The Latest from Bruce

Defiance vs Bowling Green Basketball Game January 31, 2015

Last Saturday, my oldest son, grandson, and I attended the Defiance High School vs. Bowling Green High School basketball game. The contest was held at Defiance. I expected the game to be blow out, but Bowling Green keep the score close until part way through the third quarter. Defiance finally pulled away, convincingly beating Bowling Green, 65-43, State-ranked Defiance” record  improves to 15-1.

Here are a few of the photos I took:

game official

Game Official

game official 2

Game Official

Scorer's Table

Scorer’s Table

katwan singleton

#22, Katwan Singleton, #4, 5 foot 7 inch Michael Menendez looks on and thinks, I wish I could do that.

defiance bowling green basketball game january 31 2015

#20, Kameron Singleton, #30 Shay Smiddy, #11 Adian Markey, #25, Mitchell Gardner

defiance bowling green basketball game january 31 2015 2

#25, Mitchell Gardner, #30, Shay Smiddy, #3 Jake Meyer

defiance bowling green basketball game january 31 2015 3

#22, Katwan Singleton, #11, Braden Fredrick, #4, Michael Menendez, #41, Ryan Ludwig

defiance bowling green basketball game january 31 2015 4

#51, ???, #22, Katwan Singleton, #23, Noah Strausbaugh

defiance bowling green basketball game january 31 2015 5

#11, Aidan Markey, #41, Ryan Ludwig, #20 Kameron Singleton, #43, Jordan Arrington

salton sea yacht club

If you have ever been to the Salton Sea, you will appreciate the humor of “Salton Sea Yacht Club”

 

Hope for the Hopeless and Rest for the Weary

hopeless and helpless

I used to preach that Jesus was hope for the hopeless and rest for weary.  Unfortunately, for many people, Jesus, or I should say the Evangelical/fundamentalist church, made them weary and hopeless.

What should have been a source of hope and rest turned into something destructive. So destructive, that some people have thoughts of ending their life.

It shouldn’t be this way. I am convinced that Jesus, real or not, is not the problem. I find nothing in the words of Jesus that would cause me to lose hope or have thoughts of suicide.

No, it is what the Church has done with Jesus over the past 2,000 years that is the problem. God, Jesus, and the Bible have become tools of manipulation, control, and destruction.

I wish I could share with you the emails I get from people who are former, or trying to be former, Evangelicals.  I can’t share them because I respect the privacy of those who email me. For some, my email box has become their confessional. I can tell you this, there are a lot people who are hopeless and weary as a result of their immersion in the Evangelical Christian religion.

They often have no place to turn. In many instances, their family or spouse is still in the church. They desperately need someone to talk to, but they have no one to turn to. They can’t go to their pastor, he wouldn’t understand. If they live in a small town, they can’t even seek out a local counselor because everyone will be sure to know. (you would have to live in a small town to understand this)

So they suffer silently. In the night they toss and turn and wonder what has gone wrong. Where is God? There is no God. Where is the God of hope? There is no hope. Where is the God who gives rest? There seems to be no rest.

Their thoughts turn to suicide. No, I can’t do that, I’ll go to hell. Wait, there is no God, who gives a shit?

I want you to know I give a shit. I have been where you are and some days I am still where you are. There are a lot of readers of this blog that know your story. They have lived it. They are still living it. They know the struggle you are going through. The struggle of a life of faith that has turned into faithlessness, a life of believing that has turned into unbelief. Maybe you are like the man in the Bible that cried “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.”

I am not out to convert you to my cause or change you. It does not matter who you worship, where you worship, what you believe, or what label you give yourself.

My desire for you is hope and rest.

For many of us, the Evangelical Christian faith has damaged us mentally and emotionally.  The wounds and scars run deep. All the attempts in the world to marginalize our feelings will come to naught. We know what we know…

It’s late.

I can hear the clock ticking.

Another night with no sleep.

I hear my lover snoring.

I think of our life together.

So much time wasted.

So much work invested in things that do not matter.

Years have passed us by.

God we served you.

God we loved you.

God we worshiped you.

