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Evangelical Pastor Questions Whether I Preached the “Real” Jesus

bruce gerencser false jesus

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Regardless of what I do to ward off bloodsucking Evangelical vampires, they continue to send me emails detailing their opinions about my past and present life. The notice on the Contact page makes it clear that I am not interested in receiving such messages. I even wrote posts titled Dear Evangelical and Simple Contact Form for Evangelicals in an attempt to reduce the flow of preachy and judgmental emails. I also added a page titled WHY?, hoping that Evangelical zealots would read the posts listed on this page and as a result have no need to email questions that have already been answered. Despite doing all these things, Evangelicals STILL feel duty-bound to contact me. I suspect many of them think God is “leading” them to email me or they feel it is important to put in a good word for the Man Upstairs. Wayne from California is one such man. I think Wayne is an Evangelical pastor — based on his email address, IP address, and Google name search — but since he didn’t call himself a pastor, I won’t either.

What follows is the complete text of Wayne’s email. My response is indented and italicized. Enjoy!

Bruce, thanks for sharing your heartfelt sentiments, etc. I do want to ask you a very pertinent question however as it relates to your defection from Christianity. What “JESUS” did you preach when you were pastoring churches for over 25 years? Was it the Jesus of the Holy Scriptures? Or the Jesus of your own theology?

First, you really should have spent some time reading more than four of my posts. If you had, you would never have asked such silly questions. That said, I want you to be fully educated concerning Bruce Almighty, so I will answer your questions.

I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. Thousands of people heard me preach. I also held special meetings in churches affiliated with the Nazarene, Christian Union, Free Will Baptist, Assembly of God, Charismatic, Southern Baptist, Reformed Baptist, Sovereign Grace Baptist, General Association of Regular Baptist denominations/groups, along with numerous meetings held for Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches (IFB). Not one person ever questioned the Jesus or the gospel I was preaching. Not one time, ever!  You will search high and low to find one person who would say to you, Bruce preached a false gospel. Dozens of colleagues in the ministry will tell you that my gospel preaching was Evangelical and orthodox in every way.

I ask because if you really knew JESUS as Savior and Redeemer, how is it that you can walk away from HIM? Wasn’t HE real in your life? Didn’t HE minister to you as you ministered to others? Did you believe anything that you preached? Or was it all a lie…or a show?

Yes, I really knew Jesus, and yes he was real in my life. Yes, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, led me, spoke to me, and ministered to my spiritual needs. However, I now know that just because I had experiences such as these, they in no way “prove” the existence of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit.

I preached the Jesus of orthodox Christianity. I preached the Jesus found within the pages of the Christian Bible. And yes, I preached the Jesus who saved me from my sins.

If you would like, Wayne, we both can unzip our pants and have a Jesus-measuring contest. Unlike that of Donald Trump, my Jesus was pretty big. I was an expositional preacher. Preaching in this manner afforded me the opportunity to make much of Jesus each and every Lord’s Day.

Any suggestion that I preached some sort of defective or false Jesus is ludicrous. I understand WHY you think this might be so. You can’t square my story with your theology, so you must find a way to dismiss my life: I was an unsaved false teacher who preached a truncated gospel and a false Jesus. Here’s the problem. You will search in vain for even ONE person who would agree with you. Having never heard me preach, you are in no way qualified to judge the quality of my preaching.

I took my calling seriously, spending countless hours evangelizing the lost, ministering to those in need, and studying for my sermons. My faith was the essence of my life, as it was for my wife and children. Again, you will search in vain for even one person who will tell you that I was anything but who I say I was during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.

Were you ever really a TRUE Believer in Christ from day one? I know you said that your life had been inundated with the “Church,” but not a lot was said with what you did with JESUS! That is perhaps where your problem arised [sic]. The Bible does speaks [sic] very clearly of “APOSTATES,” those that merely “professed” faith in Christ…but they never ever “possessed” real faith in Christ? Could that have been you?

No, I was not, at that time, an apostate. Your inability to comprehend my life comes from your superficial reading of my story. No need to dig in and try to understand. You picked out of my story those things that said to you I was unsaved or an apostate and that is all you needed to know.

Again, I “possessed” Jesus every bit as much as you do.

Biblically speaking, no true believer/follower of Christ could ever walk away from HIM as believers are “SEALED” by the HOLY SPIRIT until the day of Redemption. So my friend, perhaps you were hurt and that caused you to turn away, but the JESUS of the Scriptures would ALWAYS be there for you if you really had a genuine faith in Him. I pray that the God of the Scriptures will bring you to a place of true repentance and faith, and that the hurt/wounds that have caused you bitterness in your soul, will be healed and you can really begin living for Christ!

