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I’m Not Preaching Now, I’m Telling the Truth

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Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979. Midwestern, started in 1954 by Alabama preacher Tom Malone, was a small Evangelical college known for producing fiery Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers. Malone pastored nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. College students were required to attend Emmanuel. In the 1970s, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the country. Today, its buildings are shuttered and a FOR SALE sign sits in the dust-covered main entrance door. (I recently heard that the buildings might have finally sold. The college campus was purchased and converted into community buildings and apartments.)

During my time at Midwestern, I heard Tom Malone preach several hundred times. Considered by many to be a great pulpiteer, Malone was a fervent preacher who punctuated his sermons with illustrations meant to drive home the point he was making. During one sermon, Malone said something I never forgot. In the middle of sharing an illustration, Malone said:

I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.

Everyone laughed and then he finished his illustration.

Over the march of my life from infancy to the present, I’ve heard thousands of sermons and preached thousands more. I’ve heard some men who had no public speaking skills and others who were wordsmiths capable of enchanting hearers with their preaching and illustrations. Sadly, there are a lot more of the former than the latter. Even though I am an atheist, I still enjoy hearing a well-crafted sermon delivered by a man who knows how to turn a word into an epic Broadway production.

Preaching only the Bible is boring, uninspiring oratory. An effective sermon requires illustrations. Jesus himself was a master storyteller. His sermons made ample use of illustrations meant to drive home a spiritual point. A preacher who is good at his craft knows that illustrations are key to helping listeners understand and embrace his sermon. And therein lies the danger.

When I started preaching, I used illustrations from illustration books. As I aged and experienced more of life, I began to use more and more illustrations about my experiences and personal life. If a preacher isn’t careful, it is easy to massage his illustrations to “fit” a particular sermon or audience. Sometimes, the illustration becomes a lie.

As I mentioned above, I’ve heard a lot of sermons. I’ve heard thousands of illustrations and personal stories, all meant to get my attention or drive home a point. Over time, I came to understand that many preachers played loose with the truth, often shaping their stories to make a particular point or to cast themselves in a positive light. In other words, they lied, even if they didn’t understand they were doing so. Often, a speaker can tell the same Holy Spirit-inspired lie over and over until they reach a point where the lie becomes reality and they think it’s the truth.

Take Jack Hyles — by all accounts a masterful speaker and storyteller. He was also a narcissistic liar. I heard Hyles preach numerous times at Sword of the Lord/Bible conferences. His sermons were usually long on illustrations and short on Scripture and exegesis. For Hyles, it was all about the sermon, the story, and the invitation. Everything he said was meant to bring hearers to a point of making a decision for or against Jesus.

Here’s a story Hyles told about winning an auto mechanic to Christ:

When I got to his house, he was working under the car. He was lying face up on a creeper and could not see me as I arrived. “Hyles Mechanic Service!” I shouted. “Who called you?” he asked.” I was not called,” I replied, “I was sent.” “Well, roll yourself under and see if you can see what is the trouble. “I got another creeper, laid down on it, and rolled myself under the car with him. “Looks like to me you need the valves ground,” I shouted. “How can you tell from under here?” “I am not talking about your car. I am talking about you.” “Who are you?” he asked. “I am Pastor Hyles of First Baptist Church.” Then he became inquisitive, and I explained to him that he needed Christ as Savior to make him a new creature and that he was in worse shape than the car. With both of us lying on our backs looking up at the bottom side of the car, I told him how to be saved. When time came to pray the sinner’s prayer, he closed by saying, “Lord, I am just coming for a general overhauling.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. The next Sunday he came forward in our service professing his faith in Christ.

Great story, and one I have no doubt is an admixture of truth and lie. Every time I read a story like this I am reminded of that Sunday morning almost forty-five years ago when I heard Tom Malone say, “I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.”  Now, that will preach, as the Baptists like to say.

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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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13 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Steve

    ‘Ol Jack was the man, that’s for sure! Occasionally, I’ll go to YouTube, find one of his sermons & listen, like old times; he was one of the greatest orators ever, that’s for sure

  2. Avatar
    Brian

    Now, all you pew-stuck Sunday dressers just stay where you are because I’m about to stop telling the truth and start preachin’! Yahoo! Let ‘er rip! (I enjoyed your interview this morning on Minnesota radio, Bruce. Came in loud and clear in B.C.! I also got a kick out of the commercials they run and their efforts to appeal to non-believers, the all-knowing insurance agent and the cafe where you can get discounts by bringing in your daily bulletin from church! Lots of laughs. Gracias.

