I recently read and reviewed the book, Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery, by David and Paul Watson. In the book, the Watsons emphasize the importance of Christian small groups, where Christians and seekers can come together, study the Bible in order to apply it in their own lives, and fall in love with Jesus.
The Watsons in one place address a question: How can the group keep itself from falling into heresy or bizarre interpretations of the Bible? The Watsons suggest that it do so by sticking with what is explicitly in the text. If someone in the group comes up with an off-the-wall interpretation of the text, someone else in the group can ask, “Where does the text say that?”
That has been pulled on me a couple of times. I can understand where the Watsons are coming from, since people can come up with a lot of bizarre interpretations of the Bible. At the same time, I think that people are pretty choosy about when they stick with what the text explicitly says, and when they do not.
Allow me to give you some examples. I was in a small group a while back, and we were going through Romans. Romans 8:38-39 states: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The leader of the group was saying that this passage teaches once-saved-always-saved: that Christians cannot lose their salvation. Even if they sin and do not repent of that sin, the leader was saying, they cannot lose their salvation. Others in the group agreed with him.
That was not exactly the version of Christianity with which I was raised (see my post here for more about that). I questioned the leader’s interpretation, and he said that the text says nothing—-NOTHING—-can separate believers from the love of God in Jesus Christ. That means even a sin that a believer commits and does not repent of. That falls under NOTHING! I wondered, though, about other passages in Scripture that seemed to suggest the opposite.
A year later we were going through the Gospel of Luke. Luke 13:23-25 states: “Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are” (KJV).
The leader said that this passage was not about salvation, since we are saved by grace through faith, not our own efforts. Rather, according to him, the passage was saying that giving up oneself and being unselfish is difficult.
I thought, “Wait a minute!” The disciples are explicitly asking Jesus about salvation! And some of that seems to concern eschatological judgment. The leader, to me, seemed to be ignoring what the text was actually saying because it contradicted his understanding of what the Scriptures as a whole teach. In a sense, I was doing the same thing on the Romans 8 passage—-or, more accurately, I thought that Romans 8 should be qualified by what other passages in the Bible say, rather than absolutized in isolation.
That is a problem that I have, therefore, with the Watsons’ approach, if I am understanding it correctly. Nowadays, though, I can somewhat understand where the Bible study leader was coming from—-his version of Christianity had more grace than my legalistic understanding, which was a burden to me. But there were Scriptures that one could cite to support my legalistic understanding, and they should be addressed.
As an aside, as I look right now at the Luke passage, there may be more to it than I think. Jesus there may be talking about the Jewish religious leaders who rejected him. At the judgment, they will be thrust out of the Kingdom. The requirement for salvation in that case may actually be belief in Jesus, as many Protestants like to affirm about salvation, or at least it can be reconciled with that understanding. Indeed, in those days, believing in Jesus and following him were quite difficult: they could lead to exclusion from one’s family, and even death. That was a narrow way. It still is, in certain countries. Of course, I don’t want to go the route of saying that this passage does not apply to people in the Bible Belt, where it is easy to profess Christ, and actually harder not to do so on account of the social pressure by Christians. One can make a lot of the Bible irrelevant with that approach.
I’ll stop here.