Saints Be Preserved! Or, A”paul”ing Logic
Whether or not Paul actually demonstrates the fact that I don’t “understand” Christian doctrine (he doesn’t), I think the more interesting aspect of this argument is very common among those Christians who dedicate themselves to an apologetic defense of Christianity, specifically to apostates. This approach, which I have seen countless times on ExChristian.Net, is summarized thusly: “You were never a true Christian.”
The more general application of this argument is a classic ad hoc fallacy, more commonly understood as “No True Scotsman.” The problems with this approach are obvious: the meaning of the term “Christian” changes depending on the individual beliefs of whichever Christian is offering the argument at the time. A Reformed Christian like Paul might say that, if I had professed belief as a Roman Catholic before I apostatized, that I wasn’t a True Christian, by which he means a Reformed Christian. Likewise, a Roman Catholic might say that, since I professed belief in Reformed Christianity, that I wasn’t a True Christian either. Clearly, it’s an argument that goes nowhere.
What sticks in Paul’s craw, however, is that I professed Reformed Christianity, as does he, but I became an apostate. The underlying psychological current of this dilemma is obvious: if one Reformed Christian can reject Reformed doctrine, what’s to stop Paul from doing the same? Since this terrifies him to no end, he has no choice but to postulate the following: that even though I had faith in Christianity, I didn’t properly understand Reformed doctrine, and therefore I wasn’t a true Christian. Now, of course this is just another variation of the fallacious argument I outlined above, but is this even Biblical?
Jesus talks about faith at length in the gospels, but not about understanding. In Luke 18, he asks if, ”when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Faith, not understanding. The apostle Barnabas is described in Acts 11 as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” Faith, not understanding. Even the apostle Paul says in Romans 3 that “we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.” Again, faith, not understanding.
But, surely, there is as much of an emphasis on doctrinal understanding in the Bible, right? Not so. The modus operandi of Jesus in the gospels is to teach by parable, which are so confusing that he has to explain them later to his disciples, the men who supposedly knew more about him than anyone! Would a god-man so concerned with understanding teach in riddles? It seems not. The apostle Paul says in Philippians, that “the peace of God… passes all understanding.” In other words, it cannot be understood.
What I don’t understand is why Paul felt it necessary to attack my understanding of Reformed doctrine, since if he understood it, he should know already that the fifth point of Calvinism perfectly explains apostates within his worldview. The Perseverance of the Saints: “Since God has decreed the elect, and they cannot resist grace, they are unconditionally and eternally secure in that election.” Nice and easy, right? But this also is uncomfortable for Paul. Because although this doctrinal point was conceived to make Calvinists more assured of their salvation, the presence of apostate Calvinists throws a big monkey wrench in the works. If I, as a professing Calvinist, can walk away from the faith, Paul is faced with two options, neither of which let him sleep well at night. 1) I’ll still be granted salvation, despite my apostasy, or 2) Paul himself could become an apostate in the future.
Either one looks fine to me.