It Doesn’t Always Happen to Someone Else

why me

As a Christian, I believed that if I prayed God would take care of me and he would make sure calamity didn’t show up at my doorstep. In those rare instances when it seemed that God wasn’t answering my prayer and I was facing disaster, I thought that God was either testing me or chastising me for disobedience.

I was relatively healthy until the early 1990s. I played basketball in the winter and softball in the summer. In the fall I cut wood, spending hours sawing felled trees into wood stove sized pieces. I hunted in the fall/winter, walking for miles in the Appalachian foothills. I was, by every measure, a healthy, but increasingly overweight man. Today, I am a crippled old man, worn thin by chronic illness and debilitating pain.

I am still amazed by how quickly the circumstances of my life have changed. It seems that life is being sucked out of me ever so slowly. Gone are the days of strenuous physical activity. Now I am happy if I can do things of physical nature a few days out of the month. Our home is littered with projects in various stages of completion. I will get to these projects soon, I tell myself. The pile of unread magazines on the bedside table continues to grow. I stubbornly refuse to cancel the subscriptions because I just know I am going to catch up on magazine reading one of these days. The same could be said for the unread books that line the shelves in the living room.

Recently, I went over to my oldest son’s home to wire their new bedroom and bathroom. My coming over to help quickly turned into me taking extra doses of pain medication and sitting on a chair while I told others what to do. I was able to get the circuits where they needed to go, and I suppose I could make myself feel good over my son still needing my expertise, but I quietly wept inside as I thought about how much I have lost. Any attempt to do something physically strenuous is met with the screaming objections of my body. I push through the pain, knowing that I will pay a heavy price for ignoring by body’s vociferous objections. I shouldn’t do these things anymore, but the only thing worse than not doing them, is feeling that my expertise and help are no longer needed. We all want to feel needed by those we love.

One of the biggest issues that dominates my every-other-week counseling sessions with Dr. Deal is my unwillingness to embrace life as it is. Even my family doctor has talked to me about the fine line between giving up and embracing the reality of how my life is. There will be no more days of playing basketball or softball. There will be no more days of feeling the sweat run down my face and back as I cut wood on a crisp fall day. There will be no more days of trudging through the woods playing a game of hide-and-seek with a cottontail rabbit or a fox squirrel. No matter how much I want it to be different, I will never be able to read like I once did. While the voracious appetite for the printed page is still there, the ability to process it is long gone.  This is my life, and there is not one damn thing I can do about it.

As a Christian I believed that my physical afflictions were the result of God making me more like Jesus. I believed the way to heaven was paved with suffering. I can confidently say that God never answered one prayer of mine when I cried out to him for physical relief or deliverance. I came to see that I was like the Apostle Paul who prayed for deliverance and God told him no. (2 Corinthians 12:6-9)

These days I now realize that the diseases that are  ever-so-slowly taking life from me are the result of a combination of genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices with a topping of “who the hell knows.” When I whine and complain about my lot in life and say “why me?” the universe shouts back, “why not you?”

Bad things don’t always happen to other people. It is not always another family’s child that gets cancer or is killed in a car accident. It is not always someone else who has a brain tumor, goes through a divorce, or loses a job. It is not always someone else who loses everything in a fire, tornado, hurricane, or a flood. The truth is that life is a big crap-shoot: good luck, bad luck, at the right place, at the wrong place, good genetics, bad genetics, growing up on the right side of the tracks, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, marrying the right person, marrying the wrong person. The list is endless.

As I peruse the ways of humankind, it is clear to me that very few people live to be old without facing trial and adversity. It is just how life is. If there really is a God, I might find some pleasure and satisfaction in saying DAMN you God  But since there is no God, I am left to shout at a universe that yawns at my death-defying struggle. If the universe could speak it surely would say, this movie always ends the same way. Dead. Next.

It is futile to see life other than as it is. Wishing for days that are long since gone only results in depression and despair. We must embrace life as it is while we go kicking and screaming into the night. We have two choices in life: fight or roll over and die. Yes, life is unfair and bad things happen to good people. Shit happens and it doesn’t always happen to someone else.

Let me end this post with a poem by Dylan Thomas, an early 20th century poet who died at the age of 39:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

How Christians Turned a Supportive Blog Comment Into a Personal Attack

bruce gerencser street preaching crooksville ohio

Bruce Gerencser, street preaching, Crooksville, Ohio, with his young son Jaime. Circa late 1980s.

A few years ago, several men from Calvary Chapel in Hemet, California went to the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to preach to the captive audience lined up outside the DMV waiting for it to open. Not long after they started preaching, at the behest of a DMV security guard, a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer was dispatched to the DMV to deal with the street preachers. After refusing to stop preaching, the obnoxious preachers were arrested. According to the CHP officer, they were breaking the “preaching to a captive audience” law. After finding out no such law exists, the charge was amended to “impeding an open business.” This charge was dropped and the district attorney then charged the street preachers with trespassing.

Here’s a YouTube video of what took place:

Video Link

The arrested street preachers secured legal representation through the Advocates for Faith and Freedom (operated by Robert Tyler and Jennifer Bursch), a non-profit law firm “dedicated to protecting religious liberty in the courts.” According to a September 2015 update on the law firm’s website, the criminal case against the street preachers was dropped. Advocates for Faith and Freedom have since filed a federal lawsuit seeking “a federal remedy to further clear his (Mark McCay) name and to protect other individuals who seek to peacefully express their faith.” The update states the following:

Advocates for Faith & Freedom has filed a legal brief in support of religious freedom before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Mark Mackey, the Riverside man who was preaching the gospel when he was arrested outside the Hemet DMV for what a CHP officer deemed “interfering with an open business through obstruction or intimidation.”

Last year, though, a Superior Court judge absolved Mackey of the crime saying that the street preacher did not violate the law. During the course of the criminal trial, the judge also suggested that the law used by the CHP officer was unconstitutional.

Mackey and two other men were reading the Bible outside the DMV when Officer Darren Meyer accused them of preaching to a “captive audience.” The officer later amended the allegations, citing them instead for intimidation. At the time the men were approached by the officer, however, the DMV office was closed and the men were standing 50 feet from the entrance as citizens waited outside the door. The men never approached the crowd. After insisting that they were exercising their constitutional rights, the officer arrested Mark Mackey and Brett Coronado.

The federal suit—stayed while the criminal case played out in state court—alleges that there was no probable cause to arrest Mackey and that his First Amendment rights were violated. Even though our client has been criminally cleared, we are seeking a federal remedy to further clear his name and to protect other individuals who seek to peacefully express their faith. The federal district court found that the CHP officer did have probable cause. We will keep you apprised as this Ninth Circuit Appeal advances..

I first heard of this story through Defending Contending, a fundamentalist Christian blog.  A man by the name of Bill Phillips wrote an article about the arrest of the street preachers. Here’s part of what he had to say:

I discussed this with a couple atheists in the comments on this YouTube video. They are biased against anyone preaching about the Bible of course; they also believe these preachers broke the law. They say they support freedom of speech, but they don’t seem to understand that the whole point of the First Amendment is to protect speech you may find offensive or annoying.

I spent a number of years preaching on public street corners and sidewalks. I was accosted numerous times by law enforcement officers demanding that I stop preaching. While I was never thrown in the pokey, I was threatened with arrest numerous times. In every instance it was a local business owner who demanded the police shut me up. Try as they might to keep me from preaching, they failed miserably. One Saturday, knowing they couldn’t arrest me, four Zanesville, Ohio police officers parked their cruisers a short distance from me and got out of the cars. For the entire time I was there they stood staring at me, hoping that I would be intimidated into quitting. I wasn’t, and later I went to the police station and filed a complaint against the officers.

