09 April 2012


Some Observations about Apostasy
One of the most memorable and instructive posts in the history of TeamPyro was an entry titled "Stone-Cold Liar." It's the story of a long-time commenter and gadfly from the early days of this blog who abandoned the faith and then wrote an untruthful account of his "deconversion." The comment-thread under that post was the most memorable part of it. If you have an hour or so to read (or re-read) it, give it a go. Anyway, the excerpt below is part of a follow-up post I wrote to try to sort out some of the issues raised in that comment-thread. This was the closing section of that follow-up post:

(First posted 27 September 2008)

'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 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 never had an opportunity to discuss their doubts or questions with any of them until after they were settled in their unbelief.
  2. The actual pattern seems to be that the person will 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.
  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 [in 2008], 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


frankfusion said...

If you want to see the online places a lot of these people are posting (some are adults and some are teens asking the questions) check out reddit.com/r/christianity and /r/atheism. We get so many people asking questions, and few of the people answering them are trained ministers. At best we have a few bright lay people and lot's of liberal Christians. Also visit reddit.com/r/reformed as well.

Kirby said...

Thanks Phil,

This is a timely post in my current experience since I am preaching a series of sermons on the doctrine of assurance. What drove me to it was a man with severe fears about his salvation that seemed to be moving him in the direction of apostasy.

Thank God he sought help before he was too far gone.

The more I delve, the more I realize how many NT books deal with the subject from an objective and/or subjective perspective. and even though I didn't attend SC '12 I recently downloaded John's Session 9 which deals directly with the Security of the Believer viz. Pentecostal theology.

I look forward to listening to your series as well.

Mike said...

Right now there is a man at the church I am a member of who has decided to leave his wife and kids and divorce her, over an affair. The twist? HE is the one having the affair, and has justified himself leaving his wife as Scripturally sound. We are also dealing with a teen who ran away from home to live with her boyfriend (from another church). Now, we hear she is pregnant. The wonderful lad decided to propose to her afterwards.
I am surprised these two solid (so I thought) Christians would turn away from the truth. I worry the problem with apostasy can only increase with our churches today catering to "Christians" who don't want to hear about sin and judgment, thus who only want what I called a "syrupy Jesus" earlier today talking to someone about this very problem.
Thanks for the blog post!

Robert Warren said...

On the bright side: On That Day, I wonder if it will revealed how many souls the Holy Spirit preserved using means such as this post?

Anonymous said...

Frank, your suggestion is in all honesty a vain request. You come on a calvinist blog and ask these no doubt fine people to shed light to people in honest need of spiritual help. Christianity is a miserable mess that is caused by blogs like this one. Yes I know so why do I read it? For me the Christian experience as we know it is a train wreck that I sinfully enjoy watching I must admit. I must also admit that the men on this blog are fine amazing men but only men nonetheless. They like most men cloud the message of Christ with their “system”. (As a side note, I am weaning myself off these destructive blogs because I truly enjoy watching the wreck.)
Blogs like this one don’t have the discernment to see what they cause by hardlining their system rather than Christianity itself. You want to see a real problem, ask these cats to show wisdom on that forum, and then watch about 30 other protestant “wise men” advising these same people from their point of view on Christianity. Then painfully watch these people become more and more distraught and mired in doubt because these “men” who speak so authoritatively about their system can’t control themselves. They have to propagate their system and the ones who disagree with them can’t let these poor souls be corrupted with reformed foolishness! And then these fine reformed folk can’t let these poor souls be corrupted with Pentecostal or Methodist foolishness (pick your brand)!
You see, the other fine wise men will have to respond to these guys because they disagree so vehemently. So by the end of the theological arguing the people needing help are in worse shape than they were before they asked for help. I struggle with doubt, not because of the ugliness of church history or the sham of the reformation, but because Christianity as we know it makes the Creator appear to be schizophrenic.
At the end of the day the doubts I have from time to time fade away in the unbelievable changes Christ has caused in my life. I truly became a new person with continued growth over the last twenty years. They will know we are Christians and that Christianity is true by the love we have for each other and them. The problem is these people never see Christians acting like Christians in the real world away from their computers and blogs. Shame on us all.

David A. Carlson said...

A disproportionate number of apostates seem to come from the kind of ├╝ber-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.

That deserves to be unpacked.

Nash Equilibrium said...

