Determined to Believe: Chapter 10 - Regeneration and the Fall

This is a book study on John Lennox’s book ‘Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith, and Human Responsibility’. Lennox openly acknowledges that he has not provided definite solutions to these deep questions of the faith and that there is mystery involved. He clearly acknowledges that God is sovereign, but that we need to think carefully about what the word ‘sovereign’ means Biblically. This book, per my understanding, is an invitation for Christians to spend time thinking deeply about what the Bible means when it describes God as sovereign.

Greetings fellow bookies (@Interested_in_book_studies) - we are now on Chapter 10! I look forward to hearing your favorite quotes and your reflections on this subject matter.

My main takeaways were:

  • True regeneration is irreversible because we truly become a new creation in Christ
  • We are tainted by Adam’s sin, but we are not responsible for his sin
  • The fall did not make us incapable hearing or recognizing God

Questions for Discussion

  1. Do you think that regeneration is irreversible? What are your reasons for believing so?
  2. In what ways do you believe original sin impacts us still today?
  3. What is some evidence that fallen people can still recognize God in nature and in special revelation? (both Biblical and extra-Biblical)

Some of My Thoughts

I find it intriguing that Dr. Lennox believes regeneration is irreversible. I think that this doctrine can provide people with a sense of assurance who are prone to doubt, but I also think it can be hard to reconcile with passages such as Hebrews 4-6 or the constant reminders for us to stand lest we fall and to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.


Once more there is emphasis on faith as the pre-condition for receiving eternal life (he who believes has everlasting life).

Genuine regeneration is irreversible – both in this life and in the one to come.

In the old creation we were made creatures of God; in the new we become children of God.

Although some writers in this field are convinced that human beings are incapable of believing in God, they hold that it is nevertheless people’s fault that they cannot believe, so God may justly condemn them.

theological presuppositions are also likely to play a role in deciding preference for one over the other.

surely be wise to be cautious about teaching that it is our fault that we were born sinners – the result of a sin committed by us in the distant past when we were “in Adam”.

To believe that Adam’s sin damaged his posterity and constituted them sinners is one thing; to believe that all of his posterity are guilty of his sin is quite another.

And to believe that all humans have Adam’s sin imputed to them – that they are guilty of Adam’s sin because they sinned in Adam – cannot be reconciled with what Paul says a little later in the very same passage: Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam…

Adam’s sin has made us all sinners and brought us under the domination of death. But this cannot mean that we are incapable of hearing God’s voice, of seeing evidence given by him, and of responding to the gospel by repenting and believing in the Lord Jesus.

I do not think that a biblical case can be made for original guilt


I believe that salvation is irreversible, because it is God that does the saving and God that holds us. Going back to Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you are saved (God initiates) through faith.

“And I give to them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” John 10:28-30. My understanding of eternal life by definition that it is eternal and can’t be lost. the new birth mentioned in John 3 is the start of eternal life.

When you mention the word regeneration, are we using the word as a synonym for the new birth as outlined in this page (

I did a word search on the word regeneration in the NIV and it doesn’t appear. In the NKJV the word appears twice. The one i found of interest was from Titus:

For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The other passage that I’ve not really looked at before was in Matthew 19:28 where it mentions ‘in the regeneration’. I’ll have to go and do some further reading there. It does seem to be the same greek word in both passages: paliggenesia

3824 paliggenesía (from 3825 /pálin , “again” and 1078 /génesis , “birth, beginning”) – properly, the coming of new birth because " born again "; regeneration .

3824 /paliggenesía (“renewal, rebirth”) is used twice in the NT referring to: a) the re-birth of physical creation at Christ’s return (Advent), which inaugurates His millennial kingdom (Mt 19:28; cf. Ro 8:18-25); and b) the re-birth all believers experience at conversion (Tit 3:5)

I think personally the Hebrews 4-6 passage was written to early Jewish believers, who were being warned not to ‘fall away’ back into the comforts of Judaism in which they were brought up… Same as in the letter to Galatians 3 where Paul was saying you were saved by faith, why now go back under the law. Then in Galatians 5 there is still the encouragement to walk in step with the Holy Spirit.

