Posted by on November 4, 2011

“Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from [aphistēmi] the living God,” writes the author of Hebrews (Heb. 3:12 NRSV). For this scenario to occur, an individual must have once believed in the living God, in order for him or her to turn away from the same. The Greek word aphistēmi, translated here as “turns away from,” refers to a removal, an (active) instigate to revolt, to desist, desert, depart and withdraw self.1

Developing an “evil, unbelieving heart” cannot be thought of in fictional or hypothetical terms. Warnings in Scripture are beyond the scope of the nonsensical. If developing an “evil, unbelieving heart” is not possible for the believer, then warning the believer against such a state is nonsensical. Developing an evil, unbelieving heart is, according to noted Greek scholar A.T. Robertson, “rather the active disbelief, refusal to believe.”2 Hence, the believer actually devolves progressively into an evil, unbelieving state — not all at once, necessarily, but a gradual de-evolution into apostasy — a “drifting away from” truth once held (cf. Heb. 2:1), and he does so intentionally, not accidentally.

Retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong is a portrait of such an apostate. This is not ground-breaking news. I am not communicating any truth here with which any orthodox Christian would disagree. He is a damnable heretic who preaches damnable heresies. He does not believe in the God of the Bible, nor the Christ of Scripture, nor in Scripture itself. We are as likely to see Spong in heaven, kneeling before the throne of Christ in worship, as we are to see Hitler doing the same.

I make such strong comments in order to shake up the complacent “believers” who would support Spong, including publishing houses which publish his books and people who attend his conferences. Such persons are promoting a man who opposes God’s kingdom. Spong’s repentance would be glorious, and I pray for his salvation. Only God knows how deep is his apostasy. From all appearances, and according to Hebrews 6:4-6, repentance may be too late, which is frightening, to say the least.

My real perplexity, however, is not how this man became an idolatrous apostate, but, much more importantly, why the Episcopal Church of the United States did not excommunicate him. This speaks volumes about the current state of the Episcopal Church in America than it does of Spong himself. This, as some of my closest friends know, disturbs me on a personal level, because I have so much respect for the historic Episcopal Church in America — the former State Church of Virginia, my birthplace.

On Spong’s website, you can listen to a brief snippet of his message “Beyond Theism,” by clicking on his “About Bishop Spong” tab. In the opening of this brief lecture he states:

Suppose we change our “God” definition? Suppose we take God out of the sky and strip God of the supernatural power which we have created in Him and placed upon this divine Being? And suppose we begin to think of “God” as a presence at the very heart of life?

What Spong really wants is to de-personalize God — transform Him into an impersonal force or presence. If we were to “change our ‘God’ definition,” we would be acknowledging a problem with Christianity’s “definition” of God for nearly two thousand years. But what is wrong with our definition of God? If we have missed God completely, how did we do so? What is our guiding principle for getting us back on track with accurately defining God? Well, for Spong, the answer will not be found in Scripture, because he does not believe in Scripture’s authority or divine origin. The Bible is no more than antiquated opinions of misguided farmers and uneducated, homophobic, misogynist fishermen.

Spong holds to what he calls Twelve Points for Reform.3 In this list he denies the basic tenets of Christianity. Spong is not calling for Reformation; he wants to redefine the principles of the Christian faith; he is seeking to lay another foundation for Christianity. He denies deity to God Himself; he denies the virgin birth, incarnation, atonement, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ; he finds no reason to accept miracles; he rejects the creation account — the world being created by God, as well as the creation roles given by design to humanity; he denies the viability of prayer; and he denies reward and punishment in eternity based on “behavior.” In other words, he has denied every facet of orthodox Christianity held since the time Jesus walked the earth, and has imagined for himself a god made in his own, idolatrous image.

The so-called “warning passages” to believers throughout Scripture are not there to no purpose. This is why most Classical Arminians and all Wesleyan-Arminians hold to Conditional Perseverance. “Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1 NRSV). To whom is the author referring? Who are the we, who must “pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it”? If we, meaning “believers,” cannot drift away from the truth of the gospel, then why must we be warned about drifting away?

I have struggled with the warning passages since 2008, and I admit that I have floundered a bit between an Eternal Security and a Conditional Perseverance position. While I think there is greater weight for the latter, I empathize with those who hold the former. Every time I return to studying this subject, as I just did recently, I end up siding with the Conditional Perseverance position.  

Nevertheless, as we find example after example4 of believers who have turned away from the living God (cf. Heb. 3:12), who once held fast to Him, and given that the Holy Spirit has forewarned us that “in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1 NRSV), we must, then, as inspired Scripture informs us, “pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1 NRSV). Men like Spong began their drift toward apostasy when they rejected the inerrancy, infallibility and authority of Scripture. We would be wise in Christ our Savior to cling to Scripture in the same absolute manner as did He: “It is written” (cf. Matt. 4:4).


1 James Strong, Strong’s Complete Word Study: Expanded Edition, ed. Warren Baker (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2004), 2039.

2 A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament: Concise Edition (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2000), 563.

3 Spong’s list includes the following:

  1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
  2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
  3. The Biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
  4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
  5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
  6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
  7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
  8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
  9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard written in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
  10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
  11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
  12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

4 For a very brief list, we have in our own day not only John Shelby Spong, but also well known figures such as Marcus Borg (and so many other Episcopalians and Presbyterians and Methodists and Baptists, etc.), John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman, John Loftus, Richard Dawkins, Hector Avalos and a host of others who could be named.


