LifeWay now teaches almost all group studies within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and many other churches as well. Sunday School “teachers” in most SBC churches are actually facilitator’s for LifeWay publishing house materials. Most Sunday School leaders do not know the Bible well enough to teach it and most church boards would not allow them to depart from using LifeWay materials even if they did. LifeWay studies seemed to be designed to not rock anyone’s theological boat. Pastors and church leaders trust LifeWay to not offend anyone with their inoffensive Gospel that avoids controversial passages and Bible prophecy.
I have taken a position against replacing real Bible studies with LifeWay magazine studies for more than a decade and I express why in this article that I wrote over ten years ago. Opposing LifeWay studies in SBC churches is like spitting into the wind, because pastors and elders love LifeWay studies. Allowing a SBC publishing house to teach the congregation means that local leaders are no longer responsible for teaching doctrine to the congregation. Many pastors now just tell stories in their sermons that have some application for living your best life now.
Of course, if you’re going to have generic teaching for all in Sunday School in this postmodern generation, it cannot be deep or rock anyone’s boat. That is where most SBC churches are now at. The gospel is not taught so true salvation in SBC churches have become rarer than good Elvis impersonators.
I think these LifeWay studies help foster biblical illiteracy. They teach a generic version of biblical passages but there is no in-depth teaching there. People learning from these studies for years are still drinking milk because they actually never learned the Bible and cannot correlate related passages to gain understanding.
It is easy to insert aberrant views into a LifeWay study because it is set up for group discussion which tends to get off topic. The facilitator’s and the groups somehow get into their own pet issues week after week. In a SBC church where I was a member, the LifeWay Sunday School facilitator was promoting the latest doctrines that he had heard from the Word of Faith heretics on TBN. In another class the LifeWay Sunday School facilitator was promoting the purpose driven nonsense of Rick Warren.
It seemed that the leadership of that church could care less that these Sunday School teachers promoted heretics as long as the class used the LifeWay magazines. I eventually left that church for a number of reasons and I was not alone. The senior pastor, the assistant pastor, the youth minister, most of the youth, most of the music ministry, at least one deacon, and a third of the congregation left that church within a year. The remnant of that church went through some sort of lengthy SBC rehab program to learn how to become a more loving church. I suppose the materials for learning that came from LifeWay.
A LifeWay study in another church that we attended turned into a disaster. LifeWay Sunday School “Bible studies” like to get comments from members in the class. It does not matter who speaks up or whether they understand what they are talking about. A woman’s comment to the class was “I read an article that taught me that in any situation to just ask “What would Jesus do” (WWJD).
I really can’t tell you what led up to the WWJD comment because I probably was dozing until the WWJD statement alerted me. One of the problems with these LifeWay studies is that no matter the scriptures being read and discussed, some in the group study will somehow get the topic on their same pet issues and then it is zzzzz time. My wife kicks me when she sees me dozing, that is, when she is not dozing off herself. When we both doze off at the same time it literally can become a pain in the neck.
Basically, my not so tactful reply to the woman who said she lives by the WWJD mantra was, “I just read an article that said we should not be doing that because we cannot possibly know what Jesus would do in our situation. We are not God”. I admit I did not tactfully flower coat my response. Having just come out of stage one sleep, I did not have time to arrange for the flower delivery. I never expected her to take my response as a personal rebuke. If I was rebuking anything, it was a rebuke against those that think this cliché gives the answer to how Christians should live their lives.
Over a decade ago I wrote an article about the “What would Jesus do” trite mantra fad that was still going around as a result of a book by that name. I think I explain my position against this presumption in that article quite well, so you might want to read it.
I did attempt to give some further explanation in the class, but it was obvious to me that nobody was interested in hearing anything further. My wife did add, “instead of saying WWJD, maybe we should really be asking ourselves what Jesus wants me to do in this situation”. The facilitator then went on to the next LifeWay point but I noticed the woman got up and went to the bathroom. Some 15 minutes later the LifeWay study had ended and she emerged out of the bathroom all red-faced and was bawling like a baby.
A woman in the group embraced her while she was bawling and my wife went over to see what she could do. My wife told her she apologized if her statement sounded harsh. The woman responded, “I think you said enough already!” At that point, I made a decision that I should have made many years ago. I will no longer attend LifeWay Sunday School studies.
I cannot find the article that I told the woman I read, or remember most of the details, but it talked about a hypothetical church where all members agreed to live by the WWJD mantra. I do remember that within a very short time the whole church was a dysfunctional heretical basket case and for many more reasons than I pointed out in my article. The crux of the story is that Jesus never told us to try to emulate Himself on earth.
A woman in another class in a church that I attended used the WWJD statement. It was the reason I wrote my article. The topic in this class eventually got around to, “would Jesus ever lie to prevent a greater evil”? Christians protecting Jews from Nazis in WWII was an example brought up. Should a Christian lie to the Nazis to save lives of the Jews, or should you just tell them the truth about where they are located? That woman said “Jesus would never lie even to save someone’s life because lying is a sin. Therefore, we also should not lie even to save someone’s life. Just let the chips fall where they may.”