It is easy to say when we are young/middle aged and have all our mental faculties with us we are not prone to doubt. What about when we get old, get dementia/alzheimer’s or get mental illness. We doubt many things. I don’t rest my assurance of salvation on the quality of my intellectual assent (faith) or did I say the correct and magical words with a sinners prayer, but rather in the finished work of Jesus in my place on the cross (the fact that I’m legally pardoned before God, and brought back into a relationship with Him). I trusted this at the start of the journey of being a Christian (as Lennox says in his other book ‘Can Science explain everything’), and even though I can remember a particular time when I gave my life to Christ, I continually trust and hope in Jesus’ finished work on the cross.

This is what Lennox is saying

In the case of regeneration it is its irreversibility that prevents the ruining of heaven by human sin. It is not like the old creation; in fact Scripture tells us that it is a new creation: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17.) The irreversibility of regeneration is supported by a legal consideration – the fact that the Final Judge has pronounced his verdict. Indeed, in the preceding chapter of John Jesus says: I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24.) Regeneration brings with it an irreversible change in our legal standing before God, for the Final Judge says that we shall not come into judgment – that is, we shall never be condemned, we pass (permanently) from death into life. That verdict could not be issued if it were possible to opt out of eternal life at any stage, either in this life or in the one to come.

Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (pp. 187-188). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

I have a thought also, that if someone is a Christian, and legally right before God, and then walks away from the faith because of something traumatic in their lives they can’t understand why it was allowed by God, or a deliberate act of the will even. I think that person is still a Christian; and God in his love will gently get their attention through discipline (in the case of walking away or apathy), or with healing (in the case of some traumatic event) in order to bring them back and grow more. Of course, this gets into the category of ‘Suffering’ which is a huge topic and we won’t know all the answers to some of our questions in this life - just look at Job. I think there is room for carnal Christians or ‘backsliding’ to use a Christianese term. :slight_smile:

Lennox does ask the question and talks about Jesus being the Bread of Life as compared to manna/bread in the wilderness:

Putting this another way, what is to stop people availing themselves of the bread of life but then opting out and eventually dying spiritually? We might dare to go further: what about heaven? If we retain our free will, what is to stop us using it to opt out of heaven itself?

Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 186). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

I also agree with Lennox on the difference between original sin (Adam sinned and so we are all born sinners with a sin nature), but not original guilt (I’m not personally responsible before God for Adam’s guilt). That doesn’t really make sense - anyway it doesn’t matter from a practical point of view because I have personally committed many sins - way too many to count and I’ve plenty of guilt.

All I can say is ‘thankyou Jesus for being my substitute, and my great high priest who continually makes intercession for me before the Father’ as it says in Hebrews!! :heart::heart::latin_cross::pray:

just a few thoughts… thanks for leading the book study, Sean. really appreciated… it’s making me want to go and read more of the Bible and continue to grow in the faith… :slight_smile:


To begin this chapter, John Lennox continues on the theme of irreversible salvation and regeneration. He made a number of great points here that I thought really drove his argument home. He begins by quoting John 6:45-51 in which Jesus says he is the bread of life. Jesus is building off of the story in Exodus where God feeds the Israelites in the wilderness by giving them bread (manna). Jesus says here that he is the manna of life that was given so that whoever eats his “flesh” will live forever. Lennox then tackles a common objection to this: don’t we have the free will to walk away from salvation, to not go to heaven if we changed our minds? Here is Lennox’s great response:

The answer is that, if that were the case, then the true bread of life would be no better than the manna in the wilderness which, as Jesus reminded his hearers, the fathers ate and died. But the bread of life is not like that: If anyone it’s of this bread, he will live forever (verse 51). (p 186-187)

Every genuine regeneration is irreversible. Lennox continues to make a convincing biblical case for this using 1 Peter 1:23, 2 Corinthians 5:17, and John 5:24.

After Lennox addresses a few objections to finish off his long and detailed argument against regeneration before faith, he finally moves on to the third topic of original sin. Here is the argument from a quotation Lennox includes in his book plus his own interpretation of the argument:

… Man’s own inability is something he is guilty for, and that inability cannot therefore be seen as something that relieves the centre of responsibility. (Phillip Johnson, “A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism”)

That guilt, according to Johnson’s argument, is something that all human beings are born with; and it was their own fault that they were born with it. The reason for that is that they were “in Adam” when he sinned. Adam is the federal head of humanity, and so when he sinned they sinned. (Adam’s sin is sometimes said to be “imputed to them”.) They are therefore blameworthy for their inability to respond to God.

