We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Awana Concerns

One reader of this blog alerted me to problems with Awana’s teaching booklets.  She ended up scanning the 3rd Grade, T&T Ultimate Adventure comic book, “Mission: Grace in Action.”  

This comic book’s story is inane and a waste of time for the child.  Make-work activities such as using three colors to write a Bible verse does nothing to aid in memorizing it.  Recording yourself saying the verse and listening to yourself is again make-work with little value.  So many of these types of exercises waste time.  Why Awana can’t just have the study part of this book without the ridiculous comic story is beyond me.

I read through this entire book and was dismayed over a lot of what I discovered is being taught to our children!  The text is often poorly written and confusing, but worse is that there is a lot of false teaching.

What follows is my analysis of bad teaching, false teaching, and poorly written items.  If you are in Awana, I suggest you use solid discernment when using their materials.  I’d also recommend you communicate through your channels to bring this to the attention of the Awana hierarchy.

Page 9.  “Our powerful God created the world and everything in it in six days.  God created all things for His own purposes.  God’s purpose for us it to have a relationship with Him.
What does the Bible say about God’s purpose for creating mankind — was it for a relationship?
The entire Bible says that creating mankind was part of an eternal plan — essentially for His pleasure.  But first and foremost God created mankind for His glory (Isaiah 43:7).  1 Cor. 10:31 says that we are to do everything for the glory of God.  Revelation 4:11 says that because He created us He is “to receive glory, honor and power” from us.  The second purpose for creating mankind was so that mankind could enjoy creation (Ps. 16:11, 84:11, 103:5; Eccl. 2:24-25; Acts 14:17; 1 Tim. 6:17).  There is another purpose for those who are believers and that is the relationship aspect (1 Cor. 1:9).  But to say that “God’s purpose,” meaning the main reason God created us, was for us to have a relationship with Him, is a poor answer to the question.  (On pg. 11 it says, “The reason God created us in His image is so we can have a relationship with Him.  I agree with this statement, in that if mankind was not made in God’s image, He couldn’t have a relationship with us any more than he can have a relationship with the animal kingdom.)

Pages 15, 16.  “God is holy, which means He is perfect, without sin, and always does what is right.”  
While the statement gives attributes of God, it errs by saying this is what “holy” means.  “Holy” means “set apart,” or “sacred.”  “Holy” can indeed include the attributes listed, but they do not define the word.  (This definition is used throughout the book.)

Page 16. This one gets sort of convoluted, so I’m going to quote everything.
“Do you think God sat up in heaven one day and made lists of things He thought should be good and bad?  Actually, that’s not what happened.  Good things are good because God does them.  God is truthful, so telling the truth is good and lying is wrong.  So if you copied you friend’s spelling test, you’d be making your teacher think you know how to spell the words and that’s a lie.  It’s wrong to lie because God does not lie.  Here’s another example:  God is just, so being fair to people is good and being unfair is wrong.”
Apparently this is supposed to be teaching about sin.  Doing what is wrong vs doing what is right may or may not be sin; after all, I can do the wrong way of building a car but that isn’t sinning!  The example says that if God doesn’t do something then neither should we — but as was pointed out to me by the person asking me to examine the text, since God doesn’t sleep then that means we shouldn’t sleep!  This just confuses the child!  Page 17 gives a better definition of sin: “Sin is anything we think, say, or do that disobeys God.

Page 19.  “Ask your parent or another caring adult to write about or draw a time when he or she had trouble making the right (or good) choice, and what makes a choice right or wrong.
If we are trying to teach the children about sin, then this task is ambiguous because a right or wrong choice may not necessarily be sinful, as noted above in my statement about wrong choices to build a car.  This needs to be rewritten to address sin, not right and wrong choices.

Pages 21, 22  "God always gives people what they deserve."  
Well, sorta kinda, in that we all deserve hell but in his mercy he gives grace to those who are saved.  I.e., he gives us what we don't deserve, or he doesn't give us what we deserve - whichever way you want to look at it.  What about David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband? David deserved the death penalty but God spared him.  This statement in the book needs clarification.

