Questions

Questions: Bruce, Did You Believe in the Existence of Alien Life Forms?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

ObstacleChick asked: When you were an Evangelical Christian, did you believe in the existence of alien life forms? That is, did you believe that there was potentially life on other planets? Did you believe that it was possible that God created other planets on which there were creatures made in his image? Or did you believe that “aliens” were demons? And did you believe the universe was large enough that there could be life on other planets but that the technology does not yet exist for us to detect them (or that they could detect us)?

My answer to this question will be short and sweet. As an Evangelical pastor, I had an anthropocentric view of the universe; that God created one inhabited planet: earth; that alien-populated planets were found only in science fiction. I believed humans were God’s “special” creation — much like the AIs in Westworld. God gave us dominion over everything.

As you can see, I had no place in my worldview for space aliens. I was a young-earth creationist who believed God created the world six twenty-four-hour days, six thousand years ago. When science conflicted with Genesis 1-3, I always sided with God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Words. Sadly, I passed this ignorance on to three generations of congregants.

Today, I believe that it is likely that there are other inhabited solar systems/planets; that it is unlikely that we are alone in the universe. I have often pondered what would happen to Evangelicalism if aliens landed on Earth in Mars Attacks! fashion. I suspect that loss of faith would be widespread, but many Evangelical preachers, teachers, and professors would find some way to “explain” the appearance of alien life. Christianity, if it is anything, is an adaptable system of belief. One need only study church history to see how Christian beliefs, practices, and social prohibitions have evolved over the years. If I asked you in the 1960s whether Evangelical churches would one day use rock music in their worship, we both would have had a hearty laugh. Yet, today most Evangelical churches use music forms that were once considered sin.

Evangelicalism is going through tremendous upheaval, shedding millions of congregants. Some Evangelicals, desperate to hang on to tribal faith, now embrace beliefs — pro-LGBTQ, pro-same-sex marriage, pro-evolution, to name three — which were, not that many years ago, the provenance of liberal Christianity. I predict Evangelicalism is headed for schism, with progressives and Fundamentalists forming their own sects. As Southern Baptists are learning, give Fundamentalists an inch they will take a mile. Liberal Southern Baptists left years ago, with progressives believing they could get along with their Fundamentalist brethren. As they are finding out, Fundamentalists see them tools of Satan, compromisers of truth. Fundamentalists, for the most part, are young-earth creationists, whereas progressives tend to be theistic evolutionists (a bastardized version of biological evolution). As with the bloody war between factions over abortion, Fundamentalists have no interest in compromise or finding common ground. Fundamentalists, much like the German and Russian armies in WWII, have a scorched-earth approach to defeating their enemies. No matter what science, common sense, or reason tells us, Fundamentalists are resolved to stand firm upon their literal interpretations of the Bible. Even if aliens from Planet Zot transport them to a labor camp light-years away, Fundamentalists will still be saying, THE BIBLE SAYS!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Bruce, Do You Miss Being A Preacher?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Victor asked: Do you miss being a preacher?

I preached my first sermon at age fifteen. While attending Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, I preached on Sunday afternoons at the SHAR House in Detroit — a drug rehab center. I pastored Evangelicals churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan for twenty-five years. All told, I preached thousands of sermons to tens of thousands of people. If the ministry were just about preaching and teaching, I would say, without reservation, that I miss being a preacher. I thoroughly enjoyed preaching and teaching congregants the Word of God. I enjoyed the intellectual work that went into crafting a good sermon. I suspect, if I could choose a career in the secular world, that I would want to be a college professor.

Of course, the ministry entails a lot more than just preaching. I spent countless hours counseling people, performing weddings, conducting funerals, attending congregational/board meetings, and ministering to the social needs of congregants and the community at large. Over the years, I developed a real distaste for internecine warfare and conflict. Behind the scenes, I had to deal with squabbles and fights. I so wanted to scream, WILL EVERYONE PLEASE GROW UP! Evangelicals can be loving and kind one moment and nasty, vicious, and judgmental the next. I was so tired of conflict that I warned the last church I pastored — Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan — that I had no heart for conflict. Evidently, they didn’t believe me, so imagine their surprise when a church business meeting turned into open warfare that I said, I quit! I told you that I had no stomach for church squabbles. And with that, I packed up my family and we moved back to Northwest Ohio.

Two years later, I tried one last time to pastor a church, candidating at several Southern Baptist churches in West Virginia. I found that I no longer had the emotional strength necessary to pastor a church. And with that, my career as a pastor came to an end — three years before I left Christianity. I have many fond memories from my days as a pastor. I also carry deep psychological scars too. The ministry is an admixture of peace, grace, and happiness and disunity, conflict, and loss. Thankfully, the former outweighed the latter for me. I know more than a few men who were savaged by their first congregation, never to pastor again.

I miss, of course, the love and respect I received from congregants. Who doesn’t want to be told week after week how wonderful you are? Pastors stand at the back of the church and shake hands with people as they leave. Church members and visitors alike praise them for their sermons and tell how much what they said helped them. I miss that feeling of connection with my fellow Christians. Of course, many of those same believers turned on me upon finding out that I was no longer a Christian. In some ways, I don’t blame them for their anger and hatred. I broke the bond we had with each other. In their minds, I was Pastor Bruce or Preacher; the man who helped their families, both spiritually and temporally. Now I am, in their eyes, a hater of God, living in denial of everything I once said was true.

If you know of a church looking for an unbeliever just to preach on Sundays, please let me know. I’m your man! I would love to whip up a few post-Jesus sermons.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Bruce, What Was Your View on the King James Bible?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Richard asked: During your time in in the IFB what was your particular view on the KJV? Did you change this view prior to leaving Christianity?

