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Category: Religion

Songs of Sacrilege: Into My Arms by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds

nick cave
Photo from Wikipedia

This is the latest installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Into My Arms by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

Video Link

Lyrics

I don’t believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch a hair on your head
To leave you as you are
And if He felt He had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms

Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms

And I don’t believe in the existence of angels
But looking at you I wonder if that’s true
But if I did I would summon them together
And ask them to watch over you
To each burn a candle for you
To make bright and clear your path
And to walk, like Christ, in grace and love
And guide you into my arms

Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms

But I believe in Love
And I know that you do too
And I believe in some kind of path
That we can walk down, me and you
So keep your candles burning
And make her journey bright and pure
That she will keep returning
Always and evermore

Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms

Let’s Talk About Sin, Guilt, and Human Behavior

jesus spanking sinners

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Several years ago, Ewan asked: 

Do you have a philosophical view of the word ‘sin” anymore?

How is homosexuality defined in your worldview? What of extramarital sexual relationships? or premarital? Are they ‘sin’?

What is an atheistic view of sin? Does it really matter? If there is no sinful behaviour, where does guilt come from?

The power of sin in a Christian worldview is guilt. If I were to have an extramarital affair built on love, is this sinful? What the heck is ‘sin’?

I do not use the word sin in defining certain human behaviors. Sin is inherently a religious term, and since I am not a religious person, I have no need for the word and its theological consequences. Based on cultural and societal norms, humans act in ways that are considered good, indifferent, or bad. What we consider good, bad, or indifferent behavior changes with time, circumstance, and place. Currently, these things are still deeply influenced by religion, yet religion is losing its primacy and this is why we see religious zealots raging against perceived sins and slights of God and his supposedly timeless moral code.

Homosexuality is a scientific term, a word used to describe same-sex attraction. It has no inherent moral quality. Once we remove religion from the discussion, there is less need to concern ourselves with sexual attraction or whom someone marries.

Marriage is a contractual agreement between two people. If this contract includes a commitment to monogamy, then I would consider it bad behavior to commit adultery. However, many people marry for reasons other than sex. I pastored a few couples over the years who had sexless marriages. One woman thought sex was for having children. Once her children were born, she was done with having sex, and she had no problem with her husband seeking sexual gratification elsewhere.

When it comes to premarital sex, I see no reason to consider it bad behavior. We have laws that govern the age of consent, and as long as the sex is consensual, I see no reason to demonize teenagers and young adults for acting on (and enjoying) their biological needs and urges. Our goal should be to make sure every person receives state-mandated, science-based education about human sexuality and birth control. The overwhelming majority of teenagers engage in premarital sexual activity, so it is in everyone’s best interest to make sure teens are properly educated and on birth control until they are ready to have children. Doing so would greatly reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, a goal all of us support.

There is no atheist position on sin. Atheism is a belief about the existence of deities, not a statement about ethics or morality. It is humanism that gives many atheists, including myself, a moral and ethical framework. The Humanist Manifesto III states:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

(If I have a “religion” it is secular humanism. My religion’s code is summarized in the Humanist Manifesto.)

The question of guilt is a good one, one that I am not sure I can adequately answer. Some guilt is driven by the pervasiveness of religion and its sin-punishment-reward system. However, I think guilt also flows from being a part of a particular culture and tribe. I am sure there are some behaviors that elicit guilt among my children that might not cause guilt in a different family’s children. Guilt, as with morality, can be, and is, quite subjective.

The more absolute one’s moral beliefs are, the more likely one is to feel guilt. As I have stated many times before, my sin (bad behavior) list now fits on a 3×5 card, and I suspect by the time I die it will fit on a post-it note. Once the church, the Bible, and sin-loving — yet sin-hating — preachers are removed from the equation, guilt often assuages. In other words, remove religion from a person’s life, and guilt levels recede. Pretty good reason for ditching Christianity, don’t you think?

I grew up believing drinking alcohol was a sin. I was fifty years old before I took my first drink. Now that God and the Bible no longer factor into my moral and ethical beliefs, I am free to drink alcohol, as much or as little as I want. In the past, I have spent time with friends who love to drink. While I didn’t drink as much alcohol as they did, I did drink some and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did my wife. At no time did I have a twinge of guilt over drinking the devil’s brew. I drank responsibly, and acted in a way that did not harm others; no sin, no guilt.

What atheism and humanism have given me is personal autonomy and freedom. And a very small sin list.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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The Resurrection of Jesus From the Dead: Fact or Fiction?

resurrection of jesus

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Several years ago, Wefo, one of my readers, asked:

What do you make of 1 Corinthians 15, which is an early Christian creed held by the majority of biblical scholars (with a few exceptions like Robert Price) to be written no more than five years after Jesus’ death and it being held as proof of a belief in the resurrection? Also what changed your mind on the resurrection?

While the majority of biblical scholars think Paul was quoting an oral tradition in 1 Corinthians 15, it is not at all clear who Paul actually received this tradition from or whether it was some sort of vision. I certainly understand the importance of the gospel creed in 1 Corinthians 15 to those who base their entire worldview on the death and resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but this singular record is not enough to convince me that the claims the Bible makes for Jesus are true.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 states:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

Paul says that the death and resurrection of Jesus were “according to the Scriptures.” What Scriptures is Paul referring to? There is no record of the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Old Testament, and 1 Corinthians was likely written several decades before the gospel of Mark. (Biblical scholars generally think Mark was the first written gospel, and Matthew and Luke use Mark as a source.) In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul states he received the gospel, not from any man, but by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. Which is it?

In his book, How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman details what we can historically know about the resurrection of Jesus:

In the previous chapter I argued that there are some things, given our current evidence, that we can not know about the resurrection traditions (in addition to the big issue itself—whether God raised Jesus from the dead): we cannot know whether Jesus was given a decent burial, and we cannot know, therefore whether his tomb was discovered empty.  But what can we know?

We can know three very important things: (1) some of Jesus’s followers believed that he had been raised from the dead; (2) they believed this because some of them had visions of him after his crucifixion; and (3) this belief led them to reevaluate who Jesus was, so that the Jewish apocalyptic preacher from rural Galilee came to be considered, in some sense, God. [page 174]

While some of Jesus’ followers believed he had been raised from the dead, this doesn’t mean he actually was. Belief does not equal fact. People believe many things that are untrue. Did they believe his resurrection was bodily? Spiritual? Since Gnosticism deeply influenced the early church, perhaps Paul thought Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual. There is no way for us to know.