Having experienced the heavy hand of law enforcement officers who are ignorant of the law and the first amendment, I am sympathetic towards anyone who is harassed or arrested for exercising their first amendment right to free speech. When I read the aforementioned story on Defending Contending, I decided to leave a comment in support of the arrested street preachers. Here’s my innocuous, supportive, relatively non-offensive, non-argumentative comment:

Well, I am an atheist who supports the right for idiots to stand on public property and preach. This is America and the freest real estate in America is public property.

I preached on the streets for many years. I was threatened with arrest dozens of times. I have been harassed by police more times than I can count. I stood my ground because the first amendment matters…for Christians and atheists.

This means having to put up with people and speech I find offensive.

Yes, I called the street preachers idiots. They are. And they are also obnoxious, in your face, and offensive. While I support their first amendment right to free speech, it doesn’t necessarily follow that I like or support their message. I don’t.  As a former street preacher, I know all the tricks of the trade. So when I come across street preachers haranguing the public with the “good news”, I tend to mock them. Just exercising my right to free speech, even if Polly wishes I wouldn’t. I tend to see harassing street preachers as fun and games. Polly just stands in the distance, alternately laughing and shaking her head.

In leaving my comment, I thought Bill Phillips and Defending Contending readers would appreciate an atheist standing up for the fundamentalist street preachers, especially since the blog post mentioned several atheist YouTube commenters who thought differently.  I should have known better.

Jim, using the Flee Babylon moniker, replied to my comment with this:

“Well! I am an atheist who supports the right for idiots to stand on public property and preach.”

Bruce – There are many problems with your alleged testimony. Let me ask you a question. Were you truly born again (met Christ not in word but in reality and power) and now turned away from him or did you have a mental belief in Christ, earn a living from it, and now your mental belief is changed?

Kindly, Jim

As you know, I have no patience for this line of interrogation. I have written about it numerous times. I replied to Jim:

Normally Jim I would use a few choice words to tell you want I think of your comment but I will respect the fact this is not my house,

Your use of the word alleged is offensive. It is my life, my story, my testimony and you don’t get to frame the storyline. I was every bit a Christian that you now are. I don’t care if that squares with your theology. It matters not to me whether or not you think or know I was never a Christian. I know. I give you this challenge…. Find one person who knew me as their pastor or a fellow colleague in the ministry who thought, at the time, I was not a Christian. Either I was deluded and an expert at deceiving people or your theological premise fails when applied to real life.

That said, what the **** does this have to do with the point of the post? I won’t discuss this further with you. Come over to my house and we can discuss it there.

And let the pile on begin…

Todd 3588 writes:

What’s an atheist?

Jon Gleason writes:

1 John 2:19 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.

Linda MacDonald writes:

Bruce Gerencser, GOD says you were never his and you nor I get to “frame the storyline” HE DOES. There’s no such thing as being A Christian and then no longer being one.

Jesus after talking about people who did great things in his name says-”Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ -”Mat 7:23

“I NEVER KNEW YOU” means never.

A person does not become born again of the spirit of God and become unborn. God’s word clearly says- “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”-1 John 3:9.

a person leaving and becoming a staunch atheist is evidence that you were one of the first 3 soils but never the 4th soil-good soil.

Satan has mental assent just like many people have but never a full commitment from your heart where GOD reaches down to YOU and saves you. It is God who reaches down to us not us reaching up to him.

No human decision saves anyone-John 1:13 only when we are born of God from above.

Mickie Merrie writes:

What astounds me is he sees it as a badge he wears to brag about it! Any remorse for the sheep he sheared?

Just wrote this the other day for another blog..sure seems to fit this one too!

“A man blinded by God…a man struck deaf by God…due to His perfect judgement of the heart, cannot be made to see or hear by man. We may not even yet see their blindness nor deafness, for it begins at God’s descretion (sic), due to sin in the heart, long before it manifest itself in their actions. This too explains the sudden change in the behavior of those who walked the path uprightly in days gone by.
It’s not how you ran the race, but how you run the race, and finish a winner in Him.”

Having put his hand to the plow and looked back …

Perhaps this will help him and those who relate to him get a cleare (sic) picture, it is good for all of us to read…

Happy Resurrection Day to everybody!

Todd3588 writes:

Here are two thoughts….The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him.

Todd3558 also wrote:

Ah the “interpretation” arguement (sic) AGAIN. “That’s YOUR truth.” “This is MY truth.” Blah, blah, blah. “Your interpretation is wrong…if you were as smart as me, then your interpretation and understanding and (non)belief would be as ‘advanced’ as mine.” Blah, blah, blah.

Anti-Christian, A(nti)theists are all the same. Arrogant. Elitist. Dead in their sin. Blind to truth. Under the wrath of God. Destined to spend eternity in a place created for Satan and his angels. Just like all others who’ve not been given the gift of faith and conversion.

And  finally Jim chimed in, giving me his email address and telling me what a wonderful guy he is:

“I was every bit a Christian that you now are”

That is my point, I could never say “I used to be married but now I dont (sic) believe that my wife ever exsited (sic)”. Such a statement would mean either:

A) I only imagined I was married, however popwerful (sic) that imagination was (like I bought a second car to keep in the drive way, drew a picture of what I thought my wife might look like, etc)

B) I was married and am now so angry or hurt that I deny my estranged wife even existed

Either you were a false convert all along or you are an apostate and walked away from truly knowing Christ. This has nothing to do with theoolgy, (sic), just reality. I am not impressed with what people thought of you as a pastor either – modern church people are the easiest to trick into believing anything. If there is one thing I applaud it is you leaving the professional clergy that scripture knows nothing of. Maybe you will find Christ in the wilderness if you have never truly met Him. If not, I pray you find healing from what ever pain the religious beast system caused to you.

Please do not be angry at me and treat me as someone who deserves a few choice words. I would actually meet up with you if you lived near Detroit? My email is


Interspersed in the comment section are several comments by my friend John Arthur. John, always a polite man, tried to engage Defending Contending commenters on my behalf, but to no avail.  What’s interesting is that there is only one comment directly related to subject of the post. Feed a fundamentalist dog an atheist bone and it will forget the filet mignon in its food bowl.

I suppose that it could be argued that I baited the Christian commenters by calling the street preachers idiots. I can see how someone might think that, but that was not my intent. I simply made a judgment based on their behavior. They acted like idiots and I said so. Why should my opinion be considered offensive? Shouldn’t God’s chosen ones view such criticisms as a badge of honor? Doesn’t Psalm 119:165 say:

Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.

Nothing shall offend them, the Bible says. Yet, one atheist uttering a six letter word causes some of the zealots at Defending Contending to feel offended. Man, they need to come over to the other side of the street and have a taste of the hate and maliciousness dished out by Jesus-loving Christians towards Bruce Gerencser, the preacher turned atheist.

I posted this to illustrate to readers how a comment of SUPPORT on a Christian blog turned into a personal attack. An attack, I might add that says far more about Defending Contending readers, their insecurities, and their religion, than it says about me.

Life: It All Depends on Where You Are Standing

Photo by Ken Kistler, Public Domain

Photo by Ken Kistler, Public Domain

As you know, I spend a lot of time writing about my past: people, places, and events that are very much a part of the fabric of my life. I try to be as truthful and accurate as possible when I recount the past, but I am ever aware of the fact that I am giving an account of things as I remember them. Having read a good bit about the brain and memories, I know my retelling of my past may or may not be accurate. As best I can remember, I try to give an honest accounting of my life.

I have a younger brother and sister, and it is amazing how differently we each view events that happened in our childhood. Who is right? I’ve come to understand, we all are. The story we tell depends on where we were standing at the time.  As a 15 year old boy and the oldest son, my view of our parent’s divorce , is much different from that of my 11-year-old sister. The same can be said about many of our shared seminal experiences.