Ah, now we get to the crux of the matter. You can’t square your once-saved-always-saved theology with my life, so it is evident to you that I was never a true Christian. What an easy way to dismiss my story. With one wave of your hand, you say, Bruce, you never were a Christian! This one thing I know: I once was saved and now I am not. I defy you to find one chink in my Evangelical armor. I checked all the boxes, Wayne, and if I wasn’t a Christian neither are you.

I spent most of my life following, serving, and living for Jesus and his Church. Quite frankly, I find inquiries such as yours to be patently offensive. I suspect you would feel the same way if I “doubted” the sincerity of your faith.

Many Evangelicals have come before you. Armed with Cracker Jack armchair psychology degrees, they determine that I am an angry, hurt, and bitter man. Here’s the problem with this line of inquiry: let’s assume I am now angry, hurt, or bitter. How is this relevant to the veracity of my past religious faith? When I was a Christian I was not angry, hurt, or bitter. And believe me, I know what anger and bitterness look like. I spent twenty-five years wading through the Evangelical sewer, coming in contact with countless angry and bitter “followers” of Jesus.  Again, I defy you to find one person who would say that I was an angry, hurt, or bitter Christian.

Now, if you are asking me if I am NOW angry or bitter? Sure, sometimes. These are normal human emotions, emotions that were buried under teachings about the fruit of the Spirit and walking in the Spirit. If I am angry about anything it is that I continue to receive emails such as yours from Evangelicals who refuse to listen and allow me to tell my own story. I know that as long as I am willing to publicly talk about my life as an Evangelical Christian and pastor that I will have to deal with people like you — people who show me little to no respect because they think they have me all figured out.

Years ago, I told my counselor that I was miffed over people not allowing me to tell my own story. I naively thought that if I explained myself, people such as yourself would understand. My counselor chuckled and told me that my mistake was thinking that Evangelicals cared one whit about what I think. He said, they don’t give a shit about what you think!

I now know my counselor was right. And here’s the good thing . . . I no longer give a shit about what Evangelicals think about my past or present life. My goal is to help Christians who have doubts about Christianity or who have recently left the faith. Over the past eight years, I have corresponded with scores of people who had doubts or questions about their faith. I am pleased that I have been able to lend a small measure of support. In some instances, I was able to help people gently unhitch their lives from Evangelicalism — a belief system that often causes untold psychological damage. I am, in many ways, still a pastor. I sincerely want to help people. The difference now, of course, is that my focus is on helping people walk the path of life with honesty and integrity. While I have been instrumental in helping numerous people — including pastors — embrace atheism, chalking up deconversions is not my goal. This blog is my pulpit and the world is my parish. Thousands of people regularly read my writing. I must be doing something right, yes? I still have a hard time accepting that people actually WANT to read what I write, but they do, and I appreciate their support.

By all means pray. It won’t do any good, but praying surely will make you feel like you are doing something anything to silence my voice and bring me to Jesus.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Christian Apologetics: Eight Failed Methods Evangelicals Have Used to Evangelize Me

atheists read the bible

Evangelicals believe they are commanded by God to go into all the world preach the gospel to everyone. Pastors encourage church members to seek out prospective candidates for evangelization everywhere they go. Hell is hot, death is certain, and the return of Jesus to earth is imminent, preachers say, so winning souls for Jesus is their top priority. (Fortunately, most Evangelicals fail to evangelize even one sinner.)

I studied for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution, was founded by Tom Malone, a graduate of Bob Jones College and the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Every day students were required to attend chapel — a 45 minute or so church service. One song that was frequently sung went like this:

“Souls for Jesus!” is our battle cry!

“Souls for Jesus!” We’ll fight until we die!

We never will give in while souls are lost in sin!

“Souls for Jesus!” is our battle cry!

Students lustily sang the words, believing that their highest calling in life was winning souls for Jesus. Students were required to share the gospel weekly with at least three people. Some students, all jacked up on Mountain Dew, would spend hours each week evangelizing “sinners” in the Pontiac area. Others, such as Polly and I, had a life, which included full-time jobs, full-time class schedules, attending church three times a week, going on visitation/bus calling, working in a church ministry, and then, in the few waking hours we had left, have some sort of social life. We “wanted” to win souls. We wanted to be as zealous as other students, but we simply didn’t have enough hours in the day to do so. And we were not alone. Countless students, when called on to give an account of how many people they shared the gospel with, lied or played loose with what it meant to verbalize the gospel to sinners. All told, I won a handful of people to Christ during the three years I spent at Midwestern. I was, by Midwestern’s standard, a soulwinning failure.

As a pastor, I found that most of the people saved under my ministry came to saving faith through my preaching (over 600 people at one church in Southeast Ohio). I continued to knock on doors, hand out tracts, and preach on the streets, but I quickly learned that my most effective evangelization tool was my preaching.