I’ve never truly understood this at all before. One could convince themselves they are executing God’s judgment when it comes to abortion. It’s similar to the flood in Genesis. Some people say the children where just as guilty as the adults, that’s why all were wiped out (Lennox actually gets to this issue later in the chapter). Anyway, the two passages that supposedly back up this interpretation. Romans 5:12-14 and Hebrews 7:9-10. For the passage in Romans, he gives two clear reasons why this actually doesn’t support the view of original sin quoted above (Augustine has a faulty translation of the Greek word eph ho and the tense of the word “sinned” in Greek is aorist). Fantastic stuff by Lennox again. It should be obvious now why this passage does not support the view that we sinned in Adam. As an example, he gives a helpful analogy of a pregnant woman who is a drug dealer and gets put in jail before she has the child. The child isn’t guilty for the crime, even though he was “in” the mother when she did the crime. Even if he is damaged by his mother’s drug abuse, and so he has bigger chance at at becoming a drug addict himself, it doesn’t mean he is morally responsible for the actions of his mother of which now currently affect him as an adult. He is only held responsible for his actions. The Oliver Crisp quote on page 195 was very important, but also too long to quote it again here, so I’ll only repost a portion it:

…For plainly an agent cannot be culpable for being generated and born in a state with which it did not concur or condone…it seems to me that something similar can be said for fallen human beings… being born in such a state is not something for which one can reasonably be said to be responsible or culpable. But acting upon such a disposition (if, indeed, it is a disposition) is something for which a person may be morally responsible and culpable.

I could go on to his distinctions between original sin and actual sin, which is a necessary distinction, but you can read it on page 196 for yourself. I want to comment on the above quote. Crisp shows why we are not responsible for our sinful nature. Now, many non Christians will complain at this thinking it’s not fair we have to suffer for someone else’s bad choices and why would God let Adam stain all of humanity in the first place. Those are legitimate questions. The first question I would totally agree with. It isn’t fair that we have to suffer for Adam’s sin, which is one of the reasons why God sent his son Jesus to die in our place, so that we could have the free gift of salvation. Adam got us into this mess, and God provided a free way out because of his love for his creation. It’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card, sitting there for the taking. Many will not take it at all, but some will. The other question, why would God allow Adam to stain the whole human race in the first place, is because free will is an important part of relationship with God, but when creating creatures with free will, God ran the risk of many creatures using that free will to reject Him.
Now on to the next passage, Hebrews 7:9-10. This one confuses me. The passage says that “Levi…paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.” How does this work? How could Levi do something “through” Abraham. I do not think Lennox does a great job explaining this passage. It definitely is about status, but I guess I don’t understand the argument and what it entails if it is correct. “The argument is that if the founder of the Hebrew race had a lower status than king Melchizedek, his descendants would also have a lower status.” See if I can try and unpack what this means. So what people who put forth this argument are saying is that Levi, in his ancestor’s body, paid a tenth to Melchizedek status-wise, then we can sin through Adam, who is our ancestor, as well. But Lennox rejects this because it is Abraham’s status before Melchizedek that is shared with Levi, not his sin. Levi is not morally responsible for Abraham’s sin. That did not carry over the generations. In the same way Abraham’s descendants were not all saved just because he was. I think I get it now. Took me a while.

I find Lennox’s argument about why babies die (if we aren’t all sinners through Adam) very intriguing. I’m not exactly sure where I stand on this one. But Lennox says it’s because we turned mortal after Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, losing their access to the tree of life (which brought immortality).

In other words, human beings from the beginning may well have been dependent on this food in order for physical life to continue indefinitely; so that all humans after Adam are liable to physical death simply because they live in a world where that source no longer exists. (p 198)

This is similar to the vision C.S. Lewis had, because he included a parallel of this in the first book of the Narnia series (the prequel). It sounds good to me, and the tree of life does reappear in the New Jerusalem in Revelations.

One final comment I’d like to make on this quote by Lennox:

If one is going to argue that when Adam send we send and therefore earn God’s judgment, then the parallel would suggest that when Christ obeyed we obeyed, and were there for contributing to earning our salvation. (p 198)

I believe this comparison by Lennox does not work for a few reasons. 1) Adam was fully human and 0% God while Jesus was fully human and is 100% God, and 2) Adam was the father of the whole human race, but Jesus never had any children. So the comparison is flawed on Lennox’s part.