I live with a lot of guilt. I am prone to depression and I can be quite pessimistic. I have faced long, deep bouts of depression, times where I have felt that death would be too good for me. With my words, theology, and religious practice, I hurt people. Or so I think. I’ve come to have these feelings because I am looking back at my past with the eyes of a 58-year-old man. How could I have been Bruce Gerencser, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher? Who is that man, I ask myself. Thanks be to Zeus he no longer exists, having been slain by reason and maturity, but I still live with the memories of the past.

I am Facebook friends with several of the kids who were members of Somerset Baptist Church, a congregation I pastored from 1983-1994. I was their pastor through the formative years of their life. Not only did they sit under my preaching 3 times a week, they also attended Somerset Baptist Academy, a private Christian school I started in 1989. I often feel I hurt them and let them down. I think back to how narrow I was over things like certain kinds of clothing, music, physical contact between the sexes, movies,  and TV. If these children hated me, I wouldn’t blame them. Thankfully, they don’t.

When I talk to these former students, I hear their perspective on our shared experiences. All of them are in their 30s now and many of them are married and have children. Several of them are gay. Their religious persuasions run from atheism to liberal Christianity. None of them retained the fundamentalist Christianity of their youth. From their vantage point they recall things quite differently from the way I do. Several of them recall my wife teaching them to read. One man mentioned going back to the old church grounds and playing another game of kickball for old times sake. Again, what we remember depends on where we were standing at the time.

I recently re-read several posts I wrote about fundamentalist Baptist evangelist Don Hardman and his wife Laura. (please see Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman, A Book Review and The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman, A Book Review)  As I read these posts I felt twinges of guilt and sadness. When I was a pastor, I had no closer friends than Don and Laura Hardman. I loved them like they were family. When they came to our church it was the highlight of the year. For 15 days we would focus on God and his Word. Every day Don and I would go out evangelizing and street preaching. The church loved the Hardmans and graciously gave of their money and food to help them.

From my vantage point as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, I have nothing but good memories and feelings when I think of Don and Laura Hardman. I never saw them fight and I never had a cross word with them. Even when we parted company for a few years over my Calvinistic beliefs, we remained friends. In the early 2000s, the Hardmans came to Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio, a church I was pastoring at the time, and conducted a week long meeting. We had a great time, but I knew that I could not have them back. While they remained right where I met them in 1987, I had changed. My view of God, the Bible, politics, culture, and other Christian sects was evolving. Yet, we remained friends until 2008, when my deconversion permanently fractured the relationship.

Here I stand in 2015, no longer a Christian, now an atheist. My view of the past is clouded with the tincture of time. While I still have fond memories of evangelist Don Hardman’s protracted revival meetings, I have come to see that the preaching and the theology behind it was psychologically controlling and damaging. This is how I view much of my preaching as well, especially the first 15 years or so. Over time I matured. I began preaching expositionally and I turned from a Bible-quoting, hellfire-and-brimstone-preacher to more of a teacher of the Bible. Oh, I was still quite passionate about God, the Bible, and how we ought to apply it to our lives, but I was much more careful about using the Bible in context and letting the text speak for itself. While the Hardmans remained steadfast and unmovable throughout our friendship, my understanding of them changed. Again, my vantage point changed, resulting in me viewing the Hardmans differently.

Polly, my wife, and I have known each other for almost 40 years. Last July we will celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary. A year ago, I uploaded a bunch of old pictures to Facebook: family pictures; pictures from the Somerset Baptist Church, and pictures from Our Father’s House. As I uploaded these photos I began to weep. The memories of years gone by flooded my mind; memories of the people I pastored and the children I taught at Somerset Baptist Academy; memories of my wonderful wife and our little babies. Good memories. Wonderful memories.

Now, having a different perspective, I view the events recorded in these pictures differently. Is this maturity? I don’t know. Time changes how we view the past.  What were once wonderful memories are now clouded by what I now know about the emotional and mental manipulation I perpetrated on those who called me Pastor. As I have shared before, I am in a unique position. I am both a victim and a victimizer. I followed in the footsteps of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers who emotionally and mentally scarred my life. Victimized by their manipulation, I in turn victimized those who were members of the IFB churches I pastored. It’s an ugly cycle of abuse that I was fortunately able to put an end to during my latter years in the ministry and subsequent post-Jesus life.

So it is with Polly. While she and I walked side by side through the years we spent in the ministry, Polly’s viewpoint is very different from mine. I was the leader of the church and the center of attention. People, for the most part, respected me, loved me, and supported my work as a pastor. For Polly it was different. Like many pastor’s wives she was my gofer. She did what others didn’t or wouldn’t do.  No one in the nursery? Polly filled in. Entertain people every Sunday for 20 years? Polly did it without a complaint, even when her pastor husband forgot to tell her so and so was coming over for dinner. She quietly submitted to  a life as the helpmeet of a poorly paid, Type A, constantly-working, never-home, Baptist preacher.

Polly did without.  Our entire family did without, but Polly more so than me the children and I. She never said a word. She quietly lived in ramshackled houses and drove cars that were better suited for a demolition derby.  She made do with what she had. This much I know, I do WISH there was a heaven, because Polly deserves a huge mansion right next door to Dottie Rambo’s Log Cabin.

Video Link

However, since there is no heaven, all I can do is make sure that Polly has the best life possible for the rest of this life. She deserves it!

It should come as no surprise then that Polly remembers the past much differently from what I recall. One time I said, wouldn’t you like to go back to __________church? Immediately she replied, No I wouldn’t. I was surprised by her quick and negative response. I asked, why not? I then quickly learned, from where Polly was standing, that her view of this church was very different from mine. Who is right? We both are.

I have written a good bit about the abuse that went on, and continues to go on, in Baptist group homes. (please see Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls, Teen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your Sin and The Dogma that Followed Me Home)  The stories that some people share from their time in these facilities break my heart. I want to personally find these abusive miscreants  and beat the shit out them.  They deserve to have punishment heaped upon them. They hurt  people that I love and respect, and the fact that these dear friends of mine still suffer from the abuse received from men like Mack Ford angers me to this day. Every once in a while, someone will come along and leave a glowing testimony from their time in the same facilities. They loved their time there. They were helped and their life is the better for it. How can this be? Surely, someone is lying, right? Not at all. While it is possible that someone is lying or they are living in denial, more often than not, the difference is simply a matter of where the person was standing in relation to the person, place, or event.

Time shapes how we view the past. For me, I am finding that the further a person, place, or event is in the past, the fonder my memories are. I suspect that’s how we as humans cope with life. The tincture of time often brings healing, and it also allows us to gain enough distance from the negative things in our past that they no longer feel harmful or threatening. While time rarely heals all wounds, it does allow us the space and distance necessary to be at peace with those things that cut us to the quick. Perhaps that’s the best we can hope for.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you would like to ask Bruce a question, please contact him via the Contact Form. If you would like to financially support this site, you can make a donation through Patreon or PayPal. Buying books though our Bookstore is also greatly appreciated.

Did You Know Atheists Are Sexual Deviants?

pray for atheist

I want to share with readers several emails I received from a fundamentalist Christian named Matt Nye. Nye is of the opinion that people reject Christianity and become atheists because they are sexual deviants.  I hope you find his emails instructive.  Pay particular attention to the fact that Nye tells me he is 21 years old and that he became a Christian after years as a porn-loving atheist/agnostic. My God, they must start watching porn quite young where he lives!  Besides, since he was an atheist before he became a Christian, doesn’t this mean that he was a sexual deviant too?

One of Nye’s favorite preachers is Tim Conway, pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio, Texas. I wonder if Nye is aware that I once was Conway’s pastor? Imagine, one of his favorite preachers had an unsaved, sexual deviant as his pastor. Gotta love the irony, right?

