I’ve decided to break new ground and journal my adventures in Sunday School class. There are several reasons for this. I don’t really have a prime motivation but many small ones. Mainly, I simply wish to chronicle the more interesting and challenging discussions we have over the bible texts we study. I must admit it is a challenge to perhaps be the lone Calvinist in a class full of ‘free-will’ adherents. I anticipate much lively dialog in the coming months if God so emboldens me to speak out.
I have only been at this church for a short time and the Baptist culture is new to me. Over one year ago I left my old Pentecostal church because it had been consumed with the Church Growth/Purpose-Driven way of doing ministry. In other words, they made the gospel appealing to the flesh and doctrine shallow and essentially unnecessary. The Lord directed my steps and I ended up at my community’s largest Baptist congregation. I started attending Sunday school about 5 months ago. The classes are divided into age groups. I first attended a 30’s group, (a natural selection given that I am in my 30’s). I enjoyed the fellowship with the members, many of whom I had actually gone to high school with. I thought the teacher did a fine job of teaching. However, I didn’t much care for the curriculum. My church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, so we use Lifeway materials for Sunday school lessons. Lifeway publishes a wide variety of material, custom designed for people in different stages of life; children, youth, young adults, old adults and really old adults. The curriculum used in my class (Life Truths) did not impress me much. I felt it was written basically for a fifth-grade audience. I also sensed that the authors wrote the lessons by looking at the bible through the lens of life rather than life through the lens of the bible – a subtle yet important difference.
One morning during worship service I noticed a Sunday school lesson book laying on the pew in front of me called Explore the Bible – Matthew. I thumbed through it and liked what I saw. It essentially gives a survey of the entire book of Matthew and appears to expound the texts instead of using them to further an agenda. Also, it is the first in a series of studies through all 66 books of the bible. The plan will take 8 years to complete but I think it will certainly be a profitable exercise for my wife and I.
I found a class that teaches from the Explore the Bible curriculum and have settled in to it – for now. The class is a 40’s group and I don’t really know anybody – save two or three people. It is a large class of 30+ people, which can be a disadvantage for an extremely shy fellow like myself when discussing the lessons. The teaching tandem of the director and designated instructor is sound, even when the curriculum isn’t.
We recently just finished the Matthew quarterly and my opinion on it is mixed. On the one hand I thought the verse-by-verse exploration (I fall short of calling it exposition) was pretty informative yet several great sections of Matthew with some rich doctrine were completely overlooked. In passages that were addressed, the author would sometimes focus on things that I thought were not the intent Jesus had when he spoke it.
For example, when we studied the eschatological passage in Matthew 24-25, the lesson writers glossed over the glorious doctrine of Christ’s victorious return to the earth to judge the world and instead focused on the believer’s ministry of feeding the hungry and clothing the poor. I thought he truly missed the point – the glorious final victory of Christ over all evil. Instead of spotlighting the glory of Christ, the lesson zeroed in on our works of righteousness. I’m not saying we should neglect the needs of the poor, but that Christ-centered doctrine and theology so richly understood and felt in our spirits should set us ablaze to go out into the world and do what Christ commands us to do. Not out of the drudgery of burdensome duties but because we have beheld the majesty and glory of God through Jesus Christ. We need doctrine to set our hearts aflame for the kingdom work God has fore-ordained for us to complete. My experience thus far is that doctrinal issues outside of the bare essentials are purposely avoided. The priority of sunday school centers around fellowship and unity while doctrine and theology take a back seat to a ‘what does god tell us to do’ kind of teaching.
I am curious if any of my readers attend an SBC church and use Lifeway materials. If so, what are your thoughts on the quality of the lessons? Do you find Sunday school edifying and beneficial? Do you agree or disagree with my observation that doctrine and theology take a back seat to other priorities in Sunday school. Finally, are there any fellow Calvinists who attend an SBC church dominated by Arminian/free will/semi-Pelagians? If so, how do you handle yourself in Sunday school settings?
I’d appreciate any wisdom and insight you can offer me on the matter.