Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sympathy for the Devil

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)

West Side Story

Ruth Tucker, the missiologist, blogress, and feminist theologian, wrote a book a few years ago entitled Walking Away from Faith. From my own reading and observation, apostates generally leave the faith for one or more of three different reasons:

A. Bad theology

They never outgrew their Sunday school theology. As adults, they still operate at that level of theological understanding.

This, in turn, fosters false hopes and expectations. Their expectations are dashed by experience.

Or they become well-tutored in objections to the faith, and compare these college-level objections to their preschool version of the faith. They don't compare and contrast college level theology with college level atheology.

Now, there may be nothing positively wrong with their Sunday school theology. What they learned in Sunday school may be sound as far as it goes. It may lay a foundation to build on.

But they don't build on that foundation. They don't refine their childish theology.

Or there are other cases in which their hereditary theology is fatally flawed. But instead of correcting their theology, they abandon the faith.

B. Bad behavior

A lot of people abandon the faith to indulge in sexual license. It's as simple as that. Nothing intellectual in play.

They may introduce intellectual objections as an ex post facto rationalization for their misconduct. But that's the cover story.

C. Anger

Some men are angry with God. They're angry with God because he didn't do something for them or prevent something from happening to them or someone they love.

This isn't necessarily based on bad theology. You could give them a theologically sound explanation for what happened. But they don't care. Because that doesn't change how they feel. They cannot forgive God for what he did or didn't do. They wanted things to turn out differently, and their emotional disillusionment trumps any argument, however sound.

This is something we can all relate to at a certain level. Life is full of disappointments.

The only question is whether you and I are going to wallow in irrational bitterness. For this goes to an unjustified sense of entitlement or self-importance.

Tucker's anecdotal book confirms my own impressions. Her case studies fall into one or more of these three categories. In a rare moment of theological lucidity, she makes a truly perceptive observation:
Those who are troubled by scientific and philosophical complexities (fueled by modernism) often deny religious belief altogether. On the other hand, those whose issues relate to psychological and lifestyle factors (fueled by postmodernism) redefine the terms of their religious faith to better fit their lifestyle and psychological needs (149).
Reading through her book, I don't think it's coincidental that Tucker is both a woman and a feminist. It reminded me of the way in which Marilyn McCord Adams makes her case for universalism. Both books are pitched at the same emotional register. Indeed, Tucker is to apostasy what Adams is to universalism. She sympathizes with apostates in the same way that female jurors sympathized with the Menendez brothers. Bleeding heart liberalism transposed to a theological key.

Some vices are twisted natural virtues. Men and women need each other. Men need the benefit of feminine virtues while women need the benefit of masculine virtues. A society without feminine virtues is unmerciful, while a society without masculine virtues is unjust.

Indeed, a society dominated by feminine virtues will become both unmerciful and unjust. For sympathy is transferred from the victim to the perpetrator. Or, put another way, everyone becomes the victim, so no one is guilty.1

This is why men are better at some jobs than women, and vice versa. As a rule, a woman makes a better teacher than a vice principal, a better nurse than a soldier.

And, for Tucker, it goes beyond empathy. She truly identifies with the apostate because her own faith, if you can call it that, is almost indistinguishable from unbelief.

This accounts for the defensive tone of her book. She makes excuses for the apostate.

And she does this as a self-defensive reflex. For she sees herself in the apostate. When she studies the apostate, she is, by her own admission, peering into the mirror. Thus, she can only condemn the apostate on pain of self-incrimination.

The inevitable result is doctrinal permissiveness. And yet, like so many other things, her position is the result of theological confusion.

From the standpoint of Christian theology and ethics, there is nothing inherently hypocritical about condemning in others a sin of which we ourselves are guilty. For that to be hypocritical, several other conditions would have to be in play:

i) I'd have to pretend that I'm morally superior to you. That I am innocent of the same sin.

ii) I'd have to pretend to condemn something that I don't really think is evil.

iii) I'd have to indulge in the same sin without any resistance or sense of guilt.

Let us add that there are worse things than hypocrisy. A "hypocrite" can be well-qualified to give advice precisely because he speaks from personal experience. We can learn from his mistakes.

This is something that children need to understand. There are teenagers who imagine that if Mom and Dad did the same thing at their age, then that disqualifies Mom and Dad from dissuading their kids.

But this is not a question of what is "fair" or "consistent." Rather, this is a question of what is true and prudent. Who better to warn others about the dangers of drug abuse than a recovering junkie? A Christian can be "judgmental" without being self-righteous.

On a related note, Tucker prides herself on being a good listener. And she constantly admonishes the reader to improve his listening skills.

But Tucker is a very poor listener. A very lop-sided listener. She only has ears to hear the doubter or apostate. That's where her sympathy lies.

As a result, she's quite hostile to Christians who don't share her many misgivings. She belittles and caricatures Christians who refuse to play the role of sob sister.

Tucker draws no psychological distinction between doubt and apostasy. She only draws a spatial distinction: an apostate is someone outside the church while a doubter is someone inside the church. Both have doubts, but one left while the other remained.

It never occurs to her that, with one or two possible exceptions, doubt is a sin. Scripture is clear on this. It is sinful to doubt God's word. But you would never get that from reading Tucker.

Now, because Christians are sinners, it is possible for a Christian to entertain religious doubts. You can find that in Scripture as well.