Based on several posts on his now-defunct blog, Matt Nye is a Calvinist. As a card-carrying member of the John Calvin club, surely Nye knows that God has decreed and predestined me to be an arch-enemy of Christianity. And since I cannot overthrow the plan God chose for my life from before the foundation of the world, it’s God’s fault, not mine, that I’m a sexual deviant.

I hope you will also note in the one email that Nye asks me to watch one of convicted felon Kent Hovind’s seminars. Ken Hovind attended Midwestern Baptist College, the same college I attended in the 1970s. According to Wikipedia, in 2007, Hovind was “convicted of 58 federal counts, including 12 tax offenses, one count of obstructing federal agents, and 45 counts of structuring cash transactions” and sentenced to ten years in prison. In July of this year Hovind was paroled.  Now out of prison, Hovind, also known as Dr. Dino, has returned to his calling, preaching the gospel of young earth creationism.

Here’s email number one:


I noticed you said you left the Christian faith and are now an atheist. I have a question for you though. Before I ask you it, we have to define what a born-again Christian is. A born-again Christian is someone who knows the Lord, evidenced by 1 John 2:4.

So my question to you is this, did you know the Lord?

This presents a serious problem for you, because if…

A)… you say “Yes” then you are admitting there is a God and creator, but you walked away from him.

B)… you say “No”, then you are proving that you never were a Christian.

I don’t mean to sound condescending and I’m sure being a former pastor you know the scriptures more than a 21 year old like myself, but according to 1 John 2:19 “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

You’ve had a false conversion my friend. I ask you to consider these things seriously because eternity is a long time to be wrong.

Email number two:

Hi Bruce.

To be honest, I don’t know you at all personally, as I am a nobody who stumbled across your site.

What I’m asking you to consider is this, were you truly “born-again”?

I was a false convert until the age of about 20 when the Lord opened my heart and saved me.

I’m willing I can describe your situation all those years. The “church” or “worship” part of Christianity is this “grit-your-teeth” sort of feeling. There’s also a sense deep within that you are rebelling against something. Like this energy within you that is fighting against something. I can assure you that “inner-rebellion” is completely gone. The only thing left is my sinful flesh which is dying little by little. Theology or preaching must have been your #1 thing while Jesus was just some accessory.

As I’ve said before, I don’t know you personally, but I assure you that the main reason people reject Christianity and become atheist is because of a sexual deviance. (Jude 1:18 “How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.”) Pornography is a big one. It was with me. I actually was atheistic/agnostic for some years and then intellectually became a Christian again, or “returned from a back-slidden state” thinking I was still saved. But when God saved me for REAL, he really revealed himself. Christianity isn’t a mental acknowledgement of the facts. Saying a sinner’s prayer and trusting in the prayer won’t do it.

Sir, I’ve had too many prayers answered to know that this isn’t just a coincidence. There really is a God. I plead with you, regardless of what you’ve heard about Kent Hovind. Watch one of his seminars and just think to yourself “Ok, there’s a chance I could be wrong, so I’ll be open minded” Eternity is too long to be wrong.

Email number three:

I’m amazed at how atheists can be so emotional over something they don’t believe in. I’m only spending my time to e-mail because I truly care about you, not to be condescending.

When you look at the Venus Fly Trap or any other Carnivorous plants, are you really going to believe that it was the result of a mutation? Here’s something striking, mutations have never been observed to introduce new information in the genome. Mutations can only scramble or duplicate existing information.

Check this page out.

I made no attempt to engage Nye or answer his emails. After he emailed me the first time, I responded and told him I wasn’t interested in corresponding with him. I asked him to not write me again, but, in classic Evangelical fashion, he ignored my request and emailed me several more times. This kind of behavior is quite common among Evangelicals who feel duty bound to share what “God” has laid upon their hearts. They have no respect for atheists, and seem only concerned with hearing themselves talk.

I suppose I should feel sorry for this young man. His head has been filled with foolishness that he thinks is God. He’s a youngster who pridefully thinks he knows the Bible and the mind of God so well that he can, with great certainty, pass judgment on my spiritual condition. Never mind that I have likely forgotten more Bible knowledge than Nye will ever know. All that matters to Nye is putting in a good word for Jesus. He’s told Bruce, the atheist the truth, and now that he has done his duty, he’s free to move on to other atheists who desperately need to hear that they are sexual deviants.

Should a Christian Preacher Turned Atheist Stop Using His Public Speaking Skills?

preacherShould a Christian-preacher-turned atheist-stop using his public speaking skills? Before this question can be answered, perhaps we should ascertain whether the person in question actually has public speaking skills. I’ve heard more than a few preachers over the years who were horrible public speakers. Their sermons were poorly crafted and their speaking skills ranged from incoherent to monotonous. Personally, I don’t know how some people listen to this kind of preaching year after year. Perhaps this is their purgatory.

I always prided myself in preaching well-crafted sermons. I worked hard in the study to produce the best sermon possible. I spent hours and days preparing my sermons. My goal was to preach in such a way that people would not only hear me but be moved to make a decision. The goal of every sermon was to force people to choose. Neutrality was never an option. Choose YOU this day whom YOU will serve, the Bible says. Even now, the most powerful speeches are the ones that demand something of listeners.

When I preached I was animated and passionate. In my early years, I moved around a good bit, but as I got older my movement lessened. Over time, I developed a style, a methodology of preaching. Generally, people found my style pleasing and my voice easy to listen to. I wasn’t a raging, fire-breathing, pulpit pounding, aisle running Pentecostal, but neither was I a droning, lifeless Methodist. (sorry for the stereotypes)

Words are powerful tools. Coupled with the methodology of preaching, words have the ability to move people and motivate them to do great things. However, words also have the power to manipulate and control. Numerous readers of this blog can testify to how the words of their pastor were used to sway, exploit, shame and abuse.

Any preacher worth his salt knows the power his words have over others Preachers know that the right word at the right time can elicit a certain response. They know what words can trigger an emotional response. Yes, preaching is supposed to be about knowledge and instruction, but mere knowledge will never cause a people to rise to the occasion and go to  war with Satan, the world, Democrats, secularism, and atheists. Great orators know how to stir people to do that which they might not normally do. Therein lies their power, and that power, when used wrongly, can hurt people or cause them to do things that are harmful, not only to themselves, but to others.

So what is a person such as myself to do? I preached my first sermon at age 15 and my last sermon at age 48 I spent 34 years telling people, thus saith the Lord. I have given thousands of sermons, having preached through most of the books in the Bible. Preaching is very much a part of who and what I am.

As a preacher-turned-atheist, I find myself in uncharted waters. I still have a passion for public speaking. I know I could be good at teaching most anything. I suspect, knowing my skill-set, that people would find me engaging and easy to listen to. As most any former parishioner of mine will attest, my ability to hold a crowd’s attention was never a problem. Oh, I had plenty of problems and shortcomings, but when in the pulpit I was at my best.

I miss preaching. I miss the personal interaction with people. I miss seeing my words move, challenge, and motivate people. As most ex-preachers will tell you, preaching was not the reason they left the ministry or deconverted. It was the stuff outside the pulpit; endless meetings, personal squabbles, or financial struggles that caused the most stress and angst.

In 2012, Pentecostal-preacher-turned-atheist, Jerry DeWitt, delivered a powerful speech at the American Atheist Convention. His speech, dare I say sermon, was given using the preaching skills that had served him well as a Pentecostal preacher.

Dan Fincke, a friend of mine who blogs at Camels with Hammers, wrote a lengthy post  about Dewitt’s message and his speaking skills and style. Dan thoughtfully raised some issues that former preachers like Dewitt and I need to consider carefully:

So, as Richard Wade watched this former evangelical go so far as to present the narrative of his turn to atheism in the precise idiom of a Pentecostal preacher, he turned to me and said, “You were right!” It made the dynamic so clear.