Page 22.  Reference Matt. 19:16-17.  “Commandments are what God tells us to DO or NOT TO DO in the Bible.  If the man obeyed all of God’s commandments, he would deserve the reward of eternal life, which is life forever with God in heaven.
This makes it appear that it is possible for a man to obey all the commandments, while the Bible says in no uncertain terms that we all have a sin nature making us unable to obey all the commands.  The point of Jesus telling him what he needed to do was to demonstrate that the man in reality never kept all of the commandments, and the text should explain this.  The text here is dumbing down for simplification, but that just skews things.

Page 23. Because God is just, He has to give us the punishment of death we deserve for our sin.” 
This is a bit skewed.  God doesn’t have to give us the punishment — if He had to give us the punishment then there would be no need for Christ.  What it should say is that “He has to give the punishment of death for sin,” and then explain that said punishment is taken by Christ on our behalf.

Page 29.  “Jesus Christ never sinned, but He died for our sin and came alive again so that we can be alive together with Him and have what’s best for us.
So the reason Christ died was so that we can “have what’s best for us”?!?  Where is this in the Bible?  What if it is best for me to have a nice house and a good car — did Christ die for this?  This needs to be re-written so as to give the real reason for His death— for us to have our sins forgiven and have eternal life.

Page 33.  “God is eternal, which means He has no beginning or end.  God has always been alive, and He will always be alive.”  God has always been “alive"?  That's really a bad choice of words!  "Existed" is the ONLY way to explain it.  If they don't think kids can understand "existed" they could say "He's always been there.”  This “alive” vs “existed” shows up again on p.35, p.40, et al.

Page 34.  “God created you and decided when your life would begin.”
Only two people were created by God: Adam and Eve.  Everyone else is the result of procreation, a process God created.  God KNOWS when our lives will begin, but nowhere in Scripture does it even intimate that God decides who is going to be born when (except for Jesus). 

Page 39.  “God…is always fair.  He must always give people what they deserve.”
This is much the same as the statement on page 23.  If God must give people what they deserve, then He would have had to kill King David, and he couldn’t have Christ pay for our sin!
What should be said is that God is always just, and justice demands that sin be punished.

Page 39.  Again, at the bottom of the page, it says Christ took our punishment so we can “have what’s best for us.”  That is NOT why Christ died!

Page 51.  “…we know that His Word, the Bible, was written down exactly the way He wanted it — true and without error.
This should be corrected to say “when originally written.”  Otherwise when errors are shown to the student, they could be left confused and doubting.  It should be explained about mistakes in transmission and translation, albeit in simple terms, and noting that we do know that there is no important error in our current translations.

Page 57. The Bible also tells us how to have a relationship with Him [God] through believing in Jesus Christ.”
Really?  And where can I find this in Scripture? I can’t, because this is not a true statement.  The Bible tells us how to have salvation through believing in Christ — not how to have a relationship.

Page 58.  “God wrote a letter to you.”  The Bible is NOT God’s “letter to you.”  A letter is a personal correspondence.  God didn’t even write the Bible; He used men to write it.  The Bible is God’s word; it is a book of history (which includes all we need to know about God and salvation through Jesus) and not a personal letter.  Calling it a letter from God is all about feeling “warm fuzzies.”  This is a 100% wrong way to teach children about the Bible.

Page 59. God told John, one of Jesus’ apostles, to write the book of John so that we may believe.”  Nowhere are we told that God told John to write his gospel.  All we can be certain of is that when John decided to record the events, the Holy Spirit carried him along (2 Peter 1:21).
God wrote the Bible…”  Again, God did NOT write the Bible.

Page 64.  “Timothy was probably a teenager when he started teaching God’s Word to others.”  There is absolutely no foundation for such a claim.  Teaching our youth assumptions of the author is very wrong-headed.  Nothing in Scripture substantiates this claim.  We have no idea as to Timothy’s age at any time.

