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The CHARIS Discussion List


In the 1990s, discussion lists were popular. A person/ministry would start a new discussion list with a service provider and invite people to subscribe. Once subscribed, subscribers would automatically receive discussion emails and individual responses to the subject being discussed. As you can see, discussion lists were a precursor to blogs and comments.

In 1996, I started the CHARIS Discussion list. CHARIS is the Greek word for grace. The service provider who hosted the mailing list was an Evangelical missionary agency, Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF). I vaguely remember that I was friends with someone who worked for MAF.

My objective was to gather like-minded Calvinists together so we could discuss the finer point of the doctrines of grace and the practical outworkings of Calvinism. I continued to operate the mailing list until the early 2000s, handing it off to another list member after my passion for all things Calvinism waned.

While the list never had a large number of subscribers — 100 or so, at its peak — it did attract several notable Evangelicals: Phil Johnson, an elder at John MacArthur’s church, and his right-hand man; Dennis Swanson, library dean at The Master’s Seminary, also associated with MacArthur; one of Fred Phelps’ oldest daughters (I can’t remember her name); and Norm Olson, founder of the Michigan Militia.

Other subscribers included Presbyterian pastors, Southern Baptist pastors, and a smattering of non-Calvinistic preachers and lay people. While Calvinists dominated the subscriber list, there were enough non-Calvinists, Arminians, and Baptists to make for interesting, and at times fiery, discussions. For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed the intellectually stimulating discussions and debates. Even within Calvinism, there were plenty of contentious points of doctrines and practice to talk about. I miss the kinder, gentler days of the CHARIS Discussion List.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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  1. Avatar

    Fred Phelps was a Calvinist? Yikes…..

    It seems like you have always valued discussions and tried to create spaces for them to occur.

  2. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, though you felt “called” to preach when you were young and I have no doubt that you had faith, I sometimes suspect that you also were motivated by the prospect of helping other people and of having stimulating discussions, Those are admirable traits in any human being.

    I might add that such discussions, with their combination of civility and intellectual rigor, seem to be all but gone from political as well as religious (and other kinds of ) public discourse.

  3. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    I knew a couple of people who attended Mac Arthur’s church. Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, way North of L.A. I’ve ridden by there on a bus a few times. Real bad neighborhood. My late best friend went there over 20 years ago with his crazy wife( at the time). Counseling was not free for couples,either. I’d listen to the ” Grace To You” broadcast during the week. MacArthur sounds like a grim, mean person. His late father, Jack MacArthur was the same way. Sun Valley is near Burbank Airport. Prime gang territory. One can still hear the radio show. Depressing stuff.

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