I recently asked where Southern Baptist Pastor Ralph Green’s evidence was against LifeWay that their new Sunday School curriculum, The Gospel Project, is a tool for Calvinist indoctrination.1 Twenty days later, SBC Today has provided Green’s evidence.2
I am grateful Pastor Green finally posted the evidence for his charges. Does Green’s evidence make the case that The Gospel Project is a Calvinist indoctrination tool? Theological preferences may have a lot to do with whether or not Green’s case is convincing. What follows are observations on Green’s evidence against LifeWay using selected quotes from his recent article. [3.Unless otherwise footnoted, all of the following quotes are taken from Green's SBC Today article in footnote 2.]
I was shocked at some of the comments I read at SBCToday when the first article was posted.
Many were shocked that Green poured out over 1,000 words complaining about The Gospel Project (TGP) with providing any evidence of his complaints.
Do the ‘less-than-favorable’ comments bother you?
No. What bothers me is that some of those who write “Sola Dei Gratia” after their names have offered so little grace to you for re-posting my article or to me regarding my perceptions of the curriculum.
What bothers me and others is that a “pastor” would write many words against his fellow Christians with no proof contained within them. There was no proof of how he arrived at his perceptions. Some may even say that Green was stirring up strife.
While I believe there are some black and white evidences of Calvinism on the pages of TGP, I say again that Southern Baptists ought not take my word for it. They should do the research for themselves.
Agreed. Now let’s see the black and white. Green explains that one of his deacons had problems with TGP.
What are the deacon’s issues with the curriculum?
He told me, “God’s love is not evident. This isn’t theology; it’s philosophy.” He also spent countless hours reading and researching the curriculum and gave me a multi-page report of his findings.
Is this a statement about TGP, Calvinism, or both? What is the deacon’s statement based on? I would love to read the multi-page report.
Speaking of perceptions, I think that poses a huge problem for LifeWay. People will have various perceptions about the curriculum. I get that. But what LifeWay needs to realize is that perception is reality.
Noting that people will have various perceptions does not really explain why it would be a problem for LifeWay. General statements that perceptions exist does not make a point.
SBC Today asks what the deacon found was wrong with TGP. The answer is three paragraphs about what the deacon believes about Calvinism, but nothing specifically about TGP other than there are Calvinists on TGP’s advisory board. (Remember the multi-page report.) Is poisoning the well acceptable evidence for Green and his deacon?
Next, Green is asked about the problems he found in TGP.
First of all, I need to say that my associate pastor and I both earned M.Divs. from Southeastern Seminary. That means we have the training and resources to use in serving the members of our church. With these tools, we spent hours examining the curriculum and came to the conclusion that we, as a church, could not use it.
Keep in mind that Green’s appeal to his educational qualifications that allow him to critique TGP materials. Side note – wouldn’t congregationalism have Green bring the material for congregational approval or is this an elder-ruled church?
Next, my awareness that the advisory board is almost totally Calvinist, and many of the lesson writers are too – that gave me a predisposition toward the curriculum.
Green admits his predisposition so how can he give an impartial critique?
So, I had concerns that every time I read the word “grace” I wondered, “Is this the Calvinistic ‘irresistible’ grace or the traditional Baptist view of grace?” This drew my attention to other theologically laden terms in the curriculum that were not defined.
Remember, Green explained that he is theologically qualified to examine the material. Yet, he “wondered” whether or not “grace” meant “irresistible grace”? Shouldn’t his training helped him understand those “theologically laden terms”? What is the “traditional Baptist view of grace”? To what kind of Baptist does Green refer?
From lesson one (p. 14, Fall 2012 TGP Leader’s Guide), is this statement that I believe is a problem:
“It is also an act of grace that God would reveal Himself to us personally. God was under no obligation to pull back the curtain and let us see aspects of His character and evidences of His power. He could have spoken the world in existence and then never spoken again, leaving us in ignorance about our Creator and our purpose.”
Green complains about this hypothetical given in TGP.
The problem is that the last sentence of the above hypothetical statement is not true because it dismisses a major aspect of God’s character, His love. One thing God cannot do is to act in a manner contrary to His own nature.
Hypothetical statements are used to make a point, are often speculative and do not have to be true. Green misses the very definition of a hypothetical statement. Ironically, TGP using the hypothetical to magnify the greatness of God’s love.
What other issues did you discover?
This quote noting the temptation of Adam and Eve (p. 51, Fall 2012 TGP Leader’s Guide) says: “The point of the story is not about the type of fruit, as if the fruit juices would poison the minds of Adam and Eve. No, the poison of sin coursed through their veins before the fruit entered their mouths. ‘It was the not the nature of the tree that made it dangerous, the bearer of covenant curse and death, but what it stood for, obedience to the word of God.’”
What is wrong with those statements about Adam and Eve?
Does this mean the first couple was fallen before they fell?
Some have voiced that observation to me. But, taken at face value, those statements make God the author of evil which is clearly contrary to Scripture. And the tree as the bearer of covenant curse? That sounds like Calvinistic theology to me. And how can it not be? The last sentence is attributed to Michael D. Williams, a writer for P&R Publishing.
Green does not explain his assertion that those statements “make God the author of evil” even though it actually says that the sin coursed through Adam and Eve.
Speaking about Covenants sounds Calvinistic? How the second president of the Southern Baptist Convention, R. B. C. Howell, who wrote the following about Adam and Eve just after they ate the forbidden fruit.
The deed was done! The tempter triumphed. All was lost. The obligations of the covenant, and its curses alone remained. 3
Sounds Baptist to me! Many Southern Baptists are not covenantal in their theology, but are dispensational. Note that Dispensationalism is rooted in non-Baptist, Calvinist theology.
