From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan, to prepare myself for the ministry. Students were required to attend chapel services every day. Over the course of the three years I spent at Midwestern, I heard many of the big name Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers preach during chapel. If you were a preacher boy like I was, you wanted to hear these mightily used of God preachers. One such preacher was Ralph Wingate Jr.
Wingate, the son of a preacher, was a graduate of Midwestern. In 1973, Wingate went to Newington,Connecticut to plant a new church, Emmanuel Baptist Church. (from 1970-1973, Wingate pastored First Baptist Church, Dwight, Illinois) The church was wildly successfuland this made Wingate a favorite son of the chancellor of Midwestern, Tom Malone.
Jose Maldonado. Bruce Gerencser, Pat Horner, Somerset Baptist Church
Bruce Gerencser again says, “Since I do not believe the Bible to be the Word of God, and I nolonger embrace the beliefs and teachings of the Christian faith, I am no longer a Christian. Mydeconversion came at the moment where I finally admitted to myself that I no longer believed the Bible to be the word of God.” He has consciously sealed his doom!
Pastor Jose Maldonado, from 2010 Sermon Series about Bruce Gerencser
Jose Maldonado is the pastor of Hillburn Drive Grace Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. I met Joe in 1993 when I preached at the annual Sovereign Grace Bible conference held at Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. In the fall of 1993, Jose came to Ohio with Pat Horner, pastor of Community Baptist. The purpose of their visit was to hold a Sovereign Grace Bible Conference at the church I was pastoring, Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio.
In late October of 1993, Horner called me and asked me to consider coming to Elmendorf to help him pastor Community. After a week or so of “seeking” the will of God on the matter, I turned his offer down. Several weeks later, in what can only be described as an emotional breakdown that I called, at the time, God speaking to me, I changed my mind, and in March of 1994, I packed up my family and we moved to Elmendorf, Texas.
This is the second installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Hand of the Almighty (God Will Fuck You Up) by Australian John Butler. Warning! This song contains numerous swear words.
Oh, sinner, do not stray From the straight and narrow way For the Lord is surely watching what you do If you approach the Devils den Turn round dont enter in Lest the hand of the almighty fall on you.
Hell fuck you up (hell fuck you up) Yes, God will fuck you up If you dare to disobey his stern command. Hell fuck you up (hell fuck you up) Dont you know hell fuck you up So you better do some prayin while you can.
Long ago a man named Lot Had a wife he thought was hot But she could not stop her black and sinful ways. You know it was her own damn fault When God turned that bitch to salt. Thats the way he used to work back in those days:
He fucked em up (he fucked em up) He really fucked em up When the people went and turned their backs on him He can fuck you up (hell fuck you up) No shit hell fuck you up Just like he fucked the people up back then.
I used to have a friend named Ray Who walked that evil way He cursed and drank and broke his neighbors fence You know Ray was full aware That some sheep were over there And he knew them in the Biblical sense.
God fucked him up (he fucked him up) He went and fucked Ray up Went and paid him back for all his wicked sins. He fucked him up (he fucked him up) Fucked that boy completely up Now hes married to a Presbyterian.
Several years ago, in response to one of my letters to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, local resident Nancy Dietrick sent me a postcard:
Instead of writing me a letter like several local Christians have, Dietrick decided to send me a postcard. I have no doubt local post office workers enjoyed her message to the village atheist.
What confused me was the notion that once I was “born again” I would understand the Bible. Isn’t that backwards? I thought one had to embrace the gospel message in the Bible in order to be born again? Doesn’t this require me to at least read some part of the Bible? I am so confused.
Dietrick seems to forget that I was once “born again”. She seems to forget that I was a Christian for 50 years and a pastor for 25 of those years. I am quite certain that I know the Bible as well as anyone in NW Ohio. I have read the Bible through countless times. Add to this the Bible reading I did as I prepared my sermons, it is safe to say that Bible comprehension is not my problem. In fact, the Bible is one the major reasons I am now an atheist.
Many Evangelical Christians take seriously Jesus’ command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Every creature includes atheists.
Here is what Christians need to understand:
Many atheists were Christians before they deconverted. In my case, I was a Christian for fifty years and I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five of those years. Granted, most atheists’ stories are not like mine, but many of them were raised in the Christian church and know what the Christian gospel is and what the Bible teaches.
Many atheists have read the Bible many, many times. In fact, many atheists have likely read the Bible more than the average American Christian.
Many atheists attended church before they deconverted. They know a good bit about Catholic and Protestant Christianity. They know what it is to worship God, pray, and live according to the precepts of the Bible. They are not ignorant of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
People become atheists for a variety of reasons. Often there are emotional and cultural reasons why a person becomes an atheist, but, at the end of the day, most people become atheists for intellectual reasons.
Most atheists are not atheists because they are angry with God, mad at the church, or hurt.
Here are some evangelistic methods that will likely not work with atheists:
Preaching at the person
Quoting Bible verses (the atheist has likely heard the verses before)
Giving a testimony of how Jesus saved you and changed your life (atheists place little value on subjective stories like testimonies)
Giving the atheist a book, tract, sermon tape/CD/DVD
The Romans Road, John Road, Four Spiritual Laws, The Way of the Master, or any other evangelistic program you have been taught
Inviting them to church
Friending them on Facebook
Trying to become friends with them using your friendship evangelism methods
Personally, I would suggest you not witness to an atheist. You are likely going to be disappointed with the result. There are a lot of “other” prospects for heaven that are much easier to evangelize. However, if you are certain God is directing you and the Holy Spirit is leading you to witness to an atheist, I would encourage you to be all prayed up and ready to have an intellectual discussion about God, Jesus, and the Bible. Be prepared to talk about theology, philosophy, history, science, and archeology. Be prepared to give evidence (proof) for the assertions you make. Saying the Bible says will not work since the atheist will likely not accept the authority of the Bible.
You might as well face it, if the atheist refuses to accept the Bible as a God-inspired authoritative text, there is no hope of you successfully witnessing to him or her. It is better for you to kick the dust off your shoes and go evangelize those who accept your presuppositions about God and the Bible.
Atheists are the swine in the don’t cast your pearls before swine Bible verse. Atheists are reprobates whom God has turned over to their evil desires. Atheists are followers of Satan, deaf and blind to your God and the Bible. With so many billions of other people to witness to, why bother witnessing to people who have no interest in your message, are likely to make great intellectual demands of you, and are probably not God’s elect? Be a smart fisher-of-men – go where the fish are.
Ask a Christian for the reason most Americans are Christian and you will likely get some sort of theological explanation, complete with a personal testimony of faith in Jesus Christ. However, is this really the reason most Americans are Christians? Is it really all about theology and relationship?
Perhaps there is another explanation.
First, America is a Christian nation. Not a Christian nation like theocrats think we are, but Christian nonetheless. Christianity permeates our being as a people. Christian churches are everywhere. Our government leaders are overwhelmingly Christian and freely use language that reflects their Christian heritage. Christianity is on full display everywhere we look.
