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Questions about 'Ex-Christians' and Molinism

December 10, 2009     Time: 00:16:20
Questions about ‘Ex-Christians’ and Molinism


Conversation with William Lane Craig.

Transcript Questions about 'Ex-Christians' and Molinism


Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, I have a stack of questions. It seems like a lot of people want some answers from you. People are looking for answers to the big questions. Let’s look at a few here. This says,

Dr. Craig, I have been noticing more and more recently that former Christian apologists are coming out with deconversion testimonies and aggressively promoting atheism on the internet. People seem to have studied some of the best Christian philosophy of religion around, including your work, but they still lost their faith and are now arguing against it. What do you make of this phenomenon? More specifically, do you think it is possible for a person to deconvert for predominately intellectual reasons as opposed to emotional reactions to Christian intolerance or misbehavior or reluctance to accept God’s will?

Let me say a couple of things about this question if I may, Dr. Craig, as I throw it to you. First of all, on the internet and in marketing and in general, it may appear that there is this widespread consensus or trend when in fact there is not. There are only maybe two or three or four but for some reason they get a lot of attention, they are very vocal, and so on. So we have to be careful when we say “there is a trend” or “people are saying.” We have to be careful that in fact there is one and that the data show that.

Another aspect about this is: I used to think if you were a Christian apologist there is no way that you are going to lose your faith because I see that as such an integral part of our relationship with God and our faith and the area of the mind. I always am surprised if I see somebody who claims to be an apologist that . . . claimed to have lost their faith. But what this shows is not the weakness of Christian apologetics necessarily or the Christian faith, but that there has been a renaissance of apologetics (thank God) in the past several years, and so we are bound to lose a few people who got into it, got passionate about it, studied it, but either weren’t Christians to begin with or have other issues that may have brought them to an opposite conclusion.

Dr. Craig: That is a really interesting observation, Kevin. I really haven’t thought of it that way. You could say that the number of folks losing their Christian faith after having studied apologetics is simply a function of the increasing numbers of people that are studying and learning apologetics. So if, say, one-tenth-of-one-percent fall away, well, when you have larger and larger numbers doing apologetics that little fraction appears to be some sort of trend when in fact it is relatively few in terms of absolute numbers.

Kevin Harris: Exactly. Well, it brings up the issue of when this happens, I don’t see any way to answer this question other than to look at it by a case by case basis, Bill. Is it for intellectual reasons that a person who claims to reject faith in Christ or emotional?

Dr. Craig: I think it is primarily for moral reasons, frankly, Kevin. And I say that not on the basis of case studies or investigation but on the basis of what Scripture says. When you look at what Scripture says about perseverance, it says that if you inculcate into your character godliness, knowledge, forbearance, love, and these other properties, and are walking in the Spirit, you will not fail. You will not fall away or prove fruitless. So persons who fall away do so only by either quenching or grieving the Holy Spirit who is within them and who bears witness to them of the truth.  [1] Therefore, this underlines to me the importance for Christian apologists of walking in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, making sure that there is no unconfessed sin in our lives, and keeping our lives pure and holy and clean before God. Because of we don’t then certainly we can fall into sin and this can lead us to fall away. In fact, one could fall easily into the sin of hubris or intellectual pride that might make it all the easier for a person to fall away. So I think ultimately speaking no one fails to either come to faith or falls away from faith due to intellectual difficulties alone. Ultimately, it is a spiritual matter about the orientation of that person’s heart and whether that person truly wants God and is open to God or whether that person is closing God out of his heart and life.

Kevin Harris: This is so important. I want to chase it for just a little bit. You can be a terrific Christian apologist, defender of the faith, answer all the arguments, smash the skeptics, and yet in your heart you can get off track. You can fall away from God and then just fall back on the arguments and the truth about God but you have got to keep your devotional life and your moral life intact, too, to be a spirit-led Christian apologist. Otherwise, you know all the facts – I’ve seen the temptation to do this – there is more to it to being an effective evangelist, Christian witness, apologist, than just knowing all the facts.

Dr. Craig: In terms of persevering, persevering to the end to be able to say I’ve run the good race, I’ve kept the faith as Paul said. Paul had no confidence in his own ability to do this. He depended daily upon the grace of God to help him to complete the race that was before him. He said, “I don’t consider that I’ve already attained it but I press on toward the mark.” Scripture really enjoins us to beware of sin that entangles us and will make us stumble and fall. So we need to talk these moral and spiritual things very much to heart. When you look at the stories of some of these former Christian apologists who have lost their faith and fallen away they will often be very open and candid about the moral difficulties that led to this: immorality, pornography, adultery in their lives.