I just said there might be a couple of exceptions. For some folks, doubt is a stage in their maturation. A spiritual adolescence. A rite of passage from a hereditary faith to a personal faith.

Doubt, in that sense, can be a good thing. A transitional period in life when we pass from childhood to adulthood in more ways than one. A child's faith in God may be mediated by his pastor or parent. He has faith in them. They stand for God.

But there comes a point when you need to transfer your faith from the proxy to the real deal—just as there's a sense in which a man must transfer some of his affection from his mother to his wife. In the economy of God, parents and other authority-figures play a surrogate role. And in that respect, you don't grow up until you outgrow them. A lifelong bond remains, but there's an emotional and psychological adjustment.

There is also a form of second-order doubt which is founded on faith. A man may believe the Bible, but if he misinterprets the Bible, or comes to Scripture with a false expectation, that is a recipe for cognitive dissonance. In this case it's his underlying faith in Scripture, in conjunction with some apparently contrary data, that generates a set of conflicting beliefs.

This is not the same thing as simply doubting the Bible. It begins with belief instead of unbelief.

There are many examples. You may have a charismatic who expects a certain level of spiritual experience. This is a false expectation, fostered by a misreading of Scripture. Still, he believes in Scripture, and he also believes that Scriptures teaches this, so when his expectation is dashed by rude experience, he is perplexed.

In addition, there are gradations of sin. Apostasy and doubt range along a common continuum, but they are hardly interchangeable. Even if all apostates are doubters, all doubters are not apostates.

Indeed, an apostate may not even be a doubter. He may have no doubt that Christianity is false. At least, that's what he says—although many men and women leave the faith for emotional or moral reasons rather than intellectual reasons.

The Bible reserves extremely harsh language for false teachers and apostates. But you would never know that from reading Tucker's book.

How should we handle these issues from a pastoral standpoint? We need to draw a distinction between membership and attendance.

There's a sense in which there's no better place for an unbeliever to be than in church. He needs to hear the gospel. He needs to be bathed in prayer and sanctified fellowship.

And, as a practical matter, churches are generally comprised of families. This automatically introduces a mix of believers and unbelievers into the church. The unbelieving family members attend church because the believing family members attend church. And a church ministers to families as well as individuals. It would be quite unnatural to automatically exclude all unbelievers from the life of the church.

At the same time, being a member of a natural family doesn't make you a member of God's family. As such, there are certain offices and observances that ought to be reserved for those who can make a credible profession of faith. Otherwise, the church will be overrun by unbelievers and hollowed out from within, until nothing is left but an outward shell.

Should we be honest about our doubts? That depends on what you mean.

i) One of the pernicious elements of Tucker's book regular insinuation, sometimes stated explicitly, that doubt is the norm, that faith is defined by doubt. Her subversive drumbeat is designed to exculpate her own disbelief. But it is one thing to make allowance for doubt, quite another to insist that all Christians are doubters.

ii) There is also a difference between honest doubt and being honest about one's doubts. I could be very forthcoming about my doubts even if my doubts were insincere. For example, many young people reject Christian theology because they reject Christian morality, and they reject Christian morality because that interferes with their promiscuous impulses.

They may be very honest about their dishonest doubts. They may say they reject the Christian faith because it's oh-so oppressive, unscientific, and so on, but their real objections have less to do with what's going on above the neck than what's going on below the belt.

iii) Then you have professing believers, whether genuine or nominal, as well as backsliders, who really don't know how to reconcile the Christian faith with certain intellectual objections. And there should be a venue in which it's safe for them to freely air their questions. For the only way to answer a question is to ask a question.

iv) At the same time, we live in a day and age which prizes "transparency" over discretion. Social etiquette is equated with hypocrisy. To keep your true feelings to yourself is quaint and hypocritical. A Victorian hang-up.

But there's something to be said for those quaint conventions. Now, etiquette at its worst is a set of silly rules to enforce differences in social class—like having a superfluous number of knives and forks arranged in a "correct" sequence from left to right—or is it right to left?

Because there's no natural difference between members of the upper class and lower class, they can only be differentiated by artificial markers like high fashion and other meaningless customs.

Yet, at its best, etiquette is simply consideration for others, in which you sacrifice your own immediate interests for the sake of others. And that is admirable.

If I suffer from spiritual doubts, there are many occasions in which I should keep my doubts to myself. It is wrong to share my doubts with anyone and everyone. For, in so doing, I may unsettle their faith as well.

I'm not saying that if you suffer from spiritual doubts, you should never speak to anyone about your uncertainties. My point, rather, is that you ought to be selective. Seek out a seasoned believer who is intellectually competent to field your questions.

iv) There are also men and women who suffer a crisis of faith or lapse of faith for emotional reasons, often involving a personal tragedy of some sort. There is no quick fix to this situation.

The grieving process has its own pace. It can't be rushed. And there are certain losses we may sustain in life from which we will never recover this side of the grave.

You don't bounce back from everything that hits you. And as you age, you lose some of your emotional resilience. Some losses are irreplaceable, and the impact is cumulative.

Having established a general framework of analysis, let's move on to some of Tucker's claims and anecdotes.
Mary Kingsley [wrote] "when God made me He must have left out the part that one believes with." I resonate with this woman, and my heart goes out to her and to all the Mary Kingsleys of this world (8).

