Wallis & Sons on a New Kind of Christianity

on May 29, 2012
Fatherhood is a weighty responsibility, no matter our station.

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.”

  1. Comment by eMatters on May 29, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Wow, that is creepy! It reads like a spoof. But what should we expect from a guy who is on record for saying that “the Gospel is all about wealth redistribution?”

  2. Comment by Pudentiana on May 29, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Walton Family trumps Wallis family

  3. Pingback by Roundup | Eternity Matters on June 1, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    […] Jim Wallis of Sojourners had his family interviewed about what his “new kind of Christianity” looks like.  Short version: No cross. […]

  4. Comment by Dan Trabue on June 3, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Hello, if you’re open to comments and responses, may I offer a few?

    Of the Wallis’ actual words, I see only a few here. They are…

    “We’re not particularly a religious family,” Mrs. Wallis informed listeners,

    Amen. Good for them. The pharisees were religious. Our goal ought not be religiosity, but following Christ. Am I right?

    They said…

    “We’re a family that tries the best we can to follow Jesus.” Mr. Wallis agreed:

    Hopefully we can agree that there is nothing heretical in the notion of following Jesus, yes?


    “We’ve taught them that we love them and that God loves them and that’s the most you can teach your child.”

    Let’s see… who else taught that “love God and Love people” are the most important teachings? Oh yes, Jesus.

    So, of their actual quotes, I see absolutely nothing heretical or even the least bit questionable.

    A suggestion: If you’re going to criticize someone and suggest that a Christian is guilty of something as serious as heresy, you’d do best to reference their actual words. Otherwise, you run the risk of engaging in bearing false witness, slander and gossip – all of which are clearly condemned in the Bible.

    Doesn’t that seem reasonable?

  5. Comment by Bart Gingerich on June 4, 2012 at 9:51 am

    Dan, thanks for your comment. I was trying to be as kind as possible when dealing with this particularly sensitive and important presentation. You will notice that for all its history, the church has concerned herself with salvation, an all-encompassing concept with some important core teachings. In the Scriptures (the epistle of Romans especially comes to mind), it is clear that Christianity is a works salvation–Christ’s and not ours. Even the Vatican has come to agree more with Luther when he kept pointing to “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” Of course, the manifestations of what this actually looks like have been debated, but let us be clear: the Christian faith is not as much about what we bring to it as it is about what these precious promises and works of Christ give to us. This is how it works in the sacraments, in our callings: the origin and destination is God Himself. Sin and the old man must be put to death; then we may be raised with Him incorruptible. I would have liked to have heard something in the discussion that references/points to these truths in some way. However, I did not.

    I’m not expecting the Wallis boys to start reciting the Apostle’s Creed when asked, “What does Christianity mean to you?” (although a young person very well should know the creed at a young age). This is a poor question to ask in the first place because the responses by definition tend to be “me-centered.”

    So what did come out? Well, what was not said was very frightening, as many of the commentators here have expressed. What I got was a very nicey-nice milquetoast “Christianity=doing good things” teaching, which, oddly enough, not only mimics the errors of 1950s joiner religion, but also the teachings of the Pharisees themselves. It’s pure moralism. It’s my good works=the Christian faith. There is no cross and thus no empty tomb and the new life that is given there. It is a lie that is…well, old as sin. Instead, Christianity portrays a finite creature trying to stop a much more powerful evil, all in the presence of a god who a) is powerful and doesn’t care or 2) does care and is impotent. In other words, the core (Christ) is missing.

    As for your complaint regarding “religion” versus “followers of Jesus,” this is a foolish complaint that has been around since the old Jesus People movement of the 70s (which was trying to counter the works-niceness of the 1950s). Here is a good response to the issue: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/badcatholic/2012/01/why-i-hate-religion-but-love-jesus-the-smackdow.html

    As for love: Love seeks the good of the other. Goodness requires proper ordering, yes? That’s why Christians still have the Old Testament and study the Law: it teaches us HOW to love our neighbors and our God. Love impels us to not let others lie in their sin and to realize that the other’s happiness may not be the satisfaction of their desires (here is an article on just that subject: http://theird.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/a-heresy-of-love/) The scary thing is, leaving Christianity to love without telling what love actually does or looks like, we leave the term free to untrue interpretations and understandings.

    So, with the Law: Want to love your wife? Well, don’t commit adultery, but lay down your life for her like Christ did for the church. We trespass. God could justly destroy us for that, but instead it is put to Christ’s account and we are given mercy. What our fallen nature cannot do God’s grace perfects so that we can indeed live redemptively. From what I’ve seen of Mr. Wallis’ statements, love = doing good things to psychologically and physically meliorate those who are suffering. If the Scriptures are true and if the Fathers who were taught by the apostles themselves were right, then we MUST reject what is being offered in that CYNKC presentation.

