27 September 2008

A Further Word on the Touchstone Saga

Some Clarifications and Follow-ups
Plus Some Observations about Apostasy
by Phil Johnson

First, an urgent prayer request: A member of the TeamPyro community, Pastor Terry Stauffer,

lost his precious 14-year-old daughter in a senseless murder Saturday afternoon. Please keep him and his wife Juanita in your prayers. (Here's an article from the Calgary Herald with some details.)


riday I spent the morning at the dentist (again!) and the afternoon visiting a friend whose wife is in the hospital with a very serious and painful form of cancer. I was surprised to see the amount of activity in the combox under Wednesday's post, but I read it with interest (and sadness).

I want to comment on several things related to that post, starting with some of the misunderstandings reflected in the early part of the comment-thread:

  1. I didn't accuse Touchstone of lying because he claimed that he was "a deeply committed, 'sold out' believer for decades." His lie is the claim that as recently as a year ago he was "a devout Christian husband . . . committed to [his] belief in God and [his] faith in Jesus as [his] redeemer and savior." The record of his own words demonstrates that he was promoting skepticism in numerous Christian forums on the Internet nearly two years ago.
  2. In point of fact, I don't think Touchstone is lying when he says he used to be a Christian. Though it's patently obvious that he is playing fast and loose with the timeline, I do not doubt that he once thought he was a committed Christian.
  3. Touchstone wrote:

    If you have the courage of your convictions in saying what you do here, I encourage you hear from my friends and family, who remain devout Christians, about my commitment, and more importantly the "fruit" I was known by as a Christian. I'm happy to make it convenient for you to hear from them if you are willing to report back here what testimony you receive from them.

    I replied: "I would be more than happy—delighted, actually—to speak to your former pastor, friends, or whoever you think might set me straight about your spiritual journey over the past two years. In fact, I'd be happy to speak to you personally in a venue where you don't get to hide behind a veil of anonymity. My contact info is easily attainable. Give me a call." So far, neither Touchstone nor anyone he encouraged me to "hear from" has contacted me.

  4. A few other people who say they know Touchstone have contacted me, though. All of them say there was indeed a time—several years ago—when he seemed to be a devout Christian. All of them also say he grew deeply skeptical and became openly critical of biblical truth long before the point where he claims he was still "a devout Christian." In other words, none of them vouched for the veracity of his "testimony."
  5. Those who claimed to know Touchstone have differing ways of interpreting his apostasy. Some believe he is totally and permanently hardened against the truth; others believe he was so committed as a Christian that he could not possibly have been self-deceived or deceiving, and thus he will most likely return to the fold eventually. (Neither Scripture nor experience warrants such optimism, sadly.)
  6. Those who said they know Touchstone all gave essentially the same description of his life as a Christian. There's no reason to doubt any of the facts that were related to me. No one who knew him before his deconversion told me they suspected that he would ever turn from the faith. As far as they could see, he seemed a sincere, committed Christian and an honorable man. I'm convinced that if I had known him at the time I would have made the same assumption.
  7. I'm not going to describe details about Touchstone's personal background that were related to me, even though I have no reason to doubt their veracity. I will say this, however: If the facts as related to me are accurate, his faith seemed to begin to unravel in the wake of a series of profound personal tragedies, reminiscent of Job's experience. It's hard not to have sympathy for his plight when you hear the trouble that befell him.
  8. That, of course, doesn't alter the fact that his "testimony" completely and deliberately misrepresents his true state of mind over the past couple of years. And this seems an especially perfidious style of dissembling, when we remember that it comes from someone who often waved aside criticisms of Mormonism, evolution, postmodernism, or other theological and epistemological aberrations by suggesting that the arguments Christian apologists have used are marred by discrepancies that hinge on the literal meaning of a word, etc. This is someone who handles biblical truth-claims like a little boy tearing the wings off butterflies. When you're willing to treat virtually every difficulty in Scripture as a "contradiction," you don't get to play fast and loose with the facts when you are telling how you became an atheist.
  9. Touchstone thus illustrates an easily discernible pattern: Most of the "deconverted" care less and less about truth as time goes by.
Now let me make a couple of comments about the latter half of that thread:
  1. The gentleman who posted as "Former_Fundy" is indeed known to me personally. I had a face-to-face meeting with him once in my office around 1995, and I corresponded with him for about a year from 1995-96. He had raised some specific points about fundamentalist separatism that he wanted to discuss, so he started a small forum by e-mail, and I participated from time to time in the discussion. I went to Africa for several weeks in the summer of 1996, and when I returned, the e-mail forum had disbanded and "Former_fundy's" e-mail address was no longer working. After that, I lost track of him and have often wondered what became of him. It made me profoundly sorry to read his story.
  2. In 1995, he gave every sign of being a devoted Christian and a sound and solid believer. He was a very kind and cordial person, who at the time seemed to be struggling to break free of a more or less extreme variety of Bapto-fundamentalism. He was a highly respected teacher, who was held in high esteem by both his students and fellow ministers. To be clear, I didn't know him really well, but my impressions of him were entirely positive.
  3. So he is who he said he is. The only part of his story that doesn't ring true is his current participation with a group of the most obnoxious propagandists for skepticism on the Internet. If "Former_Fundy" is, as he claims, an "agnostic" rather than a full-on atheist, his newfound zeal for promoting unbelief alongside the likes of John W. Loftus and crew is a little hard to understand. I gather there is more to "Former_fundy's" story than he has acknowledged, but I'm not going to speculate further about that. Let's just say that the revelation that he has abandoned the faith leaves me profoundly sad.


Some Observations about Apostasy

've had perhaps four or five friends over the years who seemed to be truly devout believers but abandoned the Lord unexpectedly. Nice guys, all of them—intelligent, thoughtful, knowledgeable, and (in one or two cases) active in full time ministry. So we're not talking about people who briefly made a questionable profession of faith while trying to keep one foot in the world. These were people who seemed completely devoted, exemplary disciples—just like Judas seemed to be right up until the point where he betrayed Christ. Let's call them Type-J Apostates. There are several other key similarities and differences from case to case:

  1. In each case, news of their apostasy came to me as a profound shock and deep disappointment. It wasn't preceded by any plea for help or probing questions. After the fact, every one of them described their struggle as a lengthy emotional and psychological battle with nagging doubts in which they desperately sought answers from every conceivable source. But in reality, I've never had an opportunity to discuss their doubts or questions with any one of them until after they are settled in their unbelief.
  2. The actual pattern seems to be that the person will seem to disappear from circles of Christian fellowship for an extended time. If they actually do express their doubts to anyone, it's usually under a false identity on the Internet. Under the cloak of anonymity, they will begin to gravitate toward skeptical forums. And if they do voice their doubts in "Christian" forums, rather than going where they might get help from mature believers, they tend to favor mixed forums featuring totally unmoderated discussion dominated by lay people, novices, and cranks. Moreover, if they voice their doubts in such a context, it will usually be in an argumentative way, and not as someone genuinely seeking answers.
  3. Then after a year or three, the person resurfaces as an agnostic, and after "coming out," becomes increasingly aggressive and militant in spreading the gospel of skepticism. They rarely seem able truly to put their faith behind them, but become more obsessed with Christianity as unbelievers than they were as "believers." I call it the Loftus Phenomenon.
  4. Half the time (or more), it has later come to light that the person's original "doubts" were related to a moral struggle. (In three of the five instances I have specifically in mind, one was addicted to pornography, another was having an extramarital affair, and the third had decided to openly indulge a homosexual bent he had struggled with secretly for years.)
  5. A disproportionate number of apostates seem to come from the kind of über-rigid fundamentalist backgrounds where what you do seems to be given ultimacy over what you believe. That kind of stress on externals naturally cultivates Pharisaism rather than authentic faith, so we shouldn't be surprised at the high percentage of apostates such a system produces.
  6. The New Testament prominently features several very sobering warnings about the dangers of spurious faith. Jesus Himself said that many will come to His judgment seat and be completely surprised to hear Him say, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness" (Matthew 7:23). This is also a huge theme in the epistles. It's the central theme of Hebrews. In fact, every major New Testament epistle (and some of the minor ones) at least touches on the dangers of false and half-hearted faith.
  7. Jesus' words in Matthew 7:21-23 suggest that a large number of people whose faith is spurious are self-deceived. They blithely assume their faith is real and sufficient. By all external measurements, they seem genuine enough. (Which is why the other disciples trusted Judas enough to make him their treasurer, and all the others suspected themselves rather than accusing Judas when Jesus said one of them was about to betray Him—Matthew 26:21-22). So there's no reason to think that all (or even most) of the "former" believers who now promote skepticism on the Web are consciously lying when they say they were once devoted believers. (As I have said repeatedly, that wasn't the argument I was making about the discrepancies in Touchstone's story, either.)
  8. Combine the potential for self-deception (Jeremiah 17:9) with the reality that Scripture expressly warns us that many people will be turned away at the judgment who claim to know Christ, and it is a good reason for each of us to examine himself, to see if we are truly in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). In fact, every time we come to the Lord's table, we are supposed to take the opportunity to do that (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). We need to take that duty seriously.
  9. If you find yourself resentful and doubting in the wake of personal tragedy, don't cultivate that kind of emotionally-driven doubt. (And if you do, don't salve your mind by assuring yourself that your doubts are "rational.") I do understand and sympathize with the depth of grief suffered by someone who is suffering personal loss such as the death of one's children or the loss of one's health, or whatever. Job lost everything at once, and his response is the model of true faith: "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" (Job 13:15). That didn't keep him from saying (later in that very same verse), "Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him." But if the opening phrase of that verse doesn't describe the quality of your belief in God, your "faith" probably will not survive the inevitable sorrows and hardships of life in this sin-cursed world.
  10. In the combox under that earlier post, the question was raised about whether apostasy is the unpardonable sin. I want to be clear: I don't think apostasy per se is automatically unpardonable. But I do think there are certain flavors of apostasy from which no one ever recovers. I also think it's clear from the context of Matthew 12 that the sin Jesus described as "unforgivable" was unforgivable not because of any limit on the mercy and grace of God but because of the deliberate nature of the sin. Hebrews 6 and 10 likewise speak of the impossibility of being renewed to repentance after deliberately turning away from Christ with full knowledge and conviction of the truth of His claims. There is no litmus test that I know of to verify infallibly whether it is possible " to renew [this or that person] again to repentance." But in my experience, the longer they persist in unbelief and unrepentance, the more agressive they become as campaigners for skepticism, the more hatred they have for Christ, the more impervious they become to biblical and rational answers to their "questions," and the more like taunts those "questions" begin to sound. I can't recall ever hearing about one of these "de-conversions" being reversed. The hardened skeptic will say a statistic like that is proof that skeptics are truly enlightened. Scripture points to it as proof of how dangerous skepticism is.
I preached on these topics three times over the past year, before any of this even came up on the blog. The third of three messages in that series is most germane to this discussion and can be downloaded free right here. Or you can get the whole series, free of charge and with no strings attached, here. If you are someone wondering how shaky your faith is, I encourage you to acquire those messages and listen.

