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Don't Even Think About Criticizing Lifeway

Thomas Whitley

Much to my dismay, my church is using Lifeway's VBS materials again. My wife is our Minister with Children and I know that she would chose other curriculum if it were up to her, so I don't blame her. I'm not really blaming anyone. We play the hand we're dealt and when it comes to curriculum at our church, it is always going to be from Lifeway. We modify it where we can, make the best of it and often times "grin and bear it". Since I am the Minister with Youth I am leading Youth VBS and I just cannot not share what I came across today. (Note: if you follow me on Twitter, then you have already seen some of this in abbreviated form) I will not reproduce what I found in its entirety since across the top of everything contained on their leaders CD are printed the words:

It is illegal and unethical to make multiple copies of this teaching plan for distribution beyond your church.

Wait, was it illegal and unethical for me to copy that sentence? I sure hope not. I digress.

The leaders CD contains the normal things: Customizable Lesson Plan, clip art, etc. There is also a Teaching Outline for each session. The session for tonight is on John 21 and to my amazement Lifeway actually came out and said the following:

Avoid any discussion as to whether John 21 was originally part of the gospel or a later addition to it as well as who wrote it. Treat it as John’s work and as integral to his gospel.

So, I am actually supposed to avoid what every Biblical scholar knows to be true? For those who have a view of Scripture such that every word is literally from the mouth/hand of God, this is important stuff. Finding out that a section of a letter wasn't actually originally part of that letter would have great implications. (In case you're wondering, this isn't the only case like this. The ending of Mark is another example of a section of text that was added later.) Now, I am not someone whose view of the Bible is damaged by this kind of information, but for others, especially many who drink the Lifeway Kool-Aid religiously, this is potentially very damaging. Lifeway's solution? Lie to them about it.

I was struck not only by this though. The astute student of the Bible will know that in John 21:15 and 17 two different words are used for "love". Some people hold the view that these words express distinct ideas. I am not one of those people. Surprisingly, to me at least, neither is Lifeway. I applaud Lifeway on that front, seriously. The applause quickly dies, though, for immediately following Lifeway's view on these verses is this statement:

Any writer taking the position that the two words are not synonyms but that each has a unique emphasis needs to avoid implying the Holman CSB is inaccurate or wrong.

Essentially, if you disagree with Lifeway and their translation, you are not allowed to even imply that the HCSB, Lifeway's translation, is in any way inaccurate or wrong. Pardon me, but last time I checked the book has not been closed on translation techniques, strategies, methods, or accuracy. I happen to agree with Lifeway's translation here and their reasoning behind it, but that does not mean that they are allowed to be shielded from any criticism just because they think they're right. That is called willful ignorance and close-mindedness, in my book anyway. No matter how sure I am of something, I am always open to the possibility, however remote I believe it to be, that I could, in fact, be wrong.

These are minor grievances in the grand scheme of things, but they are symptoms of deeper sickness within the Lifeway Reich. They do not accept questioning of their authority. Nothing good will ever come of a person, a nation, a corporation, or a school of thought that does not allow for questions and critiques.