Second, there is a cultural form of Christianity that permeates virtually every aspect of our society. Country singers win awards for songs about cheating on a spouse and they thank the Christian God for winning the award. Boxers and MMA fighters brutalize one another and then thank the Christian God for the strength to do what they do. Prayers are uttered at sporting events, players give testimony to faith in Jesus, and the Christian God is given all the credit for their success.
Cultural Christianity is all about what people say and not what they do. This is the predominant form of Christianity in America. When asked, do you believe in the Christian God? they will say Yes. It matters not how they live or even if they understand Christian doctrine. They believe and that’s all that matters.
It is this Christian world into which every American child is born. While my wife and I can point to the various conversion experiences we had, we still would have been Christians even without the conversion experiences. Our culture was Christian, our families were Christian, everyone around us was Christian. How could we have been anything BUT Christian?
Practicing Christians have a hard time accepting this. They KNOW the place and time Jesus saved them. They KNOW when they were baptized, confirmed, dedicated, saved, or whatever term their sect uses to connote belief in the Christian God.
Why are most people in Muslim countries Muslim? Why are most people in Buddhist countries Buddhist? Simple. People generally embrace the dominant religion and practice of their culture, and so it is in America.
It is culture, and not a conversion experience, that determines a person’s religious affiliation. The conversion experiences are the eggs the Christian chicken lays. Evangelicals, in particular, have built their entire house on the foundation of each person having a conversion experience. However, looking at this from a sociological perspective, it can be seen that a culture’s dominant religion affects which religion a person embraces more than any other factor.
Over the course of my life, I have lived in Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and California. Every place I lived had its own cultural idiosyncrasies. Let me share a couple of stories with you that illustrate this.
Here in NW Ohio, local convenience stores have one or two rows of Dr. Pepper in their coolers. Pepsi and Coke are the dominate brands. When I lived in Elmendorf, Texas, just outside of San Antonio, I would go down to the Conoco and buy a bottle of pop. The dominant pop in the cooler was Dr. Pepper. There would be numerous rows of Dr. Pepper and only a couple of rows for Pepsi and Coke. Big Red was another favorite pop and it also had more space in the cooler than Pepsi. Why? Culture.
When I left the church in Elmendorf and moved back to Ohio, I kept in touch with a Hispanic family in the church. They eventually moved to Ohio to be a part of the church I was pastoring. I warned them that they were moving to an area where Anglos dominate the culture. There are no stores here with the foods, vegetables, and fresh tortillas that Hispanics in San Antonio can easily buy at the local HEB grocery store. I did my best to make certain they understood these things.
With great anticipation and excitement they moved to Ohio. And, two months later, discouraged and depressed, they moved back to San Antonio. Reason? Culture. The differences between the two cultures was too great. Even though they convinced themselves they could adapt, the differences were so vast that it would have required them to stop doing things they had done their entire life. Such drastic change is hard.
Cambodian Mango Tree
I pastored in SE Ohio for eleven years. Appalachian culture dominates the area. I found that there is a huge cultural difference between NW Ohio and SE Ohio. While only 200 miles separate them, the cultures are very different from one another.
One day a man in the church brought us a bag of green peppers. He said, here are some mangos for you from my garden. Mangos? Mangos are fruit that grows on trees. I thought, why is this guy calling green peppers “mangos?” A short time later, we went to the grocery store in Zanesville, Ohio. As we strolled through the produce section we noticed the green peppers. The sign above them said “mangos.” Why? Culture.
Culture affects how we live, how we talk, what we eat, and what we do for entertainment. It affects every aspect of our lives. Why should matters of religion be exempt from the influence of culture?
I am an atheist, but I know that my moral and ethical values have been shaped by the culture in which I grew up. I have no problem admitting that some of my moral beliefs come from my Christian upbringing. Growing up in a poor family shaped how I view things such as poverty, welfare, and the place of government in our day-to-day lives. Culture and environment have largely made me who I am today. Even though I am now a godless heathen, I still like some of trappings of my Christian past. I love listening to southern gospel music. I enjoy listening to Third Day and some of the other Christian rock groups. I don’t believe one word of the lyrics, but there is something about the music that appeals to me. It is familiar to me, as are many of the other cultural peculiarities by which I am surrounded.
How about you? What cultural peculiarities do you see where you live? How has the Christian culture of America shaped and affected your life?
What follows is a post I wrote detailing the reasons why I retired from the ministry in 2005. When I wrote this I had not yet declared myself an atheist/agnostic. As you will see, I was still clinging ever so precariously to my Christian beliefs.
Originally written in 2008. Slightly edited and corrected.
I am often questioned about why I retired from the ministry. I started preaching as a teenage boy and I pastored my first church at age 24. Since then I have pastored churches in Ohio, Texas and Michigan, with my last pastorate being in 2003 (I candidated for several churches in 2005). I have been married over 30 years and I have spent my entire married life in the ministry.
Acquaintances, family and friends are often miffed about why I walked away from the ministry. Why quit preaching? I am often asked. Surely there’s a church somewhere for you to pastor? Surely you still “want” to pastor? If God called you how can you walk away from his calling?
Good questions and quite frankly I have more questions these days than I do answers. What follows is my attempt to shed some light on the “why” question.
Why did I retire from the ministry?
I retired because the word retire is a better word than quit. I don’t want to be known as a quitter. I was told my whole life by my peers that God hates quitters. I can still hear the scathing words of Tom Malone and Jack Hyles ringing in my ears as they skinned quitters alive in their sermons. So I use the word retire but, truth be told, I have just plain quit.
For health reasons. I have Fibromyalgia. I am in constant pain. Last year I was tested for MS and the tests were inconclusive. I have numbness in my face , hands, and legs. My doctor ruefully told me that he is uncertain as to what my actual neurological problem is. I’ll just have to wait to see what “breaks.” I am a type A, perfectionist workaholic. I worked myself into a physical collapse, foolishly thinking that anyone cared how hard I worked. God didn’t and neither did the people I pastored.
For family reasons. I sacrificed my family and my marriage for a mistress called the Church. I lived for the Church. I was willing to die for the Church. I worked long hours for lousy pay. I allowed my family and my wife to become an appendage to the work I was doing. They were the default clean-up, tear down crew and did all the jobs no one else wanted to do. Our family was so wrapped up in the Church that we lost our self-identity. I want my children to know me for more than just being a pastor. I want my wife to have a husband who doesn’t always put her second to the Church. Whoever said “you must sacrifice your family for the sake of your calling” is not only wrong but also a destroyer of families. If there is one thing I have learned it is that family comes first.
Changing theology. My theology is undergoing a complete and through overhaul. I entered the ministry as a Fundamentalist Baptist. I have become, over time, progressive in my thinking and I now identify with liberal causes and beliefs. I am not the man I once was, but neither am I the man I want to be. As my friend Tammy Schoch told me recently, “it is normal in mid-age to reevaluate one’s beliefs and to readjust or change your beliefs accordingly.”