@O_wretched_man Good thoughts! I think Lennox’s point regarding original sin in Adam and obedience in Christ may be valid, considering that Paul also draws a similar analogy in I Cor 15. The difference being that Paul talks about those who are in Christ versus those who belong to Adam, versus Adam’s sin somehow being perpetuated through the generations. It is death, which was the result of sin, and the fallen nature that are perpetuated; not the sin itself. I think that might be where Lennox is going there?

I Cor 15:22 - Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.


@matthew.western I would say that while it is not the level of psychological certainty about Christ we possess that saves us, the Scriptures are clear that a good tree bears good fruit. Whether or not a good tree can ever revert to becoming a bad tree is perhaps not the most important point, but rather that those of us with sufficient mental faculties to do so honestly examine our hearts and lives. I agree there are edge cases, such as mental illness, where we must leave judgment to God and trust in His gracious goodness.

There is one passage in Romans that appears to suggest that our relationship to Christ the vine is fluid - we can be grafted in and out. I understand Paul may be focusing more on nations than on individuals and that his point is not regarding individual salvation, but it is still interesting that he offers a warning about being broken off because of unbelief, as well as suggesting that others who were broken off could be grafted back in.

Romans 11:17-23 - If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.


I don’t really understand your first line sorry.

I think Romans 9-11 is about Israel, Jesus coming as Messiah to Israel, was rejected and crucified and the church age is now, and that Israel who has been temporarily put aside will be again part of God’s plan once ‘the age of the Gentiles is complete’ as it says in 11:25.

Agree totally we need to all examine our hearts and lives. I think if the statement ‘our relationship to Christ the vine is fluid’ means you can lose your salvation and then gain it again and lose it again, i might have to agree to disagree.


@matthew.western You may be correct on that point :slight_smile: I recognize the overarching theme of Romans 9-11, but this theme of remaining in Christ the Vine being something for which we are responsible appears more than once. We also see it in John 15. How can a branch be thrown away if it was never connected to the vine? Of course, you could say that if Jesus chooses you then you will remain in Him. I think that all starts to get a bit circular, but that is my opinion.

John 15:5-6- “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned."

To be clear, I am not saying I know the answer to this question of perseverance of the saints, but I lean towards taking the warnings seriously in my own life.


thanks for clarifying. :slight_smile:

Without question we have a big responsibility to abide in Christ. All throughout the New Testament there’s plenty of warnings to see if a person is a Christian at all. like Paul said in Romans ‘shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid!.’

I’ve heard a pastor link the John 15 passage link to a persons works. We can’t do anything of eternal value without abiding in the vine; ‘without me ye can do nothing’. It was then tied across to 1 Corinthians 3:12 with works that will last being like gold silver or precious stones; as compared to rubbish like wood hay or stubble. This ties into the difference judgement seats for the lost (Great white throne judgement) compared to Christians (the bema seat of Christ for rewards). (

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

I’m also not sure how exactly the perseverance of the saints works (the P in Tulip?) / or is it preservation of the saints (is this on the arminian side?). Maybe it’s both - in the same way it’s both 100% we are responsible for our actions but God is 100% Sovereign. I don’t know.

you know i think all these things are hard to think about because it involves obviously our own eternal security, but it also involves the salvation and eternal security of those we love. I have (i’m sure like many) family members who have walked away from the faith - and it troubles me deeply. Maybe it’s difficult to talk about because it’s rarely academic and almost always personal to us. :slight_smile:

I know from a mental illness/health point of view personally that when you are really down, your feelings are not to be relied upon. you have to replace feelings with facts.

Perhaps when one is depressed; this might be the time to reflect on the security of our salvation because it’s in God’s hand. We can take comfort from Him.

When one is feeling confident and life is going well, perhaps this is the time to heed the warnings mentioned (abiding in the vine, being sure we don’t take God’s grace for granted and turn our liberty in Christ into a license to sin and do whatever we want, walking in the Spirit not walking in the flesh) and make sure one doesn’t become arrogant and prideful. I don’t know the balance to be struck between the two.

I do think we can be quietly and humbly confident in Christ’s finished work on the cross and know we have eternal life:

He who has the Son has [a]life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, [b]and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. 1 John 5:12-13

Also in John 17:3 and 20:30-31; I think the Apostle John wants us to know we can know.

thanks again for leading the book study, and helping us all to think about these things… it can be a real challenge to consider :slight_smile: :slight_smile:


@matthew.western I think there is great wisdom in your point that during different seasons of life we may be helped by meditating on different attributes of God. In fact, James says as much when he admonishes the poor to remember their high position in Christ and the rich to remember that they are like the flowers of the field. I agree this topic is certainly a challenging one :slight_smile:

James 1:9-11 - Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.