That is how absurd this kind of thinking can take people who think that just asking yourself WWJD is the solution for every situation. While it is true that Jesus would not have lied. Protecting these people would not have been a problem for Him. We cannot just pretend to be Jesus. If we were, we would not even need Him to save us.
Furthermore, WWJD is used by people who cannot possible know the mind of God because most of them have not even taken the time to study His word. The Jesus that some women like to emulate in their mind is much more like their boyfriend then the omnipotent Jesus of the Bible.
If you do not even know the Bible, how can you possibly have a clue what God would have you do, yet, what Jesus would do in your situation? If you do not even know the scriptures, the Jesus you think you know is the Jesus of your own imagination. How then can you pretend to know what the Jesus of the Bible would do? If “believers” would learn the scriptures they would know Jesus and not a four word trite response.
Mature Christians that read the Bible are not going to learn much from LifeWay’s dumbed down teachings. LifeWay studies seem to be designed for seekers, baby Christians, emasculated men, and women. Anyway, that is my opinion of them, for what it is worth. I have never learned anything that I did not already know from a LifeWay study. Have you ever seen your pastor attend one? Obviously they think the LifeWay studies cannot teach them anything.
I have also noticed in these studies that those that get emotional and defensive tend to be women and emasculated men. Their arguments come from their feelings rather than from any understanding of sound doctrine or logic.
LifeWay studies are set up so that those without an ounce of Biblical knowledge or understanding have equal voice with the more learned in the group. Then when someone who knows the Bible disagrees with the biblically illiterate they take it personally rather than learn from the more learned among them. This should not be. Those that do not know the Bible ought to be silent on issues of interpretations of scripture in the Church.
What adds to the problem is that few people actually read the LifeWay lessons before the class. I have seen this in almost every LifeWay class that I have attended. Basically, in classes they read the selected scriptures, but few, have read what the LifeWay authors taught about those scriptures. Yet, they still comment as if they know what they are talking about.
I believe God gave the Church teachers to teach Christian doctrine. Then, if there are questions about the teaching it should be addressed to the teacher not a group. The group dynamics model used in the LifeWay studies is in my opinion wrong-headed. I see no such teaching model in the Bible.
The LifeWay publishing arm of the SBC has moved way beyond just publishing Sunday School magazine studies. Now they are producing just about everything found in the SBC churches and many other churches. Wait a minute… I thought SBC were all independent churches? So they claim, but you would never know it from what goes on in them. Almost all are clones. They use whatever LifeWay promotes and LifeWay is the voice of the SBC.
Rick Warren and LifeWay recently teamed up to do a six part video series based on “The Son of God” movie. The videos will then make their way through the SBC. Baptists are going to watch videos made by a New Age Catholic that does not get the gospel correct!? Why don’t Baptists just give the true account without the spin of the heretics?
Is it that difficult to give an accurate account of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Why distort the Gospel of Jesus when there is no good reason to do so? Yet they do. For example: The movie has Jesus saying I am the way and the truth and the life and then this hippie Jesus ends His saying there. Why not finish what Jesus said. “No man comes to the Father except through me”. Maybe because that would not fit the views of the New Age producer of the video.
There are many such things that were left out or added to twist the Gospel to fit the views of those that made the video. How will people who now rely on movies for the gospel and not God’s word actually hear the true gospel?
Keep your eye on the leadership of LifeWay and who this publishing house promotes. I will almost guarantee that they will be moving more and more toward ecumenism, as will the SBC. I frankly have had much greater spiritual fulfillment camping and hiking in the mountains by myself, or conversing with other Christians in a coffee shop, then I ever had in church. I get emails from Christians that will not attend church because they cannot find one they wish to attend. Others, hate what is going on in the church that they do attend.
If there are real men left in Baptist churches, or any other churches in America, it is time for them to take over. They might first start by actually teaching the Bible themselves instead of letting a publishing house of men and women do it for them. They also might start some home fellowships so people can actually have Christian fellowship.
I think the publishing arm of the SBC subtly pushes the churches that are buying their material into the direction they want the evangelical movement to go. However, that is not necessarily in the direction of sound doctrine. The problem is that mega church leaders and Christian media stars are overly influencing the SBC and LifeWay. I do not think local churches need these new evangelical protestant popes plotting their own course.
Why let LifeWay make your local church conform to them? Sure LifeWay has some good material, but allowing one publishing house to control all media in the entire Southern Baptist Convention of churches (and many other churches), might become as dangerous as having faith in Rome if the SBC and LifeWay follows the neo-evangelical mega church leaders and ecumenical pushers. WWJD about LifeWay dominating SBC Sunday School Bible studies?
Editor note. I wrote and posted this article on my old blog a few years ago. The title is changed and the article has been edited.