Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Once saved, always saved?

Having been raised as a Southern Baptist, I was taught very early on how we believe that once you've become a believer, then you're set for life, regardless of what you do or don't do....but that idea has troubled me lately. Let me explain why.

I'm reading Douglas Adams' post-humously-published collection of speeches, random thoughts, interviews, web postings, a short story, and an unfinished novel called "The Salmon of Doubt." Adams is probably best known for writing "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." An interesting note for those who, like me, avoided the movie because it was different from the book - apparently the book was different from the radio shows which originated the storyline, and the tv show which came after the book was different still - all at Adam's request due to the different media, and his own (and Hitchhiker's) maturing process. So, I'm going to now rent the movie at some point and see if I can enjoy it like my friends who had never read the book did because Adams never meant it to be exactly the same. (Side-side note: until C.S. Lewis comes back from the dead and says that the Narnia storyline was better in the movie than the way he wrote it, I'm still going to be wary of that movie.)

Anyway, Adams began life as a believer, which is rather unusual in England where many claim a church or denomination, but few actually ever participate in said church or denomination. When he was 18 or so, he had a "conversion" first to agnosticism, then to what he called "radical atheism," meaning that he didn't just believe that there wasn't a god, he felt that he knew that there wasn't one. He died unexpectedly at the age of 41, I believe, a few years ago, presumably still holding this belief. He explains the conversion process in this book, and says that it was initially because he realized one day (thanks to a street evangelist) that religion is not held up to the same rigors of logic that the rest of life is held to.

That just makes me sad. It makes me wish that I had met him before he died and that we'd gotten into a conversation about religion's lack of logic so that I'd been able to point him towards C.S. Lewis' non-fiction (Lewis went from childhood faith to atheism and back to faith). It also makes me sad because this man whose work I love and whose presence I'm pretty sure I would have enjoyed, died and went to hell.

Except that, according to SB tradition, he didn't because until he was 18, he was a believer.

Now, I'm not a Biblical scholar. My degrees are in aerospace engineering, not theology or religion, or even philosophy. But that just seems weird to me. Jesus says:
"And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven." (Matt. 12:31 NIV)
"I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." (Mark 3:28-29)

Does that mean that Adams was forgiven until he decided that the Holy Spirit didn't exist, but then he wasn't forgiven anymore?

It gives me a new respect for Mormons and their practice of baptism for the dead.

It also makes my head spin because if that's the case, then salvation isn't a permanent thing like I've always been taught to believe. Granted, there's only this one sin that can take it away (not every sin like Methodists believe)...but still...

Most people are more concerned with salvation the other way around - "What if Hitler, the moment before his death, became a believer? Would he go to heaven?" What about Saddam? Since I believe that no sin is "bigger" than any other, then the short answer to those questions would be "yes." Their sin was no "bigger" than my own, so they are no more separated from God than I am. So the same salvation that works for me could work for them, even at the very last moment of their lives.

But what about the person who truly has a salvation experience as a child, but then later in life completely recants those beliefs? I'm not talking about the person who simply fails to live as I think a believer should - I'm talking about someone who actively preaches against faith in a god of any kind.

There was an article in our local paper recently about another such man. He became a believer in high school, went (by his own choice) to one of the most conservative Christian colleges in America, got multiple degrees in various aspects of religion, then gradually lost his faith (he calls himself an agnostic now) due to his studies. He now goes around speaking about how erroneous the Bible is and has written multiple books on the subject. His wife still goes to church, but he actively speaks against it.

These men both preach(ed) against Christianity, despite faith as youth.

It's not my place to judge, but the easy answer would be to say that those weren't true "conversion" experiences in their childhood (and, to be frank, Adams never recounts such an experience, he just cites active involvement in his local church). That would leave in tact SB's "once saved, always saved."

But where does that leave a friend of mine from college who says something similar? He remembers his salvation experience and knows that he truly meant it at the time...but now he doesn't quite believe all of that anymore. He's not an atheist, and not even an agnostic that I know of....but he just doesn't quite believe those same things anymore. He's not earning his living preaching/speaking against mainstream Christianity, so does that mean he's safe?

It makes me sad. It makes me curious. It makes me wish I knew where Douglas Adams was right now. It makes me want to run an experiment to see what happens with each type of belief experience...but that thought also makes me slightly ill because of the eternal ramifications for some test subjects.

I don't really know how to conclude this. Any comments, you theologians out there?

1 comment:

Timothy said...

This is where the doctrine of once saved, always saved falls apart. If the doctrine is true then Douglas Adams is heaven bound. However, if the teaching is false, then an immortal soul may be bound for hell/destruction.

You may find comfort in the Catholic view of the situation. Catholics believe that our final judgement is just and that we are judged by what we have received. As Catholics have received the full deposit of faith, Catholics will be judged against the strictest of criteria. AS an agnostic, Douglas has a lower standard as he never received the complete faith.

Also, per Catholic doctrine, if Douglas died in a state of venial sin, he will likely undergo purgation (purgatory). The good news is the purgatory is only for those who have been saved and are heaven bound.