Phil's signature


Stefan Ewing said...

Phil: Oy, here I am sticking my head out, being the first to comment.

Thank you for your thoughts on this matter.

It seems to me that if a professing Christian is wrestling with doubt, he should turn to God in prayer, and also bring his concerns to mature believers—the ones who've walked and struggled with God the longest.

Is it possible that they don't turn to mature believers until afterwards, because they're afraid of being rebuked, or of receiving an unsympathetic hearing? I mean, a gentle form of rebuke may indeed be necessary but, well, you know what I mean.

[Whether this concern is right or wrong—or whether this is a good or bad idea—might depend on type of Christians they know, of course. If they're in a community that adds to (fundy) or takes away from (liberal) the Gospel, they may not get the help they need anyhow.]

donsands said...

That was an excellent post for spur-of-the-moment.

".. because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved.
And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie:
That they might all be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." 2 Thes. 2:10-12

When i read this, and other verses, along with your thoughts on apostacy, I am uncomfortable within myself, and yet I am confident in my love for the truth, and for Christ the Truth.

The Word surely does cut deep to the deepest part of our conscience and soul. And it also brings rest to our soul as well.

Barbara said...

Following up on Stefan's comment as well as Phil's own discussion of going to mature believers - I think this is where the unregenerate church shows itself to be the greatest danger .... when you can't find any mature believers, even (or especially) in church.

I think it's why there are more and more lambs on the internet looking for some food between church services. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness and a good understanding of His word and doctrine and in need of a depth of discussion that simply cannot be found anywhere else.

And in cyberspace, lots of wolves abound. It's definitely not a safe haven for the baby Christian - but I know in my case, it's all I can get.

Carl said...

Phil, thank you for you insightful comments. It would have been nice if I knew you personally and discussed this a little face-to-face. I know I would benefit from such a discussion. Reading your comments is an acceptable and beneficial substitute.

I also offer encouragement to you (as well as other knowledgable Christians) to continue to post Biblically-based lessons and articles for the benefit of Christian readers. The atheists are growing more aggressive in their attempts to deceive even the elect so Christian teachers need to be equally if not more active in presenting the Gospel in a loving manner.

Also, I hope your dental woes come to a satisfactory and hopefully painless end soon. My Momma was plagued by dental problems throughout much of her life many of which were caused initially by an incompetant dentist who performed unecessary dental procedures on many of his patients (including Momma) with the sole intention of making as much money as possible. His work was sloppy and caused more problems than they fixed. My Momma ended up having hundreds of dental procedures over the following decades to fix the problems caused by that one dentist. He's long since passed on.

Carl said...

Barbara must have posted while I was composing my comments. I concur with Barbara in regards to many in church who should be leading in educating the flock so they may be knowledgable and recognizant of those ravenous wolves of which God warned in Scripture.

Phil Johnson said...



timb said...

Two things came to mind when I read this post. (1) John Owen's comments: 'Be killing sin or it will be killing you'. Reading the stories of apostasy is sad.

(2) C.J. Mahaney had an excellent post on Faith, Doubt + Unbelief. Following Os Guinnness he distinguishes doubt from unbelief and encourages us to wrestle with doubts so they do not become unbelief. It almost seems to complement much of the discussion here.

trogdor said...

It's interesting that you mention the pattern that apostasy usually follows an extended withdrawal from fellowship. It can't be a coincidence that the most commonly-quoted passage about how essential it is to maintain fellowship (Heb 10:24-25) is immediately followed by one of the strongest warnings against apostasy (10:26ff). With a little wider context:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb 10:19-31)

The connection "for" is pretty important here. Keep meeting together and encouraging together, for apostasy is a terrible, horrifying thing. It's clear that maintaining fellowship is key to preventing apostasy, and those who withdraw themselves put themselves in grave, grave danger.

Stefan Ewing said...

That's a really good point, trogdor, especially as you applied to to Phil's observation regarding withdrawal from fellowship.

Rick Frueh said...

One of the most thorough, thoughtful, and compassionate posts I have read in almost 4 years on the internet. Thank you for a post that on any level can minister to all of us.

CR said...

I had two acqaintances/friends who went into apostasy. Both were surprises. One lady blamed Christians for being a stumbling block in her family. She did come from a very, very, very weird professing Christian family. I remember mentioning to her while there are other Christians who are great hindrances to the body, the biggest stumbling block to Christians is themselves. I encouraged her, maybe too forcefully, to examine her own life. A year later, she admitted her apostasy in secret because In her blog she made some wild political accusations and accused me of being a hypocrite because I called the Daily Kos the Daily Kooks. When I publicly asked her to forgive me for offending her (even though the Daily Kos are kooks) she emailed me privately about her apostasy. She didn't want her family to know. To this day, I've always wondered if by confronting her I contributed to her apostasy.

Anyway, someone from the Internet lured her into "checking out" if the Bible was true. She said she came to the realization she had believed in a lie and reading things like "Egyptian Book of the Dead" (???) really helped her out to believe the Bible wasn't true. My guess is that given that she was communicating with this guy with endearing terms they probably hooked up. Her apostasy turned into sheer anger and outrage. Just 4 years ago she was trying to get me to court her and I considered it. I wasn't comfortable for reasons I won't get into. But she gave every indication she was a believer. She was very imperfect like many of us, I thought too rough on the edges, some ways, but indicative of being a believer.

In the case of my other friend, I was really confused because he kept saying that he didn't believe in Hell nor did he believe the Bible was inerrant. I tried to convince him other wise, gave him some books on it. He said he had changed his mind, but I learned he was lying. He just didn't want to get into a discussion. Finally, after getting into a long discussion about it two years later when he admitted he still didn't believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and Hell, after a 1.5 hour conversation he admitted saying, "Ok, I'm just going to say it, I'm basically a new ager."

In both cases, they either kept their apostasy secret or lied about it with others and from me for at least a while.

My experiences are not unlike that of Phil. Apostasy is covered in much, secrecy, self-deception and much lies. Some of it because they are afraid of the opinion of their families and friends.

I've never contemplated leaving the faith, but I've asked myself, if I did, the one thing comes back to my mind, just like the apostles, "to where would I go?"

I mean, seriously, where would I go. To Hell for eternity?? I mean, there's just nothing in this world for me. But I guess, apostasy is so self-deceiving, rationality completely leaves you? I don't know.

Natrimony said...

Nothing is impossible for God. Hebrew 6 and 10 warn against apostasy, but the preserving power of God cannot be thwarted. Job, although sovereignly buoyed, was no paragon of faith. His complaint was loud and his lament was fervently pointed toward God. Job did indict God for his predicament. However, he remained faithful and persevered solely according to the unconditional election which he was graced to receive.

"Hebrews 6 and 10 likewise speak of the impossibility of being renewed to repentance after deliberately turning away from Christ with full knowledge and conviction of the truth of His claims."

I am one who has been renewed to repentance after years of blatant rebellion and functional apostasy. I spat at the things of God subsequent to making profession of faith. However, growing up as a covenant child included me in the grace of the church and eventually served as a beacon by which the Holy Spirit might reclaim my broken life through repentance.

I had full knowledge of both the grace and saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ denying him not 3 times but 33,000 times in both word and deed. Still, the good Shepherd knew his sheep, leaving the 90 and 9 to bring back the one.

The Westminster Confession tells us this:

"True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God's withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair."--WCF XVIII. iv.

Euodia said...

Dan -

Where did you get your theological training? (Not a smart aleck question. I think I may now you from years past...)

Sharon said...

Sadly, I think most of us have known someone whom we thought was a firm believer in Christ, only to see him fall away into sin and deny the very Lord who bought him. In my case, this person was faithfully involved in music ministry.

You just watch in, well, disbelief at how anyone can turn away from "so great a salvation" and slap God in the face. Yes, very sad, indeed.

A Musician by Grace

jeff said...

Thanks Phil,
I just got done listening to 2 of your sermons on the unpardonable sin and they really convicted me. You can imagine how surprised I was then when I checked out the blog today and found that was the topic of discussion. It reminded me again to examine myself to make sure I am in the faith.

I'll miss you all during the month of October, but I hope you all enjoy a much deserved rest. I hope your teeth issues get resolved. Thanks again for the ministry of the pyromaniacs.

Rick Frueh said...

It is my view that Hebrews also teaches that when apostacy occurs there can be no repentance. (Heb.6:4-6). My question would be this, have you ever seen someone who has gone as far as Tombstone repent and return to finish their lives serving Christ?

I have not.

James Scott Bell said...

Why do these "ex-Christians" and their "testimonies" follow with the need to "debunk" Christianity? If they every truly loved Jesus, why do they now set up as his enemies? Why try to tear down the faith of others? This, it seems to me, is a profoundly unkind, if not downright wicked, thing to do.

Ingersoll, the leading skeptic of the 19th Century, led young men into licentious ruin and even occasioned a spike in suicide. So if you lose your faith, why try to take it away from others and potentially lead them to the same things? Why not just live your lives according to your lights? Why this pathological need to do harm?

Oh, because it is "freedom" that is really being preached. It is a casting off of intellectual shackles. I see.

Leaving only two destinies. If correct, and this life is all there is, they will never be granted the proof that they were right; if incorrect, they will know the awful truth that they were wrong. In either case, this is a "no satisfaction guaranteed" offer. That is the ultimate gift of this new breed of aggressive skepticism.

Kirby L. Wallace said...

Forgive my cut-n-paste response, but I'm getting to the point where just about anything I want to say on just about any topic, I've already written about on my own blog/website. Rather than reiterate, I'd rather just say "Like I said before..."

If I'm breaking any rules, please let me know.

So, like I said:

The word of God can be read with the understanding, and can be used to apply and increase knowledge. That knowledge can even be applied and turned into action. In fact, Jesus even told us plainly that this would happen. It happens all the time and there are tens of thousands of churches in this country and beyond that have done exactly that. They understand – they really do understand “what saith the scripture.” And they may even be doing it – but they do not believe it, and more importantly, they do not believe the one who said it.

But it is only the Holy Spirit who can take the knowledge and understanding and then illuminate the heart and bring about real belief. Without this work of revelation by the Holy Spirit, man is operating on the sheer force of his intellect (what Watchman Nee called the “latent power of the soul”) and on his own human willpower (as Charles Finney believed).

And make no mistake; the intellect in partnership with man's limited and corrupted willpower, can put on a pretty good show – very convincing. But the intellect cannot make a man believe no matter how hard he tries. And, no matter what Charles Finney thinks, a man can will himself to believe with no greater success. The intellect is the easiest of man’s faculties to deceive and his willpower is the weakest of provacateurs. Is it any wonder that God shuns them as a vehicle of salvation?

