest-sized pages so I was able to complete it in a single morning.
The author’s background is compelling. I’ll let him tell it in his own words:
- My father was born in China to Pentecostal missionaries. My mother was born in a farming family in Kalispell, Montana.
- Though sympathetic to the work of the Holy Spirit, my father disagreed with aspects of AOG theology. He became a Presbyterian and was a PCA pastor until his retirement in 1995…
- I studied European Intellectual History, Philosophy, and Hebrew at the University of Michigan.
- I served in missions overseas for three years and felt God say “not now.” So I moved back to Ann Arbor, Michigan and got a job at a software company. (There weren’t many jobs in 17th Century, European Intellectual history.)
- With two partners, I bought the software company and worked there as an executive and Chief Product Manager for 25 years.
- In 2007 I heard God call me to writing and speaking. I left the business world and began Beliefs of the Heart.
I agree with the premise of the book as the subtitle defines it. We are teaching kids behaviors and virtues which, while they are important part of passing our values on to the next generation, are not necessarily distinct from what other religions teach. The heart of gospel is most evident when we’re not living out the fruit of the spirit; when we’re angry; when we fall into sin; etc. The heart of the gospel is the grace of God. It’s that grace that sets us apart from other belief systems.
As such, the book is commendable, but as the author confesses in an afterword at the end, the book’s main title is mostly provocative; he’s not addressing specific Christian Education or Children’s Ministry issues here as he’s also concerned with the predominance of moralism and performance-based faith that is found equally in adult sermons and Christian books, which are often concerned with offering a “quick fix” or “ten easy steps” to meeting any challenge.
There were also some areas where the book suffered the fate of self-published titles in its overuse of bold face type (though thankfully, not capital letters) on things like the titles of other works or for emphasis where italics is the common standard. I mention that only because I think that if some of the chapters were fleshed out more, and the book went through more editorial vetting, a major publisher could pick up this title, even though Christian publishers are not spared in the sixth chapter!
All that said, there was enough of interest here to render this worthy of recommendation and the above comments notwithstanding, I think that Christian educators and Sunday School teachers should give this a look as well, especially given its pricing at only $5.99 US, and especially due to a chapter on how simply teaching moralism may be part of the reason kids exit the church as soon as they’re old enough. As John and Kim Walton showed us in a much longer work, The Bible Story Handbook (Crossway), too often we are pulling out the wrong interpretation or spinning the story incorrectly anyway.
I encourage you to check out the author’s blog BeliefsOfTheHeart.com where you’ll also find more info on the book and podcasts. The book is available from A-zon online or if you order through a bookstore, you can tell them it’s available from Ingram using ISBN 9781941024003.
…Sometimes I’m very happy to write a review and move on, but this time around, my appreciation of this little book grew as I wrote this analysis. If anything here or on the author’s blog resonates with you, I hope you’ll track it down.