The Grim Reppert has posted the following challenge to the Reformed doctrine of perseverance:
I think this is an empirical problem for point 5 to be honest with you. Point 5 advocates use this passage to buttress their position, I John 2: 19
"They went out from us but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us."
But can that be generalized to all instances of "leaving the fold?" Doesn't this commit you to an a priori theory of people who leave, which isn't supported by the evidence?
At issue is whether there is such a thing as an “ex-Christian atheist.”
By way of reply:
1.I appreciate the fact that Dr. Reppert takes Calvinism seriously enough to challenge it. We can take the heat, and the heat will temper our steel.
2.Reppert is correct to say that Calvinism would be guilty of overgeneralizing from 1 Jn 2:19 if, in fact, that were our only prooftext for perseverance.
Yet he must know that the doctrine of perseverance is founded on a far broader database than 1 Jn 2:19. In particular, various aspects of Johannine and Pauline soteriology lay the principle foundation for the doctrine, although the Biblical witness is wider than that.
3.It’s also unclear to me why he thinks that this doctrine is at odds with the empirical evidence.
i) Election and regeneration are necessary conditions of perseverance. Yet these are not empirical conditions. They are no open to public (or even private) inspection.
Catholic iconography notwithstanding, election and regeneration do not confer a halo on the elect and regenerate.
ii) In addition, the regenerate remain sinners in this life. So there’s no observable criterion that unmistakably distinguishes a nominal believer from a “true” believer.
Hence I don’t know what Dr. Reppert thinks would count as evidence against the doctrine.
4. Perhaps this is due to semantic confusion. As a matter of linguistic convention, Calvinism distinguishes between “nominal believers” and “true believers.”
When we deny that a nominal believer is a true believer, we do not deny that a nominal believer (or future apostate) can truly believe Christian theology. It’s just an idiomatic way of contrasting elect/regenerate believers from reprobate/unregenerate believers.
This usage is simply a carryover from Scriptural usage, which speaks of “unbelievers” in contrast to Christians.
It’s quite possible for the reprobate/unregenerate to believe in Christian theology. It may strike them as very reasonable. It may be all they know. Social approval may depend on their acceptance of Christian doctrine.
But the moment their hereditary faith comes under attack, especially if they move away from home and begin to shift their social arrangements, it may crumble into dust.
Some nominal Christians, whether converts to the faith or cradle churchmen, are intellectually inclined. As a result, they may dig deeper into theology, apologetics, and Bible study. This puts them on a track to ordination.
When a minister leaves the faith, that’s more conspicuous than when a layman leaves the faith, but it’s no more surprising. The apostate pastor got that far into the faith because his intellectual curiosity took him that far.
Moreover, there comes a point along the professional continuum where, to some extent, you feel emotionally or financially committed to see it through. A seminarian or ordained minister isn’t motivated to jump ship as soon as he begins to entertain some doubts about his faith.
For one thing, he may hope that he can overcome his doubts by toughing it out during the dry season. And, in some cases, he does overcome his doubts.
Beyond that, it is very awkward to make a midlife career change. Because all your training is in the field of theology, you may not be qualified to do anything else. You have no other marketable skills.
In addition, most of your relationships are centered on your Christian identity. Your marriage. Your parishioners. Your fellow ministers, seminary classmates, and mentors.
Think of all the people you’ll let down! You’ll be ostracized. You’ll lose your job. Your marriage may fall apart. You reputation in tatters.
Loss of face and loss of income are strong disincentives to making a drastic career change. So a nominal believer turned closet apostate may keep up appearances for a very long time. Indeed, some closet apostates never come clean.
Therefore, it isn’t terribly surprising that someone who seemed to be very advanced in the faith would suddenly drop out of the faith. He may have been treading water for a number of years.
He knows the role. He can play the part. The right code words. The right tone of voice. The right facial expression.
A man with public speaking ability can feign a passionate performance. Actors do it for a living. Think of Richard Burton as Thomas a Beckett or Paul Scofield as Thomas More. Think of all those worldly actresses who play nuns and mother superiors (e.g. Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Diana Rigg, Deborah Kerr). Heck, think of all the charlatans on TBN!
Conversely, a lot of ministers are mediocre preachers, so even if they lose their faith, it doesn’t show in the pulpit since their delivery was always a flat, lackluster affair.
5. And as far as the indirect evidence is concerned, consider two sets of professing Christians. Both sets go through the same ordeals. One set may suffer a crisis of faith or temporary lapse of faith, but they hunker down and stick it out. In time, they experience spiritual restoration.
The other set lose their faith and never look back. On the face of it we have the same causes resulting in different effects.
So what is the differential factor? There must be some other, intangible dynamic that distinguishes the backslider from the apostate. That would be grace.
Their outward circumstances are the same. For a time, their reaction may be the same. To all appearances they both look like lost sheep. But over time, one stray sheep returns to the fold while the other sheep continues to wander in the wilderness until it dies.