  6. Comment by eMatters on June 4, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Hi Bart,

    Dan found your site through my blog, so as a public service I feel obligated to share this piece on his blog commenting habits — http://4simpsons.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/false-teacher-profile/ . You probably already figured him out, but he has a way of wasting a ton of time for people who aren’t familiar with him. I offer that out of Christian love so that you can be aware of who you are dealing with.

    (P)rebuttal to Dan, for about the 10th time — it isn’t slander if it is written, it isn’t libel if it is true, it isn’t gossip because you are in the virtual room with us, and you beg the question by claiming to be a brother-in-Christ. The Interwebs is a big place. I will only share that link when you start your games at a blog you find through mine.

  7. Pingback by Interfaith Movement « In Awe Of Him on June 3, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    […] http://theird.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/wallis-sons/ […]

  8. Comment by Dan Trabue on June 4, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    Shame on Neil for gossiping and spreading slander. Repent, my brother, this is not of Christ our Savior.


    for about the 10th time — it isn’t slander if it is written, it isn’t libel if it is true, it isn’t gossip because you are in the virtual room with us,

    For probably the tenth time, “slander-as-written-only” is ONE modern definition of the word “slander.” It is not what the Bible was speaking of when it condemned this sort of slander. And your slander is not true. How do I know? Because you are making up things about MY beliefs and of the two of us, I’m best qualified to know what MY beliefs are. Reasonable when you think of it.

    And it is gossip to create a post (as you have on your blog) where you speak of someone and they do not have the ability to defend themselves against the false charges.

    Additionally, it is bearing false witness.

    Repent, my brother.

    Bart, sorry that my presence has drawn this sort of un-Christ-like behavior to your blog. But then, I guess you could have opted not to post it, so I suppose you bear a bit of guilt yourself, so be cautious, as a recommendation from a brother in Christ.



  9. Comment by Dan Trabue on June 4, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Regarding your specific comments, Bart…

    it is clear that Christianity is a works salvation–Christ’s and not ours.

    Agreed. I’d be willing to bet that Wallis affirms salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus. I will note, though, that this is not about me defending Wallis, but warning about taking people out of context.

    IF you are concerned about Wallis to the degree of calling him a false teacher or a heretic, then you should be prepared to offer up specific quotes in context. If you can’t, then you should keep those comments to yourself. Doing otherwise opens YOU to charges of gossip, slander and bearing false witness.

    Do you recognize the concern there?

    Summarizing people or their comments and doing so out of context can too often lead to false charges, and the Bible clearly condemns bearing false witness. We are agreed on that much, yes?

    In this case, are you actually criticizing a man based on what his children failed to say? Does that sound like words of grace to you?

    That is, when you have children, would it be Christ-like and of God’s grace to call YOU a false teacher because of a snippet of a quote your CHILDREN said?

    Do you think this is a reasonable measure? Would you think it is of God’s grace if someone measured you by that measure?

    In all things, my brother, let God’s grace reign. Even in defending your actions, you still have offered no actual quotes from Wallis.

    I had said…

    The pharisees were religious. Our goal ought not be religiosity, but following Christ. Am I right?

    To which you replied…

    As for your complaint regarding “religion” versus “followers of Jesus,” this is a foolish complaint

    I’m not sure what you think my complaint is. I asked you a question: Our goal ought NOT be religiosity, but following Christ, do we agree?

    It might make more sense if you responded to my question so I can know if we agree or not. What you did instead was offering another post defending religiosity (sort of – although in a greatly different context). Does that mean that you think being religious is more important that following Jesus?

    I doubt that you do, but a more direct answer would help.


  10. Comment by Dan Trabue on June 5, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Another thought or two…

    I’m not expecting the Wallis boys to start reciting the Apostle’s Creed when asked, “What does Christianity mean to you?” (although a young person very well should know the creed at a young age).

    A question is a question and can be answered in many ways.

    The question was not, “What must I do to be saved?”

    (Interestingly, when Jesus was asked that, he answered, “Sell your belongings and give to the poor and follow me…” – which, by your measure, could also be called a “works” answer and “wrong,” but surely you aren’t suggesting Jesus is wrong? I know you’re not. I’m just pointing out how questions get asked in a variety of ways and can be answered in a variety of ways and I think it speaks greatly of God’s grace when we don’t nitpick individual answers because they appear to be off.)

    The question was not, “What are the essential tenets of Christianity?” It was just “What does Christianity mean to you…?”

    It was just a personal question asked to two children. Their answer was not wrong, it was a personal answer to the question at that point in time.

    As to “young people ought to know the creed,” I thought I might point out that some of us come from traditions (baptists, anabaptists) that don’t place a high value on creeds or their memorization. As the Baptists used to say, “No creed but Christ!”

    Which is not to say that such traditions disagree with the creed, just that it’s not part of how we handle Christian teaching. Just for your information.

    Grace, grace, sweet grace. If it’s good enough to save us, I say it’s good enough to live by in our relationships with one another and I pray for its increase.

The work of IRD is made possible by your generous contributions.

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.