I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. During this time, I came in contact with thousands of people. Two of the churches I pastored had attendances around 200. These two churches, in particular, had lots of visitors. Yet, in all my years in the ministry, I didn’t meet one person who said they were an atheist. Not one. I can’t remember ever preaching a whole sermon on “atheism.” When the text I was preaching from was applicable to atheists, I would mention it in passing, but I never dwelled on the people God called “fools.”

Now that I am a non-Christian, I realize everything I have learned about evangelizing atheists has come from Evangelicals who have tried to evangelize me. What follows is a list of methods Evangelicals have used in their attempts “save” me:

  1. The God question
  2. Philosophical arguments
  3. Creation
  4. Law of God written on my heart
  5. Questioning/doubting my story
  6. Quoting Bible verses
  7. Sharing personal testimony with me
  8. Attacking my character and motives

Scores of Evangelicals have tried to reclaim me (or claim me for the first time, depending on their soteriology) for Jesus using one or more of the methods listed above. All of them have failed spectacularly. Of course, Evangelicals never accept blame for their failed efforts, nor do they blame God for his inability to “save” me. No, I am to blame. I have a hard heart. I am a reprobate. I secretly want to sin. I am a closeted homosexual. I refuse to accept the “truth.” However, Evangelicals might want to reconsider their methodology, or better yet, realize that most atheists are not good prospects for evangelization — especially those who were Evangelicals before they deconverted. Atheists are not low-hanging fruit. We are at places in life where we are almost impossible to reach. Yet, Evangelicals continue to try to evangelize me, each thinking he or she is going to be the one who wins the Evangelical-pastor-turned-atheist back to Jesus. What a prize, right?

I know I will never dissuade Evangelicals from trying to “save” me. All I can do is suggest that they come up with better methods than generic God arguments, fuzzy philosophical arguments, presuppositional arguments, quoting Bible verses I have heard and preached on countless times before, calling me a liar, discounting/dismissing my story, besmirching my character, or shitting on my doorstep.

Why not just pray and ask God to save me? Why not leave the state of my nonexistent soul up to the nonexistent creator of the universe? If God is the sovereign Lord of all and knows everything, surely he alone knows if and when I will be saved and what means will best do the job. Why leave my salvation in the hands of people who can’t even agree amongst themselves about “how” a person is saved, whether I need saving, or whether I have committed the unpardonable sin and crossed the line of no return?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Ken Ham Needs Atheists So He Can Fund His Monuments to Ignorance

lying ken ham

Ken Ham, known as the ayatollah and grand poohbah of Kentucky and a purveyor of Fundamentalist ignorance, frequently writes articles about atheism. Several years ago, Ham asked and then answered the question, Why Do Atheists Care? Here is some of what this noted intellectual genius of young-earth creationism had to say:

 Atheists get very passionate when it comes to fighting biblical Christianity. If God doesn’t exist—and life has no ultimate meaning—why do they even care?

Why do atheists get so emotional and aggressive in opposing biblical Christianity? Why does it bother them? Why does it matter at all to them?

When Answers in Genesis announced plans to build the Creation Museum, a local atheist group began attacking the ministry of Answers in Genesis and campaigning against the museum. When the museum was opened, the atheists gathered outside the museum to protest the opening of this facility. But why did they do this?

At the time of this issue’s publication, atheists are aggressively opposing a new project involving the building of a life-size Noah’s Ark, the Ark Encounter. But what is it to atheists if Christians build such a facility to proclaim the Christian message? After all, thousands of secular museums across the USA and other countries around the world are already proclaiming an atheistic evolutionary message to the public. Government schools throughout the world by and large indoctrinate hundreds of millions of the coming generations in naturalism—really atheism.

So why do atheists get so upset with a minority that stands for biblical Christianity?

During my debate with Bill Nye “the Science Guy” on February 4, 2014, Bill was asked where matter came from. In his answer he said it was a great mystery, but he loved the “joy of discovery” as he pursued such questions. In my responses to Bill’s answers, I asked him why the joy of discovery mattered to him. I explained that from Bill’s perspective, life is the result of natural processes and there is no biblical God, so when he dies, he won’t even know he ever existed or knew anything. Then, when others who knew him die, they won’t know they ever knew him, either. Eventually, from his perspective of naturalism, the whole universe will die and no one will ever know they ever existed. So what is the purpose of this “joy of discovery”? Really, the naturalistic view of life is ultimately purposeless and meaningless!

Think about the well-known atheist Richard Dawkins. Why does he spend so much time writing and speaking against Someone (God) he doesn’t believe exists? Why is he so aggressive against biblical Christianity? In an ultimately purposeless and meaningless existence, why does it matter to him if people believe in the God of the Bible and the account of creation as outlined in Genesis? Why bother fighting against such people when, from his perspective, eventually no one will even know they ever existed?

