Jesus vs Santa Claus

the reason for the season

I’ve hesitated to write about the Jesus vs Santa topic because it can be a surprisingly divisive topic in church and family cultures. However, the holiday season is upon us and I think it’s interesting and even helpful to hear differing perspectives on how parents handle the issue. I would love to hear your perspective as well.

Here’s mine.

The church cultures in which Mollie and I raised our kids have been theologically conservative, highly biblically literate, and conducive to sincere devotion in following Jesus. I got the impression over the years that our family held the minority position in those churches in that we openly practiced the Santa tradition.

For some no-Santa Christians, the idea of Christians practicing the Santa tradition can seem incomprehensible. I don’t care to sway anyone to my position, but for what it’s worth I thought I would share my reasons why my wife and I chose to follow this secular holiday tradition. Our reasons may surprise you, because they ultimately have to do with Jesus.

Following are my responses to the most common reasons I’ve heard for not observing the Santa tradition:

1) We want Jesus to be the focus of Christmas in our family
Indeed. Of course we wanted this for our family as well. However, it’s not an either/or issue. I know this because I was raised in a Christian home that kept the Santa tradition, yet I and all of my sibs love Jesus today, and none of us believes in Santa Claus anymore. I can remember as a kid that, even though my imagination excited me about Saint Nick, my parents also taught us that the real reason for Christmas was the birth of Jesus. I believed them, and it made perfect sense to me.

I definitely got the idea that Jesus and Santa Claus were somehow on the same team.

Later, as a parent, I had what I saw as a strategic reason for keeping the Santa tradition. From the time my children were small, of course they learned about the story of Jesus and His birth. However, I knew they could only understand so much, and I certainly couldn’t expect them to sit around and stare at their navels pondering Jesus all Christmas season. So we enlisted Santa Claus to help make the season of Jesus’s birth more exciting for them. We knew they would eventually drop the Santa belief as they left childhood, but we believed there would remain with them very positive feelings and fun memories that they would carry with them into adulthood. The reason behind it all would always be Jesus.

I believe this has proved to be true.

2) I’m not comfortable lying to my kids
I completely agree with this one. Our kids assumed Santa was real mostly because of songs and stories and the input of extended family members. Christmas mornings pretty much convinced them. However, as they got older and directly questioned us, we made it a point to never to lie to them.

However, I used it as a way to encourage critical thinking. I told them that I wanted them to figure it out on their own. I told them that all of their lives people would tell them things that were not true and that they needed to learn how to discover what is true. This wasn’t a very satisfying answer to them, but then it became sort of a game. They would begin to give me arguments and I would try to argue the other side. If their argument was a good one, I would say “that’s a good argument!”

More importantly, for each child I also used this moment to underscore the truth, saying something like: “I will tell you this – the story of Jesus and everything in the Bible is definitely true, and Mom and I believe it.” I wanted them to be rock solid about that.

I think there is something very healthy about a child learning to critically engage in figuring out the truth, even when it is against his or her interest to do so.

3) Christmas is a pagan holiday. Christmas trees and Santa Claus have pagan origins.
I have always thought this was a lame argument for several reasons. Primarily, regardless of what December 25 meant many hundreds of years ago, today, in America, it is not a pagan holiday. For followers of Jesus it is a remembrance and celebration of the birth of Jesus.

True, no one knows the date of Jesus’s birth. This is also irrelevant. So the church randomly picked a day to celebrate the birth of God’s Messiah. Or maybe the date is not so random, and the church picked a popular pagan holiday and redeemed it to become a holiday celebrating the true Creator. I just don’t see how that’s a bad thing. Even today many Christians attempt to do the same thing with Halloween.

Christmas is arguably not a biblically condoned holiday, but that does not make it a harmful practice. Behind this objection there seems to be a concern that all of Christendom is somehow accidentally participating is false worship because of the holiday’s origins. But worship is intentional and conscious. I have yet to see biblical support for the idea of someone accidentally worshiping Satan. I’m willing to be proven wrong on this.

4) I don’t want to encourage materialism and selfishness in my kids.
Another great reason. We didn’t want to encourage those things either. I probably don’t need to say much here though. I think we all recognize that Christmas has become very commercialized and money driven. Many people go deeper into credit card debt during the Christmas season. Not good.

I’ve heard a lot of great strategies that families use to get around this. Some don’t do gift giving at all. Some do, but make a point to give to a needy family each year as well. Some work at a shelter as a family as part of their Christmas season, serving those less fortunate than they are. Some do gift giving but limit the dollar amount that can be spent. Please feel free to share your ideas or traditions in the comment section!

But as for the topic at hand, it certainly hasn’t been my experience that observing the Santa tradition will necessarily encourage materialism and selfishness. My opinion is that the example of the parents over the long haul is foremost in encouraging or discouraging a materialistic lifestyle. In fact, ironically, Santa only exists because of the generosity of parents toward their children. When children figure out that it was mom and dad all along, this arguably encourages gratitude and models selfless giving to them.