This is a hugely insightful checklist for self-examination as to where I stand in the faith. Since a lot fo these things are secret, it seems to me it would be hard to apply to someone else.

The only thing I would add to it based on personal experience is that the study of philosophy at the university level is another potential doorway to Type J Apostacy.

Thank you.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...


That can pretty much be unpacked in John Mac's book The Truth War on page 33.

"What we "believe" rather than what we "do" is what secures us a righteous standing before God--because we lay hold of justifying righteousness by faith alone, and not by our works (Rom 4:5)."

Interesting read, Phil. :)

donsands said...

"They like most men cloud the message of Christ with their “system”."-Loser

Who are you saying this about? Just not sure.

The teamPyro Three Amigos have a fine blog here, and it causes much encouragement, and edification for us fellow belivers in Christ. The truth of God is taught here, and His truth is His Word.

Have a good week in the truth, the whole truth of God's Holy Word.

James Scott Bell said...

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.

Or even full hearted faith that has been allowed to atrophy through sin's deceitfulness (thus the need for the church. Hebrews is packed with this).

Doubts do not, perforce, indicate shipwrecked faith. But rebellion does. That's the key to the Hebrews warnings, IMO. Those who have become skeptics, but then turn to enemies of the faith by actively trying to prevent others from commitment, these are what the Bible warns about.

Phil Johnson said...

Loser: "their system rather than Christianity itself"

I'd ask you to define "Christianity itself," but the minute you do that, someone will dismiss your idea as the very kind of "system" you suggest is so dangerous. The problem you note comes from bad doctrine, not doctrine per se. And the solution you seem to be proposing is worse than the disease it purports to cure. Dumping our confessions of faith and replacing them with 3 verses of "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love" is itself a shortcut to Type-J apostasy.

The problem you are sensing is not that Christians disagree over doctrine. (Read the letters of Christ to the churches in Revelation and notice how many times he rebukes believers who didn't contend for the faith.) The problem today is that populist forums like Reddit and YouTube play to the popular postmodern myth that everyone with a camera or keyboard is qualified to speak as an expert.

To all: One thing I totally agree with "Loser" about: If you are struggling with doubts, don't look for help at Reddit, Usenet, YouTube, or in the blogosphere (especially in the cacophony of blog-comments, including the ones here at PyroManiacs). Instead, seek out a mature believer or (better yet) a qualified pastor who can speak to you face to face and actually interact with you. While you are at it, insist on getting biblical help.

If you find yourself amening Loser's uncertainties or sharing his confusion, do what he says his conscience is telling him to do, and tune out the voices on the Internet. Looking for spiritual help online is like sampling unlabeled bottles of random medicines, hoping you'll hit on one that might cure your cancer. Chances are, you'll make the problem worse.

will said...

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19

Therefore, brothers,be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.2 Peter 1:10

Prodigal's return, apostates never do. Prodigal's were once "of us" apostates "were not of us".

frankfusion said...

If I can qualify my statement, I didn't say that people should go to that page for advice, I said that's where people are going. It varies from person to person as to if they really want advice or validation. But if you'd like to deal with people who do go on there to ask questions, it's nice to have a reformed brother on there interacting with the person. It will definitely give you an idea of the kinds of questions people are asking.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Good post!

Apostates occasionally cause me to doubt the P of TULIP.

CGrim said...

TUAD: Apostates occasionally cause me to doubt the P of TULIP.

I know the feeling - I think this comes from our human egocentrism. From our perspective, it looks like a faithful believer became unbeliever.

From God's perspective, it looks like, "You do not believe (and never really did) because you are not among my sheep."

Rhology said...

And that linked-to combox contains a great deal of input from the late Ken Pulliam! It's an unexpected bonus.

Jason Brown said...

Wow. So much to say about this post, and the comments. Apostasy is a sobering subject, but a very real one. Bad doctrine is the source of many false professors, and has led many astray (too often to their destruction). Blogs like this one are a way to teach sound doctrine, and to hold those who teach bad doctrine accountable, when no one else will. This is a good thing. Keeping the doctrine pure is one of the most important things we are supposed to do. At the same time, we need to do it all for Christ's glory, and not our own. I don't sense the latter from the Pyro guys at all, and I have known my share of egomaniacs.

Darlene said...

Finally, only God knows hearts. The truth about our lives will be revealed at the Judgment.

donsands said...