Thomas Merton and Wendell Berry. These two writers have fundamentally changed how I look at the world and how I view my place in it. I have come to realize that I spent most of my adult life wasting my time with a religion that made no difference in the world I live in and a religion I have increasingly come to believe doesn’t do much to prepare us for the next life either.
The meaninglessness of vast parts of American Christianity. I have come to realize that most of what we do in Christianity doesn’t amount to much of anything. We seem to spend most of our time and effort making sure we have things to spend most of our time and effort on. We collect money so we can spend the money so we can collect money so we can spend the money…It seems that much of our work is simply done to keep the Titanic floating. Little progress is made in truly making a difference in the world.
Changing understanding of the Bible. I started out in the ministry as a King James Only, every-word-of-the-Bible-is-inerrant, believer. I have come to understand that such a belief is not only unsustainable theologically but absolutely irrational. I no longer use the Bible as a science or history textbook and I no longer need to read any particular systematic theology into the text in order to enjoy reading the Bible. I simply enjoy reading the Biblical narrative for its own sake. It now speaks to me in ways I never thought possible.
Meeting people of other religious faiths or no faith at all. I was blessed with Catholic daughters-in-law. They forced me to come to terms with my deep-seated hatred for any religion but my own. As you may well know, we as Baptists hate Catholics. The big change for me was when I attended a Midnight Christmas mass with my wife and some of our children. What a beautiful and powerful service. It shook my bigoted bones right down to my core.
Gandhi. Gandhi showed me the way of peace, of non-violent resistance. Of course, according to my Baptist beliefs Gandhi is burning in hell right at this moment. I no longer believe that and I do not believe such vengeful hate by God is consistent with His love and mercy. I have abandoned the classic Baptist understanding of hell and I believe in annihilation. My beliefs are becoming more and more universalist as I go along. I will leave it to God to sort out the “who is in and who is not.”
For mental health reasons. I came to the realization that I was full of fear and regret. I feared God and I regretted wasting my life serving a deity I only served out of fear. No matter how perfect I was, no matter how much I did, I simply couldn’t meet God’s standard (or that of the men who spoke for God). I despaired for my life. I have since been introduced to a God who loves and has mercy and who does not use fear in his dealings with his children.
For my kids and grandkids. I want to know my kids and grandkids. I want to be more than just a religious guru to them. I want to be able to enjoy THIS life with them without everything revolving around the NEXT life. I struggle with the “dad doesn’t go to Church any more”….but I hope in time I can have a relationship with my kids and grandkids that doesn’t revolve around religion. Yes, I still want to talk about God, but I also want to enjoy the day-to-day things of life and I want to share those things with my kids and grandkids.
Guilt. This is the biggest problem I face – guilt over how I have lived my life, how I wasted my life, and how I hurt my family. I am sure some pious soul is going to tell me “Get over it and move on with life.” I wish I could but I can’t . Until I can come to terms with the past 30 or 40 years, I cannot move forward from here. I am sure my wife is tired of me living in 1985 or 1994, but I must resolve the issues that plague me before I can move forward. I am making progress in this area and I plan to start on a book in the New Year titled “From Eternity to Here”. Several people I respect greatly have suggested that writing a book might be cathartic, just what I need to move my life forward.
I simply don’t want to be in the ministry any more. I have no desire for it and I do not want to give the requisite time necessary to be a “good” pastor. I believe I still have good teaching skills and I have a sincere desire to be a help to others, but I do not want to exercise my gifts in a traditional Church setting. I have wasted enough time already and I don’t want to waste any more.
I could pastor a church tomorrow if I wanted to. Thousands of churches are without pastors. Most of them don’t deserve to have another pastor. They have chewed up and spit out the previous 20 pastors and they will do the same to the next one. Quite frankly, many Churches just need to die. As I look back at how willing I was to sacrifice so small Churches could have a “full time” pastor, I am ashamed of myself. Living on food stamps, with my kids wearing hand-me-down clothes, all so people could say “we have a full time pastor and he has kids” The most I ever made in the ministry, counting housing, salary and reimbursements, was $26,000. While everyone one else progressed economically, my family was supposed to settle for welfare wages and a chicken or two. I never pastored a church that took it upon themselves to offer me a raise. I had to ask, and often plead and beg, to get a raise. I saw their cars and houses. I saw their material stores, yet I was just supposed to sing “Oh how I love Jesus, thank you for keeping me poor.”
The most prosperous times of my life came when I was bi-vocational. I managed restaurants, sold insurance, delivered newspapers, pumped gas, and managed government programs. In retrospect, I should have always been bi-vocational. I should not have allowed the church to keep me poor. My problem was that I could never do anything half-way. I still can’t. So while I worked a full-time secular job, I also worked the church job full-time. I often worked 60 or 70 hours a week, rarely taking a day off. Vacations? We only took them if I was preaching a conference somewhere. Dates with my wife? Only if it was a church outing.
I realize some of this sounds like the grousing of a bitter old man. I shall plead guilty to that charge. I am bitter at times, and as the Dixie Chicks said “I am not ready to make nice.” I fully accept my own culpability in the affairs of my life. I write for the sake of my family and for the sake of my own mental health. I also write this as a warning to young pastors who are tempted to take the same path I took.
I will stop writing this with the sharing of the biggest breakthrough in my life over the past few months. I spent my life “living for Jesus and Living for Others.” I bought into the mantra of Jesus First, Others Second, and Bruce doesn’t matter . I spent far too much time worrying about what others thought of me, of how they viewed my ministry and family.
My big breakthrough is pretty simple. I have come to the place where I don’t give a shit about what others think of me or what I believe. I don’t give a shit that you are upset that I wrote the word shit. I simply don’t care. Things matter to me, but what someone thinks of me personally or what they think of my beliefs, I don’t care. It has been liberating to be delivered from the judgments of others.
Have you said WOW yet? I heard you! Let me paraphrase Thomas Merton. People were upset with Merton because his beliefs were always changing, always in motion. He said he frustrated his critics because just when they thought they had him pinned down on an issue they found out he had already move on to something else.
That’s me, always moving, until the heart stops beating.
And if it actually did, it is the one command every Christian breaks on a daily basis.
I am sure you have been in one of THOSE arguments, debates, or discussions; the one’s where you express your opinion about a matter and someone shrieks, YOU ARE JUDGING!
Why of course you are judging.
We all judge each and every day of our lives. Common sense tells us this is so.
People who use the stop judging line are trying to control the debate and stifle any opinion other than their own. If you agree with the person you are a wonderful person, but if you disagree with them you are judgmental.