This has been as interesting chapter with much to think on. I would like to flesh out the following quote from Lennox’s book.

“Regeneration brings with it an irreversible change in our legal standing before God, for the Final Judge says that we shall not come into judgment – that is, we shall never be condemned, we pass (permanently) from death into life. That verdict could not be issued if it were possible to opt out of eternal life at any stage, either in this life or in the one to come.” (Page 174 of my digital copy)

What does Lennox mean by legal standing? Standing in what sense? Covenant or moral?

As a scoundrel appearing before this court what is at stake? My guilt or innocents before God or my covenant membership as it relates to the true brotherhood of believers? (if you are thinking Wright you’re a right)

And what does he mean by irreversible? (Sounds a bit like irresistible to me, echoes of the I in TULIP?) The only thing that makes sense to me is that God will not reverse out legal status i.e. he will not come back and change his mind, but does that mean that I can still change my mind? Romans 11:17-24 seem to be suggesting that we can change our minds at our own peril and if legal standing is indeed what God does for us and Lennox is right then it would appear that even those that have been cut off can be grafted a fresh.

17 Now if some of the branches were broken off (sounds a lot like a natural born son of Abraham), and you (a gentile), although you* were a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them (God made room for you a gentile) became a sharer of the root of the olive tree’s richness,

18 do not boast against the branches. But if you boast against them, you do not support the root, but the root supports you.

19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off in order that I could be grafted in.”

20 Well said! They were broken off because of unbelief, but you stand firm because of faith. Do not think arrogant thoughts, but be afraid. ( this has an ominous sound to it)

21 For if God did not spare the ⌊natural⌋ branches, neither will he spare you . (God is no respecter of persons)

22 See, then, the kindness and severity of God: severity upon those who have fallen, but upon you the kindness of God— if you continue in his kindness (looks like we have responsibility to understand God’s Grace and his Justice) , for otherwise you also will be cut off (here is that warning again).

23 And those also, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, because God is able to graft them in again. (God’s a great husbandmen)

24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are ⌊natural branches⌋ be grafted into their own olive tree? (Ro 11:17–24 LEB)

Have not read ahead so I will assume that Lennox will fold in some thoughts on justification and sanctification if not then I have to point that something is missing. It is like we only have two parts of what I see as a three-part transaction. My faith, God’s legal verdict and the work of the Holy Spirit in me to complete this new creation. So if we start with the legal standing (verdict, not guilt or innocence) then this is how it plays out for me.

A scoundrel with a new legal standing is still a scoundrel but with new paper work (think citizenship) that only addresses his legal standing and not his moral character. In the US today, we see this played out in real time on the southern border. People come here and the first thing they want is to have their legal status changed in a court of law from illegal to legal this does not magical convert them to be a model US citizen. This law court ruling can be reversed but when one goes through the process (here is a nasty word, work) and is awarded naturalized US citizenship, correct if I am wrong, that cannot be reversed.

Another way that I view this is applying for entrance to a great school, pick one, and getting the acceptance letter with a shocking surprise, you get a full ride not just undergraduate but graduate course also and shock of shock there is no expiration date. The only catch is that you have attend the school and do the necessary work.

So for me the question is how to do the work? As an illegal alien I need an advocate, someone to clear the way, someone to teach me the way of this new community. As a student I will need the same.

Is Lennox going from irreversibility to life eternal with nothing in between? (Page 174)

“…we pass (permanently) from death into life. That verdict could not be issued if it were possible to opt out of eternal life at any stage, either in this life or in the one to come.”

Please feel free to comment and correct.


@Jimmy_Sellers Good thoughts! I think the analogy of a full ride to university is an intriguing one.

My understanding Lennox’s point about legal standing is justification (versus sanctification). So once we have been legally declared righteous (justified), we may still sin but we can never return to our prior condemnation under the law because we are in Christ.


