If there is one thing that fifteen years of blogging has taught me, it is that many Evangelicals are know-it-alls. Armed with a perfect Bible and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, these super-saints have life figured out. They KNOW they are right and they KNOW non-Christians wrong. And based on having the ability to discern the thoughts and motivations of others, they stand in judgment over those who have left the Christian faith.
Take Britta, a local Charismatic pastor’s daughter (Bethel Church in Defiance). Several years ago, Britta stopped by and left a comment that revealed she knew exactly what was wrong with Bruce Gerencser, the pastor-turned-atheist. What follows is her comment and my response (indented and italicized):
All grammar and spelling errors in the original.
Hi Bruce – I think I see how you ended up here. I’ve not read all of your posts, but it seems that your path is similar to a lot of folks: entrenched in some legalistic sect (borderline cults, really), then fleeing from that absurd burden you are comforted by those espousing that “the well is poisoned” (liberals of the old mainline groups), until finally you have to ditch it all. I can’t say I blame you too much – it’s exhausting to be tossed about on every wave.
Britta read all of about fifteen posts on this site. Based on these posts, she was quickly able to discern what I was really all about. This is truly amazing, I must say. Many Christians have a magical gift of being able to pass judgment on most anybody, using the slimmest of information. Of course, this is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. Proverbs 18:13 states: Answering before listening is both stupid and rude. A Christian should never make any judgment before hearing (reading) the whole story.
But I don’t believe that you’re an athiest. Sure, you say you don’t believe in the God of the Bible, but you do believe in a god. You. Perfectly reasonable, actually. There is no other choice. I know that know other god is going to show up and pronounce himself as such — and you know it, too, despite your protestations — and so you get to stay god of your world. Tah-dah! (Atheism is really disingenuous.)
Britta evidently thinks that there is no such thing as an atheist. All people either believe in the Christian God or they are their own God. Atheists need not apply.
No matter how many times Christians like Britta assert that there is no such thing as an atheist — here we are. And our numbers are growing. Pretending something doesn’t exist doesn’t make it so.
If by God, Britta means the person in control, then yes, I am my own God. It is my life, who else would be in control of it but me?
Christians are no different. Oh, they “say” God is in control of their lives, but they, for the most part, don’t live any differently from atheists. Are Christians morally superior to atheists? The evidence suggests they are not. Day in and day out, Christians and atheists alike live their lives the best they know how. Christians are every bit as much the “God” of their world as is the atheist (contrary to what the Bible says). Christians speak about a God who is in control of everything, but then turn around and live their lives as if this God is not in control at all (except for an occasional winning touchdown or election win).
Maybe I’m being too harsh. Perhaps, despite your own time in the pulpit, you never understood the simplicity of grace. It really is foolishness to the perishing, but life to those being saved, so here ’tis, for good measure:
Britta finally gets down to what she really thinks about my life: despite fifty years in the Christian church and twenty-five years in the pastorate, I never really understood the simplicity of grace.
Of course, the unstated point here is that Britta understands what I do not. She proves her point by loosely quoting a Bible verse. It is all foolishness to me because I am perishing (lost, headed for Hell). It is life to her because she is one of the saved (or one that is being saved).
You (and me and all of us) are not perfect. A God worth worshiping IS perfect. Perfection rightly demands perfection, and since none of us can attain perfection, God offered himself in our place to be that perfection. Nothing we do merits his gift. All we have to do is accept it — that is, bend a knee and admit that we are lost without God and his gift of grace.
Britta and I agree on one thing: none of us is perfect. However, Britta’s comment betrays an arrogance found among many Christians. While their behavior may not be perfect, they arrogantly think that their interpretation of the Bible is.
Britta asserts that God is perfect. What evidence does she have for her claim? The Bible? Surely not. By examining how God reveals himself through the Bible, we humans can quickly discern that God is far from perfect. In fact, God is quite capricious. He even changes his mind. I would think a perfect deity would get it right the first time. God fucked it up from the start. He couldn’t even get creation right.
Evidently Britta has not read the book of James. James contradicts Britta’s assertion that salvation is a free gift and that all we have to do is receive it. James says that faith without works is dead. So which is it? Faith alone? Faith plus works?
(And I should add that Britta does a poor job presenting the Christian gospel. Her presentation is incomplete, to say the least.)
It’s an easy burden — but the crank legalist won’t allow it, neither will an ersatz intellectual grasp it. I’m sorry both camps have been so hard on you. (Really, I am sorry – no snark.) It takes the Spirit of God to discern things of the spirit. I’ll pray that God will open His Word to you.