It’s been a long time since I looked at the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. As I read various articles and blogs, I came away thinking that there’s no possible way to know, from history, if Jesus resurrected from the dead. If a person presupposes there is a God and that the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity, then they are likely to believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead. For those of us who are not Christian, we are left with determining whether the Bible accounts of the resurrection should be considered factual.

According to the Bible, Jesus was buried in a grave belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. There is no evidence for the existence of a man named Joseph or a place called Arimathea. Since Jesus was executed as a criminal, it is unlikely he was given a proper burial.  The Godless Skeptic writes:

More interesting are the two things Dr. Ehrman says he has changed his mind on regarding what we cannot know about the resurrection. Like his colleague John Dominic Crossan, Professor Ehrman now believes that the tradition of an honorable burial of Jesus is doubtful. He makes note of the suspicious backstory of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the same Jewish council that condemned Jesus to death, absent from the early Christian creeds, and a figure who is progressively portrayed across the four gospels as more and more of a sympathizer to the Christian cause. Citing a handful of ancient examples, he observes that Roman crucifixion victims were not usually given proper burials because humiliation was an important part of the practice, intending to deter potential criminals from committing acts of rebellion against Rome. Those who were crucified were often laid in common graves or left to decay and be eaten by scavenging animals.

It is sometimes remarked that Jesus was buried by Joseph in accordance with Jewish law, since the Sabbath was close at hand. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 gives instruction in this vein, but as Dr. Ehrman points out, it’s an open question of whether or not the Romans, particularly Pilate, would have respected such a rule. Though the Pharisees and the Jewish Sanhedrin had accused Jesus of blasphemy, the charges brought against him in front of Pilate were more political – inciting crowds, forbidding payment of taxes to Caesar, and claiming to be king (Luke 23:1-3). If Jesus was executed as an insurgent, under certain circumstances perhaps he would have been left unburied. If, however, he was executed in accordance with Jewish law, it’s not so obvious where he was buried. In a chapter of the anthology The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Peter Kirby writes that there is some evidence for a dishonorable burial tradition in passages like Mark 12:8 and Acts 13:27-29, which allude to Jesus being buried by his enemies rather than by his followers.

While I find all the back-and-forth debate over what the Bible does or doesn’t say about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead quite informative and entertaining, the reasons why I reject the resurrection of Jesus are quite simple.

First, there is no record outside of the Bible for the resurrection of Jesus. I find it astounding that no historian recorded anything about the life, execution, and resurrection of Jesus. We are left with the Bible and its accounts of the life of Jesus; accounts which contradict one another. The fact that they contradict one another is not proof that Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, but the contradictions do cause me to wonder if I should put much stock in what the Bible says.

Since history is silent on many of the “historical” events and figures in the Bible, why should I accept as factual what it says about the resurrection of Jesus?  For me, accepting the resurrection of Jesus from the dead ultimately requires faith, a faith I do not have.

Second, accepting the resurrection of Jesus from the dead requires believing in miracles. According to John 14:12, Jesus said

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

According to the Bible, Jesus worked many miracles, including turning water into wine, walking on water, walking through walls, healing the sick, and raising the dead. Jesus told his followers that they would do greater works than he did. Yet, everywhere we look we see a lack of the miraculous. In fact, many Christians argue that the miracles of the Bible were only for a certain time, and once the canon of Scripture was completed, there was no longer a need for the miraculous. However, this isn’t what Jesus said. He clearly stated his followers would do greater works than he did, yet we have no historical evidence that his followers were in any way super-duper miracle workers. Where can I find a modern-day miracle worker? Where I can I go to see the dead raised back to life?

Third, if there is one thing I know it is that living people die and do not come back to life. Every time I drive by a cemetery, I see the evidence for once dead, always dead. This alone is sufficient evidence for me to say that Jesus lived and died, end of story.

But, Bruce it is possible that a miracle of some sort could happen. Sure, anything is possible, but now we are talking about probabilities. Based on the evidence, is it probable that humans can die and come back to life? No. Once dead, always dead. Is it more likely Jesus lived and died or Jesus lived, died, resurrected from the dead, and is currently alive sitting at the right hand of God, the Father in Heaven? The latter requires a suspension of reason and the exercise of faith. I am not willing to do this. I know what I see with my eyes and what history tells me: once someone dies they stay dead. Since, outside of the Bible, we have no record of someone dying and miraculously resurrecting from the dead, it is safe for me to say that the resurrection of Jesus is improbable.

If you would like to read more on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus, I recommend reading:

In the last part of Romans 14:15, Paul stated, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”  After looking at the evidence, I am persuaded that Jesus did not resurrect from the dead. Whatever he may or may not have been, he was a man who lived, died, and was buried in a nondescript grave. Everything else Christians say about Jesus requires faith, a faith I do not have. When new evidence becomes available, I will look at it, but, for now, count me one who does not believe.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

Does the Bible Contain Multiple Plans of Salvation?

saved or lost

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Several years ago, Van asked:

In one of your recent posts, you made reference to the four different plans of salvation in the NT: one each from Jesus, Paul, Peter, and James. In that post you said Paul’s was the prevalent teaching in 21st-century evangelical churches, and you expounded on Jesus’. Can you summarize the Peter and James plans, and ‘compare and contrast’ the four plans?

This is a great question. In the Old Testament, it is quite clear that salvation depended on the Israelites keeping the law of God. Evangelicals will go to great lengths to find the gospel of grace in the Old Testament, but such attempts are wishful thinking. Salvation belonged only to the Jews and was contingent on them keeping the Law — all 635 laws. This was the religious system Jesus was born into, as were all the Apostles. There’s nothing in the Bible that suggests Jesus repudiated the religion of his ancestors and parents. For many years, Christianity was considered a subset of Judaism.

I am of the opinion that Jesus’ Christianity is defined in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7. Any cursory reading of this passage reveals that Jesus’ Christianity was rooted in how a person lived. Jesus was saying, you want to be my disciple? This is how a disciple of mine lives. The Christian church would be well-served if it returned to the Christianity of Jesus. Imagine how much better off the world would be if Christians practiced the teachings of Christ found in the Sermon on the Mount.

Peter’s salvation was rooted in the laws of Judaism. While he was certainly a follower of Jesus, he believed, at least for a time, that a person had to be circumcised to be saved. He and Paul got into an argument over this issue. In Galatians 2 we find:

And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do. But when Peter was come to Antioch, I (Paul) withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

This passage reveals a sharp contrast between the gospel of Paul and the gospel of Peter and Barnabas, another man Paul had a falling-out with.  In Acts 15, we find that there was great controversy over whether a Gentile had to be circumcised to be saved:

And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.

