Devout IFB Christian Struggles with Understanding my Story

somerset baptist church 1985

Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985

What follows is a discussion I had today with a devout Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christian.  As you will see, Jack (not his real name) genuinely had a hard time wrapping his mind around my story. Schooled in IFB soteriology, Jack cannot fathom someone being saved, and then lost. In his mind, that’s impossible. Yet, here I am. 🙂

Jack: Hey Bruce, I just read a little about your life and your description of how IFB preachers are treated like Demigods. I was saved in 1981 and God changed my life and Christ is my Saviour. I went to Hyles Anderson College for a little bit. I’m back with the Lord. The Lord seems to have restored me and I’m happier and have more peace and am winning souls consistently. Are you saying that none of this is real to you anymore? What about God, and Heaven and Hell and Judgement? I’m just asking I’m not trying to argue. I’m curious about your response.

Bruce: I’m an atheist, so no, I don’t think there is a God, Heaven, Hell, judgment, etc. You might find these posts helpful:

https://brucegerencser.net/why/

Jack: Are you familiar with Dr. Jack Hyles?

Bruce: Yes, I’ve written extensively about Hyles and his son.

Jack: So what about getting saved, you never believed in that?

Bruce: Yes, I was saved, and now I’m not.

Jack: You really believe you were saved? How can you lose your salvation when the Lord comes into your heart?

Bruce: Don’t let your theology get in the way of reality. Countless people faithfully follow Jesus for years and then deconvert.

Jack: You don’t believe in being born again, and the Lord coming into your heart, and you becoming a new creature?

Bruce: Of course I did, but now I don’t.

Jack: So you don’t think that really happens?

Bruce: I “believe” it happened. All religious experiences are psychological in nature. We can believe all sorts of things that aren’t true or convince ourselves that certain experiences were real.

Jack: I believe the Lord really did come into my heart; there has been an internal change that cannot be denied! IT IS REAL! My desires changed, and my outlook, and I’m in the Light now, I see things differently! By faith!

Bruce: It’s “real” because you think it is. You want, need it to be real, so it is. And that’s fine.

Jack: You don’t think peace and comfort and joy and God’s love is real. I experience it!

Bruce: You “experience” what you believe those things to be. Again, all religious experiences are psychological in nature. Devout believers in other religions have similar “experiences.”

Usually, when an IFB Christian contacts me, I roll up my sleeves and ready myself for a bloody fight. Either that or I just say fuck off and turn on Sports Center. I sensed that Jack really wanted to understand my story, so I decided to briefly engage him in a discussion. I thought, “maybe, just maybe, I can get Jack to look beyond his narrow Fundamentalist theology.” I am not sure I accomplished that, but I hope that I planted a few seeds of doubt that might germinate and cause Jack to rethink his worldview. Not every online discussion has to end in hostility and conflict. I am content to put in a good word for reason, skepticism, and intellectual inquiry and move on.

Trained by the late Jack Hyles and his acolytes at First Baptist Church in Hammond and Hyles-Anderson College, Jack believes that once a person prays the sinner’s prayer and asks Jesus into his heart, he is a Christian; and once saved, always saved. In Jack’s mind, there’s nothing I can say or do to separate myself from God (Romans 8:35-39). Because I prayed the sinner’s prayer at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, at the age of fifteen, I am forever a child of God, and Heaven awaits me after I die. No matter what I have said or done in the intervening forty-seven years, nothing can undo what took place one fall night years ago. I could become a Muslim, commit mass murder, or sexually molest children — it matters not — once saved, always saved.

IFB Christians such as Jack are left with two possibilities after reading my story:

  • I never was a Christian
  • I am a backslidden Christian

The first possibility is absurd. There’s nothing in my past that suggests that I was anything but a devoted, committed, sincere follower of Jesus. The fact that I am now an atheist does not magically erase my past (or the knowledge I have about Christianity and the Bible). The only honest explanation for my past is this: I once was a Christian, and now I am not.

The second possibility is equally absurd. There is nothing in my present life that remotely suggests that I am a Christian. Anyone who reads my blog surely knows that I am not, in any way, a Christian. Not an Evangelical; not an IFB Christian; not a liberal Christian; not a progressive Christian; not a Christian humanist; not a Christian universalist; not a Christian, period. I am a card-carrying atheist, a member in good standing of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.