Page 65.  “We cannot change God’s Word to say what we want it to say. We can’t add words to God’s words or take away His words”  Good teaching, but ironic considering that is what this book is doing.

Page 77.  In context of instructions God gives us in Scripture to help us in making good choices to obey God and not sin, it says this:  “You will be happier, because God knows what is best for you and your life!” 
So is being “happier” the reason we obey God?

Page 81.  Again with “The Bible was written by God.”  No it wasn’t!

Page 87.  “We should never try to change any of [what the Bible says] to say what we want it to say.”  Oh, the irony again.

Page 100.  “Jesus is called God’s Son because He has the job of representing God on earth and being in charge of earth for God, just like a son would do for a father.”  A problem with this statement is that Jesus is eternally the Son of God, and even before creation.  It is His role to be the Son whether or not creation took place.  So the reason given for Jesus being called the Son of God is wrong.

Page 104, in the comic itself (another reason this comic is useless).  “It makes me sad that Jesus, the king of the universe, came to earth to save us from our gross sin.” “Yeah, I know. It makes me sad too.”  WHAT?!?!?  So we are teaching our children to be sad that Jesus came to save us?!?!?!  This is a horrid teaching!

Page 105.  But [Jesus] chose to limit his God powers and knowledge to become an man…”  There is a problem with the word “limit” being alone here.  This can get into some pretty deep theological discussion, but I think it would be more appropriate to say something like he “limited the use” of His powers.  This statement shows up again on page 107.

Page 108.  Under definitions, the word “Begotten” is defined as “one and only Son of God.”  This can be confusing for the child, since the word “Begotten” and “beget” is used throughout Scripture of human offspring.  This needs to be defined as what it is, but then explained how with Jesus it isn’t from the union of two people.  It would be nice if the authors used a newer Bible translation.

Page 153.  “The Old Testament says that anybody who keeps all of God’s laws will be saved.”  And where does it say this?  NOWHERE!!!  Throughout Scripture salvation is always by faith, and not by the keeping of the law (Rom. 3:20, Gal. 5:4).

Page 160.  “God gave the Israelites in the Old Testament the law and told them that if they obeyed it perfectly, they would be righteous.”  There is no where in the Bible that it says this, so would this be considered telling the children a lie?  This is again stated on page 183.
Page 172.  “[Jesus] didn’t explain how He saved people until He told Paul.”  If this was true, then how did the thousands become Christians prior to Paul?  Jesus continually stated that those who believed in him would be saved eternally (e.g., John 3, John 6, John 11:25; the last supper where he gives the analogy of his body and blood to the bread and wine, etc.).
Jesus told Paul through the Holy Spirit that when He died on the cross He took everybody’s sins upon Himself.”  The Scripture says that Paul had a personal visit by Jesus in a vision (Acts 9:4-6, 26:15-18), and that he was personally taught by Jesus via revelation (Acts 26:16, Gal. 1:11-12), not that the Holy Spirit taught him.
God gave Christ our sins, and He gives us Christ’s goodness and sinlessness.”  Wrong.  Christ took the punishment for our sins, and God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us.

Page 185.  “God … chose Paul to tell us about His grace.”  Not quite right. Jesus told us about His grace, as did all the apostles.  Paul was one of the apostles to tell us about His grace.

Page 205.  “When [Timothy] was a teenager, he met Paul…”  The Bible does not say how old Timothy was at this time — he may have been in his 20s and still be called “young.”

Page 208.  “The Bible is God’s instruction book for us.”  While the Bible certainly includes instructions for living and for salvation, etc, it is NOT an “instruction book.”  If it was to carry just one description, it would be a “history book.”  But it is more than that, so to call it an “instruction book” really reduces the purpose of God’s Word.

If the 3rd grade text has this many errors and problems, what are the rest like?  What is Awana becoming?!?!?