A council was held in Jerusalem to settle the matter and the church decided that circumcision was not required for salvation. They did, however, give Gentiles the following commands:

That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

James, who was likely the brother of Jesus, sets forth the conditions of his gospel in the book of James, chapter 2. Here, James says that faith without works is dead:

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

James is clear — a faith without works is no faith at all.

We find this same faith-plus-works gospel in the book of 1 John. Evangelicals rarely understand I John. Often used as a source for proof texts, I John actually advances a works-based salvation that goes so far as to say that any Christian who sins is not a child of God. Evangelicals love to quote 1 John 5:13:

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

Evangelicals love the part that says, that ye may know that ye have eternal life. They proudly say that they have a know-so salvation, yet they ignore the first part of the text where John says, these things have I written unto you. What things? The things John wrote in the previous four chapters — things that clearly show that NO Evangelical is a child of God.

Paul, the supposed writer of most of the books in the New Testament, taught a different gospel — a gospel of right belief. While he often mentions the grace of God, God’s grace was contingent on believing the right things. A Christian was one who believed A, B, and C. In the book of Romans, Paul taught a gospel that Evangelicals have turned into what is commonly called the Romans Road:

  • For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God Romans 3:23
  • As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. Romans 3:10,11
  • For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23
  • But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
  • That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Romans 10:9-13
  • Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: Romans 5:1
  • There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:1,38,39

This is the gospel that dominates modern American Christianity. Various sects will throw in requirements such as water baptism or being baptized with the Holy Ghost, but the main ingredients of their gospel can be found in the verses mentioned above.

Two thousand years removed from the time when Jesus walked along the shores of Galilee, it is clear that Paul’s gospel won the gospel battle. While many progressive/liberal Christians preach a works-oriented social gospel, Evangelicals are very much the children of Paul. It is clear that there were competing gospels within the early church. Anyone who suggests that the early Christian church had one gospel and was some sort of pure Christianity hasn’t read much of the Bible. They wrongly assume that what we now see in Christendom is what always existed. As Steven Pinker pointed out in one of his books, Christianity is constantly evolving, giving birth to new Christianities. I suspect Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jesus would find twenty-first century Christianity to be quite strange, perhaps even heretical.

Most Evangelicals rarely read each book of the Bible as a stand-alone text. Instead, they invest vast amounts of energy into trying to reconcile the various books of the Bible and the competing gospels found within its pages. I am not inclined to do so. I have no need to make my theology fit a particular system. What I see are competing gospels, and history tells me that Paul, for the most part, won the gospel battle. These other gospels make an appearance here and there throughout history, but Christianity continues to be dominated by Paul’s gospel of believe the right things and thou shalt be saved.This is a short explanation of the various gospels found in the Bible. It would require thousands of words to do this subject justice. I hope this post is enough to challenge Evangelical assumptions about Jesus, the gospel, and salvation. The Bible says, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, but as this post shows, such a claim is false, or some sort of ideal that has never been realized.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

Christian Bling and Jesus Junk

jesus loves me 2015

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Several years ago, I spotted this t-shirt at my grandson’s tee ball game.  Most residents of rural northwest Ohio are Evangelicals or conservative Protestants and Catholics. Jesus is on display everywhere one looks. There’s at least one church for every three hundred Defiance County residents. Republicans hold every major office. Atheists and agnostics are endangered species. Declaring your godlessness is a sure way to be socially ostracized and marginalized. If there is place where Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, this is it. Why then are local Christians obsessed with wearing Christian bling and displaying Jesus junk?

Take the woman wearing the Jesus Loves Me t-shirt. Does she wear it to remind herself that Jesus loves her? Or perhaps she wears it to let her fellow Christians know that she is on their team. I wonder if she has thought about who made the shirt, how old they were, how much they were paid? Like American flags made in China, most Christian bling and Jesus junk is made by impoverished people who are paid poor wages.

My wife works for a manufacturing concern where Christian bling and Jesus junk is on display everywhere one looks. Christian slogans and Republican one-liners are prominently displayed on office walls and desks. I’ve often wondered what the response would be if someone put on their desk a sign that stated There is no God or that There is no God but Allah. This will never happen, of course, because doing so would be career suicide. But, knowing how Evangelicals love to whine over having their feelings hurt, I wonder how Christians in the office might respond. Would they demand the offensive signs be taken down?

Any cursory reading of the Bible reveals that Jesus preached a lifestyle of moderation and simplicity. I wonder if Evangelicals bother to consider what Jesus thinks about their bling and junk? Would the apostles have worn Jesus Loves Me t-shirts or adorned their wrists with WWJD bands? The apostle Paul went from community to community preaching the gospel and establishing new churches. I wonder what he would think of twenty-first-century entertainment Christianity? If Matthew 5-7 — the Sermon on the Mount — is the essence of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, where can one find such followers? Rare are Evangelicals who verbalize their faith in the hope of leading a person to Christ. Even in IFB churches — a sect that puts a premium on soulwinning — most church members never verbally share their faith even one time. If Jesus is the greatest story ever told, why is it most Christians never share it?

Christian bling and Jesus junk are meant to identify one as part of the club. The purpose isn’t to evangelize, it’s to let everyone who gazes on their bling or junk know that they are part of Club Jesus®. When Christians put on their Jesus shirts and go to the mall, grocery, or restaurant, everyone will know what club they belong to. Granted, atheists can do the same, but most atheists I know are content to quietly live their lives. And Muslims? When’s the last time you’ve seen a Muslim wearing a shirt that says Allah Loves Me or Allah, the One True God?

It is primarily Evangelicals who are obsessed with public displays of affection for Jesus. It is Evangelicals who co-opt culture and turn it into shirt-worn slogans such as This Bloods for You or Jesus died for MY SPACE in Heaven. Corporate slogans and logos are turned into cute clichés and plastered on t-shirts and bumper stickers. Why? Are Christian bling-wearing Evangelicals over-compensating for something they lack? What are they hiding behind the bling and junk?

Remember the manufacturing concern I mentioned above? Why is that some of the most hateful, argumentative, and critical people are those who have the most Jesus junk on their desks? Why does the car of the asshole who cuts you off in traffic often sport a Christian bumper sticker? I love to stand back and observe the behavior of God’s chosen ones. While certainly there are many thoughtful, polite, helpful, and humble Christians, why are so many of them arrogant, rude, and unkind? Ponder for a moment the comments left on this blog by warriors for God, soldiers who likely have Bible verse screen savers on their computers and tablets. For every Evangelical who has left a thoughtful, respectful comment, there have been a hundred Evangelicals who’ve left hateful, argumentative, judgmental ones. Why is this?

