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Low Anthropology for Youth Basketball

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How do you show grace to your kids? How do you let it permeate all aspects of your family life and parenting? It’s one thing to preach grace in an obvious pastoral context. But how do you parent “in line with the truth of the gospel” (cf. Gal 2:14)?

Daphne and Zane recently had a tough time at basketball tryouts. They didn’t live up to their expectations and felt terrible about their performance, and I could see the pain on their faces.

Daphne: Dad, I don’t like this. I missed all the baskets.

Zane: Me, too!

Me: So?

Daphne: So...I don’t want to do this.

Me: Listen, you’re a Lazar. And when Lazars do something for the first time, do you know how we do?

Daphne: Be the best?

Me: Nope.

Zane (who has heard this speech before): Oh, I know. We do really bad.

Me: Yep. We’re trash. Total turkeys. If we start something new, Lazars are gonna suck at it bad. So, of course, you sucked today. But here’s the thing, by the end of the season...

Daphne: Then we’re the best?

Me: Nope.

Zane: We’re only supposed to be kinda good.

Me: That’s right. By the end of the season, a Lazar should be “reliably better than average.” Not the best, but definitely not the worst. Just a dependable player. But in the meantime...

Daphne: We’re trash?

Me: Stinky garbage. So when you were crop dusting the court with your terrible playing, that’s exactly what a Lazar should be doing at the beginning.

Daphne: That’s not helpful.

Zane: I think that’s helpful.

I know that some competitive parents might be horrified by my conversation. I know that sounds more demotivational than motivational. But here’s the theology behind it.

The world is legalistic to the core. It’s not just legalistic about salvation but about everything. Even something like basketball can be about judging your worth by your performance. Kids step onto the court with the law hanging over them: “Thou shalt be the best kid at basketball.” “Thou shalt not miss the basket.” “Thou shalt not embarrass your father.” “Thou shalt be more aggressive than those other weenie kids.” Believe me, kids internalize those demands, feel the pressure to perform, and instinctively know that coaches, parents, and other kids judge their value based on what they do.

And what happens? They never live up to those demands. They can’t. And they become crushed or burned out. Or worse, they live up to those demands for a time and mercilessly judge the kids who don’t.

What’s the antidote?

Grace. And with it, a dose of “low anthropology.” That’s a newer term to me and may also be new to you, but it means something any Christian is familiar with: we’re broken sinners. That’s not a truth a legalistic world that believes in justification by works is willing to accept. It expects perfection from people because it assumes we are essentially good and capable of great things with or without God’s “help.” And when people inevitably fail to meet whatever standards the world holds up, it condemns them without mercy.

But is that a Biblical picture?


Without getting into the merits of “original sin” vs. “total depravity” vs. “diminished depravity,” I think we can agree that no one is good but God (Mark 10:18), that we’re all sinners in need of a Savior. And Jesus loved you in the thick of your failures, while you were yet a sinner (Rom 5:8). Unlike the world, He doesn’t reject ungodly people—He justifies them (Rom 4:5)! Salvation is entirely due to His grace; not your merit (Eph 2:8-9). When you have a low anthropology, you can have a high Christology—an all-sufficient Savior.

I want my kids to know that kind of grace in their bones, so I try to disabuse them of the notion that they can be the best at everything, or that I expect them to be perfect, or that my love for them depends on how they do. I want them to be clear about those things so that when I give them the gospel, they’ll believe it, in part because they’ve already been shown an echo of it from me.

Of course, I’m not saying our courtside conversation was perfect. But, thankfully, there’s grace for that, too.

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.


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