No matter how many times atheists point out to Ham that they don’t live purposeless and meaningless lives, he continues to recite these lies as a six-year-old would when reciting his memory verse in Sunday school. Ham seems to think that if he repeats the same lie over and over, it will magically become true. Later in the same article, Ham continues his lying ways by telling readers that atheists “aren’t fighting for the truth, but suppressing it” — “truth” being Ham’s literalistic interpretation of the Christian Bible. According to Ham:

Really then, when Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, and others so aggressively oppose biblical Christianity, what they are doing is this. They are covering their ears and closing their eyes and saying, “I refuse to submit to the God who created me. I refuse to acknowledge that God is the creator. I refuse to accept that I’m a sinner in need of salvation. I want to write my own rules! Therefore I must oppose anything that pricks my conscience and aggressively suppress [sic] the truth to justify my rebellion.”

…..

So why do these who so aggressively oppose Christianity care? They care because they are desperately trying to justify their rebellion against the truth. They don’t want to admit that they are sinners in need of salvation and thus need to submit to the God who created them and owns them.

Again, Ham continues to lie, refusing to accept the reasons atheists give for not believing in his peculiar version of God. Our objection to Christianity, its God, and the Bible is not one of deliberate denial of truth. Far from it. Many atheists such as myself spent most of our lives reading and studying the Bible. We know the Bible from cover to cover. It is not that we have some sort of intellectual deficiency or have some secret desire to eat babies or star in porn movies. Our rejection of Christianity is based on our careful examination of its claims. Are the claims Christians make for God, Jesus, and the Bible true? The atheist says no. Rather than accept this, Ham lies and tells his followers that the real reason atheists aren’t Christians is that they suppress the truth and are in rebellion to God.

At one time I was willing to give Ham the benefit of the doubt. I thought, Ham is sincere. He genuinely wants atheists to be saved. I no longer believe this. Since Ham refuses to accurately report the atheistic/agnostic/humanistic/secularist worldview, I can only conclude that he has some sort of ulterior motive that requires him to lie about his adversaries. What could that motive be? you ask. I think Ken Ham needs atheists. He needs an enemy to fight, a war to wage. Ham believes that True Christians® are called on to wage war against Satan and his earthly emissaries. Atheists are an easy target because most Evangelicals equate atheism with Satanism (and Ham does nothing to dispel this notion). Ham knows that Evangelicals — his primary target audience — live lives that are indistinguishable from those of non-Christians. In order to stir up the passions of these passive Christians, Ham uses hyperbolic language when speaking of his three great enemies: secularism, atheism, and liberalism. Ham knows that stirred passions mean more donations, so this is THE reason Ham continues to misrepresent what atheists and secularists really believe. Ham lies because lying is good for business. Evangelicals, thanks to rapturist eschatology, are conditioned to believe the “world” is an awful place and should be avoided at all costs. And what better way to avoid the world than to visit Ham’s monuments to ignorance — the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter.

Ham knows that his Museum and Ark theme park won’t bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I don’t know of one atheist who has become a Christian as a result of visiting Ham’s entertainment facilities. Ham’s goal has never been to save souls. The Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter are meant to reinforce Evangelical young-earth creationist beliefs. Why does Ham encourage Christian parents to bring their children to the Museum and Ark Encounter (by giving children free admission)? Why are most of the things in these facilities geared towards teenagers and young children (i.e., zip line, petting zoo)? Ham’s objective is to indoctrinate another generation in the creationist way of thinking. By focusing on children, Ham ensures that when these children grow up and marry that they too will bring their children for a visit, thus providing continued income for his empire.

As with much that goes on in the name of the Christian God, it is all about money. Ham knows that the key to his future prosperity rests on his ability to generate income. That was the real reason for building the Ark Encounter. Creation Museum visit numbers and income were in decline, and Ham needed something that would stir the passions of his fellow Evangelicals, resulting in them paying his ministries a visit. By building a wood replica of a fictional boat and throwing in a few amenities homeschoolers and children will be sure to love, Ham ensured that the next few years will have increased revenues. Knowing that revenues will later decline, Ham is already planning to build a new attraction, a monument to speaking in tongues, the Tower of Babel. What’s next? A water park where children can watch God drowning men, women, children, and unborn children while Noah and his clan float by in a wood boat?

Ham knows that fighting the atheist horde increases the bottom line, and it is for this reason he really doesn’t want to see any of us saved. If all the secularists and atheists got saved, Ham wouldn’t have anyone to rail against. And with no enemy, revenues would decline and Ham’s monuments to ignorance would fall into disrepair. Ham will continue to lie about atheism because, in his mind, the end justifies the means. He cares more about money than he does honesty. For those creationists who object to my portrayal of Ham as a money-grubbing liar, the easy way to repudiate my claims is for Ken Ham and his ministries to publicly release their financial reports. Of course, it will be a cold day in Kentucky before Ham ever releases his financials.