I grew up in Baptist churches that only used the King James Bible. These churches weren’t King James-only per se. It just that the King James was the only Bible version these churches used. I don’t remember ever hearing a sermon on why church members should only use the KJV. This all changed with the publishing of the New International Version (NIV) in 1978 and the New King James Version (NKJV) in 1982. This forced Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches and pastors, along with IFB college and seminaries, to stake out positions on English Bible translations. The college I attended in the 1970s, Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, was decidedly King James-only. Professors and students were required to use only the KJV, and chapel speakers were required to do the same. Using a different translation was grounds for immediate expulsion. At the same time, however, the KJV extremism of Peter Ruckman was also banned, I suspect out of trying to avoid the infighting that Ruckmanism tended to foment. (Please read Questions: Bruce, In Your IFB Days Did You Encounter Peter Ruckman?) That said, Ruckman’s teachings found fertile ground in which to grow, and more than a few Midwestern graduates are Ruckmanites. They proudly advertise their beliefs about Bible translations by displaying on their church signs and literature KJV 1611. (Back in the day when Polly and I were looking for a church to attend, we took KJV 1611 on a church sign to mean: Danger! Infected with incurable disease. Do not enter!)

I entered the ministry a defender of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Word of God; “Word of God” being the King James Bible. While I was never a follower of Peter Ruckman — I despised his nasty, vulgar disposition and that of his disciples — I generally believed as he did: that the King James Bible was God’s perfect word for English-speaking people. I wasn’t one to spend much time preaching about Bible translations. Everyone knew that at the churches I pastored we ONLY used the King James Bible.

In the late 1980s, I read several books that called into question my belief that the King James Bible was inerrant. I concluded that no translation was without error, and that inerrancy only applied to the original manuscripts. I took the approach that the KJV was the best and most reliable translation for English-speaking people. I held this position until the late 1990s.

In 1995, I started a non-denominational church, Our Father’s House, in West Unity, Ohio. I would pastor Our Father’s House for seven years. It was here that my theology, politics, and social values began to change. In 2000, I decided to change which Bible translation I used when preaching. I had already been reading other translations in my studies, but using anything but a KJV for preaching was a big deal, at least for me. Congregants? They couldn’t care less. I used the New American Standard Version (NASB) for a year or so, eventually moving to the English Standard Version (ESV). I was still preaching from the ESV when I left Christianity in November 2008. Devotionally, I read Eugene Peterson’s masterful translation, The Message. I found great joy and satisfaction when reading The Message translation. It was a Bible that truly spoke the language of the common man.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Bruce, How Did You Make Your Final Break From Religious Belief?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Mary asked: Bruce, how did you make the final break from [religious] belief? I still vacillate quite often and struggle w/the emotional turmoil that follows. thanks for taking time to answer the questions we are posting.

As an Evangelical, I could point to the date, time, and place Jesus saved me. I know when and how I was saved because I was there when it happened. For most of my life, I had what Evangelicals call a know-so salvation. The Apostle Paul had a know-so salvation too. In his letter to a young preacher by the name of Timothy, Paul wrote:

For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. (2 Timothy 1:12)

Being a Christian, then, was all about “knowing”; about certainty of belief. The same cannot be said for my current state of unbelief. I have written tens of thousands of words about my deconversion and how I went from a preacher of the gospel to no longer believing the “truths” I once preached. I can point to the date when I attended church for the last time, and I remember the day when I said to myself (and to my wife), “I am no longer a Christian.” I can point to the 2009 letter I wrote to Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners as my equivalent of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses. Yet, I haven’t had what I call a born-again atheist experience, and I don’t know many unbelievers who have.

The path from belief to unbelief is often long, arduous, and littered with stops, reversals, collisions, and a host of other things that complicate deconversion. In my case, I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches. Days, months, and years were spent devotedly worshiping and serving Jesus Christ. Tens of thousands of hours were given to reading and studying the Bible, reading theological tomes, praying, preaching, teaching, evangelizing the lost, and ministering to the needs of congregants. I was as deeply immersed in Evangelical church life as anyone could be. I was a sot in a religious sense, drinking in all that Christianity had to offer. Becoming an unbeliever, then, required detoxification. My mind was, and still is, filled with knowledge about Christianity, the Bible, and the experiential aspects of faith.

Unbelief is a frontal assault and challenge to a life of religious belief. For decades, I said I believed this or that. I was sure of my beliefs, having no doubt whatsoever that what the Bible said was absolute truth. It was only when I allowed agents of unbelief a seat at the table of my life that I began to have questions and doubts. These honorable, thoughtful voices of doubt and unbelief asked of me what the Devil asked of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Yea hath God said? Answering (and continuing to answer) this question caused doubt and further questions. Questions begat questions, to use King James vernacular. This steady stream of questions ultimately led me to conclude that what Christians believed about the Bible was not true, and that the Christian narrative could not be rationally or intellectually sustained (at least to my satisfaction). I came to see that believing the Biblical story about God and Jesus required faith, a faith I did not have.

So, I can point to the last Sunday in November 2008 as the last time I attended church, but I can’t, even today, say that all vestiges of Christianity are gone from my mind and life. I suspect, thanks to my deep immersion in Christianity, that my life will never be totally and completely free of Christianity. What’s gone, though, is the hold religious belief had on my intellect; on critical thinking skills; on my thought processes. Belief and unbelief are more like two ships passing in the night. The farther I journey away from belief, the more comfortable I am with unbelief. Of course, Evangelicals will tell me that what is really happening is that my heart is growing cold and dark and that I am becoming a reprobate — one who passes a line of no return when it comes to the Christian God. I am far enough along in my journey that I can dismiss out of hand all such denunciations as the masturbatory verbalizing of people who can’t figure out my story and fear that they too could lose their faith. Feeling cornered, zealots lash out at Evangelicals-turned-atheists with cheap, shallow, worn-out apologetical arguments or turn to lambasting them in blog posts, forum comments, social media posts, and sermons. None of these things bothers me in the least now. I see such reactions from believers as their attempts to square with their theology how it is possible for such a devoted follower of Christ as myself to totally abandon the beliefs he once held dear. Baptists, in particular, have a big problem with trying to square their soteriological beliefs with my storyline. Finding themselves unable to square things theologically, they conclude, absurdly, that I am either still a Christian or I never was one.