"The truth about our lives will be revealed at the Judgment."-Darlene

I know that I shall be with our Lord, and all my sins are blotted out, and washed away in His precious blood, and He has robed me in His robe of righteousness.
I hope you know this Darlene.

As far as any rewards, other than being forgiven and one of Christ's elect, I'll have to wait for that, you are correct, if that was your meaning.

Darlene said...

I understand Loser's comment regarding schizophrenic Christianity. While many on this blog site may consider Reformed Christianity as self-evident and perspicuous, such is not the case among all Christians. When a troubled Christian with doubts is seeking answers on a Christian forum/blog, the cacophany of responses can be quite overwhelming. The myriad of diverse responses, often contradictory, can result in more confusion to the person seeking an answer.

American Christianity, i.e. - Christianity in these United States, offers a smorgasbord of options, and would lead one to think that all a person has to do is choose what works for you - sort of a taylor-styled Christianity that suits one's personality. However, for some who are seeking truth as in The Truth, such an option is unacceptable. Truth is something to which one submits and therefore is objective in its very nature and understanding. Still, with the variety of possible answers one can encounter on Christian forums/blogs, arriving at the truth/Truth, can be an overwhemling task. Some haven't the time or inclination or ability (or any number of other things) to sort through the plethora of information out there and so they abandon or lay aside the search. Those who press on amidst all the confusion within schizophrenic Chrisitanity will say that they eventually arrived at what they considered to be the Truth according to the Christian faith. Sadly, others who haven't the determination, or whatever it may take to wade through all the infomation overload, give up altogether on the Christian faith.

I honestly don't think, however, that there are simple answers as to why people become despondent and why some de-convert from the Christian faith. I do believe and affirm that God is merciful and kind, and offers all an opportunity to share in His life. Finally, we each are responsible for what we will do with Christ. As C.S. Lewis said, "He is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord."

Aaron Snell said...


Your #1 and #2 are directly related, I think, and worth tying together. Water flows on the path of least resistance, and it is much more difficult as a doubter, I would think, to come to someone who knows you personally and be open with them about your doubts, than it is to get behind a keyboard, assume an internet nom-de-plume, and bare your soul to the world wide web. So some of the reason (perhaps even most of the reason) in this day and age for #1 is #2. Which is why your "to all" on your 8:15 AM, April 09, 2012 comment is so important for everyone to read before commenting.

Aaron Snell said...


That's an interesting system you have there.

Unfortunately, Phil's response makes me look like a Johnny come lately, but it works as a good exposition of mine if what I wrote leaves you scratching your head.

donsands said...

"Truth is something to which one submits and therefore is objective in its very nature and understanding. Still, with the variety of possible answers one can encounter on Christian forums/blogs, arriving at the truth/Truth, can be an overwhemling task."-Darlene

Part of the truth is that we will be tempted by the devils in this world. They come as angels of light. And they will be persitent.

Yet, they are no match for our Lord, and His Gospel truth, and the Spirit of God.

Yesterday was Easter. Jesus rose from the dead. He was dead. And He came out of the tomb.
Mary Magdalene was there, and was weeping. She then saw Jesus, and didn't recognize Him, and asked Him where the body of her Lord was.
Jesus said to her, "Mary!"
And she knew Him. She loved Him, and trusted in Him, and He came to her.
We simply need to trust in Jesus, that He died, and rose from the dead.
He will help us with His Word setting us apart. He is sovereign and loves all His children.

The simple truth is the Gospel. It is the POWER of God that saves a dead sinner.
The Gospel never gets old. It's a beloved truth, for it is Jesus the Christ, the Lamb of God, who is the Truth.

be encouraged Darlene in the simple truth of God. he will take us deep into His Word, and His Word is truth.
We can trust Him, even during dry seasons. Trust Him.

Darlene said...

Dear Don,

I responded to your comment to me and then deleted it. I must be on guard not to speak about my faith in an unkind or triumphalist manner. So, I will do my best to answer you.

I am not a Reformed (or Baptist) Christian, and so do not hold to Once-Saved-Always-Saved or any variation on that theme. My understanding of salvation is synergistic rather than monergistic. I believe that God honors my free will, and that I can turn away from Him in rebellion. I take to heart the warnings in Hebrews of those in Israel that fell away. God desires that I serve Him willingly and obey Him from the heart.

