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The Powerless Bible

power of god's word

Evangelicals love the Bible. They rarely read it or practice its teachings, but they do love it. They call themselves people of the book.  Some Baptist churches use the cliché, The Blood, The Book, The Blessed Hope to describe their beliefs. One could argue that it is the Bible and not Jesus that Evangelicals worship; that right belief trumps right conduct; that the Bible is the glue that holds everything together.

Evangelicals believe the Bible is an inerrant, infallible collection of texts supernaturally inspired (and preserved) by their God. Many Evangelicals think the Bible is also a science, archeology, and history textbook. Other Evangelicals think it is a sex manual, the blueprint for life, and the key to successful living. In their minds, the Bible is the end-all. It contains everything a person needs to know about life and godliness.

The Bible is a #1 bestseller that most everyone in America owns, but hasn’t read. Countless Evangelical Bibles gather dust on coffee tables, only to be brushed off come Sunday. Some Evangelicals store their Bibles in the back windows of their automobiles, in trunks, or under front seats. This way, they will know exactly where their Bibles are when they pull into the church parking lot on Sundays.

The Evangelical theme song is this:

The B-i-b-l-e

Yes, that’s the book for me

I stand alone on the Word of God

The B-i-b-l-e

BIBLE! (Shouted real loud so God hears them)

Evangelicals, with their devotion, love, and worship of the Bible, assume that everyone else has that same devotion, love, and worship of the Bible. They also assume that everyone accepts their presuppositions about the Bible; that the Bible is an inerrant, infallible book inspired by God. They cannot fathom anyone viewing the Bible any other way. Sin, unbelief, liberalism, or apostasy are the causes for not believing as they do, or so say Evangelicals.

reaction to god's word

One evangelistic tactic Evangelicals use with non-believers, atheists and agnostics is quoting the Bible. Since they believe the Bible has magical power, they think if they quote the Bible that it will have a powerful effect on the person to whom they are quoting it. A post by Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, illustrates this kind of thinking:

A new atheist billboard now appears along the interstate in Riverside, California. These billboards feature a beautiful sunrise over a mountain scene and say, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone,” and then give a web address. This board is just one version of many similar boards from other atheist organizations in different parts of the country. Rather than comment on these boards, I thought I would just let Scripture do the talking.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18–23)

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)

This is the message that these atheists need to hear and believe!

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16–18)

power of god's word 2

Ham has a Bible message for people such as me:

  • I am a fool
  • I am ungodly
  • I am unrighteous
  • I suppress the truth
  • I am unthankful
  • I have a darkened heart

Ham’s solution for such a debauched life as mine is for me to believe the Bible’s words are true, repent of my sins, and trust Jesus as my Lord and Savior. He thinks if he writes or says the magic words that somehow, some way, they will transform my life.

Here’s what Ham doesn’t understand: I don’t accept his presuppositions about the Bible. It is just a book, no different from any other book sitting on my bookshelves. It has no magical power. In fact, when I hear or read Evangelicals quoting the Bible, my ears often go deaf and eyes glaze over. 

If Evangelicals want to challenge my worldview and beliefs, they are going to have to come up with something better than the Bible. Saying “God says,” “thus saith the Lord,” “in Genesis 1:1 the Bible says,” etc., have no power over me. Such quoting is little more than a parlor trick used to amaze the ignorant, and I am too old for such childish tricks.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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25 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Timothy

    Doesn’t this “enangelical” view create an idol? For some protestants, such a high view creates a “paper pope” – sth that would enrage even the most lukewarm evangelical… just sayin’…
    Thanks for sharing. Peace, Tim

  2. Avatar
    Matt Gunther

    Timothy,
    If I may, I would like to comment from an evangelical perspective. Bruce is right in saying that how a person views the Bible is based on presuppositions. As a Christian, I approach the Bible with the presuppositions that God exists and that the main way he has communicated himself to people is through the Bible. This makes the Bible a pretty important book because I see it as means to knowing God. It doesn’t exist on an even plain with God though. I realize though that the ‘problem’ is that the atheist doesn’t approach the Bible with the same presuppositions and so isn’t going to view the Bible in the same light. Unfortunately, as Bruce says, many Christians either don’t realize or don’t respect that this is the case and it often results in pretty unpleasant and ineffective interactions when the different perspectives meet.
    Hope you don’t mind me trying to represent an alternative view.
    Matt

    • Avatar
      Timothy

      I think in theory your answer is right, but in practice (I come from a lifetime of evangelicalism) idolatry is an appropriate word for the high view of the bible that is present there.