I remember the near-constant emotional turmoil I experienced during the early days of deconversion. Long-held beliefs were demanding attention. Bible verses flooded my mind, reminding me of what happens to those who reject Christ. Christian friends and family members and colleagues in the ministry piled on in their attempts to stop me from sliding further down the proverbial slippery slope. All of these things, along with more late-night wrestlings with doubt than I care to remember, caused quite a bit of emotional upheaval.  But, over time, these things began to fade into landscape in my rear-view mirror. All I can say to Mary is this: be patient. Deconversion takes time. To quote a well-worn cliché, life is a journeynot a destination. The destination for one and all is the same: death. What matters, then, is the path we walk among the living. Here’s the advice I give on my About page:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

I have found that the more I focus on the things mentioned above the less I find myself bothered by doubts and questions about the rightness of my decision to walk away from Christianity. I suspect that I will always have niggling doubts about the matter, but I no longer fear being wrong or worry about eternal damnation. As the old gospel song goes, I have gone too far to turn back now. I have weighed Christianity in the balance and found it lacking in every way. While another deity of some sort may yet appear on the horizon — and when it does I will weigh its claims as I did the claims of Christianity — I am confident that the God I once served is no God at all. Coming to this place took time, so to Mary I say, relax and enjoy the journey. You likely intellectually already know that Christianity (along with other religions) is false. All that remains is for your emotions and psyche to sync with what you know to be true.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Bruce, Do You Believe in Free Will?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Henriette asked: Do you believe in free will? Can anyone escape the social religious determinism they were brought up in if they have enough courage (or any other necessary faculties)?

I have written almost three thousand posts since December 2014, and not one of them dealt with the subject of free will. The reason for this is two-fold: first, discussions on free will always bring more heat than light, and second, I am not really certain what it is I believe about the matter. I continue to read and study the various leading voices on free will, but so far, I am not convinced one way or the other. That said, you did ask me if I believed in free will, so I will take a stab at answering it based on what I presently think on the matter.

When I look at the decisions I make day-in and day-out, it seems to me that I have free will. I am willingly and freely answering this question. Now, that does not mean that I was not influenced by outside forces or personal behavioral patterns. I have OCPD, so I crave order. I hate leaving things undone. I asked for questions all the way back in July and here I am still answering them. My mind is telling me, get it done, Bruce. Do it now. Henriette deserves an answer. Don’t delay. I also like pleasing others. I want to be well thought of, so it’s important to me answer this question. I also want this blog to be place where doubting Evangelicals can come to find answers to their questions and encouragement as they wrestle with what it is they actually believe. All of these things pressure (influence) me, leading me to take time tonight to answer this question. Yes, I am doing so FREELY, but not without influence.

Henriette also asks whether someone can escape the social/religious determinism they were brought up in? The short answer is yes. One need only look at my life to see that someone can escape these things. I was in the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches. It is extremely rare for someone my age with the ministerial experience I have to leave the ministry and later leave Christianity. By the time you have been preaching for twenty-five years, you have too much invested to leave it all behind. As the old gospel song says, I’ve come too far to turn back now. I don’t know of any of the men I attended Bible college with who are not still believers. Some have left the ministry, but all of them, at least outwardly, still profess to believe the core doctrines of Christianity. What was different about me? Why was I able to walk away? Was my defection an act of the will?

On one hand, it is clear, at least to me, that I willingly walked away from the ministry and Christianity. I CHOSE to stop believing. One the other hand, I can look at my sixty-one years of life and see a behavioral pattern that shows up time and time again. I was raised to be a true believer, an all-in kind of person. I can thank (or curse) my mom for this. I have never been someone who did things half way. I remember when I bought my first computer in 1991 — a VTech 286. I quickly became bored with this computer, so I bought an IBM PS1 286 And after that an IBM 486 for almost $1,700 (Thank you Sun TV for no money down, low payments, like forever). Over the years, I have owned numerous computers, and since the late 1990s, I have built my own. I spent hundreds of dollars on massive books about Windows computers and how they operated. I threw myself headlong into learning everything there was to know about Windows-based computers and software. I soon became the resident expert, and to this day extended family and friends call me whenever they have computer problems.

I repeated this behavioral pattern when I took up photography. I am the type of person who needs to know everything I can about a subject. This approach has led me change my mind many times, and has led others (especially former ministerial colleagues) to suggest that I am mentally unstable. I can’t leave things alone, content with just a cursory knowledge of a matter. I can’t even take a shit without reading the ingredients on the back of the cleanser or a magazine. There’s much to learn, and I have concluded that I haven’t scratched the surface of the knowledge available to me (and declining health has certainly curtailed this pursuit).

So, when I began to have doubts about Christianity, I threw myself headlong into reading books that challenged the beliefs I held for most of my life. And once I came to the conclusion that Christianity no longer made sense and that its fundamental claims could not be rationally and intellectually sustained, I left Christianity.

Did I leave Christianity solely for intellectual reasons? I so want to say yes, but that would be a lie. Yes, I left primarily for intellectual reasons, but there were also emotional and psychological factors that played a part in my deconversion. I like to think that I freely chose to stop believing, but I suspect that deep seated emotional hurts and psychological scars played a part too. They, without my help, played a part in pushing me out the door. These influences certainly played an instrumental part in me freely choosing to divorce myself from Jesus. Make sense?

