Craig on Terminating Would-Be Apostates

Craig on Terminating Would-Be Apostates February 19, 2020

Here is a recent question to William Lane Craig on his Reasonable Faith website:

Hi Dr Craig,

I’ve been studying the Perseverance of the Saints and I found your paper on the subject very thought-provoking. I have been wrestling with this subject as of late and there appear to be certain difficulties with the traditional understanding of Perseverance, some of which you have highlighted in your paper. However, I would like to ask about a difficulty I see on the other side. My question pertains to reconciling God’s loving nature with the teaching that Christians can become lost.

If God loves his children enough to send Christ to die for them, why wouldn’t he simply take the life of the believer *before* they apostatize (given his foreknowledge that if they’re kept alive, they will apostatize). After all, God is in control of when we die and Scripture repeatedly affirms that God loves his sheep deeply and desires none of them to be lost. It seems to me that it is well within God’s capabilities, and that it is more consistent with his character, to take one’s life while they are still in a ‘state of grace’. My mind jumps to 1 Corinthians 11:32 which appears to repeat this sentiment. If he is able to, why doesn’t he? I would love to know your thoughts on this as I have a hard time reconciling God’s love with his allowing apostasy to occur, especially when it appears it could be prevented.

Craig replies:

This is a really thought-provoking question about which I’ve never really thought, Nader! So let me offer just a couple random thoughts here that may stimulate further thinking about the subject.

One way to respond to the question is to affirm that this is exactly what God does. He ends the lives of would-be apostates before they fall permanently away. The obvious challenge to this response is that we seem to have good examples of people who do apostatize. But here we have to differentiate from such alleged cases and people who temporarily fall away and then eventually repent and come back to faith (like the apostle Peter). How do we know that persons in Scripture who seemingly apostatize (like Demas) do so irrevocably and do not come back to Christ, even on their deathbeds? Moreover, we must differentiate from permanent apostates people who never had genuine saving faith in the first place but merely a counterfeit faith (like Judas). In cases of counterfeit faith apostasy does not truly enter the picture. So on this view, although it is possible to apostatize and forfeit salvation, no one ever actually does so. As you explain, this is a Molinist viewpoint rather like the views I describe in my article. I suggested that God might provide gifts of grace that He knew would be effective in winning the free perseverance of the saints; you suggest that if that’s not feasible, then He just kills off the would-be apostate. The implication of both views is perseverance of the saints along with libertarian freedom.

An alternative view would be to say that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing someone to freely apostatize despite God’s every effort to save Him.  For God’s concern is not with just an isolated individual but with a whole world of free creatures whom He seeks to draw freely to salvation. It may be that if, for example, He kills off Joe before he can fall away, then his little daughter Sherri, embittered by God’s taking her daddy prematurely, refuses to come to faith in God or maybe even falls away from faith herself—in which case God has to kill off Sherri, too, before she can do so!  I think you can see how quickly this can get out of hand. Maybe Sherri (or her child or grandchild, etc.), had God not killed off Sherri’s father and, hence, Sherri herself, would have become a great hymn writer or Christian doctor who would help to bring thousands to Christ. Rather than a single apostate in hell, one might wind up with multitudes in hell instead!  When we remember that God’s goal is to bring an optimal number of people freely to salvation, it’s not at all implausible that such a world would include some apostates.

– William Lane Craig

I will start with a reply my theologian friend who is sort of in and out and cogitating on his faith. He is presently some kind of universalist:

God this is all so awful. God as a clumsy half wit demi-urge who breaks many lives in the making of salvation omelette. Parodying St. Peter we might be tempted to say, “if this is the case for a man, it would have been better (remembering God has no need to create), had God not created at all” Craig’s algorithms around how many souls, and how much conscious eternal torment, warrant bliss for some are chilling. There are better philosophical positions entirely consonant with scripture that don’t make God into a sadistic figure. If any of us knew that to bring 5 healthy children into the world at the cost of one suffering torment eternally, would we do it? No. Even if we knew that torment was self induced (leaving aside the question of the coherence of free souls eternally choosing or meriting eternal torment), no good human would do it, but somehow we’ll do mental back flips to impugn God with such a nature. Is a scandal and stain on Western theology. Robin Parry has a wonderful take down of Craig on all this in his ” The Evangelical Universalist”.

I have highlighted what I think is a really powerful point, and one I think I might make a future post about.

Initially, Craig appeals to the notion that God could well be killing off people before they apostatise:

One way to respond to the question is to affirm that this is exactly what God does. He ends the lives of would-be apostates before they fall permanently away.

This is a huge assertion and an ad hoc appeal to what God might be logically able to do, but for which we have no a posteriori evidence. This is pure conjecture.

The crux of Craig’s argument appears to be one of consequentialism whereby God uses someone instrumentally to bring about more people who are saved. In his example, Sherri’s father is killed off because he (necessarily) brings about more people into union with God and/or by allowing him to come to God would bring about the opposite. Sherri’s father is a pawn in the game of optimal saved chess. Craig’s language gives me pause to raise an eyebrow or two because he has both claimed that consequentialism is “a terrible ethic” and that God is not a moral agent, because he says above:

An alternative view would be to say that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing someone to freely apostatize despite God’s every effort to save Him. [my emphasis]

All told, this is remarkably similar to Craig’s claims of feasibility and heaven/hell.

Naturally, we are likely to get onto discussions of free will, determinism and the causal circumstances within which actions are embedded. There is this scenario whereby God still loads the dice:

I suggested that God might provide gifts of grace that He knew would be effective in winning the free perseverance of the saints.

This is an odd view of libertarian freedom when God is bribing people to come to him. They are barely freely choosing God if he has to give them gifts (of grace etc.) in order to find salvation!

And this world of libertarian freedom (0f which, importantly, Craig has never – like any other philosopher on the subject – properly established the mechanics) requires a certain amount of apostates (designed and created by God) in order to achieve an optimal status; this is analogous to the problem of evil.

 


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