Evangelicals like to tell anyone who will listen that they are truth-seekers; that they are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. But is this really true?
I contend that many Christian zealots have a hard time admitting what they really believe. Rarely, when speaking with non-Christians, do they give a full disclosure of their beliefs. Instead, they speak of the transformative powers of their religion and how Jesus changed their lives. They speak of the fruit and benefit of being a Christian. All this is well and good, but shouldn’t Christians tell the whole story when sharing with someone the wonders of Christianity? Surely they want a person to enter into the Christian religion with their eyes wide open, right?
The truth is just the opposite. Most evangelism methods teach people to focus on the gospel, to focus on Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. When a non-Christian asks questions that are not on-point, they are told to direct the person back to the main message of the forgiveness of sins and salvation in Jesus Christ. Questions and doubts are better left to another day after the person has become a Christian.
This seems to me like a car salesman selling someone a car without letting them look under the hood. The salesman extols the beauty and craftsmanship of the exterior without ever disclosing that the motor is missing. This is the way many people feel a year or so after they have been saved/converted/born again.
These new converts entered Christianity with a superficial knowledge of what it is that Christians really believe. They were told the bare minimum necessary to get them into the baptismal and church pew. If we can just get the non-Christians saved and in the church, we can then teach (indoctrinate) them the rest of the story, Christians think to themselves. No need to muddy the waters with talk about abortion, homosexuality, tithing, or any of the sundry other beliefs that Christians hold dear. All the sinner needs to know is that Heaven is real, Hell is hot, death is certain, and the forgiveness of sin is but a prayer away.
This way of evangelizing is rooted in the notion that the number of souls saved and the number of people attending church are the standard for determining success. By this standard, Jesus was an overwhelming failure. When the disciples in Jerusalem gathered in the upper room they numbered 120. Not much of a crowd after 3 years of preaching, healing the sick, and raising the dead.
Far too many Evangelical churches and pastors think the answer to reaching the masses is catchy clichés and slick advertising. If we can just get non-Christians to pay attention to us, Evangelical pastors think, then they will come to our store and check us out. And granted, humans are quite gullible and subject to being easily swayed by flashy colors and promises beyond their wildest dreams. As much as we would like to think otherwise, advertising works. We see or hear an ad and the message becomes fixed in our minds. Sometimes it is very subtle. Now that millions of homes have DVRs and viewers are skipping advertisements, advertisers have taken to using in-show product placement. The next time you watch a TV show, look carefully for the product placements. Look behind the scene. The advertisements are everywhere.
Apple is a master at the product placement game. Virtually every TV show has an Apple computer, tablet, or iPhone prominently displayed. This annoys me to no end. I know that only a small percentage of homes actually have an Apple computer and that we are a Windows-based PC culture, yet if I didn’t know that, I would assume every home in America had an Apple computer.
Apple wants consumers to buy into their myth: that owning an Apple product is more than just owning a new piece of hardware. It is an “experience” Forget the price. Forget everything that might be negative about the product and focus on the experience. (Full disclosure: I own an iPad Pro and iPhone.)
The bottom line is that corporations want consumers to buy their products and they use slick advertising to induce us to purchase their wares. They never mention what their product won’t do. They want consumers to buy into the advertising hype without looking too closely at the negative aspects of their product. After all, they are well aware that they must convince consumers to want what they don’t need.
If corporations gave full disclosures with every product they sell, their sales would plummet. They know they must promote the positive and hide the negative in order to continue to sell products. So it is with Evangelical Christianity.
A belief system is far more important than buying a consumer product. A belief system is meant to permeate itself throughout a person’s life. Whether we say we are a Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Pantheist, Mormon, or Humanist, we should know why we are labeling ourselves in this manner. Beliefs affect how we view the world and each other. They also determine what things we value and consider important.
I deconverted almost fourteen years ago. Since then, several people I know have come out in a big way and declared themselves to be atheists, only to, a few months or years later, return to the Christian religion. The reasons for their double-mindedness are many, but the key issue is that these people did not carefully consider what it means to be an atheist. Perhaps they were just angry at God or angry at their church or pastor and in a moment they said, FINE! I reject God and I am now an atheist! Once the anger subsided, they realized that their decision to call themselves atheists was a decision based on emotion and not fact.
Many Evangelicals come into the Christian church in similar fashion. Trouble comes into their lives: marriage problems, family problems, financial reversals, health problems, addictions, mental distress, or emptiness. They are looking for answers, meaning, purpose, and deliverance. They want their lives to be different.
And into their need steps a Christian preaching a minimalist message of a Jesus who will fix what ails you. Just, let Go and let God, people are told. Preachers and evangelizers tell them just enough to get them inside the front door of the church house. A new convert is made, glory to God!
