I am not a fan of Twitter discussions. While I typically respond to people who tweet about one of my posts, I usually don’t engage in long, drawn out discussions — especially with Evangelicals. That said, if I sense I can be a help to someone, I try to interact with them.
Several weeks ago, a young Southern Baptist preacher contacted me via direct message. Since then, we have had several thoughtful, polite discussions. I am of the opinion that he genuinely wants to understand my story. And I want to do all I can to help him see the light.
Yesterday, Pastor J sent me the following message:
Bruce, if okay, I would like to continue our conversation. What in your life at age 15 compelled you to be saved, baptized, and begin preaching?
Conviction of the Holy Spirit and calling by God.
Here’s some of the relevant discussion that followed:
J: Respectfully, may I ask — those same things do not compel you now?
Bruce: No. I now understand such things are psychological, environmental, and cultural in nature.
J: So what you deemed as “conviction of the Holy Spirit” and “calling by God” then, you deem as perhaps a religious delusion now?
Bruce: Religious belief is psychological in nature, driven by cultural, societal, and tribal norms. How we were raised, where we lived, and the expectations of family, friends, and community deeply affect and influence what we believe. Why do most Americans (74%) self-describe as Christian? Why do most Indonesians self-identify as Muslim (87%)? The answer is found by studying religion from a sociological perspective. Whether God exists, matters not. What matters is external influences.
J: I don’t disagree to an extent that we are influenced by those around us and where we live affects how we believe. The statistics you provided intrigue me. I’d be interested how they collect that data. I’ve never been polled personally, or known anyone who was polled. I do think it’s somewhat preposterous to suggest countless people, across thousands of years, have merely gone into a psychological delusion in believing in the God of Christianity, when He doesn’t exist (in the minds of some), and you were somehow duped by your own mind for some 25 years before you had an epiphany.
Bruce: Do you believe Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians?
J: I believe anyone who is regenerated by the Spirit of God, repents of their sins, and places their trust in Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on the cross is a Christian. Most denominations differ on secondary matters, but hold to the core beliefs of the gospel — the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
Bruce: Please answer my question. Your dodge is telling. Do you believe practicing Mormons/Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians? I don’t know of one IFB church/pastor who believes such people are Christians. Are they not cultists who believe in and worship a false Jesus?
J: To be honest, I don’t know all the ins/outs of their religious beliefs. I know more about the Baptist, and Methodist denominations and “charismatic” types like the Church of God, Assembly of God, Pentecostal, etc. With that being said, what specific tenets of their faiths are you asking if I agree or disagree with? I am in the SBC, but came up Missionary Baptist, which differs slightly from IFB.
Bruce: My point is tens of millions of people follow the false Jesuses of these sects. The same could be said for one billion Roman Catholics. This fact directly contradicts your claim that it is preposterous to think Christians are believing in and following a mythical being. If Mormons/JWs/Catholics are following false/mythical Jesuses, why can the same not be said about Evangelicals? (Other than you pleading that your Jesus/God is the “right” one.) The number of people believing something proves nothing.
J: Great point. One way I know Mormonism differs is that one particular individual, Joseph Smith, claimed he received a special vision/revelation from God and that’s how the Book of Mormon was developed. I think you would agree that the same cannot be said of the Bible. 1,600 years, 40 authors, and one central message of Jesus Christ. That the Bible is divinely inspired is not questionable in my opinion. I know many will say that some books were left out (apocrypha) and they do have historical value, but I believe the Bible to be the true words of God and without error.
Bruce: You missed or cannot see my point. The only difference between Mormonism and Christianity is time. What about Islam or Catholicism? Both are ancient Abrahamic religions, each with their own religious texts. Why should I consider them “false” yet consider Christianity true?
J: Christianity is distinctly different from the other religions. Salvation is based, not on anything meritorious on our part, but simply in placing faith in Christ to obtain eternal life. Islam believes that Jesus was a prophet, nothing more. The fact is, when comparing Christianity to the other major religions like Islam and Buddhism, neither of the latter can stack up to the former. There is an empty tomb in Jerusalem. No traces of Jesus’ physical remains are there or have been found. Shrines have been set up for the bones of Mohammed and Buddha. Detractors must explain the empty tomb. Christianity hinges on the truth of the gospel — the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Eyewitnesses were so convinced that Jesus rose from the dead that they went about preaching the gospel and lived and died championing this cause. Either Jesus Christ’s claims are all fabricated and everyone was deceived by this masterful con artist, or He is exactly as He says He is — God Incarnate, the only Savior of the world, and will come again to judge the world in righteousness.
Bruce: Except, it’s not, and that’s my point.
J: We must respectfully disagree sir.
As readers can readily see, Pastor J is steeped in Evangelical dogma and talking points. He wrongly thinks that my facts are just opinions; that statements of faith are empirical facts. Once you reach a point in a discussion where one party thinks facts and evidence is “opinion,” it’s impossible to move forward. I appreciate J’s genial tone — a rare character trait among Evangelical preachers — but I do hope that he will think about what I said: that he will ponder and wrestle with the truthfulness of my claims. I’m not trying to convert Pastor J to the one true religion of atheism. My goal is to get him to critically think about the things he believes and the arguments he makes for his peculiar religion.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.
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