The Outsider Test for Faith


Hello all,

Some people here may be familiar with John Loftus’ Debunking Christianity website and his Outsider Test for Faith. Anyway, I have posted an article about this supposed this supposed test on my own website at the following URL:

I’ll reproduce the opening paragraph below (sans footnotes), and I would, of course, welcome any comments of any nature about the article.


Yeah, it sounds rather yawn-worthy to me. I suspect he was raised upon the notion that one is not allowed to question their faith. I wasn’t given that impression at all growing up. In fact, my dad and others encouraged me to ask problematic questions. He was thrilled when I first started bouncing theological issues off of him.

Here’s a set of verses I posted somewhere else on this forum that actually encourage us to do this very thing:

Testing scripture 1 Thess. 5:21; coming to our own conclusions about what is right Luke 12:57; judging wisdom by her children Luke 7:35; judging teachings by their fruits Matt 7:16; and walking out and experimenting in this grand thing called the Christian life confirms who and what Christ is John 7:17.


Thanks Tom for posting. It’s always enjoyable reading your work, even if occasionally it goes over my head :slight_smile:


That’s an interesting point, still getting my head around it.

I totally agree. It’s sad that he was a preacher and yet didn’t :frowning:


J’oftus (as I like to give him a nifty rabbinic abbreviation nickname of) is quite aware that inclusivists like Victor Reppert (and Lewis) and universalists like myself (and Tom Talbott for that matter, whom I know John is aware corresponds with Victor) exist. He just has exactly no idea what to do about us. :wink: We don’t fit into his system, so he doesn’t exactly ignore us, but… well, he gets very confused very easily. :slight_smile:

It’s important to understand that John isn’t only trying to insist on the importance of people being self-critical about their beliefs, especially in regard to the social pressures they happen to be living in (and most especially raised in). If that was all he was trying to do, he’d be saying nothing different than tens of thousands of Christian and other theistic scholars and teachers.

No, he’s trying to deploy that principle in a way to create a deductive argument that (put briefly) because this principle is true, therefore everyone should reject all religious belief and stop being religious (whether in agnosticism or more ideally atheism).

It’s a slightly more sophisticated version of the popular village-atheist “One Less God” argument; the idea being to use the principle of self-criticism in itself as a way of deductively justifying the OLG. You’re already sceptical of this and that and everything else than what you believe, right? But thanks to the principle of self-criticism, without which any belief is only irrational, then you ought to be sceptical of what you believe, too. Thus you should be a sceptic about all religion and believe none of it! Q.E.D.! “Wouldn’t that mean I should be equally sceptical of my scepticism and disbelieve that, too…?” SHUT UP! Uh, I mean, sure, why not, you still end up with scepticism Q.E.D. Whew, that was close…

It’s impressive to the groundlings and to the desperate, but not so much to the rest of us. To be fair, though, you can see that the shape of his argument, such as it is, doesn’t really depend on universalism being irrelevant or non-universalism being the only relevant kind of theism. So it isn’t like he’s bothered by not having any idea what to do with us. :slight_smile: He would just say we aren’t being self-critical about our beliefs either, having irrationally been impressed by them from our environment, and that we should thus jettison those beliefs too to be atheists or agnostics.

If you’re asking how that claim could possibly fit cases where theists are being blatantly obviously self-critical (sometimes resulting in people becoming theists or different kinds of theists–which in our culture is nearly always going to be the case for a universalist, of course), the answer is SHUT UP! :mrgreen: Any evidence of such things is to be discounted or ignored in order to protect his thesis. J’oftus can go very very (humorously!) far along that line. Tom’s examples of extra-convenient double-thinking are entirely typical of his procedure.

He’s a great source of anecdotes, though. :smiley: (For example, I remember when he was trying to push the OTF at the Cadre once, and had to resort to ignoring a particular commenter as if that person didn’t exist: the commenter was someone raised as an atheist who had converted to Christianity. :laughing: The sequel to that particular line of discussion was even more amusing as an exercise in trying to ignore major problems with his position.)

Anyway, I definitely recommend Tom’s fine 27-page critique!


Quick notes (originally posted below in separate comments as I got to them, but consolidated now that I’m done re-reading the paper):

(from footnote 5) “But that amounts to little more than the dogmatic assertion that no one who disagrees with me on this matter exercises independent rational judgment.”