I am an ordained minister and I have been called to a ministry that will serve the Pacific Northwest and will eventually plant or restore a church in Northern California.

Posted in Faith
  1. Kim says:

    These things are very evident today. Just down the street in my neighborhood is a church with a labyrinth. They were advertising in the paper that they were reading books by Marcus Borg and celebrating the ancient wisdom.

  2. Holly Garcia says:

    Hi Dennis – Here’s some of my thoughts or ponderings. I have gone back and forth on the same, but since scripture doesn’t contradict scripture, I have settled on the eternal security. I think it’s somewhat like James 2 not being about works earning us salvation, but that if we are saved, it will be a natural fruit. Or that if we don’t persevere, we were not His, as it says in I John 2:19 I believe, where the ones that were not of us, went out from among us so that it might be made manifest they were never of us (not verbatim of course).

    We are currently studying Hebrews, in the same chapter you read, (I actually think you have to look at the whole of Hebrews and who it is addressing), but you will see that none of them entered the promised land. Does that mean Moses wasn’t saved? We know to the contrary. So, we know that Christ is our rest. But they were struggling, although the author addressed them as believers, it could be seen in Hebrews they still had priests offering up sacrifices and from the beginning he had to recount the first oracles to them. And He reminded them of Mose’ words in Deut 18, if they would not hear this prophet to come, God would require it of them. Were they really “hearing”? Had the Word been implanted? If so, they would persevere, because if He began the good work in them, He would complete it.

    I think they were having trouble receiving the Word of God. Because if they had, as we see in I Thess 2:13, it would be effectively working in them. Were they all believers? Cannot be. Because in all churches we have tares and wheat, and although the author was addressing them as a whole as brethren in some places, we also see non-believing Jews being addressed as brethren throughout Acts (some ended up believing, some not), so certainly the unbelieving Jews were also addressed as brethren.

    If the Word abides in us, I believe we cannot help but abide in them. Maybe these warnings which are always addressed to professing believers and true believers are there as part of the mystery of how He keeps us? I do not know, but I know this, it certainly makes me want to stay close to the safety of the Shepherd.

    In Chapter 10 it speaks of sinning willfully after having received a “knowledge” of the truth. Well, we certainly know believers sin wilfully. Less hopefully as we have a remission in our sins, but no one can say we do not. So what was the author speaking of. It was right after them receiving a knowledge of the truth, but if they didn’t believe that Christ’s sacrifice paid for their sins, and they were turning their back on the truth, were they ever His? And in chapter 12 he tells them if they do not have chastening, then they are bastards and NOT sons. And he further encourages them to be in subjection to the Father and live (which suggests some were not). And this suggests they needed reminded of the NEW covenant once again, and to the efficacy of Christ’s blood sacrifice. And some had not heard as Moses had warned,

    And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: (Heb 12:25)

    These are just some of my many ponderings on Hebrews, have so much more to take in. In Him, Holly

    • Dennis Tolar says:

      Thanks Holly for your comments. I too believe in eternal security, however, I do believe it is not unconditional. It is conditioned upon the question, “What or Who is the object of our faith”, and the Who should be Jesus. I do beleive that as long as a person is putting his or her hope and trust for their salvation in the Person of Jesus Christ and what He accomplished on the cross, then they are “in Christ” and not anything or anybody can snatch them out of God’s hand. However, I believe the scriptures are replete with references to those who willfully make a decision to put their faith elsewhere, no longer trusting what Jesus did on the cross who then fall into sin. Or, as in my case, when I almost gave up on the Lord’s work in my life and almost walked away from Him.

      Romans 16:11-23 16 For if the firstfruit [is] holy, the lump [is] also [holy;] and if the root [is] holy, so [are] the branches. 17 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, [remember that] you do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20 Well [said.] Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear.

        21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in [His] goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.

      23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

      I agree we must look at the whole of Hebrews, who it was written to and for what purpose. As the name implies it was written to the Hebrew believers and it was an appeal to enter into the rest of God and not to continue to try to earn their salvation because Jesus has supplied a new and living way for He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Many of the Jewish believers were trying to mix the New Covenant with the old and the example of Moses does not speak to his salvation but it does signify that the law was weak and could not cause them to enter into God’s rest. The Promised Land is so often misrepresented as a type of heaven when it is not. The Promised Land is the victorious life of the Christian in Christ. We will not have to go fight to enter into Heaven since nothing evil will enter in there, but we do fight the “good fight of faith” as we are here on this earth awaiting our King snatching us away.

      Rather than rewriting another great article by William Birch, I’ll provide a link to his article, “What You Want Is Assurance of Salvation” This is an excellent article which I believe gives hope to those who quesiton God’s willingness to keep us yet cautions those who believe it is a license to sin. I know the standard argument is, “Well, if they think it’s a license to sin they weren’t saved to start with.” However, I find this totally arrogant and putting ourselves in the place of God to decide who has had a life changing experience with God or not. Although I am not proud of it, I do know that at one point in my life I came very close to walking away from God because I could not get the victory over sin even though I had been born again years before but had fallen away. I am praying about whether to post that here or not. I hope you will read the article mentioned above as it does go into detail about how God not only will keep us and preserve us but it is His good pleasure to do so.

  3. Ariel says:

    WOW! Such heresy! Why am I constantly surprised at it? Maranatha! Thank you for a great blog brother.

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November 2011
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