On the positive side, there are a couple of other reasons that proved to be quite important to Mollie and me when we were determining what our family culture would be around Christmastime:

Extended family
I was raised by devoted Christian parents. Had Mollie and I refused to practice the Santa tradition on “spiritual grounds” I think it would have created an unnecessary offense against my parents and siblings. There were other things more important to us that my parents didn’t understand, like breastfeeding, homeschooling, and eating a whole food/organic diet. Creating a rift over something as fun and harmless as Santa Claus would have been just been super-annoying to my family.

To see it from my mom’s perspective: she and her 6 siblings grew up in St. Louis with an alcoholic father. As a result she grew up impoverished, and quit school after the 8th grade to start working. She told us that when they were young, she and her siblings would sometimes each receive an orange for Christmas.

So when she married my dad, I think she tried to make holidays with her own children everything she missed as a child. I have wonderful holiday memories from childhood, and I still love the Christmas season. I think my mom would’ve been hurt had I implied that I saw her efforts as harmful.

Jesus versus Santa

Christmas morning with my siblings, 1962

Joyful, Joyful
In our family, Mollie and I wanted to tip the scales in favor of making the Christian holidays transcendent and irresistible; something that our kids would look forward to all year long. Santa Claus is unnecessary. If you’re a parent and you don’t include Santa in your repertoire of holiday traditions, I fully respect your decision. However, I would encourage you to figure out ways to make the holiday season an exciting and transcendent time for your kids, so that they will grow up loving the season of Jesus’s birth. Ultimately, we all hope to see our kids continue to love the person of Jesus Himself.

For me the bottom line on Santa is: he’s a harmless, if shallow, part of American culture.
If we can figure out ways to use harmless cultural traditions to our advantage,  I think that’s a good thing.

My illustrated kids’ storybook, The True Story of Christmas, tells the story of Jesus in fidelity to the Bible, beginning with creation and the fall. Orders should be received by Dec 5 to ensure delivery by Christmas.
(Or, please email me directly me with late orders at scottnmollie@yahoo.com.)

 

 

 

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How Wounded People Have Shaped Culture

fatherless atheists, defective father hypothesis

Have you ever wondered about the personal histories of people who have influenced the world in negative ways – philosophically or politically? I have. I’ve harbored a long-held suspicion that influential people who have shaped the world for the worse have generally done so from a position of personal woundedness.

The point of the question is not to establish a reason to judge people or to create division. But I think it’s an interesting and significant question. If anything, establishing such a connection may help foster understanding.

It may also shed light on issues that we may assume to be intellectual issues but which may in fact originate with psychological issues rooted in personal history.

In my opinion it also underscores the importance of marriage, loving family, and the meeting of the relational needs of our fellow human beings.

I’ve finally gotten around to doing a little research, and what I’ve learned is fascinating. We know the names and contributions of world-shapers, but what is less well known is that the stories of those who’ve made a negative impact are very often deeply tragic.

Who is to Say What is “Negative”?
This is a fair question. Let me hasten to add a caveat here. I am unapologetically biased in my opinion about what constitutes a “negative influence” in the world. Justifying my opinion is probably a topic for a separate post. I recognize that some of you may consider what I see as a negative contribution to be a positive one. I also recognize that the contribution of many the folks mentioned below is mixed.

However, I don’t believe it matters. Regardless of what you think about a person’s contribution to the world, the facts of their personal history remain, and, I believe, shaped the course of their lives.

Following is a list of people who have shaped the world in the modern era; especially in the world of academia. There is overlap in these categories as most of these people are/were atheists.

Atheist thinkers
In a recent movie review I mentioned the connection between well known atheists and the “father wound.” Psychologist Paul Vitz has written a book on this connection entitled, Faith of the Fatherless, which I recommend. Here are arguably the most notable atheist names in history:

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Popularly known for his pronouncement, “God is dead.” Nietzsche’s father, to whom he was very attached, died just before his fifth birthday. After his father’s death he lived in a religious household consisting of his mother, sister, paternal grandmother, and two paternal aunts, until he went away to school at age 14.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Prominent British atheist philosopher and author, notably published a collection of essays entitled, Why I Am Not a Christian. From an aristocratic family, Russell’s mother died when he was two years old. His father died two years later. Russell was then raised by his paternal grandparents, Lord John Russell and Lady Russell. However, his grandfather died when he was six years old, leaving him to be raised by his puritanical grandmother and a succession of nannies.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
Influential 20th century French atheist philosopher, playwright, and novelist. Sartre’s father died when he was 15 months old. He grew up very close and emotionally invested with his mother. When his mother remarried in Sartre’s 12th year, she moved into an apartment with her new husband, and Sartre stayed with his grandparents with whom he was not close.