It was the Holy Spirit who removed the scales from Paul’s eyes. Not Paul. It was the Holy Spirit (in Jesus) who concealed Jesus from his disciples. “No man can know Jesus except the father lead him. And no man can know the father except those to whom the Son reveals Him.” There is no way for intellect to gain purchase here. This armour has no weak link. The union and bond between the Father and the Son is impenetrable, and can only be done by the consent and active work of both of them in inviting you into that union.

Without the revelation of God the Father, through his Holy Spirit, you will only ever understand the scripture. You may even profess an agreement with what it says. But you will never believe it and thus secure your salvation. Salvation is based upon believing God, in your heart, not in your mind, or in your emotions, or even in your understanding.

So long as your belief is the result of the revelation of God, you cannot be dissuaded. However, if your belief is, in reality, just a mental consent to “the facts”, or if you were argued into your position, then your “belief” is only as strong as the arguments that you use to bolster and fortify it – your “belief” is based upon “flesh and blood” (the intellect, or knowledge, or the mind). Your faith will fail in such cases because it is built on persuasion and not on revelation. All it takes is for someone more clever than you to come along and persuade you of something else. And one other good name for the tempter is the persuader. And the bad news for you is that he’s the expert – and you aren’t.

full text at:

Kirby L. Wallace said...

And again:

But I've never seen an apologist, Lewis or other, who engaged in Apologetics for the benefit of the roaring lion. His many books were written to believers to aid them - not the frauds, deceivers and ignoramuses he wrote about.

God "reveals" himself. He is not "discovered" in logical arguments or rational debate. In Elijah’s case, God revealed himself in quite a stunning fashion!

There’s no debate to be had wherein one person makes a strong argument, or perhaps another makes a weak argument resulting in "Oops! I slipped. Dang, now I believe in Jesus!"

Nobody finds themselves suddenly worshipping the Lord in spirit and in Truth because they lost an argument and had no other logical choice. “Drat! Why am I praising God? If only I’d made a more forceful presentation none of this would have happened…”

I know I’m being sarcastic, but that’s what “I was convinced by rational debate…” ultimately boils down to. A worship of God because you were intellectually cornered into doing so.

Full text at: http://www.uniuslibri.com/UniusLibriIndex.asp?action=&articleid=6

FX Turk said...

Phil said this:

If you find yourself resentful and doubting in the wake of personal tragedy, don't cultivate that kind of emotionally-driven doubt. (And if you do, don't salve your mind by assuring yourself that your doubts are "rational.") I do understand and sympathize with the depth of grief suffered by someone who is suffering personal loss such as the death of one's children or the loss of one's health, or whatever. Job lost everything at once, and his response is the model of true faith: "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" (Job 13:15). That didn't keep him from saying (later in that very same verse), "Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him." But if the opening phrase of that verse doesn't describe the quality of your belief in God, your "faith" probably will not survive the inevitable sorrows and hardships of life in this sin-cursed world.

This may be the most important practical matter of theology anyone can receive (which is saying a lot, given the treasure-trove in this post). My wife says it this way: "At some point, you have to be able to distinguish between the truth and your emotions."

I have been teaching through the OT to my sunday school class (whom I will miss greatly as we move to Little Rock), and there is one fact about the OT which is so glaringly-true that I wonder why most people don't take it for granted: the world is a hard place. And by "hard" I don't mean "sometimes we don;t get what we want".

I mean that Cain slew Able. I mean that the men of Sodom wanted to rape the visitors to Lot. I mean that even Abraham gave his wife over to adultery to save his own skin, and that when she suggested it, he himself committed adultery. I mean that the sons of Jacob through their brother down a well and sold him into slavery. I mean that Pharoah hated Israel for being good & prosperous servants. And jumping ahead a little, Jonathan dies in battle next to his crazy and murderous father. I mean that Absolom hated his father and was jealous of God's anointed and sought to take his kingdom buy force and treachery when David would have given to him out of love.

And that's not to mention all the other murders, rapes, and craven behaviors of the people whom God called "my son" and "my children", of the litany of atrocities carried out by the enemies of Israel.

The world is a hard place, and we who camp out in safe, easy America really have no idea how hard is can be. So when it gets hard, we think that somehow nobody has ever suffered before -- or worse, that somehow God promised us we would never suffer, that he would protect us.

In truth, God said He would deliver us -- "the deliverer shall come from Zion!" And in delivering us, the model is how he delivered Noah, which was not that the flood struck everywhere but where Noah was: Noah and his family were delivered through the flood. Joshua and Caleb where delivered through the 40 years of punishment in the desert -- the only ones to survive that generation. The remnant in Elijah's day were delivered among the worshippers of Baal and not merely tucked in the cleft of the rock.

And Job, of course, was spared not from the torments of the Adversary, but through the torments of the Adversary.

And I say all that to say this: It really doesn't matter how you feel about God right now -- because I promise you, I have felt somewhat angry at God for taking away my leeks and garlic and setting me in the desert. I have been angry at Him for making today hard and thin. The really bizzare thing my wife and I have discovered is that we believed the truth about him in those times, and even though those times were hard, when we look back on them, now we relish what God did in those times.

Those were the best years of our lives, and they were well-spent. They proved out our faith-- and more importantly proved out our God, proved out that He is faithful even when our faith is only enough for this five minutes.

Yes, even if He slays me, I trust Him. This is how faith looks.

Good word, Phil.

donsands said...

And good word Cent. What a blessing to read your thoughts here.
Now off to church, to worship our Lord and Deliverer.

Former_Fundy said...


Thanks for the gracious remarks about me. I do remember you as a very nice person as well and I enjoyed our lunch back in 95 as well as the interaction we had on the email forum back in the infancy of the internet.

There are several points I would like to make.

1. Apostasy is not always due to a moral failure. I think many Christians assume that the reason one falls away is because he/she has fallen into sin and is now looking for a way to rationalize their behavior.

2. Apostasy is not always due to the fact that the person did not really understand the gospel or the Bible or had a head belief but did not really love the Lord or some such explanation.

3. Apostasy is not always due to the fact that some Christian or church let them down or they had so many bad events in their life that they became bitter against God.

While any one of these might be the impetus for some to apostasize, you cannot assume its the case with all.

Apostasy can be due, as it is in my case, to an intellectual journey that simply leads you away from the faith you once held. Not all go into agnosticism as I have done, some go into Catholicism as Frank Beckwith did, some go into liberal theology as C. H. Toy did (Toy was one of the early faculty members at Southern Baptist Seminary but later wound up as a Unitarian teaching at Harvard)and others go into atheism as Charles Templeton (early associate of Billy Graham) did. Others may just stay in the church and keep their mouths shut for whatever reason.

I know that when you think you have the "whole truth" as many evangelicals think, its hard to understand how someone could also know that same truth and yet come to reject it. It can't be an intellectual matter (because the truth is so clear and consistent) but it must be due to some moral failure or just plain rebellion against God. Or they must have just believed in their head but never in their heart, etc.

Finally, here is a question for all of you: How do you know that you are "really saved?" How do you know that you will not one day fall away as I and many others have done? Can you really be certain that you are one of the "elect"? If you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have said I had complete assurance.

Chad V. said...

Former Fundy
The question is not how can we know that we are really saved. The question is how do will you justify yourself before God? We have faith in Christ. You have nothing but your own sin.

So if we are wrong and you are right then there is no harm in what we believe and what we believe will not make any difference eternally anyhow. But if you are wrong and the scriptures are true then you have nothing but wrath and indignation awaiting you.

You claim that apostasy is not always due to moral failure. You are wrong. Failure to have faith in Christ is moral failure of the highest order. To not believe God leads to all other moral failures. To turn from God leads to every kind of wickedness. To sin sexually or to steal or to lie is not nearly so wicked as it is to try to lead followers of Christ astray. Your question is in itself a moral failing of the first order and agnosticism is moral failure.

DJP said...

Chad — good response. Minds me of this, which would develop and back up your point.

Former — "...many Christians assume that the reason one falls away is because he/she has fallen into sin and is now looking for a way to rationalize their behavior" is close to true.

Take out "assume" and replace with "observe," and you've got it.

Did you even read Phil's post? All of it? What is it you think you're correcting?

So, you give up the epistemological right to make any categorical statement about anything in the epistemological or moral spheres — and, from that stance-in-midair, try to win over those who actually do have a basis for their thoughts and lives.

Noble. Brilliant. Compelling.

Those are just three of the words that have nothing to do with your efforts, except in terms of antithesis.

Anonymous said...

"I call it the Loftus Phenomenon."

Cool! I now have a phenomenon named after me!

Phil said...The only part of his story that doesn't ring true is his current participation with a group of the most obnoxious propagandists for skepticism on the Internet...promoting unbelief alongside the likes of John W. Loftus and crew is a little hard to understand.

Sorry to disappoint you but I am not obnoxious. Are you? I'm pretty sure that calling Touchstone a "Stone Cold Liar" would be seen as really obnoxious from our side of the fence. We argue, yes, just like you do. But obnoxious is what obnoxious does.

My motivation is not that much different than you. I wrote about my motivation here. Hector Avalos simply said that since he knows a lot about Biblical studies he will share what he knows best. I too have a unique perspective among skeptics. Not many skeptics have studied the Christian faith as much as people on my blog, including Former_Fundy. So why walk away from it and waste that which we've learned? Maybe by sharing what we've learned we can help others? So that's what we do.

You can see that clearly in my book that I treat my opponents with respect, which is recommended by evangelical apologists and philosophers like Norman L. Geisler, James F. Sennett, and Mark Linville. See here. There is no way they would recommend my book if I didn't.


Anonymous said...

BTW Former_Fundy is not currently a member at DC with us. He's always welcome back, but he's just too busy at the moment. And I believe Touchstone will reveal himself shortly (although I am not sure of this).

DJP said...

Well, at least now the "why" question is answered.

You're here to troll for you blog, and shill for your book.

Got it.

Rick Frueh said...

There many spirits of anti-christ that "roam" the earth today as well as from the beginning. Their startegies are a myriad of complex and simple deceptions, and one distinct deception is to use the human inteelect to both counteract faith, but as in this man, allow that same intellect to think more highly of itself than it ought. In short, your enlightened intellect did not lead you to truth, it was a tool that was used to lead away from truth.

But please do not assume that these spirits only interact with the intellect and with those with a sufficient capacity to be spiritually refracted, no, they attack all of us. What seems like a journey through enlightenment is actually a drifting from enlightenment.

Many intellectuals have experienced the same journey only in the opposite direction and have come to know truth through Christ. Discouragement, depression, science, romance, are just a few of the arenas which are leveraged to break spiritual inertia and create the momentum of doubt, which left unchecked and unchallenged, may very well end in apostacy.

