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From Evangelicalism to Atheism — Part One

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Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

In the following series, I intend to explore my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism. In future posts, I plan to look carefully at the process that took me from a card-carrying member of the Evangelical church through a loss of faith that ultimately led to atheism. In this post, I want to define the words Evangelicalism and atheism.

Ask an Evangelical to define Evangelical or Evangelicalism and it is unlikely that he or she can do so. In fact, it is doubtful that any two Evangelicals would give you the same definition of their shared heritage.

According to the National Association of Evangelicals, all member churches and groups MUST believe the following:

  • We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
  • We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
  • We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

In answering the question, What is an Evangelicalthe National Association of Evangelicals website states:

Evangelicals take the Bible seriously and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the “good news” of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.

We are a vibrant and diverse group, including believers found in many churches, denominations and nations. Our community brings together Reformed, Holiness, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic and other traditions. Our core theological convictions provide unity in the midst of our diversity. The NAE Statement of Faith offers a standard for these evangelical convictions.

Historian David Bebbington also provides a helpful summary of evangelical distinctives, identifying four primary characteristics of evangelicalism:

  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

These distinctives and theological convictions define us, not political, social, or cultural trends. In fact, many evangelicals rarely use the term “evangelical” to describe themselves, focusing simply on the core convictions of the triune God, the Bible, faith, Jesus, salvation, evangelism, and discipleship.

I know of NO true Evangelical who would dispute any of the above statements. I say TRUE Evangelical because there are many Evangelical church members, pastors, parachurch leaders, and institutions that are Evangelical in name only. They say they are Evangelical, when in fact their beliefs make it clear they are actually liberals or progressives.

It is important to understand that ALL Evangelicals are Fundamentalists. I’ve had countless Evangelicals object to me calling them Fundamentalists. However, if they believe the statements above, then they are Fundamentalists. If it walks, talks, and quacks like a Fundamentalist it is a Fundamentalist. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?)

Some Evangelicals are confused about Fundamentalism, or they want to distance themselves from the crazy, extreme right-wing Fundamentalists that are common in Evangelicalism. However, their lack of understanding about their theological and historical heritage or their dislike of the crazy uncles within Evangelicalism does not mean they are NOT Fundamentalists.

Within Evangelicalism there are two lines of Fundamentalism:

  • Theological Fundamentalism
  • Social Fundamentalism

If a person believes the National Association of Evangelicals’ statements regarding Evangelical belief and what an Evangelical is, then he or she is by definition a theological Fundamentalist.

Many Evangelicals wrongly think that because they are not like the Fundamentalists found in sects such as the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, that they are not Fundamentalists. However, when it comes to theology, there is little difference between a mainstream Evangelical and an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist.

Social Fundamentalism focuses on how a person lives the Evangelical Christian life. Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, along with many Holiness and Pentecostal groups, are noted for all the rules and regulations they have dictating how a professing Evangelical Christian should live. These kinds of sects strictly control everything from how a person dresses to whether or not a church member can watch or own a TV.

Many Evangelicals consider such rules and regulations legalism, and, wanting personal freedom, reject many of these rules and regulations as extra-biblical or works-salvation. These theological Fundamentalists make a concerted effort to distance themselves from social Fundamentalism.

However, can it really be said that an Evangelical can be a theological Fundamentalist, but not a social Fundamentalist? Strictly speaking, the answer is no. Because Evangelicals believe the Bible is “the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God” and have “a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority,” at some point every Evangelical is a social Fundamentalist.

If you doubt this, ask an Evangelical, Do you think a Christian must live according to the precepts, commands, and teachings of the Bible? He or she will resoundingly say Yes. They are, then, by definition, social Fundamentalists. Evangelicals who do not believe the Bible is the standard of living for the Christian are not really Evangelicals. They are liberals or progressives dressed up in Evangelical clothing.

Defining the words atheist or atheism is much simpler. According to Wikipedia, atheism is:

Atheism is in the broadest sense an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.