Twenty years from now, Ham’s ministries will be in decline, facing increasing financial pressures. Ham surely knows that Evangelicals won’t treat the Creationist Museum and the Ark Encounter as they do nearby King’s Island. Once Evangelicals have visited the Museum and Ark Encounter, they are unlikely to return. Been there, done that, Evangelicals say to themselves. Imagine children being forced to repeatedly visit a museum. Doing so is not their idea of summer fun. When asked what they would rather do: visit Bro Ham’s ministry or go to King’s Island/Cedar Point, I suspect most children will quickly opt to ride roller coasters. And since the Museum/Ark Encounter combo ticket is more expensive than that of the amusement parks, many Evangelical parents will decide to take their families to one of the theme parks instead. Facing financial decline, Ham will be forced to scale back his empire. As science continues to draw future creationists away from his pernicious teachings, Ham will be forced to rely on fund-raising appeals or large estate donations from dead supporters. These too will dry up as older supporters die off. By then Ham will likely be dead, leaving others with the responsibility to manage the Creationist Titanic. Eventually, Ham’s monuments to ignorance will close their doors and become decaying testimonies to the dying breaths of a thoroughly discredited system of belief. I will likely be dead when this happens, so I will leave it to my grandchildren to say good riddance.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Short Stories: The Day a Yard Sale Cost the Church a Member

jesus cleanses temple

In the fall of 1995, I started a new church in West Unity, Ohio named Grace Baptist Church. Several years later, we changed the name of the church to Our Father’s House to better reflect our non-denominational approach. Prior to starting this church, I pastored Olive Branch Christian Union Church — located five miles north of West Unity. Several families from Olive Branch joined with us in our new church endeavor. This post is about one of the families who made the move to the new church.

John and Betty (not their real names) lived in Michigan, just north of the Ohio line. Betty was quite talkative, the type of person who, if you saw her at the grocery, you headed in the opposite direction. While I certainly enjoy talking myself, Betty rarely let anyone get in a word edgewise. I am sure she meant well, but fifteen minutes of having to listen to Betty was as tiring as a strenuous workout at the gym. I listened, she talked. And when she was done telling all and more than everything she knew, she would walk away, looking for someone else to regale with her stories and world observations. I was always glad when she sought out others to talk to.

John was very different from his wife. Quiet and reserved, John was content to let his Betty do all the talking and decision-making. There was never a question about who wore the pants in the family. Even when John was specifically asked about his opinion, he would slightly tilt his head to the side and defer to his wife. I don’t remember a time when John made a decision without checking with Betty first. I suspect it was just his personality. John liked to please others and detested conflict. He was in his 40s before he married Betty. Prior to that, he lived with his parents.

Survey my children and you will learn that one of the Bruce Gerencser laws drilled into their heads had to do with being on time. I thought then, and still do today, that it is important to be punctual. If I say I am going to be somewhere at 5:00 pm, people can expect me to be there on time. And on time means at least thirty minutes early. Yes, I am one of THOSE guys. One of my sons asked me why I was so insistent about punctuality and being early if at all possible. I laughed and told him that there were two reasons why I always arrived early at scheduled events. First, when the kids were young, we drove junk cars with tires that had very little tread. These tires were more prone to flats, and I always left early so I would have enough time to change a tire and still make it to wherever I was headed without being late. I also hated walking into a place late. Despite the fact I spent most of my adult life preaching and teaching, I was quite self-conscious, and walking into a place late often made me feel like everyone was staring at me. Arriving late for a church service was even worse. Baptists are notorious for sitting at the back of the church. The front pews are rarely filled, and those arriving late often have to sit toward the front of the church. If we were late, that meant we — all eight of us — would have to traipse to the front of the church to find seats. I was quite embarrassed when this happened, and on a few occasions, I turned around and went home rather than do what I — in my mind — thought of as a perp walk. Silly, I know, but to this day I go out of my way to be early. I am too old to change.

Now I have told you this so you can better understand the next part of the story. John and Betty were notorious for being late. Sunday morning service began at 11:00 am and it was not uncommon for John and Betty to be 30 minutes to an hour late. They lived a half-hour from the church, so this meant on most Sundays they hadn’t even left home before the service started. One week, they were so late that they arrived just as we were getting ready for the benediction. Being late never seemed to bother them, but it sure as heaven bothered me. More than once I stopped preaching, hoping that my impatient pause would let them know that I was not happy with their tardiness. I think they likely thought I was just being polite, allowing them time to get settled before I preached the last ten minutes of my sermon.