While I was still a Christian, I concluded that hundreds of millions of Americans might be Christian, but most of them have no interest in following after Christ. They are more interested in avoiding hell and gaining political and social power than they are walking in the steps of Jesus. According to orthodox Christian doctrine, the Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Simply put, this means Christians have God living inside of them as their teacher and guide. If this is so, then please explain to me why few Christians behave in a way that evidences this? Galatians 5:22,23 says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Bruce, the fruit of the Spirit is the goal. God sanctifies the Christians and they grow and mature, evidencing the fruit of the Spirit later in life. Why is it then that so many people who have been Christian for decades behave as if they have never heard of the fruit of the Spirit? Besides, Galatians 5:22,23 says the fruit (singular) of the Spirit is (present tense). Not a future hope or desire, but a present reality. Can one be a Christian and not show any evidence that God lives inside of them? The same could be said of the Biblical qualifications for being a pastor. I Timothy 3:2-7 states:

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

A bishop then MUST BE. Not hope or aspire to be, but must be. I will soon be sixty-three years old, and I have yet to meet a pastor who meets the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3. Why is this?

By all means, exercise your first amendment right to wear Jesus bling and display Jesus junk. But, if you want to convince me that I should be a Christian, you better start living according to the teachings of the Bible you say you believe. Until then, you have nothing to offer the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. As long as Evangelicals continue to publicly state that their religion is the one true faith and the Bible is THE moral standard by which Christian and non-believer alike must live, I plan to point out to Evangelicals how hypocritical they are. I’m just practicing what the Bible says . . . judging Evangelicals by their fruit (Matthew 7:16-20). So far, all I see are barren trees.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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The Disconnect Between what Christians Say and How They Live

christian hypocrisy

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Several years ago, Chikirin asked:

Jesus said that if someone asks for your coat, to give them your cloak as well. Shouldn’t Christians therefore not only cater gay weddings, but cater gay birthdays as well? Why are Christians so stinting and stingy when Jesus said to give without thought of reward? Why are Christians always outraged when they are supposed to have peace and meekness?

The short version of this question is this: why are many Christians hypocrites?

Evangelicals frequently demand that everyone live according to their interpretation of the Bible. Evangelicals believe that morality is derived from the teachings of the Bible — God’s absolute standard for behavior. Pastors spend significant amounts of time preaching sermons on living the Christian life, reminding parishioners of what God expects of them. Despite all the preaching, videos, books, and conferences on living the Christian life, Evangelicals are unable to live according to the teachings of the Bible.

In Galatians 5:22,23, the Bible says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

How many professing Christians do you know whose lives demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit? Supposedly, Evangelicals have the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16), and the Holy Spirit lives inside of them (1 Corinthians 3:16), teaching them everything necessary for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Yet, there is no difference between the way Evangelicals and the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world live their lives. Why is this?

Christian apologists will likely say that many “Christians” are not True Christians®; that they have a cultural form of Christianity. When pressed to give a clear statement of what a true Christian life looks like, most apologists quickly appeal to “grace” or suggest that every Christian is a work in progress. Sometimes, apologists say non-believers are hypocrites for demanding Christians live according to the teachings of the Bible when they themselves are not willing to do so. However, it is Evangelicals who claim the high moral ground, and in doing so, they shouldn’t be surprised when non-Christians expect them to practice what they preach.

How many Christians do you know who live according to Galatians 5:22,23 and Matthew 5-7, the sermon on the mount? I suspect you’ll have a hard time coming up with anyone who actually lives their life according to these two passages of Scripture.

How about pastors? In 1 Timothy 3, Paul gives the qualifications for being a pastor. Note that he says a pastor (bishop/elder) MUST be, not hope or aspire to be:

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be

  • blameless,
  • the husband of one wife,
  • vigilant,
  • sober,
  • of good behavior,
  • given to hospitality,
  • apt to teach;
  • not given to wine,
  • no striker,
  • not greedy of filthy lucre;
  • but patient,
  • not a brawler,
  • not covetous;
  • one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;  (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
  • Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
  • Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Do you know of ONE pastor who meets these qualifications? I certainly didn’t when I was a pastor, and neither did any of my fellow pastors.

Now, to answer Chikirin’s question. Christians are human just like the rest of us. They are capable of doing good and bad, and on most days their lives are an admixture of good, bad, and indifferent behavior. They are not morally/ethically superior, regardless of what their pastors, churches, and Bible tells them. They are, in every way, h-u-m-a-n. When the news reports stories of Christian malfeasance, infidelity and criminal behavior, we should not be surprised. Humans can, and do, fail morally and ethically. None of us is without fault and failure.

Christianity would be better served if believers dismounted the moral high horse, returned it to the barn, and joined the human race. As long as they continue to think they are morally superior and demand others live according to the moral teachings of the Bible, they should expect to be mocked and ridiculed when they fall off the horse.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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COVID-19 Is God’s Love. Deal With It

god loves you

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Yesterday morning, Brian Lehrer did a segment on how people are celebrating their holy days during the COVID-19 epidemic. One of his guests was Jacqueline Lewis, the pastor of a “social justice” church in New York City. Lehrer asked her how she squares her faith with the terrible inequalities and injustices the pandemic has exposed. She said, in essence, that “God has a plan” and that “while we may not understand it, we have to trust it” because he is a “God of love.”

She is far from the only clergy member, or believer, to express such sentiments. I don’t doubt the pastor’s commitment to serve the underserved or question the sincerity of her belief that her faith is central to her work. However, she did not — could not? — explain how a “God of love” allows people of color, immigrants and the poor to be over-represented among the victims and casualties of the coronavirus. 

Because we’ve all heard variations of what she said, I wasn’t disappointed. I was, however, angry. Later, I realized why: in her own way, she wasn’t so different from pastors like Rick Wiles or the fundamentalists of other religions who warn us that the epidemic is “God’s punishment” for whatever you care to name. While she doesn’t preach hate, she says that God’s “justice” can, in times like these, burden those least able to bear it. Rev. Wiles wouldn’t disagree. Nor would Pat Roberts, who said the devastating earthquake in Haiti was payback for their “pact with the devil” that allowed them to defeat their French colonizers two centuries earlier. (That “pact,” he said, is the reason why the island’s people have endured so much misfortune.) Nor, for that matter, would other preachers who claimed that any number of natural disasters were “divine retribution” for “sins” (like legalizing same-sex marriage) committed by people thousands of miles away.

