The Atonement Thread – Gospel Project

The Gospel Project from Lifeway Christian Resources is a small group/Sunday School resource that produces a methodological and philosophical shift for both church leaders and learners. Most of us have grown accustomed to a traditional Sunday School “quarterly” approach to teaching. Whether it is a character study, a topical study, or a study through a book of the Bible, traditional resources typically narrow the scope of engagement to a smaller pericope of Scripture. Through a set of questions designed to foster small group interaction, many times of a speculative nature, the thrust of most traditional Sunday School resources is to discern how the Scriptures apply to our our lives, incorporating the often quoted philosophy that the “Bible is a road map for humanity.” This approach certainly has merit and is heavy on application, which is important.

The Gospel Project, on the other hand, takes the primary focus off humans and centers the biblical narrative through both Covenants on the person and work of Jesus. This may sound fairly straight forward; who would disagree that the Bible is ultimately about Jesus? And yet, when The Gospel Project digs in and demonstrates how a “gospel grid” can be placed over the grand narrative of Scripture to paint a picture of Jesus and not of ourselves, the ol’ wheels of the mind and heart begin churning. The Gospel Project will challenge even the most seasoned Sunday School veteran to make the shift from a “me” focused discussion to a Christ focused discussion, all through a theological dynamic that has perhaps been lost on small group classes. I have written before on the impact of doing biblical theology through The Gospel Project.

This takes time. We are in our second year of The Gospel Project at Graefenburg Baptist Church and our folks are still wrapping their minds around some of these changes. Those who are getting it are truly amazed and inspired; they are reading the Bible through a new and exciting lens. Others, albeit only a few, are more comfortable with the traditional Sunday School curriculum.

Our church is just a tad behind the current series in The Gospel Project because we paused for six weeks to study the book of Colossians as part of the January Bible Study (it was one of the best I have ever read). We are currently working in The Gospel Project through what is called “the atonement thread” and it is nothing short of spectacular. But here again is the danger – unless small group leaders are intentional in presenting the thread of the atonement from Genesis through Revelation, and are helping the learners keep track of where in the grand narrative of Scripture the lesson is currently taking place, the impact of this unit will be partially lost.  These classes are not designed to rabbit chase for 15 minutes on a minute, speculative point. The transformative nature of The Gospel Project rests in what is sorely lacking in most classrooms of the local church from children’s ministry through adults:  A comprehensive understanding of the centrality of Jesus Christ throughout the metanarrative of Scripture. In the traditional Sunday School model a learner might be able to describe the story of Gideon and make a personal application, but can they place Gideon in the larger metanarrative to demonstrate what God was doing in that particular point of redemptive history? That helps make the Bible come alive and move us back to Christ.

For my young couples class, we are 6 steps into the atonement thread, last week studying the sign of Jonah. We begin every class by reminding one another of the place in redemptive history each of these instances of God’s atonement takes place and how they picture Jesus’ work on the cross. It is pretty amazing when it starts coming together. This is then used as a teaching catalyst to help us better understand and be motivated to obey the Great Commission. And that is my favorite part of The Gospel Project – it challenges our students with deep, rich theological truths for the purpose of practical, missional application. We deny the importance of doctrine at the expense of the Great Commission, or as the School of Theology at SBTS used to say, “theology bleeds.”

Although The Gospel Project is not a one stop shop for a church’s discipleship program and although it will take some getting used to when you launch into the material for the first time, I highly recommend pastors take a look at what it has to offer. Grace & Peace!


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