Albert Camus (1913-1960)
French atheist philosopher, author, and journalist. His father died in battle during World War 1 when Camus was 1 year old. Camus was raised by his mother, who was illiterate and cleaned houses for a living, and subsequently grew up in an economically depressed environment. In 1937 Camus was denounced as a Trotskyite and expelled from the French Communist Party, at which time he joined the French anarchist movement.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1919-1995)
Perhaps America’s best-known atheist before her death, she led the lawsuit to successfully ban prayer in public schools during the 1960s. According to her son, Madalyn hated her father and unsuccessfully attempted to kill him on at least one occasion. The reason for this intense hatred has not been disclosed.

Richard Dawkins (1941- )
British “New Atheist,” evolutionary biologist, and author. A critic of all religion and especially Christianity, Dawkins is on record stating that the teaching of Christian doctrine to children is child abuse. He attended a religious boarding school at age 9 and experienced sexual abuse at the hands of his Latin master while separated from his parents.

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)
British “New Atheist,” journalist, and author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens grew up in an intact family and also went off the boarding school at age 8. His father was a naval officer and Hitchens claims to have “few clear memories of him,” referring to him as “the Commander.” He was close with his mother, who eventually had an affair with a former Anglican priest. The two lovers subsequently ended their lives together in a suicide pact.

Daniel Dennett (1942- )
American “New Atheist” philosopher, writer, and cognitive scientist. Dennett’s father worked as a counter-intelligence agent for the US government. The family moved to Lebanon during World War 2. His father died in an unexplained plane crash while away on a Middle East mission when Dennett was 5 years old.

Political leaders
Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)
Leader of the Bolshevik Revolution and architect of the Soviet state. Third of six children in a happy family, when Lenin was 16 his father died of a brain hemorrhage. He renounced his belief in God soon thereafter. 5 months later his elder brother was hanged for his part in conspiring against the Tsar.

Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)
Soviet dictator, orchestrator of the Great Purge against political rivals, and perpetrator of the worst man-made famine in human history. The precise number is unknown, but by some estimates Stalin presided over the deaths of 20 million people. Originally trained for the priesthood, in his 30s Stalin rejected his family name (Djugashvili) and changed it to the Russian word for “man of steel.” Stalin had a very harsh upbringing. His father was an alcoholic and often severely beat him and his mother.

Mao Zedong (1893-1976)
Communist leader and father of the People’s Republic of China. Mao presided over the Great Leap Forward of 1958 (the ensuing famine of which caused the deaths of some 30 million peasants,) and the Cultural Revolution of 1966 (which resulted in some million and a half deaths and destroyed much of China’s cultural heritage.) Mao reportedly hated his father, who was a tyrant and regularly and severely beat him and his three siblings.

Adolph Hitler (1889-1945)
Leader of the Nazi Party, Chancellor and fuehrer of Germany, and initiator of World War 2. Hitler presided over the Nazi Holocaust during which 6 million Jews were executed – nearly two thirds of Continental Europe’s Jewish citizenry. Additional victims included communists, the mentally and physically disabled, homosexuals, blacks, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and political opponents. As a boy, Hitler’s father severely and regularly beat him; “every day” according to his sister. He was one of 6 children, 3 of whom died in infancy. As an 11 year old boy Hitler was deeply affected by the death of his younger brother, Edmund. Hitler’s antagonistic relationship with his father ended 3 years later when his father died unexpectedly. There was no father figure in his life after this.

Opinion shapers
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis. While his father was not abusive, apparently Freud considered him to be a weak man and a disappointment; lacking in courage and unable to provide for his family. Furthermore, according to Paul Vitz, in two letters as an adult Freud writes that his father, Jacob, was “a sexual pervert and that Jacob’s own children suffered as a result.”

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
British naturalist and author of the vastly influential On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The pure naturalism of microbes-to-man evolutionary theory made materialism (atheism) an intellectually respectable option. Darwin’s mother died when he was 8. He was raised by his sisters until he went off to school at age 9. His relationship with his imposing father was ambivalent. He once wrote, “To my deep mortification my father once said to me, ‘you care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat catching and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family’.”

Feminist leaders
Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)
American birth control activist, sex educator, author, nurse, and racist eugenics proponent. Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the US and founded the American Birth Control League, which became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Sanger grew up in an impoverished home headed by an alcoholic father. She was the 6th of 11 children. Her mother went through 18 pregnancies in 22 years, (including 7 miscarriages,) before dying at the age of 40.

Gloria Steinem (1934- )
American feminist, political activist, and journalist. Steinem was a leading figurehead for the feminist movement in the 60s and 70s and co-founder of Ms. Magazine. Perhaps her best known quote is, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” When Steinem was 10 years old her parents divorced and her father left, leaving her to care for her mentally ill mother.

Bella Abzug (1920-1998)
American feminist, lawyer, congressional representative, and social activist. Abzug was also a leading activist during the 60s and 70s. In her later life she became an influential leader at the United nations working to support womens’ equality around the world. Abzug’s father died when she was 13. She went to the synagogue every morning for a year to recite the traditional mourner’s prayer. This was in defiance of the orthodox synagogue’s tradition that only sons recite the prayer.

Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012)
American feminist thinker and author. Firestone is less well known than the others listed here but she was a central figure in the early development of radical feminism. Her book, The Dialectic of Sex, published in 1970, has continued to be influential in feminist thought, and is also considered to be an early “post-genderist” work. In the book she argues that it is the biological role of pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing that keeps women oppressed. She envisioned the abolition of the nuclear family with its oppressive parent-child relationship, and doing away with the maternal instinct. She envisioned artificial wombs, and collective child-rearing. Not surprisingly, Firestone’s relationship with her controlling, orthodox Jewish father was wildly antagonistic.

Summary
One would be justified in asking if fatherlessness was typical in past centuries, or if the family dynamic was dysfunctional for most people. Author Paul Vitz answers this question by providing a contrasting list of theistic thinkers and influencers. In virtually every case these theists were raised in nurturing, loving environments. When a parent was lost at an early age, relatives or friends stepped up as affirming father figures. Examples Vitz gives include Blaise Pascal, Edmund Burke, William Paley, William Wilberforce, Soren Kierkegaard, G. K. Chesterton, Albert Schweitzer, Karl Barth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

It would be wrong to assume that all atheists today grew up with a dysfunctional parent relationship. Atheism has now become a mainstream and academically respectable option. However, I remain convinced that children have a God-ordained right to be nurtured by their married biological parents whenever possible. If you are a parent I hope these stories will strengthen your resolve to stay a loving course in your marriage and parenting.

Happy Father’s day to all the dads reading this! May you be a blessing to your children!

What Happened at Loveland’s Fire & Ice Festival

Mona Lisa public art Loveland CO

Actually, a lot happened, with lots of local sculptors and musicians, but I’m going to tell you about a community art event that I and my church, Beggars’ Gate, put on there.

If you’ve been following this blog for long, you know how troubled I am over how divided and uncivil our nation has become. I got an idea for a project that would bring diverse festival-goers together in a fun, creative process that would end in an exciting collaborative result.

With my peeps at church and the Festival organizers on board, we contacted the owner of a boarded-up building downtown. He gave us permission to beautify his blank wall. Already there was lots of trust going around.

I should mention that Fire & Ice is the city of Loveland’s annual Valentine’s Day festival. Valentine’s Day is kind of a big deal here in Loveland, Colorado.

Here’s how it worked:
We laid out a giant 13 x 15 foot grid of 12 inch squares on the wall and painted a gold frame around it. We numbered the squares 1 thru 195. On my studio floor I transferred a (secret) design to 195 wooden foot square tiles. So each tile had part of giant drawing on it. I designated how each area of each tile must be painted in order to make this work: “L” for light, “M” for medium, and “D” for dark paint. Plus a few rare tiles with white, black, and red areas.

At the festival, our small army of volunteers instructed festival-goers in the process. Some of the tiles were impossible to mess up, provided the right color values were used, so even very small children and people with disabilities could (and did!) participate.

It was crazy and fun!

Loveland Fire and Ice Festival

Unfortunately, this being our first time, there was a lot of guessing and estimating going on. We ran out of tiles and completed the image before the end of the second festival day. But Fire and Ice is a three day festival. So…one of my peeps ran out and purchased a stack of floor tiles. Another one cut some that needed cutting until we had another 100 blank squares. We contacted the building owner again for permission to attach a second mural to his wall. I worked into the wee hours to put together a (much simpler!) second design, and we were all ready for day 3 on Sunday.

A pastor friend, (who ended up hanging most of the Mona Lisa image on Saturday,) must’ve been struck with some deep thoughts while nailing up the creative expressions of nearly 200 people. What follows is what he wrote when he went home Saturday night. He read it to our little Beggars’ Gate congregation on Sunday morning. His name is John Meyer, and here are his thoughts:

The Mona Loveland

What do you see?

This community art piece is a great picture of one of the good things we believe about life.

Everyone is an individual, with different talents, different experiences, different likes. It is those differences that make this picture fun, interesting, and a bit unexpected.

But there is a bigger picture that comes together in a way that makes a beautiful whole out of all the individuality. It happened because each individual brought his or her own expression within the plan of an artist who had an intention from the beginning. It would have been nearly impossible for hundreds of individuals to make the Mona Loveland by talking among themselves. But by accepting (even without understanding) the greater plan of the artist, the unique expression of each individual created something that included everyone, and has a greater meaning and beauty that only exists because everyone came together.

We think this is a good picture of God’s plan for life. Each of us is made wonderfully unique by Him. Just as no two snowflakes are alike, and no two sets of fingerprints are alike, every person has unique and wonderful traits that are found in no other life.

But none of us are meant to be a complete picture alone. We are made for community. The Designing Artist has had a plan from the beginning to allow us to experience both our individuality and the greater good of a community living together.

It is from both living out who we are, and expressing that uniqueness within the “lines” and plan the Designing Artist has for each life, that allows us to experience the beautiful picture of human community to come together.

Our goal is to help individuals appreciate their own uniqueness, and to understand the plan of God that allows all of us to experience His good and bigger picture together!”