God we left all to follow you.

Careers, ambitions, wealth, family…

All forsaken to follow you.

Only to find out it was all a dream and a bad dream at that.

And so, in the still of the night, I reflect on the heap of my life.

What am I to make of all this?

Can I go on?

Will I go on?

I must go on.

God or not, there is a life to be lived.

God or not, I still must live like I am dying.

Because I AM dying.

So much life yet to live.

So much life yet to experience and enjoy.

God is back on the shelf where he belongs.

Maybe I’ll dust him off again on my final day.

Probably not.

Until then, I will live morally and ethically.

Until then, I will love and hate.

Until then, I will walk the path called life the best I know how.

Without God, without the Bible, and most certainly without the church.

I still have hope.

My hope is no longer built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.

My hope is built on the love and goodness of humankind.

These days the only gods I see are my family, friends, and fellow humans.

I devote myself to these gods.

I worship them.

That’s enough for me.

I will leave eternity to another day.

The Loneliness of Those Who Leave the Church

alone

From your earliest recollection you remember the church.

You remember the preacher, the piano player, the deacons, and your Sunday School teacher.

You remember the youth group and all the fun activities.

You remember getting saved and baptized.

You remember being in church every time the doors were open.

You remember everything in your life revolving around the church.

You remember praying and reading your Bible.

You remember the missionaries and the stories they told about heathens on the other side of the world.

You remember revival meetings and getting right with God.

You remember…

Most of all you remember the people.

These were the people who loved you. You thought to yourself, my church family loves me almost as much as God does.

You remember hearing sermons about God’s love and the love Christians were supposed to have for one another.

Church family, like blood family, loves you no matter what.

But then IT happened.

You know, IT.

You got older. You grew up. With adult eyes, you began to see the church, God, Jesus, and the Bible differently.

You had questions, questions that no one had an answer for.

Perhaps you began to see that your church family wasn’t perfect.

Perhaps the things that Mom and Dad whispered about in the bedroom became known to you.

Perhaps you found out that things were not as they seemed.

Uncertainty and doubt crept in.

Perhaps you decided to try the world for a while. Lots of church kids did, you told yourself.

Perhaps you came to the place where you no longer believed what you had believed your entire life.

And so you left.

You had an IT moment, that moment in time when things changed forever.

You thought, surely, Mom and Dad will still love me.

You thought, surely, Sissy and Bubby and Granny will still love me.

And above all, you thought your church family would love you no matter what.

But, they didn’t.

For all their talk of love, their love was conditioned on being one of them, believing the right things.

Once you left, the love stopped.

Now, they are praying for you.

Now, they plead with you to return to Jesus.

Now, they question if you really ever got saved.

They say they still love you, but deep down you know they don’t.

You know their love for you requires you to be like them.

You can’t be like them any more…

Such loss.

Time marches on.

The church is still where it has always been.

The same families are there, loving Jesus and speaking of their great love for others.

But, you are forgotten.

A sheep gone astray.

Every once in a while someone asks your Mom and Dad how you are doing,

They sigh, perhaps tears well up in their eyes…

Oh how they wish you would come home.

To be a family sitting together in the church again.

You can’t go back.

You no longer believe.

All that you really want now is their love.

You want them to love you just-as-you-are.

Can they do this?

Will they do this?

Or is Jesus more important than you?

Does the church come first?

Is chapter and verse more important than flesh and blood?

You want to be told they love you.

You want to be held and told it is going to be all right.

But, here you sit tonight…

Alone…

Welcome to the Church BBQ

church bbq

Typical Evangelical/Baptist Church. Go for a blessing and get barbecued.

I was an Independent, Fundamentalist, Sin Hating, Devil Chasing, Pulpit Pounding, King James Waving, Baptist preacher. I prided myself on HARD preaching, just like old-time Baptist preachers.

If people were happy with my preaching it meant I wasn’t preaching hard enough.

Cecil Hodges, an old preacher from Georgia said one time:

We hit our people over the head with the sin stick so often that they duck when we begin to preach.

I was one of those kind of preachers.

Preach long. Preach loud.

