1 John Lessons

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 devil

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 undoubtely 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 back.

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 at it's pivital in the intepretation of 1John.

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 Pentacostal 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 Christian life.

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 degree.

In my followup email I'll provide a link to paper put out by the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary which outlines and charts these distinct viewpoints with regards to sanctification and a related paper from a professor of New Testament at that same seminary speaking on the meaning of fellowship in 1John. And also link to this lecture I'm giving right now.

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, including

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 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.


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 preceived notions and attempts to read those notions INTO the Bible. Not that I completely discourage deductive study as long as the preceived 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 orginal 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 way around.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

Jul 29,2015