Beggars’ Gate Church
Loveland, Colorado
beggarsgate.com

blg-loveld-monalisa-fnl

The finished mural: “The Sweet Heart City’s” own Mona Lisa, painted by local citizens…

I want to extend a big THANK YOU to the army of volunteers who enabled this event to happen for the community. They gave time, energy, and resources to make this event free for everyone else. ‘God bless em’ all!

If you’re new to this blog, please visit my KIDS’ STORYBOOK WEBSITE and sign up in the blue box to hear about my upcoming new storybooks!

Love peace dove mural scott freeman

This is the completed second mural.

New Video Release: The Reason for Christmas

From a human perspective, the coming of Jesus changed the course of human history. From a divine perspective, the sending of Jesus was the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s long-awaited promises, and His final answer to human pain, suffering, and all disunity, including the most profound division of all, which is death.

While on earth, Jesus preached the arrival of His kingdom and the promise of spiritual rebirth and resurrection. We see this now in partial fulfillment, and those who believe look forward to the future “uniting of all things, in heaven and on earth, in the Messiah.” The Judeo-Christian scriptures refer to this as the explicit will and plan of God (Eph 1:7-10.) This plan is in keeping with the Bible’s description of God as Life, Light, and Love.

The specificity and verifiability of biblical prophecy is unique in the world. For example the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm that the book of Isaiah was indeed written and virtually unchanged for hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus. As knowledge advances in the fields of textual criticism, archaeology, and science, the case for the reliability for the Judeo-Christian scriptures becomes better, not worse. For the honest seeker, the 21st century is a great time to be alive.

A couple of years ago I created a short video with the help of a couple of friends. The video was designed to be an intro for one of my live painting performances, themed around Christmas. Last weekend I performed this piece again and realized that the video could also be viewed as a stand-alone piece, so I am putting it out on Youtube.

If you would be so kind as to view it, this would help my Youtube rankings! I think it might also encourage you. Plus my friend Linda Joy has a really cool accent.

Feel free to share this. If you would like to show it before a large group, such as a church congregation, I would appreciate it if you would let me know. I would like for you to credit me by using my kids’ book website, if you wouldn’t mind: http://www.BigPicturePublishing.com

Speaking of my storybook website. I’m still fulfilling orders for my newest book, The True Story of Christmas. (It is favorably reviewed in the current issue of World magazine!) While this book does not parallel the video, it does tell the Christmas story in the context of the big picture. But it doesn’t include creepy, unusual Christmas imagery like the video does. Like this:

nebuchadnezzars-dream

Image of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as interpreted by the Hebrew prophet Daniel.    From the video, The Reason for Christmas – artwork by Scott Freeman

Okay. Now you know you have to watch the video. You could also subscribe to my Youtube channel while you’re at it.

Video Credits:
Writing, graphic design, and artwork by Scott Freeman
Video editing by Bree Hottinger
Voice acting by Linda Joy

Thanks for your support!
You can view my original children’s storybooks HERE.

Storybooks as Gifts? Yes! (Time to Order.)

watercolor-Scott Freeman

Three years ago I launched a kids’ storybook company. As an artist, writer, and father of five I became very excited about the possibility of producing beautifully illustrated storybooks that would help parents and grandparents instill and reinforce a biblical worldview in the children they love.

One thing that is different about my company is that it is all online, through my website. Books are printed “on demand,” as they are ordered, which means I’m not selling my books through stores. (I tried that with my first book, Naomi’s Gift, and it wore me out!) I hope ordering through my website will be more convenient for you as well.

I’m sending this post out now because Christmas is coming, and if you are thinking of giving a storybook as a gift, now would be a great time to order to ensure delivery in time for Christmas! (The official ordering deadline for my storybooks in hardcover is December 3rd.)

My newest book is called, The True Story of Christmas. I wasn’t able to deliver this book in time for Christmas last year, so if you passed on it then, it’s ready to go now.

The concept behind The True Story of Christmas:
Our family has accumulated a nice collection of Christmas books over the years. But I saw a place for a beautifully illustrated Christmas storybook for kids that would
1) place Christmas in the context of the bigger picture and explain why Jesus was born, and
2) tell the Christmas story in fidelity to the biblical narrative.

The True Story of Christmas is the result. The book begins with the story of God’s good creation and the subsequent fall of man, and frames Christmas as part of God’s plan to “fix His broken world”:

“The story of Christmas is about how God still loves us.
Christmas is about His good plan to create a way for us
to receive His love, light, and life again.”

The story continues, briefly introducing children to the nation of Israel and the Hebrew prophets, building anticipation for the coming of a promised child who would grow up to bring salvation and establish a good and eternal kingdom.

prophets watercolor storybooks bible

As for fidelity to the biblical narrative, much of our understanding of the Christmas story comes to us from extra-biblical traditions, Christmas carols, and greeting cards. Without sounding picky or pretentious, The True Story of Christmas aims to remain true to the biblical account while retaining the excitement and charm of the Christmas story.

