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No Books Needed: I Just Read the Bible

john ruskin bible

One Sunday twenty years ago, several young families walked into the door of the church just before the start of the evening service. We rarely had visitors on Sunday evening, so their attendance was rather a surprise. After the service was over, I engaged one of the visitors, a young husband, in a bit of get-to-know-you banter. The man had little interest in chit-chat, immediately asking me several pointed theological questions. I did my best to answer the man’s questions, but I could tell that he didn’t approve of my answers.

Always the polite pastor, I told the disapproving man that I had a book that might prove helpful in answering his questions. The man curtly replied, I am not interested in reading a book. I just read the Bible and that is all I need. And with that, he said good night and his family walked out the door never to return.

Sadly, this kind of thinking is quite common in Evangelical churches, even among pastors. I know of one pastor who is proud of the fact that his study library consists of only a handful of books. In his mind, without any proper theological training, he is quite capable of properly interpreting the Bible. This pastor believes God, through the inner workings of the third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, teaches him everything he needs to know. In other words, he is an Evangelical version of the Pope. God speaks to him directly as he reads and studies the Bible. However, when church members profess the same, and those members’ interpretations of the Bible differ with his, why they are deemed to be wrong. If it is the Holy Spirit who teaches and guides Evangelicals, wouldn’t he be teaching each Christian the same thing? Yet, Evangelical churches are awash in competing theological beliefs, with each adherent believing that his interpretations are the right ones.

Years ago, I attended a preacher’s meeting (a monthly gathering of pastors for food, fellowship, and preaching) in Lancaster, Ohio. One of the speakers, a rather obese man, even by fat-man Bruce Gerencser standards, fashioned himself to be what he called a “Biblical” preacher. His sermon had no form or structure. He would read a verse, stop, and then say what God was “leading” him to say. As with the two previous illustrations, this preacher thought his personal interpretations of the Bible were the equivalent of God’s.

Many Evangelical pastors love to hide behind flowery theological sayings which are meant to convey the thought that their sermons are straight from God’s Office of Sermon Distribution. The truth is, their sermons are just their opinions of what the Bible says. That they refuse to read any other books but the Bible (and often read only one translation of the Bible) actually increases the likelihood that their interpretation is errant and fallible. These Bible-only people have, in effect, turned themselves into the final authorities on what God has said.

If I were still a Christian and looking for a church to attend, the first thing I would do is take a look at the pastor’s library. You can tell a lot about a man by the books he reads. If looking at a pastor’s library reveals a paucity of commentaries and language aids, you can be sure that man is not fit to teach others a religious text that is, by all accounts, a complex, difficult text to interpret and understand. Only in Evangelicalism is ignorance praised as a virtue. This thinking will, in the end, prove to be the death of Evangelicalism.


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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    This definitely reinforces the view of Evangelicals being prone to anti-intellectualism; why, having more than one book might inspire believers to deviate from the cult that such pastors build for themselves to be demigods.

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    another ami

    My granddaughter’s uncle is one of these uneducated “preachers” in rural Tennesee. With barely a high school education, he started a “non-denominational” church in a run-down strip-mall. I attended one Sunday when we down there in 2009 and had to literally bite my tongue several times during the service. The man struggled to read the Bible verses he was preaching on, regularly mispronounced words to the point I had to think to figure out what he had said, and spent an hour listening to him decrying perfectly normal behavior and “the world”, in an attempt to bring about “the conviction of sin” in the congregants. (He spent 15 minutes recommending parents not let their teenagers onto the internet without Mom or Dad staring over their shoulders.) All the while he kept bragging that he had no theological experience and did not read any religious books except the KJV Bible. It all struck me as a rather pathetic attempt to turn the clock back 50-100 years.
    I have no desire for or need of an authoritarian doctrine and I don’t believe God (as I understand Him/Her/It) does either. My faith is between me and the Divine, not between me and the Divine as long as Possum Holler Church Inc. approves.

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    When speaking of the ‘abusive’ in fundagelical faith, this is one area where my blood really boils:. The faithful, inspired by the big boss, withhold learning and pleasure in imagination from their congregants. They shame children who want to read secular books, go to a cinema to see a Disney picture and they spout ignorance about the ‘world’ and how evil it all is… this rubbish ruins young minds with superstition and backward ways. The withholding of love and freedom is built-in to Christianity. Love your neighbor means condemn him for his sin, bully him to be your Christian denomination, smile smugly at him knowing that your God is going to torture him eternally. Pretty sick stuff and much of it completely invisible to the churched. When I left belief in God, alot of the sick harm was still completely denied in me. I knew nothing of it because it was normal and full of “Amen!” It took a long time to peel that onion.

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    Without a tv and with otherwise reasonably strict rules, reading was my window to the world at a young age, and it still very much is. I read many books, devoured them rather, christian and non-christian. It was one way to learn about how other people lived, in different cultures, times, and even with different beliefs.

    I read this story about a 7th century pre-Islamic nomadic tribe once as a child and it was so interesting precisely because it was very different from anything else I’d ever read. The mother in the story went outside the tent to birth a baby, all on her own, careful not to wake anyone and her daughter watches because she does wake up and notices her mother isn’t there. I still remember it now, because it was such a different and very interesting story.

    It is all about controlling the ‘flock.’ The last thing they want is people making up their own minds. I think I was lucky that my family was not as anti-books or education as some. My grandmother had been a teacher and my brother and I both went to college as did one of our uncles. Yet several women of my mother’s generation were warned about college and eventually bullied out of going. They got married instead.

    I guess I could say books were the one thing that were not suspect in our family 🙂 which is a bit ironic since so many subversive ideas can be found in them.

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    The fact that ‘Spirit led’ believers can’t agree with each other is a warning sign if the folk were humble and perceptive enough to see it.

    But I suppose if one thinks that the creator of the Universe has chosen you to give to the real insight then humility is unlikely to be one’s strength.

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    Yulya Sevelova

    Everyone thinks they are ” Spirit led”. I found that out the hard way, and for the most part, they disagree with each other often when it came to doctrine,sect, Creed. It took years to figure this out. Now I don’t trust any of them. Too bad I’m too old to benefit from such hard won knowledge. gives an interesting take on Early American thought. I see the source of the insanity clearly,lol.

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    And yet, how many denominations? Thirty to forty thousand? Too bad “God” didn’t leave a clear and unmistakable guide to his/her/its will, hmm?

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    Bob Felton

    I won’t take theology seriously until it does the hard work of establishing the truth of its premises. Till then, I’ll grant it no more intellectual dignity than astrology, tarot, palm-reading.

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Bruce Gerencser