Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He added in June 2017 in a combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Delighted to oblige his wishes . . .
Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me, encouraged by Bob on his blog, he banned me from commenting there. I also banned him for violation of my rules for discussion, but (unlike him) provided detailed reasons for why it was justified.
Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. On 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like his own behavior: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could! He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 63 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.
Bible-Basher Bob reiterated and rationalized his intellectual cowardice yet again on 10-17-20: “Every engagement with him [yours truly] devolves into pointlessness. I don’t believe I’ve ever learned anything from him. But if you find a compelling argument of his, summarize it for us.” And again the next day: “He has certainly not earned a spot in my heart, so I will pass on funding his evidence-free project. Like you, I also find that he’s frustrating to talk with. Again, I evaluate such conversations as useful if I can learn something–find a mistake in my argument, uncover an error I made in Christians’ worldview, and so on. Dave is good at bluster, and that’s about it.”
Looking over one of Bible-Basher Bob’s notorious comboxes (cesspools of anti-Christian bigotry and ad hominem blitzes) today, I ran across this statement of his:
Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer converted in prison, so when he died (violently, in prison), he went to heaven. Anne Frank (unrepentant Jew) went to hell.
Praise the Lord. (11-23-20)
He had repeated this mantra eight days earlier and then asked: “Do Christians ever stop to think of the Frankenstein of a religion they’ve created?”
And again on the same day:
I listened to a Christian podcast where 3 or 4 pastors were discussion the case of a father whose 20-something son had just died. So problem 1 is the son has died. But problem 2 is that the son hadn’t accepted Jeebus and so, by the father’s own religion, was now broasting in hell. And the pastors were trying to figure out what consoling words they could offer while sticking to the “everlasting torment” line.
Sometimes Christianity makes things a lot worse.
I’ve often noted how lies and falsehoods are easy to spout: often able to be expressed in a tiny soundbite or slogan short enough to be a nice fit for a bumper sticker or t-shirt.
So Bob threw out this insulting “meat” to his echo chamber: knowing that (almost certainly) no one would challenge it, and that all will be united in a blissful unity, in despising the intellectual bankruptcy of what they erroneously think is mainstream Christianity. To refute it, however (as the reader will soon see), I have to go into at least some depth about Catholic and Protestant theology of salvation (soteriology) and document how the view he spews is far out of the mainstream. And in doing it — if history is any guide — I know he will likely never read it, or if he does, he won’t respond or be corrected (if he continues his behavior of the last two years and three months: ignoring 63 of my critiques).
But I plug away because it’s important to refute lies and falsehoods like this, in order to try to prevent as many as possible from believing them. At any rate, it takes far more ink to effectively refute a lie than to state the lie. Another commenter (Michael) in the same combox wrote:
These are echoed by lots of real people. Obviously, the many Jews who died in the Holocaust (who didn’t become Christians). Plus the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoss. He converted to Catholicism and repented prior to being hanged. According to their doctrine, he’ll reach Heaven eventually. Now, at least they are more generous and say that “righteous” non-Catholics can be saved too. Evangelicals like Ray don’t. Young Anne Frank and so many more? Damned. Yet they say atheism is bad…
I’m saved from insanity at least by Michael acknowledging that Catholics teach “that ‘righteous’ non-Catholics can be saved.” Thank you, Michael. I think Bob might actually know that, too. To be as fair as we can be towards him, it is true that this combox was in response to a Protestant evangelical minister, and so that was probably the view he had in mind. Yet atheists have a bad habit of constantly making out that fringe fundamentalist Christian views represent the whole.
I have written about the possibility of atheists being saved, according to pretty clear biblical teaching:
In a nutshell, the Bible teaches one thing, and denies another:
1) One is judged by what they know and how they act upon it.
2) We don’t (and can’t) know the eternal fate of individuals.
Salvation is brought about by the grace of God and the work of Jesus Christ on the cross for the salvation of the human race (or at least those who believe in Him, having become acquainted with the gospel). This is true whether one is aware of it or not. So nothing I clarify here is to be thought of as a denial of that fact: held in common by all Christians.
There are all sorts of complexities involved in the application of salvation. I address them in many papers on my Ecumenism and Christian Unity page, in the section entitled “Salvation ‘Outside’ the Church / Religious Liberty.” It’s very clear that Catholicism allows for the possible salvation of many many individuals who have either not heard the gospel or have not become members of the Catholic Church. To save space, I simply refer the reader to my papers on that topic.