So—is this a good thing? I think in most ways it is, but I have a reservation. There is nothing wrong with a narrative in which “once I was blind but now I see”. This has always been a part of secularism. The Enlightenment’s emphasis on the “light of reason” was coopted, for example, by Descartes from St. Augustine. We need to reclaim some of the emotionally resonant metaphorical terrain that is part of our linguistic and cultural means of expressing certain kinds of experiences. Just because a certain emotionally powerful form of personal narrative was cultivated in evangelical circles does not mean it cannot have genuine parallels among apostates. We are not just ripping them off or somehow remaining Christians. But sometimes we do remain evangelicals, only now atheistic kinds. The apostate’s narrative often just has some basic formal similarities that make it true to co-opt similar categories to evangelicals when conceiving of and narrating what is happening within oneself.

But what about the Pentecostal delivery? I can imagine some atheists with what I like to call “religious PTSD” rejecting it out of hand for its “triggering” connotations that remind them of the shameless charlatans who pioneered, and up through today still, exploit those techniques to manipulate people into falsehoods and religiously based moral corruption. But the vast majority of the auditorium seemed happy to play along with DeWitt and to really enjoy the experiment. He got a hearty standing ovation from a good portion of the room when he was done and was one of the day’s leaders for applause lines for sure.

But the Pentecostal style might also simply look so well practiced and formulaic and manipulative that it is the equivalent of a shameless Hallmark card or a schmaltzy movie providing cheap emotional triggers using the easiest and least respectable methods in the book for pushing people’s buttons.

I think that if the emotional button pushing is a way to make an end-run around reason, that is corrupt and despicable. But if it is to package and deliver rational truths and moral ideals of rationalism to people in a way that will properly align their emotions to what is actually true and ethical, then ultimately I am not convinced there’s anything dishonest or manipulative about that. I am open to arguments though….

…As I also explained to Richard the morning before seeing DeWitt, I have preachers’ rhetorical skills and yet for the most part I assiduously avoid them in my classrooms, and instead work with my students dialectically and put the stress on the development of their own reasoning skills. Occasionally, I will get on a roll about something I’m passionate about and reach back to make a rhetorically boosted little speech. But even then I hold back on going quite to preacher levels. And if I do, it’s tempered and not exploitative.

There are two reasons for my hesitation. One is purely technical. I once picked up the interesting advice that if you can do something exceptionally well you should do it only selectively, so as not to diminish its impact. In general you should only put as much rhetorical push into an idea as it needs and save your force for when it’s really needed, always calibrating force applied precisely to what is necessary at every level.

But the more morally serious and germane reason I hesitate to go into preacher mode is that it can be downright anti-dialectical and counter-productive to cultivating an atmosphere of rationalism and habits of careful reasoning. Preaching, rather than just teaching or guiding through questions, runs the risk of inherently training and reinforcing the audience’s infamous preexisting susceptibilities to falling for passions and pretty words at the expense of rational thought. Even if you convince them of your point with your bluster and poetry, you do not train them in careful critical thinking in the process, and so you have not guaranteed they have learned to think for themselves, so much as to simply think like you. And you may have just contributed to their ever ongoing habituation throughout the culture in being led by irrationalistic appeals rather than rational ones. This is not just a pitfall of the parts of our movement that dance with religious forms but also the ones which dance with dubious political rhetorical tactics too.

I’m not sure if it is the case that the preacher’s style is always mutually exclusive with training in critical thinking. Clearly a major part of why it’s so dangerous in actual religions is because it is explicitly coupled with injunctions to just have faith and with countless dubious appeals to unjustified authorities. Can a rationalism which explicitly denounces such things be compatible with some fiery preaching? Can one preach successfully against authoritarianism and faith or is there an implicit bogus appeal to faith in the ungrounded authority of the speaker that is structurally there every time a teacher takes recourse to the tactics of the preacher?

Dan waves the red flag of warning and rightly so. Preaching, particularly certain styles of preaching, can be used to manipulate and control. Dan wisely warns about making an end-run around reason. Far too often preaching is nothing more than the reinforcing of this we believe and we shall not be moved from this we believe.

As a preacher turned atheist, I cannot turn off the speaking skills I used to ply my trade for 34 years. They are very much a part of who I am. The best I can do is be mindful of the power of the skills I have and make sure I use them in such a way that people are not only moved but instructed. I need to be aware of the power I have to manipulate people with my words. Self-awareness of this fact will keep me from falling back into using the tricks of the preaching trade to elicit the desired response from those listening to me.

That said, I want to put in a plug for passionate, pointed, challenging public speaking. Quite frankly, the atheist and humanist movement needs a bit of life pumped into it. I have listened to many speeches, lectures, seminars, and debates that people told me were wonderful. Well-known atheists and humanists, aren’t they great? Uh, no. B-o-r-i-n-g. Dry. Monotonous. Some  atheist and humanist speakers would be better off if they stuck to doing  what they do best: writing books and magazine articles. Leave the public speaking to those who do it well. If they are unwilling to do so, then they need to go back to school and take a few speech classes.

The atheist and humanist movement needs people who have the ability to passionately move people to action. I would rather suffer a bit with Jerry Dewitt’s preaching style (and I am not a fan of the Pentecostal style of preaching), than listen to a well-educated, boring man WOW me right into an afternoon nap. We are in a battle against religious zealots and theocrats, and we need speakers who can stir and motivate people to action.

Some atheists and humanists naïvely believe that knowledge is all that matters. Like Joe Friday, they think if they just give people the facts they will see the error of their way. Don’t get me wrong, knowledge is important; it’s essential. Way too many people becomeatheists out of anger or disappointment with the Christian church. Just like the Christian zealot, the atheist should know why he believes what he does. Or as the Bible says, the atheist should be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within them. But, at the same time, we should not divorce our beliefs from our emotions. Some things matter, and if they matter, our emotions should be stirred, motivating us to act accordingly.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians, wrote about being a voice heard above all others. There is so much clamoring for truth these days. Who do people turn to? Those who stir them; those who speak to them. As atheists and humanists we must not disconnect our intellect from our emotions. If we believe we have the answer to what ails our universe, then we must be passionate about it, and that passion ought to come out in our public speaking. Yes, people need to hear what we have to say, but they also need to feel it.

Ice Cream: What Evangelical, Progressive, and Liberal Christianity Have in Common

ice cream flavorsOne of the common complaints Christian critics throw my way is that I paint with too broad a brush. When I disparage or critique Christianity, my critics get upset because I’m lumping all Christians together. I should be more specific when I write about Christianity, they say. I’m not sure what they expect me to do. Should I every time I use the word Christian, modify the word so everyone knows what domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species of Christian I’m talking about? Sorry, but there’s not enough time in the day to do so. Besides, Christianity is not as divided as the warring parties would have you believe. It’s easy to assume, as we watch the internecine warfare between Baptists and Catholics and Calvinists and Arminians and Evangelicals and Progressives, that they have nothing in common. However, the differences are not as big as they appear to be.

For example, progressive Christians tend to think of Evangelicals as fundamentalist crazies and Evangelicals tend to view progressives as weak-kneed, jello-on-a-stick compromisers of the teachings of the Bible. Listen to both parties talk and it is easy to conclude that they are polar opposites of one another. However, once the peripheral issues causing their disagreement are set aside, it’s easy to then see that the Evangelical and progressive Christian have a lot in common. Let me prove my contention.

