Ken Ham: “Going to Sunday School is detrimental to the spiritual health of your children [if...]”

Ken Ham makes his case in his “State of the Nation” video

(statement  taken around the 39 minute mark)

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AndyA's picture

that's if that sunday school makes allowances for an old earth and the possibility of evolution. He also states clearly that he is not in favor of getting rid of sunday school, just having some radical surgery in those types of sunday schools. The claim is based on research that shows that among those who left the church in their 20s, those who went to sunday schools were more likely to have doubts regarding various doctrines than those who left the church but did not go to sunday school. He says a lot more good stuff too, i recommend listening to the whole thing and/or reading his new book Already Gone

BryanBice's picture

I haven’t watched the video, but I believe it corresponds to his recent book Already Gone. The book is based on an extensive survey of 1,000 20-somethings who grew up in church & no longer attend. The survey discovers that a significant percentage don’t hold to a literal interpretation of Genesis, esp. chs. 1-2 and do believe in some form of evolution. He discovered that many of these (39.8%) began having doubts in Middle School. In short, his conclusion is that Sunday School failed them (60% attended “often” through their growing up years). The basic argument of the book is for more of an apologetics approach to teaching the Scripture, even to children in Sunday School, so they’ll know how to handle the evolutionary teachings they encounter growing up.

Casually reading the book left me feeling that Ham is overstating his case, and I wondered if there wasn’t more to the story. Then I went to the appendix, which contains the entire survey and its responses. Reading the survey results leads me to question whether Ham’s analysis is accurate.

First of all, I’m not sure he’s targeted the right group. While 26% of the respondents are some form of Baptist, the second largest element (13.6) is Lutheran, then Church of God (8.4), Christian church (7.2) Pentecostal & Church of Christ (6.9 each), AOG (6.6), non-denom (6.1), Presbyterian (4.4), Community Church (3.9), Calvary Chapel (3.2), Bible Church (2.9), C&MA (1.7), EvFree (1.5), and Brethren (.9). I believe his survey would be much more helpful to fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals if he would’ve focused solely on young adults from that demographic. For example, one of the questions was, “Does the Bible contain errors?” and almost 40% said “yes” and another 30% said “Don’t know.” Given the church affiliations (plus the fact these are people who've left), I’m not overly surprised by that.

Secondly, the survey asked why they quit attending church. Given the emphasis of his book, I would expect to see the most common answer being something like, “The Bible’s not really reliable, so why bother.” But only 1.6% said “Bible not true” and another 5% said “Bible not relevant.” So fewer than 7% quit attending because they had an issue with the Bible. Here are the top five answers: Boring service (11.9%), Legalism (11.7), Hypocrisy – leaders (11.1), Too political (9.9), and Self-righteous people (9.2). I find it interesting that Ham doesn’t even really address these reasons in his book. He seems to argue that if we just take an apologetics approach to teaching Genesis in Sunday School then services won’t be boring, preaching won’t be legalistic, leaders won’t be hypocritical, church politics will disappear, and self-righteous people will humble themselves.

Third, even answers to some of the Creation-related questions seem to undercut his thesis. For example, 71.8% believe in Biblical creation; 74.9% believe in the creation of Adam & Eve and the Garden of Eden; 77.3% believe in Noah’s Ark & the global flood; and 57.1% believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old. In addition, 56.2% deny that God used evolution to change animals from one kind to another; 54.3% deny that humans evolved from ape-like ancestors; and 60.8% deny that God used evolution to create human beings. Again, going back to the denominational make-up of the survey respondents, these results are not surprising.

Fourth, the survey asked, “If do not attend [Christmas & Easter services ] (49.2% said they don’t), in what way do you view church today?” 37% (of the 49.2%) said “don’t think of it at all”; 18% - Hypocritical; 14% - Too political; 10.6% - Irrelevant; 8.1% - boring. In other words, only about 50/1000 won’t even bother to attend church at Christmas and Easter because it’s “irrelevant”—which may or may not have anything to do with apologetics. It likely has more to do with a lack of good, Biblical preaching that applies the Scriptures to life.

I obviously haven’t done the in-depth study of the survey that Ham & his associates have, but I would conclude that somewhere around 30% of the churches represented by the survey respondents would hedge on the Genesis account (in fact, 26.6% said they had Sunday School teachers who believed the earth could be millions/billions of years old). That would then lead me to expect a corresponding ratio in answers to the creation-related questions. I would not be surprised that 17% started having doubts about the Bible in Middle School, another 19% in High School, and 4.6% in college. Would you be surprised if 20% of the students in a Christian high school had some doubts about some of what the Bible teaches?