To profess to understand these spiritual complexities and how the evil spirits interact with the material brain cells is to completely underestimate the eternal intentions of that evil, as well as the monstrous power of suggestion from the supreme evil entity.

It is a mystery why some complete the journey and become combatants against what they had combatively espoused at a former time, while others become spiritually atrophied but without the antagonistic effervescence some have chosen. It is the deepest and most serious question within the church itself.

When viewed in the context of an overall evil design, it is brilliant. The evil one's gambit will pay dividends as he uses a former professor of Christ as his mouthpiece in a colossal attempt to lend credibility which mirrors the testimonies of believers who God rescued from former lifestyles and belief patterns. Think of all the former (fill in the blanks) whose testimony for Christ has expanded credentials simply on the basis of that past experience, and so it is with former followers of Christ.

It is sad, it is serious, it is breathtaking, and it is the ultimate and eternal gamble. In the end it will all rest on this one question, "Is Jesus of Nazareth the only way to eternal life, and is faith in Him the exclusive conduit to that gift?"

All the other philosophical discussions will one day dry up and be done, and what is left will be the truth for which the world continues to search. If on that day that truth is Jesus alone, then those who have graduated from the Judas school of higher critcism will be of all men most miserable.

Rick Frueh said...

"And I believe Touchstone will reveal himself shortly."

A discerning believer already knows who he is, he is called by the same nickname that Jesus gave Peter one time.


Habitans in Sicco said...

No, Loftus, you're pretty obnoxious.

You write elsewhere: "Today I am pretty much guilt free. . . I’m living life to the hilt, pretty much guilt free, primarily because my ethical standards aren’t as high. In fact, I believe the Christian ethical standards are simply impossible for anyone to measure up to. Think about it, according to Jesus I should feel guilty for not just what I do, but for what I think about, lusting, hating, coveting, etc. I’d like every person who reads this book to experience the freedom I have found."

I wouldn't expect someone who admits he can lust, hate, and covet with total impunity of conscience to realize how truly and thoroughly obnoxious he is, but take my word for it: it's even uglier than the fundamentalist pharisaism you seem to think is the same thing as biblical Christianity.

Stefan Ewing said...

"In fact, I believe the Christian ethical standards are simply impossible for anyone to measure up to."

That's the point. We are born in sin—all of us—and incapable of satisfying those ethical standards. That's why God in His grace has given a propitiation for our sins through His incarnate Son, so that we can be in a right relationship with Him.

Those same legalistic professing Christians that are the source of such disillusionment among ex-Christians (or so goes the rationalization) are quite possibly not truly Christian and therefore not true representatives of Christ, if they have not brought the sin of their own self-righteousness before the Cross of Christ.

Our relationship to God is what the Bible says it is. Our righteousness is as filthy rags. There is none who does good, not even one. Our only hope is in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

And with that, I've got to get ready to be in the Lord's house with the Lord's people on the Lord's day.

God have mercy on us all.

Antonio said...
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Antonio said...
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Chad V. said...

stefan Nicely put.

Phil Johnson said...

Frank Turk: "This may be the most important practical matter of theology anyone can receive . . ."

I agree. In fact, I went back and boldfaced that paragraph shortly after reading your comment, because the very next thing I read was the tragic news that a member of the TeamPyro community, Pastor Terry Stauffer, lost his precious 14-year-old daughter in a senseless murder yesterday afternoon. Please keep him and his wife Juanita in your prayers.

The practical implications of what we are discussing above are indeed enormous, and if you haven't anchored your life firmly on the bedrock of authentic faith in Christ, you're not going to survive when life's storms blow this hard.

Chad V. said...

John W. Loftus

It's the hatred for God that you have couched in civility that's so obnoxious.

John, If you really believed that there was no God you wouldn't spend so much time and effort trying to disprove his existence. No matter how hard you try you will not be able to escape the day when you must stand before God and answer for your sins. Outside of the righteousness of Christ you will be damned eternally to everlasting torment.

You can kick and scream, and you can argue and rant, and you can do it all with an air of civility but it will do you no good at all. God is not mocked. What you sow you will reap. You are storing up wrath for yourself unto the day of judgement. No amount of denial or clever argumentation can save you.

James Scott Bell said...

Loftus: "If I see a pretty girl I can imagine what she looks like naked if I want to, and comment on her looks to the guys, so long as I do nothing about it, since I’m a very happily married man. I can drink and get buzzed if I want to. If someone does get in my face I don’t have to be a mild mannered man, but I can tell him to get the **** away from me, and I can say it like I mean it." [asterisks mine, JD]

This is "life to the full"? This is what it's all about?

Chad V. said...

You can imagine a girl naked because you're a happily married man? So in other words you can cheat on your wife in your mind because you think that there is no harm done. What foolishness!

Christ says; But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Matt 5:28

Adultery in the mind is the same as the act itself in the eyes of God. Your glory is your shame. Phil 3:19

Carl said...

Romans 1:18-23
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles."

1 John 2:22-23
Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist — he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. [NIV]

Titus 1:15,16
To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. [NIV]

1 Corinthians 1:18
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. [NIV]

John 15:6
If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. [NIV]

DJP said...

Johnny - This is "life to the full"? This is what it's all about?


Besides, if the God of the Bible does not exist, what is really silly about that statement is the restraint. Why only look and picture? Why be restrained? You're the center of the universe and there are no absolutes. Add the evolutionary imperative to that, and ruthlessly crushing the weak is about as close to "good" as you can get.

It's a God-haunted vision. It's whistling past the graveyard - and past what lies beyond the graveyard.

Carol Jean said...

Phil said, "Under the cloak of anonymity, they will begin to gravitate toward skeptical forums. And if they do voice their doubts in "Christian" forums, rather than going where they might get help from mature believers, they tend to favor mixed forums featuring totally unmoderated discussion dominated by lay people, novices, and cranks."

That, and more - they can take others with them, which is why it's important to "out" them. I encountered Touchstone on a well-known homeschooling forum in 2006 at a time they were having a weekly book discussion of Rob Bell's "Velvet Elvis." I remember the date because we were dealing with Bell/EC issues in our (then) church at the time.

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.2 Timothy 3:6-7

He was embracing Bell's pomo confusion and love affair with uncertainty and proselytizing unashamedly. It was extremely frustrating to try to reason with him or present an opposing viewpoint - he had seemingly endless hours to write lengthy posts promoting his "different doctrine" I surmised he must have been unemployed to have so much time on his hands - he was certainly dedicated!

The sad part was that he was taking many of the women on this forum with him. They were awed by his intellect and so thrilled to have a "man's" point of view on issues of faith (where were their husbands???). He seemed so sensitive and understanding and his angst and seeming depth made him such a sympathetic figure. I shudder to think that he may have shipwrecked the faith of some of these women.

In our SS class this AM we discussed how God wants all men "to come to the knowledge of the truth." Our teacher talked about how when we doubt, we should be like Habakkuk, who cried out to God with a sincere heart, earnestly seeking answers, not with a rebellious heart that embraces and revels in doubt.

FX Turk said...


I am sure you and your, um, associates have seen my blog DebateBlog in which I have had encounters with a wide variety of people with ideas about Christianity, including one pop-culture movie-making atheist.

Here's a thesis:

All flavors of atheism leave man philosophically unequipped to resolve the problem of evil.

Here's a second thesis:

The message of the Christian Scripture is the only philosophically-credible resolution of the problem of evil.

I am about to start a new job this week, but I will have almost all of my evenings free. I will be willing to defend both theses in separate exchanges with you taking the contrary position.

The blog has a normal set of rules for engagement, but for you I'd be willing to consider the following:
• 1500-word opening statements from both sides
• 150-word limit for questions
• 500-word limit for answers
• 10 Q's and 10 A's from each side
• 1000-word closer from both sides.
• a 500-word summary or analysis from you to close each exchange.

Because you're a a rational guy that Norman Geisler thinks is the cream of the crop for atheists, and because we are closing TeamPyro for a month, it's an open invite for which I happen to have a lot of time. You e-mail me to start the exchange. My only non-negotiable condition is that we must do both theses if we are to do any exchanges at all.

Anonymous said...

Frank, I know little about you. So let me ask if you've read my book. Have you? I just wonder if you'd so quickly want to debate me if you had, that's all. See this.

VcdeChagn said...

Maybe by sharing what we've learned we can help others?

Help us do what exactly? Release us from the shackles of bondage to loving our wives as Christ loves the church, training up our children, helping widows and orphans and singing corny worship songs?

Oh, wait..I could use some help with the latter.

How do you know that you will not one day fall away as I and many others have done?

I don't...what I do is irrelevant. I know that God is faithful and that I am not. That is enough for me.

Fear is certainly not part of the equation. Matt 10:28

Wendy said...
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wordsmith said...

I, too, can think of friends whom twenty years ago I would have considered genuine Christians. In the intervening years, however, they have proved themselves otherwise. Apostasy is truly a sobering, horrifying thought, and the warning to examine oneself to see if one is in the faith is always a timely exhortation.

At the same time, though, I praise our Lord that He is able and willing to preserve His elect. His sheep know His voice, and they will not listen to the voice of a stranger.

Chris H said...

I would venture to say that "obnoxious" can be described in part as ruthlessly hawking your blog and/or book to a group who are unlikely to be interested.

Rick Frueh said...

I have been saved for over 33 years and Ihave seen a number of professing believers end up in what could be described a apostacy, generally mirroring Tombstone's story. I ask again, has anyone witnessed someone returning to active faith after descending to such a place?

The theme song for such a scenario would be "Against All Odds".

Magister Stevenson said...

Just when October looks to be the bleakest of months, Frank come in and offers a ray of sunshine (no offense, Dan; I'll be visiting your blog as well).

DJP said...

None taken. I go to Frank's blog several times every day myself.

Phil said...