The Evangelical follows a path that looks something like this:

  • The Bible is the inspired Word of God. It is truth.
  • The Christian God is the one, true God.
  • Jesus is divine.
  • Jesus is the son of God.
  • Jesus came to earth and was born of a virgin.
  • Jesus worked miracles while on earth.
  • Humans are sinners in need of salvation and forgiveness,
  • Jesus died on the cross to atone for humanity’s sin.
  • Jesus resurrected from the dead three days later.
  • Jesus ascended back to heaven and will some day return to earth.
  • Jesus offers salvation and the forgiveness of sin to all who will put their faith in him.
  • Those who accept this offer go to heaven when they die.
  • Those who don’t accept this offer go to hell when they die

The progressive Christian follows a path that looks something like this:

  • The Bible is, to some degree, inspired and contains truth.
  • The Christian God is the one, true God
  • Jesus is divine.
  • Jesus is the son of God.
  • Jesus came to earth and may or may not have been born of a virgin.
  • Jesus worked miracles while on earth.
  • Humans are sinners in need of salvation and forgiveness,
  • Jesus died on the cross to atone for humanity’s sin.
  • Jesus resurrected from the dead three days later.
  • Jesus ascended back to heaven and will some day return to earth.
  • Jesus offers salvation and the forgiveness of sin to all who will put their faith in him.
  • Those who accept this offer go to heaven when they die.
  • Those who don’t accept this offer might go to hell when they die or they might be annihilated.

As you can see, the Evangelical and the progressive Christian have a lot in common. These two parties tend to fuss and fight over the nature of the Bible, whether the virgin birth was necessary, whether Christianity is exclusive, and whether non-Christians go to hell when they die. Apart from these things, they are kissing cousins.

What adds to the confusion is that many Christians think fundamentalism and Evangelicalism are not the same. As I made clear in the post, Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?, all Evangelicals are theological fundamentalists and most of them are also social fundamentalists. Press an Evangelical who objects to being called a fundamentalist about his beliefs and he will eventually show his true colors. Fine, an Evangelical may often say. At least I’m not a legalist like other Evangelicals, so that means I’m not really a fundamentalist. I smile at this point and say, are you sure about that? Are you sure you aren’t, to some degree, a social fundamentalist?  Here’s what I had to say about this issue in Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?:

Social fundamentalism focuses on the conduct, lifestyle, and social engagement of the Christian. An Evangelical looks at the rules, standards, and negativity of an IFB church that proudly claims the fundamentalist moniker and says, SEE I am NOT a Fundamentalist. I don’t believe in legalism (demanding a Christian live a certain way). I believe in grace and I leave it to God to change how a person lives.

This sounds good, doesn’t it? However, when you start to poke around a bit, you will find that almost every Evangelical is a social fundamentalist. The only difference between Evangelicals is to what degree they are. This can be quickly proved by asking people who think they are a non-fundamentalist Evangelicals a few questions. Questions like:

  • Can a practicing homosexual be a Christian?
  • Can a homosexual man be a deacon or pastor in your church?
  • Can a same-sex couple work in the nursery together?
  • Do think it is OK for unmarried heterosexuals to engage in sexual activity?
  • Can a cohabiting heterosexual couple be a member of your church?
  • Do you think it is morally right for a woman to wear a skimpy outfit to church?
  • Is it ever right to have an abortion?
  • Do you think smoking marijuana is OK?
  • Do you think it OK for your pastor to smoke cigars and drink alcohol at the local bar?
  • Is it OK for someone, in the privacy of their home, to become inebriated?

By asking these questions, and a number of other ones, you will quickly find out that non-fundamentalist Evangelicals are social fundamentalists after all. They may jeer and laugh at the crazy, extreme rules and standards of the IFB church, but they too have their own set of non-negotiable social standards. They, like their IFB brethren, are social fundamentalists.

I am sure some Evangelicals will be sure to argue that their social fundamentalism, like their theological fundamentalism, come straight from the Bible. Of course, ALL Evangelicals think their beliefs come straight from the Bible. The IFB pastor has a proof-text for everything he preaches against, as does the I-am-NOT-a fundamentalist-Evangelical-pastor. Both believe the Bible is truth, an inspired, inerrant, supernatural text. The only difference between them is their interpretation of the Bible.

No Evangelicals yet have successfully challenged my contention that they are fundamentalist. What often confuses the matter is progressive and liberal Christians who, out of fear or complacency, still affiliate with the Evangelical church. While I recognize such people exist, they are Evangelical in name only.

What complicates matters further is those who are to the left of progressive Christianity, those who are commonly called liberals. Liberals are quite hard to pin down belief-wise. They often despise Evangelicalism and even take issue with certain aspects of progressive Christianity, yet when pressed about their own beliefs, their interlocutors find out that nailing down liberal beliefs are like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.  There seems to be no theological hill they’re willing to die on, no belief, save that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, they aren’t willing to jettison if called on to do so. Those who have been riding Bruce’s crazy train for a long time might remember a frequent commenter by the name of Grace. She was a liberal Episcopalian. While she said she accepted the ecumenical creeds as statements of her faith, there was little, belief-wise, that she held dear. It was frustrating to interact with Grace because it was almost impossible to find common ground with her. God is love, Grace would say, and I’d reply, explain this so-called God of love to me in light of this same God destroying the entire human race, save eight, with a flood.  From my perspective, the notion of a God of love that wipes everyone off the face of the earth makes no sense. In Grace’s mind, making sense wasn’t important. All that mattered is that God is love.

From an intellectual perspective, I can understand Evangelicalism. Beliefs are clearly defined. But, with the liberal Christian, it seems that all they have as the cornerstone of their belief is the notion that God is love and Jesus is the personification of that love. Certainly I’m being simplistic, but I’d love for some liberal Christians to explain to me exactly what beliefs matter to them. What  beliefs are nonnegotiable? Every liberal I know thinks the Bible is a book of great stories and metaphors, yet they hold on tight to the notion that Jesus is who Christianity says he is and he is their savior. The liberal throws away the Old Testament and paints Paul as a misogynistic control freak. Book after book is relegated to the dung pile of human ignorance. All that is left is a selection of writings from the gospels and maybe the book of Acts. While liberals love to appeal to antiquity for support of their supposedly enlightened view, I’ve yet to stumble across this view in the writings of the early church fathers. Liberals, with one foot firmly planted in the modern world and its repudiation of much of what Evangelicals hold dear, want to hang on to Jesus, so they grab for beliefs they can hold on to and still be considered Christian.

To the liberal Christian I ask:

  • Is belief in the Christian God important?
  • Is everyone a sinner?
  • Does everyone need the forgiveness of sins and salvation?
  • Is Jesus in any way divine?
  • Was Jesus’s death necessary?
  • Did Jesus resurrect from the dead?
  • Where is Jesus now?
  • Is there a heaven? a hell? What determines who goes where after death?
  • Do all roads lead to heaven?

These are questions that many liberals prefer not to answer or think they are unimportant. In their minds, it’s all about Jesus. They are, in many ways, no different from some Evangelicals who say, Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. To the liberal, Jesus, along with the communal aspects of the church, is very important. Everything else is just noise.

Here’s what I think about the matter. Many liberal Christians are actually universalists, agnostics, or atheists. They like the idea of church, of belonging to a congregation. Everyone would agree that religion in general gives people a sense of purpose, meaning, and connection. It is this that really matters to the liberal.

When I take a step back and look at the broad expanse called Christianity, I see diversity. But, when I peel away all the issues that make Christianity diverse, I’m left with one thing: Jesus. Evangelicals, progressive, liberals, and everything in between, all love and worship Jesus. And where does this belief in Jesus originate? In the pages of the Bible. Without the Bible, there would be no Jesus or Christianity. While Evangelicals, progressives, and liberals bitterly snipe at each other over the nature and authority of the Bible, all agree that the Jesus they love and worship is found within its pages. And once this fact is admitted, then all of them are in the position to understand why I, and others like me, are not Christian. Whatever my backstory might be, the foundation of my unbelief is the Bible. Every Christian-turned-atheist I know says the same. We all have stories we can tell about our experiences as Christians, but at the end of the day, our deconversion rests on our belief that the Bible narrative is not true, that Jesus is not who Christians claim he is, and that the Christian God is just one of many Gods humans have created.