One week the church decided to hold a yard sale at its building. The women of the church put tables outside of the building, stacked with clothing and knickknacks they hoped to sell. They also put items for sale inside the church. The proceeds of the sale would go towards some sort of church project. On the morning after the first day of the sale the phone rang at the church. It was Betty and she was quite upset with me for allowing the women to have a sale in God’s house. Quoting the Jesus cleansing the Temple of money changers Bible passage, Betty couldn’t believe that I would ever permit such a thing. She then informed me that she and her husband would no longer be attending the church. I made no effort to talk her out of leaving the church. Quite frankly, their entire contribution to the church was disrupting the services every time they were late. As far as I know, they never financially contributed to the church, even though both of them had full-time jobs at a nearby factory. They never volunteered to help clean the church, visit shut-ins, man the clothing room/food pantry, or any of the other opportunities they had to help others. Betty couldn’t even be bothered to help her invalid sister, who was a member of the church. Well, she would help IF her sister would pay Betty for the privilege. Of all the things Betty did, this infuriated me the most. I thought, this is your sister, and you won’t help her unless she gives you money? How Christian is that? The church, of course, stepped in and helped Betty’s sister, often taking her to doctor’s appointments in Toledo — 50 miles away. Needless to say, when Betty said they were leaving the church, I thought, good riddance!

One time, Betty made a deep financial sacrifice and bought — at Goodwill — a $2 wall plaque of Jesus for the church nursery. Several years after John and Betty left the church, I resigned and the congregation decided to disband. As we were gathering up things to donate to Goodwill and other churches, I came upon Betty’s plaque. As I turned Jesus over, I noticed that Betty had written her name and the words PLEASE RETURN on the back of the plaque. I snickered as I read it, and then, with great pleasure and delight, tossed the plaque in the trash. For the first time, I had the last word.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Buying What Evangelicals Are Selling

evangelism

Evangelicalism is a product that must be sold on the market of ideas. Evangelical pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and garden-variety church members are the salespeople and the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world are the prospective customers. Within the Evangelical mall, there are all sorts of stores (churches), each selling their “unique” brand of the one true faith. Much like prostitutes advertising their wares in front of brothels, Evangelicals advertise why their store is the best one in town. It is up to the Philistines of the world to decide which, if any, Evangelical sect or church is for them.

In our consumer-oriented world, we know there is a big difference between product advertisement and the actual product itself. All of us, at one time or another, have bought a product based on its advertising claims, only to get it home and find out that the product does not deliver as advertised.

What does Evangelicalism advertise to the world? Salvation. Forgiveness of sins. Eternal life. Meaning. Purpose. Joy. Community. Most of all, Evangelicalism offers transformation. New life in Christ, old things are passed away and all things become new.

Evangelicalism creates a “need” by telling prospective customers that they are sinful, broken, and alienated from the company’s CEO. They also create a “solution” by selling the only product that will fix the “need” — salvation. Each store has its own version of salvation, but the goal is one and the same for all: salvation and new life in Christ.

If customers will buy what Evangelicals are selling, the advertising says that they will be granted a lifetime warranty that extends beyond the grave. Further, all sorts of promises are made as far as product performance is concerned. Yet, buried deep within the terms of service that says “your mileage may vary.” Extra costs and conditions apply: weekly church attendance, tithing, obedience to an ancient religious text, conformity to church standards, rules, and regulations, and giving your time, talent, and money to the church.

Most of the people who read this blog have bought what Evangelicals are selling, yet somewhere in the life of the product, we determined that it was not delivering as promised. Many of us returned the product to its seller, never to buy another one again. When asked by customer service why we returned the product, we told them about how God/Christianity/Church was not as advertised. We found that the product looked nice and people really admired it, but when put to use, it failed. Evangelical salespeople talked a great line, but when it came time for Jesus and the church to deliver, they failed miserably. Some of us went looking for different brands and models, sure that there was a better product out there for us if we just looked for it. Some of the rest of us decided that no “better” product was to be had, so we donated it to Goodwill or threw it in the trash.

Evangelical salespeople continue to pester us. When told of the problems we had with their product, we are told that we shopped at the wrong store, bought the wrong model, or didn’t follow the directions. The failure of the product is always our fault. If only we had bought the blue one instead of the yellow one or shopped at John Calvin’s instead of Jacob Arminius’ store, we would still be happy, satisfied customers. If only we had carefully read every word in the owner’s manual 666 times and spent hours each day pondering its words, we would still be Christians. If only we had fasted and prayed without ceasing. If only we had committed our whole hearts, souls, and minds to the one true CEO.

If only . . .