Perhaps the most noticeable example of an extra-biblical tradition would be the Magi arriving at the manger on the night of Jesus’s birth, rather than at the house of Jesus as a small child in Bethlehem, as the scriptures say.

Watercolor-The True Story of Xmas

Watercolor illustrations of the shepherds, and the wise men, from The True Story of Christmas.

Here are a couple of customer reviews that made me happy:

“This is a remarkable book. It is a children’s book and his presentation of the Christmas story is presented in a way that will be very engaging for children. But the book is also a simple, powerful summary of the whole theme of redemption. It is a good read for anyone. I also love the illustrations, and the Christmas Carol at the end. Really, this is a book every Christian could read through at Christmas to get a reset on what it is we have to celebrate.” – JM

“This book is wonderful and the very best Christmas storybook I have ever read or seen! Everyone should have a copy of this. The script and the artwork are amazing!” – CT

CLICK HERE to order The True Story of Christmas!

Some other Christmas Items:
For those interested, this year I was able to upload some new designs for Christmas cards on the Zazzle site that Mollie and I share. This is a site that takes our original artwork and puts it on nice quality cards and other products. Visit our site and browse around. Also, as a gift idea, I will mention that I have ordered coffee mugs from Zazzle, and they came out GREAT! You can check out my coffee mug designs on the site as well. panda-mug

As you will see, some of the Christmas cards (as well as some everyday cards) use imagery from my kids’ books. Below are some of the new Christmas cards:

scotts-christmas-cards

CLICK HERE to visit our Zazzle store.

An update on my storybook business:
If you’ve been subscribed to my BigPicturePublishing.com site for long, you may have noticed that I did not release a new storybook this year. The reason is that 2015 was an unusually trying year for Mollie and me as we both lost very close family members and experienced a number of other difficulties. Consequently we’ve taken a break from the stress of self-employment for a while, and are both working full time for the first time in 15 years. This has been a great time of catching our breath and catching up, but unfortunately has not allowed me much time to work on new books.

However, my next title, The Friendly City, is written and ready to illustrate. I’m quite excited about it and I’ll keep you posted as the painting begins. I think I’m getting close to being able to start the artwork. If you haven’t already done so, please visit the BigPicturePublishing.com site and sign up in the blue box to receive notification of when new books are ready, as well as an occasional blog post. Signing up does not obligate you purchase anything.

As the world grows more confusing for children and more hostile to followers of Jesus, it’s more important than ever that we instill and reinforce a biblical worldview in the kids that are in our care. I would love to play a part in that task by providing great tools for parents and grandparents. CLICK HERE to see descriptions of all my kids’ storybooks.

Thank you again for your interest and support!
Love rules,

Scott Freeman

Did Jesus Become Sin?

2 Cor 5:21 - "sin" or a "sin offering"?

Part of what defines Evangelicalism is the belief in the authority and reliability of the Bible. As with all subcultures, American evangelical church culture has developed certain beliefs through repetition that may or may not be correct. This post will examine one of those beliefs. I don’t see this issue as critical or disastrous to one’s faith, but I now think it affects how one views the God of the Bible.

The question
The issue in question comes from the singular usage of a phrase that the apostle Paul employs in a letter to the church at Corinth:

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:21)

It has become a widespread evangelical belief that part of the mechanics of mans’ salvation is that in order to pay the debt for our sin, Jesus literally somehow “became sin” on the cross, suffering the punishment we deserved, even enduring separation from His Father for a brief time. This is understood to be part of the terrible price that had to be paid in order for Jesus to secure the salvation of sinful humanity. This idea has many respectable and orthodox proponents, foremost among them being Billy Graham, whom I deeply respect. This idea has been central to Reverend Graham’s presentation of the gospel for decades.

I didn’t have a problem with this idea until a few years ago. One morning I was sitting in church, listening to a pastor friend articulate this article of evangelical belief. But he went into a bit more detail, taking the idea to its logical conclusion, and suddenly, I felt that what I was hearing wasn’t true. Here’s what he said:

“…(Jesus) became the adulterer. He became the pedophile. He became the nasty…”

Well…when you put it that way…

I went home and studied the issue for myself. I wondered if there was a better way to understand Paul’s words “made to be sin.” Perhaps this was one of those ideas that gets passed down without having been critically examined. What follows is what I found. You decide for yourself.

I should state that I am not a theological liberal, and that I consider the Judeo-Christian scriptures to be God’s inspired and authoritative revelation to man. My aim is to understand and harmonize what the whole of scripture says, not to get it to say what I think it should say. In interpretation, my aim is to understand a biblical author’s meaning, operating from the underlying assumption that the entirety of scripture is internally consistent.

So…what was Paul’s meaning?
The passage in question illustrates why biblical inerrancy and biblical literalism are not synonymous terms. It is true that in 2 Cor 5:21 the Greek literally says that God made Jesus “to be sin.” However, I now contend that there are strong reasons why we can know that this is not what Paul literally meant, and that it is therefore appallingly incorrect to say, “He became the adulterer. He became the pedophile…” We never see apostolic teaching saying anything like this, 2 Cor 5:21 being the sole exception. The singularity of the phrase is the first red flag.