I am pretty sure you meant that the position in the preceding sentence of your footnote amounts to little more than the dogmatic assertion that “no one who agrees” with you on this matter (i.e. of theism being true) exercises independent rational judgment.

From footnote 11: “I do not mean to imply that only Christian Universalists have an adequate solution to the problem of religious diversity. Many non-universalists among the freewill theists also hold that all of God’s loved ones, wherever their spiritual journey might begin, will sooner or later have an equal shot at being saved.”

As long as you’re fairly qualifying there, I think it can also be fairly said that, in their own way, the non-universalists who either deny human free will or who deny it has anything relevant to do with whether or not someone is saved, also believe that everyone has an equal shot at being saved: God could sovereignly chose everyone (but doesn’t), consequently the way is entirely open (in principle) for God to save non-Christians and bring them to Christ at-or-after-death, just as He brings non-Christians to salvation in Christ before death.

As a matter of fact, Christians from the Calv side of soteriology don’t usually have that kind of hope for people who reject Christ up to or after the point of death; but the basic principles of their soteriology don’t formally exclude it, and so they could theoretically come to be Calv inclusivists much as Arms have inclusivists (such as Lewis and Victor) if they thought the scriptural evidence allowed for it.

p16: “is the last personal I would trust” – should be ‘person’

Footnote 21: I am not sure if you meant to do so, but the second half of this note, starting at “for a recent defense”, totally duplicates footnote 19 from the previous page.


Thanks guys for your kind comments. And Jason, I don’t know how to thank you enough for those invaluable editorial comments made so quickly. Most of those deal with matters that I may never have noticed on my own. So I am more grateful for them than I can say.



Alex, I’m amused by that, too. I’ve noticed that Tom has this way of blowing apart the inconsistencies in someone’s statement. I’m thoroughly enjoying that in The Inescapable Love.

I suppose I hadn’t fully realized what the OTF was all about. I just took away the self-critical aspect and neglected the inclusivist part (granted, I haven’t read the PDF). I guess it goes without saying that standard inclusivist scriptural references are Romans 2 and Jesus’ statement that “I have sheep that are not of this pen,” and his similar statement to Paul that he had “many in this city [Corinth]” who, whether they were “God-fearing” Gentiles or not, still did not have full knowledge of the gospel. Also, I’ve heard some stories recently somewhere about indigenous peoples who claimed that Christ had been revealed to them before missionaries ever came (not that I’ve verified them)? “But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’” Romans 10:18.

I think he’s acting as if God could only be gracious to those who believe correctly about him. If so, and he understands the inclusivist arguments, then he must simply be ignoring them. For instance, we have this valuable little gem, though not found in one of Lewis’ theological works, that still stands out:

, C.S. Lewis"]"Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him.

But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, “Son, thou art welcome.”

But I said, “Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.”

He answered, “Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.”

Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, “Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?”

The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, “It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?”

I said, “Lord, thou knowest how much I understand.” But I said also (for the truth constrained me), “Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.”

“Beloved,” said the Glorious One, “unless thy desire had been for me thou shouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”

I’ve often, very often, noticed this reaction amongst non-Christians. It’s as if they simply want to get under the skin of (or get back at) the fundamentalist/traditional believers rather than have anything to do with Christianity correctly expressed and believed. It seems to be a reactionary element. Only one out of a good handful or so actually want more of what you have to offer. But I have faith that Christ is ever so slowly drawing them, too. :smiley: (Oh how great it is to be able to take Christ at His Word!) :slight_smile:

Which reminds me of yet something else. This is what George MacDonald wrote concerning someone who had just such a complaint:

George MacDonald"]I have been led to what I am about to say, by a certain utterance of one in the front rank of those who assert that we can know nothing of the ‘Infinite and Eternal energy from which all things proceed;’ and the utterance is this:–

‘The visiting on Adam’s descendants through hundreds of generations dreadful penalties for a small transgression which they did not commit; the damning of all men who do not avail themselves of an alleged mode of obtaining forgiveness, which most men have never heard of; and the effecting a reconciliation by sacrificing a son who was perfectly innocent, to satisfy the assumed necessity for a propitiatory victim; are modes of action which, ascribed to a human ruler, would call forth expressions of abhorrence; and the ascription of them to the Ultimate Cause of things, even not felt to be full of difficulties, must become impossible.’