No subject was spared.

screaming preacher

Preaching the whole counsel of God required preaching about EVERY sin, even the unpopular ones. (like chewing gum during church, writing notes in church,  and using the bathroom during the sermon)

One young preacher I heard about was upset over people getting up to use the bathroom during his sermon. He sternly told his flock:

I don’t want anyone using the bathroom while I am preaching. If you need to use the bathroom, pee in your shoes. You can wring out your socks after the service.

He was fired several weeks later.

In Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches the pastor is god. He’s the law. What he says goes. The Church CAN fire him, but it often very hard to do. After all, in many cases the pastor started the church. He often has a following no matter what he says or does.

When the pastor stands up and preaches, whatever he says is taken to be the gospel. A good IFB church member hates what the pastor hates and loves what the pastor loves. To go against the pastor usually meant you were looking for another church to attend.

Two incidents stand out for me that i think would be illustrative of how I preached.

There were two school teachers that attended the church I pastored. Husband and wife. Good people. They had joined our church after the church they attended had a split. (a very common occurrence in IFB churches) I will call them The B’s.

The B’s taught  high school. Mr. B was a girl’s high school basketball coach. Both of them were members of the Teacher’s Union.

One week, the Teacher’s Union took a policy position that was contrary to what I thought the Bible taught. I concluded that a Christian who was right with God could NOT be a member of the Teacher’s Union.

Sunday came and I entered the pulpit ready to do battle with the sin of being part of the Teacher’s Union. I preached long and hard. I exposed the sin of belonging to the Teacher’s Union. I called on all teachers in the church (all two of them) to leave the Teacher’s Union.

They left all right.

The church.

Early in my ministry I became convinced that the Masonic Lodge was a Satanic, evil organization. The local Masons had come to me and asked to use our church bus to attend a Masonic function in a nearby city. I told them absolutely not, and then proceeded to let them know how Satanic the Masonic Lodge was.

On the following Sunday I entered the pulpit ready to do battle with the sin of being a member of the Masonic Lodge. I made it very clear that a person could not be a Christian and a Mason, and no one who was a member of the Masonic Lodge could be a member of  our church.

There were several members of the Masonic Lodge visiting our church.

They got the message.

We never saw them again.

I am sure some of my more liberal Christian readers are saying WOW about now.  You should be.

I was taught in Bible college that God often builds a church by subtraction. Losing people could be a good thing. After all, fellowship is a bunch of fellows in a ship all rowing in the same direction.

When people left it was never my fault.

After all the Bible says:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. 1 John 2:19

I saw leavers as carnal, soft, weak people who had no stomach for real, hard Bible preaching.

I was wrong.

I do not have enough life left to repent of all the foolishness I did in God’s name. I ran off a lot of good people. People who had the misfortune of thinking differently than me.

I was not an oddity within the Baptist church. In Independent and Southern Baptist churches I would have been considered typical, especially in the 1970’s and 1980’s. As many of the readers of this blog can testify, preachers like I was are quite common. Legalism and cultic control of people (now called spiritual abuse) is far too common, not just in Baptist churches, but in every branch of the Evangelical/fundamentalist church.

I should note that I did not remain the preacher described in this post. Over time, I came to realize how abusive it was. In the early 1990’s I learned to preach expositionally. Learning to preach expositionally helped to get me away from the type of preaching I started my ministry with.  Towards the end of my ministry, I was considered a liberal by many of my Baptist preacher friends.  They thought I had gone soft. (and from their perspective I had)

A survey of atheists and agnostics will certainly show that a large number of them were raised in legalistic, rigid Christian environments.  Fundamentalism extracts a huge price from everyone it touches.

Were you raised in a church that prided itself on hard preaching? How did this kind of preaching affect you mentally and emotionally? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

The Myth of the Inerrant Originals

napkin religion

Most every Evangelical church member believes that the Bible that they carry to church on Sunday is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. If you ask them if the Bible has any errors, mistakes, or contradictions, they will likely says, absolutely not! While they know that their Bible is a translation of ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, they assume there is a perfect word line from God, to the writers of the manuscripts, to the translation they use.

