Ralph Green is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Bel Air, Md.
His personal blog post below has been edited, with Pastor Green’s permission, for brevity and clarity. Pastor Green may check in on this post occasionally, but he will not be available for continual interchange with commenters due to his pastoral duties.
When I went to seminary, Dr. Paige Patterson, my seminary president, challenged all of us studying for pastoral ministry to always be vigilant against doctrinal error and remain faithful to the Word of God. He knows well the dangers, pitfalls and ramifications of doctrinal error and the high cost of ensuring our denomination would stay true to our Lord Jesus Christ and His inspired, inerrant and infallible Word.
Dr. Patterson assembled a team of professors at SEBTS who faithfully taught myself and many others like me that we must take seriously our responsibilities before the Lord to guard the sacred trust of Scripture and to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
I’m sharing this with you because our church was about to implement the use of a Sunday school curriculum from LifeWay Christian Resources called “The Gospel Project.” This is the new flagship curriculum LifeWay has been advertising for months. It is a curriculum that would provide Bible Study resources for preschool, children, and youth, all the way through senior adults in our Sunday School/Bible Study classes. Upon hearing of this new curriculum, Pastor Mike and I were encouraged and excited about it, as the advertised aim of the curriculum was to show that the message of the Gospel is woven throughout the Scriptures. Dr. W. A. Criswell, the great long time pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas called it “The Scarlet Thread of Redemption” in a famous sermon he preached through the entire Bible.
Pastor Mike and I were under the impression this curriculum would take a systematic theological approach, would tackle tough issues and give Christians tools to use in sharing the Gospel in everyday life. The concept as we understood the aim of The Gospel Project is a great one. However, we’ve uncovered a big problem with this curriculum. The advisory council, many of the writers and much of the supplemental sources cited throughout are from people who are Calvinists or Reformed Theologians who teach at Reformed seminaries.
In short, Calvinism or Reformed Theology is a theological system that elevates the sovereignty of God and His grace to a point that the free will of man is of no consequence. On the other end of the spectrum is what is called Arminianism, which elevates the free will of man and espouses among other things that you can actually lose your salvation. Those adhering to these theological systems have been arguing about these ideas since the 1600s! Yet the Scriptures teach that God is sovereign, a God of grace, as well as the truth man has a choice to make to accept or reject the grace of God and His provision for salvation.
This understanding of Scripture is one among many reasons we exist as Baptists. Historically, we are happily in the middle of these polar extremes as we consider ourselves to be “people of the Book,” embracing both biblical truths of God’s sovereignty and grace along with man’s choice. As Baptists, we have historically seen problems with both extremes and the dangers of using a theological system of belief as the lens to interpret Scripture. Many Calvinists and Arminians use their systems as a filter of Scripture. However, Scripture should be the filter for the system of belief one adheres to. Typically this debate has been mostly confined to seminary campuses and is not something the average person in a Baptist church hears much about.
After becoming aware of this Calvinistic/Reformed theological approach of the curriculum, Pastor Mike and I have spent literally hours and days digging through this curriculum once we received the shipment to see for ourselves. We found it to be biased in how it explains and interprets the study themes. There are numerous subtle seeds of the Calvinistic approach to Scripture and many that are overtly obvious. The more we read and studied the curriculum, the more convinced we have become convinced that this curriculum is not suitable for use here at Calvary. I am greatly disappointed because there is nothing wrong with healthy dialogue and wrestling with theological issues. But when a curriculum is designed to teach only one side of the issue, it is no longer a healthy debate but indoctrination; and we cannot allow that indoctrination to take place here at Calvary.
I do not believe extreme Calvinism accurately represents the truth of Scripture. We are not Calvinistic or Reformed or Arminian, but we are Baptists. I don’t appreciate LifeWay producing curriculum that promotes a flawed theological system to interpret Scripture. My biggest problem with extreme Calvinism is that it views salvation as deterministic where God divinely chooses who will be saved and who will not. It follows, then, that God is going to save some; He can and will do so without my personal involvement, so there is no need for me to be a witness for Christ. This idea clearly violates the commandment to be witnesses in our Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The Great Commission then becomes more of a Great Suggestion, and only whosoever God chooses may come and have everlasting life! Yes there is a doctrine of election taught in Scripture, but God’s desire is that no one would perish but that all would come to repentance.
Honestly, I was in shock for several days as I wrestled with this curriculum. I feel as though the sacred trust has been violated because the publishing arm of my Convention seems to be embracing Reformed Calvinistic theology. You should know LifeWay does not depend on Cooperative Program dollars and they are a for-profit organization based on what they sell. They are guided by a president and trustees who’ve been duly elected by our convention, so there is accountability there. We are sending this curriculum back to LifeWay, and I’ll be writing letters to President Thom Rainer and the Board of Trustees expressing my disappointment over this curriculum and explaining why we’ve pulled the proverbial plug on “The Gospel Project” curriculum. I encourage all SBC pastors I know to examine this for yourselves and see the agenda within The Gospel Project curriculum. I hope you’ll send it back to LifeWay as well with your observations.
Coming tomorrow: Interview with Pastor Green wherein he will cite specific concerns with TGP curriculum.