In thinking of the Sovereignty of God at work in our world all the time, I was so intrigued by the story shared by Lennox in his other recent book ‘Can science explain everything?’. It was as if God physically stepped in and caused Lennox to be in the right place at the right time to witness to the two gentlemen. (I really thought twice whether this was sharing too much was in breach of copyright, but I have two copies of the book, one Kindle and one physical so hopefully it’s ok :slight_smile: I’ll be buying copies of this book to give out as a witnessing tool into the future as well for atheists so I hope it’s ok :thinking:).

Conversation on a train
The main difficulty here is the concept of “religion”. I have tested this by asking many people what they think a religion is. The general consensus is that religion is a way of relating human beings to something beyond themselves, something transcendent, using teaching, rituals and ceremonies. A religion usually consists of rituals of initiation, a path to be followed on the basis of prescribed teaching, and an entry into the world to come based on merit gained on the path.

I vividly recall discussing this in a very unusual set of circumstances. I had been lecturing in a church in northern Hungary and was on my way by train via Budapest in order to catch a flight home from Vienna. I found my reserved seat in a second-class carriage and sat down. At once I began to feel uneasy about the seat—an experience I had never had before. I first thought that I was in the wrong seat but a check on my ticket showed that was not the case. It then occurred to me that I should go and sit in first class. This conviction became so strong that I got out of the carriage and walked to the front of the train and found there were two first-class carriages—one was shabby and old, and the other seemed brand new. As the train was about to leave, I tried to get into the shiny new carriage but bizarrely found I could not move one leg in front of the other. I began to panic, thinking I was having some kind of seizure. But when I turned towards the shabby carriage I found I could move, and so I dived in just as the train pulled out of the station.

I just about fell into the seat near the door of the compartment since the two window seats were occupied. At once I felt relaxed and normal again but very puzzled by what had happened.

I closed my eyes to get some rest and became aware of the two men in the window seats speaking quietly to each other in a language I could not understand. After a while they changed to French, which I could understand and speak, so I wished them good day and we chatted a little about our respective jobs. They were both senior international lawyers: one an ambassador, the other a judge from an international court. I explained I was a mathematician.

The conversation lapsed and I was beginning to doze off when one of them suddenly said, “Voyez les croix!” (“Look at the crosses!”). He indicated a cemetery through the window and then asked no one in particular, “Are there any Christians in this country?” I replied by telling them that there were indeed many Christians, and I had been spending a week with some of them, teaching them from the Bible.

“But that is not rational,” came the reply. “You are a mathematician; how can you possibly take the Bible seriously? And, in any case, we can approach God directly, even in the desert. We don’t need intermediaries like Jesus and Mary to help us.”

After more conversation, during which I said that my Christian faith was evidence-based the other man said this: “Look, we have another three hours on this train. Would you be prepared to explain to us the difference between Christianity and our religion?”

I asked them what the essence of their religion was and then I looked around for paper and pen to illustrate my answer. Not finding any, I noticed that the floor of the carriage was quite dusty and so I drew the diagram below with my finger in the dust asking: “Would it be fair to say that your religion amounts to this?”


“There is a door of initiation at the beginning, perhaps a ceremony of some kind, or it might even be your birth into a particular group, that leads to your starting a path or way indicated by the wavy line. You have people to teach and guide you (indicated by the academic hats), and the path goes up and down according to your success in following the path. You then come at death to a final assessment, indicated by the scales of justice where your life is scrutinised; and whether you are permitted to advance into a glorious world to come depends on your good deeds outweighing your bad ones.

“Since it is a merit-based system, no matter how good your teachers, advisers, gurus, imams, priests or rabbis are, they cannot guarantee success at the final assessment. In other words, it is very like a university course: you have to satisfy certain initial requirements, you follow the course and then sit the final examinations. No matter how good and kind your professors and teachers are,
they cannot guarantee you a degree since that depends entirely on your merit at the final exams.”

The two men agreed that this was not only what they believed but that it was what all religious people believed—that it was the essence of religion. Not only that, but they also agreed that religions had a great deal of moral teaching in common. “Well, then,” I said, “that means that I am not a religious person”.

“But you said you were a Christian,” they replied.

“Yes, I am a Christian, and what I now need to say is in direct answer to your original question: what is the difference between what I believe and what you believe? But let me say first that I agree with you that there is much moral teaching in common. Take, for example, what is often called the ‘Golden Rule’, one version of which says, ‘Treat others in the same way you would like them to treat you’. You will find that in every religion and philosophy under the sun, including those religions and philosophies that do not believe in gods of any kind.