I want to put this thought in here for consideration-how often do people think it is that what's really going on with those generally termed'apostates',is that they've gone from being 'Romans 2 unbelievers'to 'Romans 1 unbelievers'? They've gone from being christianized Pharisees,works religionists-maybe with 'all the right doctrines and many of the right practices'-seeking God's love,favour and blessing by what they DO for Christ,rather than what Christ has DONE for them-have realized the folly and hypocrisy of such 'christian religion'-and,yet sinners-have exchanged that for the religion of no religion? They've not responded to a gospel of grace-perhaps they don't even know it right...I'm pretty sure that many of the folks here are marrying law and grace as the strength of holiness,and as consistent with the gospel and true sanctification. I don't think true believers have so learned Christ,and while they may have not continued as they began,they did not start in such a way. I see a lot of talk about the warning passages in Heb-they are warnings for those who would reject the rest of grace,a rest from seeking God's love,favour,blessing by what a person does (to obligate God to them with their'merits')-a rest that a person enters in to by a repentance from 'dead works'-a turning from seeking his favour by what we DO-and receiving it freely,qualified by what He's DONE. And a rest that is continually appropriated as the strength of living out the indwelling life of Christ. The warnings are a 'having heard about this new Covenant,do not reject this rest!'. But people seem often to make them out to be 'keep on keeping on!'No,gospel repentance is to quit that attitude-of course we can't have any assurance that way,and it's just as well...The message of Hebrews is the newness of the new covenant-unbelievers believe-those who have believed keep on believing-because it already is your's and you are eternally secure. Persevere in rest,where your faith is the fruit of grace...now to bring out my point concerning the popularly termed 'apostate'-yes he is still dead in his sins,but it's because he hasn't received the gift of repentance by turning from his dead works and their fruit. He manifests that lack with a suppression of the accountability to God he has in himself after his fashion-the Rom1 fashion. But that he rejects a christianized works religion-though he is certainly not free himself-does not put him in a worse standing before God,as concerns the offer of a free forgiveness without works 'as long as it is called today'. It may even-humanly speaking-leave him in a position where he is more open to rest from his works-and believe on the Christ who has laid up such for him. The most unresponsive hearts are those of religionists. Though God is not far from everyone of us,they are the ones that are naturally the most resistant to grace. The Conservative Pharisee sinners,not the open sinners. Many that are first shall be last,and the last first. I want to just remind that the gift of gospel repentance will save many a Rom1 man who suppressed the truth in unrighteousness,and condemn many a person who 'persevered' in his 'faith'. How much harder(humanly speaking)is it for the latter to be accept his grace and be saved. And ultimately,both the Rom1 man,and the Rom2 man,reject Christ because their hearts are the same-bent on self-potentiation/self-righteousness/gospel unbelief,and all the sin that that engenders in their respective cases.

Former_Fundy said...

A few more comments and observations:

1. I am not an evangelist for agnosticism. This is the position where I arrived but I am not interested in trying to win people over to my way of thinking. If you are happy and content as an evangelical or a Roman Catholic or Mormon or whatever, good for you. I may ask you questions about your beliefs but at the end of the day, its doesn't matter to me where you end up.

2. Several of you have referred to variations of Pascal's wager. What if you are wrong, etc.? Well what if you are wrong as an evangelical Christian? What if the Church of Christ is right and you will go to hell because of not being baptized properly? What if the Roman Catholics are right? What if the Moslems are right? I am sure you cannot allow yourself to even imagine the possiblity you might be wrong. Most of the people in those various religions cannot allow themselves to think they might be wrong either. Its the nature of religions--people are convinced they are right.

3. I have not heard anyone respond to the question of how you can be certain today that you are really saved? Given your belief system, i.e. Calvinism, how do you know that you have genuine faith and that you will persevere in the end?

DJP said...

Your unsolicited presence here, and your question #3, give the lie to statement #1.

A more fundamental question: given all that, and given that you can have no transcendent ethical imperative, why should anyone believe anything you say about anything?

Former_Fundy said...


You guys are quick to throw the word liar around.

My question #3 is not an attempt to win you over to agnosticism, but rather an attempt to see if you have thought about the problem and have any sort of solution.

As for transcendent ethical imperative, I take it you do have one? Maybe you could elucidate.

DJP said...

Hm; your insinuation that I used the word "liar" is a lie. But I reiterate what you have not controverted: "Your unsolicited presence here, and your question #3, give the lie to statement #1."

IOW, you would have us believe that you so don't care what we believe so long as we're happy, and so aren't a dysangelist for your bilious nothingness, that you came here uninvited to advocate said ideological black hole, and persist (in that very comment) to compel a discussion in what interests you.

As I said: 3 gives the lie to 1.

As to your challenge (which further calls your #1 into question), done, and often so. As you know already, since you of course (being an openminded searcher, right?) you read the link I gave you in the 7:28 AM, September 28, 2008 response.

VcdeChagn said...

I have not heard anyone respond to the question of how you can be certain today that you are really saved? Given your belief system, i.e. Calvinism, how do you know that you have genuine faith and that you will persevere in the end?

I sort of answered it earlier..but here's a direct answer.

You emphasize you too much. I am certain of nothing about myself except that I am a wretch in need of a Savior.

Who do you think does the persevering anyway?

When Christ says "Which one of these have I lost" I believe Him.

Any argument where you point to MY strength rather than God's...you can win that one.

Any argument where you point to HIS strength rather than mine...your loss is inevitable and foreordained.

Stefan Ewing said...

Philip: Yes, very much yes, to what you said. The Gospel is for the natural man, for the works-based religionist, but also for us who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, lest we fall ourselves into a purely works-based sanctification, without relying on God's grace and mercy.

I know only this much: the more I dwell on the Cross, the more I realize how easy it is to stray from it. The more I seek God's grace and mercy, the more acutely aware I become of how much I need it.

Magister Stevenson said...

Allow a moment of praise: I appreciate the fact that the commenters at this blog don't see the need to grant Loftus or his crew any speck of piety, nor are they worried by the questions. I appreciate seeing people put their faith in Christ and rest there.

I think we should coin a new spelling for "so" when what is meant is an excessive amount of some feeling to be "soo", analogous to "too".

Stefan Ewing said...
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Anonymous said...

An excellent post with important information for the up-and-coming. Thanks, Phil.

PS: Please.... where was the first epistle of John in all this discussion?

Rick Frueh said...

Answer not a fool in his folly, and we should not answer questions from anyone except from honest seekers, or fellow believers. This is not a question and answer from those who openly deny Christ and teach others to do the same, we have only one answer to demonic voices of apostacy - Repent and believe the gospel.

Chad V. said...

Stefan thanks for your testimony, But Fundy's question is really more along the lines of "How do you know that what happened to him won't happen to you?"

He's essentially asking the same type of question that Satan asked in the garden. We have faith in the promises of God and that none that are in the hands of Christ will ever be lost. Fundie doesn't believe that and since he can't fathom how anyone could really believe that he's thinks that his question will raise doubt in the minds of Christ's people and his position will be justified.

So Fundie, for all of your pretended politeness and civility you have no excuse for your unbelief. I have no doubt that Satan was very polite to eve when he said "Hath God said?" Just because you can't understand how we can know we are secure in Christ doesn't mean that we are wrong. It just means that you are not half as enlightened or wise as you think you are.

If you will not repent of your unbelief then you will die in your sins. According to 2Pet 3:5 you are deliberately ignorant.

Stefan Ewing said...

Well, like a fish taking the bait, I'll bite at Former Fundy's question #3.

In a nutshell, I grew up in an atheistic Jewish household. I strongly believed this material world is all there is. In my early 20s, I read fairly large chunks of the Old Testament—the Hexateuch, and some other books—and the Gospels. It didn't make any sense, however, and my wanderings led me to the unholy triad of Joseph Campbell, John Shelby Spong, and the Jesus Seminar. Their "hermeneutic" led me to an intellectually proud, avowed atheism in my 20s. I was the king of skeptics, and thought all Christians were deluded hypocrites, pure and simple.

But things kept happening in my life—dreams; weird coincidences; the sense that I was being steered in a certain direction by a force incomprehensible to me—and none of it made any sense. And no matter what worldview I tried to make sense of these occurrences with—atheism, Buddhism, Judaism (I tried them all, and more)—none of it made any sense.

And none of it would make any sense until I started to turn to the Cross of Christ. Over the course of recent years, I started praying, reading and studying Scripture again, and meeting deep-thinking, sincere, evangelical Christians (who, remember, I thought were all deluded hypocrites).

When my agnostic wife decided that we should go to church for purely worldly reasons, we went to a biblically conservative, evangelical church. I was sure I was in enemy territory. The atheist in me was being preached to about a God that I still didn't firmly believe in, and the Jew in me was being preached to by Gentiles who, I thought, had got the teachings of Christ all wrong for the last 2000 years since Paul, I was sure, had got it all wrong in the first place.

Then something happened. As I heard the Word of God faithfully preached week after week, the Holy Spirit started to work on my heart. I learned of the grace of God. I began to understand what exactly Jesus Christ had done for sinners, who we all are. I learned that the God of the Jewish Scriptures and the God of the New Testament are One and the Same. Finally, in one sermon, I learned of the sovereign grace of God in redeeming Jews and Gentiles alike (Romans 11:23-24), and His promise to breathe new life into the children of Abraham (Ezekiel 37:5-6). Over the next week, I wrestled with what I had heard, gave myself over to Christ, and down on my knees in tears, repented for my sins.

That was a year and a half ago. Suddenly, the Bible made sense. Now, I saw by the light of the Holy Spirit, Paul had got it right. What he taught was what Jesus taught, which is what God the Father had taught. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.

And all those weird coincidences and what not over my many years in the wilderness? They all made sense now, when seen from a Gospel-centered worldview. They hadn't made sense from a Jewish, or Buddhist, or atheist point of view, or in any of the other worldviews I explored.

That may not hold much water with an agnostic or universalist, but my faith is not a pure intellectual or philosophical construct. It is built on assurance, on tasting the goodness of the Lord. Since I was reborn in Christ, I have seen much more of His grace, His teaching, and sometimes His chastisement and His refining me in the fire. But my only hope is in Christ, and in His redeeming work on the Cross, and it is to that I flee, day after day.

If Former Fundy's or his ilk's encounter with Christians has been largely restricted to "Christians" who think they're going to get to heaven by wearing the right clothes on Sunday morning, having the right verse memorized, and doing the right good works, then what they've seen is a parody of real Christianity. Pure and simple. Forget about them—they are in as much need of repentance as you or I—and consider your own relationship with God. No matter how many verses of Hebrews we throw at you, until you breathe your last breath, there is still hope of redemption. Jesus Christ willingly gave His life on the Cross to bear God's just penalty for our sins. It is through His atoning blood alone that we can be right with God, and salvation is promised to all who place their faith in Jesus Christ.

May the Name of the Lord be praised from everlasting to everlasting.

Stefan Ewing said...

Rick: That was sound advice, and I was ambivalent about whether to reply or not, but well, there you have it.

Chad: I agree with your understanding of his question. To what degree the intent behind it is deliberate on his part is questionable.

Chad V. said...

Stefan I don't pretend to know his heart and it would be sin for me to do so, but I know that scripture says that men are willful in their unbelief. The rest is my strong suspicion based on my experience with people who once professed the name of Christ and apostatized.

Seemingly innocent questions like his often lead to out right open attacks when followed up. So, I'm just being weary.

Stefan Ewing said...


I am extremely wary. I have stared into the abyss of unbelief, and it's scary. "Did God really say?" is the gate to hell.

There is only one anchor in the stormy sea of life to which we can cling, and it's made of two wooden, blood-soaked beams, built upon the rock of Calvary.

Former_Fundy said...