This is a volume that takes the progression from belief to unbelief seriously and that does so with understanding. I understand the unbelief. I read the stories, and I say, "Me too." But unlike these who have abandoned the faith, I will not—if for no other reason than the mysterious fact that God has a grip on me (25).

Besides, this is my culture, my tradition. I love the Bible stories and the old hymns of faith. I can close my eyes and see Jesus "on a hill far away on that old rugged cross." I love to sit at the piano and sing "Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling" and the other invitation hymns in the page that follow in that tattered hymnbook (25-26).

But do I believe it? If everything depended on my belief, there are some days when, I think, I would be doomed…I desperately wish I did not have to fight and struggle for every little bit of faith I have. I wish the big question was not, at least unconsciously, ever before me: Is there really a God out there, or is my faith tradition a concoction of men, as the sociologists of religion would say? (26).

When Una probed further, L'Engle expanded on her philosophy of faith:
Then there's a third way: to live as though you believe that the power behind the universe is a power of love, a personal power of love, so great that all of us really do matter to him…That's the only way I can live (116).
Marcus Borg, the fictional Peter Fromm [representing Martin Gardner] and Paul Tillich each illustrate the effort to retain a semblance of Christian faith in the midst of doubt and unbelief. If I were being judgmental at this point, I would say to each of them (whether dead, alive or make-believe), "Make up your mind: fish or cut bait! Be a Christian or be an atheist; don't muddy the water." But I know my own heart all to well. I'm an evangelical who struggles with doubt and unbelief. Should it surprise me that some would reinterpret the faith rather than bail out of the faith altogether? And who am I to push them? (127).

On this point I have found the words of F. W. Robertson particularly helpful…
But there are hours, and they come to us all at some period of life or other, when the hand of Mystery seems to be heavy on the soul…Well in such moments you doubt all—whether Christianity be true: whether Christ was a man or God or a beautiful fable…
The quote by Sergei Bulgakov that opens this chapter speaks of loss of faith during seminary education. As a seminary professor, I do not take those lines lightly. Like Robertson, there are moments when I doubt all. It is then that I sometimes ask myself as I'm looking out my office window, What on earth am I doing here? They'd fire me if they only knew (133).

Doubt and unbelief are natural components of faith. Those mature in faith must be open about their own struggles with doubt (200).
i) One of the unconsciously arrogant features of her book is the way in which Tucker constantly assumes a regal tone and rhetorically extorts the reader to agree with her. She presumes to speak on behalf of all Christians.

Are "doubt and unbelief natural components of faith"? Do all Christians at some point in life "doubt all—whether Christianity is true, or else a beautiful fable"? Do all Christians live "as though" we believe in the existence of God? Do all Christians "struggle with doubt"?

Wouldn't it be far more accurate to describe a continuum of Christian experience? Some Christians never doubt the faith. Others have momentary doubts from time to time. Others suffer a temporary crisis of faith or even lapse of faith, but undergo spiritual restoration, and emerge all the stronger from their ordeal.

Then you have borderline cases where the distinction between belief and unbelief is nearly indiscernible. A "faith" so honeycombed with doubt that it ceases to be a credible profession of faith.

To pick up on L'Engle's position, this doesn't even rise to the level of faith. For there's no actual conviction here—just play-acting. Let's play the role of a believer, like a part in a play. And, turning to Tucker, is a sentimental attachment to "my culture," and "my tradition" any substitute for saving faith?

It is one thing to make allowance for degrees of doubt, quite another to make unbelief the paradigm of faith. To redefine saving faith as a thespian art form ("we live as though we believe") is a damnable redefinition.

And that is why, at the end of the day, Tucker is unable to draw any principled distinction between degrees of doubt and wholesale apostasy. She uses her own experience as the yardstick.

How should we address this problem at a pastoral level?

ii) Doubt isn't necessarily a static condition. Doubt often has identifiable causes. There are things you can do to enrich your spiritual experience. There are things you can read that address intellectual impediments to the faith. So it's not a case of once in doubt, always in doubt—as if you're frozen in place.

iii) Having said all that, it's also the case that there's no magic formula or cure-all for doubt. Some people, as a matter of temperament or inexperience, are more prone to spiritual uncertainty than others.

They need to learn to live with that, and we need to learn to live with them. It's like a family. Our loved ones have their blind-spots and weaknesses. Since they're not going to change, you simply work around it.

What should the church do with doubters or unbelievers? Should we push them out the door? The short answer is that we shouldn't push them away unless they push us away. The church is a hospital, not a hall of fame.

There is a grain of truth to what Tucker and L'Engle have said. At least L'Engle is honest enough to admit that she has no fallback position. This is something that George Santayana also understood. For it's not as if atheism offers something better or even as good. To the contrary, atheism is, as Russell readily confessed, quite literally the counsel of despair—unyielding despair.

Why shouldn't Tucker continue to play her favorite hymns from her tattered hymnal, even if she only believes in what they say every other Tuesday or Thursday, or the second Saturday of the new month? Why should she trade in her tattered hymnal for Corliss Lamont's A Humanist Funeral Service?

The play-acting of L'Engle is a sorry substitute for saving faith, but it's still a cut above Shelly's pseudo-Christian vapories about "the choir invisible of those immoral dead who live again in minds made better by their presence."

iv) There are also men and women who quietly take their leave. They drift away.

