Several days ago, I received two emails from a Baptist pastor named Stacey. What follows is my response to his emails. My response is indented and italicized. I appreciate Stacey’s polite, respectful tone — a rare experience for me with Evangelical preachers
I was raised in a Christian home and have been preaching for 18 years. I pastor a small congregation in Arkansas. I came across your blog about a year ago and it has intrigued me greatly.
Thank you for taking the time to actually read my writing. Far too often, Evangelicals read a post or two and then go into attack mode. Their goal is not to learn. I am viewed as their enemy, one unworthy of kindness, decency, and respect. I have received thousands of comments and emails from Evangelicals over the years. Few have been respectful and polite. Their goal seems to be to discredit me or deconstruct my life instead of genuinely trying to understand my story.
I can empathize with all of the things you went through as a Christian and especially as a pastor of a church. Sometimes church people can be downright ignorant, mean spirited and even cruel. I will not make excuses for these people or try to explain it away. People are people even when they become religious.
By far, the worst people have been Evangelical pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and professors. And then there’s Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB) They are in a class all their own –overwhelmingly nasty, arrogant, and violent.
I only want to ask how you explain the historical accounts of Jesus. I know you are well educated with not only the bible but other historical accounts of his life. I may have missed this explanation in some of your other blogs and I have read most of them. I am sure you know of Lee Strobel and his Book, The Case for Christ, if Jesus did exist in history, then what do you say about him? Was he just a good man? Was his death and supposed resurrection a hoax? Just curious what you believe or better yet think on it.
We have very little evidence for the existence of Jesus. I am not saying we have no evidence. The Bible certainly contains history, but the challenge is decoupling myth and exaggeration from history. I take a minimalist approach to Jesus. He lived and died in first-century Palestine. We have no evidence for the miraculous claims found in the Bible, including Jesus’s resurrection from the dead.
Non-Biblical evidence for the existence of Jesus is scant, especially when you carefully examine the sources. I am of the opinion that if Jesus was all that Christians say he was, there would be a lot more evidence for their claims than what we have. We have no first-hand accounts, including the gospels.
I am aware of all the “evidence” for Jesus, I just don’t find it persuasive; not enough for me to bow down and worship him or devote my life to serving him. Christianity requires “faith,” a faith I do not have.
If you have not read any of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books, I encourage you to do so. Ehrman is a New Testament scholar at the University of North Carolina. I found his books helpful when trying to understand the history and nature of the Bible. I would be glad to recommend several book titles if you are interested in checking them out.
I read Strobel’s book years ago. As an Evangelical pastor, I found it persuasive. Now that I have all the evidence at my disposal, I find his book unpersuasive and “simple.”
I sent an email asking what your thoughts were on the historical accounts of Jesus were. I have read what you think of the western Jesus, you hate him I know.
The post Stacey is referencing is titled, Why I Hate Jesus — a polemical article about the Jesus of Evangelical Christianity. It is the most widely read post on this site six years running.
I want to know what you think of the Jesus that history records. Was this historical Jesus just a really good hoax that fooled believers then and is still fooling believers today?
Jesus was a flesh and blood person who lived and died. The religion that came to life after his execution for crimes against the state was primarily shaped by the Apostle Paul. I would argue that Jesus’s Christianity is very different from Paul’s; that there are at least five plans of salvation taught in the Bible: blood sacrifice, obedience to the law found in the Old Testament, and Paul’s Jesus’, James’ and Peter’s plans of salvation found in the New Testament.
Christian’s are taught to harmonize the books/texts of the Bible; that there is some sort of grand story and theme running through the pages of the Bible. I encourage people to read the Bible vertically, taking each book and author(s) as stand alone texts. Doing this will present a very different picture from the one painted historically by Christians. Take Genesis 1-3. Evangelicals typically read Trinitarian theology into the text. Reading Genesis 1-3 as a stand-alone text reveals a very different picture — one with multiple deities.
I know you are thinking, how could it all be a myth? Consider Mormonism for a moment, a religion you likely believe is false or a cult. Look at the foundation myths of Mormonism and its rapid growth and ask yourself how this is any different from the foundation and expansion of Christianity.
I can fully understand hating the Jesus that you have described but will you take a moment to tell me what you think of the historical Jesus that many history scholars say did exist. The Jesus that I have researched historically is the one that keeps me from doing as you have done and renouncing my Faith as well. I have found enough evidence in historical writings that make me believe in him. Unless those writings have been compromised and tainted as well. What are your thoughts?
At the end of the day, every person must look at the extant evidence and decide accordingly. For me personally, I do not find the evidence persuasive. And even if I did, I doubt I would worship the God of the Bible. I find the God of the Bible to be reprehensible, a violent, genocidal deity undeserving of my fealty.
I hope I have adequately answered your questions.
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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Wow! A Baptist minister is respectfully asking you questions and really trying to understand your views. That’s amazing. Good for him. 🙂
I hope this minister can continue to be nice and pleasant to you. Too many times their conversations devolve into threats and judgment.