Anonymous said...

My husband and I used to serve in AWANA. The curriculum definitely had weak points, which we corrected as we went.
One of the biggest problems the curriculum has is that it is addressed to both saved and unsaved children, with nearly no distinction. Such a mixture is impossible to teach, because saved children need DISCIPLING and unsaved children need EVANGELIZING. Those are two very different activities.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I've always had a problem with Awana allowing unbelievers to attend. Children of Christians are ostensibly learning the faith, and are assumed to "proto-Christian" but that isn't the same as children from unbelieving families who have no previous understanding of even the milk of the Christian faith. They tend to use the Awana group to evangelize, which then confuses the message, as you note.

Jim said...

Glenn, excellent article. One thing to note is the youth pastor at Saddleback church and a few others helped to rewrite the Awana manuals. This explains all of the terrible errors. Beth and I used to teach Awana for 2 years and we stopped last year when we left that terrible church.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Thanks Jim,
That DOES explain things!!

Anonymous said...

Glenn and Jim,

Wow, that DOES explain things, doesn't it???!!!

The reckoning that Saddlesore will be facing keeps growing by the day.


Mo Jo said...

"Page 33. “God is eternal, which means He has no beginning or end. God has always been alive, and He will always be alive.” God has always been “alive"? That's really a bad choice of words! "Existed" is the ONLY way to explain it. If they don't think kids can understand "existed" they could say "He's always been there.” This “alive” vs “existed” shows up again on p.35, p.40, et al."

"Existed" might suggest that God had a beginning. God "is" is more accurate. (Exodus 34:14 and John 8:58).
Existed suggests that God came into being.

Mo Jo said...

"Page 33. “God is eternal, which means He has no beginning or end. God has always been alive, and He will always be alive.” God has always been “alive"? That's really a bad choice of words! "Existed" is the ONLY way to explain it. If they don't think kids can understand "existed" they could say "He's always been there.” This “alive” vs “existed” shows up again on p.35, p.40, et al."

Might "exist" suggest that God had a being? Perhaps God "is" might be more accurate. (Exodus 34:14; John 8:58). Exist suggests change, rather than a state of being, since God is immutable - “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6)

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Mo Jo,

I disagree. To say something has always existed is to say it "is" and has "always been."

Martha said...

Some of our friends boast about their leadership in Awana. Boasting in not from our LORD; aside from the pride, why does this program give rewards to those who memorize Scripture verses so they go into the children church store and 'buy' things with their earned tokens? What are they teaching children when they receive a "token" for showing up, a "token" for memorization, a "token" for this or that in the world of religion.

I am sorry here folks, but this in not Christianity, for our rewards are in Heaven with Christ Jesus, not a worldly token system as conducted by the Awana church down the road.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

The only "rewards" I knew about with Awana were trophies for winning the contests -- like spelling bees.

Martha said...

The Awana clubs in our area use a token system to reward its participants with attendance, scripture verse memorization, works, etc. While it appears to be more godly, the reward system reeks of the promotion of pride, spiritual elitism, and worldly entitlement, "see me, I did more than you did, ha, ha...."

I won't address the pride of Christian parents who send their children to Awana clubs, for now "pride" has become the mantra of many a so called believer, not humility.

Sorry Glen, still don't believe the veneer of Christian programs promote the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...


I don't see how Awana is a "veneer of Christian programs," and what I do know of it, with their teaching memorization of verses, etc, they do indeed learn the Gospel.

Anonymous said...

I became frustrated with the program as the children who have not been attending church have a harder time grasping Biblical concepts. Most of our children do not attend weekly or even monthly Bible school. The Sparks group is fine for the younger children, but TNT is difficult for those who have no Biblical foundation. These children are eager but become frustrated as we try and explain what the verses mean. Also one child wanted to be baptized but our leaders never followed through with the child or her parents. I’ve just decided not to be involved in the program.