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Category: Evangelicalism

I’m Not Preaching Now, I’m Telling the Truth

preaching

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979. Midwestern, started in 1954 by Alabama preacher Tom Malone, was a small fundamentalist Baptist college.  Malone pastored nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. In the 1970’s, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the country. Today its buildings are shuttered and a FOR SALE sign sits in the dust-covered main entrance door.

During my time at Midwestern, I heard Tom Malone preach several hundred times. Considered by many to be a great pulpiteer, Malone’s preaching was fervent and punctuated with illustrations meant to drive home the point he was making. During one sermon, Malone said something I never forgot. In the middle of sharing an illustration, Malone said:

I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.

Everyone laughed and then he finished his illustration.

Over the march of my life from infancy to the grave, I’ve heard thousands of sermons and preached thousands more. I’ve heard men that had no public speaking skills and others who were wordsmiths capable of enchanting hearers with their preaching and illustrations. Sadly, there are a lot more of the former than the latter.  Even though I am an atheist, I still enjoy hearing a well crafted sermon delivered by a man who knows how to turn a word into an epic Broadway production.

Preaching only the Bible is boring, uninspiring preaching. An effective sermon requires illustrations. Jesus was a master storyteller. His sermons made ample use of illustrations meant to drive home a spiritual point. A preacher that is good at his craft knows that illustrations are key to helping listeners understand and embrace his sermon. And therein lies the danger.

When I started preaching, I used illustrations from illustration books. As I aged and experienced more of life, I began to use more and more illustrations about my experiences and personal life. If a preacher isn’t careful, it is easy to massage his illustrations to “fit” a particular sermon or audience. Sometimes, the illustration becomes a lie.

As I mentioned above, I’ve heard a lot of sermons. I’ve heard thousands of illustrations and personal stories, all meant to get my attention or drive home a point. Over time, I came to understand that many preachers played loose with the truth, often shaping their stories to make a particular point or to cast themselves in a positive light. In other words, they lied, even if they don’t understand they are doing so. Often, a speaker can tell the same lie over and over until they reach a point where the lie become reality and they think it is the truth.

Take Jack Hyles, by all accounts a masterful speaker and storyteller. He was also a narcissistic liar. I heard Hyles preach numerous times at Sword of the Lord and Bible conferences. His sermons were usually long on illustrations and short on Scripture and exegesis. For Hyles, it was all about the sermon, the story, and the invitation. Everything he said was meant to bring hearers to a point of making a decision for or against Jesus.

Here’s a story Hyles told about winning an auto mechanic to Christ:

When I got to his house, he was working under the car. He was lying face up on a creeper and could not see me as I arrived.

“Hyles Mechanic Service!” I shouted.

“Who called you?” he asked.

“I was not called,” I replied, “I was sent.”

“Well, roll yourself under and see if you can see what is the trouble.”

I got another creeper, laid down on it, and roiled myself under the car with him.

“Looks like to me you need the valves ground,” I shouted.

“How can you tell from under here?”

“I am not talking about your car. I am talking about you.”

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am Pastor Hyles of First Baptist Church.”

Then he became inquisitive, and I explained to him that he needed Christ as Saviour to make him a new creature and that he was in worse shape than the car. With both of us lying on our backs looking up at the bottom side of the car, I told him how to be saved. When time came to pray the sinner’s prayer, he closed by saying, “Lord, I am just coming for a general overhauling.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. The next Sunday he came forward in our service professing his faith in Christ.

Great story, and one I have no doubt is an admixture of truth and lie. Every time I read a story like this I am reminded of that Sunday morning almost forty years ago when I heard Tom Malone say, “I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.”  Now, that will preach, as the Baptists like to say.

Songs of Sacrilege: Eve by Shelley Segal

This is the thirtieth 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 send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Eve by Shelley Segal, an Australian musician.