I doubt that I have answered your question on the matter of free will. My thoughts are all over the place on this subject. All I know to do is live my life as if I have free will. Can any of us do otherwise?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Bruce, Have You Ever Seen Someone Who Was Demon-Possessed?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Geoff asked: Bruce, in your many years of pastoral ministry have you ever come across what you would consider demonic possession or any strange paranormal stuff? Have you ever heard of anything that you would consider legitimate?

I had no exposure to or experience with demonic possession until the mid-1990s. Before then, I didn’t put much stock in demon possession. I thought it was an excuse used to cover up bad or bizarre behavior. In 1994, I left Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio and moved to San Antonio, Texas to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Community’s other pastor, Pat Horner, was a big believer in demon possession. He even believed that Christians could be oppressed by demons. This openness to all-things-demonic caused congregants to believe all sort of outlandish things. One woman thought that every time she heard a coyote howl, it was her unsaved husband. Another woman believed in generational curses; that demonic possession and oppression could be passed down from generation to generation. What I learned during the short time I was at Community was that if a pastor believed in demonic possession, so would his people. I remember in the early 1990s when I embraced Calvinism, I thought I would have mutiny on my hands, but what I found was that church members changed their beliefs to fit mine (with a few notable exceptions). Most Evangelicals believe whatever their pastor believes. Their theology is borrowed from the men who teach them. This is not surprising since Evangelicals are taught to seek out like-minded churches. What’s fellowship? It is a bunch of fellows in a boat rowing in the same direction. Diversity of belief is discouraged or condemned.

I have attended a number of charismatic churches where the “gifts of the Spirit” were supposedly in full operation. These full-gospel churches had all sorts of demonic activity going on their midst; or so they said, anyway. Again, if you are looking for demons, you will find them. There’s a religious version of McCarthyism practiced by many Evangelical pastors and churches. Here a demon, there a demon, everywhere a demon.

As an atheist, not only do I reject the notion of the existence of the Christian God, I also reject the belief that there is a tangible, real Devil. People can’t be demon possessed because there are no demons to possess them. The behaviors that are called demonic possession are either fake, learned behaviors, or signs of mental illness.

I have never seen any sort of paranormal activity. I have experienced several things for which I have no explanation. When these things happened, I attributed them to God or Satan. Now? I am content with saying, I don’t know. I take the same approach with prayer. Almost all of my “answered” prayers came from human intervention. The few I can’t explain? I don’t know, but they are not enough to convince me that there is a God. Evangelicals see God in the unexplainable, but I all see a question without, so far, an answer.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Bruce, What Was Your Speaking Style During Your Preaching Days?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Sgl asked:

Can you re-create an example of one of your fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist sermons (well, just a few minutes, not an entire sermon), the kind of sermon and theology you had at the beginning of your career? And a few minutes of something like your more progressive sermons that you gave before you left the ministry?

Just curious because you say there are no extant recordings of your sermons. and from listening to some of the interviews you’ve done, your voice is too mild mannered for me to envision what I surmise that “fire and brimstone” is supposed to sound like. So it’s less about your actual theology, because you’ve covered that in all your posts, but about how you actually delivered this to the audience that I’m curious about.

I no longer have the voice necessary to recreate a sermon from back in my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preaching days. Twenty-five years of preaching sermons has caused a good bit of damage to my voice, especially my singing voice. I used to have a pleasant tenor voice. Polly and I would often sing musical specials and for many years I led the congregational singing. Thanks to repeatedly misusing and overusing my voice, I no longer can sing.

I started out as a fire and brimstone preacher. Loud, animated, and I moved around a lot, including coming down from the platform to where the crowd was seated. I primarily preached topical (choose a topic and find Bible verses to support your conclusions) or textual (start with a passage of Scripture) sermons. I remained a fire and brimstone preacher into the mid-1990s.

Once I became a Calvinist, my style of preaching dramatically changed. While I could still be animated, I didn’t move around as much. I abandoned topical and textual preaching, and began preaching expositional sermons — sermons that are generally verse-by verse and allow the text to determine what is emphasized. I became more of a Bible teacher than a Baptist evangelist. I preached through numerous books of the Bible, including most of the New Testament. I preached over 100 sermons from the gospel of John (my favorite gospel). I also preached numerous sermons from 1 John, James, Hebrews, and Revelation (from a posttribulational, amillennial viewpoint). I suspect that the way I do interviews today is similar to preaching style post-IFB.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Bruce, In Your IFB Days Did You Encounter Peter Ruckman?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Matt asked, “In your IFB days did you ever encounter Peter Ruckman? If so what was/is your assessment of him?”

For readers who are not familiar with Peter Ruckman, Wikipedia has this to say about him:

Peter Ruckman was an American Independent Baptist pastor and founder of Pensacola Bible Institute in Pensacola, Florida (not to be confused with Pensacola Christian College).

Ruckman was known for his position that the King James Version constituted “advanced revelation” and was the final, preserved word of God for English speakers.

Ruckman died in 2016 at the age of ninety-four. He was a graduate of Bob Jones University, and for many years the pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida. Bible Baptist’s website describes Ruckman this way:

Dr. Peter S. Ruckman (November 19, 1921 – April 21, 2016) received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Alabama and finished his formal education with six years of training at Bob Jones University (four full years and two accelerated summer sessions), completing requirements for the Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Reading at a rate of seven hundred words per minute, Dr. Ruckman had managed to read about 6,500 books before receiving his doctorate at an average of a book each day.

Dr. Ruckman stood for the absolute authority of the Authorized Version and offered no apology to any recognized scholar anywhere for his stand. In addition to preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible, Dr. Ruckman produced a comprehensive collection of apologetic and polemic literature and resources supporting the authority of the Authorized Version of the Holy Scriptures.