      • Avatar
        Matt Gunther

        Let me amend my comment and instead of trying to represent all evangelicals represent myself and my understanding because I think you are right and there are probably areas where you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting someone whose view of scripture approaches idolatry. I’ll say to John as well that my views are aligned more with Ken Ham and a more fundamental doctrinal perspective. I think though that how one practices their belief system especially in the company of those who hold to different belief systems is extremely important. I am pretty ashamed and disgusted reading some of the things that Bruce writes about how he is treated by other Christians. I’ve only been reading this blog for a couple of weeks but it has given me great cause for reflection. I have felt welcomed by this community to add my two cents from my perspective and I appreciate it and I wish that I could say with confidence that the atheist viewpoint would be welcome in conversation of Christians but I can’t. What I can do though and what I am trying to do is to represent Jesus as well as I can according to my understanding of the Bible.
        Incidentally, I haven’t read Karl Barth so can’t comment on where I fall in relation to his views.
        Matt

    • Avatar
      John Arthur

      Hi Matt,

      (1). How does your view differ from those Progressive Christians who presuppose that God exists and the main vehicle for God’s communication is through the bible, yet are poles apart from most evangelicals?

      (2). What kind of evangelical are you? e.g. would you regard Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics as evangelical? If so, this would put you at odds with Ken Ham and the Fundamentalists and many (possibly most) Conservative Evangelicals.

      Shalom,

      John Arthur

  3. Avatar
    Michael Mock

    Hey, Matt! Glad to see you’re still around. Personally, the Bible makes more sense to me not as God’s communication to man, but the other way around — as a record of man’s attempts to communicate with and understand God. Among other things, if you look at it that way, the passages that would appear contradictory if the Bible were a set of instructions from God become simply part of a dialogue between differing views of human beings trying to understand something ineffable — a natural and inevitable difference based on limited perceptions and incomplete understandings.

    That’s not the atheist view, of course; but since it’s mine, it’s an atheist view.

  4. Avatar
    Michael Mock

    Also, Ken Ham: “This is the message that these atheists need to hear and believe!”

    Um… dude, you do realize that what you just said pretty much directly contradicts the idea that God has already completely revealed Himself to unbelievers, right?

  5. Avatar
    Dale

    I’ve heard the bible referred to as “God’s love letter to mankind”, I think by Max Lucado. Yep, when I think of smashing the children of my enemies against rocks, I feel all warm and fuzzy.

  6. Avatar
    Ian

    This is exactly what I have run up against when people try talk to me. They try to use scriptures to prove their point of view and I tell them that I don’t accept that authority. The bewilderment in their faces is almost heartbreaking. The few people who have tried to re-convert me are genuinely nice people, but they have nothing new to say and are using a document I don’t believe in.

    If a Muslim were trying to convert an evangelical, the Muslim would use the Koran and Hadith to persuade the evangelical. The evangelical would not recognize that authority and the discusson would be futile. This is the same problem the evangelical runs into when trying to convert an atheist, or someone with a different faith.

  7. Avatar
    Matilda

    As I began to deconvert, after a lifetime of bibliophilia, I thought about this ‘god’s word, god’s love letter’ thing. We were deeply involved with bible translation missions, had read countless requests for prayer from missionaries translating the bible in a mud hut somewhere. We asked god to show them how to translate words like ‘sheep’ or ‘mountain’ to folk who would never see them, or biblical concepts like ‘love’ or ‘justice’ to those with a different ethical code. So, pragmatist, concrete thinker that I am, I wondered why god didn’t make the bible clearer, use language and concepts immediately understandable by, and relateable, to all the people he was supposed to have created..rather than this confusing mish-mash that required missionaries to spend a lifetime finding ways to make it comprehensible and culturally appropriate to many millions in ethnic groups. I could have written a far clearer handbook!

