Steven Anderson’s recent diatribe got me thinking about a few things. You would be hard pressed to find a preacher more opposed to works-salvation: he thinks those who believe that repentance is necessary to be saved are damned to hell. Believers should be sorry for their sins, just as they should be baptized, attend church, and do good works, and should abstain from alcohol and not watch TV, and should avoid male gynecologists like the plague — but none of these, insists Anderson, contribute in any way toward salvation. Those who believe so are not really saved, because they are relying on a measure of their own effort for salvific purposes, the ultimate blasphemy.
Anderson defends his doctrine as follows: “Easy-Believism is not giving people license to sin, it is giving people license to be saved without jumping through a bunch of hoops. People should repent of their sins after they are saved, but whether they do or don’t, they are still saved.”
In a sermon preached on 2/24/08, “Godly Sorrow Worketh Repentance”, Anderson takes repentance head on, addressing the problematic passages which imply that repentance is necessary for salvation. The only text in the bible that explicitly connects “repentance” to “salvation” is II Cor 7:9-10:
“Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance… Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.” (NRSV)
According to Anderson (though he tolerates only the King James translation), since Paul is addressing believers in Corinth who have already been saved, their spiritual salvation cannot be in question; the “salvation” or well-being of the church is in view. The word “save” has different meanings depending on context: Peter cries for Jesus to “save” him in Mt 14:30, but from drowning, not spiritual damnation. The evangelist speaks of the necessity of “enduring to the end to be saved” in Mt 24:13 — saved from worldly torture (Mt 24:9), that is, not eternal damnation in hell. And as far as Lk 13:5 goes, “Unless you repent, you will perish” — the trump card brandished by so many of Anderson’s foes — the context makes clear (to Anderson) that “perish” has nothing to do with going to hell, but dying in the same way the Galileans did at the hands of Pilate (Lk 13:3). “Perishing” is not being contrasted with everlasting life in this passage any more than “salvation” is speaking to everlasting life in II Cor 7:9-10.
So it’s clear that Steven Anderson is as easy-believist as they come, and I would have never guessed he could be outshone in this regard. But as I mentioned a few days ago, there are members of his church who have begun claiming that he actually hasn’t gone far enough, on the basis of his method of door-to-door soul winning. When converting people to the gospel, he requires them to say the sinner’s prayer. Isn’t that unnecessary? Isn’t this prayer (like repentance) adding works to salvation? That’s precisely what these critics have been accusing Anderson of (behind his back), and they’ve accordingly (also behind his back) been dropping the sinner’s prayer from their soul-winning strategy when they go knocking doors. Anderson got wind of this and is bullshit with rage.
[You can listen to Anderson’s hour and a half long defense of the sinner’s prayer, but it basically boils down to this: He doesn’t believe the prayer is necessary for salvation (contrary to the accusation), only that it is a necessary part of the soul winning strategy in order to help ensure that converts are really taking the step of putting their faith in Christ. “Calling upon the name of the Lord” isn’t even always possible (especially for the mute), and the texts of Rom 10:9-10 and Mt 12:37 seem important for Anderson as public demonstrations of one’s commitment, not absolutely necessary requirements for salvation.]
The lesson here is that works-righteous phobias crop up in ways you’d never expect. But it would be a mistake to dismiss them as a fringe madness common only among KJV Baptist fundies. Biblical scholars can be just as guilty as these pulpit-pounding screamers — and in fact I think they’re worse. The idea that human belief is a form of works-righteousness seems to lie at the heart of certain preferences for the subjective genitive reading of pistis Christou, the “faithfulness of Christ”. I have already explained why this reading is a house of cards. What’s fascinating is that if it owes to fears that putting one’s faith in Christ is a work, then scholars have outdone the fundies. Neither Steven Anderson nor his critics would ever dream of claiming that belief, or faith itself, is a work.