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I suppose, not to assume that I understood Steve’s question better than he does (especially since he’s commented above) — the follow-up question is this: was there a line for you between rejecting biblical inerrancy/Christ’s divinity and embracing atheism? Obviously there are many folks (myself included) who believe in a concept of “god” without the trappings of evangelical Christianity . . . so I’d say, even if this wasn’t the question Steve was really asking, do you feel that you went through multiple stages of detachment from religion (rejecting evangelical Christianity, then Christianity as a whole upon further examination, then rejection of the concept of a God of any kind) or was it all a package deal — if the evangelical view isn’t true then all of it must be BS? I know that you and Polly did attend non-evangelical churches of various types after your departure from your former congregation: how did that inform your eventual acceptance of your own atheism?
Perhaps what Emersonian wants to know is whether I think I threw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater; that in abandoning Evangelicalism (the bathwater), I threw out God (the baby) altogether. I certainly understand how someone might read my story, miss a few of the connecting dots, and come to this conclusion. However, this is not what happened, as I shall explain below.
I have been asked on several occasions if I thought I would still be a Christian had I begun life in liberal Christianity instead of Evangelicalism? This is a good question, but one, of course, that I cannot answer. Playing the “what might have been” game is an interesting endeavor, but it is impossible to know how things might have turned out had I walked through door number one instead of door number three. I am sixty-two years old. The sum of my life is a long string of choices. Each choice sent me down a certain path. A different decision along the way would have sent me in a different direction. Maybe I would have married a different woman, gone to a different college, chosen a different profession, or lived in a different state. The fact remains, however, that I made certain choices that resulted in certain outcomes. So it is with me being an Evangelical Christian for 50 years of my life. I was born to Evangelical parents, grew up in an Evangelical home, attended Evangelical churches, went to an Evangelical college, and married an Evangelical woman. We spent the next twenty-five years ministering in Evangelical congregations, gave birth to six Evangelical children, and had numerous Evangelical cats and dogs.
My life was so deeply immersed in the Way, Truth, and Life of Evangelical Christianity that even today, eleven years removed from the day I walked out the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time, I wrestle with the vestigial remains of Evangelicalism. Now, this does not mean that I, deep down in my heart of hearts, still yearn to be a Christian. I don’t. What it does mean, however, is that five decades of Evangelical training and indoctrination left a deep scar upon my life; a scar that is fading with time, but will likely never totally fade away.
It is certainly true that coming to understand that the Bible was not an inspired, inerrant, infallible text shook my religious foundation. “If the Bible is NOT what Evangelicals claim it is,” I asked myself, “are any of its teachings true?” Answering this question forced me to re-study the central claims of Christianity; especially beliefs that were supernatural in nature. From creation to apocalypse, I took a careful look at the doctrines I once held dear. I painfully concluded that the central claims of Christianity could not be rationally and intellectually sustained.
I have always been the type of person who follows the evidence wherever it leads. This is why my theological foundation shifted several times when I was a Christian. I entered the ministry as an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. Over time, I abandoned cheap grace, one-two-three, repeat-after-me soteriology and embraced Calvinism. A decade or so later I abandoned Calvinism. When I left the ministry in 2005, I was preaching what some of my critics called a social, works-based gospel. I was a far different preacher and man in 2005 from the one I was when I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in 1976. Time changes all of us, and I am no exception.
Take my eschatological beliefs. For many years, I held to a dispensational, pretribulational, premillennial eschatology. Once I embraced Calvinism, I adopted a posttribulational, amillennial eschatology. Countless other beliefs changed over the years. The more I read, the more my beliefs evolved. This approach to gaining knowledge continued as I contemplated leaving Christianity. The goal has always been the same: to know the truth.
“Why didn’t I become a liberal Christian?” you might ask. Surely, I could have abandoned Evangelicalism, yet held on to the Christian God. Maybe, but I doubt it. I value truth more than many liberal/progressive Christians do. Liberals seem willing to jettison virtually every Christian belief save believing in the existence of Jesus/God. Their beliefs can fit on the front side of a 3×5 card. I find myself asking, “why bother?” Such people are usually universalists, so there’s no concern about unbelief landing anyone in Hell. I suppose there is value in the social aspects of belonging to a church, but I enjoy sleeping in on Sundays far more than I do listening to terrible, lifeless sermons and attempting to sing songs best suited for the Vienna Boys Choir.
After I left the ministry and before I deconverted, our family visited over 100 churches in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Arizona, and California. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) We attended churches across the sectarian Christian spectrum. The only churches we avoided were IFB congregations. Our goal was to find a church to call home that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. After three years of searching, we concluded that all the churches we visited were pretty much the same. Sure, we experienced different liturgies, different worship/preaching styles, etc., but at a foundational level, these churches differed very little from each other. I know, I know, every church thinks theirs is “special.” Every church thinks their buffet is better than those of other churches. Every church thinks their flavor of ice cream (please see My Heart Goes Out to You or Please Try my Flavor of Ice Cream) is better than any other flavor. That’s what happens when you spend your life in inbred relationships; when you spend your life in religious bubbles that give the appearance of rightness. Ultimately, it was exposure to the “world” that led me down the path of deconversion. Once freed from the authoritarian hold of the inerrant Word of God, I was free to read and study whatever I wanted. I was no longer walled in by Evangelical beliefs. I was free to follow the path wherever it went. This led to where I am today.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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