Richard, re ‘…. People are people even when they become religious…’ as an excuse for appalling behaviour by x-tians who claim the moral high ground. Many of us here agree that the worst humans we know are x-tians. Why would I want to identify with their bigotry and all round nastiness? Don’t tell me they aren’t authentic x-tians. If god called them to follow him, couldn’t he have come up with a way to make them nicer, compassionate, honest people, (lying seems obligatory to them to preserve their image of goodness.) And don’t tell me either that the early followers of jesus had it right and practised some pure form of the faith we need to aspire to. Acts references Paul condemning other preachers whilst claiming he alone had purity of doctrine. IOW, there were factions right from the start, each claiming to have The Truth. I’m an ex-baptist/anglican. I hope you too can begin to open your mind to investigate the whole kaboodle of fiction that the bible is – out here in the sunshine of non-belief is a wonderful place to be after the darkness and chains of fundy religion!
well, that saved me writing this. well done.
Until relatively recently I had given little thought as to the evidence for the existence of Jesus. Rationally I’ve always dismissed the miracle claims, including the resurrection, but I assumed that there was good evidence that the person of Jesus actually existed. I actually began to question my position after reading Richard Carrier, who wrote a lengthy book refuting the evidence for the existence of Jesus, treating the person as entirely mythical. I couldn’t manage to read his extremely long book on the subject, but I followed his blog, read his interactions with other scholars, and read other mythicists. I became convinced that Jesus was mythical. Then I read Bart Ehrman. His position on the evidence is actually little different from Carrier’s but he sees sufficient differences that render him a believer in the existence of a historical Jesus, and that is now my position (as in most areas of life in which I am not expert, I follow the consensus, though as distinguished from populism).
The problem is that exactly this reasoning, which appeals to apologists, then undermines the additional claims surrounding Jesus. There was no nativity (I think the concept of a young girl being impregnated by a powerful being without her knowledge is repulsive), there’s no consistency to the gospels, there’s no evidence for the miracle claims (there would be if they happened), and the resurrection accounts are nothing more than inconsistent ramblings, whereby a cult leader is fictionally brought back to life by propaganda. Lee Strobel, incidentally, is to my way of thinking an unconvincing charlatan, who does nicely persuading his followers that he ‘once was an atheist’, but I’ve never read or seen anything that persuades me that this is true.
“I can fully understand hating the Jesus that you have described but will you take a moment to tell me what you think of the historical Jesus that many history scholars say did exist. The Jesus that I have researched historically is the one that keeps me from doing as you have done and renouncing my Faith as well. I have found enough evidence in historical writings that make me believe in him. Unless those writings have been compromised and tainted as well. What are your thoughts?”
Stacey, do you worship the historical Jesus described as a delusional jewish man? If not, mentioning the possible historical jesus is pointless. As Bruce has pointed out, there is little to no evidence of bible jesus or historical jesus. Those “historical writings” you cite are no more than reports on what christians believed, they are not evidence for the truth of the bible stories. If this is “evidence” of your god to you, then every report about the beliefs of every theist who ever worshipped a god is evidence those gods are just as “real” as yours.
if your jesus is indeed the cult leader as described in the bible (using such classic cult things as saying abandon your family, sowing fear to keep members in check, etc), and the killer described in Revelation, what difference would it make on accepting it on the terms of his morality. Real or not, your jesus is a character not worth worship in my opinion. I have far better standards than what he promotes.
It’s interesting that the number of actual clergy members who have enough intellectual curiosity to actually read enough to ask respectful questions is so few, such a rare unicorn is interesting enough to actually make a blog post. Such interactions are healthy. If nothing else you should always try to be respectful. You never know where someone else is on their journey, they might be ultimately see your point of view.
Stacey seems to be asking some honest questions. I respect that. Whether that leads to abandoning, or doubling down, on belief, the effort still matters.
Bruce–If I recall correctly, in a recent post, you mentioned that no contemporary historian or writer of the time mentions the death, resurrection or miracles of Jesus. So, while there may well have been an actual Jesus, or someone like him, I imagine him to be, if anything, like Socrates: He may well have been, like the Hellenic sage, an itinerant teacher and preacher. We know that about Socrates because one of his students, Plato, wrote the Apology. Surely, if not one of Jesus’ contemporaries, then someone to whom he preached or who knew about him would have written of the miraculous deeds attributed to him: stuff Socrates never could have imagined!
I appreciate that Stacey has reached out to you in a respectful, engaging manner without pulling out the threats of hell card. It seems like he really is interested in listening to your point of view. It says something that all the readers of this blog have the same reaction of “OMG a Christian actually is respectful in engaging with an atheist, good for him!” What does that say about our typical interactions with Christians?
At this point, I too am of the belief that there was a teacher named Jesus that a lot of people liked. After he died, ridiculous stories abounded, and a religion sprang forth from these exaggerated “fish” stories.
OC, the idea of how Jesus became the spearhead of Christianity fascinates me. Too bad we can’t go back in time and trace the steps from a poor itinerant traveling rabbi to the supposed reason for one of the most powerful entities in the world.
@BJW right? I wish so much hadn’t been lost to history.
I see no reason to believe he was poor, assuming he existed.
To be fair, my main point of reference for questioning this is the claim that the guards/executioners were said to have thrown lots for his robes. Could be just a tale to embroider later. Could be that cloth of any kind was quite valuable. Could be that he had really a nice robe.
Also, he is said to have been invited to a lot of nice celebrations and parties. As a rabbi, I guess that would happen no matter what his wealth level was, but maybe we should put this whole Jesus Was Poor thing to bed. I note that it has been used as a reason to give all your belongings away, even by the biblically represented Jesus, but most of the time the belongings are supposed to go to the church.
Sounds like a Nigerian scam to me – “Just send me the cash for this check and you can keep half!”