The thrice married Ruckman was either loved or hated by IFB preachers. He was a man known to engender strife, believing that rightness of belief was all that mattered (except, evidently, what the Bible said about divorce). Much like their mentor, his followers are known for their arrogance, nastiness, and argumentative spirit.

peter ruckman

I first met Peter Ruckman at Camp Chautauqua in Miamisburg, Ohio — an IFB youth camp owned and operated at the time by the Ohio Baptist Bible Fellowship. I attended Camp Chautauqua two summers in the early 1970s. Attending camp was one of the highlights of my teenage years. Lots of fun, lots of girls, and yes, lots of preaching. One year, Ruckman was the featured speaker. I don’t remember much about his sermons, but I vividly remember the chalk drawings he used to illustrate his Fundamentalist sermons. Ruckman was a skillful, talented chalk artist, so he naturally used his art to “hook” people and reel them into his peculiar brand of IFB Christianity.

This would be the only time I heard Ruckman preach. I later would read some of his polemical books and commentaries and come into close contact with some of his followers. While I believed, at the time, as Ruckman did, that the King James Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God and the only Bible for English-speaking people, I found his personality and ministerial approach (and that of his devotees) to be so caustic and abrasive, that I wanted nothing to do with him.

I would later learn that King James-Onlyism was not only irrational and anti-intellectual, but in its extreme forms it was a cult. I know a few pastors who are still devoted followers of Ruckman’s teachings.They are, in every way, small men whose lives have been ruined by arrogance and certainty of belief. The only cure I know for this disease is books written by men such as Bart Ehrman. Until they can at least consider that they might be wrong, there is no hope for them.

In 2005, I candidated at a Southern Baptist church in Weston, West Virginia. The church was very interested in me becoming their next pastor. One problem, I had preached my trial sermons from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. One of the core families were followers of Peter Ruckman. The pulpit committee asked if, out of deference to this family, I would only preach from the KJV. I told them that I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) make such a promise. The church decided I wasn’t the man for them. Such is the pernicious effect of Ruckmanism.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Bruce, Why are Many Evangelical Pastors Against Watching TV?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Ben asked, “One thing I’ve wondered about is those pastors who were against television. When they said that television was the destruction of America’s families, did they mean just the sexiest, most vile things on today, or television in general (the latter meaning that it was an immorality and sin, no matter how much sex or violence there was)?”

Few Evangelicals these days are totally anti-television. In fact, I suspect most Evangelicals watch the same programs unsaved people do, albeit with a lot more fear and guilt. Evangelical preachers still preach against what they deem immoral on TV.  Societal acceptance of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and living together alarms many Evangelicals. That these “sins” are portrayed as healthy and normal on countless TV programs concerns more than a few of God’s chosen ones, but come Sunday night, many of these same people will watch sexually perverse shows such as The Deuce or Game of Thrones. They might ask Jesus to forgive them for putting wicked things before their eyes, but come the next Sunday they will continue to imbibe in all things GOT and watch Eileen “Candy” Merrell (brilliantly played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) make porno flicks.

Groups such as the Parents Television Council, the American Family Association, and One Millions Moms are quite vocal about TV programming, but these fringe groups hardly represent the viewing habits of most American Christians. Generally, Evangelicals are quite conversant in modern culture. This reveals that they read the same books, visit the same websites (including YouPorn), and watch the same television programs as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.

I am sixty-one years old. I grew up in a day when Bonanza, Leave it to Beaver, The Rifleman, Gomer Pyle, and Bewitched, to name a few, were standard TV fare. I loved shows such as Rat Patrol, Hogan’s Heroes, and MASH. We have come a long way since these days. What was hidden subtly and or referenced with double entendres fifty years ago is now front and center. Evangelicals are correct when they say that things have changed and what was once only spoken of in secret is now on the TV screen for all to see. That said, we live in a day when TV programming is better than it ever has been. Thanks to companies such as HBOShowtime,  and AMC, we now have for our consumption thrilling first-rate programming. Yes, there’s a lot more sex and bloody violence, but that’s life, is it not? Hiding the fact that the character played by John Wayne had sex outside of the bond of marriage presents a warped view of the world. Humans have sex, lots of it. Heterosexuals and LGBTQ people alike have sex. Why not portray life as it is instead of pretending that everyone loves Jesus, is morally pure, and never says curse words?

What Evangelical preachers want is a return to the 1950s. They pine for the days of June and Ward Cleaver and their two sons. Fundamentalist to the core, these arbiters of morality want a black-and-white world where everything is defined by the teachings of the Bible. Those days are long gone, never to return. If Evangelicals don’t like what’s on hellivision, they can turn it off. It really is that simple. Or they can watch “Christian” television. There are scores of Evangelical/Catholic/Mormon television channels, yet most Christians never watch them. Why is that?

Let me conclude this post with an article I wrote in January of 2016. Titled, The Preacher and His TV, this post details the struggles and battles I had with television.

dehann-quote

In the 1960s, when I was a child, my Dad would drop my siblings and me off at the Bryan Theater so we could watch the 25-cent Saturday afternoon matinee. But somewhere in my primary school years, going to movies became unacceptable. From that point forward, outside of attending a drive-in movie one time at age 18, I didn’t go to a movie theater again until I was in my late 30s. As a Christian, I believed that going to or renting movies was supporting Hollywood, an institution that I considered a den of iniquity.

In the late 1990s, having become more “liberal” in my thinking, I decided it was time for the Gerencser family to go to a movie. When I told Polly that we were all going to the drive-in to see a movie, she was appalled. She literally thought that God was going to strike us dead. Well here we are, all these years later, still among the living. Evidently, God didn’t seem to care about us going to the drive-in. By the way, the first hardcore, violent, nudity-laden movie we saw was George of the Jungle! The Second? Air Bud.