In other words, they are all saying that God unleashes his wrath and sometimes innocent people are collateral damage. The only difference between Lewis and the others is that she says that we can’t understand, but we should trust, God’s will, while Robertson, Wiles and the others are basically telling us that God is like the parent who punishes his kids because he had a bad day at work and that we should just get used to it. 

Oh, and they tell us that we should continue to pray to God. Maybe, just maybe, he will listen to our pleas for mercy and justice. 

Or will he?

God is deaf nowadays and will not hear us

And for our guilt he grinds good men to dust.

It’s easy to imagine those lines coming from someone questioning his or her faith in the face of the current pandemic. Or the Holocaust. Or World War I. Or almost any other tragedy you care to name. As a matter of fact, they are part of a response to another collective trauma that bears at least a few parallels to our situation: the Black Death of Medieval Europe.

Those lines come from Piers Plowman, an epic poem that is an allegory of the narrator’s quest for a “true” Christian life in a world of medieval Catholicism. It is commonly attributed to William Langland, about whom little is known besides the fact that he witnessed the Black Death during his youth. Although the poem seems to be intended as a tale of the triumph of Christian virtue and charity, it often lapses — intentionally or not — into social satire. (Perhaps, not surprisingly, it also contains the first known literary reference to the Robin Hood tales.) Langland, or whoever wrote Piers, undoubtedly saw how some within the Church used the Black Death to exploit fears and prejudices about Jews, gypsies and “others.”

Those hatreds are not new. Nor, apparently, is the notion that God is an abusive parent who will tear the house apart and his innocent children might get hit with the flying objects — and that we simply have to understand that it’s “his way” and live with it. In Langland’s time, there wasn’t anyplace else to go if you left the church — that is, if you lived to tell about it. Likewise, they internalized the blame and shame and believed that their parents — and God — knew what was best for them.

Today we don’t have to accept the guilt of someone else being punished for sins or mere misdeeds we may or may not realize we’ve committed. In short, we don’t have to lie to ourselves about love or justice or mercy —whether God’s or a parent’s. And we don’t have to believe they’re listening when they’re not. All we can do is to listen to those who are crying and do what we can to ease their pain, and ours.

(By the way, here is the original of the Piers Plowman verse:

For God is deaf nowadays and deigneth not us to hear

That girls (children) for their guilts (sins) he forgrint (destroys) them all.)

Bruce, the Atheist Talks to James, the Pastor, About the Bible

bible made me an atheist

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Several years ago, a fundamentalist Christian by the name of James commented on several of my posts on this site and on Facebook. James, a seminary-trained Baptist, is convinced I hate God, hate Christians, hate the Bible, and live for the opportunity to mock and ridicule Christianity.

James describes himself this way:

I am a man “of the book.” I am a man of faith. My entire life is governed by my faith in an unseen God. Hebrews 11:6 says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” My entire life falls under the authority of the Word of God. No surprise there! And because my life is governed by God’s Word, I live a holy and godly life.

According to James, his entire life is under the authority of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. God said it, and that settles it, and the real problem with atheists such as I is that we refuse to bow before the power and authority of the Bible. “One day,” James warned, “there will be a day of reckoning and judgment by that man (Jesus) whom God hath appointed to be the judge. And on that day, you WILL bow the knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!”

I’m sure James really believes what he is saying. However, does James really govern his life by the word of God? Does he really believe every word in the Bible is pure and true? I’m sure if James reads this post he will shout from the rooftops, I BELIEVE EVERY WORD IN THE BIBLE . . . STRAIGHT FROM GOD’S MOUTH TO MY EAR  AND HEART!!!

What follows is how a conversation between Bruce, the atheist, and James, the pastor might have gone . . .

Bruce: Every book, every chapter, every verse, every word?

James: Yes, all 66 books, 1,189 chapters, 31,102 verses, and 788,258 words (King James Bible Statistics).

Bruce: Do you think homosexuality is a sin?

James: Yes, the Bible says in Leviticus 18:22 that homosexuality is an abomination.

Bruce: So, you support the execution of homosexuals? Leviticus 20:13 says homosexuals should be put to death. And Leviticus 20:10 says adulterers should be put to death. Do you support the execution of homosexuals and adulterers?

James: Well, you see . . . that’s in the Old Testament, so those verses are under the Old Covenant. We are under the New Covenant now. Praise God for his grace and mercy!

Bruce: What about the Ten Commandments?

James: Yes, I think the Ten Commandments are the inviolable law of God and are valid for today!

Bruce: But, they are in the Old Testament.

James: Well, you see, the Ten Commandments are the moral law of God and God’s moral law is in force today.

Bruce: All ten commandments?

James: Well, you see, the command to remember the sabbath day and keep it holy is no longer in force.

Bruce: Where does the Bible say it is no longer in force?

James: Well, you see, it doesn’t, but if you take this verse, that verse, and a few others, and put them together with these verses, and then interpret it through the proper theological grid . . . viola! the command to remember the sabbath day and keep it holy is no longer in force.

Bruce: Hmm. I thought the Bible says, I am the Lord and I change not. Doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever? If God is unchanging, why do his laws change?

James: Well, you see . . .

Bruce: Didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 5:17-18: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” It seems to me that Jesus is saying the law of God is in force (valid, authoritative) until heaven and earth pass away. I just went outside and checked . . . heaven and earth are still here.

James: Well, you see, the Scripture must be rightly interpreted. You are interpreting it incorrectly and that’s why your beliefs are wrong. I interpret it correctly and that’s why my beliefs are right.

Bruce: I thought you were a man of the book, that you stand upon the B-I-B-L-E!

James: I do.

Bruce: Not really. If you were a man of the book, why would you need to interpret it? Aren’t you really saying that you are a man of a certain interpretation and that your interpretation of the Bible is the authority?

James: Pfft. You are putting words in my mouth.

Bruce: Let’s move on to the New Testament.

James: (under breath) Thank you, Jesus!

Bruce: So, you consider all the commands in the New Testament to be true and authoritative?

James: Absolutely!

Bruce: According to the Christian Assemblies International website, there are 1,050 commands in the 27 books of the New Testament. According to what you said previously, do you consider all 1,050 commands authoritative?

James: Yes, they are the Word of God.

Bruce: Do the women in the church you attend speak during the service?

James: That’s a silly question. Of course, they do.

Bruce: I Corinthians 14:34 says, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.” This verse says women are not permitted to speak in the church.

James: Well, you see, you need to understand the historical and cultural context to properly interpret this verse.

Bruce: So, we are back to interpreting again. I thought you were a man of the book? Shouldn’t someone be able to pick up the Bible, read it, and understand it? If people wanted to be saved, could they just pick up the Bible, read it, and understand what they need to do to be saved?