While I am not an Arminian, there are some Arminian beliefs with which I agree. No doubt, you and I would disagree on the means in which our will plays a part (or doesn't) with regard to our salvation. The way in which I have been taught is that God cannot save me without my cooperation. However, such an understanding does not negate that salvation is by grace through faith. How all of this works out and is explained is far more than the few measly words I have provided here. Such a discourse would involve immense verbosity and require preparation and prayer.
(on my part, at least.)

I have no doubt that you and I could offer Scrptures that defend our respective positions. In times past, I was involved in such discussions in which both sides would argue Scripture back and forth to convince the other. Often, such discussions would lead to heated proclamations in which one or both sides would go so far as to damn the other person's salvation. How very foolish we were!

I must be content to agree to disagree with you, Don. In doing so, I do not presume to judge you or suggest that I will fare better as a Christian when standing before Christ. Yet, I would hearken us both to a portion of Scripture that speaks to the reality of that Day, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body."

Darlene said...

be encouraged, Darlene, in the simple truth of God...We can trust Him even during dry seasons.


Indeed we can! I hope your Easter Sunday was a blissful reminder of our Lord's triumph over death and Hades. I will be celebrating Pascha and the Resurrection of our Lord this coming weekend. This week is Holy week in the Eastern Church and so it is that we gather for the Bridegroom Matins during the weekdays. On Pascha we proclaim, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and among those in the tombs bestowing life!"

donsands said...

Thank you Darlene for the good thoughts.

One last verse for us both: "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life." Romans 5:10

Jon Stueve said...

The progression reminds me of Psalm 1:1-2

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.

Apostasy as described in the OP, seems to follow that flow that is the antithesis of the Blessed one that delights in the Lord. The progression is walking with, then standing with, then sitting down with mockers.

At least that's my observation.

Anonymous said...

Very sobering indeed.

Darlene said...

"A disproportionate number of apostates seem to come from the kind of uber-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."

The problem here is the false dichotomy between doing and believing. What we do as Christians arises out of what we believe, and out of what we believe springs forth actions and good deeds. There should not be an either/or approach, but a both/and approach. Furthermore, our worship and service to the Lord involves our entire being, our mind, our heart, our spirit, and our body.

"What we believe rather than what we do is what secures us a righteous standing before God-because we lay hold of justifying righteousness by faith alone, and not by our works."

In this case, MacArthur is pitting doing against believing, a false dichotomy. Our faith is one that is comprised of both believing and doing, faith and works. Christ desires servants who are willing to act upon what they believe. Each of us is given a certain amount of talents which we must invest toward the Kingdom of God. Putting our talents to use must be done in faith, but faith that is revealed in actions and resulting in righteous deeds.

How we live as Christians, from our thoughts, to our practices, to what we put in our bodies, how we treat our spouses and children, how we treat our brethren in Christ and our neighbor, the manner in which we worship and serve Christ within His Church and outside of it, even how we love (or don't love) our enemies - all of these things have a bearing on our salvation.

Eric said...


What do you mean when you say "all of these things have a bearing on our salvation"?

MacArthur is not pitting doing against believing. He is drawing a distinction between what justifies and what does not. That does not imply or naturally lead to pitting the two against eachother. Faith is not comprised of works, despite your assertion, or else I would be able to say that my works save me.

Jim Pemberton said...

TUAD: "Apostates occasionally cause me to doubt the P of TULIP."

I don't see how people get worked up over "L". If anything "P" is more troubling simply because there are apostates. I have to fall back on the idea that they are apostates because they once appeared to be faithful but really worshiped God on a false basis and because disillusioned on that basis.

Morris Brooks said...

If apostasy and psuedo-faith were not so common then there would not be so many warnings, and a whole epistle (I John) in the Bible. Satan masquerades as an angel of light and a wolf in sheep's clothing, and there were numerous false teachers, prophets, Pharisees,and priests in the Bible. In these cases these false spiritual leaders were giving the people what they really wanted. It coincided with their secret life of sin, just like the people mentioned by Phil (I too had a friend like that, he was secretly into pornography and other women).

Situations and people such as these actually prove the P in TULIP, that the elect cannot be led astray into apostasy (Mark 13:21-22). True faith is ultimately secure. What apostasy does is expose the false faith, the profession without the possession, that always existed.