Teaching this lesson in
your Sunday School Class
may lead to your eventually being expelled from your church.
(It did in my case!)
1JOHN: The Theological Battle
As I said previously the theme of 1John is Identifying those who have been born of
God and distinguishing them from those who are children of the
And this I derived from my own personal inductive study of 1John
which is also available online. However, in fact, there are two
opposing views among the Christian community as to the theme of
1John. Two views which are incompatible and diametrically opposed.
Two different viewpoints which impact not only the interpretation of
1John, but also the interpretation of much of many passages in the
New Testament. And both views are popular and held by a number of
respected Christian leaders. And both views are undoubtedly held by
those attending this church.
The traditional viewpoint, which you find in all the old classical
commentaries is that of Reformed Theology, which came to the same
conclusion concerning 1John as I did. Though I hadn't realized that
fact until years after I had studied 1John and had come to my own
conclusions. For in general I try to avoid reading commentaries when
I study the Bible, else my viewpoint may become jaded. But
afterwards I go to commentaries to see if there are things I hadn't
considered and to see what kind opposing viewpoints I'll be faced
with. It was years after studying 1John that I read
commentaries on the subject and discover two categorically distinct
and diametrically opposed viewpoints among the Christian community.
Reformed theology, as I said is reflected in almost all the old
classical commentaries, and among the newer Reformed thinkers like
MacArthur, Piper, Sproul and there are others.
But in 1875 in Keswick England there was a meeting of Evangelicals
which was the inception of Keswick theology somewhat in concert with
the already growing Wesleyan theology at the time. And that theology
or variations on the same theme grew to, I would argue, dominated
Evangelical thinking in the last century. Though since the 1980's
Reformed thinking, I would argue, has been making a significant come
Keswick theology and its variations have a significantly different
view of the sanctification process in comparision with Reformed
Theology. First under Reformed theology there simply doesn't exist a
category of those who have been saved who nonetheless continue to
live a lifestyle of sin. And this they derive not simply from 1John,
but also in concert with other passages, but 1John is on the
forefront of this issue as it's pivitol in the intepretation of
In contrast, the Keswickian type of theology views there being two
categories of those who have been saved. The classical Keswickian
viewpoint is to view these two distinct categories as either Carnal
or Spiritual Christians. And what allegedly happens is that a person
starts off a Carnal Christian and then at some "Crisis point" makes
a decision to consecrate himself to the Lord. The old phrase they
used was "Let go and let God". and consequently, due to a "second
blessing", a term which you may have heard now and then among
Evangelicals, they are transformed into a "Spiritual" Christians, or
one filled with the Holy Spirit.
The "Chaferian" theology, a variation of Keswick theology named
after Lewis Sperry Chafer, who founded Dallas Theological Seminary,
views this distinction as first accepting Christ as Savior and later
at some crisis point dedicating oneself to Christ as Lord. Bill
Bright, CCC or CRU, have historically been of that viewpoint. In his
book page 106 of "The Gospel According to the Apostles" John
MacArthur notes this dissemination of such an idea by Campus Crusade
through tracts and booklets.
Related to these are the Wesleyan and Pentecostal views of
sanctification, again holding the viewpoint of there being two
categories of the "saved". The Wesleyan view makes the distinction a
matter of what Wesley refers to as "Entire Sanctification" which he
views as a second work of grace distinguishing between those
Christians who are non-sanctified and those who have gone through
the alleged crisis point to experience what they refer to as
Christian perfection, though not to be confused with sinless
perfection. Though in fact I have met people who hold variations on
this same theme. This past week I was debating online with a person
who holds the crisis point to be between those who continue to sin
and those who never sin at all. Then there's the Pentecostal view
being whether or not a Christian has been baptized with the Holy
Spirit that being the distinguishing point between what they may
refer to as the defeated Christian life versus the victorious
In stark contrast to these other related viewpoints is that of
Reformed theology which is that the sanctification process is not a
matter of a disparity between classes of Christians separated by
some crisis point at which the ordinary Jimmy Olson Christian turns
into the Clark Kent Super Christian, but rather that everyone who
has been saved, has been baptized with the Holy Spirit, and that
sanctification is a matter of degree as maturity is a matter of
But despite the differences of opinion, all recognize that 1John is
largely about two categories of people. And as we will do an
inductive study of 1John utilizing constructs inherent in the
original language, this distinction will become even more evident.