Ask any college/seminary trained Evangelical pastor if the Bible has any errors, mistakes, or contradictions, and they will likely not say anything at first and then will say, well, you need to understand _________________________________ (insert long explanation). They will likely tell you that modern translations are faithful or reliable or that there are no errors, mistakes, or contradictions on any matter that is important to salvation. If you press them hard enough they will tell you that no translation is perfect. (remember, inerrancy demands perfection) At about this point in the discussion, the Evangelical pastor will say, I DO believe the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts are inerrant. (perfect, without error, mistake, or contradiction)

The next obvious question is, so where are the original manuscripts? Well, uh, l-o-n-g pause, the original manuscripts don’t exist, the Evangelical pastor says. That’s right, the original manuscripts don’t exist. No one has ever seen or read the “original” manuscripts of the Bible. In fact, most of the extant manuscripts are dated hundreds and thousands of years after the events they record. According to Wikipedia, the oldest Old Testament manuscript (a fragment) dates back to the 2nd century BCE and the rest of the Old Testament manuscripts are dated from the 3rd century CE to the 11th century CE. Most of these manuscripts are NOT written in Hebrew.

But what about the Dead Sea Scrolls? Uneducated Evangelical church members erroneously think the Dead Sea Scrolls “prove” the Bible is the Word of God. Here is what Wikipedia says:

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of 972 texts discovered between 1946 and 1956 at Khirbet Qumran in the West Bank. They were found in caves about a mile inland from the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, from which they derive their name. The texts are of great historical, religious, and linguistic significance because they include the earliest known surviving manuscripts of works later included in the Hebrew Bible canon, along with extra-biblical manuscripts which preserve evidence of the diversity of religious thought in late Second Temple Judaism.

The texts are written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Nabataean, mostly on parchment but with some written on papyrus and bronze. The manuscripts have been dated to various ranges between 408 BCE and 318 CE…

Due to the poor condition of some of the Scrolls, not all of them have been identified. Those that have been identified can be divided into three general groups: (1) some 40% of them are copies of texts from the Hebrew Bible, (2) approximately another 30% of them are texts from the Second Temple Period and which ultimately were not canonized in the Hebrew Bible, like the Book of Enoch, Jubilees, the Book of Tobit, the Wisdom of Sirach, Psalms 152–155, etc., and (3) the remaining roughly 30% of them are sectarian manuscripts of previously unknown documents that shed light on the rules and beliefs of a particular group or groups within greater Judaism, like the Community Rule, the War Scroll, the Pesher on Habakkuk and The Rule of the Blessing.

The oldest New Testament manuscripts date back to the 2nd century CE. Most of extant manuscripts are dated from 9th century CE forward. Here is what Wikipedia says about the New Testament manuscripts:

Parts of the New Testament have been preserved in more manuscripts than any other ancient work, having over 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages including Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian. The dates of these manuscripts range from 125 CE (the John Rylands manuscript, P52; oldest copy of John fragments) to the introduction of printing in Germany in the 15th century. The vast majority of these manuscripts date after the 10th century. Although there are more manuscripts that preserve the New Testament than there are for any other ancient writing, the exact form of the text preserved in these later, numerous manuscripts may not be identical to the form of the text as it existed in antiquity. Textual scholar Bart Ehrman writes: “It is true, of course, that the New Testament is abundantly attested in the manuscripts produced through the ages, but most of these manuscripts are many centuries removed from the originals, and none of them perfectly accurate. They all contain mistakes – altogether many thousands of mistakes. It is not an easy task to reconstruct the original words of the New Testament….”

As you can see, there are no originals, so any talk of inerrant originals is just a smoke screen that hides the fact the extant manuscripts and EVERY Bible translation is errant. Any Evangelical who says that the Bible is inerrant in the originals is making a statement that can not be proved. Every college/seminary trained Evangelical pastor knows this, but few of them are willing to tell their congregation this. Why? They fear that their congregation will lose “faith” in the Bible and that the Bible will lose its authority if they tell them the truth. They would rather lie, and they ARE lying if they don’t tell their congregation the facts about the origin, translation, and text of the Bible, than have people doubt the Bible or God.

