Sunday-school answer

Here’s a Christianese term that recognizes how tempting it is to give a pat answer to a serious question. Sunday-school answers are a simple way of talking about Christianity that assumes that every question can be answered with “Jesus saves!” or “grace!” And in a sense, those are indeed valid answers to many of the big spiritual questions people have.

But those Sunday-school answers don’t truly engage with the complicated and personal nature of the problems we wrestle with. All too often, Christians and people who are curious about Christianity demand more personalized and authentic discussions and responses. It can be monumentally frustrating to share a serious question with someone and get back a 1-word answer or catchphrase that sounds like it was read off a bumper sticker.

Have you ever given a Sunday-school answer to a serious question and got called out on it? What Sunday-school answers rub you the wrong way?

 

Sunday-school answer n. A simplistic or stereotypical answer to a question about with matters of faith. In this way, many of the who/what/where/why/how questions of the Christian faith are answered by a handful of answers such as “Jesus,” “faith,” “grace,” and “love.”
1916 McCormick “What Is the Matter with China?” Forum vol. 56 604 : I listened in Peking to an address by an eminent Protestant missionary on the same subject, under the title of “The Question for China.” The question for China was contained exclusively in the problem of what religion she should have, and her salvation lay in adopting Christianity…. Nevertheless, had anyone asked the Chinese, hardly one could have been found out of the hundreds of millions to give the Sunday-school answer. 1921 Lewis Methods for [Sunday School] Primary Teachers 120 : “We must also remember that the inability of children to keep their attention to the point in question, is illustrated by their tendency to take the first idea that offers itself irrespective of its bearing on the problem.” Who is not familiar with the famous Sunday school answer, “Be good”? 1969 The Lutheran Witness vols. 88–89 333 : Isn’t it true that most of us are really just living up to what we feel is expected of us as church members? The standard Sunday school answer to “What does it mean to be a Christian?” is “Go to church and say your prayers.” Have we progressed very far beyond that? 1990 Willis Developing the Teacher in You 111 : When Mark receives a superficial response he says, “Sunday School answer!” in a disparaging tone of voice. It’s a phrase that I dislike very much, because superficial answers are not unique to Sunday School. 1997 Hunt You Can Double Your Class in Two Years or Less 47 : One person will bravely share something that is not working. Someone else will say, “You just need to pray more.” Another will tell the person, “Just forgive and forget.” … Everyone has simple answers to enormous and complex problems…. This is what gives Sunday school a bad name, when giving a “Sunday school answer” becomes synonymous with giving simplistic, unrealistic, or poorly thought-out answers. 2001 Anderson Preaching with Conviction: Connecting with Postmodern Listeners 135 : “It’s too simplistic, isn’t it?” Jack asked. “It’s a nice, neat answer to a very complicated question. It’s the Sunday school answer to everything. Every child in third grade knows that the way to get straight A’s in Sunday school is to answer ‘Jesus’ to every question that comes along.” 2007 Bell, Dunlop The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the World of Narnia 50 : Children raised in church soon learn the proper “Sunday school answer” for questions, and they can give that answer to adults. But too often, their minds and hearts are a million miles away. 2008 Groeschel It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It 132 : Do you care about those who are without Christ? Before you give me the programmed Sunday-school answer most ministers give, let me help you answer this question honestly 2010 Lawrence Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry 38 : Several boys will quickly blurt out answers without even really looking at the text…. There’s the Sunday school answer—whatever the question, the answer must be Jesus, the cross, sin, or some combination of them all.
  • Cerebral

    In my denomination & area (Baptist, upstate South Carolina) we refer to “Sunday School Answers” not as short, too-simple answers, but rather answers (or comments) that will make you sound like a good Christian but that don’t necessarily reflect your real life. So for example, if the teacher asks, “How do you deal with the temptation of greed?” a Sunday School Answer would be, “When I feel that temptation I read Ecclesiastes 5:10 then pray to the lord for strength, and ask the men of my Life Group to help keep me accountable. And that’s worked really well for me!” when a more honest answer might be, “Probably at least half the time I make greedy decisions without even realizing it, and then afterwards I feel guilty and pray for forgiveness.”
    Sometimes around here this is also called “churchy answers” or “being too churchy”.

    • Good point! I will factor in your additional comments when I revise this definition.