The Gospel Project is a new Sunday School curriculum produced and marketed by Lifeway. Ed Stetzer is the General Editor and Trevin Wax is the Managing Editor. Prior to its official launch, the curriculum has been the subject of some measure of controversy, primarily with regard to disputes over the curriculum's relationship with Calvinism. Is The Gospel Project a new Particular Baptist curriculum? Not enough data is available to come to any hard-and-fast conclusion, but from the data presently available, here's what I would answer:
I suspect that The Gospel Project is indeed a Calvinistic curriculum, not that there's anything wrong with that.
Here's what I mean when I say that The Gospel Project appears to be a Calvinistic curriculum:
- I would consider people who affirm four points and people who affirm five points to fit alike within the broader penumbra of Calvinism. John Calvin, I think, only clearly affirmed four points. If you're only as Calvinistic as John Calvin was, I consider you a Calvinist, not that there's anything wrong with that. Not at all.
- I find convincing the detailed case made by Peter Lumpkins and others (see the comment by Jim G giving details of the authors' writings and affiliations) that the proportion of Calvinists (as defined above) creating this curriculum is far higher than the proportion of Calvinists in the SBC population at-large.
- I believe that the curriculum is poised to gain a welcome reaction and to succeed among Southern Baptist Calvinists and probably among some non-Southern-Baptists who are Calvinists. I'm not suggesting that ONLY Calvinists will purchase and use this curriculum, but I am opining that it will be more popular among Calvinists than among non-Calvinists.
- I will be surprised if the content of the curriculum gives much attention to the role of the human believer in one's becoming a Christian. A gospel-centered curriculum is going to have to focus on conversion, faith, justification, regeneration, and the like. Calvinism is, after all, an approach to soteriology. It seems to me (and perhaps I am wrong, here) that this curriculum has only four options available in talking about soteriology: (a) It can approach it Calvinistically, teaching almost exclusively about the role of God in salvation; (b) It can approach it from an Arminian perspective, focusing upon the role of the human believer in salvation; (c) It can reject both Calvinism and Arminianism and find a third way; or, (d) It can avoid the controversy by staying shallow in these topics. The historic Baptist Sunday School Board approach (as well as the approach of our statements of faith) has been d (staying shallow enough to avoid these controversies), but that seems to be the outcome that this curriculum is deliberately trying to avoid (in the quest for a theologically robust curriculum). The list of contributors so far are people who would die before they took approach b. I guess that c is a possibility, but I find it unlikely. Considering these four approaches, I think that a is likely the inevitable outcome, not that there's anything wrong with that.
So, I'm surmising, opining, and deducing that the contributors, consumers, and product of this curriculum will all have a Calvinistic bent to them (as defined above). That's what I think, now how do I feel about that?
First, I think that it is a good thing for us to have Lifeway-produced curricula that are more theologically robust. I want to affirm this decision and encourage the cultivation of this kind of thinking at Lifeway. If The Gospel Project is the first-fruits of a new kind of product that we will see coming out of Nashville rather than the final accomplishment of a total package, then I give Stetzer and Wax my enthusiastic amen.
I think it would be appropriate for Lifeway to develop theologically robust Sunday School literature representative of other perspectives in our convention as well. Of course, if you're not a Calvinist you can't use the words "Gospel" or "Grace" to describe your materials (said all in fun, folks!), but even if all of the good titles are taken, I think that the many of our churches that are not Calvinistic could have something theologically robust to offer as well, don't you?
Second, there's really not anything wrong with that: I really don't think that there is anything wrong with the idea that Lifeway would produce Calvinistic materials. We have Calvinistic folks in our convention. Our entities exist to enhance the ministries of those local churches, too, even if there are fewer of them. Especially at Lifeway, where the money comes from market forces rather than from the CP, it is no skin off non-Calvinist noses for Calvinistic churches from within or without our convention to be able to purchase Calvinistic curricula from Lifeway. So long as the produced materials are not so highly Calvinistic (or lowly Arminian) as to violate the Baptist Faith & Message, I'm not bothered by the existence of The Gospel Project.
Third, in an aspect that I haven't seen being discussed, this curriculum strikes me as an invasion by "senior pastors" (and I hate that term) into what has been previously the turf of "education pastors." To put it another way, How many MDivs are contributing to this curriculum versus how many MAREs? I don't know how to comment on this without being controversial, other than to note that I have an MDiv and a PhD, so my colors are clear.
These authors have studied about and have written about theology. People are able to identify that the contributors to this curriculum are predominantly Calvinsts. What did you know about the contributors to the LAST curriculum that you purchased from Lifeway? Probably not nearly as much. I like the idea that Lifeway is enlisting well-known prominent authors who are theologically minded, substantively educated, and about whom we can know quite a bit.
In summation, I think that there's a lot to like about The Gospel Project. I don't have plans to use it at FBC Farmersville, but this KIND of project, associated with a different set of names and done in a way that was less lopsidedly Calvinistic, might be precisely the kind of thing that I would promote to our Sunday School classes here. For that reason, what I want to do, rather than try to get Lifeway to regret having produced this curriculum by complaining about the predominant Calvinism of the contributors to The Gospel Project, is to encourage Lifeway to double-down on their effort and produce yet another similar curriculum embracing other points of view.