James: Absolutely! I hand out tracts with Bible verses on them. If a person reads these verses, they will know all they need to know about being saved.

Bruce: Hmm . . . okay. Does a person need to be baptized to be saved?

James: Absolutely not! That’s works salvation. Salvation is by faith through grace, not of works, lest any man should boast. Praise Jesus!

Bruce: Doesn’t Mark 16 say he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved?

James: Well, you see . . .

Bruce: Does a person receive the Holy Spirit when they are saved?

James: Yes, they do. The Holy Spirit lives in every Christian. He is their teacher and guide! He is the third part of the Godhead.

Bruce: So there are three G . . . (stop, Bruce, stay on point) Sorry about that. If someone is saved, but not baptized, do they have the Holy Spirit living inside of them?

James: Yes, but they should be baptized as soon as possible. Baptism is an outward sign of what God has done on the inside.

Bruce: Doesn’t Acts 2:38 say: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost”? This seems to say a person must be baptized before they receive the Holy Spirit.

James: Well, you see, the word “for” in the Greek is “eis” and it means “because of.” In other words, a person is baptized because their sins have been remitted, not in order to have their sins remitted.

Bruce: So, to understand the Bible you need to know Greek?

James: (silence)

Bruce: I thought a person could just read the English Bible and understand how to be saved? Now you are saying they need to understand Greek?

James: Well Greek is the original language of the New Testament.

Bruce: Wait a minute. There’s a Greek New Testament that came before the English New Testament?

James: Yes, and the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew.

Bruce: So, which words are the pure and perfect Word of God? The English or the Hebrew and Greek?

James: (launches into a long explanation about the original languages and translations)

Bruce: OK, where can I read these original manuscripts?

James: They don’t exist.

Bruce: What do you mean they don’t exist? Doesn’t this mean your faith is in a translation written by men, and not the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God?

James: Absolutely not! We can KNOW that the English Bible is the pure and perfect Word of God. God preserves his Word down through the ages.

Bruce: And you know this HOW?

James: The Bible says . . .

I could go on and on and on in endless directions with this fictitious dialog between James and me. As I have easily shown, James’ belief in the Bible requires him to interpret the text, so what is really pure and perfect is not the Bible, but his interpretation. Whatever translation James uses has the fingerprints of man all over it. Since the original manuscripts no longer exist, James can’t be certain that the extant manuscripts contain the exact words of God, and he can’t be certain the translation he uses contains in perfect form the exact words of God. Instead of saying THUS SAITH THE LORD, James should say, THUS SAITH THE IMPERFECT BIBLE, AS INTERPRETED BY JAMES, THE PASTOR.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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Bruce Gerencser CLAIMS He Once Was a Christian

bruce gerencser false jesus

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

I have been blogging since 2007.  When I started blogging, I was an Emerging church, red-letter Christian who, along with his wife, was desperately seeking a church that took the teachings of Jesus Christ seriously. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!)

Our search took us to many churches. We found that Christian churches, regardless of the name on the sign, were largely vapid, empty places, filled with good people who were more concerned with church amenities and programs than following Jesus. We came to the conclusion that, whatever Christianity might have been 2,000 years ago, it died long ago. In its place has grown up an institutionalized church more concerned with power, money, and right beliefs than following after the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ.

The last church we attended was the Ney United Methodist Church, pastored by a fine young pastor I greatly admire. By this time, we were already at the back of the church with one foot out the door, and in November of 2008 we turned around, put the other foot out the door, and walked away from Christianity.

There was nothing wrong with the Ney United Methodist Church or its pastor Ron Adkins. Great people. Kind people. Good people. And they were just like every other Christian church we visited. We came to see that churches really are social clubs, especially here in rural northwest Ohio, where churches are often filled with people with similar last names. The churches are like a family reunion every Sunday.

I pastored for the last time in 2003. After being badgered by several colleagues in the ministry about using the gifts God had given me, in 2005 I candidated at several Southern Baptist churches in West Virginia. While two churches wanted me to consider being their pastor, it became clear to both Polly and me that we no longer wanted to be in the ministry. We were burnt out, no longer willing to work for poverty wages and few benefits. Between 2003 and November 2008, various Christians who knew me labeled me as burnt out, depressed, under an attack by Satan, or a good man gone bad. I was still viewed as a Christian, but due to my changing theology, many of the Evangelicals who knew me now considered me a liberal. Those of you who began reading this blog in 2007 will remember my word battles with Pastor John Chisham, aka PastorBoy, over the gospel and salvation. (Chisham is now divorced, remarried, and no longer a pastor.)

Like many Evangelicals who become atheists, I took a long, bumpy, winding train ride to get to atheism. I started out as an Evangelical, then a Progressive Evangelical, then an Emerging Church Evangelical, then a Red-Letter Christian, then a Liberal Christian, then a Universalist, then an Agnostic, and then, finally, I arrived at the Atheist station. Polly arrived at the station not too long after I did.

All told, I was a Christian for almost fifty years. I spent three of those years in Bible college, preached for thirty-three years, and pastored churches for twenty-five years. During this time, no one ever said, I doubt Bruce is a Christian. No one ever doubted my commitment to Christ or my desire to follow Jesus.

But now it is different. Because I am now an atheist, Christians are quick to say I never was a Christian or that I was a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. How else to explain my story, right?

Some Christians take a different approach. They question my character, my truthfulness. They say things like, “IF Bruce Gerencser’s story is true” or “Bruce Gerencser CLAIMS he was a Christian.” If you search the internet, you will find claims like this on blogs and forums. Several years ago, Lee Shelton, the Contemporary Calvinist wrote:

Bruce Gerencser, an atheist who claims to have once been a Christian…

This is a classic example of the passive-aggressive approach Christians take with me when they read my story. They seem to be unable to accept my story at face value, Of course, I know why. My story doesn’t fit their neatly defined theological grid. Lee Shelton is a five-point Calvinist, and since I didn’t persevere in grace that means I never really was a Christian. I was a temporary believer, not one of the elect to whom God has extended his special, discriminate grace. Of course, I could just be on a time-out and someday I will return to Christianity and persevere to the end. Shelton doesn’t consider THAT possibility.

Here’s what I think. Many Christians find my story threatening. They wonder, if a man like Bruce Gerencser, a lifelong Christian and a pastor, can fall from grace or live a long life of deception, perhaps this could happen to me too. None of the people who called me pastor or considered me a ministerial colleague ever doubted that I was anything but a dedicated, sold-out-for-Jesus Christian. So, either I really was what I claim I was OR I am the best liar and deceiver who has ever lived. And trust me, I am a terrible liar.