I grew up in a home that always had a television. My Mom told me one time that American Bandstand was my babysitter. The first memory I have about television is watching the Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. I remember my Dad coming home with what I later in life called the “poor man’s color TV.” It was a colored, plastic sheet that Dad taped to the TV screen. The top of the sheet was blue and the bottom was green. Supposedly, the screen was meant to simulate sky and grass. Dad wasn’t impressed and we quickly went back to watching black and white TV. The Gerencser family didn’t own a color television until sometime in the 1970s.

My wife and I married in 1978. One of our first purchases was a used tube console color TV that we purchased from Marv Hartman TV in Bryan, Ohio. We paid $125. We continued to watch TV for a few years, until one day I decided that watching TV was a sin. This was in the mid-1980s. After swearing off watching TV, I decided that no one, if he were a good Christian anyway, should be watching television. One Sunday, as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, I preached a 90-minute sermon on the evils of watching television and going to the movies. I called on all true Christians to immediately get rid of their TVs and follow their preacher into the pure air of a Hollywood-free world.

To prove my point, I gathered the congregation out in front of the church for a physical demonstration of my commitment to following the TV-hating Jesus. I put our TV in the church yard and I hit it several times with a sledge-hammer, breaking the TV into pile of electronic rubble. Like the record burnings of the 1970s, my act was meant to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to be an on-fire, sold-out follower of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Just before I hit the TV with the sledge-hammer, a church member by the name of Gary said to me, Hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV I’ll take it. How dare he ruin my sin-hating demonstration! I thought at the time. I gave Gary a scowling look and proceeded to knock the devil right out of the TV. I am happy to report that not one church member followed in my TV-hating footsteps.  What church members did do is make sure that their televisions were OFF when the man of God made an appearance at their home.

calvin and hobbes tv

In the early 1990s, I would, from time to time, rent a television from a local rent-to-own business. Two times come to mind: the World Series and the 1991 Gulf War. Outside of that, my oldest three children grew up in a television-free home. They were teenagers: 18, 16, and 13, before they watched TV (except for watching Saturday cartoons when they were little). Well, this isn’t entirely true. When they visited their grandparents, they were permitted to watch TV (even though I wasn’t happy about them doing so). Like Amish children, they were mesmerized by Disney movies and cartoons.

After our family attended their first movie, I decided I would buy a television, setting in motion seven years of what any competent psychologist would call bizarre behavior. While what I am about to share will sound hilarious to those who never spent any time in Christian Fundamentalism, at the time, there was nothing humorous about my actions.

From 1998 through 2005, I purchased and got rid of at least six television sets. I gave one TV to the local crisis pregnancy center. I also gave one set to my son. The rest I sold at a loss. Why all the televisions? you might ask. Simple. After watching TV for a time, like a moth to a flame, I was drawn towards watching shows that I promised God I would never watch. Dear Lord, I promise I will only watch G or PG rated programming, and if there is any nudity, cursing, or gore I will immediately turn off the TV. No matter how much I wanted to be holy and righteous, I found that I loved watching programs that contained things that I considered sin.

My “sinning’ would go on for a few weeks until the guilt would become so great that I would say to God, you are right God. This is sin. I will get rid of the TV and I promise to never, never watch it again. Out the TV would go, but months later I would get the hankering to watch TV again and I would, unbeknownst to Polly, go buy a television.

It is clear now that my beliefs made me mentally and emotionally unstable. I so wanted to be right with God and live a life untainted by the world, yet I loved to watch TV. One time, after I came to the decision to get rid of yet another TV, Polly arrived home from work and found me sitting on the steps of the porch, crying and despondent. I hated myself. I hated that I was so easily led astray by Satan. I hated that I was such a bad testimony. Look at ALL that Jesus did for me! Couldn’t I, at the very least, go without watching TV for the sake of the kingdom of God?

I have written before about my perfectionist tendencies. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. God’s Word said to abstain from the very appearance of evil. Psalm 101:3 was a driving force in my life: “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.” Television was a wicked thing, I told myself, yet I continued to battle with my desire to watch sports and other programs on TV. Needless to say, the advent of internet, brought into our home a new way for me to be tempted to sin against the thrice holy God I pledged to serve, even unto death. I’m sure that my children will remember me putting a sign above our computer that quoted Psalm 101:3. This was meant as a reminder that we should NEVER view inappropriate, sinful things on the internet.

My three oldest children, now in their 30s, continue to rib me about my TV-crazed days. One of them will periodically ask if I am ready to get rid of our flat-screen TV. Their good-natured ribbing hails back to the day when their Dad acted like a psycho, buying and selling televisions. At the time, I am sure they thought I was crazy, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

calvin and hobbes tv 2

Where was Polly in all of this, you ask? She was the dutiful, submissive wife who believe her God-called, on-fire, sold-out Christian pastor of a husband knew best. Polly rarely watched TV, so having one didn’t matter to her. I was the one who “needed” to watch TV. As I now psychoanalyze this period of my life, I think watching TV was my way of being normal. Serving a sin-hating God and preaching to others a rigorous morality meant that I had to live a Christ-honoring, sin-free life. Again, in light of the atoning work of Jesus on my behalf, I thought that forsaking the pleasure of the “world” was but a small price to pay for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Yet, I wanted to be like everyone else, so I would come home after a long day of studying for my sermons and visiting church members, and leave God sitting on the front porch. Watching TV was my way of unwinding after work days which were often 12 hours long. While I still was selective about what I watched, my attempts to avoid “sinful” viewing rarely kept me from watching whatever I wanted to watch, especially after the children went to bed. Over time, my guilt levels would increase, ultimately leading to the behaviors outlined in this post.

In 2006, eighteen months before I deconverted, I finally put an end to my battle with the television. I decided, God be damned, I was going to own a TV and watch whatever I wanted to watch. From that point forward, we have owned a TV. While I have continued to buy televisions, my purchases are driven by resolution, refresh rate, and screen size, and not the thought that God was going to strike me dead for seeing a naked woman on TV. (We now own two televisions: a 43-inch and 32-inch LED Vizio TV.)