By contrast, if there is anything we can know with certainty about Jesus from the scriptures, it is that He was and is the sinless, spotless, Lamb of God (1 Pet 2:22; Heb 4:15; 1 Jn 3:5.) At no point did He take on a sin nature, nor is it necessary to believe this was essential in order for His sacrifice to secure our salvation. Furthermore, we know that YHWH doesn’t change, and that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8.) We must allow scripture to interpret scripture where the meaning of a passage is uncertain, as this one is.

As with all conundrums in the Bible, an understanding of its Jewish context is always essential to understanding what is being said. In regards to this question, the Jewish Tanakh (old testament) provides the foundation for properly understanding the sacrificial death of the Jewish messiah. This is not speculation. Indeed, one can argue that His sacrificial death was in view from the beginning, and that many old testament Jewish practices prefigure and foreshadow the redemptive, messianic fulfillment of the acts of Jesus.

There is ample reason to believe that the meaning Paul had in mind was, “He made Him who knew no sin to be a sin offering on our behalf…”

1) The sacrifice of Jesus was SUBSTITUTIONARY, as is prefigured in the Mosaic Covenant. There is no logical necessity or scriptural justification for saying that a sacrifice actually becomes guilty or sinful. If the Passover sacrifice was a prophetic picture of the better sacrifice to come in Jesus, (and it was: Heb 10:1; 1 Cor 4:7,) then in it we can see the nature of a sacrifice: substitutionary and spotless. Furthermore, in Lev 6:25‐27 we see the sacrifice remained holy before, during, and after the sacrifice was made. So it was with the spotless Lamb of God. The sins of the people are imputed/attributed to the sacrifice. The sacrifice must be innocent and free of all guilt to be acceptable, not so that it can literally “become sin,” but so that it can be offered in the place of the guilty. It becomes a sin offering.

2) There are many passages that refer to Jesus’ sacrifice as a “sin offering,” and it seems correct to me to say that Paul had this in mind when he used the shorthand Hebraism, “made to be sin.” (Hebraism = A linguistic feature typical of Hebrew occurring especially in another language.) Examples include:

> “So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without (reference to) sin…” (Heb 9:28)

> “And He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time…For by one offering He has perfected for all time…” (Heb 10:10-14)

> “For Christ also died for sins once for all, (the) just for (the) unjust, in order that He might bring us to God…” (1 Pet 3:18 NASB. The substitutionary nature of the sacrifice is very clear here.)

> “…sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh [referring to the incarnation] and (as an offering) for sin [referring to the atoning sacrifice], He condemned sin in the flesh,..” (Ro 8:3 NASB)

> “Yet it was the will of YHWH to bruise him…when he makes himself an offering for sin.” (Isa 53:10 RSV)

3) Perhaps most convincingly, the Septuagint’s use of the Greek word hamartia, translated as “sin” in 2 Cor5:21, supports the contention that Paul had “sin offering” in mind. When referring to sin offerings in the Tanakh, Jewish translators often used the Greek word hamartia in the Septuagint translation. We know that Paul and the apostles often quoted the Septuagint in their writings, as it was familiar to Greek-speaking Jews, (even though there were technically better translations available.) It seems reasonable in light of the whole of scripture that in this one verse in 2 Cor, Paul was simply employing the Septuagint’s use of hamartia to mean “sin offering.”

4) The wording itself in 2 Cor 5:21 is something of a parallelism, supporting the substitutionary nature of the Messiah’s sacrifice: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (a) that which was sinless became a sin offering; so that (b) that which was unrighteous could become righteousness in Him. In other words, He didn’t actually become sin, and we didn’t actually become righteousness – these things are imputed. We are counted as righteous “in Him.”

5) Finally, some may argue that, while Jesus was indeed a spotless sacrifice, it was necessary for Him to “become sin” in some way in order for Him to fully identify with us and secure our redemption. Similarly, some argue (incorrectly, in my view) that Jesus had to suffer in hell, or die spiritually, or endure separation from the Father in order to fully pay for the sins of the world. But it isn’t so. The scriptures explicitly say it is the blood of Jesus that secures our redemption. And His blood alone was and is sufficient because He is the eternal, incarnate Creator of all flesh, and He remained sinless in the flesh. As Creator, ultimate value resides with Him. It is neither logically nor scripturally possible for a holy God to “become the adulterer/pedophile.” Nor was it necessary:

You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot,…” (1 Pet 1:18.)

In fact, Paul describes precisely the extent to which our loving and holy Creator humbled Himself in order to secure our salvation:

…(Jesus) emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Php 2:7,8.)

But notice that Paul stops there. For the sinless Son of God to unjustly choose to die a humiliating, tortuous, criminal’s death demonstrates mind-bending love and humility. It is not necessary, and I would even say it is wrong, to embellish the story further by adding that Jesus literally became sinful, because the scriptures do not say this.