Kevin Harris: I’ve seen it happen. It is easy as well, I’ll say, to just kind of get burned out in doing the work of an apologist. You can become hardened to all the skeptics. You can become fatigued at the constant railing against your arguments and pretty soon – I’ve seen people who are very good at their apologetics outreach just get angry and get tired of the stubbornness or what they would see as hardheadedness. So it is easy to lose that refreshment; for any of us to just kind of get burned out. The last thing we want to do is start taking a hardened stance toward people.

Dr. Craig: I think you are absolutely right. And another danger in that same respect is becoming too cerebral. You can become so fact oriented and argument oriented that you lose that warm affective side of your Christian life. One of the great things about Alvin Plantinga’s book Warranted Christian Belief is the chapters that he devotes to how the Holy Spirit not only bears witness to the truth of the great things of the Gospel but how the Holy Spirit repairs the damage of sin to our religious affections. Because of sin we love ourselves instead of God. Naturally, we love our own accomplishments and good rather than seek God’s good. One of the things that the Holy Spirit does is repair those religious affections and help us to respond emotionally to God and love him. If we ignore that side of our personality then, again, we become dry and burned out and ultimately ineffective, and as a result lose the faith and tune out as Christians.

Kevin Harris: I have learned sometimes I just need to be quiet and listen when my temptation has been to unload all my apologetics training on some poor soul who I am working with. [2] I have found in several cases that I just need to be quiet and say, “Tell me, what happened. Tell me what is going on.” While they do need the facts and evidence and the supporting reasons and they do need to have their questions answered, sometimes they also need just human touch. Sometimes people will actually enter into a better communication with you and maybe put their guard down, put walls down that have been built up, if you don’t go in immediately with all of the theology and apologetics. Now, again, I want to emphasize, yes they do need it, and yes we have to do it, but sometimes there may be a process by which we just come along side someone and then gauge to what extent they need some questions answered.

Dr. Craig: I think that’s right. I think that when you look at some of the narratives of folks who have lost their faith, you will find a bitterness and disappointment with the Christian church because people did not come along side of them and help them when they were going through their time of struggle, but instead were condemnatory and shunned them and excluded them, and that just drove them further away. If the church had responded properly perhaps they wouldn’t have felt so pushed away from the faith that they once held.

Kevin Harris: Let’s look at another question, Dr. Craig. We do a lot of podcasts on Molinism. You’ve done some scholarly articles on Molinism. Anyone can check when you go to It does bring up a lot of questions; people like to ask questions about this particular view. This question says,

Dr. Craig, I would be interested in how you would reconcile Molinism with a Scripture – 1 Peter 3:18-19 – in which we are told that Christ during the period between his death and resurrection preached to the spirits in hell. If Molinism does anything, it seems to answer the challenge that people being born outside the Christian era or never hearing the Gospel are victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For your view posits that God has put them precisely in a place in history where their chances to receive God’s salvation freely are maximized. How can we therefore reconcile this part of the narrative (1 Peter 3:18-19) with your view on Molinism since it seems apparent that Christ is retroactively preaching to people who were born in the wrong place and at the wrong time and didn’t have the opportunity to hear God’s revelation to humanity through Christ?

That was a mouthful, let me see if I can concise it a little bit. If Molinism is true, why was it necessary for Christ, according to his interpretation of this passage, to preach to the spirits in hell, in the grave, the afterlife, so as to give them an opportunity they didn’t otherwise have?

Dr. Craig: If Molinism is correct as I have explained it, that would not be necessary. I think, in fact, he is loading these two brief verses with an enormous amount of theological interpretation that in fact these verses don’t bear. I do not think these verses teach that Christ preached the Gospel to people who were in disadvantageous circumstances to receive it and so were being given a second change. Here is what the passage says,

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

New Testament scholars, like Ben Witherington for example, have shown that this expression of preaching to the spirits in prison is referring to demonic spirits which are imprisoned in the abyss or Tartarus which is a sort of underworld of the demonic spirits where they are in chains and being held. He is not preaching the Gospel. He is here proclaiming his victory over sin, over death, and hell. There is no reason to think that it is talking here about people who once had no opportunity to hear the Gospel and now are being given a second chance to hear it.

Kevin Harris: For what it’s worth, my own study of this passage, that is what the bulk, the majority, of commentators and scholars say on this. So we are kind of reading into it when we say this is a retroactive preaching.

Dr. Craig: Oh, that is a huge theological interpretation that is basing a pyramid on a point so to speak. You are balancing an awful lot of theological weight on very slim foundations, especially when you look at the passage in the light of first century literature about the spirits in prison and these demonic beings that were being held in the underworld and so forth which is what is being talked about.

Kevin Harris: We won’t get into Molinism now but we have lots of podcasts on it and you have some resources as well on

Dr. Craig: Yes, certainly. There are articles under the Divine Omniscient section of the website [3] on this if people want to consult them. [4]