On Moralistic Teaching

In an endorsement of curriculum by The Gospel Project, Eric Geiger writes this:

In many student ministries, Leo Tolstoy would be viewed as a hero, a model for moral discipline and Christian virtue. . . . He pursued moralistic perfection in his faith, a task that many viewed as noble. He set up lengthy and complex lists of rules for himself and trusted those lists to guide his life, even forming rules for controlling his emotions.

Tolstoy pursued perfection in his own strength and energy apart from the grace of God. He constantly lived under guilt and shame, and he died a miserable vagrant. He never enjoyed the Christian life because he missed the essence of Christianity.

Sadly, many churches teach as if they desire to produce children and students like Leo Tolstoy. Children’s ministries can drift away from the grace of God and drift into morality training, burdening children and parents with virtues apart from the Vine. Similar to some moralistic messages common in children’s ministry is the tendency to continually address the behavior of teenagers rather than their hearts. While children’s ministry can drift toward teaching for behaviors people want to see in children, student ministry can drift toward teaching against behaviors people don’t want to see in teenagers. The irony is painful in many churches: teach kids how to behave until they hit puberty and then teach them how not to behave until they graduate.

Children and students, indeed all of us, are incapable of living the Christian life in our own merit. We are utterly unable to transform ourselves. Because of this simple truth, transformation is not about trying; it is about dying.
(You can read Geiger's full post.)

As I wrote in How Churches Can Fall Short, I am concerned about how the curricula used in many churches is centered around moralism and being man-centered. The Bible is about good works, but only about the works of God. The Bible is not about us men, but about the One who was both fully man and fully God -- Jesus Christ.

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  1. Joey, I've been really pondering this as I pray and study in preparation of writing year 3 and 4 of Sunday Plus Curriculum.
    Throughout the first two years we have continually directed the children to the truth that apart from God they cannot do anything of eternal worth. Also that obedience is to come from a love relationship with the Triune God.
    A few weeks ago I walked into a Sunday School Class in our church and noticed the kids were being taught the Fruit of the Spirit and Spiritual Gifts. It dawned on me that most of the kids in that class had not made a commitment to Christ yet - therefore teaching Fruit of the Spirit was teach legalism. The kids would try to attain those things on their own.

    Appreciate your prayers as I seek God of how to address this in the curriculum.

    1. I could see where that experience in the SS class would concern you. Will pray for wisdom for you.