Several years ago, as we were watching an episode of True Blood, I turned to Polly and said, who would of thought that we would be sitting here watching bloody, naked vampires having sex?  We laughed together, both grateful that the preacher had finally been delivered from the demon of TV.

Note

List of article and videos about the sin of watching hellivision and going to the movies. This list was compiled by a devoted follower of the late Jack Hyles.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Bruce, Did You Understand the Trinity?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

ObstacleChick asked, “Did You Understand the Trinity?” OC also asked, “If God the Father is an incorporeal spirit, what’s the need for another incorporeal spirit, the Holy Spirit/Ghost?

Most Christians are Trinitarians, believing that God is three persons in one, each equal with the other. Some Christian sects — deemed heretics by Trinitarians — believe, as God’s chosen people, the Jews, do, that God is one. Battles have historically been fought and continue to be fought over Trinitarianism, but most Christians believe the God they worship consists of God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. Ask them to explain their belief, most Christians will give you a blank look and say, it’s a mystery.  The reason for this is that nowhere in the Bible does it say that God is a triune being. In fact, outside of 1 John 5:7: For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one, there is not one verse in the Bible about the Trinity (and 1 John 5:7 is considered by many scholars to be a scribal addition to the text). Bart Ehrman says of the text:

As it turns out, the three passages are handled differently. The first, the affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity (1 John 5:7-8), is not in any of our most ancient manuscripts at all. It shows up in one manuscript of the fourteenth century, one of the fifteenth, another of the sixteenth, and finally one of the eighteenth. Yes, that’s right, the eighteenth. Scribes were producing manuscripts long after the invention of printing (just as my students today take notes with pen and paper, even though they all own laptops). It can be found in the margins of four other, equally late, manuscripts, as a possible variant reading. The result, though, is that no one except the most avid fundamentalist thinks that the verses have any claim to belong to the “original” text of the New Testament.

ObstacleChick asks if, as a pastor, I understood the doctrine of the Trinity? Of course not. No Evangelical pastor truly understands the doctrine. It’s a mystery, pastors tell congregants, but true nonetheless. That’s one answer, but I can think of another one: Christians actually worship three Gods; thus they are polytheists (or henotheists), and not monotheists.  Maintaining Trinitarianism requires all sorts of Bible gymnastics. Pull a verse from this book and a verse from another book, and there ya have it, God is triune being. Evangelicals will object to my characterization here, but none will dare to argue otherwise because outside of a stream of disconnected proof texts, there’s no Biblical proof for the notion that the Christian God is a triune being.

In closing, consider 1 Corinthians 15: 24-28:

Then cometh the end, when he [Jesus, the son] shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

If Jesus, the Son is equal in power and substance to God, the Father and God, the Holy Spirit, why then does he subject himself in an inferior way to the Father? Perhaps Jesus was a created being; that there was a time when he did not exist; that God, the Father created him (much like Satan) so he could come to earth and show humans through violence that God had a wonderful plan for their lives, and now that it is MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, Jesus, the man, the myth, and the legend is no longer needed.

Evangelicals would have you believe the Bible narrative is a cohesive, perfect masterpiece. It is, however, a hopelessly contradictory book, and while Trinitarianism can be inferred from its pages, so can polytheism and henotheism. In this sense, the Bible is a book that just keeps on giving, endless in its fanciful doctrines stories. ObstacleChick’s second question only illustrates this point. If God, the Father is a spirit, when then is there a need for God, the Holy Spirit? Seems like a waste of a God to me.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Bruce, What Are the ‘Fundamentals of Christianity’ Evangelicals Talk About?

questions

recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Charles asked, “What Are the ‘Fundamentals of Christianity’ Evangelicals Talk About?”

Evangelicalism, an inherently Fundamentalist system of belief, is built upon a foundation of what is commonly called the fundamentals of the faith or the cardinal doctrines of the faith. Most Evangelicals consider the following beliefs to be essential:

  • The inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible
  • The sinfulness, depravity of man
  • The deity of Christ
  • The virgin birth of Christ
  • The blood atonement of Christ for man’s sin (usually subscribing to the substitutionary atonement theory)
  • The resurrection of Christ from the dead
  • The second coming of Christ
  • Separation from the world
  • Salvation from sin is by and through Christ alone
  • Personal responsibility to share the gospel with sinners
  • Heaven and hell are literal places

The more Fundamentalist a sect is, the longer the list of non-negotiable doctrines. Some within the IFB church movement, for example, believe things such as:

  • The 1769 revision of the King James Bible as the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God. (All other version are errant and used by Satan to deceive the masses.)
  • Secondary separation (Real Baptist Bob refuses to fellowship with Baptist Bruce because of wrong beliefs or practice. Real Baptist Bob also refuses to fellowship with those who are friends or associated with Baptist Bruce.)
  • The Baptist church as the true church. (Also called Landmarkism, these Baptist churches believe they can trace their lineage all the way back to Jesus.)
  • Dispensational, Pre-tribulational Premillennialism (Human time is divided into seven distinct periods, Jesus will rapture away all believers prior to the Great Tribulation, and then physically come to Earth prior to the Millennium — the thousand year authoritarian rule of Christ.)

And then there are the Christians who believe the followers of Jesus must believe certain things and live certain ways to be Christians. Years ago, back in my Evangelical/Socially Progressive days, I preached a sermon that suggested Democrats could be Christians. After the service, a man who was visiting that day came up to be and told me in no uncertain terms that he doubted Democrats could be Christians due to their support of abortion. More than a few Evangelicals believe that anyone who believes in legalized abortion, same-sex marriage, and the normalization of homosexuality cannot be a Christian.

The list of essential beliefs, quite frankly, is endless, with every sect, church, and pastor believing that there are certain nonnegotiable doctrines and practices that must be believed in order to be a True Christian®. Evangelicals are big proponents of proof-texting, with every belief and practice having Biblical justification.