I wish these don’t judge people would at least be honest when they open their mouth, post something on Facebook, write a blog post, etc. They need to preface each public pronouncement with:
I am not interested in what you think. If you disagree with me I will consider you to be a judgmental person, and if you continue I might even throw a fit, and if you really, really keep at it I will SHOW you…I will unfriend you on Facebook. TAKE THAT!
Let’s settle one thing here. You judge, I judge, we all judge. What matters is HOW we judge, what standard we use for judging.
And that, by the way, is exactly what the Bible says.
Christians, by far, are the whiniest people on earth when it comes to judging. With Bible in hand they make all sorts of judgments . They judge who is saved and who is lost. They judge what sin is and they really like to judge sexual sin (a sign that they have not gotten laid lately).
Yet, when others turn their judgment back at them, they protest loudly and say, the BIBLE says, thou shalt not judge.
Let’s look at what the Bible actually says:
Judge not, that ye be not judged.For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
Most people stop at Matthew 7:1. Judge not, that ye be not judged.
Seems pretty clear doesn’t it? Don’t judge others if you don’t want to be judged yourself.
This one verse is foundational for those who think we should tolerate any belief a person might have. The toleration at all costs crowd thinks every person is autonomous and has a right to say whatever he or she wants. Free speech reigns paramount.
The libertarian in me generally thinks toleration is a good idea, but when individuals or groups bring their ideas into the public square, any notion of toleration must be put aside. In a democracy like ours, we fight our battles in the public square. Citizens bring their ideas to the public square in hope of finding like-minded people to join with their cause. Often they do, but in the public square they also find those who oppose their cause. And so competing causes, ideas, and beliefs clash with one another and wage war against each other in the public square. Over time, it is hoped the best cause, idea, or belief wins (and I speak with gross generalization here).
It is likely the winner’s cause, idea, or belief will have been altered by those who challenged it. Through this bloody give and take, we progress and move forward as a people.
Religion does not play well in this kind of environment. Religion is based on revealed truth, on dogma. In the United States the dominant religion is Christianity, a religion founded on a truth that cannot be altered or changed. This is why Christians do not fare well in the public square. They have little capacity for change. To contemplate change, they have to consider that they or their God are wrong. Now we know, as we look through the lens of 2000 years of Christian Church history, that the Church has indeed adapted and changed. But, it should be noted that this kind of change takes a much longer time than it does with other people and groups. Christianity is nothing if not arrogant and intractable about its truth.
On the other hand, the scientific method fits well in this kind of environment. Scientist A says _____________________, and Scientists B, C, and D take exception and through the scientific method set out to challenge, refute, or modify what Scientist A said. It doesn’t take centuries to root out error.
Note what the Bible says in Matthew 7:2-5, the verses few Christians ever bother to read. (Many Christians subscribe to the ignore what doesn’t fit my agenda, worldview, way I want to live, rule of interpretation.)
Verse 2 says:
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
For WITH WHAT JUDGMENT YE JUDGE, ye shall be judged. The Bible is quite clear. It is a given, we all make judgments, so when we judge, whatever standard of judgment we use, that same standard of judgment will be used by others when they judge us.
The Bible even addresses the method we use to judge when it says with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. In modern vernacular the Bible is saying, however you dish out judgment, expect it to be dished back to you the same way.
Over the course of my seven years of blogging, people have left almost 30,000 comments on my various blog iterations. A small percentage of comments were left by Christians with nasty dispositions, Christians who were so filled with certainty that they had no tolerance for any differing viewpoint. (I can count on one hand the non-Christians who acted similarly) They knew the truth and their objective was to tell me that I was wrong, deceived, blind, lost, headed for hell, or an enemy of God. In their worldview there is no room for doubt or not knowing.
These know-it-all Christians tend to be arrogant, bombastic, and lacking in basic social graces. Of all the different types of people I have met on the internet, theirs is the type that really gets under my skin (perhaps because I was just like them at one time in my life). At one time, I responded “in kind” to this kind of commenter. Using Bible terms, I just meted out to them what they meted out to me. These days, I tend to follow another biblical admonition; don’t cast your pearls before swine.
Well, enough of chasing that rabbit trail. (The preacher in me still lives.) Back to Matthew 7:1-5.
Verses 3 and 4 say:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
The Bible teaches that we should first consider our own lives, our own faults, our own inconsistencies, and for my Christian readers, our own sins, before we consider the deficiencies of others.
As is often the case, we tend to be able to see the smallest of matters in the lives of others (the mote, the small sliver), all the while not being able to see the biggest of matters in our own lives(the beam).Before we judge others, we should carefully judge ourselves, engaging in self-reflection – taking an inventory of our own lives. As the old evangelist said, draw a circle on the floor, stand in the middle of the circle, and judge everyone in the circle. This kind of judgment will fundamentally change how we judge others. As we carefully plumb the depths of our own being, we will likely become more understanding of those with whom we disagree. This doesn’t make the disagreements go away, but it does help us to see we are ALL capable of embracing ideas that are faulty or dangerous.
Does this mean we shouldn’t judge others? Of course not. Notice what verse 5 says:
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
If we judge ourselves first, we will then be able to better judge the actions, words, ideas, and beliefs of others. The hypocrite ignores his own life and focuses on others. We see this all the time with Christian pastors. You know the type: they thunder against sin, most often sexual sin. They eviscerate all those who dare transgress the Bible’s sexual standard. Yet, in their own lives they do the very things they condemn. (Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Bob Gray, Jack Hyles, Benny Hinn, Paul Crouch, Jim Bakker, Eddie Long, and too many Catholic priests to count, just to name a few.)
I am of the opinion that those who shout the loudest over the peccadilloes of others often commit those very same sins in the privacy of their home, office, motel room, or back seat of their car. They are hypocrites of the first degree.
The Bible, from start to finish, clearly teaches that Christians are to judge others, It never teaches, thou shalt not judge. It DOES teach judging righteously. It does teach using a proper standard of judgment. It does teach a judgment that begins with self.
“But, Bruce, you are not a Christian.” No I am not. I wrote this post to tell those Christians who love to scream “DON’T judge” to shut the hell up. They need to read the Bible they say they believe. Better yet, they need to PRACTICE the teachings of the Bible they say they believe.
As an atheist, I can glean some helpful guidance from Matthew 7:1-5. It stresses the important of self-judgment before taking on the task of judging others and their ideas and beliefs. I need often to be reminded of my own shortcomings (sorry Christians, no sins for me) and motives. I need to be reminded that I am, as those I oppose, a fallible, frail human being. I can be w-r-o-n-g.
The comment section awaits your judgments of this post.
Ask an Evangelical Christian if God loves humans unconditionally and he or she will likely respond with a resounding YES!God loves us no matter what we do, they will say. An Evangelical familiar with the Bible might even quote Romans 8:38,39:
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
OK, does this verse apply to the non-Christian? After all, when non-Christians die they go to hell. So, this means they are separated from the love of God, right? Uh, well…the Bible says God is love! OK, where does it say that God’s love is unconditional?
