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A Question About Apostasy

August 10, 2020
A Question About Apostasy


A non-theist blogger addresses one of Dr. Craig's Question of the Week.

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, there have been some really good questions of the week. People are interacting with those at Here is a recent question to you that you answered. Jonathan MS Pearce, who is a non-theist at Tippling Philosopher blog, responds to this.[1] Here is the question that you received not long ago.[2]

I've been studying the Perseverance of the Saints and I found your paper on the subject very thought-provoking.

Let me stop right there. Perseverance of the Saints means that once a person comes to Christ that the Holy Spirit preserves them, and that God keeps them, and they don’t apostatize or lose their salvation. It deals with that whole issue?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, that’s right.


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 [or lose their salvation].

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.

I will invite you to read your answer to him.

DR. CRAIG: All right. Here is what I wrote in reply:

This is a really thought-provoking question about which I’ve never really thought! 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.

KEVIN HARRIS: What a compelling question and answer there. Back when I was in junior high, I used to just fret over things like this – junior high and high school: Shouldn't we kill our babies before they reach the age of accountability to ensure that they got to heaven, or the minute somebody gets saved you ought to take them out behind the church and shoot them? [laughter] I used to just fret over that.

DR. CRAIG: I think the Molinist perspective really, really helps here.

KEVIN HARRIS: Yeah. Now, Jonathan sent this to a theologian friend of his who is kind of a universalist – leaning that way right now.

DR. CRAIG:Yeah, that’s key. That’s key.


God this is all so awful. God as a clumsy half wit demi-urge who breaks many lives in the making of salvation omelette.

DR. CRAIG: Now, I can’t resist interrupting at this point. This is where you see the emotional undertone and rejection of a view here that I think deserves serious consideration. Molinism does not postulate a clumsy, half-wit, demi-urge as its deity, but rather one who is endowed with middle knowledge and therefore able to providentially order the world. So right off the bat here we're seeing a very angry, emotional response by this universalist to this Molinist perspective.


Craig’s algorithms around how many souls, and how much conscious eternal torment, warrant bliss for some are chilling.

DR. CRAIG: I want to interrupt again at that point. This again is an emotional reaction that I think fails to take into account how one achieves the best balance of good and evil when you're dealing with libertarian free agents. We face these kinds of decisions all the time. For example, you remember when there was that horrible mass shooting in Las Vegas from the hotel and so many people at the music festival were lying bleeding out and scattered around the ground. The first responders came, and the first thing these first responders have to do is to do triage on the victims to see which ones have the best chance of surviving if they are treated and which victims to simply pass over untreated because you want to save as many people as you possibly can. These are the kinds of moral decisions that I think have to be made. It is not chilling, calculating algorithms. It is an attempt to ask ourselves how do we achieve the best balance of good and evil in a world of libertarian free agents.

KEVIN HARRIS: I was rather amused that he said,

There are better philosophical positions entirely consonant with scripture that don’t make God into a sadistic figure.

Well, what are they? You at least try to discuss a couple of options.

DR. CRAIG: And, again, make God out to be a sadistic figure? My argument is an attempt to explain how God in his goodness would not allow people to apostatize and lose their faith. How God wants to save as many people as he possibly can without abrogating their free will. So this is just cruel caricaturing of the view.

KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s skip down to what Jonathan says next. He says,

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.

Well, that’s all you were asked to do!

DR. CRAIG: Exactly.

KEVIN HARRIS: You were asked to offer some conjecture here – to offer an answer, hopefully an answer that is logically coherent and scriptural coherent.

DR. CRAIG: There you go. If the answer is logically coherent and it is biblically consistent then it is not a deficit of the suggestion that it is conjectural. One isn’t claiming that it is true. One is claiming that this could be the case, in which case the objection dissolves.

KEVIN HARRIS: I just wanted to point that out.

DR. CRAIG: Oh, worthwhile.

KEVIN HARRIS: Then he says,

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.

DR. CRAIG: And that is inaccurate. I’m not espousing consequentialism which is the view that the ends justify the means. He goes on to say that, in fact, I reject consequentialism as a terrible ethic. Rather, anybody (like first responders to a mass tragedy or people trying to save individuals threatened by, say, the collapse of a building) are going to have to make these kinds of decisions. How can we save the optimal number of people possible? And that may often involve passing over some and not saving them because more lives will be preserved if you do so. That's not consequentialism. That is simply weighing goods and evils and adopting the moral principle “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” And the most loving thing to do here is to save as many lives as possible. And, of course, in my example, it is God's will that Joe (Sherri's father) be saved. He's not a pawn at all. God wants Joe to be saved. He gives him sufficient grace to be saved. The only reason that Joe is not saved is because he irrevocably and freely rejects God's saving grace and every effort to save him and repudiates God's love for him. God mourns his loss but God, out of respect for Joe's moral autonomy as a free moral agent, allows him to make such a choice.

KEVIN HARRIS: He quotes you again from your answer above. He says,

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.

He’s very familiar with your work. He goes to a debate you did years ago – you and Bradley on hell. He says this is similar to your view on feasibility – what is feasible for God. He just kind of refers people to that debate.

DR. CRAIG: Oh, my goodness. Yeah, OK. And I see what he's written here. He says,

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!

What he's misunderstood there is when Molinists speak of the “gifts” of God's grace, they don't mean bribes! Not like, “Here's a present for you if you'll choose me.” The idea here of gifts of grace is that God's grace is unmerited and therefore God takes the initiative in giving people grace to enable them to come to him. So he's just completely misunderstood the expression “gifts of grace” which are not bribes that are given to people but rather they are things like the conviction of the Holy Spirit and other gracious initiatives that God would do in order to draw this person freely to himself.

KEVIN HARRIS: Follow me and you win a new car!

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, here's a gift of grace. [laughter] I mean, it's funny. It's such a terrible misunderstanding.

KEVIN HARRIS: He ends the article by saying,

And this world of libertarian freedom (of which, importantly, Craig has never – like any other philosopher on the subject – properly established the mechanics)

I want to stop right there.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, good.

KEVIN HARRIS: At least you are in good company if that’s the case of spelling out all the mechanics of libertarian free will.

DR. CRAIG: What is so silly about that is that if it is truly libertarian freedom (if there is genuine freedom of the will) then there are no mechanics. To talk about mechanics is to assume a kind of machine-like operation of the will, and that's exactly what libertarianism denies. I wonder if this author thinks that there is no free will. I wonder if he thinks that everybody is just machine-like. I hope not. That would make everything he's written here just meaningless if it's the product of a machine that was determined to do so. But if there is genuine free will (however poorly understood) then God has to work with the free choices that people make rather than treating them like marionettes whose strings he pulls in order to make them do the things that he wants.

KEVIN HARRIS: Just to give coherence to the final paragraph, he says,

And this world of libertarian freedom (of 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.

DR. CRAIG: I have called this the soteriological problem of evil. That is to say, why doesn’t God create a world in which everyone freely comes to him and is saved. I've written extensively on the soteriological problem of evil, and my response to it is very similar to Plantinga’s free will defense to the usual problem of evil. We shouldn’t think that these apostates are designed and created by God in order to achieve an optimal status. That is not the view. Rather, the view is that God will so providentially order the world as to save as many people as possible and as large a percentage of people as possible within the limits permitted by human freedom. What he will not do is override people’s freedom and treat them like puppets.[3]


[2]           QoW #669 “Why Doesn’t God Terminate Would-Be Apostates?” See: (accessed August 7, 2020).

[3]           Total Running Time: 19:33 (Copyright © 2020 William Lane Craig)