“The differences arise in what religions have to say about how you relate to God or the gods. My illustration shows the common view that you share with many others. However, the Christian message is very different. It does not consist in a merit-based acceptance by God at the final judgment. Christianity teaches something utterly radical at this point. It tells us that we can be accepted at the beginning of the path. It teaches that the initial step is not a rite or ritual or ceremony performed on an infant or adult, but it is a step of commitment to a person, Jesus Christ, that involves believing that he is God incarnate, who has come into the world to give his life as a ransom for our sins, which alienate us from God.”

At this point I drew a cross in the doorway at the beginning of my sketch in the dust on the floor.

“Now,” I said to them, “if you want my answer to your question, please listen and try to understand it before passing judgment on it.”

“Carry on,” they said.

“Here is what Jesus said: ‘whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.’ (John 5 v 24). The context is the astounding claim by Jesus that he is going to be the final Judge of humankind.”

I turned to the judge in the window seat. “Mr Judge,” I said, “suppose I presented my case to you, and you declared me to be free; would I be right to believe you?”

He showed a burst of indignation: “Of course” he said, “I am the judge, the final assessor, and if I say you are free, then you are free.”

“Well, that is exactly it,” I replied. “Jesus is the highest- level judge in the universe. And he says that if we trust him personally, he will declare us to be right with God on the grounds that he has himself paid on the cross the penalty of the guilty verdict that our sins have merited. Moreover, the evidence that this is true is, as the early Christian apostle Paul said to the philosophers at Athens, that God has given assurance to all that this is so by raising Jesus from the dead.”

There was silence in the carriage for quite a while and then the ambassador said to the judge, “There is a great difference between Christianity and what we usually think of as religion”. Turning to me he said, “And it all depends on who Jesus Christ really is”.

“Exactly,” I replied.

They then told me the following story. That weekend they had been attending a high-level conference in Vienna and found they had a day free. They asked for an embassy car to take them to Budapest and, after spending most of the day there, they started on the return journey. Their car broke down just outside the train station. They had no option but to take the train.

“We don’t travel by train,” they explained, “We haven’t been in one for years.”

“Then we meet you on the train and have a conversation of a kind we have never experienced, not even in the leading universities in the world that we have attended. How do you account for that?”

“Very simply,” I replied, “I think there is such a thing as divine guidance and this is an example of it.”

I relate this story not just to help us see the difference between conventional views of religion and the heart of the Christian message. I have told it to make another important point. You see, God does not just “exist” in an academic, philosophical way. He is alive and active in the world, working in our lives, reaching out to us, speaking to us through creation and ultimately through his Son Jesus Christ. I have had far too many “coincidences” in my life to put down to blind luck; this was just one of many.

How we relate to God
I have often used the picture[76] that I drew on the floor of the train, and I sometimes reinforce its message by amplifying it with another. Imagine that I meet a girl, fall in love with her and decide to propose to her. I approach her and give her a gift-wrapped parcel. She asks what it is, and I tell her to open it and I will explain. She finds in it a popular cookery book. She expresses appreciation, and I then say to her that the book is full of rules and instructions on how to do excellent cooking. Now, I really like her and would like her to be my wife; and so I say to her that if she keeps the rules and instructions and cooks for me to a very high standard for, say, the next 40 years, then I will think about accepting her. If not, she can go home to her mother!

It is a ridiculous scenario of course, and if she threw the book at me and never spoke to me again, I would be getting far less than I deserved. Why? Because my proposal is insulting to her as a person in the extreme. It suggests that I am going to wait for years to see how she performs in the kitchen before accepting her.

We would never dream of treating someone like that. That is not how relationships are formed. Yet, the remarkable thing is that this is precisely the attitude many people take towards God: they try to pile up their merit in the hope of one day gaining God’s acceptance, as in my illustration of the wavy path. Anyone can see this method doesn’t work with our fellow men and women. It won’t work with God, either, since God is the person in whose image we are made. And it is often our pride that hides this from us. It is remarkable how many people seem to be prepared to work for God to earn their salvation, yet they are not prepared to trust him.

It is worth emphasising once more: according to Christianity, “salvation” means exactly that—action on the part of God to rescue those who could not help themselves. At its heart is the magnificent doctrine of the grace of God. It says that, if they will, anyone can be forgiven and find a new life and friendship with God—whoever they are; whatever they have done.

