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Category: Questions

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

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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.

Bruce Gerencser