When I say I am an atheist, this is what I mean:

I am an agnostic and an atheist. On the God question, I am an agnostic. I can’t know if some sort of a deity exists. The extant data tells me there is no God, and I am confident that the deities presently worshiped by humans are human creations and no gods at all. I am confident that the Christian God is a myth, that the claims made for God and Jesus are untrue. It is “possible,” but unlikely — based on probabilities — that a deity of some sort exists. Maybe we will learn one day that what we call “life” is a game simulation played by an advanced alien species, or that somewhere “out there” — right Mulder? — lives our creator, a deistic sort of God. Again, unlikely, but since I don’t possess absolute knowledge — and neither do the religious — I remain agnostic on the God question. Since it is improbable any sort of God exists, I live my day-to-day life as an atheist — as if there is no God.

Now that I have made clear what I am talking about when I use the words Evangelical/Evangelicalism and atheist/atheism, I am now ready to start telling my story.

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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18 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Ian

    I like how you have defined these two words. This allows no wiggle room. It also stops people from being able to claim ignorance of what you mean.

  2. Avatar
    Tee Peneguy

    This is excellent – thank you.

    Your identification of theological vs social Fundamentalism is really helpful. Anyone who delves into Christian theology will discover nuance inside nuance inside nuance, and it becomes impossible to explain to the “layman.”

    Especially if the layman is Evangelical:

    My background was milquetoast Methodist, but for 20 years before I became an atheist, I was Eastern Orthodox Christian.

    Orthodox theology is the oldest in Christianity, essentially unchanged since the 600s AD. Roman Cathocism separated from it in 1054, and influenced Protestantism to such a degree that to the Orthodox, they’re sides of the same coin.

    Of course, most Evangelicals have never heard of it, even though they can thank it for some small details like the Trinity and the dual nature of Jesus Christ.

    But I really enjoyed blowing their minds when they’d ask me if we were liberal or conservative.

    Americans have these binary brains. As Christianity derived from the East, it was not so binary. So the answer would be “both.”

    While a lot of Orthodox theology has been poisoned by Evangelical theology in America, strictly speaking, the Orthodox interpret the Bible literally, spiritually AND symbolically in different passages and different situations, just as the Jews do (which makes sense).

    As a result, the Orthodox are well-represented in fields like biology and physics, because Genesis doesn’t HAVE to be literal. Neither does a burning Hell. Neither do a lot of things.

    Of course, when I’d explain this to Evangelicals, they’d inform me we were spinoffs from some lefty church like UCC – apparently forgetting which direction time tends to move.

    But then, I’d get into the more strict areas of our faith, like the frequent fasting and the coverings for women’s heads (in certain situations).

    AH! Then we were legalistic! We were TOO conservative, trying to get into heaven by doing stuff, instead of accepting Jesus’ gift of dying for our sins!

    Yeah, well, except that we don’t believe in Substitutionary Atonement either. In fact, that came around later, one of about a dozen different theories of atonement.

    Actually the idea that God required his son to be tortured to death so he could forgive us for being human seems psychopathic to a lot of us.

    But what about Original Sin! You have to be forgiven for Original Sin!

    Well, see, no. We don’t. Original sin is about the pain of being human, not a curse for eating an apple. Because that’s pretty stupid. Don’t you think?

    By this point, I would be informed that Orthodox should read the Bible, to which I’d reply, “We wrote it. You’re welcome.”

    The thing that drove me nuts about Evangelicalism (and the Republican Party it supports) was this rigid, black and white thinking – you’re this, or that, and never the twain shall meet. They are superior, you see, because they make it salvation simple and clear.

    Except they don’t. They love the whole faith / works dichotomy: You don’t have to DO anything to be forgiven. But choosing to believe (if that’s even possible) IS a “do.”

    Then, there are those who believe in “once saved, always saved.” Nothing is as simple as this!

    They don’t realize, however, that they shift the rules based on who is playing the game. With those in the fold (friends/family/people they like), the concept is clear – if he did something wrong, hes just another sinner like all of us and thank God for Jesus! But outside the fold, he’s not a “real” Christian.

    Witness Trump / Obama.

    Glad I came over to the dark side!

    T

  3. Avatar
    deano

    Great story, and a great comment by the ex-orthodox……..but you are now both Atheist. The opposite.

    Binary America – how true! Rep V Dem, Creationism Vs Evolution, Left Vs Right, and so on …….Christian Vs Atheist?

    For many years, in Europe, and why many came to the New World, it was Catholic Vs Protestant. Not Prodestant, as they have sneakily changed the pronounciation but PROTESTant……PROTESTing the wrongs of Catholicism. So much in fact, that Catholicism was banned in the colonys, a historical fact that is deliberately omitted, nicely covered up by this wonderful phrase Freedom of Religion. The freedom, was that CATHOLICS could start worshipping again!!!!!!!!!