It’s taken me 2,000 words to say this. Please forgive me for not distinguishing between all the flavors of Christian ice cream. When I look at the ice cream case, I see all sorts of flavors, but they all have one thing in common; they are ALL ice cream. So it is with Christianity. While I find the various theological squabbles entertaining and fodder for blog posts, when I peel away all the beliefs that make the various sects and believers unique, I’m left with one truth: all Christians put their faith and trust in Jesus and worships him. I’m not inclined to spend much time making sure every post I write about Christianity says exactly which flavor I’m talking about. If it’s evident that I’m not talking about your flavor of Christianity, by all means ignore what I’ve said. In time, I will get around to your flavor, and then I’m sure you’ll complain that I don’t understand or that I am misrepresenting your version of the faith once delivered to the saints.


Roman Catholicism also have fundamentalist, progressive, and liberal wings.

Yes, I am aware that there are as many shades of Christianity as there wall color chips in the paint department at the local Lowe’s. That said, every Christian falls somewhere along the line between Evangelical and liberal.

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Evangelical Christianity is the Only Rational Worldview, says Dan Phillips

closed minded christianity

Dan Phillips, a frequent contributor to the fundamentalist Christian blog Pyromaniacs and pastor of Copperfield Bible Church in Houston, Texas, thinks Evangelical Christianity is the only rational worldview. Phillips had this to say about this supposed rationality:

A Mormon friend, in passing, remarked that religion is not rational, so he didn’t expect it to make sense. It’s a matter of faith, not reason.

You might think, “Right: Mormon. I don’t expect rationality, either.” Hang on.

He went on to give an example—but the example was not how a human could become a god, or how there could be only one god and many at the same time, or how God can keep changing His mind about things, or how two equally-inspired books could contradict each other. His example was the virgin birth. I said there was nothing irrational about the virgin birth, and the conversation simply moved on elsewhere…

…But was he right? Is religion irrational? “Religion,” maybe. Christianity, no…

….Perhaps definitions are part of the problem. There is a world of difference between rational and rationalism. The latter is a philosophy, a worldview that asserts that man can know truth by the use of his unaided reason. The former merely means that something is in accord with reason, it doesn’t violate fundamental canons of thinking such as the law of non-contradiction.

Is Christianity rational?…

…But are some of our faith-tenets irrational? Two that I hear cited specifically are the Trinity, and the Virgin Birth.

The second example is just plain silly. I have never understood how this can be an issue to anyone who believes Genesis 1:1, and thus grants the premise of a God who created everything out of nothing. It’s like saying, “Everything out of nothing? Sure! But make an existing egg alive without a sperm? No way!” Canons of rational thought are not even stretched, let alone violated, by the fact of the Creator and Ruler thus operating within His creation.

How about the Trinity? Surely the doctrine that God is three and one is not rational?…

…The Trinity is the Biblical teaching that there is but one God (Deuteronomy 6:4), and that this one God is Father (2 Peter 1:17), Son (John 1:1), and Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). The simplest way I have been able to understand and express the truth is that God is one in one way, and three in another. Or, we could say that God is one “what” (i.e. one as to His essence), and three “who’s” (i.e. three as to His persons).

Now, do we understand the Trinity exhaustively? Of course not! How exactly does God manage being what He is? We don’t really need to know, since we’ll never need to be God. Nor should the finite expect to understand the infinite exhaustively. It is as C. S. Lewis says:

If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about. (Mere Christianity [Macmillan: 1960], p. 145.)

But we know enough to love Him, to worship Him, and to discern truth from error. And we know enough to know that there is nothing irrational about the doctrine.

Is Christianity rational? I daresay it’s the only worldview, ultimately, that is.

christian worldviewIt’s not hard to spot Phillips’ presupposition: the Bible is true and all discussions about what is rational must begin with the Bible. However, for those of us who do not accept the Bible as truth, the authority of the Bible has no relevance. The evidence that demands a verdict is that which can be observed, tested, and verified.

Are there things in the Bible that are not reasonable to believe? Are there things that a rational person would have a hard time accepting as factual? Phillips gives two examples of beliefs that some people, even Christians, consider irrational (lacking a rational explanation). His two examples are cardinal Christian doctrines: the virgin birth and the Trinity.

What evidence do we have, outside of the Christian Bible, that the virgin birth is a rational, reasonable belief? Is there any medical proof for a virgin becoming pregnant without having her egg fertilized by the sperm of a man? Is there any record anywhere, outside of the Bible, that a virgin has ever given birth to a child? Of course not. Belief in the virgin birth is not a rational belief. Believing that a virgin can have a child requires Evangelicals to have faith. They must be willing to blindly accept that the Evangelical God is capable of impregnating a young virgin so she can give birth to a God/Man.

Many Christians wisely reject the notion that Jesus was born of a virgin. It’s Evangelicals who stubbornly dig their heels in on this issue. For them, the text of the Bible is deified, and when this happens reason goes out the window. This is the kind of thinking that gives us young earth creationism and a host of other rational mind defying beliefs. Believing the Evangelical God miraculously impregnated an unwed Jewish teenager runs contrary to everything the Evangelical and the atheist know to be true. To suggest, as Phillips does, that the virgin birth is rational because the Bible says it is, is not an reasoned argument; it’s blind, irrational faith.

Phillips also uses the Trinity as an example of a Christian doctrine that is reasonable. Once again, Phillips’ Evangelical interpretation of the Bible becomes the arbiter of what is rational. For the atheist, the argument for the reasonableness of Trinitarianism is not important. Three in one, one in three, one in one, it matters not. The only question that matters for the skeptic and the atheist is whether there is sufficient evidence for the existence of the Evangelical God, or any other God for that matter.

The atheist, based on the available evidence, concludes that the Christian God does not exist. The Christian has the same evidence as the atheist, but rejects it, and by faith believes that the Evangelical God of the Bible really exists. Contrary to what Phillips says, Christianity is all about faith, and that faith, many times, is quite irrational. (1)

I know Phillips doesn’t  mean for his post to be a complete and full defense of the rationality of Christianity, but there are many other illustrations of rational irrationality he could have used. How about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? All of the evidence, apart from the Bible, points to a reality we all know to be true; people die and they don’t come back from the dead. There’s nothing in the natural, observable world that suggests that the dead come back to life. Again, believing otherwise requires faith in what the Bible says about the resurrection of Jesus.

Here’s another “rational”  Evangelical Christian belief: Jesus walking through walls. According to the Bible, after his resurrection from the dead, Jesus walked through walls. This is a claim that any of us can test in about 10 seconds. Stand up, go to the nearest wall, and try to walk through it.  How did it work out for you? Were you able to walk through the wall, without doing damage to yourself or the wall? Silly, I know, but this is another example of a Bible truth that requires faith to believe. No one, Jesus included, can walk through a solid wall.

I found the C.S. Lewis quote about the difficulty of believing the Christian narrative to be quite interesting. I heard this line of thinking many times when I was a pastor. The essence of the argument is this:

If Christianity is a man-made religion, do you think its makers would have included the irrational, bat-shit crazy stuff found in the Bible? The crazy stuff is proof that what the Bible says is true.

Here’s the problem with this argument. Phillips mocks the Mormons several times in his post, but if I judge Mormonism by the standard set by C.S. Lewis, I would have to conclude that Mormonism is factual. Who has more crazy beliefs than Mormonism, right? OK, maybe Scientology is worse and Mormonism comes in a close second

Phillips enters this discussion with his mind made up. Christianity is the truth and Mormonism is just another man-made, heretical religion. After all, everyone knows Christianity is a not religion.  At least Phillips didn’t trot out the “Christianity is a relationship” line.

