Author: Bruce Gerencser | Category: Life, Politics, Religion | Tags: Baptist, Bart Ehrman, Books, Bryan Times, Calvinism, Catholic, Charles Spurgeon, Christianity, Christopher Cullis, Education, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, John Gill, Joshua Whipps, Mennonite, Midwestern Baptist College, Puritans, Reformed Baptist
During the eleven years I attended public school, I showed myself to be an average student. Somewhere around seventh grade, I figured out that getting A’s required lots of work and getting C’s required little effort on my part. Since I loved playing sports, going to church, and hanging out with my friends a lot more than I did excelling in school, I chose the C route. My grade cards reflect the effort of a student who could have had all A’s but didn’t want to do the work necessary to earn them. Mr. Brobst, my ninth grade counselor, told me I had the potential to be a straight A student IF I worked hard and applied myself. At the time, I thought, why work hard when I can breeze through school without doing much work. More time for sports, church, and girls, right?
Fortunately, I was a proficient reader and speller. My mother taught me to read before I entered school and this opened up the world to me on my own terms. Instead of the required reading in school, I could go to the library and choose any subject I wanted to read about. My reading naturally gravitated towards sports stories. As I got older, my reading habits moved from fiction to nonfiction. These days, I rarely read fiction.
In the fall of 1976, I left rural NW Ohio to study for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College. From this point forward, my reading was focused on theology, Christian biographies, church history, and inspirational books. As a young pastor, I read books written by Independent Baptist and Southern Baptist writers. As I got older and my theological beliefs matured, so did the type of books I read. After I embraced Calvinism, I began reading the Puritans and the Reformers, along with the English Baptists and the writers that were prominent during the First and Second Great Awakening. Most of my reading focused on authors from the seventeenth through the nineteenth century.
I also began reading twentieth century Calvinistic authors like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Piper, and countless other defenders of Calvinistic orthodoxy. After my theology moved away from Calvinistic orthodoxy, I began reading books by Mennonite and Catholic authors. My reading proclivities reflected the leftward shift of my political views. I entered the ministry as a Fundamentalist Baptist with extreme right-wing political views. I left the ministry as a progressive Christian with liberal/socialistic political views. As a young pastor, I was a diehard pro-life. homosexual hating, war mongering Republican. As I exited the ministry at the age of 46, I was a pro-choice, LGBT sympathetic, pacifistic liberal Democrat.
As a pastor, I was a diligent student of the Bible. I spent countless hours reading and studying as I prepared the sermons I would preach each Sunday. I read complex, dry theological texts because I thought it was important for me to accurately instruct others. My sermons could have been deep, dry acts of theological masturbation; sermons that only a theology addict would appreciate. Instead, I took complex theological subjects and taught them in such a way that the factory worker, waitress, and farmer could understand them. It’s not that I couldn’t wax eloquently on the various lapsarian and eschatological views; I could , but to what end? The average person in the pew worked long hours at work and had little time to read Calvin, Turretin, or Gill. What they needed from me was hope, strength, encouragement, and motivation and I did my best to give it to them.
For seven years, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. The church started as a Reformed Baptist church and morphed into an nondenominational church that used the tagline, the church where the only label that matters is Christian. For a short time, a man with a PhD from Westminster attended the church. He and I would spend hours talking theology. I thoroughly enjoyed our Bible bull sessions. However, when it came to teaching, he and I were vastly different. For a few weeks on Sunday night, this man tried to teach the church about the importance of philosophy. His lessons were a mixture of theology, philosophy, Greek, and Hebrew. I loved his teachings. The rest of the church? Right over their head. He never taught again. Church members were polite but they made sure that I knew that they preferred my teaching.
The brilliance of Bart Ehrman is his ability to take complex theological, textual, and historical subjects and make them accessible to a wide spectrum of people. And this is exactly how I approached preaching. While I loved reading John Gill, I found his sermons stuffy, dry, and mind numbing. I thought, who would want to listen to this stuff? Not many, according to historians. In the nineteenth century, a man by the name of Charles Spurgeon became the pastor of the church once pastored by John Gill. People thronged to hear Spurgeon preach. Why? The style and content of his preaching appealed to the masses. Spurgeon had a massive library and certainly could have preached sermons that only a clergyman would love. Instead, he took complex theological beliefs and made them accessible to working class people. To this day, we remember Spurgeon as the prince of preachers. Gill? Forgotten.
And now let me bring this around to blogging. When I started blogging in 2007, my goal was to be one man telling his story. Early on, blogging was a cheap form of therapy. Over time, people started reading what I wrote. I didn’t understand it then and I still don’t. I still have days when I say to myself, who wants to read this shit? I spent most of my life as a public speaker. Early readers of this blog remember how difficult it was for me to stop writing like I talk. What made for a great sermon made for a lousy blog post. I continue to work on being a better writer. I know I have a lot to learn.
My sermons were passionate, with every message being a call to action. I was just as open and honest in my sermons as I am now in my writing. My sermons, to a large degree, were an extension of who and what I was and I want blogging to be the same. I could, if I was so inclined, write long, complex, wordy theological tomes. I am sure there would be people who would read it. But, that’s not what I want to do. I still want to be one man with a story to tell. I want my writing to appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. I know who my target audience is and I want to write posts that reach this audience. Those who are looking for scholarly, deep, complex 5,000 word posts are going to be sorely disappointed with my writing. I can’t be all things to all men, so I try to focus on doing a few things well. I know my story resonates with many people, so I intend to continue writing about the past and my understanding of Evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity. I want to frame my story in such a way that it is an inspiration and help to others.
Years ago, I wrote frequent Community Voice articles for The Bryan Times. Christopher Cullis, the publisher of the Times, gave me some advice I have tried to remember as a writer. Cullis told me that my articles could be as long as I wanted them to be, but people tend to quit reading after a thousand or so words. Some of you voiced your frustration and boredom as you tried to read Joshua Whipps’ three post, 10,000 word deconstruction of my life. One post was over 5,000 words. Too dense, too many words. Even I was bored and I was the subject of his screed. I am sure his posts appealed to the high brow, John Gill loving Calvinists he runs with. That’s not my crowd.
My crowd continues to be the everyday people who frequent this blog. Our common bond is our stories and experiences. Through them we help, comfort, and support one another. That’s the great thing about the internet. Wherever your interests lie, you can find people to hang with. There was a day when I would have enjoyed sipping Dom Perignon from time to time with my uptown friends. These days, I am content to drink Budweiser with the good people who frequent The Way Forward. For those who want Dom Perignon, there are plenty of places that serve it. Continuing to hang out at The Way Forward pub hoping to get an expensive bottle of wine will only leave a person frustrated and as sober as an AA crowd. Why not go and drink where you will feel at home?