If there are no inerrant manuscripts, then there can be no inspiration. Most Evangelicals believe that God inspired (breathed out) the Bible. If you ask an Evangelical church member exactly WHAT God inspired, they will likely point to their Bible. Ask an Evangelical pastor the same question and he will likely start praying for the rapture to happen immediately. Why? Because the Evangelical doctrine of inspiration is based on the notion that the Bible is inerrant in the original manuscripts. Since there are no original manuscripts and there are thousands of variations in the extant manuscripts and translations, then there is no such thing as an inspired Bible. At best, all that Evangelicals have is a flawed, errant translation of old, flawed, errant manuscripts. Inerrancy and inspiration, as defined by Evangelicals, are myths, lacking any proof whatsoever.

This does not mean that the Bible has no value, but understanding that the Bible is not an inspired, inerrant text  keeps a person from giving the Bible supernatural, God-like power. It is a good book, a useful book, an inspirational book, but it is not a book that is straight from the mouth of God to our ears.

Our culture is awash with men and women who say they speak for the Christian God. What is the one belief that these speakers for God have in common? That the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. Every Sunday, Evangelical Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest church in America, leads his congregation in:

this is my bible

The culture war that continues to rage in the United States is based on the belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. When the Evangelical culture warrior quotes a proof-text from the Bible, they believe they are speaking the very words of God, in English of course.   What they are really speaking are the words of an errant, fallible text that may or may not be the words of God. Since the original manuscripts no longer exist, it is impossible to know if the words of the Bible are God’s words. And even if the original manuscripts did exist, how could anyone prove that they were the words of God? Would there be an endorsement statement on the last page that said, This is God and I approve of these words?   Of course not.

The Evangelical Christian says, the pastor says, the denomination says, the Bible says, but there is no way of knowing what God said. And this is why the foundation of Christianity is not the Bible but faith.

Let me close this post by illustrating how pervasive the belief that the Bible is inerrant/inspired is. The following Gallop Poll charts tell a depressing story about how Americans view the Bible:

views of the bible

Gallup concludes:

The percentage of Americans taking a literal view of the Bible has declined over time, from an average of 38% from 1976-1984 to an average of 31% since. However, highly religious Americans — particularly those of Protestant faiths — still commonly believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

In general, the dominant view of Americans is that the Bible is the word of God, be it inspired or actual, as opposed to a collection of stories recorded by man. That is consistent with the findings that the United States is a predominantly Christian nation and that Americans overwhelmingly believe in God.

Perhaps it is time for Christian churches to stop studying the Bible for a year so they can focus on reading and studying a few of Bart Ehrman’s books. Of course, if pastors did this they might risk being fired because their congregations would know that they’ve been lying to the them about the Bible. (and it IS a lie to omit facts about the origin, nature, and history of the Biblical text)

Until Evangelicals are disabused of their errant beliefs about the Bible, they will continue to arrogantly think that they have THE truth, that their God is the one, true, living God, and that the words of the Bible are God directly speaking to them Until they understand that the Bible is not what they claim it is, there is no hope of a rational discussion.  The Evangelical position can be summed up like this, God said it, end of discussion.

Notes

Some groups take inspiration and inerrancy a step farther and say that the King James Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. The followers of Peter Ruckman even believe the italicized words added by translators to improve  the reading and understanding of the King James translation, are inerrant and inspired. Ruckmanites believe the italicized words are an advanced revelation given to the translators by God.

Some Evangelicals believe that God has preserved his Words down through history. These Evangelicals admit that the original manuscripts do not exist, but they believe God, down through the centuries, has preserved (kept perfect) his Word, and the King James Bible is the preserved Word of God for English-speaking people.

If you want a complete, detailed understanding of what most Evangelicals believe about the the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, read the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Here is a  Who’s Who list of Evangelical scholars who  signed the Chicago Statement.

Old Testament Manuscripts

old testament manuscripts

New Testament Manuscripts

new testament manuscripts

new testament manuscripts 2