What do you think of Phillips’ closing line:

Is Christianity rational? I daresay it’s the only worldview, ultimately, that is.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

(1) I am not suggesting that a person can’t look at the natural world and reasonably conclude that there is a deity or a higher power. However, it is a huge jump from the deistic view that a God of some sort created the world to that creator being the Evangelical God of the Bible. There is a gigantic chasm between these two and the bridge that spans that chasm is called faith.  I am amazed at how readily Christians chuck faith in hopes of trying to “prove” that Christianity is reasonable. They diminish their religion when they do so.

Jim Elliff says, Avoid Bart Ehrman, He Could Cause You To Lose Your Faith!

bart ehrman

Jim Elliff, the director of Christian Communicators Worldwide, thinks Christians should avoid Bart Ehrman because he could cause them to doubt or lose their faith.  For those of you who are not familiar with Evangelical turned agnostic New Testament theologian Bart Ehrman, his credentials are as follows:

Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He began his teaching career at Rutgers University, and joined the faculty in the Department of Religious Studies at UNC in 1988, where he has served as both the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the Department.

Professor Ehrman completed his M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees at Princeton Seminary, where his 1985 doctoral dissertation was awarded magna cum laude. An expert on the New Testament and the history of Early Christianity, has written or edited thirty books, numerous scholarly articles, and dozens of book reviews. In addition to works of scholarship, Professor Ehrman has written several textbooks for undergraduate students and trade books for general audiences. Five of his books have been on the New York Times Bestseller list: Misquoting Jesus; God’s Problem; Jesus Interrupted; Forged; and How Jesus Became God. His books have been translated into twenty-seven languages.

His books include:

Ehrman is a royal pain in the ass for Evangelical pastors and theologians. His books are well written and quite devastating to the many of the tenets of Evangelicalism. His books are accessible, making it easy for the average Joe the plumber reader to understand what is written. In other words, Ehrman has successfully bridged the ivory tower/pew divide. I heartily recommend his books.

Ehrman  participated in a debate with Craig Evans at a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Midwestern is a Southern Baptist institution.  By all accounts Ehrman decidedly won the debate. (here’s Midwestern’s report of the debate)

Jim Elliff, a man I knew from my days as a Reformed Baptist, thinks debating Bart Ehrman is a bad idea:

First, because Ehrman is a false teacher and we are forbidden to give such men a forum to express their views.

The Bible doesn’t treat false teachers kindly. It is one thing to talk with a skeptic who is asking questions to know the truth, or who is confronting you in public, but it is quite another thing to invite and pay a false teacher to come to your turf in order to present his views in an open forum.

Inviting a false teacher to present his errant views in order to persuade students and the public is like allowing a gunman to shoot randomly out into an audience of military personnel because it is assumed the troops have body armor. For one thing, body armor cannot shield against all shots, and for another, there are many people attending who have no armor at all. At last week’s debate, for instance, there were many people from the public who were not even believers. Some young people also attended, and some seminary students who are not yet prepared for the effects of doubt-producing verbiage….

Second, because the minority position almost always gains some followers regardless who wins the debate.

When you have a sizable crowd it almost goes without saying that someone will be convinced of the false views of the false teacher. You may sense an overwhelming approval of the debate by many who love the give and take, but fail to take note of the quiet student or outsider to the seminary now stricken with doubt about the Scriptures. Ehrman’s presentation might be all that is needed to move him over the line….

Third, because debates are not always won on the basis of truth alone.

We don’t need to comment much here, because you understand how this works. Ehrman clearly won the debate by the account of several attending. He simply won it by his cleverness and expertise at debating. His opponent, the believer, was well able to defeat him with the truth, but missed his opportunities in several places, giving credence to the idea that he was a better writer and lecturer than debater. In fact, this is the second time Ehrman won a debate at the same seminary, but against a different Christian opponent. What does that do for our witness? Though I have no question in my mind that our position on the reliability of Scripture is the right one and can withstand Ehrman’s arguments soundly, our side was out-debated.

Fourth, because many of the listeners will not have the opportunity to sort out confusing aspects of the debate with professors or knowledgeable persons….

Fifth, because doubt is insidious.

One seminary student who has now graduated told me that he occasionally had huge doubts about Scripture and God. They were not there often, perhaps only for a few difficult days or weeks once every year or two, but they were so strong that he found himself almost smothered by them when they came. This was a leading student, chosen as one of the best preachers of the seminary. Doubt is insidious. Like a drop of ink added to gallons of water, it can ruin everything. It is the fly in the perfume. We are naïve to think that, being free from doubts ourselves, others do not deal with them regularly.

When a man like Ehrman speaks, doubt-producing statements may be forever lodged in people’s minds, causing trouble when least expected. It only takes a tiny amount of doubt for some people to be destroyed. A weak person might believe his doubts rather than believe his beliefs…..

Where, oh where do I begin?

There is no need for me to go through a lengthy refutation of Elliff’s  post. His position is quite simple:

  • Bart Ehrman is a false teacher
  • Christians are not to listen to false teachers
  • False teachers like Ehrman cause Christians to doubt
  • Doubt causes people to lose their faith
  • Doubt must be avoided at all costs, so information that is contrary to the approved narrative must be avoided

Consider this. The doubting students that Elliff is so concerned about have gone to Evangelical (Southern Baptist) churches their entire lives and have at least four years of college education, most likely at an Evangelical college. After a lifetime of training, four years of college, and after uncounted sermons and Sunday school lessons, the students still aren’t prepared to withstand hearing ONE debate featuring a non-Christian?

I have one word for this, pathetic.

Elliff lives in a world where the only truth is his truth (though he calls his truth God’s truth). Even though most everyone admits Ehrman handily won the debate, according to Elliff he won by deceptive means. Since there is only one version of the truth, Ehrman had to win by other means.

The money quote is this:

Ehrman clearly won the debate by the account of several attending. He simply won it by his cleverness and expertise at debating. His opponent, the believer, was well able to defeat him with the truth, but missed his opportunities in several places, giving credence to the idea that he was a better writer and lecturer than debater.

Elliff seems to have forgotten his Bible. If I remember right, the Holy Spirit indwells every follower of Jesus. When a believer is called on to give a defense of their faith, the Holy Spirit gives the believer the words to say. Evidently, the Holy Spirit didn’t come through for Evans.

Elliff lives in an alternate universe where saying the Bible says _________ is the satisfactory answer to every question. It’s the equivalent of a child wanting to know why and their mother telling them, because I said so. Remember the EF Hutton commercials? When EF Hutton speaks everyone is silent. That’s the world Evangelicals like Jim Elliff live in. Any facts that don’t fit the approved orthodox narrative are rejected out of hand. Even when the facts are overwhelming, great lengths are taken to explain away the contrary evidence. Young earth creationists like Ken Ham are a perfect example of this.

I left the Christian faith because I no longer believed the Christian narrative to be true. It was my desire to know the truth that ultimately resulted in my deconversion. If Christian seminary students, most of whom are studying for the ministry, cannot be confronted with contrary evidence for fear of losing their faith, I would suggest it is not a faith worth having.

Doubt should not be discouraged. Evangelicals should be encouraged to question, investigate, and test the beliefs which their pastors (and college professors) and churches say are true. A faith that will withstand the onslaught of the modern/postmodern world must be able to answer the questions the modern/postmodern world presents. Perhaps, that is the real issue. The Christian faith has run out of answers. All that is left is warmed over dogma from years gone by, irrelevant and no longer satisfying for the needs of humanity.

It really is all about the Bible; on this point both the skeptic and the Evangelical can agree.

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