Once inside the church, they are then, bit by bit, exposed to the “rest” of the Christian belief system. Some new converts are appalled once they hear, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. They might say to themselves, I wish they had told me these things BEFORE I became a Christian. Others, desiring the communal aspects of belonging to a group, quickly become cafeteria Christians, believing what they want to believe and rejecting that which they find offensive.
Over time, the communal aspects of Christianity often lose their power. The new and the not-so-new converts start to see that Evangelicals aren’t any different from non-Christians. They come to understand, that for all their talk of change and newness of life, Evangelicals are quite like the rest of the human race.
Evangelicals lie, cheat, kill, steal, and commit acts their Bible says are sins at the same frequency and level non-Christians do. Simply put, they are just like everyone else (and smart is the Christian who understands this).
The pews of Christian churches are filled with people with questions and doubts about what their pastors call “truth.” Their skepticism and dubiety are never given a voice because doing so would open them up to scrutiny or charges of lacking faith. Evangelical churches and pastors demand fidelity to their teachings, and outliers or non-conformists are looked down upon, and in some cases, kicked out of the church. In many churches, it is: believe this or leave.
The ranks of atheists, agnostics, and nones are growing due to the fact that people are asking questions that they find no answers for within the Christian church. As their questions and doubts grow, so does their disaffection and estrangement from the church. Having become a Christian with a bare minimum of knowledge and understanding, they have little or no ability to find answers to their doubts or questions. Often their pastors are no help because the only answers they have are pat, superficial, proof-texts from the Bible. If all else fails, doubters are reminded that the Devil uses doubt to lead Christians astray. The antidote for doubt is faith and resting on the promises found in the Bible.
These tactics may have worked years ago, but not today. People have questions and they want answers. Real answers. Saying, God says or the Bible says, is not sufficient. As Christians listen to more and more preaching, they start to ask themselves, do I believe this? As they listen to the political and social pronouncements from the pulpit they ask, does this accurately reflect my worldview? Telling such doubters to just “faith it” will surely drive many of them into the arms of humanists, atheists, and secularists like myself.
Questioning often leads these Evangelicals to look for answers outside the church. They start reading books or searching the internet. They stumble upon blogs such as this one. They say to themselves, here’s someone who understands where we are in our lives. He understands our doubts and questions, and so do the people who comment on his posts. They might even email me or leave a comment asking for help. They find out that questions and doubts are okay, and that the most important thing is following the path of life wherever it leads.
When doubters and questioners write me, I do not try to convert them to atheism. I encourage them to read and study, offering the titles of a few books that might be a help. I encourage them to seek out answers to their questions and doubts. Above all, I gently ask them to walk the path of life with honesty and integrity. If they will do this, I tell them, they will end up exactly where they need to be.
I try to give people full disclosure when I talk about my own life and my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism. I do not hide the negative aspects of becoming an atheist. It is important that doubters have full knowledge before they choose to number themselves among the godless. (Please see Count the Cost Before You Say I Am an Atheist)
I wish Christians would do the same. Instead of using shallow, superficial evangelism methods, Evangelicals should be honest about what means to profess faith and Christ and be a part of a Christian church. Evangelicals need to stop hiding the unsavory or harsh aspects of Christianity and the Bible. Instead, prospective Christians should be encouraged to study the history of Christianity before deciding to become Christians. Evangelical churches and pastors should make sure prospective converts are fully informed about what it means to follow Jesus, including the social and cultural prohibitions.
Christian churches are hemorrhaging people because they have failed to do this. Surely, it is preferable to have fewer, but better-informed converts, than to have pews filled with people whose knowledge of Christianity wouldn’t fill a 3×5 card.
Ignorance is rife within the Christian church. The average Christian couldn’t defend his or her beliefs if their lives depended on it. All they know is this: Jesus saved Me! Praise Jesus, when is the next fellowship dinner? Quote the Ten Commandments? Summarize the Sermon on the Mount? Defend the Trinitarian teaching on God? Give a cogent, complete defense of how a person is saved? Not a chance.
The truth is most Christians rarely read the Bible. Their knowledge of Christianity comes from what the pastor says during his sermons. I long ago concluded that for many Christians, their belief system is whatever their pastor believes. They live in blissful ignorance of what the Bible actually says and what the Evangelical church actually believes.
If Christian churches want to stem the tide of disaffection and departure, they must begin telling the truth. All the truth, not just a sanitized version to sell people on the notion of what Jesus can do for them.
Christianity is doing a good job making people atheists. Until they get serious about disclosing the good, bad, and ugly of the Christian faith, they will continue to make people the twofold children of Hell.
To those churches and pastors who love to blame evolutionists, secularists, and atheists for their numerical decline and loss of power, I say this: don’t blame us. It is your own fault for thinking you could continue to hoodwink people into believing without knowing. In this modern era of science, such an approach no longer works. If you want people to treat Christianity seriously, and you want people to consider joining your club, then you owe it to prospective converts to tell them the whole truth about the Christian religion. If you refuse to do this, the only blame for the empty pews rests with you.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.
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