  3. Avatar
    Monty

    I loath it when Christians want to come to me “in truth”. Had that happen recently despite the fact that, when I worked for him in ministry, I went to a coworker in regards to how they were talking to me on the phone (I was treated like dirt). They brought the issue to him, in which he repeatedly told me it was just my “perspective”. But now he doesn’t like what I’ve written (about other people- it was how I was treated by other Christians) but wants to come to me in “truth”??? You know what I eventually told him, right? That it was just his perspective lol!!

  4. Avatar
    Bro. Elliot John Kane

    I’m sorry but as an old-fashioned exegetical, fundamentalist baptist who fights quick-prayerism and the man-centered religion you once held sir, I find this abhorrent, to think you attended a fundamentalist college and even pastored several churches all the while being a viperous snake and an infidel who abhorred the Word of the Lord… Unbelievable, even by the low standards of many Hyleseristic churches which don’t preach repentance, unbelievable – A humanist!

    The Lord forgive you sir.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Why Brother Elliot,

      I believed just like you for many years. Shall we both whip out our theology dicks and see whose is bigger?

      I loved Jesus, the Word of God, preached expositionally, and believed repentance was an essential element of salvation.

      So, do you want to have a conversation, or were you just spreading a load of Australian kangaroo shit for the hell of it?

      You got one opportunity here, Elliot. I suggest you use it wisely.

  5. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    I call Poe on BRO. ELLIOT JOHN KANE! He cannot be real, can he??
    And you threw him a floatation device, Bruce? Offer him the lectern?

  6. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    When I hear these stories now, I wonder, did people just “get saved” that easily back in the day, or are these stories embellishments? I remember how I used to wonder as a kid at all the miracles in the Bible – so many stories – yet none of those things happened in the present or were mentioned in history books? Of course, as a kid, I wasn’t allowed to conclude that they were just stories – because of fear of hell. Just about the only answer I got from church about why we don’t have fantastical miracles now like the parting of seas and shutting lions’ mouths and resurrections was because God needed to do them then so they would be recorded, but we have those records and he doesn’t need to do them anymore and Jesus. Or something like that. Stop asking questions like that.

  7. Avatar
    mary

    wow. had not thought about the inflated stories and outright lies for years. oh and don’t forget the recycled stories they all spouted and embellished even more. glad i no longer waste time on this mess. hate driving by and seeing poor kids drug into this mess every week. mom used to brag about us being so well behaved in church due to early beatings and threats of more if we dared cry then being drug back into the service. and she wonders why we are not close. go figure. this is why i am glad religion is dying these days.

  8. Avatar
    BJW

    I remember at an at home prayer meeting, I gave a testimony. However, I guess I was TOO HONEST, as I also included the part where I backslid and was a work in progress. Nobody wants to hear that someone is struggling, period.

    I have to admit that it never once occurred to me that pastors and preachers might stretch the truth. But those great stories turn out to be much duller once they are really examined.

  9. Avatar
    davey crockett

    Yes never believe their stories and such. All created with intentional design for an end goal. And this bull has no boundaries. One traveling evan I recall did pulpit speak about the love and adoration and money spent on pets. People sincere in deed and heart but misled by their carnal hearts and back slidden minds – people who did not have soul winning hearts – people who were taking care and loving an animal while sinners went to hell. That was soooo low and so playing with congregants personal emotions. If god loves that, that’s just god awful Period.
    Then there Tom Malone’s favorite story about going to some church to preach and his car only had enough gas to get there and none to get home. Swore he told no one but prayed to god and laid his need before the almighty. And holy cow, when he hopped in the car to leave his gas tank was full. It wasn’t said literally but certainly implied that if I were like him, humble and obedient and all in like Tom Malone, oh how my needs would be met.
    I also remember a fund raising/dinner held at Midwestern that we had to attend. Funny how the threat of the demerit board and/or college expulsion makes for a good turn out. Threats were always a part of attending that college. After the meal, the money milking began. And it was shocking, their behavior and intimidation approach. Don’t remember much of what these guys said, but do remember Tom Malone and his crew leading the charge, and that your faith and devotion and being all in would be reflected in your giving that night. I was only 18 then and had been told over and over how glorious and wonderful and spiritual and god oriented this place was and its people were. And here were these supposedly spiritual men and godly school indulging in both intimidating and faith bragging to try and get our goats and our money. I still shake my head at the bullshit and mindlessness of the preacher that sent me there and that college that he misrepresented so boldly.

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Bruce Gerencser