Should we bar them from coming back? Of course not. We should leave the church door ajar with a candle in the window.

There's no need to excommunicate someone who leaves of his own accord, with no rancor or recrimination. In that situation, excommunication would be purely punitive and merely vindictive.

It is also counterproductive. Not everyone who leaves the faith is a hardened apostate. Some are backsliders. In their case we have no reason to raise the drawbridge over the moat. Rather, we should put out the welcome mat.

v) There are, however, unbelievers who remain in church to destroy the church from within. There are also unbelievers who walk away in order to return with a flamethrower.

Does Tucker really think that Marcus Borg or Paul Tillich should be teaching the next generation of Christian pastors? Does she really think that F. W. Robertson—a notorious liberal who contributed to the mass apostasy of the Victorian church—should occupy the pulpit? Apparently so since she finds it so difficult to distinguish their outlook from her own. With all due respect, Tucker reminds me of what Paul said about the women who were swept away by false teachers in the Pastoral epistles.

No, she shouldn't be teaching seminarians. She's like a lifeguard who can't swim. One drowning swimmer cannot rescue another drowning swimmer.

It should be unnecessary to explain that a pastor ought to be a man of faith. Is that really asking too much? I think not.

This doesn't mean that a pastor should drop out if he's going through a dry season. It's crucial to work one's way through the dry seasons. To keep on moving one step at a time.

That's the only way to come out on the other side. He who endures to the end will be saved. The walk of faith is a marathon, not a hundred yard dash.

If, however, a pastor loses his faith, then he should leave the ministry. This doesn't mean he should leave the church. To the contrary, he needs to relocate from the pulpit to the pew. He needs to sit under someone else's preaching. He needs to be ministered to.

vi) But the militant apostate is another matter entirely. It is he who initiates a slash-and-burn campaign. Under those circumstances we have every right to bolt the door and return fire from the ramparts. Showing hospitality to strangers is a social amenity. But if a houseguest repays the favor by trying to rape your wife and murder your children, a loaded shotgun is the proper response.

Unfortunately, Tucker's theology of sin reads less like Paradise Lost than West Side Story:


Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke,
You gotta understand,
It's just our bringin' up-ke
That gets us out of hand.
Our mothers all are junkies,
Our fathers all are drunks.
Golly Moses, natcherly we're punks!

Gee, Officer Krupke, we're very upset;
We never had the love that ev'ry child oughta get.
We ain't no delinquents,
We're misunderstood.
Deep down inside us there is good!

There is good!

There is good, there is good,
There is untapped good!
Like inside, the worst of us is good!

SNOWBOY: (Spoken) That's a touchin' good story.

ACTION: (Spoken) Lemme tell it to the world!

SNOWBOY: Just tell it to the judge.

Dear kindly Judge, your Honor,
My parents treat me rough.
With all their marijuana,
They won't give me a puff.
They didn't wanna have me,
But somehow I was had.
Leapin' lizards! That's why I'm so bad!

DIESEL: (As Judge) Right!

Officer Krupke, you're really a square;
This boy don't need a judge, he needs an analyst's care!
It's just his neurosis that oughta be curbed.
He's psychologic'ly disturbed!

I'm disturbed!

We're disturbed, we're disturbed,
We're the most disturbed,
Like we're psychologic'ly disturbed.

DIESEL: (Spoken, as Judge) In the opinion on this court, this child is depraved on account he ain't had a normal home.

ACTION: (Spoken) Hey, I'm depraved on account I'm deprived.

DIESEL: So take him to a headshrinker.

ACTION (Sings)
My father is a bastard,
My ma's an S.O.B.
My grandpa's always plastered,
My grandma pushes tea.
My sister wears a mustache,
My brother wears a dress.
Goodness gracious, that's why I'm a mess!

A-RAB: (As Psychiatrist) Yes!
Officer Krupke, you're really a slob.
This boy don't need a doctor, just a good honest job.
Society's played him a terrible trick,
And sociologic'ly he's sick!

I am sick!

We are sick, we are sick,
We are sick, sick, sick,
Like we're sociologically sick!

A-RAB: In my opinion, this child don't need to have his head shrunk at all. Juvenile delinquency is purely a social disease!

ACTION: Hey, I got a social disease!

A-RAB: So take him to a social worker!

Dear kindly social worker,
They say go earn a buck.
Like be a soda jerker,
Which means like be a schumck.
It's not I'm anti-social,
I'm only anti-work.
Gloryosky! That's why I'm a jerk!

BABY JOHN: (As Female Social Worker)
Officer Krupke, you've done it again.
This boy don't need a job, he needs a year in the pen.
It ain't just a question of misunderstood;
Deep down inside him, he's no good!

I'm no good!

We're no good, we're no good!
We're no earthly good,
Like the best of us is no damn good!

DIESEL (As Judge)
The trouble is he's crazy.

A-RAB (As Psychiatrist)
The trouble is he drinks.

BABY JOHN (As Female Social Worker)
The trouble is he's lazy.

The trouble is he stinks.

The trouble is he's growing.

The trouble is he's grown.

Krupke, we got troubles of our own!

Gee, Officer Krupke,
We're down on our knees,
'Cause no one wants a fellow with a social disease.
Gee, Officer Krupke,
What are we to do?
Gee, Officer Krupke,
Krup you!2
David Dean's testimony is typical of a spiritual pilgrimage that centers around lifestyle and abandoning faith:
Everything was going wonderfully until I discovered a reality about myself that all the prayers in the world could not change, and that was my sexual orientation…All I knew was that I wanted relief from the guilt of my sin and suicide seemed to offer the best answer.