I am asking an honest question. Paul says to examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith. Peter says to make your calling and election sure. John says they went out from us because they were not really of us. My question is how do you know that you will continue in the faith?

Phil said...

Stefan,my friend-loved your words. I'm only just beginning to get that God's not hiding his grace from us!It's not a commodity to be transfered between two, separate-but a love-gift inherent in the activity of Him who is now in union with us. The veil is gone,and we've received a spirit of adoption,and have an Abba who does not view us as miserable wretches anymore. Can I encourage you to check out Terry Rayburn's audio archive at graceforlife.com,and ask you to pray that this child would really get it?

Magister Stevenson said...

Former Fundy,
If it is an honest question, then by all means respond to Dan Phillips. He took up the challenge. Ball is in your court (until Tuesday evening).

I hope I'm not stepping out of line here.

Former_Fundy said...

If it is an honest question, then by all means respond to Dan Phillips. He took up the challenge.

I am sorry I can't find his answer. Can you point me to it or cut and paste it?

David Kyle said...

former fundy the answer to your obvious not-so-honest question is this...

Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. ~John 10:25-29

It also answers why you do not believe and can never know how we know we will not fall as you have. No extra charge.

Magister Stevenson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
donsands said...

"My question is how do you know that you will continue in the faith?"

God is faithful, even if we are not.

When God saves a soul, that person becomes a new creature altogether. You are born again. Just as your first birth, you can not become unborn, so in the Holy Spirit, when one is born of the Spirit, one cannot become unborn.

And love will develop in the heart of new believer. Our faith will have trails, and diubts will come in, but the faith that god imparts will never be vanquished, and the fruit of His love will never lose its roots in the new soil of the converts heart.

And the fruit of righteousness will be evidence as well.
Though sin will never be eliminated, and there shall always be a remnant of sin, the power of sin's control has be broken.

If God is for us, than who can be against us? And if God is against us, who can be for us?

Paul said: "...for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day." 2 Tim. 1:12

Anonymous said...

I'll take a stab at Fundy's question.

I suppose that I don't really know. But if I fall, it will be my falling, not God's unfaithfulness. But as God wills, he will keep me.

Stefan Ewing said...


God's grace be with you.

The Gospel has flesh-and-blood implications, not just for the non-believer, but for the believer as well. Our continual reliance upon God's grace and mercy is a principle that is sinking in to me now in a way that it did not before.

Some of the best sermons on this subject seem to be those preached upon the Pharisee and the Publican (or Tax Collector) in Luke 18:9-14.

For the non-believer, their hope lies in Jesus' words regarding the tax collector's justification. For believers, our admonition lies in careful consideration of the Pharisee's prayer, and regarding how it applies to us. Even if we are not "legalists," there is always a temptation to adopt the Pharisee's as our own prayer, and overlook the point that the tax collector's prayer is for us as well.

Spurgeon preached on it here—note his admonition "to the reader" at the very end!

Mark Dever preached one sermon giving an overview of the entire Gospel of Luke here, and the last 15 minutes or so (revolving around the Last Supper, this passage, and Dever's related closing prayer) are some of the most transformative words I have ever heard preached.

Reddit Andrews, another contemporary pastor, preached the text here (MP3 file).

All these sermons are very much worth reading or listening to.

David Kyle said...

For those like John Loftus and former fundy who ask how can you know you won't fall away...

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~Romans 8:35-39

Nothing can separate us from Him, our hope is in Him not ourselves. That hope in Him comes from KNOWING Him, and I mean in a very real and determinative way. You obviously never knew Him, no matter what you say, so then anything you say now is suspect.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. ~1 John 4:13

This is why you do not, or ever did know God. this is why your skepticism grew. You NEVER, EVER, had God's Spirit. So it is impossible for you to fathom our certainty. God have mercy on you.

James Scott Bell said...

FF is asking about knowledge of a future contingency: might the Calvinist end up NOT being one of the elect after all? How does he know he's not a false sheep? And for the Arminian, I suppose, how can he know he'll continue in the faith?

It's unanswerable no matter what your theology.

But assurance IS possible in the only reality we know--the now. If we have faith in Jesus (and only we know if we do at the present moment) we have blessed assurance.

My only admonition from my side of the theological fence is that faith is something that can be strengthened or weakened by what we do with it. That is why Peter admonishes us to "make our calling and election sure" by "making every effort" to add actual Christian virtue to our lives. (2 Pet. 1:5-11). And, conversely, to remain in fellowship lest sin's deceitfulness harden your heart to the point where it actually "turns away from the living God." (Heb. 3:12-15) There are numerous other Scriptures supporting both of these points.

I am of the theological opinion that one cannot "lose" one's salvation (like one loses reading glasses), but one can shipwreck his faith to the point of rebellion (Heb. 3:8) and THAT is when one has walked away from the new covenant. As an enemy of Christ.

Which is where I see these "debunkers" right now. Not just walking away, but wanting to take others with them. A terrible state to be in. A terrible consequence to bear in eternity.

Rick Frueh said...

Two men are crossing a bridge. One strolls with confidence and consistency across the sapn. The other man walks and stumbles, gets up and again stumbles and his prgress is slow and halting. Which of the two men actually cross the bridge?

Both. The success of their journey is completely dependent upon the integrity of the bridge and not the proficiency of their crossing.

The only ones who do not cross are those who doubt the integrity of the bridge to such a degree they refuse to to even step onto that bridge.

That is how I know my faith will stand, not because of me, but because of the integrity of my Lord.

Former_Fundy said...

Many of you are missing the point of my question. I am not asking about eternal security. Its obvious if you accept the Bible, that God is able to keep you from falling and that ultimately salvation is his work. However, the means through which you receive that salvation is faith. My question is how do you know that your faith is real and that it will persevere. John MacArthur himself is purported to have said in a sermon on 2 Cor. 13:5: "You may be a spiritual defector who hasn’t defected yet."

I know that many of you are suspect of my intentions but my question is honest. When I was in the faith, which I was for nearly 20 years, I had assurance of salvation. What did I base it on? I based it on what the Bible said, for example in Romans 10:8-9 and 13. I based it on John 3:36, etc. I believed that I was a sinner in need of salvation, that salvation was purchased by Christ on the cross and I had to trust him and him alone in order to be saved. When I looked at my life I saw the fruit of the spirit. My life changed. The things I once hated I now loved and vice versa. I wanted more than anything to live for Christ since he had done so much for me. But yet, after a number of years my faith evaporated. It disappeared. I could no longer believe. So according to you, I was not really saved to begin with ("a faith that fizzles at the finish had a fatal flaw at the first"). My question to you is how can you be certain that you will not also fall. I am not asking if God is able to keep you; I am asking how do you know that you are really part of his elect?

Phil said...

Thanks,Stefan. I'm being convinced that only the enjoyment of the grace of God will give us true humility. God empties us of fleshly works confidences by filling us with grace-appreciation. I think the prodigal son was living just right when he embraced the robe and the ring and the Father's delight -not just for initial salvation-but ongoing sanctification. When I said that the Father doesn't now view us as wretches in Christ,I meant that we have a totally new identity before God as 'saints'under grace.

David Kyle said...

Actually fundy you are the one missing the point. There is one crititcal thing missing from your experience and your current state is proof of the missing element. You did not know God!

You maybe, knew about Him. You never knew Him or received the assurance (the kind of assurance I have and you do not understand), that can ONLY come from the presence and sealing of God's own Spirit.

You can keep asking that question, but because of your unbelief and unsaved state you can NEVER understand or comprehend our response. It is obvious you base your "valid christian experience" on what your did in the past rather than the indwelling presence of God Almighty's own Spirit.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. ~1 Corinthians 2:14

David Kyle said...

fundy you must try to understand, I have a supernatural faith, I believe God is God, the Bible is his Word, and Jesus Christ is my Savior.

You on the other hand do not; therein lies the difference. Since you are in a current state of unbelief, you never had that saving faith which comes as a gift from God. One which He never, ever asks to be returned.

Your experience around (note I did not say in) Christianity was only that... an experience, not a saving, knowing Father-Son relationship with God through Christ and sealed by His own Spirit.

I know this is just going to go in one ear...

David Kyle said...

I have just realized I am trying to explain the color green to a blind man, or what the note C sounds like to a deaf man.

That kind of revelation can only come from the One who created the eyes, ears, and heart.

fundy... you should be asking God these questions, we cannot help you.

FX Turk said...


You may know me better as "centuri0n".

I am reading your book.

If the only thesis statement you are willing to defend is the one from your link, I think that's a pretty narrow-band thesis -- because all it proves is that people who believe in God are not modern, uncivilized, and scientifically illiterate. It doesn't say anything about whether God exists but only what you think of those who believe it.

I think you should consider at least three things about my two theses:

[1] Neither of them hang on the actual existence of God. They are about the philosophical consistency of the two positions presented.

[2] Neither of them cause an ad-hom to be hurled at the other side. So you don't turn out to be "uncivilized" if you hold your position after we're done: your position is either credible or not credible, as would be mine based on the outcome of each exchange.

[3] These theses reposition your claim to a place where it can actually affirm something rather than merely deny my position. That is, rather than put you in the impossible place of proving the non-existence of something, it gives you the opportunity to show a genuine strength of your position -- by facing the foundational existential issue of suffering.

The reason why I would like to debate you personally is that I think that if you live up to your press -- or the endorsements you have presented -- you have a chance of representing yourself better than most atheists on the internet can. However, I have encountered you at Triablogue, and I have a suspicion that you cannot sustain 10 questions about your beliefs before you present something which will be a double standard against Christian beliefs in favor of atheist belief. In 20 questions, I think you will become completely incoherent.

So the offer is open. Please e-mail me if you are interested. I'm offering to defend the theses rather than ask you to defend anything, so you should have a very distinct advantage.

Strong Tower said...


You're being disingenuous again. A question for you: Do you know the doctrine of vital union?

It is fundamental to Calvinists, contra Johnny D.'s assertion that Calvinists cannot know. There are three things, and all things are established at the testimony of two or three witnesses, the water, the blood, the Spirit and they agree as one. You have established the first two. Do you know anything of the third? Do you know why the born-again experience is like marriage, the two becoming one flesh? Do you know, why it is like the DNA or how it is that a double strand is expressed in a third? Or how it is that a three fold cord is not easily broken?

As was mentioned, you cannot become unyou. Just as that, we are born from above, and not below. The first two testify of what we see, the third of what cannot be seen. Yet, not only do we have the testimony of the Scripture, we have the actuality. We have the Spirit. He is not ours to give you, you cannot purchase Him. He is a free gift, purchased by Christ. In regeneration we are inextricably married to the Spirit, bound like the DNA to become the expression of the One by He who has begotten us by the Spirit. Familiar as you are with the Scripture, you know this answer. Why do you ask, then?

The Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God and if children, then heirs, and if heirs then we are seated in Heaven. The reason that we know that we are going to make it, Ken, is because we are already there. Already, part of the resurrection. The reason we can cross the bridge with confidence while others never will is that: seated in the throne of God we are watching ourselves cross over while the world stands amazed that we would be so foolish as to trust what cannot been see. If they had our eyes they would be even more amazed at the Author and Finisher of our Faith in whose throne we sit. If it was left to us to finish, we would be like you, or Johnny D., unsure if we were going to make it. But seeing that, we are already seated with Him prepared to judge the world, it is already concluded that we are there. It is not a bare conclusion, but because of vital union we know even as we are known. Do you know yourself? Then you have your answer. Because that is how we know. But you already knew the answer...

Phil Johnson said...

Former_Fundy: "I am asking how do you know that you are really part of his elect?"

I understand your question, and it is a good one. But before I reply, let me point out that I think you are setting up a bit of a false conundrum here. What you have implied above about how sincerely, how solidly, how soundly, and how much you once believed actually seems to contradict your earlier written testimony about how you became an agnostic. There you say:

"lets just say that the major stumbling block was the whole concept of the atonement. How could someone else be punished in my place and I go free. That strikes against any sense of fairness. We would not allow that in any court of law. Punishment is only valid if it is the guilty person being punished. I have read every major theologian's discussion of the atonement and I have never been satisfied by the various answers."

So if I take your agnostic testimony at face value, it seems that back when I knew you, while you professed to believe in the atoning work of Christ, in reality you were privately struggling with major doubts about it. Your confidence in the justice of the cross was always mitigated by that tincture of doubt, which has immediate ramifications for your view of the character of God, the doctrine of justification (which according to Paul is the very heart of the gospel), the relationship of faith and works--etc., etc. Your insistence here that you believed Scripture without qualms or hesitation simply doesn't comport with your testimony there that in reality you had "never been satisfied" with the biblical doctrine of the atonement.

I'll resist the urge to draw a comparison between your views on the (in)justice of imputation and the views of Charles Finney, but for the record, I question whether he was ever a genuinely converted man, too. But the point here is that your own testimony over at "DebunkingChristianity" actually confirms the truth of 1 John 2:19.

Here are two more questions I have about your testimony, FF:

1. If you were struggling with this sort of doubt when I was in correspondence with you 13 years ago (and we were discussing theological issues, albeit far less vital than the things it turns out you were privately grappling with) why did the fundamental nature of your doubts never come up in our conversation? Even if you were reluctant to admit openly that you personally were having doubts, if you are truly seeking help or answers there are lots of ways to raise such questions in a forum like that without actually giving voice to your own doubt. (You could have asked at any time: "How would you guys explain the justice of imputation to someone who struggles to see it?"--and there were four or five people on that list capable of carefully thinking through that issue with you.) Was there ever anyone--a genuinely mature believer, who could be expected to give you thoughtful replies--whom you went to in a genuine effort to resolve your doubts? In other words, did you ever truly and conscientiously seek help? Or did you simply assume that if there were answers to your questions, an experienced Bible-college prof like you would already know them?

2. Every genuine believer knows that God's Word is more sure and more authoritative than our own private musings about truth. God's Word stands in judgment over our thoughts, not vice versa (Hebrews 4:12, etc.). That's one of the first principles of faith (1 Corinthians 3:18). God's thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). So when you now say you left the faith for rationalistic reasons, what you are actually admitting is that you did not really believe that. Instead, you believed your own understanding (or lack thereof) can trump God's revealed Word. That again would seem to be proof that you did not really believe what you professed to believe. To be clear: I'll grant that you may have thought you truly, whole-heartedly believed in the authority of Scripture. But surely you didn't discover the danger of self-deception only after apostatizing, right?

Which brings us back to your question: If I'm as subject to self-deception as the next person, how do I know my faith is real?

That's actually a very good question, and it highlights the fact that faith in Christ and assurance of my personal salvation aren't precisely the same thing. While I think a measure of assurance is of the essence of faith, I don't think it's right to equate faith with personal assurance the way some do. (Antinomians, extreme free-gracers--the Zanies, and some of our more shallow fundamentalist brethren tend to do this, and the results are disastrous. To borrow something Dan Phillips recently said, the radical-free-gracers' message to an apostate like Former_Fundy and the rest of the apostates at John Loftus's blog would basically be: "Don't worry about it. You're still saved anyway. You kids have fun!")

But one of the realities of trusting Scripture more than I trust my own heart is the recognition that what God says is a more sure truth than what I feel. I accept what the Bible teaches clearly with absolute certainty, because it is the Word of God. In evaluating my own faith and understanding, however, I do need to recognize that I am subject to self-deception and hypocrisy, and I need to take that into account. I don't have the same confidence in my own ability to resist self-deception that I have in Christ's faithfulness.

That reality should:

1. Continually drive me to remember that my faith is in Him and what He has done, not in me or anything I do.

2. Provoke me to regular self-examination--at least as often as I come to the Lord's Table (1 Corinthians 11:28; 2 Corinthians 13:5).

3. Perpetually remind me that my only Hope is God's grace, so that I pray for His strength to persevere.

4. Motivate me to apply myself more diligently to the process of mortifying my sin and subduing my flesh.

That was clearly the perspective of the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 9:27). Did he have assurance? Of course: "I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me." Did that rule out honest self-examination? of course not. Perhaps if you had kept that balance in your thinking, FF, you might have seen the gravity of your private unbelief before it utterly destroyed you.

Stefan Ewing said...


It's comments like your last one that remind me why I am so grateful for being led to this blog while I was still a "baby Christian"—especially your 4 points on "working out our salvation with fear and trembling" (if I may paraphrase).

It's going to be a long month without this blog live....

Mike Riccardi said...

I know whom I have believed...

I think that's the answer to your question, FF. I, like Phil, think it's actually a good question to ask, but I also think that the answer isn't any more complex than that. I'm assured that my faith is genuine because I can honestly and resolutely say without the least "tincture" of doubt that in Christ I know the Living God of the Universe. There's nothing like Him.

Rick Frueh said...

Assurance of salvation is entirely personal and subjective. No one can be assured of anyone else's salvation but their own, and that cannot be proven without the witness of the Spirit through the Word of God. Human words can construct a framework, but the reality of the Spirit's assurance can only be understood by another believer.

Until conversion, all conversations about process and methodology concerning the things of the Spirit are hollow discourse. After all, we cannot understand assurance of salvation until we have experienced salvation itself. The entire conversation whirls around the Person of Christ.

lawrence said...

Hello, Mr. Turk, quick question about your first thesis. You say, in essence, that atheism leaves a man unequipped to deal with the problem of evil. I always thought that the atheists, in their own mind, "saw" the problem of evil, had no answer for it, and THAT (probably among other things) is why they rejected God.

In other words, it seems to me that an atheists wouldn't neccessarily reject your thesis? I get confused easily, can you help me out?

FX Turk said...


Sure. One of the many reproaches of the atheist camp -- and they have perhaps a limitless supply of reproaches -- is that the existence of harm in the universe precludes the existence of God. That is, God can make no sense to us if human beings suffer any kind of harm. That's the "problem of evil" in a nutshell: people suffer, so God can't exist.

Well, that's an interesting assertion. The difficulty here is that proclaiming that doesn't cause man to resolve the problem of suffering. What it causes is man to abandon one presupposition for resolving the problem, but leaves man with the same problem of suffering.

My assertion for this debate is that the problem of evil doesn't vanish because God is off the table. All those babies still starve, all those murders still happen, and all the other things Loftus has taken a somewhat-gleeful approach to enumerating in his book still happen. This is the world we live in. The atheist has the same metaphysical problem he wants to impose on the theist and specifically the Christian: these things still happen.

So then we must ask: Can any flavor of atheism leave man philosophically equipped to resolve the problem of evil? What I'm asking for is to start with a strict critique of atheism which Loftus can then reproach, and then provide a stout defense of what the Bible teaches us about this matter, which Loftus can then reproach. And then let the readers decide -- giving Loftus the additional advantage of a final word on the exchange to provide whatever commentary he thinks he can use to finally evangelize those who are reading.

People suffer in the world. Let atheism explain to us what we should think about that, and then I'd like to tell everyone what the Bible says about that.

Rob Steele said...

Enjoyed the sermons. How's this for a summary: It's not so much an unforgivable sin, as if God's grace were limited, but an un-repentable sin.

Scottj said...

I was hesitant to write this, but in light of the closure for one month, I think it might be appropriate.

Perhaps I've led a sheltered life, but I really have never met a humble atheist or agnostic, despite their protestations. And it is an oxymoron to describe oneself as an "honest seeker" when that seeker claims atheism. The hubris is staggering.

The atheist knows that there is simply no room in the universe for two deities, and so one has to go. This much the atheist has correct. There can only be one God. It`s the identity of that God that is the problem. The atheist becomes a god; a puny, inadequate god, but a god just the same. The real problem of atheism is not a-theism, but idolatry.

To John Loftus. When I heard that a classmate of ours was caught in multiple affairs and had to leave the ministry, I wish I could say I was surprised. Likewise when I learned of one of our more accomplished theologians (NOT a prof at our school, however) left his wife, I was not shocked.

Now, most of whom I had the great pleasure of studying alongside have turned out to be faithful men. I would be very shocked if some others I knew fell away, or fell into gross sin. Still, when there are so many passing through a school, some will pass with grades but still fail.

When I found your website, I considered posting, and raising some points. I did not do so, because it would not be a disciplined use of my time and abilities. I have a life that doesn`t allow for online debating any more. But I would like to assert that there is a moral dimension to knowledge that the unbeliever cannot accept. Indeed, the unbeliever has no hope of an epistemology, ontology or ethics, but that is a much longer post, and others here and elsewhere are much better at it.

No, when I learned of your apostasy, I was saddened, but not surprised. You are exactly the same person I knew in seminary, with just a different god and therefore a different vocabulary. I wish I knew you differently. You really haven`t changed. I hope God will grant you repentance.

Phil said...

Phil,I believe that a 'radical grace'-at least one after the order that Terry Rayburn means when he's used that phrase-is correct. But that certainly doesn't leave me thinking that all'apostates' are yet saved. To the contrary. I have a high view of regeneration. I'm just beginning to grasp that that new heart is formed such that it bears the fruit of the Spirit according to a growing faith that grasps the true liberty of grace. I believe this is Paul's main point in Rom6,7,and the fullness of the message to the Galatians...I really think it tells of our remaining unbelief that we assume that a qualified freedom -or a freedom that is 'restrained by a works tension'-is the guarantee of holiness. I think Rom6v14 says the opposite is true in the regenerate heart. Qualifications heeded as such always put strength into sin by way of self-effort. I also think that Martyn Lloyd-Jones was right about his Rom6 comments('if we're not mistakenly accused of preaching license,we're not preaching the gospel'). We certainly shouldn't qualify the unconditionality of gospel grace in case people get the wrong idea,because they don't have a biblical grasp of their death and resurrection in Christ to newness of life. After all,we're not trying to make people into religionists-but give them the power of God to salvation from the penalty and power of sin,which is also the strength for living out the Christ-life...concerning assurance,then,I think any Christian that is speaking out of his highest heart experience will sing the praises of His unconditional grace,and be thankful that he is a partaker of the divine nature,privileged and thankful to bear the fruit of the marriage relationship that is only possible now that the old performance relationship to the old husband is dissolved...I had written an answer to Ken on assurance myself yesterday-but I was struggling with the mobile network. It's below, with slight addition -Phil

Phil said...