When someone tells me that they are a Christian, I accept their “testimony” at face value. Jack says he has been an IFB Christian for thirty-eight years. I believe him. It’s his storyline. Who better to tell his story than Jack? I just wish that Christians would do the same for Evangelicals-turned-atheists. “But Bruce,” Christians say, “the Bible says yada yada yada yada.” What the Bible purportedly says is not my problem. I get it. Jack can’t square my story with his peculiar theology. Countless Evangelicals have the same problem when they read my story. Again, that’s not my problem. I know what I know. Ask anyone who knew me when I was a Christian: Was Bruce a “real” follower of Jesus; a True Christian®? To a person, they will say, absolutely! Either I deceived my wife, children, in-laws, extended family, friends, college roommates, professors, ministerial colleagues, and congregants, or I really was a Christian. What’s more likely? Trust me, I am not a very good liar. Me not having been a Christian is akin to the moon landing being a hoax.

Stories such as mine will continue to cause cognitive dissonance for IFB Christians such as Jack. All I can hope for is that by reading my story, they will have doubts and questions that will lead to further investigation and inquiry. Fundamentalist Christians can and do change. I once believed as Jack did, and so did many of the readers of this blog. Yet, we are now unbelievers. Deconversion is a slow, agonizing, painful process. Some people cannot bear the questions and doubts, so they retreat into the safety of the house of faith. Others, however, are willing to suffer through the process, believing that truth and freedom await them on the other side. There’s a gospel song that says, we’ve come this far by faith, we can’t turn back now. For people such as myself, we’ve come this far by reason, we can’t turn back now.

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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11 Comments

  1. Bob Felton

    Private psychological experiences are real, but don’t necessarily convey truths about objective reality. Or, as Nietzsche famously said, “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.”

    Reply
  2. ObstacleChick

    Jack seemed sincere in his questioning, and maybe he will explore further why there are those of us who used to believe but don’t believe anymore. I haven’t met a fundamentalist who is able to comprehend framing the world outside the concept of the existence of a God, most specifically their God. It’s literally incomprehensible that there could be existence without a god.

    Reply
  3. Brunetto Latini

    The world — and even the Bible — made more sense to me as a Christian when I dropped my belief in OSAS. The Christian model for understanding reality is problematic enough. OSAS makes it impossible for a Christian to accept common occurrences in life.

    Reply
  4. Dave

    It’s been years since my deconversion but I can still relate to the cognitive dissonance that Christians must experience when they meet someone like Bruce [or me.] Nevertheless it would be nice to have some respect for our journey and ultimate decision

    Reply
  5. DoctorDJ

    Bruce, as my dear-departed mother would have said, “You have the patience of a saint” for engaging this Baptist. Let’s hope he sees the light.

    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  6. TW

    “Deconversion is a slow, agonizing, painful process.”. If they only knew!

    Reply
  7. edwardtbabinski

    Testimonies Questioning/Leaving Protestantism Book list (over 300) for your friend Jack:

    https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/3JQ7OLD5KDHWQ?ref_=wl_share

    Reply
  8. Tony

    Most people have no idea of the deep sadness of realizing it was all a myth. They are as wrong about the deconversion process as they are about the basis for their faith.

    Reply
  9. Michael Mock

    You know, I think I actually like Jack. Of the various people who’ve contacted you, he seems to be the most… non-accusatory? Genuinely curious? His experience is obviously very different and he does has some trouble fitting your experience into his understanding, but that’s to be expected. I don’t know, maybe he turned cranky after this exchange or something, but if someone is going to ask these sorts of questions, this seems like a much better way to do it.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Yeah, I didn’t have any problem with our interaction. He sounded genuine, trying to figure out how my “story” fits in his theological box. When it comes to IFB Christians, he definitely was a nice guy.

      Reply
  10. Sarah Leitner

    Theology- any -eology- puts things in boxes. Life doesn’t. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to understand that. I’m itching to ask Jack where in the Bible it says once saved always saved. The Bible does say go and make disciples- a process that takes years, not a one time meeting on a street. Jack needs to trust God- or Bruce, perhaps the difference between him and your usual is that He does. Either way many Christians forget God is God and there’s no need to keep banging you with things you already know and that no more individual’s “theology” is perfect

    Reply

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