The height of my depression developed the fall semester of my second year at Moody Bible Institute. I would find myself in my dorm room crying because I felt that I was unworthy of God. I began to entertain thoughts of suicide on a daily basis.
After graduating from Moody, Dean continued on in his biblical studies, "continued to pray, and pray, and pray, for the removal of my sin of homosexuality." But in spite of his prayers, he writes, God "remained silent in his heavenly expanse, not caring about me." Then Dean "abandoned Christianity" altogether: "To me it became a religion of false hopes and lies. To know and experience an intimate God was a fabrication of fanatics."

I walked away from the religious right and fundamentalism about seven years ago. Since then I've been rediscovering a loving God who accepts me (147-148).
This is a textbook example of two triggering mechanisms: immorality and bad theology. Dean's idea that he was unworthy of God completely misses the point of the gospel.

The other fundamental failing is his atomistic notion of sin and charismatic idea of sanctification. Homosexual temptation is hardly something that a homosexual can simply pray out of existence.

The male sex drive is central to masculine self-identity. God has even encoded theological archetypes into our romantic ideals and sexual self-perceptions—where the man stands for Christ, and the woman for the church.

Homosexuality is a very deep-seated disorder. It merges a man's natural need for asexual male affection with his natural need for sexual female affection. To some extent it's an acquired taste, and in that respect an addictive behavior. It represents a developmental dysfunction in one's psychological maturation, and since the formative stages of childhood and adolescence are unrepeatable and irreversible, none of this is simple or easy to correct. We're not talking about a discrete and peripheral sin, but a homosexual's whole emotional make-up and self-image.

Paradoxically, a homosexual needs male friends and male affection. But what he needs is normal male affection and normal male role-modeling. And, of course, he also needs female affection.

Dean was looking for a shortcut to sanctification. Instant wholeness and holiness. Unfortunately, he simply graduated from one version of bad theology to another version of bad theology. Now he imagines that God accepts him just as he is—in his impenitent and defiant immorality.
This then is the paradox for those of us in the Reformed tradition who believe that a Christian's salvation is secure and cannot simply be lost or denied or abandoned. We are left in a quandary. How do we explain the one who faithfully ministers in the church for many years and then walks away from the faith? The answer, I think, is that there simply is no explanation—none that solves the problem, none that satisfies. So we tend to avoid the issue as we watch our brothers and sisters in the Lord appear to walk away from faith. We avoid the issue rather than living in the paradox (8).

What do I do with Dan Barker, who—after his long ministry as an evangelist and a writer and publisher of Christian music—not only no longer believes but now professes atheism. Was he never a Christian? I can claim that, if it is the only way his story fits my theological system, but this means my not taking him at his word (17).

Barker's story is one that we as Christians would rather not hear…We have no framework for deconversion. It is simply not supposed to happen. How, we ask, could a person who has experienced the power of the gospel in his own life and in the lives of others turn his back and renounce the very faith he once proclaimed? We need to also ask, "How does a Christian deconstruct Barker's account of deconversion" (189).
What's so odd about this disclaimer is that she identifies with the Reformed tradition, but evidently has no knowledge of how the Reformed tradition deals with apostasy, even though Reformed tradition has always had to explain in phenomenon of apostasy in relation to the doctrine of perseverance.

i) In Reformed theology, unbelief is the default setting of fallen man. Left to our own devices, we are infidels. That's a legacy of original sin. Hence, unbelief needs no special explanation. No extra push.

It's belief, rather than unbelief, that cries out for explanation. Saving faith is a gift of God.

So it should go without saying that Reformed theology has a framework for deconversion. Yes, apostasy is supposed to happen. Apostates are a subset of reprobates.

ii) Moreover, there's a difference between nominal faith and saving faith. Some people are believers as a result of peer pressure. This is all they've ever known. And it's the ticket to social acceptance.

And that's the sort of faith that evaporates on contact as soon as they are transplanted into a different social environment.

iii) Furthermore, truth is inherently credible. Truth has the ring of truth. Truth makes sense. Truth is true to the world we know. And since the Bible is true, it's possible for the unregenerate to believe the Bible—however tenuously.

iv) But there's nothing especially mysterious about the process of apostasy. For one thing, many apostates tell us what triggered their apostasy.

v) The closer an individual is to the light, the more clearly he can rebel against the light. Many people are too ignorant of the Bible even to know what they disbelieve. Only an angel can be a devil. Clear-eyed rebellion requires 20/20 vision.

vi) Tucker is confusing an experience with the interpretation of an experience. That nominal believers can become apostates is a recurring feature of OT history, NT history, and church history. Calvinism doesn't deny the phenomenon of zealous ministers who go astray.

vii) At the same time, autobiographical claims must sometimes be taken with a grain of salt—or even a ton of salt. People have actually been known to embellish the record by exaggerating their achievements and suppressing their failings. This is a particular temptation when a charlatan is quite literally cashing in on his experience.

And even when the individual isn't intentionally devious, it's a psychological truism that we are not always the best interpreters of our own motives. We're too close. We have too much at stake.
My problem was God's silence. I don't hear the voice of God like other people do. My friend Marcia in Evergreen, Colorado, hears the void of God. She has this pipeline of sorts that I've never known to exist anywhere other than with some of the Old Testament prophets (23).