    Of course, to not alarm the Protestants, Jesuit infiltraitors pretended to be non-catholics and hence started up all the different churches. Bruce lists them above, and admits, didnt like Baptists, and changed to Calvinism…..a better take/interpretation/method or say a Puritan version. He could have easily turned to JWs , if persuaded properly, or any other “Protestant” faith.
    My point is , and stated by Bruce, the criteria is basically the same….the Bible and Faith in Jesus…FOR ALL OF THEM!!
    All Christian faiths, are considered under the “umbrella” of Catholicism.

    Little do people know, the Catholic Church has been in a panic since Darwin & Evolution. They placed the “Scientific Lazzaroni” (Jesuit philosophers) in to the National Academy of Sciences, to control and monitor science and archaeology. The Smithsonian even has the Jesuit Logo(sun symbol), so did Washington’s Chair……
    Those fossills of dinosaurs just kept turning up, and they had to acknowledge a millions of year old earth-Heresy!
    Hence came these new terms, agnostic and atheist, a label for the scientists or intelligent people that could see the Bible for what it was – Wrong!……a day in the life of god is a thousand years for us…..etc…to combat, or now its a euphemism, or it really means this, dont take it literally…..bla,bla,bla

    But is there an alternative? Bruce freely admits, if anything, the OT is about polytheism being replaced by monotheism. Yes, we all know of the Pagan Panthenons of those mythical Greeks and silly Romans (Christ the planets are named after them)…..but no one asks what was the Panthenon that Abraham had left in UR ?

    I am just explaining this all to my mother, and what a good cover-up they have done. She had never even heard of a place called SUMERIA (modern Iraq). The Bible, wrongly calls it Shiner, and UR was in Chaldea. However, the Bible does mention one god by the correct name …..NERGAL.
    The very idea of a “god’ has to have come, evolved from somewhere and the SUMERIAN Panthenon is the place.

    I geuss, I am trying to say, before you jump on the atheist bandwagon, learning about these gods answers a lot of questions, and once you know this Royal Family had a big dispute, and some went to reign in Egypt instead of Sumeria, later Babylonia, it explains things like the Pyramids, megalithic stone temples, and Canaan/PHONECIA where the lower ranks resided….the land of milk & honey(pastures and cedar trees), between the wheat growing deltas of the Nile, and the Tigris/Euphrates.
    And Ladies! YES, there was very important female Godessess….medicine, writing, beer, music , love, etc

    The only leap of “faith” one requires, is they lived thousands of years, and hence appeared immortal, and they came from the heavens(space)> ancient human astronauts. Try not to think alien, Hollywood has already scared you with Reptilian Demonic Invaders…..look at the Sumerian cylinder seals, they are Human!
    As for long life, if they were more advanced than us now, they easily may have found some plant extract that negates cell deteriation…(Tree of Life?)…..as for DNA manipulation and space travel, we have been able to do that for 30yrs, think Dolly the Sheep CLONE and space shuttles.

    This is the TRUTH the Catholic Church are terrified of because it renders their Bible, God & Jesus DEFUNCT, and hence their power via churches,banks,military,education,govts,charitys,media,oil and mining and everything ZIONism(using Judaists) and FREEMASONS(using Deists) too.
    Try to think more along the lines of >>>>>>

    CATHOLIC s(+ Christians) Vs aethism, science, Islam, Hindu,Eastern faiths, communism,socialism,humanism, spiritualism,paganism, UFOs, and archaeology that goes against their historical University taught timelines
    eg Nazca lines runways, megalithic blocks we couldnt move today, global pyramids,rock cut temples etc.

    Abortion means a potential Catholic lost, but the real IRONY, is it is the Catholics that have pushed the LGBTQ and same-sex marriage via uni lectures and their control of the Episcolan Church with its “Welcoming Movement”, in the UK they are using the Anglican via “Inclusive Church”.

    I know I sound like a Lunatic Conspiracy Theorist, but how dare they? For years they have been conspiring agendas and wars and infiltrating churchs and govts. Easily done via their elite Catholic Schools and Jesuit Collegiums(Unis).

