Forward: This is a subtle forward to a post I am fomenting for next week. (Is that a threat, or a promise? You decide!)
Assuming an Evangelical readership, I take it we all "Amen" this proposition. "Your word is truth," our Lord prayed (John 17:17) — not "Each individuals' feelings about Your word are truth." The Word of God is forever fixed firmly in the heavens (Psalm 119:89). This places revealed truth above the matrix of our experience and emotion. The Word speaks into the human, subjective maelstrom, but is never merely its product (2 Peter 1:21, correctly translated and in context).
All Evangelicals affirm this, in theory. Yet it seems that, when personal situations arise, even the best theory can get trashed.
Since 1998 I have frequented a political/current-events forum called FreeRepublic. I mention it only to say this. "FR" (as FReepers affectionately call it) is a very diverse collection of political conservatives, who range from "get your hands off my money and shut up about my morals" atheists and libertarians, to Roman Catholics, to agnostics, to evangelicals of about every variety.
I've found a lot of value in the site, had many opportunities to speak of Christ, and have had a lot of heartburn. My point isn't at all to evaluate, commend or condemn it per se (and I don't want the comment thread to go off on an FR tangent). I focus on only one aspect.
Through the years I've found in FR an incredible amount of sentimental theology. (I won't link to any specifics; as you will see, it would be cruel in some cases.)
What about Rex? Least harmfully, perhaps, you see it when someone's beloved pet dies. Sympathetic and good-hearted posters overwhelmingly assure the grieving owner that Fang or Muffin is in Heaven, and they do it in the most absolute and certain terms. They speak as people who Know.
It reminds me of Dr. "James Herriot" (pen name of Dr. James Alfred Wight), the veterinarian who wrote the delightful All Creatures Great and Small books. Herriot never delivered himself of any religious opinions...except when mourning dog-lovers or cat-lovers would ask him if he thought they'd see their pets in Heaven. "I'm sure of it," he always told them.
I don't recall him ever explaining how he could be so certain.
Nor is this a question entirely of small moment. Think of it. The next life. We know absolutely nothing of it by experience, nor by normal data. We are wholly shut up to authority of some sort. Yet here, absent any authority whatever, folks feel perfectly free to pronounce on matters not even remotely in evidence.
More seriously... what about Bob? It takes a more harmful turn at FR (and elsewhere) when people die.
If someone the populace there does not like dies, he is consigned instantly to Hell. I seem to recall that a famous (and hated) figure died, years ago, and a thread was named "_____ spends his first day in Hell."
We all know that rabid anti-Christians like to paint Christians as, to a man, relishing the thought of Hell, and delighting at the notion of eternal torment for people who disagree with us.
And we all know this is utter bosh.
But I have seen writers at FR speak in unashamedly gleeful tones of the eternal torment of their enemies. That they hate them seems to be reason enough for them to be sent to Hell.
The reverse is equally true.
When a FReeper dies, or when a relative, or a "good guy" dies, he is immediately sent to Heaven, no questions (dare to be) asked. Nor is this necessarily premised on any saving faith in the Gospel of Jesus. In fact, the ruling need no premise at all. And of course it would (genuinely) be rude to ask how everyone is so sure. So nobody does.
I've seen it equally among professed Christians. A family of never-attending church members son died very sadly. Though no one who knew him could adduce any signs of Christian faith since early childhood, all were sure (beyond even broaching the question) that he was in heaven. Our Johnny? Of course he is.
Those we like go straight to Heaven. Those we don't, reverse-course.
You're all right with me, aren't you? I sense a lot of nodding.
So let me ask you what may be a less comfortable question.
What is apostasy?
Some would define "apostasy" very narrowly, as (say) a formerly-professed believer renouncing every trace of Christian faith. Well, that certainly would be apostasy.
What of renouncing a Biblical Christology? We'd be hard-pressed to deny that this would be apostasy (cf. 1 John 2:22-23; 4:1-3, etc.).
But is that all?
Well, no, not as long as our Bibles contain Galatians 1:6-9. Paul had a point to make, and he made it very forcefully:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.He underlines it again later, in Galatians 5:4 — "You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace." I would suggest that the fearful warnings in Hebrews are to very similar effect (cf. Hebrews 6:4-8; 10:26-31, etc.).
So apostasy would include denial of the faith, denial of Christ, denial of the Gospel of justification by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. Any of these would put a man or woman in the "They went out from us, but they were not of us" (1 John 2:19a) category.
Let's be yet more specific.
What if someone left a Biblical profession for Buddhism. He seemed like a Christian for months, years, decades, then poof! gone. Buddhist now. Would that be apostasy? How about if he became a Jehovah's Witness? A Mormon?
A Roman Catholic?
And what if the person who did this was a really good guy, someone we like a lot?
What would it be, then? Is it not "apostasy" anymore, if we really like him?
Does how we feel about him change the gravity of what he has done, or our responsibility?
Sentimental theology isn't just something They do, I find.
Think it over.