The silence we encounter when we contemplate the death of a child is deafening. But there is also a silence that is often felt in the less horrific tragedies of life, like when we pray and wonder whether our prayers have gone any further than the ceiling. Is there a personal God who cares about my everyday needs, who hears my prayers…It is tempting to think that our personal concerns are too small for God's attention (156).

Sometimes the silence and absence is implied by one's failure to pray—one's failure to recognize the reality of God's presence. This was true of my friend Judy Kupersmith, who has abandoned the faith of her childhood—a faith that continued through her early adult years…
To be perfectly honest, I think I prayed as much and probably more than anyone else my age. And I listened with my ears and with my heart. Truthfully I never heard anything. I always marveled at those folks who said, "I KNOW what God wants me to do; he told me while I was praying. He leads me every step of the way." Well, I never hear anything and never knew for sure what to do" (156-157).
i) This is another example of doubt or apostasy that's triggered by bad theology. It never occurs to Tucker to question these testimonials. Does Marcia have a pipeline to God? Does the Bible promise us that God will speak to us? You can only be disillusioned if you nurse an illusory belief in the first place.

ii) There is also the problem of men and women who can't find God because they don't know what they're looking for. They have this preconception of what they would find if they discovered God.

The reason they don't perceive the presence of God is not because he isn't there—whatever there means—but because they don't recognize what is staring them in since that is not what they were expecting to see. God is hiding in plain sight.

They can only see God in the extraordinary or spectacular, and never in the ordinary, the commonplace, the unobtrusive. Their channel is tuned to the miraculous rather than the providential. To the punctiliar rather than the linear.
Frequently, the Christian's response is characterized by anger and accusations. We are threatened by the very presence of those who have abandoned the truth that we hold dear, and I sometimes wonder whether our own insecurity is a cause for the breakdown in communication between those who believe and those who once believed (9).

One thing that I have discovered as I have been working on this project is that for many people, this issue touches a raw nerve. For some the very idea of someone's walking away from faith is highly offensive and threatening (10).
This is sometimes true. At the same time, her accusation is reversible. Tucker feels threatened by the very presence of those who have an unwavering faith in God and his Word. And her own spiritual insecurity is driving her to make accusatory attacks on those who don't share her ubiquitous doubts. It's also driving her to stick up for the apostate.
The problem of pain and evil as it relates to the perceived silence of God is surely the most troubling conundrum that Christians confront (153).

The problem of pain and of evil is the ground of all battles for belief (165).

Why doesn't God intervene and put these people out of business once and for all? Why doesn't God pour his wrath out on the wicked and make the righteous prosper? (161)?

From an intellectual standpoint, one can discuss the issues relating to disappointment with God and the sense of silence, but ultimately one will find no answers. I am convinced of that. I have searched the most insightful authors seeking clues, but all they can say individually and collectively is that such things are beyond our comprehension (164).
One of the problems here is intellectual pride. She thinks she knows more than she does. For there are insightful answers to the problem of evil.3
Nicholas Wolterstorff had no such preparation for his lament for a son…Nick's son Eric, who was twenty-five, died on June 11, 1983, while mountain climbing in Austria. Lament for a Son is truly a lament—as powerful a lament as I have ever encountered. "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and resurrecter of Jesus Christ," he writes. "I also believe that my son's life was cut off in its prime. I cannot fit these pieces together. I am at a loss…To the most agonized question I have ever asked I do not know the answer. I do not know why God would watch him fall…My wound is an unanswered question" (154-55).

For a long time I knew that God is not the impassive, unresponsive, unchanging being portrayed by the classical theologians. I knew the pathos of God…But I never saw it" (156).
This raises several issues:

i) It would be callous and counterproductive to scold a grieving parent in the midst of his mourning. That's a time to be a sympathetic listener. And if the mourner makes intemperate or blasphemous statements about God, you should let it slide.

The Book of Job is usually discussed in relation to the problem of evil, but the book of Job is also a study in the grieving process. Of how a mourner works through his grief. We can learn from that.

ii) However, there does comes a point, a few years down the pike, when it is not inappropriate or unhelpful to correct bad theology if the mourner is still blaming God.

To take the case at hand, Wolterstorff is ignoring the obvious. His son was indulging in high-risk behavior. And the element of danger is part of the appeal. If you deliberately engage in a life-threatening activity, you may pay with your life. This doesn't call for any special explanation, does it?

So why does Wolterstorff entertain the expectation that his son should be immune to the possible consequences of an inherently hazardous, recreational activity? On the face of it, his reaction is completely irrational. That would be understandable at the time of the accident, and for however many months the immediate and oppressive sense of loss clouded his judgment.

But Wolterstorff is a very sophisticated Christian philosopher. And he's writing well after the fact.

What's the source of the problem? Is it just that parents have a blind spot where their own kids are concerned? Again, that would be understandable, at an emotional level.

Yet the question remains. Why is he unable "to fit these pieces together"? What kind of world does he envision? A world of pillows? A big padded cell where every misstep is cushioned by a down comforter?

iii) In shifting blame, he also evades the issue of personal responsibility. His son knew what he was doing. He knew the risk. This was a voluntary activity.