    Jesuit > “Give me the boy of 5/6 yrs old, and I will give you the man”

    * This whole website is about brainwashed Christians breaking free of that Babble Book and becoming Atheist…….

    So Christians, in your words “What if I am right?”…..All Non-Christians become the enemy? We wont have faith & believe in the Fake American Jesus they will somehow conjure up? A fake Alien Invasion scenario?
    Will you shoot at real UFOs if they come and tell us we have all been decieved?
    What if some fundamentalist says if there is no Jesus, then no world and pushes the nuke button?

  4. Avatar
    Toni Humber

    Why is your opinion important? Your experience doesn’t negate Christianity nor does it validate atheism. It seems you have a hard time believing what you believe and you are taking us all on a rollercoaster ride.
    Good pick, Bethel’s noteriety is sure to get you readers.
    Take it from a woman with two near death experiences, something brought me back from the dead at 15 and at 43.
    So do I believe there is a God?
    Well, as sure as I am breathing, I am 66 years old.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      “Why is your opinion important?”

      Duh. It’s important because I am Bruce Almighty. I am also, out of seven billion people, the only Bruce Gerencser. So, take that, Toni. I am s-p-e-c-i-a-l, cuz “God don’t make no junk” — or so Evangelicals say anyway.

      “Your experience doesn’t negate Christianity nor does it validate atheism.”

      Never claimed that it did. I assume you didn’t read much of my writing before dumping a load of shit on my doorstep.

      “It seems you have a hard time believing what you believe and you are taking us all on a rollercoaster ride.”

      I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches. I was quite secure in my Christian beliefs for decades.

      As far as taking everyone on a roller coaster ride, no one rides who doesn’t willingly, without coercion, get on the coaster. Did anyone force you to read my blog? Of course not.

      “Good pick, Bethel’s noteriety is sure to get you readers.”

      Over the past five years, I have written over 3,000 posts. Two of them directly deal with Bethel. You do the math — if you can. Thousands of people daily read this blog. Whatever notoriety I have is earned. I make no apology for being a whore. Every writer I know wants more readers. I gain readers by writing original content; you know like the post you are commenting on.

      Take it from a woman with two near death experiences, something brought me back from the dead at 15 and at 43. So do I believe there is a God? Well, as sure as I am breathing, I am 66 years old.

      So, let me see if I get what you are saying. You negate and trash my experiences, saying they prove nothing as far as the veracity of Christianity or atheism, yet you turn right around and use your own experiences as proof for the existence of the Christian God. Seems hypocritical to me.

      Bruce, a 62-year-old breathing biped who has zero near-death experiences

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Looking at the server logs for your visit tells me you are from Redding, California. Are you member of the Bethel cult? I see you read all of three posts before commenting. The Bible says in Proverbs 18:13: Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.(The Message) You might want to do a bit more reading before commenting again.

  5. Avatar
    humber702

    I like the fact that you express your heart, I was trying to get through the definitions of Christianity and atheism to find out why you changed your mind. It seems pretty amazing that you were a pastor and that you must of had some experience or six sessions of experiences to cause you to know not believe what you sow fervently believe before.

  6. Avatar
    humber702

    I like that you were a pastor so many years because I can get the unvarnished truth from you. I really don’t know what your experience is and why you’re so angry. But I’m glad you’re writing and giving people like me A chance to respond to you and all your writing. Thank you for writing thank you for give me a chance to respond. I’m really not a religious person fact I hate religion, I chose God at 17 I never look back. It’s not in church, because people would call me unchurched. I have friends that are atheists and that’s not even a challenge for me. But I guess I have to read more of your story to find out why you went from Pastor to Atheist

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I am not angry. Don’t assume pointedness and directness is anger, it is not. Neither am I hurt, nor do I hate God (which would be silly since I don’t believe in the existence of deities). Trying to psychoanalyze me is not a good idea. You don’t know me well enough to do so. By all means, read my writing and comment, but leave the psychoanalysis to my therapist.

