This past Tuesday while perusing the oft-remorseful glories of Facebook, we ran across a piece in The Huffington Post by Cynthia Jeub titled, “Five Unbiblical Doctrines Christians Teach Children.” In doing so, the author challenged several doctrines taught in churches everywhere — such as our sin nature, salvation, and sanctification. As a result, we’ve written here a response that addresses all five of her points in turn.
1. We are All Intrinsically Bad
Jeub begins by making the point that Christians ought not be, “Telling children that they are born into this world intrinsically bad, absent of inherent worth, and repulsive to God.” She goes on:
The problem isn’t that parents tell their children they’ve sinned and need Jesus. I’ve met many people who had to overcome serious self-harm and suicidal issues because they were taught . . . ‘You’re worthless. God finds you repulsive.’ Which is weird, because I always thought I was worth something to God because God thought I was worth saving.”
A major issue with Jeub’s argument is that it’s in direct contradiction of God’s Word. Jeub is free to believe what she may, but she cannot call teaching mankind’s inherent sinfulness “unbiblical.” Psalms 51:5 says directly, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” And Romans 5:12-14 elaborates to say that because of the sin of Adam we all are sinful from birth. There’s not really a way around this doctrine.
However, the Bible does not say that people are worthless. Anyone who teaches that is not teaching Christian doctrine. The part that is repulsive to God is our sin (Proverbs 6:16-19) — God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. The key question is why do people have worth? It’s not as if we already had worth and God came to save us because of our worth, we have worth because God has given us our worth. It’s because we we’re made in His image (Genesis 1:27) and He loves us (Romans 5:8). We have no worth outside of God — as our creator He is the only person capable of giving us worth that requires the respect of everyone.
2. God Had to Kill His Son
Telling children that their sinfulness is so bad that it left God no choice but to brutalize, torture and kill his son.
The idea that God had no choice in the matter is extreme, even in the most nihilistic of sub-beliefs within Christianity. My own study of theology has convinced me that Christ’s death was his own choice. Planned ahead, followed through with despite facing the fears and temptations of man. But I remember some sermons alluding to the idea that Christ’s death was our fault — my fault.
It is true that we cannot force God to do anything, if we could, He wouldn’t be God (Revelation 22:13). The reason for teaching that our sin brought about Christ’s crucifixion is because His death is a personal sacrifice He made for each one of us (Romans 3:10-18). You sinned, your sin condemned you, you needed saving, God came and saved you from the penalty of your sins by taking your place. God had to die, because He wanted to save us (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).
Now, when I say “had to” I mean that because He chose to love us, He wanted to save us from eternal damnation — to do this He had to die and pay the debt for sin. After this, He rose from the grave — defeating death and bringing us life. God chose to save us, and for this, for our salvation, He came, died, and rose again.
3. We Shouldn’t Trust Our Thoughts and Feelings
This one is sort of an extension of Jeub’s first point. She argues that too many Christians tell children not to trust their thoughts and feelings. “[I]t finds its root in a specific verse, Jeremiah 17:9, which says, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, who can know it?’ The weird thing is, the very next verse answers the question: God can know the heart.” Jeub then goes on to cite John Eldredge who says that untrained hearts are not bad, “just young and unwise.”
Again, we could cite the explicit verses mentioned in the first point, which speak of our inherently fallen heart. Jeremiah 17:9 not only describes our hearts as deceitful, but also as “desperately sick.” Jeub argues that those who believe in God have the Holy Spirit to intercede for them, making our thoughts and actions trustworthy.
That’s quite a logical gap to jump. The Bible speaks in many places about our relationship with God and holiness as a developmental process (i.e., sanctification). In fact, the scripture Jeub uses to support her argument (Romans 5) says in verses 3-4, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” And in Romans 8:26 it says that the Holy Spirit intercedes to help us “in our weakness” — which implies that the interceding is to help counteract our sinful inclinations, not affirm them. Indeed, from our inherently sinful state, we have a long way to go before we can really trust our thoughts and feelings.
None of this is to say “ignore all thoughts and feelings and be a mindless religious robot.” It is to say that we should check what we think and feel in the light of God’s Word and prayerfully consider such things. And to do those things is to demonstrate a healthy and fundamental distrust for our own thoughts and feelings that contradict His.
4. Hell is Real
Using fear or shame as a means of binding children to certain beliefs or practices related to God.
. . . it shocks me all the time to meet and hear about Christians — hundreds more of them as the years pass — who use the tools God is specifically opposed to. Is fear more effective in gaining followers? As for shame… Most uses of the word shame talk about Jesus taking it on, so children raised to worship God should never have to be shamed.
This argument also starts off by saying something that is true, but then it goes further and misses the point. We do not teach our children about fear and shame. We teach them the truth, that our sin condemns us to hell, because it is true (Romans 6:23). We also teach that Christ saved us from our sins. It is like teaching your child that if he does not brush his teeth, all his teeth will get infected and fall out. It is a scary thing to think about, because the truth is sometimes scary. We do not use fear to scare people into submission, we state the facts of sin and show them the way to Christ’s free gift of salvation. Just as a child who is never taught to brush his teeth will experience pain and loss because of his lack of knowledge, a child who is not taught the truth of sin will suffer pain and loss because of his lack of understanding.
You must believe you are sick before you will look for a cure. Our focus is on the cure! (Romans 8:1-4) What joy is found in knowing that the Creator saved us form our sin, loves us, and gives us the chance to be free of the bonds of sin and to be brought to God’s perfect, holy, and eternal kingdom!
5. We Should Reject Bad Things, not People
In her final point, Jeub says that we ought not teach our children to reject, diminish, or hate other human beings in our devotion to God. “Children learn by example, and every time an adult says something negative about people of other religions, races or sexual orientations, and backs it up with devotion to God is teaching this.”
I would be in complete agreement with this point except for how broad it is. As mentioned in the first point, all human beings are worthy of respect because they are made in the image of God. In this sense, it is wrong to diminish or hate any person, but it is not wrong to reject a thing or belief because it is false or immoral. As Robert Sirico says, “We must be ruthless with ideas, but gentle with people.”
As Jeub rightly points out, Jesus emphatically instructs us to love one another: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34) And if what someone believes is false, and Christianity is true, that person will go to hell if they do not believe in Jesus. In that case, the most loving thing I can do is warn that person.
Jeub closes by saying that “Good things do not come from hatred.” Yet in Proverbs 6:16 it says that God hates sin. That’s why He sent His Son to die for us, out of love for us.
For more on the existence of heaven, hell, and true love, check out this other article of ours.
Judging a belief system by its members or abuses is unfair; we must instead evaluate the tenants of its doctrine. Unfortunately, we’re all sinners, flawed and imperfect. Because of this, it’s easy to apply worldly understandings or faulty assumptions to true doctrine. We must be careful to approach God and His Word earnestly searching for the truth so that we may not spread our fallen understandings to others.
Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” —Matthew 18:5-6