Namely it's between those claiming to be Christian yet continue to
characteristically live a sinful lifestyle, and those of whom a
sinful lifestyle is not characteristic.
The main issue with regards to interpretation is what is John saying
about that first class of alleged Christians. You see Reformed
theology, along with myself, has come to the conclusion that such
people are Christians in name only. They are pretenders, whether it
be consciously or simply deceiving themselves, but who are in fact
unsaved. While those of a Keswickian type of theology view such
people as saved, but second class citizens among the saved.
The Reformed viewpoint of 1John is that John is teaching against
Keswickian theology. While Keswician interpretation of 1John is that
John is teaching contrary to Reformed theology. These being
diametrically opposed, incompatible with each other. And while all
of us who are mature have learned to get along with one another
despite these differences, both viewpoints can't be correct.
Naturally as is commonly the case, the immature characteristically
can't handle the fact that there are these differences of opinion,
and so typically churches either take an official stand on one or
the other, or else, more commonly today, they simply fail to speak
about such things, or waffle back and forth pretending that what the
Bible means is not knowable. That would be a particularly difficult
challenge with regards to teaching 1John without completely avoiding
the text of 1John altogether. Though if anyone knows me, they know I
am not one to cater to the immature, but rather to treat others as
mature adults who can handle the truth when it comes to Bible study.
And I will not shy away from teaching what the Bible means even
if it makes some feel uncomfortable.
What does it matter? Is there any significant relevance to holding
one viewpoint over another. YES, there is. There are many
significant implications of holding either one or the other
viewpoint that not only impact the interpretation of many passages
in the New Testament, but also the way the gospel is presented, how
you view and practice your own sanctification, the way that you
disciple fellow Christians, your attitude towards other Christians.
It affects the interpretation of about 40% of Jesus's parables,
The parable of the Sower - rocky soil
The parable of the Wedding Feast - man not dressed properly
The parable of the Unforgiving Servant
The parable of the 10 Virgins.
And it impacts the interpretation of the categorical lists of those
who don't inherit the kingdom of God mentioned in 1Cor, Gal, Eph,
and the warnings there an in 1John not to be led astray on this
matter, along with teachings concerning sanctification found in
Romans and Galatians and elsewhere. And it may help to account for
the fact that the Christian community as a whole over the last
century has behaved much as the world.
So, yes, it matters. 1. Is there necessarily a correlation
between a person's characteristic behavior and their salvation
status? 2. Does the Bible teach that there
is a class distinction among those who have been saved?
These are the two key questions to be resolved. Over the coming
months I hope to lead you though an inductive study of 1John to
help you come to you own conclusions.
INDUCTIVE BIBLE STUDY
Now I say "inductive" study because there are two approaches to
interpreting the Bible. One is INDUCTIVE which is an
attempt to read OUT of the Bible free from preconceived notions to
get at the author's meaning. This as opposed to a DEDUCTIVE study
which starts with perceived notions and attempts to read those
notions INTO the Bible.Not that I completely discourage
deductive study as long as the perceived notions are well
established Biblical doctrines which have been derived from an
inductive study of scripture.
But one need not read 1John in the light of the interpretations
of Kewickian or Reformed theology to understand what John is
actually saying. Those who study the Bible deductively will often
interpret the Bible in light of particular denomnination beliefs
that are not themselves well established. Deductive study is more of
an indoctrination that it is real Bible study. And as a Sunday
School class is not the same as a Bible study you'll be getting a
bit of a mix. So while speaking on the theme and teaching some
concepts which I and others have concluded concerning what 1st John
is talking about, these were not the presumptions we need make in
studying 1John inductively.
But here are a few assumption I make as a Berean in studying this
epistle years ago:
1. All scripture is inspired by God and therefore though it
is subject to scrutiny with regards to its meaning, it is not
subject to scrutiny with regards to its validity
2. Translations are not assumed to precisely represent the
original manuscripts, and thus to get at the precise meaning one
must study it in the original language it was written.
3. Passages which are unclear or ambiguous concerning a
particular subject are to be interpreted in light of passages
which are clear and explicit on a subject, rather than the other