Video Link

Lyrics

The bible tells me I was made for and from man
And I must do for him everything that I can
I must surrender to his will, yeah I must submit
I can’t make the household decisions coz I am unfit
It tells me my place
With ever-lasting grace

The bible tells me I must be silent you can’t hear my voice
My role has been divinely defined and I have no other choice
I may not be a teacher of man, I must cover up my shame
These are the laws of the one who in vain I cannot name
He tells me my place
With ever-lasting grace

And my punishment for wanting to learn
Is a painful birth from which I may not return

The bible tells me that I am unclean
I am impure you cannot touch me and it has nothing to do with where I’ve been
It is part of who I am, It is because I corrupt man
I was asking for it just by being a woman
He tells me my place
With ever-lasting grace

And my punishment for wanting to learn
Is a painful birth from which I may not return

The bible tells me I was made for and from man
And I must do for him everything that I can
I must surrender to his will, yeah I must submit
I can’t make the household decisions coz I am unfit
It tells me my place
With ever-lasting grace

Songs of Sacrilege: Saved by Shelley Segal

This is the twenty-ninth 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 send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Saved by Shelley Segal, an Australian musician.

Video Link

Lyrics

Say that i need to be saved
Say with me the devils got his way
I want to know how when you are praying
And when you are dooms-daying
How you think you know that someone is listening to what you are saying

So you think that you
Can tell us how to live our lives
Never questioning the source from which your moral code derives
You think that suffering is part of some great plan that’s been devised
I wonder, I wonder
When we’ll be rid of your lies

Say I need to hear the truth
A sales-pitch of eternal life and eternal youth
All these blessings you are bestowing
Upon the one you say is all-knowing
Are they really deserved if ‘He’ is sending me where you say I am going?

So you think that you
Can tell us how to live our lives
Never questioning the source from which your moral code derives
You think that suffering is part of some great plan that’s been devised
I wonder, I wonder, I wonder, I wonder

What will it take for you
To start opening your eyes
To start questioning the bullshit everyone around you buys
You think it’s any of your business what goes on between my thighs?
I wonder, I wonder,
When we’ll be rid of your lies

 

Sacrilegious Humor: Various Bits on Religion by Rowan Atkinson

This is the seventh installment in the Sacrilegious Humor series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a comedy bit 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 email me the name of the bit or a link to it.

Today’s bit is Various Bits on Religion by Rowan Atkinson.

Warning, many of the comedy bits in this series will contain profanity. You have been warned.

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Atheists Talk: Radio Interview on Sunday June 28, 2015

am950

This Sunday, I am scheduled to be interviewed on Atheists Talk, a program broadcast on AM950, the Progressive Voice of Minnesota. The program, a production of Minnesota Atheists, is one hour-long and will be broadcast live from 9AM to 10AM Central time. Scott Lohman will be conducting the interview. Scott is a friend of mine. He regularly comments on this blog.

You can listen to the program here.  After the broadcast, a podcast will be available. I am not sure how long it takes for them to make the podcast available. You can access it here.

If asked for a zip code, please use 55412

Evangelical Mega-Churches Using Face Recognition Software to Keep Track of Parishioners

churchix face recognition
Churchix Face Recognition Software

Excerpt from Why Are Churches Using Creepy Face Recognition Technology? by Valerie Tarico:

Churches just got a new way to figure out who is sleeping in on Sunday morning: facial recognition software that scans the congregation and records who showed up. Churchix is a product of Skakash LLC, which sells Face-Six for law enforcement, border control, and commercial applications. According to CEO Moshe Greenshpan, in the 4 months since the technology launched, 30 churches have already deployed the software and service, which could be used to target members who need a nudge or to identify potential major donors among those who attend faithfully.

Make Disciples of Every Creature

Evangelical churches often center their theology on a New Testament verse called the Great Commission: Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel every creature. They do so with good reason. Almost 40 years ago, with the publication of Richard Dawkins’s book The Selfish Gene, the broad public realized that ideas can be viral self-replicators, just like genes are. A “copy-me command” is a powerful thing, whether it prompts its host to replicate a computer virus, chain mail, species or a set of religious beliefs.