      Bruce

  7. Avatar
    humber702

    I started asking questions before I read everything, I Peru’s the comments but I didn’t read them I was just trying to get down to the nitty-gritty of subject and try to see the audience that was being addressed. I truly like that you’ve expressed your heart and all of this. And so I decided to read further on and I finally am hearing your story.I want to tell you that your candor is something I greatly appreciate. It’s heartfelt expression of one’s beliefs that helps a person draw an audience to them.
    I believe in this world we need to express our heart, are you standing up and speaking out you truly are helping me to experience the heartbeat of God That is in your life. I don’t believe in deities, but I do believe this life has someone who loves us very much and that love and in his creations and you were one of them is such beauty in honesty.
    I see the frank beauty and honesty in his creation. See you in the blackest of days when I was dying it 15 I committed suicide.
    And at 43 I was dying, I was insane and I had no life and me and no hope. Nothing in me I didn’t give up on life but there was no life left in me I tried so hard to get my sanity back I was bipolar anxiety disorder agoraphobic I disassociated because doctors overdosed me on meds steroids because of asthma.
    I lived alone my children living in another state with their children, I had no more wheel to live no wheel left inside of me my life was fading away and I knew it there was nothing I could do about it. I was seeing a psychologist this was three years into my illness I was dying. I was doing therapy out of my bed I wasn’t eating or drinking I called my sister first thing she said you’re dying I said I know I got off the phone and I said God there’s nothing in me if you want me to live but I have to do something gonna have to do it. There was no life to hang on to.
    So I close my eyes and went to sleep, you see I’ve been in that state for over three weeks. not eating nor drinking much water. When I went I closed my eyes, that was it for me, I don’t expect to wake up.
    But I did the next morning, I got up and showered. Had lost 20 pounds I was weak and yet as I put 1 foot in front of the other I started a live again. It wasn’t till four years later That I realized I had some life in me.
    For me this is real, I was in the sick condition for 7 1/2 years. Nobody’s theology or understanding God‘s word no preacher no one could dare tell me about God. I lived in a black place for 7 1/2 years is there a God ?
    There’s something that kept me alive for 4 1/2 years it-sure wasn’t me.
    Life is amazing, and what you were experiencing is wonderful knowledge of it. I walked out of religion and its relationship with something and someone who makes me want to live and not die. So I love the fact that you have the right and privilege to share your testimony about not believing in God. And I agree with you.

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      How you keeping, HUMBER702? I see you occasionally commenting on the blog and I know from your writing that you have been in very dark places in life. You discovered something in the life force that you state was not your own but something that lifted you out of a downward trajectory.
      I want to say that as I hear you speak, I think that what lifted you was a great inner strength beyond consciousness, a life force. You know, maybe what I mean to say I can explain in another way. The body, each of our bodies has an autonomous aspect. We don’t tell our hearts to beat and we don’t instruct our lungs to fill with air but they do, each and every moment of our lives. Perhaps in the same way sort of, your own inner strength, your body decided it was time to kick in and carry you towards health again. Whatever you call it or however you feel comfortable with it, is wonderful and I rejoice with you that you recovered from that terrible episode.
      Be well, blog friend

  8. Avatar
    DougK

    “Ask an Evangelical to define Evangelical or Evangelicalism…” The first thing that sprang to mind was, It’s a branch of Christianity that’s all about Family, right-wing politics and God, in that order.

    “Evangelicals take the Bible seriously.” Well, they take Family seriously…

  9. Avatar
    Steve Ruis

    Re “We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is something all evangelicals have to believe and then you follow on with “I know of NO true Evangelical who would dispute any of the above statements.”

    So, evangelicals believe that Catholics are their brothers and sisters in Christ? My evangelical sister claims that Catholics are not true Christians and this was the opinion taken in “The Fundamentals” back in the early 1900’s.

    So are your evangelicals so different from my evangelicals (my sister lives in Missouri)?

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I use the word Evangelical in a broad sense. Typically, I look at official statements of faith and practice. Only when dealing with an individual Evangelical do I talk about their specific believes.

      While anti-Catholic sentiment is strong in many Evangelical churches, I do see less of it today. Shit, some Evangelicals think Mormons are Christians 😂

  10. Avatar
    Brocken

    Some Evangelicals may think of Mormons as being Christians, but other Evangelicals/Fundamentalists certainly do not. In 2004 a local Baptist pastor was outraged to learn that a Mormon would be in charge of the music program of the summer Vacation Bible School program of the town council of churches. It got to the point where the church he pastored withdrew from the local council of churches and they started their separate Summer Vacation Bible School program. That church still has their separate Vacation Bible school program even after that particular pastor lost his position with that church ten years later.

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