Everywhere I look, I see agnostics and atheists who were once devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Pastors, youth directors, worship leaders, missionaries, deacons, evangelists, soulwinners, bus workers, and Sunday school teachers; on-fire, filled-with-the-Holy-Ghost Christians. Thousands of former followers of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords read this blog. Were all of these washed-in-the-blood Christians deceived, never having tasted the goodness of God? Would a scientist doing a study on this group conclude that they were false Christians? Of course not. In every way, they were once numbered among those who followed the lamb wherever he went. When Jesus said “follow me,” they cast their nets aside, forsook all, and followed him. No matter what they now are, the past cannot be erased by the wave of a magic theological wand.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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How Fundamentalist Preachers Take the Fun Out of Everything

women causing men to stumble

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Those of us raised in Evangelical churches know quite a bit about sin. Sin is the problem and Jesus is the solution. Ruined by the fall, redeemed by the blood. Sin will take you farther than you want to go and cost you more than you want to pay. Sin is the disease, Christ is the cure. Timeless, monotonous messages preached from every Evangelical pulpit. If Evangelical preachers were given degrees based on what they preach about, most of them would have sin PhDs.

Those of us who grew up in churches on the extreme right of the Evangelical spectrum heard weekly preaching against sin, with each and every sin categorized and illustrated. Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers are known for having detailed lists of every possible sin humans dare to even think about let alone commit. And as these preachers get older, they add new sins to their lists, so by the time they retire, there is no human behavior that is not, in the right circumstance, a sin. I once heard an IFB preacher at a Columbus, Ohio pastor’s fellowship preach from the Bible verse that says, neither give place to the devil. After reading the text, he spent the next 45 minutes detailing every behavior he thought was giving place to the devil. His sin penis was way bigger than mine.

The late Cecil Hodges, pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia for 41 years, said one time that preachers beat church members over the head with the sin stick so often that they automatically duck when the preacher starts preaching. Called hard preaching or stepping on toes — Baptist preachers are noted for verbally assaulting parishioners in hope of getting them to stop sinning. Yet, no matter how hard they preach against sin, people keep on sinning. Let’s face it, sin is good for the preaching business.The late Bob Harrington, the Chaplain of Bourbon Street, preached a sermon years ago titled, It’s Fun Being Saved. Harrington later committed adultery, so salvation was a lot of fun for him. But for most Evangelicals, their pastors do their best every Sunday to suck the fun out of everything. (See An Independent Baptist Hate List.)

stumbling block

Not only are there specific behaviors that are sinful, but there are also behaviors that are sinful only in certain circumstances. These are called causing-your-brother-to-stumble sins. Years ago, Nathan Rouse, lead pastor of Radiant Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, wrote a blog post titled A Caution For Every Christian That Drinks Alcohol (the page is no longer active). Here’s what the teetotaling Rouse had to say:

Something disturbing has crept into the american church and it’s not pretty.

Many Christians have allowed themselves to take drinking alcohol lightly.

Now before you start throwing the legalistic stones at me, let me first make the following clear:

I don’t believe drinking alcohol is a sin…

…But, there’s another problem:

The often overlooked sin that is rearing its ugly head are Christians displaying their love and consumption of alcohol to those around them in public and on social media, when there are many around them that struggle with this temptation and addiction.

The Apostle Paul addressed a similar situation when dealing with those in the church arguing over whether they could eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul declared that even though they had the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols, they should love those that struggled with this practice enough to not do it front of them.

1 Cor. 8:9-13

But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

We sin against other Christians and “wound their conscience” (as well as sin against Christ) when we openly act in a way that would cause them to stumble.

Now, before you say you only do this with others that are like-minded or with your spouse, let me ask the following questions:

Do you highlight or joke about your drinking in person or on social media (posting pictures of your margarita, wine or bottles of beer)?

Do you drink in public when there’s a good chance you might meet someone struggling with alcohol?

Like it or not, people hold Christians to a higher standard (as they should). Do you love alcohol so much that you’re willing to let your witness be tarnished? Do you love your “freedom” so much that you could care less how it affects another brother or sister?…

I’ve heard and preached sermons many times that echoed the words of Rouse’s post. Not only must Evangelicals not do any of the sins on their preacher’s sin list, they must also avoid any behavior that would or could cause an infantile, helpless church member to stumble — a euphemism for falling into sin.

Church women are asked to cover their cleavage and legs and wear clothing that mutes their sexuality and beauty lest they cause weak men to stumble. Want to go see a certain movie or have a glass of wine at a restaurant? Better make sure weak church members can’t see what you are doing. Don’t say anything about what you did in front of a weak church member lest your words cause them to stumble.

This kind of thinking sucks the life out of people. Every behavior has the potential of being a sin. Wouldn’t the better approach be to expect church members to be responsible for their own behavior? If Deacon Bob gets a boner during Sister Mary’s special because she is wearing a top that accentuates her bosom, is this Sister Mary’s problem? Perhaps Deacon Bob needs to grow up and own his sexuality. The same goes for any behavior that would fall under the causing-a-brother-to-stumble category.

Sin is not the problem, irresponsibility is. While my sin list now fits on a post-it note, I do accept responsibility for any behavior of mine that might harm or negatively affect others. If Polly and I get in a fight and I say something that is hurtful, whose fault is it? Should she be blamed for provoking me to anger? Dammit, she knows I have a temper! I’m a redhead, and everyone knows redheads are temperamental. If she wouldn’t do or say _________, then I wouldn’t get angry. It’s her f…. No, it’s not. I am responsible for what I say and do.

Do you have a story to tell about the preaching on sin in the church you grew up in? Did your pastor preach sermons on not causing a brother/sister to stumble? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

The GOD IS LOVE Myth

god is love

First John 4:8 states:

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

This is the one verse most Christians hang their hat on. God is love. He is the embodiment of what love is. When pressed to explain exactly what this love is, most Christians will quote the most familiar verse in the Bible, John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

According to most Christians, God’s love for humanity is demonstrated by the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus took upon himself all the sins of the human race — past, present, and future. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, human sin was atoned for, and if we put our faith and trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, our sins will be forgiven, we will be given a new life, and when we die, we will have a guaranteed room in Hotel Heaven.

Rarely do Christians take a hard look at the back story behind the belief that God’s love is demonstrated in the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Why do our sins need to be atoned for? How did humans become sinners? Who is responsible for humans becoming sinners?