Liberal Christians laugh and sneer at Evangelicals with their long lists of non-negotiables, but I wonder if liberals have given away too much in their attempt to find a minimalist way to doctrinally appeal to everyone. Years ago, my wife and I, along with our three youngest children, attended the local Episcopal church. After the service, one of the matriarchs of the church thanked us for visiting. She then added, “you can believe whatever you want at our church!” I thought, has she not read the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the theoretical doctrinal standard of the Church of England and its sister sect The Episcopal Church? Does the church really allow its congregants to believe whatever they want? We never tested their openness.

My conclusion is this: every Christian sect, church, pastor, and individual believer has its own set of fundamental beliefs (and practices). Thus, countless are the number of Christianities and Christs. The Bible is right when it says in Proverbs 21:2: Every way of a man is right in his own eyes. The Bible says there is ONE Lord, ONE Faith, and ONE baptism, yet Christians can’t even agree on basics such as salvation, baptism, and communion. While it is up to Christians to determine what is TRUE Christianity®, a historically unified standard of belief would cause unbelievers such as myself to pause a bit before criticizing Christianity. As it stands now, Christianity is infested by conflict, controversy, and internecine warfare. When I look at Christianity, what I see is Friday WWE wrestling matches. Whatever Christianity might have been two-thousand years, THAT Christianity died somewhere in the Judean hillsides twenty centuries ago.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Bruce, How Was the Quality of the Education You Received From an IFB College?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Troy asked, “How Was the Quality of the Education You Received From an IFB College?”

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from the fall of 1976 to the spring of 1979. Midwestern was a small, unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution started by Dr. Tom Malone — who had an earned doctorate in education from Wayne State University — in the 1950s. Dr. Malone called Midwestern “a character building factory.” It existed for the express purpose of training pastors, evangelists, and missionaries (and providing them with wives). Most of the professors were either men and women with degrees (and honorary doctorates) from Midwestern or men and women with degrees from other Fundamentalist Christian institutions. Malone preferred having Midwestern men teach Midwestern students. It was quite incestuous.

Were the classes I took at Midwestern inferior? I guess I would have to ask, inferior to what? I took some classes out at the local community college, and I found that they were every bit as superficial and worthless as some of the classes I took at Midwestern. I found at both institutions that the quality and depth of a particular class depended on the professor’s commitment to excellence. My world history professor at Midwestern basically read the book to the class and had us take tests. Yawn. I had similar classes at the community college. The best teachers were men and women who loved teaching and enjoyed engaging students in raucous discussions. Such discussions were rare at Midwestern because what teachers could teach and talk about was limited by the college’s commitment to certain doctrinal beliefs. For example, ministerial students were required to take one year of Greek. Good idea, right? However, the professor was only allowed to talk about certain manuscripts — those that supported the Midwestern’s King James-only position. Discussions about minority texts, alternate translations, etc., were verboten.

Generally, Midwestern’s classes were easy (as were the classes at the local community college). Part of the reason for this was that Midwestern was unaccredited. Students received NO financial aid. Most students worked their way through college. I worked a forty-hour-a-week job while taking classes full time. I also attended church three times a week, taught Sunday School, worked on a bus route and took out my girlfriend twice on the weekends. A truly rigorous academic program would have been too much for most students, considering all they had to do outside of school. As it was, most students washed out, and by their senior year, seventy-percent of students had dropped out of college. This wash-out rate, in the eyes of the school administration, was God winnowing the chaff from the wheat. Married, with a child on the way, and laid off from work, I dropped out in the spring of my junior year. That said, Dr. Malone publicly said of me at a pastor’s conference, Bruce, we would probably have ruined you had you stayed in college. At the time, I was pastoring a fast-growing IFB church in Southeast Ohio. I was told when I left college that God would NEVER use me, yet here I was pastoring a successful church — a sure sign that God was indeed using me.

Most of my theological education came post-Midwestern. I read countless religious tomes and studied the Bible for hours on end. I committed myself to being a student of the Bible, and spent two decades educating myself in the finer points of Christian belief. In one church I pastored, one of the congregants was a PhD candidate at Westminster Theological Seminary. I was able to intelligently converse with him, and I never felt educationally inferior. In my mind, it’s not the degrees that matter as much as what you know. In 2005, I saw a young family medicine doctor for treatment of Fibromyalgia. He was honest, telling me that his whole knowledge of Fibromyalgia came from one class period on the subject. He knew that I had read virtually every book on the condition, so he asked me to recommend books for him to read. He was a humble man who had sense enough to know when he didn’t know something. He quickly got up to speed and was able to meaningfully help me with my condition.

I learned very little “Bible” at Bible college. Ironic, I know, but most of my Bible classes were Sunday School level survey classes. Study the text, take a few tests, write a few papers, done. On to the next one. There were two classes that did help me tremendously as a pastor: speech class and homiletics. My speech teacher was Gary Mayberry, He taught me how to structure and deliver a speech. My homiletics teacher was a southern preacher by the name of Levi Corey. On the first day of class, he said, forget everything you learned in speech class. Corey taught me how to craft a sermon and deliver it with personality and passion. I owe much of my preaching success to him.

Evangelical colleges such as Midwestern do not exist to educate men as much as they exist to indoctrinate another generation in dogma. Unfettered intellectual inquiry is never permitted, and professors who dare to foster such a climate are summarily dismissed. The goal is purity of belief and practice. The only way to achieve this goal is to stifle teaching and discussion that challenges or contradicts the approved narrative.

Midwestern did give me one thing: Polly. Whatever my current opinion of Midwestern might be, I am indeed grateful that the college was the vehicle that brought Polly and me together. I may not have gotten a good education, but I sure got a wonderful wife, lover, and friend. I’ll take that any day!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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