I’m presently much more interested in showing that mainstream Protestantism doesn’t teach such a crass view as Bob suggests, either. I am already familiar with the expressed view of John Calvin: who is the founder of a large portion of Protestantism, which calls itself Reformed, or Calvinist (including Presbyterians, some Baptists, and some of other denominations as well). He denied that we could know for sure who is of the elect (i.e., would eventually be saved and go to heaven):
[W]e are not bidden to distinguish between reprobate and elect – that is for God alone, not for us, to do . . . (Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV. 1. 3.)
We must thus consider both God’s secret election and his inner call. For he alone “knows who are his” [II Tim. 2:19] . . . except that they bear his insignia by which they may be distinguished from the reprobate. But because a small and contemptible number are hidden in a huge multitude and a few grains of wheat are covered by a pile of chaff, we must leave to God alone the knowledge of his church, whose foundation is his secret election. It is not sufficient, indeed, for us to comprehend in mind and thought the multitude of the elect, unless we consider the unity of the church as that into which we are convinced we have been truly engrafted. (Inst. IV. 1. 2.)
Of those who openly wear his badge, his eyes alone see the ones who are unfeignedly holy and will persevere to the very end [Matt. 24:13] – the ultimate point of salvation. (Inst. IV. 1. 8.)
It is . . . not our task to erase from the number of the elect those who have been expelled from the church, or to despair as if they were already lost. It is lawful to regard them as estranged from the church, and thus, from Christ – but only for such time as they remain separated. However, if they also display more stubbornness than gentleness, we should still commend them to the Lord’s judgment, hoping for better things of them in the future than we see in the present. Nor should we on this account cease to call upon God in their behalf . . . let us not condemn to death the very person who is in the hand and judgment of God alone; rather, let us only judge of the character of each man’s works by the law of the Lord. While we follow this rule, we rather take our stand upon the divine judgment than put forward our own. Let us not claim for ourselves more license in judgment, unless we wish to limit God’s power and confine his mercy by law. For God, whenever it pleases him, changes the worst men into the best, engrafts the alien, and adopts the stranger into the church. And the Lord does this to frustrate men’s opinion and restrain their rashness – which, unless it is checked, ventures to assume for itself a greater right of judgment than it deserves. (Inst. IV. 12. 9.)
The election of God is hidden and secret in itself . . . men are being fantastic or fanatical if they look for their salvation or for the salvation of others in the labyrinth of predestination instead of keeping to the way of the faith which is offered them . . . To each one, his faith is a sufficient witness of the eternal predestination of God, so that it would be a horrible sacrilege to seek higher assurance. (Commentary on John 6:40; in Francis Wendel, Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought, translated by Philip Mairet, New York: Harper & Row, 1963, 270)
Let us, then, keep this in view above all other things, that it is no less insane to crave for other knowledge of predestination besides that which is given us in the word of God, than if one wanted to walk over inaccessible rocks or to see in darkness. (Inst. III. 21. 2.; in Wendel, ibid., 270-271)
This is highly significant, and immediately disproves Bob’s characterization of even Calvinists. Calvin’s view is in no way compatible with a notion that Jeff Dahmer definitely was saved and went to heaven because he expressed repentance in jail, while Anne Frank was definitely damned and went to hell because she was a Jew. We simply don’t know.
The website Christianity.com offers the relevant article, “How Can I Know If I am One of the Elect?,” by Dave Jenkins (a Baptist). It offers the same view as Calvin, and is utterly contrary to Bob’s caricature:
In the Gospel of John, the Apostle John teaches that Christ alone perfectly knows the hearts and minds of all people (John 2:24-25). Being the incarnate God, Jesus’ knowledge of all men’s hearts is not limited, like our finite minds. Since Jesus is Lord, He alone perfectly knows all those who have true saving faith. Since we are finite, we cannot know the genuine state of anyone’s heart besides our own.
Some may profess faith and persevere until their deaths. Other professing Christians later fall away, revealing that they never had genuine faith in Christ alone, to begin with (1 John 2:19). However, not all of those who profess faith genuinely possess it and will not be revealed until the Lord Jesus returns in the visible church (Matthew 13:24-30).