The next complaint is that Williams works at the non-SBC Covenant Theological Seminary. Green notes that Williams “and other non-Southern Baptists are cited in the curriculum as “Voices from the Church.””
So you think that Southern Baptists in a Southern Baptist Sunday school class reading from literature published by a Southern Baptist entity would think “Voices from the Church” implies that the “Voices” are Southern Baptists?
It’s worse than that. The theological persuasion of some of these “voices” is not revealed.
If those in a Southern Baptist Sunday school class limit “church” to only Southern Baptists then they have a very limited view of who makes up the church. Is the theological persuasion of every author in every SBC curriculum revealed? What exactly is revealed? Does Green ever teach church history to his congregation? Is every theological persuasion of each early Christian revealed?
Much of Green’s following complaints follow the path of his criticisms about Williams using guilt by association. I.e. the authors are not Southern Baptists or affiliated with Southern Baptist institutions, etc. which does not prove Green’s case in favor of TGP being a Calvinist indoctrination tool. He also points out that one of the authors is a Wesleyan (Arminian) and one is a humanist which would seem to run contrary to promoting a Calvinism.
Did you note any others cited as part of the curriculum?
Sure. Not everyone has Calvinistic convictions or is a professor at a non-Southern Baptist institution.
Green’s concession goes against his theory that TGP is a Calvinist indoctrination tool.
I understand you had a telephone conversation with TGP Editor Trevin Wax.
Yes, I did. Our conversation was straightforward, but it was also congenial. I shared my concerns with Trevin, and he said he took them seriously and would use them to inform the spring quarter literature for TGP. But when Trevin told me that he was a 4-point Calvinist — this only confirmed for me that I had made the right decision in returning the curriculum.
How did Trevin’s theological position confirm Green’s concerns? Are only non-Calvinists able to provide unbiased theological discernment? Any author or editor of a theological writing is, of course, going to defend their project. Who wouldn’t?
I cited a passage from one lesson that was problematic for me and told Trevin I was taking it at face value. He told me I shouldn’t do that. And when I noted another passage I felt I couldn’t take at face value, he told me I should. Not only was that confusing, I concluded I had been hearing double-speak.
Which passages is Green talking about? As a theologically educated pastor, Green should know their are nuances in theology that require careful, contextual thinking and explaining. Trevin’s perspective of the conversation would be interesting.
What are your sentiments at this point?
I’m frustrated. I’m extremely disappointed. I feel like I’ve been deceived, and I don’t appreciate that. I will never buy another LifeWay curriculum without inspecting it from stem to stern. And you know, I shouldn’t have to work that hard on materials my own denomination produces. I don’t have time to be looking for hidden meanings. That irritates me. It bothers me that I can’t trust what LifeWay sends me.
I feel like I’ve been deceived by Green’s charges against fellow Christians that they are intending to use TGP as a Calvinist indoctrination tool. Like his first article, this one offers little concrete evidence of such a ploy. Maybe the problem is that Green is looking for hidden Calvinistic meanings in the material. Also, it does not follow that because Green disagrees or dislikes a particular stream of Baptist theology that he cannot trust LifeWay.
What kind of problems did you envision if you had decided to use the curriculum?
One problem would have been this: I really do have rocket scientists in our congregation. Given their tendency to do research, they would have discovered many of the same problems I did and would have asked me why we decided to use that kind of material.
On one hand, some in Green’s congregation would have found the same problems he did with TGP and questioned his judgment.
Also, it’s hard enough to get folks to witness. They come up with every excuse as to why they can’t. If we add to that the thought that God saves who He wishes, then we think we’re excused from witnessing, but are still acceptable to God for our lack of obedience to His Great Commission.
On the other hand, TGP would have been so influential in the same congregation that spotted the same problems Green did that it would have given them excuses not to share the gospel. Which is it?
Given Green’s charges of not TGP not revealing the theological persuasion of its authors, does he disclose the Calvinist persuasion early Southern Baptists? How about that of Charles Spurgeon or William Carey? Or does Green not teach any type of Baptist history that includes Calvinistic evangelists and missionaries? An honest teaching on such evangelists would help sway his congregation not to use Calvinism as an excuse not to evangelize.
In Green’s first article on SBC Today he wrote:
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.4
Recall Green’s appeal to his educational qualifications in light of his theological category confusion. Green’s confusion is easily shown not only by reading the Southern Baptist Founders, but in a Baptist Press report citing David Dockery on the roots of the SBC.
At the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention in May 1845, it would have been difficult to find leaders who were not Calvinistic in their theology, Dockery said.5
Mr. Green, that flawed theological system was held by most of the SBC Founders as David Dockery noted. Why would you want to be part of a Convention that was started by those who promoted such a flawed theological system?
Indeed, let’s get back to being Baptists.
P.S. Here are some other responses to Pastor Green.
- Chris Roberts: Response to Ralph Green on The Gospel Project
- David Pitman: Of Logical Fallacies
- Joshua Breland: Ralph Green’s Evidence of Calvinist Bias and Indoctrination in LifeWay’s Gospel Project
- Where are the Charges Against The Gospel Project by Ralph Green via SBC Today? ↩
- Lifeway’s Gospel Project Returned Interview with Ralph Green, Senior Pastor Calvary Baptist Church, Bel Air, Md. sbctoday.com ↩
- R.B.C. Howell. The Covenant of Works. founders.org ↩
- Ralph Green. The Gospel Project: Not for Calvary Baptist Church. SBC Today ↩
- Andrew Walker. Dockery: Calvinism has roots in SBC history. bpnews.net ↩