At the CYNKC conference, Jim Wallis joined his wife and two sons to share their experiences as a family committed to a “New Kind of Christianity.” Mr. Wallis we all know well for the Evangelical Left Sojourners organization. He met his helpmeet in Joy Wallis nee Carroll, who helped spearhead priestly ordination for women in the Church of England. With those curricula vitarum aside, I was really more interested in what the sons Jack and Luke had to say for their audience. Out of the mouths of babes, as the adage goes. I wanted to see what emergent theology sounds and looks like from a child’s perspective.
“We’re not particularly a religious family,” Mrs. Wallis informed listeners, “We’re a family that tries the best we can to follow Jesus.” Mr. Wallis agreed: “We’ve taught them that we love them and that God loves them and that’s the most you can teach your child.” Both parents also acknowledged that most problems in churches come from Christians not knowing what their identity is — that is, all their other identities trump their identity in Christians. Mr. Wallis also fondly described their enthusiasm in little league baseball. He sees it as part ministry, part community-building, and part fun. Many of the boys’ games occur on Sunday and make actual church attendance impossible during the season.
Jack and Luke were asked what Christianity meant to them. Jack liked the many guests welcomed into Wallis hospitality and enjoyed the Wild Goose festival. Luke said that Christians are those who look after the poor and do good things for people. Both pray for the thousands of starving children around the globe. Christians are those who reach out to help people who are hurting. That’s the Christian identity: kindness and doing good.
In analyzing these statements, I’ll be up front and say that I’m only 23. I am no father yet; I’m not even married. However, I think I can tell when parents are teaching their kids that sports are more important than Sabbath congregational worship. Much more importantly, I recognize the difference between Christianity and moralism. The Christian identity is bound up in Christ Himself. Indeed, He did do good and look after the poor. But He also addressed the sin problem and completed His most important work of putting sin to the death on the cross, rising from the dead and thus offering eternal life to all. Unfortunately, in that evening interview, I heard moralism undefiled. That would be not a new kind of Christianity; but a very old kind of heresy–one that occurs just as easily in the most devout Christian families.
Children can’t just be taught the law–the do’s and don’t’s. They cannot be offered a hollow vision of love. Suffer the little ones to see the cross and sing along, “Died He for me? Who caused Him pain! For me? Who him to death pursued?” They must come to understand sacrificial grace. And they do. Each generation has come to understand (as well as misunderstand) for over 2000 years. One interview does not describe the entirety of one’s religious beliefs. Nonetheless, I hope and pray that the children raised in the “New Kind of Christianity” come to realize that the faith is more than a moral life. It is grace and mercy imparted to us, and even more that springs from the person of Jesus.
UPDATE: One of my good friends just reminded me of an important clarification. Confusion and misunderstanding regarding the Gospel can happen in even the most pious and orthodox of families. In his own words: “Unfortunately this is a sort of child-coddling that occurs even in the more properly devout households.”