Britta betrays the true nature of much of modern Christianity. It is nothing more than good, old-fashioned Gnosticism. You see, a person can’t discern the Bible and the things of the Spirit unless the Spirit of God gives them the ability to do so. On one hand, people are told they must repent and believe the gospel, but on the other hand they are told they can’t even discern what God wants unless God gives them the ability to do so.
Britta thinks she has a special, inside track with God. She is praying that God will open up the Bible to me. What is God going to show me that I haven’t already seen? Is there some secret message, some special code that has somehow eluded me all these years? How will I know if God opens up the Bible to me? Will I start speaking Aramaic Greek?
I wish you the best, sir…
What if “best” is where I am now? Does Britta genuinely wish me the best? Of course not. There is no “best” without Jesus (or Britta’s version of Jesus).
Next up is a comment from a young Christian named Jason. Jason commented on a post I wrote about the Bible teaching different plans of salvation. Here’s what he had to say:
I have no doubt that there are “Christians” that don’t understand a lot. Many of them, as you say, may be inclined to blindly follow. However, I don’t agree that this is true of most or any “real” Christians. Those actively reading God’s word and being involved in church groups would not follow these categories. The “Christians” you are referring to in these statements are the ones who are simply professing Christians.
Right away Jason lets me know that there are two types of Christians: professing Christians and REAL Christians. Of course, Jason is a REAL Christian. I find it interesting that every Christian who takes this approach always thinks he or she is one of the REAL Christians. Calvinists do the same. I have never met a Calvinist who didn’t say that he or she was one of the elect. Seems quite self-serving, if you ask me.
About this statement:
“Christians are confused about what salvation is. Of course this is understandable because the Bible teaches many different plans of salvation.”
I don’t quite understand what you mean by the Bible teaches many different plans of salvation. It says clearly that Jesus is the only way to God the Father in John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me’”. The Bible also explains in Romans 5:8 that Jesus did (sic) in our place and wiped our sin clean “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” It’s beyond me what other kind of “plan of salvation” could be.
Jason is perplexed by my statement that the Bible teaches many plans of salvation. I know that Jason has been “taught” that there is only one plan of salvation, but he might want to read the Good Book again.
In the Old Testament, how were people saved? By keeping the law.
In the New Testament, how were people saved? Paul said by faith. James said by faith and works. In Acts the early church concluded that certain works were required for Gentiles to be saved.
There are thousands of Christian sects. Each sect has its own take on salvation. Is it by faith alone? Is it by faith and works? Is it by baptism for the remission of sins? Must a person speak in tongues as evidence of salvation? Must a person persevere to the end to be saved?
Supposedly, the salvation message is so simple that even a child can understand it. If this is so, why is there so much confusion in Christianity over what is required for a person to be saved? If, as Britta says above, the Holy Spirit gives discernment, why is there so much confusion? Maybe the Holy Spirit needs to be relieved of his duties. Perhaps God should do away with the Bible and put out a Salvation FAQ. In the FAQ God should state very clearly his demands, using as few words as possible. Surely God wants everyone to know the simple gospel message, right? Oh wait, no he doesn’t, since he created some people so he could damn them, and he even makes some people spiritually deaf so they will not hear the gospel. What kind of God says to a deaf man, HEAR?
I understand that you, as a former pastor, may have been faced with many people that fell under the categories listed, but I reassure you that Christians, like myself, who, really in their hearts believe that Jesus is their savior and make that effort to learn more about Him, don’t really fit the description.
Jason wants me to know that he is not like other Christians. He is a sincere Christian®. He is a devoted Christian. He really, really believes in his heart and he makes an effort to know more about Jesus — not like those other “not real” Christians.
I am sure Jason means well. I have no doubt he sincerely believes. That said, my only advice to him is that he needs to read as many books as possible that challenge the version of Christianity he thinks is the “way, truth, and life.” Carefully read the Bible. Forget what you have been taught. What if Paul, Peter, and James really taught three different plans of salvation? What if there really are multiple Gods in the Old Testament? Instead of interpreting everything through a Trinitarian Protestant lens, let the Biblical author and text speak for itself. When the Bible says “Let US make man in our image” don’t assume US means the Trinitarian Protestant God. Maybe it means multiple Gods. Polytheism can be found all over the Old Testament if readers will take off their Trinitarian blinders.
All Evangelicals thinks that their beliefs are right and that their God is the true God. All other Gods are false Gods. Their plan of salvation is the one that will assure them a room in God’s Heavenly Motel Six, and their interpretation of the Bible is, without a doubt, exactly as God meant it to be. Uncertainty and doubt are the tools of Satan, so through life they plod, armed with certainty, assured that their beliefs are superior to all others. Until they can at least entertain the possibility of being wrong, there is no hope for them.
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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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