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Dear Evangelicals: Please Stop Saying You See People As Jesus Does

seeing like jesus

Most Evangelicals have a two-sided understanding of Jesus. There is the theological Jesus and the human Jesus. The theological Jesus is found on Sundays and in countless Christian books. While this Jesus often becomes the framework by which Evangelicals view the world, most often it is the human Jesus that determines attitudes and conduct. Let me explain this in the context of a statement often made by Evangelicals: dear Jesus, please help me see others as you do.

From a theological perspective, how does Jesus see others? Can we even answer this question? When it comes to theology, Jesus had very little to say. It is the Christian church, with its 2,000-year history, that has given us the theological Jesus. So perhaps the real question is how does the Arminian or Calvinistic Jesus see people? And now throw in countless other systematic theologies that have fueled internecine warfare among Christian sects over the past twenty centuries. Theologically then, how Jesus sees people depends upon the doctrinal beliefs of the person making the statement. I can tell you this, Calvinists see people very differently from the way Arminians do.

Most often, when Evangelicals make statements such as seeing people the way Jesus would, their conclusions come from their understanding of the human Jesus they have shaped into their own image. While most Evangelicals will categorically reject such a claim, it is clear that among Evangelicals there are numerous, often contradictory, Jesuses. While their understanding of the human Jesus is certainly shaped by theological beliefs, Evangelicals generally believe in a Jesus who looks, acts, and thinks as they do. So when Evangelicals talk about seeing people as Jesus would, what they really mean is seeing people as they see them. Take a homeless man and put him in a room of Evangelicals and ask them their opinion of this downtrodden man. I guarantee you that you will get varied and conflicting answers. The Bible does not mention how Jesus viewed the homeless, so it is impossible for Evangelicals to see them as Jesus did. When Evangelicals look at the homeless, their thoughts are processed through their previous experiences and current beliefs concerning theology, politics, sociology, and economics. Having grown up poor, I view the homeless differently from those who were raised in affluent homes. Our upbringing deeply influences how we see the world. As a father, I know that how I trained my children and the things I exposed them to affected how they view the world. As they have gotten older, they have tested some of the things they were taught as children, discarding some of these teachings or reforming them and adding new observations of their own.

It is for these reasons that I wish Evangelicals would stop saying that they desire to see the world as Jesus did. If that really were the case, all Evangelicals would have to do is take a pair of Thomas Jefferson scissors to the gospels. Once all the peripheral noise is edited from the text, what would be left is a glimpse of how Jesus viewed the world. And I say a glimpse, because Jesus never wrote one word about how he viewed people. What we really have are written records of how the various authors of the Gospels thought Jesus viewed others. We have no way of knowing if what they have recorded is true. Was Jesus disrespectful to his mother as is recorded in the story about the wedding at Cana? Was Jesus indifferent towards much of the suffering that surrounded him? And what do we do with Jesus’ racial bias towards those who were not Jewish? How do we explain the fact that some of Jesus’ family thought he was crazy and wished that he would move down the road and quit embarrassing them? We certainly could filter these things through some sort of theological sieve that sanitizes these negative aspects of the human Jesus, but if the goal is to see people as the human Jesus saw them, then we must come to grips with the fact that he was far from perfect, that he was, in every way, quite human.

It is time for Evangelicals to put aside the notion that they can see other people as Jesus would see them. Jesus is dead, and he left no written record by which Christians can ascertain how he viewed the residents of first-century Palestine. And even if we could, I am not sure it would help us today. We live in the twenty-first century, not the first century. How we view the world today is very different from the way Jesus would have viewed it 2,000 years ago. One of the problems I have with Fundamentalists is that they want to judge present life by the standards of previous generations. Strict constitutionalists demand that the Constitution be interpreted according to the original intent. However, all that matters now is what the Constitution has come to mean. To a large degree it does not matter what our forefathers thought. We are governed by how the three branches of government currently interpret the Constitution. We can endlessly argue over whether the Second Amendment grants citizens the right to own firearms, when in fact the only issue is how the Second Amendment is applied today. All would agree that we no longer have well-regulated militias, so it is up to us as moderns to interpret the second amendment in the context of how we now live.

Instead of framing their cultural observations with theological jargon and talking of seeing thing as Jesus does, Evangelicals need to admit that they see people through the lenses of their own experiences and biases.  There is no value in trying to see people as Jesus did. That Jesus is dead. He has been replaced by countless reincarnations of the son of God. Instead of asking who is Jesus?, perhaps Evangelicals should ask themselves, who am I? When nonbelievers look at how Evangelicals live and what they say, they are not looking for some sort of historical Jesus. What unbelievers really want to see is who Evangelicals really are. Stories about a loving, compassionate, caring itinerant preacher carry little weight when compared to Evangelical behavior. What unbelievers see are actions: homophobia, racism, bigotry, sex scandals, churches and pastors accumulating vast wealth. Instead of concerning themselves with seeing people as Jesus did, Evangelicals should focus on changing how they are viewed by unbelievers. Doing so requires Evangelicals to bring a new Jesus to life, one that is divorced from the hatred and bigotry of the past forty years.