Churches that grow fastest and biggest are those that put the “copy me” directive at the center of their priorities. They actively invest in recruiting, whether that means designing high quality print materials and websites, training “friendship missionaries,” launching social media campaigns, or conducting professional market analysis. By contrast with Europe, where religion often exists as a fading church-state monopoly, American churches are particularly entrepreneurial and many keep eyes open for business tools that can be applied to the business of expanding membership, offerings, and market share.

In churches that are on top of their growth game, greeters stand in the lobby to make sure everyone feels welcome. Guests are asked to fill out contact cards for follow up. High-production-value materials promote both theological benefits like salvation and concrete perks like childcare. Websites and social media advertise programs for young people. As in any business, good marketing is critical to sales and fiscal health, and that means keeping up with the state of the art.

High Touch, Soft Sell

Since the time of Billy Graham’s fire-and-brimstone tent revivals, many churches have moved tactically toward a more soft-sell social marketing approach. A form of evangelism called “relational apologetics” trains Christians to win converts via a slow cultivation process rather than the more traditional door-to-door witnessing or Sunday morning altar call.

One 2014 training for pastors in Seattle included a handout, “30 Ways to Create a High Touch Environment,” that included tips more commonly given to fundraising professionals or sales teams:

  • Put energy into being likeable.
  • Smile a lot.
  • Make all the friends you can.
  • Focus on their interests. Ask them questions.
  • Follow the 101% Principle. Find the 1% that you agree on and give it 100% of your effort. Find common ground.
  • Walk slowly through the crowd.
  • Return all emails and phone calls within 24 hours.
  • Remember names.

For churches investing in this kind of courtship, technology tools including customer relations management software (like Salesforce), and social media are common practice. Software that scans attendee faces during the Sunday morning service and enters them in a database is just one in a long line of innovations that churches have adopted from the sales, marketing, and fundraising sectors.Powerful Persuasion, Questionable ProductBut will it backfire? Facial recognition software is creepy, even when it’s just a matter of Facebook tagging us in pictures; and if early web response is any indication, Churchix strikes some people as particularly creepy. Why? Because the whole goal of Churchix is to help power-seeking, member-seeking, communities manipulate people more effectively…

Sacrilegious Humor: Religion is Bullshit by George Carlin

This is the sixth installment in the Sacrilegious Humor series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a comedy bit 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 email me the name of the bit or a link to it.

Today’s bit is Religion is Bullshit by George Carlin.

Warning, many of the comedy bits in this series will contain profanity. You have been warned.

Video Link

Sacrilegious Humor: Noah’s Ark by Ricky Gervais

This is the fifth installment in the Sacrilegious Humor series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a comedy bit 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 email me the name of the bit or a link to it.

Today’s bit is Noah’s Ark by Ricky Gervais.

Warning, many of the comedy bits in this series will contain profanity. You have been warned.

Video Link

Local Christian Takes Courageous Stand for Jesus 

Snark ahead!

As you know, here in rural NW Ohio, religious persecution is quite severe.  Never mind that there is a Christian church on every street corner and the overwhelmingly majority of local residents profess faith in Jesus Christ. In the mind of God’s chosen ones, being forced to even think about two people of the same-sex being married in a ceremony performed by the notorious atheist Bruce Gerencser is enough for them to think they are being persecuted nigh unto death.

While their paranoid delusions have no basis in fact, I do think many Christian zealots have a persecution complex. Why, just the other day I drove though Pulaski, a spot along US HWY 127 noted for Bruce Gerencser having attended third grade there, and noticed the following:

believer lives here

This sign is akin to having a sign that says White Person Lives Here or Republican Lives Here.

Everyone in rural NW Ohio is a Christian. Yet, I am sure this bold as Daniel in the lion’s den Christian thinks that they are making a courageous statement of faith. They should expect persecution to befall them. In fact it already has. An atheist and his agnostic wife drove by this believer’s house and snickered. Such persecution has not been seen since the days the Romans slaughtered Christians in the Coliseum. How will this believer survive the withering persecution of a snickering atheist and his wife?

Stay tuned for updated reports.