Lennox, John. Can Science Explain Everything? . The Good Book Company. Kindle Edition.


Enjoy reading all these responses. This chapter did leave me curious about a couple of verses in the Bible. Or maybe I’m misunderstanding what Lennox is stating. Is he saying that a person can no longer change their mind? Or that they will never have a desire to walk away from the faith? (which is just fine with me to think I am now eternally secure!) How should these versus be read in light of what I believe Lennox is saying? (And I’m not a fan of the idea that a person was never really saved and the verses below don’t seem to imply that either.)

Colossians 1:23 “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” This sounds like a person can lose their faith. Also, 1 Timothy 1:19 “cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.” How should these verses be read?


@kelelek Personally, I’m of the opinion that our will is always free and that, on rare and very sad occasions, there are those who truly abandon the faith. However, Lennox seems to be taking the position that Jesus will never loose one of His sheep. We see Jesus intercede for Peter when the evil one wants to sift him like wheat and the Scriptures say that God will finish the work He started. So I understand this perspective - Lennox is saying that once we have God’s life in us we are a new creation and that cannot be undone.

However, I do think there are passages that seem to suggest individuals have walked away from the life of God and trampled on the Son of God, returning like a dog to its vomit and a life of sin. Such a fate is tragic beyond words.


I agree once one accepts the gift of salvation God will not take it back (Romans 11:29)

I’ve heard Hebrews 6:6 @SeanO explained by Dr. David L. Allen. He has written extensively on Atonement. I can sent you a link to a 2 hour podcast interview if you would like.

Summarizing points below:

  • To the Calvinist Hebrews 6:6 refers to the false convert; to the Arminian it’s to the apostate. Dr. Allens argues it is neither.
  • Context: The end of Hebrews 5 defines it being directed to believers in infancy, and Hebrews 6 starts with a conjunction/continuation from the end of Hebrews 5.
  • Per Hebrews 6:6 a true believer still receives salvation, even though they continue in infancy or as immature believers. The word Parapiptó (“to fall in, into or away, to fail”) is used only once in scripture in Hebrews 6:6. Hebrews 12:4-13 shows God disciplines His children. By falling away after salvation one receives the temporary discipline God will bring (e.g. Hebrews 3:12-19) and loss of rewards at the Judgement Seat of Christ. It’s a loss of blessings for those not in maturity.
  • Hebrews 6:7-8 shows its one piece of land (NIV doesn’t show this well in 6:8 like other translations). Some produce fruit, others on that same land produce thorns and thistles. People assume the “burned” is Hell but a farmer would burn the field and replant if He is willing (which is where Hebrews 6:3 comes into play).
  • Were those in Hebrews 3 still God’s covenant people? Of course. Did they all lose their salvation since he did not make it to the promise land? OT doesn’t say that lost their salvation; they did die physically. Numbers 14:20 even says He forgave them. Did Moses lose his salvation since he didn’t make it to the promised land? Definitely not.
  • Scripture does not show an unbeliever “partaking” in the Holy Spirit (e.g. the Apostles, excluding Judas, received the Holy Spirit later, ‭John‬ ‭7:39, John 20:21-22)
  • Corinthians supports this as they were immature and carnal in nature but nowhere does it say they were not saved. 1 Corinthians 3 supports this: build up a good foundation which will he tested by fire at the Judgement Seat of Christ. They still go to heaven but barely (as one escaping through the flames)
  • Acts 5 shows a strong example of God’s discipline. Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, dropped dead. It does not say they weren’t saved.
  • 1 John 5 supports this. It is directed to believers, that there is a sin that leads to physical death.
  • Scripture shows God promises to complete the process of salvation (Philippians 1:6, Colossians 1:21-22, Hebrews 13:5, Jude 24-25, James 1:12, 1 Timothy 1:12, John 10:28-29)

@Thankful Thanks so much for sharing :slight_smile: Strangely enough, I just had a good conversation on Romans 7 where a similar view - which I will call the immature believer view - was put forth. I do not personally agree with Dr. Allen’s perspective in this case, but I now understand that this immature believer view is one way of making sense of the tension people find when trying to think through these difficult passages. In the case of Romans 7 I would argue it is an unbeliever being described and in Hebrews 6 someone who has indeed been a true believer and fallen away. But I have developed a deeper appreciation for the immature believer view.

Thanks again for sharing.