Martin Luther (the founder of Protestantism and of Lutheranism) expressed in several ways the lack of an absolute certainty of salvation, of even a serious, professed Christian. It would follow all the more so that we cannot know the ultimate fate of anyone else, either. Luther wrote:
The Christian . . . needs to entertain anxiety as to how he shall endure steadfast to the end. There is where all fear and anxiety are due. For while he assuredly is given to possess full salvation, it may be somewhat doubtful whether or no he will steadfastly retain it. Here we must walk in fear. . . . Should temptation force him to lose his confidence, grace also will fail. (Sermon for the Sunday After Christmas; Galatians 4:1-7, 1522)
Do not be moved by Zwingli’s argument concerning the certitude of faith, for he speaks of faith from hearsay and imagination, and not from any experience. It is possible, nay, it happens every day, that in some of the articles of faith we are strong, in others weak. Moses, the man of great faith, was weak at Meribah, and all the children of Israel were weak in the faith that they would receive food and drink, though by faith they had overcome Pharaoh, with many miracles. (Letter to Gottschalk Crucius, 27 October 1525)
Neither the baptizer nor the baptized can maintain his position, for both are uncertain of their faith, or at least are in constant peril and anxiety. For it happens, indeed it is so in this matter of faith, that often he who claims to believe does not at all believe; and on the other hand, he who doesn’t think he believes, but is in despair, has the greatest faith. So this verse, “Whoever believes,” does not compel us to determine who has faith or not. . . . Who has it, has it. One must believe, but we neither should nor can know it for certain. (Concerning Rebaptism, Jan. 1528)
I was the editor of a collection of John Wesley quotations (The Quotable Wesley). Wesley was a lifelong Anglican, but in effect became the founder of Methodism. And he taught the same thing:
It is an assurance of present salvation only; therefore, not necessarily perpetual, neither irreversible. (Letter to Samuel Wesley; 10 May 1739)
We know not how far invincible ignorance may excuse. ‘Love hopeth all things.’ . . . we allow there may be very many degrees of seeing God; even as many as are between seeing the sun with the eyelids closed and with the eyes open. (Letter to Mr. Richard Tompson; 2 Feb. 1756; citing an earlier Methodist conference from 2 August 1745)
Touching the charity due to those who are in error, I suppose, we both likewise agree, that really invincible ignorance never did, nor ever shall, exclude any man from heaven. And hence, I doubt not, but God will receive thousands of those who differ from me, even where I hold the truth. (Letter to “John Smith” [probably one of the Archbishops of Canterbury, Thomas Herring or Thomas Secker], 25 June 1746)
Do you think these words mean, “he that believes” at this moment “shall” certainly and inevitably “be saved?” If this interpretation be good, then, by all the rules of speech, the other part of the sentence must mean, “He” that does “not believe” at this moment “shall” certainly and inevitably “be damned.” Therefore, that interpretation cannot be good. (The Perseverance of the Saints; c. 1746)
That all Christians have an assurance of future salvation, is no Methodist doctrine: and an assurance of present pardon, is so far from causing negligence, that it is of all others the strongest motive to vigorous endeavours after universal holiness. (Second Letter to the Author [Bishop Lavington] of “The Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists Compared”, 27 Nov. 1750)
This covers, then, the views of the Calvinist, Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican, and Methodist sectors of Protestantism: from (mostly) the most prominent persons of those traditions. One can readily see that the false “assurance” and “knowledge” entailed in claiming to “know” for “certain” the eternal destiny of another, whether proclaimed (or genuine) Christian or not, is presumptuous folly, no “knowledge” at all, and not taught by mainstream Protestant Christianity; nor is it taught by Catholicism or Orthodoxy.
It’s intellectually dishonest to present a view that might be expressed by a tiny fringe, fanatical portion of a belief-system, and present it as if it is the deliberate and certain conclusion of the greatest theologians of said systems (i.e., supposedly the “mainstream” or broadly what Christianity as a whole asserts). It’s an outrage, and we Christians need to speak out against it and refute it. I have done so. This is just one of hundreds of such scurrilous lies on Bible-Basher Bob’s site, which is why I have responded to and refuted him now 64 times.
Photo credit: Anne Frank (1929-1945): German-Dutch Jew, author of the famous Diary of a Young Girl and victim of Nazi butchery [public domain / Smithsonian Magazine]