The word unconditional means without any conditions, not contingent, not determined or influenced by someone or something else. I know that Evangelicals desperately want God’s love to be unconditional, but any cursory reading of the Bible shows that God’s love is ALWAYS conditional.
Consider salvation for a moment. Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled before God will save a person? Or does a person go to bed one night unsaved and wake up the next morning saved? Of course not. In order for a person to be saved, they must repent, believe, and follow. These are the conditions that must be fulfilled in order for a person to be considered a Christian.
Both Calvinism and Arminianism teach that God’s love is conditional. For the Calvinist, God’s love for a person is predicated on unconditional election and predestination. For the Arminian, God’s love for a person is predicated on prevenient grace. If God unconditionally loves everyone then he would save everyone. But, he doesn’t save everyone because he has already determined who he is going to save. But Bruce, the only reason people are not saved is because they choose not to be. OK, so then them CHOOSING is the condition for God saving them, right? Well, uh…can’t get away from it…God is not the God of unconditional love.
Let’s move on from salvation to what we can know from the Bible about God’s “unconditional” love. When God created Adam and Eve, he told them that his love, favor, and blessing were contingent on one condition; don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of course we all know how that worked out.
From the time Adam and Eve sinned until Jesus died on the cross, God required a blood sacrifice in order to expiate the sins of any human. Forgiveness was contingent on the blood sacrifice. No sacrifice, no forgiveness. Even now, the forgiveness of sin is contingent on the atonement of Jesus on the cross (and sects argue endlessly about whose sins and what sins were expiated on the cross). Again, it is clear that salvation and the forgiveness of sin are conditional.
When I am talking to Evangelicals about the unconditional love of God, I ask them, give me one illustration from the Bible where God’s love is shown to be unconditional? If they think about this for a moment they likely will argue that God’s love is different from human love, so it is impossible for us to understand it. According to many Evangelicals, God is capable of perfectly loving and hating a person at the same time. This is a nice theory for which there is no proof.
Genesis 6-8 states that God caused a flood to engulf the earth, killing every human and every animal that was not on the Ark with Noah and his family. Millions of people died. Men, women, children, and babies still in the womb, died because God drowned them. Was God’s love unconditional for those who drowned?
According to Genesis 6:3, God gave humans 120 years to repent. The New Testament tells us that Noah was a preacher of righteousness. Noah was God’s warning siren to the inhabitants of the earth. Their survival depended on them repenting of their evil ways. Granted, things were bad, according to the Bible; the sons of God, which many Evangelicals believe were fallen angels, were marrying human women and having sex with them. This sexual union produced what the King James Version calls giants, mighty men, men of renown.
The conditions on earth were so bad that God:
…saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. (Genesis 6:7)
Humans had become so evil that God regretted creating them. He decided to kill everyone except Noah and seven members of his family. Simply put, God hit the reset button and started over.
When Evangelicals preach at/to me about the unconditional love of God, I always ask them to explain the unconditional love of God to me from Genesis 6-8. Usually, the Evangelical will quickly say that God killed them because of their sin. So, God’s love was conditioned on them repenting, so his love wasn’t unconditional. Besides, God killed innocent children and unborn babies in the flood. God loved them so much that he killed them? Perhaps God thought they would be better off dead (an argument used by more than a few deranged psychopathic parents)?
It is clear from Genesis 6-8 that God’s love was NOT unconditional, and no matter where people read in the Bible, they are going to find that God’s love is conditional. If the Bible is anything, it is the written record of God’s wrath, vengeance, and hate towards those who do not accept and act on the conditions he gives them. The gospel message of the Bible is this, Do THIS and thou shalt live. Either we do things God’s way or he makes us pay.
Imagine a person saying, I love my wife, kids, neighbor, friend, et al. Yet, this person afflicts, starves, brutally punishes, and kills those he says he loves. Would we not rightly say that this person knows nothing about love? Yet, when the Unconditional Love God® does these things, he is given a pass. God is right in all he does because God is right. As the Apostle Paul in Romans 9 said, many Evangelicals say, How dare you question what God does! He loves because he says he loves! End of discussion.
Shouldn’t we expect God to at least measure up to human standards? A person who afflicts, starves, brutally punishes, and kills people knows nothing about love. He is likely a sociopath. He is not a person any of us would want to have anything to do with. Yet, when God acts this way, the Evangelical choir begins to sing, What a Mighty God we Serve, followed by, Our God is an Awesome God.
The truth is, many Christians are far more loving than the God they profess to worship. We all should be very glad that many Christians are more God-like than God himself. Imagine what the world would look like if Christians loved what God loved and hated what God hated. (Read the Bible for the list of people and behaviors God hates.)
I realize that most Evangelical readers and many non-Evangelical Christian readers will reject what I have written here. They are convinced that God is love, every time, all the time, and he can be nothing but love. They even carry it a step further when they naïvely say, not only does God love unconditionally but we are to love everyone unconditionally too.
While it is hard to “prove” that an invisible God does not love unconditionally, it is quite easy to prove that NO human loves unconditionally. At best, unconditional love is a grand ideal, but back here in the real flesh and blood world, human love always has conditions.
I am sure someone will say, I love my wife and my children unconditionally. This person’s thinking is well-intentioned, but it is based on sentimentality and not fact. Suppose for a moment this person went to work, came home early from work, and found his wife in bed with the neighbor. Would his love still be unconditional? Perhaps, he forgives his wife for her indiscretion, but what if she continues to sleep with the neighbor and even starts sleeping with numerous men. Would his love still be unconditional?
Parents like to say that they love their children unconditionally. Suppose for a moment a father went to work and when he came home he found his wife and four of his five children murdered. He soon finds out that his teenage son killed his wife and children. Would his love still be unconditional?
But Bruce, these are extreme examples. Yes, and shouldn’t unconditional love work no matter the circumstance? Remember:
The word unconditional means without any conditions, not contingent, not determined or influenced by someone or something else.
It is important for us to love others, and we all can and should broaden the limits of our love. But, as with the God of the Bible, our love does have limits, and this is why I must conclude that the notion of unconditional love is a myth. It is a belief rooted in human sentimentality. Perhaps it is a worthy goal, but all I know is that everywhere I look, be it the Bible, the actions of my fellow humans, or my own actions, all I see is conditional love.
Just when I think I’ve heard all there is to hear from Evangelicals about sex, purity, and the like, someone will write or say something that I have not heard before. In other words, not all the nuts have fallen from the tree.
I remembered why I decided to wait to have sex as I listened to a podcast from Andy Stanley this morning on my way home from dropping off children at school.
“I’m not the appetizer, I’m the dessert.”
If we start off loaning our bodies, who is going to wait around for the main meal?
We ordered Olive Garden to-go last night and I had one of my favorite cheat meals—chicken alfredo and breadsticks with alfredo dipping sauce and an extra tub of alfredo sauce to heat up the leftovers the next day. Mmmmm … I was full and stuffed and happy. Deliriously-food-coma happy.
