Most of us in our forties – what I call the Seinfeld Generation – remember the old Southern Baptist literature, much of which was shallower than an oasis in the midst of the Mohave Desert. The study was topical and usually began and ended with the question, “What does that passage mean to me.” For years we have longed for a curriculum that gave an in-depth, exegetical study of Scriptural passages that expounded authorial intent while also attaching a personal and contemporary application. We were tired of the scratch-n-sniff study strategy that had long defined much of Sunday School curriculum inside and outside our Convention.
When The Gospel Project was announced, many in my limited circle, including local pastors and trustees of Truett-McConnell College, began studying the material and giving positive reviews of the lessons. And there is much to be commended. It is quite refreshing to see quotes from theological giants like Martin Luther, the great Reformer who proclaimed once again, “The just shall live by faith.” Early Church Fathers are quoted repeatedly, something that makes this church historian very pleased. While these men are not known by many, they should be. Important theological questions engage the mind of the reader such as, “What about those who have never heard the Gospel?”
Yet, there are many questions left unanswered when one reads two lessons available online: “Numb to the Word” and “God Is Not Hiding.” For many who have read these two lessons, there is a perception of a Reformed-bent in the material and these lessons do little to alleviate such concerns. For example, if one were to list those quoted in the material, excluding Early Church Fathers, one would notice an imbalance towards Reformed and/or predestinarian authors:
Jerry Bridges Larry Crabb
Matt Chandler C. S. Lewis
Carl F. H. Henry
This list is only exacerbated if one looks at the three recommended podcasts given in the two lessons: Andy Davis, John Piper, and David Platt are three well-known Reformed thinkers in Evangelical life today. For many, it is not the inclusion of the aforementioned pastors that is bothersome; it is the fact that there is an imbalance of thought leaning toward the Reformed paradigm.
The material has Reformed tendencies from beginning to end. The opening illustration for session six, “Numb to the World,” speaks of “spiritual leprosy” and how the illustration relates to our sinful state. John Calvin gives that particular example when he wrote, “Since then there is in us nothing but spiritual infection and leprosy and that we are corrupt in our iniquities…” Calvin’s analogy, then, becomes the template for the entire lesson. The hymn used at the end of lesson six, which unfortunately is not footnoted, is a Reformed hymn found in the United Presbyterian Church Psalter with Responsive Readings (1912) as well as in works by Reformed theologians Wayne Grudem and John MacArthur.
The Reformed bent is not the only worry in the first two lessons. Ecumenism, a liberal theological movement that emphasizes unity between denominations over theological distinction, replaces any emphasis upon Southern Baptist theology. We are most definitely at a crossroads with our own publishing house. Will the future of LifeWay be one that represents and advocates Baptist theology or is The Gospel Project the beginning of an ecumenical paradigm shift? For example, if I separate those quoted in the two lessons, excluding those who pre-date Southern Baptist life, here is the breakdown between Southern Baptists and non-Southern Baptists:
NON-SOUTHERN BAPTISTS SOUTHERN BAPTISTS
Jerry Bridges Christian George
Matt Chandler James Hamilton
Larry Crabb Carl F. H. Henry
Gabriel Fackre Trevin Wax
What is more troublesome is that all four Southern Baptists named are Reformed. That leaves zero – zero – Southern Baptists quoted who hold to a theological viewpoint representative of the vast majority of Southern Baptists. Incredibly, contemporary figures from Southern Baptist life are noticeably absent from the lessons. It is as if we want our children to grow up without the knowledge of heroes of the faith like John Leland or R. G. Lee. With a generation that does not even recognize modern-day prophets like Charles Stanley and Paige Patterson much less historic figures such as John Smyth or B. H. Carroll, and without a publishing house that purposefully highlights such figures, our Baptist heritage is likely to set on the horizon of church history.
Finally, some of the ones quoted are questionable in their theology. Diodore of Tarsus is recognized by many as a Universalist who advocated heaven would be filled with everyone who has ever lived. Inclusivist theologian and Open Theist John Sanders quoted Diodore to advocate his erroneous beliefs. Gabriel Fackre, a Post-liberal narrative theologian whose wife is also an ordained minister, is one of the premiere leaders of the Ecumenical movement, taking part in ecumenical discussions in the World Council of Churches and criticizing views of religious conservatives. He is also a proponent of what Ronald Nash terms “Postmortem Evangelism” in which many will have the ability to receive Christ after death. Many will question, then, why men whose views are so foreign to Southern Baptists take center stage over men and women who deserve a seat at the table.
Ultimately, the questions and concerns raised in this article are much larger than the content of two sample lessons in newly minted material. They speak to the heart of the debate in Southern Baptist life. We are in the midst of an identity crisis. And we are a divided people whether we wish for it to be so or not. When asked whether Southern Baptists are worried about the rise of Calvinism, 61% of respondents answered in the affirmative. With that being the case, leaders must deal with such concerns and, unless they wish for division, alleviate such fears. To publish and promote a new curriculum that has such strong Calvinistic leanings only intensifies the situation and disregards the voice in the pew. The vast majority of Southern Baptists do not want to be known as Calvinists or Arminians, but as Baptists with a rich heritage they can learn from. We stand on the shoulders of giants. Truth is Immortal.
 http://s3.amazonaws.com/TGPdownloads/the-gospel-project-student-leader.pdf; http://s3.amazonaws.com/TGPdownloads/the-gospel-project-adult-leader.pdf. One lesson is intentionally geared towards students and the other is pointed to adults. These lessons use multiple passages and are not verse-by-verse studies of particular texts. Instead, the editors chose to use more meta-narrative methodology.
 Henry was ordained as a Northern Baptist but he joined with Southern Baptists a few years before he graduated to glory.
 See John Wesley Hanson, Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church (Boston: Universalist Publishing House, 1899), 256. Diodore stated, “For the wicked there are punishments, not perpetual, however, lest the immortality prepared for them should be a disadvantage, but they are to be punished for a brief period according to the amount of malice in their works…but immortal blessedness having no end awaits them.”