God is light and in Him is no darkness at all – 1 John 1:5
I think we can all confidently agree that the Bible says that Jesus “became a sin offering” in every full and complete sense. By contrast, we can only say that Jesus “became sin” in some figurative, qualified way, (which is what I believe Paul was doing.) Therefore, should say this at all without qualification?

The incarnation – the act of God becoming human – has many implications. Because human beings were made in God’s image, God could humble Himself to become human without violating His essential character. God could not become a monkey or a manatee, for example. This is a mind-blowing truth, illuminating the possibilities of what God created human beings to be. However, the incarnate Jesus entered into a fallen world where sin and its effects had damned the entire human race to disunity, destruction, and death. His life, death, and resurrection were God’s provision to restore us to life in Him. The scriptures repeatedly describe our life after spiritual rebirth as a process of being “conformed to the likeness of Jesus” (Ro 8:29; Eph 4:22-24; Php 2:1-5; 1Pet 1:14,15.)

Jesus arrived announcing the kingdom of God. He specifically claimed to have come in order that we might have life, and that He might reconcile us to our Heavenly Father. His life perfectly reflected the sinless beauty, glory, mercy, love, and justice of God. He did not “get Himself dirty” in the sense of becoming sin. His love and justice led Him to “get Himself dirty” for us in the sense that he humbled Himself, even to the point of laying down His life on our behalf. There is no greater love than this (Jn 15:13.)

 

Click HERE to see Scott Freeman’s beautifully illustrated kids’ storybooks, designed to help parents instill a biblical worldview in their kids!

 

 

 

My New Kids’ Book: The True Story of Christmas

Blg full spread

After 30 years of marriage and raising 5 kids together, Mollie and I have accumulated a beloved little collection of illustrated Christmas storybooks. When I worked at Hallmark Cards, the Creative Library there would bring in some of the best Christmas books on the market, and I ordered a few of my favorites for my kids (and for Mollie and myself!)

Some we bought for the great artwork, some we bought for the story. The best ones combined both. An important part of our Christmas season included slowing down, snuggling up, and reading Christmas stories to the kids in the evenings in December.

But I could never find a book like the one I’m making available to you and your family today.

Special care has been taken in The True Story of Christmas to remain as true to the biblical narrative as possible while still keeping the story accessible and engaging for children. The book seeks to reinforce the biblical narrative rather than the extra-biblical traditions that have grown up around the Christmas story.

For example, the scriptures do not say that a blazing star led the Magi to the manger in Bethlehem. (The Magi arrived in Jerusalem, where Herod eventually sent them to Bethlehem to search for the child. Bethlehem was just a few miles down the main road.) The scriptures also indicate that the Magi visited Jesus as a toddler in a house in Bethlehem, not in a stable on the night He was born.

Magi wisemen house gold frankincense myrrh

The Magi visiting Jesus in Bethlehem, from The True Story of Christmas.

While these details may or may not be significant, to me it seems best to be in accord with the scriptures regardless of how harmless such extra-biblical traditions may seem. Learning the true narrative at a young age will help to keep faith in the reliability of the Bible intact when such extra-biblical traditions, (and there are many,) are debunked later in a child’s life. The biblical narrative stands up to scrutiny – the extra-biblical traditions do not.

Perhaps more importantly, The True Story of Christmas gives the big picture context of the birth of Jesus according to the Bible.

The true story of Christmas begins at the very beginning, when God created the world. God is good, and everything He made was good. In the beginning the whole world was filled with God’s goodness and light…” (pg 1)

The book begins with God’s perfect creation, followed by the tragic consequences of the fall of humanity – the reason we are all in need of a Savior in the first place. After Noah’s flood, God’s restorative plan begins with His choosing of Abraham and the people of Israel. Kids are introduced to Israel’s prophets and their foretelling of a special child who would be born to Israel to set up a good and eternal kingdom. The Christmas story is the beginning of the fulfillment of this long-anticipated promise.

Following are some of the book’s illustrations and copy:

old testament jewish prophets messiah malachi

“The very last prophet to speak of the promised Messiah was named Malachi. After Malachi there were no more prophets at all in the land of Israel until it was time for the Messiah to be born. Israel had to wait 400 years after Malachi for God’s promises to come true. That is a very long time! But then, it finally happened!”…

Here’s an example of how the type appears on the page:

first christmas stable manger bethlehem swaddling clothes

To Order:
The True Story of Christmas is now ready to order, but PLEASE NOTE: Order by Dec 3rd to ensure that your order arrives in time for Christmas. The True Story of Christmas is not available in stores. You can only get it on my website! (And on Amazon, but I don’t tell people that because I want them to go to my website and sign up on my email list.)

To order now CLICK THIS LINK

Holy family warned in a dream egypt massacre of innocents

The flight to Egypt, from The True Story of Christmas

Thank you so much for your support!
May you and your family have a joyous Christmas season!

Special thanks to my 3 favorite teaching pastors – John Meyer, Pat Sokoll, and Jonathan Williams – for consulting with me on this book.
All images copyright Scott Freeman, 2015