Remember the The Blasphemy Challenge, sponsored by The Rational Response Squad, who were giving away 1001 copies of the movie The God Who Wasn’t There to people who will create a video of themselves denying the existence of God, and especially, the Holy Spirit? They posted their videos on YouTube.
So, what should Christians make of this atheist antic? I watched all of the videos, and have some comments
1. They were encouraging people to “deny the Holy Spirit”
They were doing so in the belief that, in committing the “unpardonable sin,” they were showing that they were not afraid of damnation nor any of the demands or threats of the Christian faith.
They were doing so based on the following passages
Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”
Knowing their thoughts, he said to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?
And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
Luke 12:8-10 (see also Mark 3:28-29)
And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.
And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
So, in “denying the Holy Spirit, these people felt like they were purposely comitting the “unpardonable sin” in order to show their unbelief in, disdain for, and courage in abandoning the Christian faith.
2. But were they blaspheming correctly?
Um, probably not. In his sermon on this subject, well known and respected (fundamentalist) preacher John MacArthur says the following:
The Pentecostal people tell us that the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is when you say their experience in the Holy Spirit isn’t valid, and that isn’t true either. That isn’t even the issue here! Nobody is even talking about that! What is the issue here is simply this: Jesus did what He did by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, in context (that of saying that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Satan), just saying “I deny the Holy Spirit” is cute, but not really damning.
Now, what it means is this: these people had received all the revelation they could receive. They had heard Jesus teach….The point here is, here were a group of men, the leaders of Israel, who had had the epitome of revelation. They had it all. The fulfillment of all Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament, the corroboration by the very statements of Christ and the deeds of Christ that He was the Messiah, and their conclusion was that He was of Satan.
Now, what happened? With all the revelation that God could possibly give them, they concluded the very opposite. And our Lord says, “It’s impossible for you to be saved.” Why? “Because when you had all the revelation, you concluded that I was satanic.” That’s hopeless.
This, then, is the unpardonable sin. It was a historic thing. It was committed at a very specific period in time by some specific people who attributed the works of Christ to Satan. And when they evaluated everything that Jesus was and did, they said He was from the devil.
That was the opposite to the truth and Jesus simply said, ‘If, when all the revelation is in, you conclude that I am satanic, you’re done. Because you couldn’t get any more than all the revelation, could you? You’re hopeless. You could never be forgiven! If you spoke a word against the Son of Man, the humanness, the life of Jesus Christ – you may misunderstand that, but you could never misunderstand the work of the Holy Spirit to this extent, that when He is pointing to me as God, you conclude that I’m Satan. You’re hopeless.”
3. So, can someone commit the “unpardonable sin” today? NO.
Let’s return to MacArthur:
No, I don’t think so; I think that has to be committed when Christ is here on earth.
Just to double check, I looked over at another favorite site of mine, Apologetics Press.
Opinions on this question certainly vary, and scholars seem to be divided in their positions. The evidence, however, seems to point toward the idea that this sin cannot be committed today.
4. What about those passages that talk about falling away or losing one’s salvation?
Some people like to tie the “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” scriptures with others that discuss believers who fall away. But let me say clearly, that is an entirely different matter.
In the examples above, the Pharisees probably had NOT believed yet, so they were not losing faith. So that probably addresses unbelievers today who think they are “blaspheming the Holy Spirit.”
Some contend, however, that there is a related unpardonable sin, committed by those who once believed and no longer do.
For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
While it is theologically possible to lose one’s faith (see 2 Peter 2:20-22), losing one’s faith is not irreversible. I am a testimony to that. So is Peter the Apostle, who denied Jesus thrice (you could argue that the Holy Spirit had not yet come, so his example may not fit). As Reformation Theology warns:
Perhaps this is one of the most terrifying passages in Scripture, but, as is usually the case, when a passage is read in isolation and without regard to the context of the surrounding passage, theological error is bound to creep in.
I’ll cut to the chase – this passage does NOT teach that if you fall away, you can’t come back. Here’s Matthew Henry’s commentary
But the falling away here mentioned, is an open and avowed renouncing of Christ, from enmity of heart against him, his cause, and people, by men approving in their minds the deeds of his murderers, and all this after they have received the knowledge of the truth, and tasted some of its comforts. Of these it is said, that it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance. Not because the blood of Christ is not sufficient to obtain pardon for this sin; but this sin, in its very nature, is opposite to repentance and every thing that leads to it.
In other words, men who purposely harden themselves to God have made an informed choice, and God will not force himself into such a heart. They know the deal, and refuse it. Does that mean all who understand the gospel, become “believers” and then turn away are doomed?
Let me say this – if you are worried about having fallen away, and hope that if God is real, God will help you to believe again, then you’ve got hope. However, if you purposely make a decision and, as many of those in the videos have said, “have no fear,” you may have made your bed, sorry to say.
Let me be the first to say that there is a bit of paradox here, as there are in all profound truths. In this case, it could be argued that the doctrine of falling away contradicts that of eternal security. And I would agree, just like the doctrines of predestination and free will seem to contradict. But in reality, they are both true, even if our logic breaks down. Contrary to opinion, reason and science alone can not explain all of reality, especially spiritual reality, because
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
5. So what’s really going on with the blasphemy challenge?
Easy. People hurt by religion are rejecting it. Obviously, many grew up in anti-intellectual churches, cults, or in some other way were hurt or offended by religion. Now, some may be rejecting the claims of Christendom and the Bible themselves for intellectual reasons alone.
6. Are these people rejecting faith for intellectual reasons alone?
No, no one really does that. You know why? Because their own souls witness to the fact that God exists. Maybe not the Christian God specifically, but the moral law is written on our hearts, and all of creation screams that a God exists.
(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.
For the wrath of God is
revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
As has been said, too, atheism is a type of faith – it is believing that something does NOT exist even though you can’t prove it. While agnosticism is defendable with reason, atheism is merely it’s own belief system, or anti-faith if you like, not a stand based on reason alone.
7. What could we do to help these suffering people?
Of course, they would resent the adjective “suffering” above, though it is obvious that many are suffering the effects of bad religion. Sure, they feel better now that they are not serving out of compulsion and forced, outward belief, but is that the END of their journey of faith?
For many, it will be their last dealings with faith. Having left unhealthy faith systems, they may forever abandon the God with the bathwater, never knowing the true joys of faith, nor the transforming power of God’s love and truth.
In my next post, I’ll discuss what Christians can do to address the Blasphemy Challenge.