  8. Avatar
    BJW

    In spite of my disbelief, my heart wants to feel like the Bible is uplifting and good. But not my brain.There are a handful of verses I like, and I can always meditate on them if I want. I also have a Buddhist friend who gave me a Buddhist mantra. I get as much peace out of saying it. (Not a Buddhist either.)

  9. Avatar
    kittybrat

    Yes, quoting Bible passages at an atheist is like so many nerf bullets. Ineffective and irritating! Many of us used to be evangelical fundamentalists anyhow, so we already KNOW the Bible very well. That’s why we left, essentially. We took off the “god glasses” and read the damn thing without the preacher in our ear or a study guide telling us what this “really” means. We read it all, and it’s clearly not the word of a god.

  10. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I agree that the writings in the Bible are human attempts to explain the world around them and an attempt to explain the supernatural beings they chose to worship. I know they claim to be monotheistic, but there is an entire cast of God and bad supernatural beings that Christians worship with God, Jesus, and to a lesser extent the Holy Spirit as the main stars of the cast. (I always feel like the creepy Holy Spirit is thrown in as an afterthought – Christians need 3 in their godhead to round out their trinity, so they were kind of stuck with him. He isn’t as mean and destructive as God, not as hippie-cool as Jesus, he’s just some spirit going around lighting fires over believers, getting under their skin and into their hearts – definitely a creep).

    After I realized that the boble wasn’t infallible and inerrant, I had a hard time seeing much value in it as anything other than a window into the minds of ancient people. There was too much horror and bigotry intermixed with the good lessons.

  11. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Took me a long long time to fully realize the Bible as biped babble. The babble is sometimes quite wonderful to read when one is able to deny the rest of the stuff. On a historical basis, I still refer to book itself because it is an intrinsic part of our history and culture: To ignore the cultural effects of the Bible over the centuries seems thick-headed to me. Almost as thick-headed as Ken Ham’s belief in it. One of the things that always impressed me, even when offending my then Christian views, was how non-believers knew the Bible very well and were actually interested in talking it over. This was juxtaposed to religious folk who most often wanted to assert the Bible’s verses, memorize them but not question anything. Still, it took me many years to peel away the layers of my belief and to stand alone.

  12. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    These days, I regard the Bible and Christianity in much the same way I see other religions and their holy documents: They are interesting, but not anything by which a rational person would try to live. As other commenters have noted, learning about belief systems gives us a window into cultures and their values. That, of course, is important for living and working with people who come from different places and cultural contexts from our own.

    But I would no more try to live by the Bible (in the “original” or any translation) than I would base my life on Greek or Lakota mythology, or Sharia law.

  13. Avatar
    vinnierants

    Hi Bruce,

    Not fair-you were once an evangelical and you have the fundamentalist side down pat. There is a deep strain of fundamentalism in much of the Evangelical Elite or Celebrities. Also of note, once an evangelist, always an evangelist-you have just changed sides. Kidding aside, I hear what you have to say. Have you ever listened to NT Wright, John Lennox, or Francis Collins (he cracked the human genome) on Youtube? I believe they have a reasoned faith and do not buy into American Evangelical sub-culture.

    Also, it does not help that the Southern Baptist Convention is awash in horrible sexual abuse scandals-anyone remember the Catholic Church?

    I do not believe that the ancient creeds anywhere state that you have to believe in the infallible, inerrant-in-the-original-manuscripts ideology of Scripture. What is the use of believing this if you do not read it or apply it to your life? It is the wrong war to fight. Maybe I am in the minority, but I enjoy reading and collecting bibles. I even read and collect commentaries! I even started learning Greek in order to read the New Testament in its original language. Take Care.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      You might want to read a bit more of my story before coming to any conclusions.