According to orthodox Christian belief, God is the first cause of everything. He is the sovereign ruler of all. All orthodox sects believe, be they Arminian or Calvinist, that God is in control of everything — including the Coronavirus. There’s nothing that escapes his control. It is rightly posited that if there are things that God is not in control of then God ceases to be God.

If God is the first cause of everything, then God is the author of sin. Most Christians are repulsed by the very thought of God being the author of sin, but if God is the first cause of everything, EVERYTHING includes sin.

Many Calvinists understand this and are not ashamed to state that God is the author of sin. Other Calvinists, the squeamish type, develop lapsarian views to distance themselves from the view that God is the author of sin.  The chart below illustrates the various lapsarian views Calvinists have:

lapsarian views

Arminian sects roundly reject the notion that God is the author of sin. They fail, however, to adequately explain how God can be the first cause of EVERYTHING and yet not be the author of sin.

Arminians believe that God created humans with free will. However, when pressed on whether humans have naked, autonomous free will, most Arminians will say no. Like the Calvinist, the Arminian believes that salvation is God’s choice of a sinner, not a sinner’s choice of God. No one is saved unless God saves them.

Arminians believe in what is called prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is:

Divine grace that precedes human decision. It exists prior to and without reference to anything humans may have done. As humans are corrupted by the effects of sin, prevenient grace allows persons to engage their God-given free will to choose the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ or to reject that salvific offer.

Calvinists and Arminians savage one another over free will, yet when it comes to salvation, both agree it is in the hands of God and no human, unaided by God, can be saved. Both agree:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8.9)

So then, the love that God demonstrates to humans through the merit and work of Jesus Christ on the cross is needed by humans because God caused them or allowed them to be marred by sin. God made us sinners so we would need his love. Wouldn’t it have been better for all of us if God had not made us sinners?

When these kind of questions are asked, Christians often reply:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8,9)

Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? (Romans 9:19,20)

Simply put, God is God, and you are not God, so shut the hell up. How dare you question God’s purpose and plan.

One the biggest obstacles to the notion that God is Love, is that the God of the Old Testament is anything but a God of love. Many modern Christians realize that the God of the Old Testament is problematic, so they distance themselves from this God and emphasize Jesus, the God of the New Testament.

Several years ago, a commenter on another blog told me that the God of the New Testament is a more mature God or that perhaps our understanding of God has matured. I reminded this commenter that the Bible says:

For I am the Lord, I change not . . . (Malachi 3:6)

Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8)

All orthodox Christians believe that Jesus is God — that Jesus was God, is God, and will always be God. Let me chase a rabbit for a moment. Is the Bible really clear about the notion that Jesus will always be God? Consider 1 Corinthians 15:24-28:

Then cometh the end, when he 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.

Few Christians are even aware of this verse, and they can go a whole lifetime without ever hearing a pastor or a Sunday school teacher talk about it. According to this passage, when all of God’s enemies and death have been destroyed, Jesus, the Son, will be subject to God the Father. To be subject to someone means that the person you are subject to is superior to you in rank, power, and authority. If the Trinitarian God, the Great Three-in-One, are each equal with the other, why then is Jesus shown to be inferior to God the Father in the passage above?

Ok, rabbit trail ended.

Many Christians know that the Old Testament God is antithetical to the Christian message of God is love, so they focus on Jesus’ hypostatic union — fully man and fully God.

While a case can be made for the Jesus God in the New Testament being a huge improvement over the God of the Old Testament, how can the Jesus God be split from the Old Testament God and any sense of Christian orthodoxy retained? Wanting something to be so doesn’t make it so. Wanting to present to the world a kinder, gentler God is commendable, but it is theologically untenable.

Many Christians suggest the Old Testament God and the Jesus God of the New Testament are two sides of the same coin. Yes, God is love, but God is also a bad-ass that carries a Buford Pusser-sized stick that he uses to beat and kill all those who oppose him or get in his way.

This brings us to the book of Revelation. Whatever kind of God Jesus really was in the gospels is swept away, and Jesus, in perfect acting form, behaves like God the Father, the God of the Old Testament. Let me give readers a few examples.

In Revelation 5, we find Jesus, the Lamb, opening six seals on a book.

  • Seal one: behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
  • Seal two: And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
  • Seal three: lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
  • Seal four: behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
  • Seal five: I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held…and white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
  • Seal six: there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth…and the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

Revelation 5 ends with this statement:

And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

men of mayhem

In the hit TV show Sons of Anarchy — a show about a California-based motorcycle gang — the Sons of Anarchy refer to death as being Mister Mayhem. When a member sheds blood in the interest of the club he is given a Men of Mayhem patch.

Speaking of Jesus, in Revelation 1:18, the Bible states:

I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

Based on this verse and Revelation 5, Jesus, the supposed God of Love, is Mister Mayhem. While he may be on a temporary mayhem vacation, Mister Mayhem will return and go all Buford Pusser or Sons of Anarchy on those who are not Christians.

In Revelation 19 we see Jesus the Loving God returning to earth on a white horse to exact judgment on those who survived all the previous judgment he poured out on the earth. When Jesus is finished, no one will be left. All the Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, Hindus, Gnostics, Animists, Homosexuals, Pagans, Democrats, Socialists, and St Louis Cardinal fans will be dead.

Praise be to Jesus, the God of Love, yes?

While I will certainly admit that God, as presented in the Bible, does love, it is a warped, self-serving conditional love. God says to humanity, believe the right things, live a certain way, and I will love you. If you fail to believe the right things and live a certain way, I will kill you, and judge you in this life and the life to come. (See Does God Love Us Unconditionally?)

How is this love? If any human acted towards someone as God does towards humans in the Bible, we would rightly conclude that he is an immoral psychopath. Decent, loving people do not treat fellow humans the way God treats those who don’t believe the right things or live a certain way. God even abuses and misuses those who say they love him and want to serve him. Why? Because he wants to chastise them, test them, or make them “stronger.”

God is Love is a myth that helps loving, kind, caring Christians reconcile the God of the Bible with how they think people should be treated. They are guilty of compartmentalizing God, ignoring any divine character trait that does not mesh with their view of God. While I understand WHY many Christians do this, such compartmentalization turns the Bible into an incoherent text that is little more than a poorly written horror story. This is why many of us decided that whatever God there may or may not be, the Christian God is not one we wanted to worship.

But, Bruce, I WANT to believe God is love . . . I NEED to believe God is love. Fine, that is your prerogative. Personally, I think progressive and liberal Christians do a wonderful work in the name of the God of Love. However, once a person appeals to the Bible, such a belief about God is impossible to rationally and theologically sustain. Just stay away from the Bible and all will be well.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.