But I wasn’t completely satisfied. All the savory goodness was amazing, but I needed something sweet to finish it off. A bit of dark chocolate would have taken the cake … but there was NONE.
Justin ate it.
My marriage is like that. Dating Justin was the appetizer … good for a short amount of time, but I was excited to have the main meal with him. I wanted an entire lifetime. We’ve been married for almost 11 years, together for 13, and that man still gives me butterflies. He makes me strive to a better person and he is my teammate, partner, best friend and so much more.
But God knew that wasn’t enough.
So He throws a little dessert into the mix.
The dessert is exceptional.
It completes the meal…
…I’ve always believed that God means what He says. He said to wait, so I did. I always figured that if sex was as great as the students in my high school and my college roommate thought it was, that it would be even better if I waited. That God had a blessing in store if you did things His way.
There are many reasons to wait until you’re married to have sex, but here’s two at the top of the list:
1. God said to wait.
2. You’re worth waiting for…
Jett has been married for eleven years. She is an advocate of purity rings, having worn her own until her wedding night. In 2013, she wrote a book titled, The Cinderella Rule.
While Jett tries to dress up her blog post with a bit of wispy, feel good self-esteem, there really is only one reason a woman should wait until marriage to have sex. God said to wait. That’s the bottom line for Evangelicals: God said don’t do it, so don’t.
Apparently, shoulders are sexy. I know that sounds crazy, but guys are wired differently than we are. That’s how God created them, and Justin (her husband) didn’t want to be tempted physically. He wanted to do things right.
Bottom line: it’s not our place to put impure thoughts into guys’ heads. We don’t understand that the male mind replays images days after seeing a girl in a short skirt or catching a glimpse down a plunging neckline.
A guy friend told me that he was minding his own business at a gas station, pumping gas, when he saw a girl at the opposite station. She wore an extremely short skirt, and he couldn’t get the image of her legs and the idea of what was under her skirt out of his head. He thought about it for a couple of days. “Those images don’t just leave your mind,” he said. “I wasn’t even trying to look at the girl either–“I was merely glancing around.”He ended up masturbating to remove the building tension.
While guys are responsible for their thoughts, we can’t allow Satan to use us as a tool to lead guys down a path toward lust, pornography, and sexually impure behaviors. Even wearing spaghetti straps during a church service can throw guys off. Another guy confessed that one Sunday, he had trouble concentrating on communion and the sermon that followed because the girl next to him had bare shoulders. He was wracked with guilt for not being able to concentrate, unable to push his thoughts away since she was right next to him.
Ladies, we may never fully comprehend how guys think, but if they’re telling us they can’t concentrate,let’s help them out. Grab a cardigan for church or work,or anywhere,and let’s keep our skirts and shorts an appropriate length…
…a godly guy wants to date a girl who shares his values. If you want to be pursued properly, you must dress appropriately–just enough skin to be cute, but not enough to reveal the goods. Dressing modestly helps keep his mind from going into fantasy overdrive.
Remember, a guys pursuit is with an end goal in mind;and girlfriend, we are taking a pursuit to the altar…
…Honestly, chasing a guy is exhausting. Most guys will do anything with anyone, and high school and college guys, in particular, are not known for their exclusivity. Raging hormones dictate many a guy’s decisions; and if you pursue him, you won’t ever be sure whether it’s his heart or his hormones that loves you more.
When a man sees a girl he wants,he goes after her…Similar to a lion stalking his prey, a man will overcome any obstacle to get the woman he wants. I’m not talking about creepy stalker behavior. I’m talking about romantic, I can’t get her out of my head intensity. When a worthy guy desires you like that, girl, watch out!
But you’ll be ready.
You’ll know how to look.
How to dress.
How to act..
…when the right man starts the pursuit, let him.
I’m gonna to show you how…
What up with spaghetti straps? Am I out of the lust loop here? I’ve seen more than a few spaghetti-strapped women, and I don’t think I ever had the thought, oh my, I need to have her right now. If I don’t have sex with her RIGHT now, I am going to have to spank the monkey to release all the built up sexual tension.
Pritchard wrote about not revealing the “mystery.” Jett, taking a similar approach, writes about a woman not giving away all her “secrets.” What’s with all the code about genitalia and sex? Are Christians so prudish that the correct words for genitalia and sex can’t be used?
Maybe Pritchard and Jett’s problem is that they have spent their life around the weak, pathetic, forbidden sex on the brain, men found in the Evangelical and Catholic church. Perhaps they need to get out more and spend time with real men, men who know how to control their sexual desires and know how to treat a woman appropriately.
Think for a moment about the pathetic, weak boys mentioned in the excerpts from Jett’s book. A man is pumping gas, he sees a woman with a short skirt, and he is so driven with lust that he later has to masturbate. The other man couldn’t focus on communion and the sermon because a woman near him had bare shoulders. Can there be any better examples of weak church boys?
Boys like these have been conditioned to think that they are helpless, that it is not within their power to sexually control themselves. Perhaps every church boy is like the stupid young man in Proverbs 7:
…I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding, Passing through the street near her corner; and he went the way to her house,In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night: And, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart… Therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee. I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry, with carved works, with fine linen of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves…With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him. He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks;…
What I want to know is this: was the harlot wearing spaghetti straps?
It’s time for church boys and men to grow up and own their sexuality. If they can’t keep from lusting, the problem is theirs and not that of the women who dare to bare a leg, shoulder, or show some cleavage. If they are so sexually charged up that they are reaching in their pants as soon as they see attractive women, perhaps they need to spend more time looking at porn and self-pleasuring themselves until they get their “sexual tension” under control.
But Bruce, some women DO dress provocatively. Shouldn’t they be called out on their deliberate attempt to make men lust? First, how do you know that is what they are trying to do? Second, perhaps you need to learn to enjoy God’s creation. Yes, women are attractive and yes, they can arouse sexual feelings in a man. Would you rather women dressed like they just walked off the set of Little House on the Prairie? Learn to control your thoughts and desires. It really is that simple.
Sadly, far too many churches are like nurseries filled with infantile men who can’t control themselves. I don’t know of any other way to change their behavior than to say to them STOP IT!
People such as Bethany Jett are shooting at the wrong target. As occurs in many Muslim countries, American Christians with puritanical ideas about dress and sexuality, put the blame on women who dare to dress in ways that show their femininity and sexuality. Jett wants young women to show just enough skin to catch a man, but then the free show is over until the man puts a ring on her finger. In other words, she wants women to be flashers, showing just enough to get the attention of a man.
