Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Are all apostates doomed?

Is apostasy ipso facto damnable? Professing believers leave the faith for different reasons. 

i) Fear of persecution: Heb 6 & 10 (cf. Mt 24:10)

ii) Heresy (Mt 24:11,14; Gal 5:4, 1 Tim 1:20; 4:1-5; 2 Tim 2:27; 1 Jn 2:19) 

iii) Worldliness (Mt 12:22; 2 Tim 4:10)

iv) Idolatry/immorality (1 Cor 10:13)

v) Superficial conversion (Mt 13:19-21)

In Heb 6 & 10, it's not loss of faith in the sense of ceasing to believe, but lack of commitment when the going gets tough.  

But what about professing believers who drop out because they become disillusioned and disaffected in the wake of unbearable personal tragedy? They don't necessarily stop believing. Rather, they just don't care anymore. They've become emotionally alienated. 

Is that damnable? Or does the attenuating circumstance of unbearable personal tragedy mitigate their reaction? Humans are psychologically fragile creatures. We're not indestructible. There's only so much we can take. We can break under pressure. 

I don't know the answer to that question. But it's possible that Christian tradition overgeneralizes about the infernal fate awaiting apostates. It may in part depend on the motive. I don't assume that God is itching to damn people who buckle under the weight of calamity. Consider the shepherd who leaves the flock to reclaim one stray sheep (Lk 15:3-7). 


  1. You can also add one more to the list:

    vi) Getting burned in a bad church experience.

    I know of a number of people who left church for several years after having a really bad experience in church. I maintained contact with a couple of my friends in their wandering years. To an outsider or someone who did not know them well, it may have looked like there was no faith, however if you knew them well enough and you saw a thin current of faith still running. They just had a lot of processing to do. My friends returned - one of them after 5 years.

    Another one to consider: The work of Timothy Larsen at Wheaton U is quite interesting. Let me find one of his articles...


    ~ I think stories like the ones he documents here and in his book, can be multiplied even for our times. Yes, it does seem like some people leave the faith - and we think that their fates are permanently sealed in Hell - but then they surprisingly return, even vocally putting to death their old arguments and excuses. Go figure! How do we explain this? Ultimately it is only God who knows what is going on in a person's heart. We do not. Our work is simply to do our best to contend for the Gospel and persuade them to turn to the Lord. Barring divine intervention - we do not give up on anyone.

    ~ R. Rao

    1. It's not entirely clear, but I presume that Steve's talking about people who commit some sort of "final" apostasy; not about people who manifestly repent.

  2. The post is rather ambiguous/unclear, to the point of possibly not actually say anything. It postulates of the people under consideration that 'they don't necessarily stop believing.' But if someone does not actually stop believing, in what sense are they an apostate? These aren't the sort of 'apostates' normally in view. Individuals vary hugely, of course, but the post appears to envisage *some* sort of class of people; but it says so little about them that it's hard to know how to respond.

    1. i) As I mentioned, the individuals in Heb 6 & 10 are paradigm apostates, yet their apostasy isn't based on ceasing to believe in Christian theology, but refusing to suffer for their faith. It's not that they changed their mind about Christian theology; rather, the cost of discipleship is prohibitive from their perspective. When they converted, it was safe to convert. Now they're facing the imminent prospect of persecution or martyrdom. It's no longer an abstraction.

      ii) Take Scorsese's film Silence (2016). In that film, Catholic missionaries desecrate a crucifix to save Japanese Christians from torture. Christian critics treated that action as tantamount to apostasy.

      I disagree in that particular case, but it's true that apostasy can mean a public renunciation of the faith, for craven motives, even though the apostate privately believes that Christianity is true. Apostasy can be behavioral rather than doxastic (e.g. Mt 10:33).

      iii) However, the kind of people I have in mind are former professing Christians who've been overwhelmed by tragedy. Due to disappointment with God, anger because God failed to come through for them or their loved ones, they give up on God, give up on Christianity.

      But it's more emotional than intellectual. Not loss of belief, but loss of trust and reverence.

      My point is that this kind of apostasy has a different motivation than the textbook cases of apostasy in Scripture. Is that damnable, or does God view them as lost sheep whom the Good Shepherd will recover?

  3. what about leaving the faith out of a desire to live a lifestyle incompatible with the faith (aka sin). what if the person knows all the while that jesus is truth and tries to repent a short while after, because he misses God and his conscience is bothering him, of course. would God let such a one return? what about Heb. 12 and Esau unable to return despite wanting to?