Ken...I'm a 'moderate calvinist'who maintains Christ died for all. I believe that this is necessary, logically-speaking for a truly objective ground for assurance (otherwise I must look to my/others' assessment of my works to validate the faith that I have, to see whether I am elect and thus Christ did actually pay for my sins). God has reconciled himself to all men,in his holiness (that is, has removed every barrier on God's side for any and every man to be saved),and laid up a full and free forgiveness for all who will receive it-all who appreciate the worth and merit of this objective ground of reconciliation are personally incorporated,without works. That is to be the only ground for our assurance,and as such is the strength of gospel living. The one with saving faith is the one which sees his grace,and lives. Perseverance is always the fruit,and not the root, of eternal security. When I have faith-resting on his finished work to qualify me without works for the pouring out of all of his love,favour and blessing,I know that I am in a state of grace,which ipso facto means I will remain in a state of grace. True fruit is only a product of a faith that has this grasp-and will progressively be produced-but in the liberty of a'no condemnation'that is not the least bit conditioned on works. That is the only way anyone can have assurance. It is also what separates a biblical gospel-biblical Christianity-from religion. Religion always says'what must I do?'The gospel says'look at what Christ has finished,taste and see that the Lord is good-believe and live!Be blessed eternally without merit-be reconciled to me in my grace by MY merits which are freely available to you to partake of by faith,without works-no matter who you are or what you've done. Quit seeking my favour on the grounds of your endeavour,quit your 'independence',and the suppression of your guilt and condemnation-and by receiving my grace,have your guilt and that condemnation once-for-all removed.' Nothing else results in true love,joy,peace and hope. Nothing else changes lives from the inside out,because nothing else brings the very life of the Resurrected Christ into man so that he can begin to function again,as he was intended to function.

The question of perserverence first needs to be addressed in terms of "perseverence in what?" I.e., what is the essence or bature of the faith that by that same nature, will persevere. This is a point on which you're making a mistake. You're assuming that "faith" is a "work" that makes what it seeks to behold true in the individual's case - whereas faith is a "rest" - as Spurgeon referred to in his book "All of Grace", it is a "lying recumbent on Christ". Or, as Rick alluded to above, the strength and merit lies in the Christ and his finished work, not in the faith which lays hold of the Christ. Faith is not our christ. Faith lays hold of Him. As Joesph Prince says, "we see his grace, and he sees our faith". In that, we live. And as faith is a gift and response to grace, we also have the confidence that it is the product of an unbreakable marriage bond that Christ initiated, resulting in the full consent of gospel faith. As Stng Tower and Don said, there has been a very real spiritual change internally that is so complete as to make us "new creations", new man. Beleivers have died in Christ, and been raised to new life in him. They can no more die than he can. Their life is his life, his life is their life, he has joined himself to their new spirits. Once born again, there is no more dying, because death belonged to the old creation - the believer is not "in Adam" anymore, but "in Christ" - and that is a spiritual heart reality of their very (new) nature, not just a forensic declaration. -Phil

Former_Fundy said...


Thanks for your reply. I know this blog is going dark for a month and so this will be my last post.

My doubts concerning the justice of the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement did not surface until sometime in the mid 90’s at least 14 years after my conversion. Up until that time, I had never even thought about the injustice of punishing an innocent in place of a guilty. I accepted it as truth because it was what the Bible seemed to teach. I did realize that there were other theories—governmental theory, ransom to Satan, moral example, etc but I dismissed all of those because they did not agree with my understanding of Scripture.

When I say that I was “never” satisfied, what I meant was that once the doubts surfaced and I began to research the subject (which again was probably around 1994), I did not find anything that was completely satisfactory. My doubts did not turn into unbelief until late 1996.

You ask why I did not bring it up with the people on the email forum. Probably because I was looking for a detailed scholarly treatment of the subject. I went to the books and the library to find an answer. Frankly, I find very few theologians even touch on the subject. They dance all around it but do not address it.

You also state that I subordinated Scripture to my reason and therefore I must not have been saved. If that is the case, then probably very few of professing Christians are “really saved.” But the bottom line is that ultimately I had to be intellectually honest with myself.

As for your reply regarding assurance, it seems to me that you really are never sure this side of heaven because you have to keep on examining yourself, keep on making your calling and election sure, keep your body under lest as Paul said you become a reprobate. I understand that Paul knew that God was able to keep him from falling but the question was whether Paul or any Christian really knew that they were not going to fall away. If they did, then all the admonitions to guard yourself, be diligent, etc. seem unnecessary.

Thanks for the discourse. I will leave now and you can go back to your regular programming. If anyone cares to continue the discussion, you are free to email me at telesys@mail.com.

James Scott Bell said...

Faith must be nourished. We are to "make every effort," Peter writes. "If you DO these things, you will never fall."

So, DO these things: be devoted to the Apostles' teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42); fix your thoughts on Jesus (Heb. 3:1); confess your sins (1 John 1:9); serve in love (Gal. 5:13).

Be "eager to make your calling and election sure." Thus assurance IS promised, if we continue to DO what nourishes our faith. I thank the Lord for the joy of knowing and serving Him.

allen said...

former: It seems clear who is the judge in your little court room--it is you.
The penal substitutionary theory doesnt work for you, isnt satisfactory, (Thank God it was for Him!)couldnt find anything in the books or library, no scholarly treatments, etc. so you throw out God and His Son and His Book from your courtroom.
The sad irony is that if you demand that God not punish the innocent in place of the guilty, then you get to taste God's punishment on the guilty for yourself. Punish sin He will. Either at the cross or in the lake of fire. I suspect you dont like that either.
"There is a way which seemeth right unto a man..." (Pr.14:12,16:25)

allen said...

"Be gone, God, from Former's court room." Now if you could just find a bailiff or three that could escort Him out.
Oh yeah-- they're over at DC congratulating themselves on their newfound God-free courtroom where they preside.

anonymous said...


How did the “good news” become bad news for you? I don’t understand because when the Lord revealed to me the good news of the gospel I could not help but love Him and believe Him. It was such a relief to know that I could never have attained my own salvation but God in His mercy gave it to me as a gift. He is the forgiver, He is our sacrifice, He is the justifier, He is the reconciler, the redeemer, the restorer. How is that bad news??

Ken, you talk as if we who “think” we have assurance are somehow striving after it. No, we are abiding in Him. We love Him and we love His commandments and they are not burdensome. We know that when we sin and we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us. We have assurance because the tomb is empty…His blood has cleansed us from all sin and He is seated at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf and He is preparing a place for us and we will be with Him. Unless you have decided that God is a liar? No…let God be found true and every man a liar. We have assurance Ken.

If you ask us who have assurance how we came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ we will tell you that God drew us. We will tell you it was Him, not us. He sought us and found us and saved us. Our testimony will not have a lot of “I”s” in it… “I did xyz and then I did xyz.” No…our testimony is God did xyz.

See Ken, “Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom.” But in “all your getting” you didn’t get understanding. Your “much studying” has driven you mad, professing to be wise you have become a fool. (according to the Bible :-))

Ken, leave your much studying behind and start over. When you come to God as a little child…“nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling”…then you will believe Him and trust Him. When you have come to the end of yourself you will turn to God in true humility and repentance.

Do you, or did you ever have a burden on your back?

Ken, the Lord will not strive with you forever. Hear Him today…pick up His word and read it like you’ve never read it before. Cry out to Him in humility and lowliness of spirit and He will hear you…

I am praying that the Lord will be glorified in this and that His will be done…

Anonymous said...

Frank, I'm glad you're reading my book. Let me know what you think when you're done with it.

As far as a debate goes, I'm not inclined to debate someone who says what you said about me:

However, I have encountered you at Triablogue, and I have a suspicion that you cannot sustain 10 questions about your beliefs before you present something which will be a double standard against Christian beliefs in favor of atheist belief. In 20 questions, I think you will become completely incoherent.

This kind of posturing isn't a good way to present yourself if you want to debate me.

In fact, I do want a good debate with a presup, it's just that since I haven't said much about it yet I don't want to give away my strategy until or unless I debate an important presup.


DJP said...


Tastes... like... _ _ _ _ _ _ _ .

Rick Frueh said...


Debate with a "former Christian turned atheist/agnostic =

a monumental waste of time.

We are not debating the spirit of anti-christ, we are rebuking it! I believe Jesus commanded them to "shut up". They love debate because debate is all they have since they have left the truth.

Chad V. said...

FF You're probably right, many professing Christians are probably not saved. That's not the point however and it doesn't justify your position.

Being intellectually honest with one's self is something I've heard from many people including a very close friend who is having a terrible struggle with his faith right now. There is nothing intellectually honest about rejecting the word of God. It is idolatry. If you place your own intellect above the word of God you in effect set yourself up as judge over God himself, you steal God's glory and His authority and take it for yourself. I pray that you will see the folly of your so-called intellectual honesty.

God's great love toward sinners is most manifested in his sacrifice of his own son to satisfy his justice and pardon those who are condemned in their sin. What right do you have to call God's free gift of eternal life through the willing sacrifice of Christ unjust? If a soldier threw himself on a grenade to save his platoon mates he would be called a hero. If God sacrifices his own Son and the Son willingly bears the wrath of His Father on behalf of sinners then how can you not see the love of God and the mercy of God in that? How can you despise such a great sacrifice? You surely would not despise the sacrifice of the soldier. Do not despise the sacrifice of Christ.

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom 5:7-8

Stefan Ewing said...

The Christ—the Suffering Servant—had to be innocent, sinless (Isaiah 53), for the atonement to be acceptable to God, as the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Anything less, and we'd still be offering up a goat every Yom Kippur (Hebrews 10).

Evidently, this truly is the scandal of the Cross, and truly is what sets Christianity apart from all other belief systems—that, and that it has been revealed to us in the very Word of God (Hebrews 1).

FX Turk said...

Loftus --

The chicken jokes from my friends aside, it's odd that a man who calls those he disagrees with illiterate, uncivilized and backwards doesn't have a thicker skin when it comes to suspicions about his ability to hold up a debate.

Suit yourself. Read my blog this week.