Little House on the Prairie, Preferred Dress for Fundamentalists
Every day, or so it seems, there is a news report of an Evangelical pastor, evangelist, college professor, church leader, or Sunday school teacher getting into trouble because he can’t keep his hands to himself or keep his pants zipped up. This should not surprise us because many of these “fallen” leaders were raised in churches that preach the puritanical sexuality found Jett’s book, blog, and other writing. It’s the whole blind-leading-the-blind thing. Generation after generation of Evangelical boys have been taught they are impotent when it comes to controlling their thoughts, urges, and desires. After a few generations of this, you end up with a church filled with hapless men who get boners as soon a woman shows more flesh than one of girls on Little House on the Prairie. Instead of being taught to be accountable for their actions, these men are taught to flee from the Jezebels that roam the halls of the church.
The Elevate City Church is an Evangelical church located in Fort Wayne, Indiana. According to the church’s website, Elevated City Church is:
Under the Weekend Experience (link no longer active) tab on the church website, Elevate lets everyone know that they are “come as you are” church. A year ago, I was watching a TV program on one of the Fort Wayne TV channels and the station aired an ad for Elevate City Church. The ad was quite syrupy, with various members of the church saying the church was, drum roll, roll your eyes, please:
Ah yes, the three buzzwords of the modern Evangelical church. Rarely do people stop to consider that churches like Elevate are saying that other churches in their community are NOT real, NOT relational, NOT relevant. While the leaders of Elevate City Church would never publicly say these things, it is implied in everything they do. Rarely does anyone ask, why does Fort Wayne, Indiana, a city with hundreds of churches, need another generic, more-awesome-than-sliced-bread, Evangelical church? As I have stated before, we need FEWER churches in the United States not more. Most every community has a plethora of churches and there is no need for more. Fort Wayne, in the heart of the Midwest, is hardly under-served when it comes to churches for Evangelicals to attend.
I titled this post The Elevate City Con Job. Why? Simple. The church wants to present itself as a we will accept you as you are church. While this may be true as far as sitting your ass in a seat, they most certainly have no intention of letting you stay as you are. If you want to do anything besides listen to Pastor Kyle Mills’ awesome sermons, then you will have to change.
Kyle Mills is a graduate of an Evangelical Baptist university, Liberty University. The doctrinal beliefs of Elevate City Church are decidedly Evangelical and Baptist. A quick perusal of the church’s official doctrinal statement (which has since been removed) shows that the church believes that the Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God, salvation is through Jesus Christ alone, and, to use the words of the statement:
After living on earth, the unbelievers will be judged by God and sent to Hell where they will be eternally with the Devil and the fallen Angels…[heaven] and hell are places of eternal existence.
Standard Evangelical boilerplate language. Again, exactly why does Fort Wayne need ANOTHER Evangelical church? According to the church’s website (link no longer active):
The majority of Americans are spiritually restless
180,000 of the 300,000 people in the Fort Wayne area do not regularly attend church
A new church is emerging (and Elevate City Church is part of the new emerging church)
The Elevate City Church is almost three years old. They were started with the support of Eagle Rock Church and The Association of Related Churches. I wonder, in three years, how many of the 180,000 Fort Wayne residents who don’t regularly attend church have walked through the doors of Elevate City Church?
I am sure Pastor Mills and the Elevate City Church members are fine people. I suspect he and I would get along famously. This post is not meant to be a personal attack of Mills or the church. It is me calling bullshit. It is my challenge of the assumptions that led Mills to start Elevate City Church.
Church planters like Mills can never answer me when I ask, so why is planting a new church the answer to 60% of people in the Fort Wayne area not regularly attending church? What is the new church going to do that countless other churches haven’t already done? Of course, Mills would likely say God told me to start the church.
Church planters think that the church they plant is special; that they have a mandate from God. In Mills’ case, God told him at the age of nine to plant a church in Fort Wayne:
“God” also gave Elevate City Church a permanent meeting place, so I am sure Mills and the church see this as a sign that God approves of them starting the church. Countless churches have come and gone in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Every church planter thought his church was special, that God wanted him to plant the church. Church plants fail, and those that don’t, in time, become just like the churches they swore they never would be like. Their new church, if it survives, will become an old church, and new church planters will move to town, claiming to be new, exciting, and different, and they will proceed to poach members from the old new church.
The dirty little secret of Evangelical church planting is that the vast majority of people who attend a new church plant come from other churches. Few people are new converts. Why? Because almost every American, especially here in the Midwest, has already heard the good news of the gospel. It is not a lack of information that keeps people out of churches. Americans are increasingly rejecting Christianity and turning to spirituality, eastern religions, or atheism/agnosticism/humanism. Why?
Evangelical Christianity is slowly dying. Instead of trying to strengthen that which remains, hip, relevant church planters start new churches. They poach the members of old, established churches and this “growth” hides the fact that the disinterested are still disinterested and they haven’t flocked to the new church. The truth is, more and more Americans think Evangelical Christianity is irrelevant. Evangelicals have a huge PR problem, and as long as their beliefs, practices, and lifestyle are tethered to an inspired, inerrant, infallible ancient book, Evangelicals should not expect the disinterested to rush to their churches on Sunday. Playing rock and praise and worship music, dressing down, getting rid of pews, and acting all hip and cool, hides the fact that the message is still the same; repent and believe the gospel or you are going to be tortured by God in hell for all eternity.
I have no objection to Evangelicals starting as many clubhouses as they want. This is America, and corporate, capitalistic, libertarian thinking dominates the Evangelical church-planting scene. They just need to understand that some of us see through the smokescreen. By all means, plant another church, convince yourself that “God” is leading you to do so, but the facts on the ground remain the same. Planting a new church will not fix what ails America. Americans no longer are buying what Evangelicals are selling. Perhaps it is time to follow the command of Jesus: go sell all that you have and give it to the poor. Perhaps when Americans see THAT kind of Christianity, they might take an interest in it. Even though I am an atheist, I can, from a distance, admire a church and a pastor that takes seriously the teachings of Jesus. All I see right now is the same incestuous, irrelevant church, with a new name. It is time to burn the institutional church to the ground and start over. Or so says this atheist.
As many of you know, I see a secular counselor from time to time. More than once, he has challenged me over what he considers my naïveté about my fellow humans. For the longest time, I sincerely believed that if I just explained myself to people, they would at least understand where I am coming from. While they might not agree with me, they would at least understand my viewpoint. I now know that many people, especially Evangelical Christians, aren’t interested in understanding where I am coming from. They are not interested in my beliefs, explanations, or story. Armed with certainty, God living inside of them, and an inspired, infallible, inerrant text in the crooks of their elbows, they already know who and what I am. Nothing I say will change their opinion of me.
These kinds of people think they know the REAL reasons I left the ministry and left Christianity. They are certain they know exactly why I became an atheist. If my telling my story contradicts their conclusions, then I am lying, deceived, delusional, or a con-artist. Because their mind is already made up, anything that does not fit into the narrative they believe to be true is rejected out of hand. One commenter told me years ago, Bruce, I know you better than you know yourself. I think there are a lot of Evangelical Christians who think this way about me. They think their special relationship with God gives them an understanding of me that other people might not have. Most of these people have never met me and the only things they know about me are what they read on this blog. They are quite certain that they know me inside and out.