I would then take at face value the stated reasons for leaving and realize that around 90% of those reasons have nothing to do with the church’s teachings. Then I would conclude that those reasons exaggerated the doubts relatively few had. And unfortunately, the stated reasons led the young people away from the church at the very time when those who stay with a good church resolve their doubts.

In conclusion (sorry for the lengthy post), the survey gives some good insight into the thinking of formerly religious 20-somethings, but is marginally helpful to fundamentalist pastors trying to understand 20-somethings who grew up in fundamentalist churches but attend no church today. I would love to see the same survey conducted among that limited demographic.

Kevin Subra's picture

I haven't read Ham's book (and probably will not), but I have viewed the entire video (we even thought it worthy enough to show it to our congregation). Ham is in no way posturing himself against Sunday school, and even to quote this the way you do is honestly misleading by leaving out the context. And listening to the 39 minute mark will not help anyone understand what Ham is saying, and will only cause disdain for someone who is largely on track. (Why do we kick those that attempt to "do" while we sit on the sidelines and do so little?)

Ham's point is that Sunday school has largely degraded to teachers that are unqualified to teach. They are ignorant of the truth and therefore cannot give affirmation to what the truth is. It would directly reflect Paul's warning in 1 Timothy 1:7, where people are teaching who should not be, who are "desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm." His view would also affirm James 3:1, in which we are commanded,/i>, "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment." His issue is with unqualified teachers which actually undermine the truth, not with SS itself. However, most could easily suggest that it would be better to have no SS whatsoever than SS that undermines the Word of God. Ham is not declaring SS wrong, but rather that we should radically revamp our process to aggressively and adequately train any who would teach others BEFORE they are allowed to teach. That is downright Biblical.

Ham points out that in many (most?) churches teachers are recruited on a volunteer, "warm body" basis. This is true in many, many cases. People are teaching who should not be teaching, because they themselves have not been taught adequately to master information. Tragically, we have redefined "teacher" to be someone who can read an adult curriculum lesson to a class, rather than someone who has mastered the information. We spend more time planning a softball tournament than training those that have the greatest eternal impact - teachers.

Though I state again that I haven't read his book, I find his premise to be Biblically sound, reasonable and logical. Teaching should only be done by those trained (2 Tim 2:2), not by any and all who desire to teach but are unqualified to do so (and who are recruited by those that should know better), a practice that the Bible clearly forbids.

Further, Sunday school itself is not a fundamental of the faith. (i>Who cares whether a church has SS or not if they are effectively training disciples? The news headline should be, "Ken Ham challenges churches to radically revamp their Sunday schools by only using trained, qualified teachers," rather than pulling this phrase out of its context and giving a wrong impression.

I strongly believe that Ham is on target, and I have observed for many years as a sitter and a sermonizer that one bane of the church is that too many teach that are unqualified to do so ("grab a book and start a Bible study"), whether in SS or whatever platform (including pulpits and Bible college classrooms). People focus on fuzzy "essentials" (Ham's "trust in Jesus" cliche he uses as an illustration of teachers who cannot answer or counter evolution-based arguments) but ignore the very foundations on which the Bible and gospel rest. Our modern paradigm of teaching has undermined the Word by the very methods we used to instruct people, and by the untrained people that we allow to supposedly teach them.

As a general appeal to all, do yourself a favor and watch this video in its entirety before prematurely condemning or discarding a man who embraces the Word of God and is doing his best to eternally impact the unsaved world and to stimulate the mentally lazy, spiritually weak church. His metaphorical usage of Isaac's wells at the end is easily overlooked when you grasp his primary emphasis of the Church losing its grip on the truth, and helping itself to do just that by using unqualified teachers.

For the Shepherd and His sheep,
Grateful husband of a Proverbs 31 wife, and the father of 15 blessings.

Greg Linscott's picture

It was not my intention to mislead by posting the quote. I actually appreciated all of what he had to say in context- and I think that my use of Ham's words were consistent with the way he used them. His intent with the statement was to grab attention, though he immediately preceded with a caveat (which, by the way, is also included after the 39 minute mark I mentioned). I thought it was worthwhile enough where those who cared would follow up and listen to what he had to say fully.

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Kevin Subra's picture

Great, IF people listen to Ham, rather than drawing conclusions by the title itself.

Thanks, Greg. Good work as always. Just wanting to fill in a bit.

For the Shepherd and His sheep,
Grateful husband of a Proverbs 31 wife, and the father of 15 blessings.