What is more, his father knew the risk. Did Nick every sit down with Eric and have a frank, father-and-son discussion about reckless and foolhardy adventures?

It's fine for boys and young men to be adventurous. But some activities are more dangerous than others, and some activities are more likely to result in death or disablement.

It's possible to have fun without killing yourself. Young men need older men to counsel them on where to draw the line. For young men, with their inexperience, death is a distant abstraction. Was Nicholas Wolterstorff giving his son the prudent advice he needed?

iv) Instead of asking himself the tough questions, Wolsterstorff liberalizes his theology. This enables him to evade the tough questions.

The question isn't hard to answer at an intellectual level. It's only hard to answer at an emotional level. That's what Wolsterstorff can't face up to.

Tucker's book is a catalogue of attacks on the Christian faith. Just occasionally she says something to blunt the force of the attack, but most of the time she piles one attack upon another, and not only leaves them unanswered, but justifies the blasphemy.

She's like a gunshot victim who complains about the pain, but defends the shooter and shoots the paramedic. The entire book becomes an extended alibi for the sin of apostasy—of which there is no graver sin.



3 "Must God Create the Best?" R. Adams, The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology (Oxford 1987), 51-64; "Existence, Self-interest, and the Problem of Evil," ibid. 65-76; A. Plantinga, "Supralapsarianism, or 'O Felix Culpa'," P. van Inwagen, ed. Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil (Eerdmans 2004), 1-25.


  1. Steve Jackson7/19/2007 7:00 PM

    Another pearl of wisdom from Mz. Tucker:

    "To tell a black man that he is fully equal to a white man before God and in importance in the church but he cannot serve as an elder simply doesn’t wash. The word is not equality, rather discrimination or inequality. I have heard many times the Complementarian differentiation between race and gender on this topic and that?s not what this post is about. It is about using the term equality. Why must Complementarians bow to political correctness Yes, of course it would be politically incorrect to say that they do not affirm the equality of women. But that would be truthful. If you’re a Complementarian, I am pleading for honesty. Stand up like a man, and say it: The Bible does not teach that men and women are equal."

  2. Tucker doesn't appear to be very emotionally stable either, as evidenced by these two posts, made within 2 days of each other:

  3. I assume Tucker is still bitter against her pastor ex-husband, who betrayed her, and was being a phony all those years in conservative churches. I also assume she can't or won't distinguish between the Bible and people. She knew some traditionalists who were obnoxious, so therefore surely the Bible must teach thus-and-so. The third option (that they were obnoxious and complementarianism us true, at the same time) never occurs.

  4. >Does Marcia have a pipeline to God? Does the Bible promise us that God will speak to us?

    Well this certainly sounds like it:

    "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. ...

    "As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him."

    Even if this text really isn't saying what it appears to, you can't fault someone for thinking this way. Can you? Or is Marcia obligated to pore over Reformed commentaries before arriving at a conviction?

  5. >Furthermore, truth is inherently credible. Truth has the ring of truth. Truth makes sense. Truth is true to the world we know. And since the Bible is true, it's possible for the unregenerate to believe the Bible—however tenuously.

    After all the arguing is over the dust settles, we may very well acknowledge that the Bible -- however fraught with difficulty -- is true after all. But to paint that book as inherently credible? Inherently sensible? Not when it contains a talking snake, a talking donkey, a woman becoming a pillar of salt, a man stilling the sun, a prophet going to heaven in a fiery chariot, God-sanctioned genocide, punishments inflicted on people because of others' sins, God sending a lying spirit into a prophet, God commanding a prophet to lay on his side for more than a year, etc.

    The arguments in support of these accounts may vindicate the Bible in the end. But a book that needs a continual stream of arguments to substantiate its truthfulness is not an inherently credible book.

  6. AaronC said...

    After all the arguing is over the dust settles, we may very well acknowledge that the Bible -- however fraught with difficulty -- is true after all. But to paint that book as inherently credible? Inherently sensible? Not when it contains a talking snake, a talking donkey, a woman becoming a pillar of salt, a man stilling the sun, a prophet going to heaven in a fiery chariot, God-sanctioned genocide, punishments inflicted on people because of others' sins, God sending a lying spirit into a prophet, God commanding a prophet to lay on his side for more than a year, etc.

    The arguments in support of these accounts may vindicate the Bible in the end. But a book that needs a continual stream of arguments to substantiate its truthfulness is not an inherently credible book.


    Any student of philosophy can tell you that there is no belief, however inherently sensible or credible, that has not been denied by some philosopher or another.

  7. AaronC said:

    "Even if this text really isn't saying what it appears to, you can't fault someone for thinking this way. Can you?"

    Yes, I can, since it's ripping the verse out of context. After all, this very verse is an instance of apostolic instruction—of one Christian in authority (John) instructing other Christians.

    Coming on the heels of v19, regarding the difference between true believers and apostates, John is inculcating the doctrine of perseverance in vv20,27. The regenerate are preserved by the Holy Spirit from committing apostasy. They will not defect from the faith by following a false teacher into grave heresy.

    "Or is Marcia obligated to pore over Reformed commentaries before arriving at a conviction?"

    I have never contended that Christians should limit themselves to Reformed commentaries. Indeed, if you bother to consult by bibliography on commentaries, they are quite ecumenical.

  8. >I have never contended that Christians should limit themselves to Reformed commentaries. Indeed, if you bother to consult by bibliography on commentaries, they are quite ecumenical.