I do not quote the passage with the design of opposing either clause of its statement, for I entirely agree with it: almost it feels an absurdity to say so. Neither do I propose addressing a word to the writer of it, or to any who hold with him. The passage bears out what I have often said–that I never yet heard a word from one of that way of thinking, which even touched anything I hold. One of my earliest recollections is of beginning to be at strife with the false system here assailed. Such paganism I scorn as heartily in the name of Christ, as I scorn it in the name of righteousness. Rather than believe a single point involving its spirit, even with the assurance thereby of such salvation as the system offers, I would join the ranks of those who ‘know nothing,’ and set myself with hopeless heart to what I am now trying with an infinite hope in the help of the pure originating One-- to get rid of my miserable mean self, comforted only by the chance that death would either leave me without thought more, or reveal something of the Ultimate Cause which it would not be an insult to him, or a dishonour to his creature, to hold concerning him. Even such a chance alone might enable one to live.

I will not now enquire how it comes that the writer of the passage quoted seems to put forward these so-called beliefs as representing Christianity, or even the creed of those who call themselves Christians, seeing so many, and some of them of higher rank in literature than himself, believing in Christ with true hearts, believe not one of such things as he has set down, but hold them in at least as great abhorrence as he: his answer would probably be, that, even had he been aware of such being the fact, what he had to deal with was the forming and ruling notions of religious society;–and that such are the things held by the bulk of both educated and uneducated calling themselves Christians, however many of them may vainly think by an explanatory clause here and there to turn away the opprobrium of their falsehood, while they remain virtually the same–that such are the things so held, I am, alas! unable to deny. It helps nothing, I repeat, that many, thinking little on the matter, use quasi mitigated forms to express their tenets, and imagine that so they indicate a different class of ideas: it would require but a brief examination to be convinced that they are not merely analogous–they are ultimately identical.

But had I to do with the writer, I should ask how it comes that, refusing these dogmas as abominable, and in themselves plainly false, yet knowing that they are attributed to men whose teaching has done more to civilize the world than that of any men besides–how it comes that, seeing such teaching as this could not have done so, he has not taken such pains of enquiry as must surely have satisfied a man of his faculty that such was not their teaching; that it was indeed so different, and so good, that even the forced companionship of such horrible lies as those he has recounted, has been unable to destroy its regenerative power. I suppose he will allow that there was a man named Jesus, who died for the truth he taught: can he believe he died for such alleged truth as that? Would it not be well, I would ask him, to enquire what he did really teach, according to the primary sources of our knowledge of him? If he answered that the question was uninteresting to him, I should have no more to say; nor did I now start to speak of him save with the object of making my position plain to those to whom I would speak–those, namely, who call themselves Christians.


The main problem being that John isn’t of the first rank, so MacD’s appeal would be lost on him… :mrgreen: (Half-serious about that.)

That particular sermon, though not as famous as “Justice” from Vol 3, is another of MacD’s big throwdowns vs non-universalism, and should be read and appreciated on the same par I think.


Thanks Tom. Reading that was a very pleasant way to start my day. I found it very helpful, especially the realization that Loftis’ own morality and philosophy fail to pass the Outsider Test. As Jason said, it’s the old thing about being skeptical of skepticism. I also loved the reminder that the opposite of faith is faithlessness, not doubt. This puts the emphasis where it should be, on obedience, not on intellectual assent. And it hadn’t quite dawned on me that religious diversity is a necessary consequence of progressive revelation, and that progressive revelation is a necessary expression of divine love. Once you see it, it’s so obvious… Good stuff.

(When you have a spare minute or two, I’d love to know why you hate The Matrix.)

I was particularly interested in your comments concerning idealism. I sometimes wonder if the Law of Conservation of Mass/Energy is in fact a theological proposition.



Victor Reppert (friend to Tom Talbott and myself) has posted a link to Tom’s counter-OTF paper on his journal.