When I tell them I left Christianity primarily for intellectual reasons they don’t believe me. There must be some other reason, perhaps a “secret” reason why I am no longer a Christian. They cannot imagine how anyone, having all the training and experience I have, could ever intellectually reject Jesus Christ. They are like people who drive Fords. They love driving a Ford, and because they love driving a Ford, everyone else should too. They can’t imagine ever driving any other car but a Ford. When asked what kind of car their parents drove, they will proudly say, a Ford! It never dawns on them that perhaps the reason they drive a Ford is because their parents drove a Ford. They are convinced they drive a Ford because it is better than every other automobile make, even though they have never driven any other make of car but Ford.
Most of the atheists/agnostics I know were Christians before they became an atheist/agnostic. Many of them were serious, devoted followers of Jesus Christ. They attended church regularly, were active in the church, read and studied their Bible, prayed regularly, and financially contributed to the church. In every way they were true-blue Christians.
These atheists, like myself, reached a place where they began to have doubts questions about the Bible and Christianity. These doubts and questions led to more doubts and questions. They never intended to not be Christian, but as they read and studied they came to the conclusion that they could no longer believe the tenets of Christianity. They lost their faith in God, the Bible, and Christianity. Few people can understand the pain and heartache that they faced and continue to face as they walked away from that which was once most precious.
Many of my critics assume that I jumped from fundamentalist Christianity to atheism. They refuse to take a careful look at the path that led me to where I am today. It goes something like this:
Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christian
Evangelical Christian (Calvinistic)
I tried to find a natural stopping point as I slid down the slippery slope, but I couldn’t. No matter how much I tried to shut off my mind to the questions, they would continue to come to the forefront of my thinking and demand answers. It is the seeking of answers that finally led me to where I am today, and will lead me to where I will be tomorrow.
Many of those who refuse to accept my story at face value are sure that there is some other underlying motive for my unbelief. Brad, a commenter on a post I wrote about Steven Furtick, is an excellent example of this. Here is what he had to say:
I’m sorry to hear that you left the ministry and even more that you decided to leave Christ for a life of Atheism. I do agree with some of your comments about Furtick and his financial lifestyle.
I actually relate more with the approach of Francis Chan, as described in his book Crazy Love, which I’m assuming that you are probably familiar with. The reason I wanted to comment is because the bigger picture that you are missing is salvation. No matter if Furtick is making poor decisions regarding his finances, that does not change his salvation.
I’m concerned for you Bruce. I understand that I came on your website and read your blog, but as a Christian and believer in Christ, I feel like that someone needs to simply remind you of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and unfailing love. I wonder if you were hurt somehow in the church?
Why did you serve God for so many years and then decide to leave from the protection and shadow of his ‘wing’? If you were hurt in the church, I’m sorry for that. You can’t however, hold God accountable for something one of his crazy kids may have done! I had a bad experience at Wal-Mart one time, but I still go back and buy my groceries there!
I will pray for you and believe that you will come back to Christ. I am a licensed therapist (Masters in Counseling) and an ordained minister and I own a private practice and work with hurting people everyday. My experience is that hurt people, hurt people! I think there is a possibility that you are hurt and bitter. Maybe not. I do know that you are confused because you left God’s calling for your life! Peter Pan, you have forgotten how to fly! Don’t worry, God still loves you more than you could ever imagine. Prodigal son, when are you going to return to your Father?
Brad thinks there is an underlying reason for why I am no longer in the ministry and no longer a Christian. He made no effort to read anything else I wrote but the Steven Furtick post, and based on that post he read he “intuited” that I must be hurt.
I want to conclude this post by dealing with the notion that the reason I deconverted was due to some underlying emotional issue. For the longest time, I refused to see my deconversion as anything other than an intellectual pursuit. I knew that admitting that I was angry, jaded, cynical, or hurt would allow critics to dismiss everything else I wrote. All that would matter to them is that I left Christianity for some other reason than an intellectual one.
This coming September, it will been thirteen years since I pastored a church and seven years since I walked away from Christianity. As I continue to analyze and understand why I no longer believe, I now know the reasons are many. While the intellectual reasons are certainly the main reason I no longer believe in God, I now know that there was/is an emotional component to my deconversion.
Was I hurt in some way? No. There was no crisis event that led me to renounce my faith. There were five years between pastoring my last church and my loss of faith. During this five-year period, I had numerous opportunities to pastor. I could have started a new church, and as late as 2007, Polly and I had discussions about starting a church. I even contacted the Quaker/Friends denomination about starting a church in the Defiance, Ohio area. Until the last Sunday in November 2008, when I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time, I still thought of myself as a Christian pastor. I knew I was hanging on by a thin thread, but I still thought I could intellectually make it work. In the end, I couldn’t. No one hurt me, no church so injured me that I had no other choice but to leave Christianity. If anything, my deconversion was more like a married couple who loved each other dearly but couldn’t stand to be around each other. My lifelong marriage to Christianity ended, not only for intellectual reasons, but because I could no longer stand to be around American Christianity.
Anger came after I deconverted. For the longest time, I was angry at myself for wasting so much of my life in the ministry. I was angry over how the ministry hurt my wife and children and how my preaching hurt other people. I was angry over what Evangelical Christianity was doing to America. But, most of all, I was angry at Evangelical Christians who refused to take me at face value and who refused to allow me to authentically tell my story.
While I can still get angry at belligerent, self-righteous, arrogant, cement-headed Christians, most of the time I just sigh and shake my head as they deconstruct my life or let me know that they know the REAL reason(s) I am not in the ministry or why I am no longer a Christian. I now know that I cannot make the blind see or the deaf hear. While I can readily accept their confession of faith in Jesus Christ at face value, they cannot grant me the same respect. I suspect this is because of who I am.
I am not just a generic, run-of-the-mill Christian turned atheist. I am not someone who was raised in the church and then when I became an adult, rejected the faith of my parents. I am a man who spent fifty years in the Christian church. I am a man who started preaching when he was fifteen. I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. Even among the apostate pastors who are prominent today, I have more time on the job than most. Many pastors who deconvert do so after five or ten years in the ministry. Rare is the man who spends fifty years in the Evangelical church and walks away from it all. I think this is the real reason many of my most vocal critics try to reduce me to dog shit on the bottom of their shoes. I wonder if they, deep down, fear that if someone such as I can lose my faith, that it is possible they can too? Perhaps when the doubts and questions they say they never have come to the surface in the still of the night, those doubts and questions have my face. Perhaps they are like a few former parishioners who cannot talk to me anymore because they find my deconversion so unsettling? They wonder, how can this be? How can Pastor Bruce be an atheist? He led me to Christ, he baptized me, he taught me the Bible, he loved me, cared for me, and prayed for me. If Bruce is an atheist, is the faith of anyone safe?