Note:

Now, if I put a sign up in my yard that says, God is a Fiction, an Atheist Lives Here, I doubt the sign would survive the night. I know of only three or four out of the closet atheists in this area. I am sure there are more, but most local atheists stay in the closet lest they face social condemnation and economic harm.

 

How Do Christians Explain My Life?

reprobate

Rather than asking each Evangelical to “explain” my life, I thought I’d let the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God answer for them:

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I John 2:18-20

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools …For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections:… And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind…. Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. Romans 1:16 –32

My defection from Christianity is proof I never “really” was a Christian. Real Christians persevere to the end. Real Christians keep going to church, reading the Bible, praying, tithing, and living according to the Christian social code until the end. A real Christian believes, walks, acts, talks, and lives like a Christian. And the standard for this believing, walking, acting, talking, and living? Each Christian’s interpretation of the Bible, thus reminding all who are paying attention that there is no such thing as Christianity; just Christianities, with each believer having their own form of the faith once delivered to the saints.

According to Romans 1, I have the clear marks of a reprobate. A reprobate is one whom God has condemned to hell while still in this life, unless you are a Calvinist, then God condemns some people to hell before they are even born.  To the reprobate, God says “ I am done with you, do what you will.”

Supposedly, since I am now a reprobate, this is how I live my life:

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. Romans 1:26-32

In other words, I am now supposed to a homosexual, a murdering, evil, hater of God, among other things.

Never mind that I live a better, more wholesome life than most Christians. Never mind that I love my neighbor as myself. Never mind that I am faithful to my wife, love my children and grandchildren.  All that REALLY matters is whether I pray THE prayer, where I park my ass on Sunday, what book I read, and whether I pray, tithe,witness, oppose abortion rights, think homosexuality and same-sex marriage is a sin, and vote Republican.

Here’s how I see it: this is one of those did he resign or was he fired moments.

Did I leave God or did God leave me?

Matters not.

The divorce is final.

The relationship is over.

All that is left is the scars and memories.

Telling me I was never a Christian denies the life I lived for almost fifty years. Telling me that I am still a Christian denies the life I have been living for almost a decade. The ONLY explanation for my life is that I once was a Christian and now I am not. I once was saved and now I am not. I once was a follower of Jesus and now I am not.  But, Bruce….the Bible says….

And therein lies the problem. Most Christians are incapable of seeing what is right in front of them. The Bible has become blinders that keep them from seeing and understanding anything that does not fit their narrow, fundamentalist worldview.

Songs of Sacrilege: The Easy Confidence (What I Would Say to You Now) by Quiet Company

This is the twenty-eighth 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 send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is The Easy Confidence (What I Would Say to You Now) by Quiet Company, an American rock band from Austin, Texas.

Video Link

Lyrics

I was screaming out your name. I guess you never heard me, but I was screaming it for years, and I think I deserve a reason for why you’ve been so elusive. Now I’ve been thinking about my life and I can’t believe that I have wasted so much time trying to be what everyone loves, the prodigal son returning. Oh, what a sight, the prodigal son returning.

If Jesus Christ ever reached down and touched my life, he certainly left no sign to let me know he had. And I wouldn’t mind that he couldn’t find the time, it’s just that now my heart longs for things that probably don’t exist. But now I think I see this for what it is.

Oh my soul! Oh, my soul is tired, but I’ve got an itch to scratch, I’ve got a stone to throw, and I want to sink my teeth into your hollow bones. I’ve got a bone to pick, and I want to pick it clean! Oh, the prodigal son and his shameful disbelief.

I want something better. I want something real. And this is the part where my exit starts, because I caught a glimpse of the father’s heart. Do we want something we can’t have? So come on, friends, count up your sins: one for being human, two for being born like this. This isn’t love. We’re not in love. If you wanted love, you just should’ve spoken up.

Sacrilegious Humor: We Are Most Amused by Rowan Atkinson

This is the fourth installment in the Sacrilegious Humor series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a comedy bit 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 email me the name of the bit or a link to it.

Today’s bit is We Are Most Amused by Rowan Atkinson.

Warning, many of the comedy bits in this series will contain profanity. You have been warned.

Video Link