      No, of course not. I have never heard of Francis Collins or NT Wright. That’s sarcasm, by the way. I read several of Wright’s books over the years. I would hardly call the “faith” advanced by the them “reasoned.” Different from that of some Evangelicals? Sure. But, reasoned? Nope. As long as someone believes virgins have babies, dead people come back to life, and men can walk on water/walk through walls/dematerialize/heal blindness with dirt/spit, I am not inclined to call such beliefs “reasoned.”

      Every major sect believes that the Bible is to some degree or the other inspired and infallible. Note I said, “to some degree or the other.” Evangelicalism, and its doctrines, dominates the American religious scene, thus it is important for me to attack and dismantle the notion that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. It’s not. Inspiration is a faith claim, but inerrancy and infallibility are evidence-based, and the evidence is clear: the Protestant Bible is a fallible, errant, contradictory collection of texts written by unknown authors.

  14. Avatar
    vinnierants

    Thanks Bruce for responding. I was replying to the one post, but have been perusing some of your story. You wrote an excellent piece on why you “retired.” I did not realize you sat under the teaching of Jack Hyles (?) I myself, semi-drank of the Bill Gothard cool aid as a teenager. I guess I liked the texture of the books they handed out at the seminars. The foundation of modern science lies on the backs of religious believers to some extent. What I find interesting is most atheists take the high road when it comes to intelligence. Many intellectual giants have been convinced by “certain” evidences while other scientists have been atheists and unconvinced. I mentioned Francis Collins because he has an intellect that dwarfs most people and he has his own band too! He does not have an issue with reason and revelation. I do believe what you say in that from the very beginning the Church and the Jews have believed in “authoritative texts” but certainly disagreed on certain books. Could it be possible that the various texts could have some contradictions, but still carry authority? If the bible was “inspired” but written by fallible men could it theoretically contain aspects of revelation? My understanding is that since atheists believe in no higher authority, then by default there would be no revelation. I was wondering if you would say atheists are 100% certain there is no God, and by what evidence could that be proven? Also, using myself as an example, some days or even years I am 80% sure of the Reality of the Person of Christ, while other times it may be a 50/50 scenario. When I write I am not trying to convert or preach to anyone. I am sympathetic as I have struggled with the same issues that you mention in your article concerning why you left ministry.I was once heading towards the mission field, but I liked women and drink a bit too much. I do, however see inconsistency and hypocrisy in the atheistic worldview. We could all use some intellectual humility.

    “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart….

    Vance

    • Avatar
      GeoffT

      Vance, I’m not sure that there’s anything that one can be 100% certain of, and that includes the existence of a god. Life works via probabilities, and the greater the probability of something the more reliance one places on it. Few atheists would say that they are absolutely certain there is no god (though I’m pretty sure), but atheism at base is nothing more than the non-acceptance of the proposition that a god exists which is, after all, the core of religious belief. Atheists continually ask for evidence for a god, and believers are unable to provide this. Francis Collins doesn’t believe because he has evidence, it’s because he appears to have had something of a ‘spiritual’ experience, something that he cannot demonstrate to anyone else, and the type of thinking that he would reject out of hand in his professional life.

  15. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Vance uses the word intellectual quite a bit perhaps because ihe is impressed with the erudition of atheists and knows that most Christians are mostly ignorant of the Bidle. Nevertheless, he does not see that his entire ‘reasoning’ is not that at all but based in his feelings. He feels but cannot quite do that independently yet. Good that he is reading Gerencser’s writing. It could help him peel the onion…

  16. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Well, not the word, ‘intellectual’ but the idea of intelligence and intellect being some kind of key…. I hear that so much among the believer bloggers here. As if real intelligence leads to belief whe what it does more accurately is shines a light on the falsehood of belief…

  17. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Yes, there are believers among top scientists. They are human and suffer cognitive dissonance like the rest of us. Atheists aren’t free of cognitive dissonance, we just don’t have it around the lack of deities.

    Collins would gently make mincemeat out of anyone who tried to sway his professional thinking with an Argument From Authority. Vinnierants, you sully his name by using him as such a supposed authority.

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