    You're right. That was a low blow. I'm sorry, and I stand corrected.

    >Yes, I can, since it's ripping the verse out of context.

    But what if Marcia isn't smart enough to see that she's ripping it out of context? Is she culpable for being born dimmer than the average exegete?

  9. AaronC said...

    "But what if Marcia isn't smart enough to see that she's ripping it out of context? Is she culpable for being born dimmer than the average exegete?"

    1.That's why God gave teachers to the church.

    2.If a Christian is wrong about something, that's not the end of the world.

    3.In context, this was not about what Marcia thought, but what Tucker thought about Marcia. Tucker, unlike Marcia (presumably), is smart and well-educated. So there's no reason she couldn't or shouldn't question some of the glittering assumptions she's making.

  10. And I might add that Tucker did teach at a nominally Reformed seminary and professes to be part of a Reformed denomination.

    That, in turn obligates her to certain confessional standards and academic standards, so Tucker does have more of an obligation to pour over Reformed commentaries if she can't fill in the blanks; though one might wonder why she was teaching at the graduate level at such an institution while so manifestly ignorant of Reformed theology/historical theology and exegesis in particular.

  11. Tucker isn't the only one who struggles with doubts.

    But the militant apostate is another matter entirely...

    Why? If by being militant apostate means arguing that you are deluded, we do you a backhanded favor. We help to make your theistic arguments stronger. Without atheists and apostates you wouldn't have the arguments of a Plantinga, a Swinburne or a Craig.

    Besides, given your Calvinistic theology, we can no more lead people astray from the Christian faith than we can pick up a redwood tree, if God does not so will it. Please be consistent with your theology here. We are no threat to anyone, given your theology. God will save whoever he wills, and he will damn whoever he wills.

    In fact, according to your own theology we are even doing God's will. So embrace us. Thank us. Pity us, if you want to. Argue against us, as is your Christian duty. But you do not need to load your gun and shoot us! ;-)

  12. Let's see, those points were about having a bad theology, bad behavior, and being angry with God. Sounds like you've summed up Loftus!

  13. John Loftus says:

    Besides, given your Calvinistic theology, we can no more lead people astray from the Christian faith than we can pick up a redwood tree, if God does not so will it. Please be consistent with your theology here. We are no threat to anyone, given your theology. God will save whoever he wills, and he will damn whoever he wills.


    Wow, John, with arguments like that, it's a wonder you ever passed systematic theology in seminary.

    Reformed theology draws a distinction, as you well know, between God's sovereign decree and God's preceptive will. It also speaks to means and ends.

    No believer, for example, is ever saved apart from the means of the preaching of the gospel.

    People are led astray by particular means, and, since we don't know the identity of the elect and only have a credible profession of faith by which to make any judgment regarding any one person's regeneracy, we are to view you as a threat. The same God that decrees the apostate is the same God whose preceptive will contains extremely harsh words about apostates, John, and depicts you as a "threat" to the covenant community.

  14. Once again Gene, I know your theology fairly well. I have read through the Institutes and had a master's class with Kenneth Kantzer in Calvinism. Do I have to give you a lesson in Calvinistic theology before I can offer my conclusions about that theology? No. I expressed the conclusions I have reached from your theology ater all of the distinctions were made even though I left these distinction unexpressed.

  15. John W. Loftus said:

    "Without atheists and apostates you wouldn't have the arguments of a Plantinga, a Swinburne or a Craig."

    Without gang-bangers, we wouldn't need ER physicians to patch up the gun-shot wounds. Yes, that's doing us quite a favor.

  16. Steve,

    So which is it? On the one hand, God secretly, sovereignly and eternally decrees who will be saved and who will be lost. If so, there is no intellectual threat from us at all, nor from what we may do.

    On the other hand, if you believe instead that your arguments will win in the marketplace of ideas, and that "all objections are stupid ones," then once again you have no threat from us. In either case you win, for we are being used for God's glory and surely that means provoking great Christian philosophers and apologists to better defend their faith.

    There is no threat from us. It's just a mental exercise so you can better learn how to understand your God and how best to defend his ways.


    “So which is it? On the one hand, God secretly, sovereignly and eternally decrees who will be saved and who will be lost. If so, there is no intellectual threat from us at all, nor from what we may do.”

    As Gene already pointed out, you’re falling into the fallacy of Hyper-Calvinism. Calvinism is not synonymous with fatalism.

    “On the other hand, if you believe instead that your arguments will win in the marketplace of ideas, and that ‘all objections are stupid ones,’ then once again you have no threat from us.”

    i) You’ve never been a threat to me personally. I know how to answer you.

    ii) And your reply is viciously circular. If my arguments trump your argument, then your arguments are no “threat.”

    It hardly follows that your arguments would be no “threat” absent a counterargument.

    iii) The fact that all your objections are stupid objections doesn’t mean that all stupid objections *appear* to be equally stupid.

    iv) It’s quite true, though, that Christianity is a win-win proposition whereas atheism is a lose-lose proposition.

    “In either case you win, for we are being used for God's glory and surely that means provoking great Christian philosophers and apologists to better defend their faith.”

    Once again, this is viciously circular—like saying that carcinogens are a good thing because, without carcinogens, there would be no oncologists. True, but without carcinogens, there would be no need for oncologists.