The Danger of a Sunday School Theology

Did you call it the flannel graph or the flannel board? You remember, the thing they used in Sunday school at your church growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. I remember calling it the flannel graph, and oh, was it cool.

Flannel Graph Jesus

Flannel cutouts of Adam and Eve with appropriate fig leave coverings. Abraham and Isaac with a bonfire and a ram in a thicket. Moses with his glorious staff and the flaming tree. David with his slingshot and the giant, Goliath, with his sword and shield. I couldn’t wait to show up on Sunday and hear another story about how some awesome man or woman did something amazing for God.

This Sunday will mark the eighth and final message out of a series I have been preaching on the book of Jonah. Jonah is a great flannel graph story. Jonah runs from God and gets swallowed by a huge whale. Well, the Bible says it’s a great fish but we all know it was a whale, right? So, I’m thinking about Jonah and the whole narrative of his story and then I’m remembering back to Sunday school and all of those flannel graph lessons and it hits me.

It’s a Sunday school theology. The lessons we so often share with our kids as they grow up in church, often miss the mark. Too often, I believe, we consolidate the stories of the Bible into these cute stories for children but what gets distorted in translation is how jacked up people are and what gets lost in translation is how awesome God is. Sunday school theology makes man out to either be good or bad. If you love God you’re one of the good guys and if you don’t you’re one of the bad guys. The problem with this theology is that we end up exalting human virtue over the grace and steadfast love of God. Participate in years of Sunday school theology and you end up thinking you can earn your way into God’s grace and mercy. All of a sudden you’re the hero and Jesus isn’t really necessary for you.

The truth of the Bible is that everyone is a sinner; everyone has poor decisions and brokenness in their life. Abraham didn’t trust God and slept with his wife’s servant to create his heir. Isaac was a notorious liar and deceiver. Moses killed a guy out of anger. David had an affair and then had the woman’s husband killed because he ended up getting the gal pregnant. Jonah not only ran from God, Jonah was a crazy racist who wanted to see an entire city of men, women, children, and animals be annihilated through fire and ashes.

This is why I love the Bible. The Bible wasn’t written so you’d look in the mirror and think of how awesome you are. It was written to help you look in the mirror and see how wretched and vile sin is and how it has distorted the perfect image we were originally created in, the image of God. The Bible was written to show us how merciful and gracious God is and how slow to anger he is while abounding in steadfast love for his wayward children.

Take a look at your theology. Is it a Sunday school theology that exalts man? Or is it a biblical theology that exalts God the Father who sends to us God the Son, Jesus, who lives the life we have not, who died the death we deserve, and who rose from death ensuring an eternal destiny for all those who put their faith and hope in him? I’m sticking with the latter. I know the flannel graph version of my own life might be entertaining, but I’m no good guy; I’m just a guy in need of amazing grace.

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