There hasn’t been much discussion about it specifically yet (John has read it and says he won’t be altering his next book which is almost finished and will be published this summer, but that he thinks he anticipates some of the critiques in it. No further details from him on this yet. It’s possible he may post a comment on his own journal without alerting the thread, though typically he’s pretty hot to do so for self-promotional purposes. :wink: )

Mostly the thread has been about a (Roman Catholic?) poster named James “BenYachov” (a common contributor to Vic’s forum in recent years) complaining at length about Tom’s universalism. Tom has been very nice so far, but, well, readers are welcome to see for themselves how that’s going if they want. :slight_smile:

In his favor, James does have a very interesting critique from the perspective of Classic/Thomist Beatific Vision theology; although from what he has said so far in this thread I think his appeal ends up refuting itself in favor of universalism or else incoherency.


Yep. hahaha. Dang, that really resonated with me when I was talking to people who, though I was claiming the gospel, were acting like I was promoting something completely different. It also surprised me at first that MacD didn’t go into fine theological points and instead got to the heart of the matter about their lack of faithfulness and obedience! Anyway, he seemed to express very well the trouble that arises when you present a different gospel than the one they’re used to… and cuts out all the nonsense by saying that that’s not what determines a true believer anyway.


John has now posted a set of responses to Tom’s critique on his own blog here.

Discuss freely! :slight_smile:


Hi Tom:

This was a very engaging and fun read. To your question “How serious a challenge is it?” the clear answer for me is “not at all.” It’s as if you are the matador and being challenged by a mechanical bull filled with kinetic energy, bluster, and great intentions but of no threat at all to the matador!

You express surprise that Loftus employs step #3 (“Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false”) but it seems obvious that this is his intended destination in the first place so his haste in blurting it out unnecessarily simply gives away his inability to apply his test to himself!

This line of yours Tom

doesn’t quite add up for me because you go on to demonstrate that you know exactly what he is trying to say and you further make what I think is the precise diagnosis when you say a couple pages later

Here’s what I mean to say…

I recall a famous Christian Apologist saying “there is only one way to Stand, but myriad ways to Fall.” This for me paints a picture of rigid exclusion where only the person who is fully perpendicular to the ground in all planes and angles can be considered “standing” and implied, “correct”. So one could “fall” at any angle from 0 degrees to 90 degrees, and in any direction in 360 degrees. If this is in fact the way it works, then of course the range of “correct thinking” is indeed very narrow. And in fact most will be “wrong”. It’s as if salvation is a matter of getting the correct result in math: if the correct answer is, say, 192, then any number other than that is of course wrong.

We both know that this is precisely how a great many Christians view what is necessary for salvation. Say the sinners prayer, have your penalty paid, etc etc. And it seems to me that it is this mindset to which Loftus is speaking: he is being critical of the mindset to which he (still!) belongs. And in fact I retain a great deal of sadness for this kind of mindset because it is incredibly confining and allows for no honest mechanisms to handle new ideas and growth. I’m seeing in Loftus a reaction against dogmatism in religion – yet he does it with a dogmatism of his own!
Interesting – and sad.

I intend to give this paper to my son to read (back home for the summer from college just last night!) as a fine example of proper critical thinking. Without the ability to evaluate new ideas and ways of putting things together, how on earth can learning and growth even happen? Yet all too often church is the last place one can learn this.

Now I must say that I wonder about your sanity Tom in jumping in on that blog over there! You are in hostile territory and I got little sense that any there even comprehended the nature of your argument. Oh well. Just know that some of us will be checking in from time to time for moral support!



Oh yes Tom, do tell.


Several weeks after he already began to reply to Tom’s critique, John has now begun (“as promised”) replying to the critique. Um, again. :mrgreen:

Part 2 here.

In posting this link to “a woman smacking down Talbott and Reppert”, John declares “I guess the boys club is over, boys. Join the civilized world.”

(As if they were excluding women from the conversation. :unamused: )


What John calls “the bottom line right here”.

My comment on John’s false ad hom, appears to have inspired this response:


My dutiful report of a link to John’s critique of Tom’s concept of progressive revelation.

J’oftus attempts to anticipate Tom’s objections.


I may have missed some posts…

But for anyone who wants to keep up with John’s attempts, he has figured out how to link to a tag-list, so:

debunkingchristianity.blogspot.c … Talbott%22