I am sure some Evangelical readers will object to this post and say that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Is he really? Is the Jesus preached at First Baptist Church on Sunday really the Jesus of first-century Jerusalem? Of course not. Whatever Jesus might have been in the early days of the common era, he is no longer that today. The Jesuses of today are very much like the people who claim he is their God. For many Evangelicals, Jesus is a personal savior, a personal God. He is a friend, lover, and confidant. For others, he is a thundering prophet who condemns homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, and a host of other perceived social ills. And for others still, Jesus is a new age guru or some sort of social worker. All nonbelievers have to do to determine which Jesus Evangelicals worship is to look at what they say and how they live. The Bible Jesus has long been dead. What’s left are countless Jesuses fashioned by human hands.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Learning to Say “No”

no

I was the type of pastor who could never say no. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, numerous pastors extended invitations to me to preach at their churches. I never said no, even when doing so would cause economic hardship. Church members knew that they could always count on me to say yes to whatever they needed me to do, even if it was an inconvenience for me or my family. If someone needed a loan, I always gave it to them, even when I knew it was unlikely they would pay me back. Need someone to watch your six kids? Just ask Pastor Bruce and Polly– they will do it. Need transportation to the doctor’s office, work, or the hospital? The Pastor Bruce Taxi Company provided a ride, free of charge. Need tools to fix your car or do a home repair? Borrow Pastor Bruce’s tools, and then fail to return them. The stories are endless. I recognize by telling these stories that a few readers might think that I am trying to paint myself as some sort of super saint, but I think anyone who knows me well would testify to the fact that I have always had a hard time saying no. Several years ago, my mother-in-law chided me for being so willing to give things to others. Quickly realizing how her comment might be interpreted, she said, “I suppose there are worst habits to have.” Why is it that I have such a hard time saying no?

My mother taught me always to be polite and respectful. My father was a salesman and business owner, so he taught me to always give the customers what they wanted. Generally, politeness and respectfulness are good things. Polly and I both taught our children to never be cross or disrespectful towards others. Doing so has served them well as adults. There are times, though, when I wonder if being taught always to be polite and respectful keeps us from properly responding to people who are assholes. Assholes tend to be narcissistic bullies who love to attack people who go through life trying to be decent and kind. I have learned — rather late in life — that sometimes it is okay to be impolite or disrespectful. Some people do not deserve politeness or respect. Over the years, I allowed countless church members to bully and berate me. I could spend the next hour writing about members who stormed in my office to give me a piece of their mind — what little of it they had. They would rant and rave, attacking my preaching, leadership, family, and even how I dressed. One church member was upset over the way Polly crinkled up her nose at him (I kid you not). Most often, I would try to appease them, not wanting to lose church members. Looking back on it now, I wish I had been more willing to tell them to get the hell out of my office and out of the church. These kinds of members rarely stayed in the church for the long term. Sooner or later I did something that so offended them that they picked up their toys and moved on to a new religious playground. Through the grapevine, I would hear that they blamed me for them having to leave the church. Rarely do such people accept responsibility for their own behavior.

I think my view of Jesus also impeded my ability to say no. I saw Jesus as a kind, compassionate, lover of people. Feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and compassionately helping those who crossed his path, Jesus seemed to have had a hard time with saying no too. Like Jesus, I was driven by the fact that there was a deadline that awaited me — death. Knowing that after death I would be judged by God for what I had done in this life, I feared that by saying no I might miss doing something that God wanted me to do. So, I never said no. Well, I never said no to anyone but Polly and our children. They heard the word no all the time. Church members and the demands of the ministry got the best of their husband and father, so when it came time for him to spend time with them or help them with their needs, he far too often said no. I will always regret not putting the needs of my family first. Perhaps this is why I rarely tell my grandchildren no. They have become my do-over of sorts, and they know it. Nana is harder to manipulate than I am, so when the grandkids really want something they come running to Grandpa.

I suspect that my inability to say no will always be with me. Having watched Polly suffer through decades-long economic deprivation, I am determined to make the rest of her life one of comfort. If she wants something, I do everything I can to make sure she gets it. Fortunately, Polly does not abuse my willingness to give her what she wants/needs/desires. I know that life is short and there is no eternal reward beyond the grave, so why not enjoy the fruits of our labor? I know that I will be dead sooner than later. Ecclesiastes says we should enjoy life and the fruits of our labor. Why? Because tomorrow we die. Certainly, we must live life within the parameters of our financial and physical abilities, but there is no award for waiting to live life until you are too old or too sick to enjoy it. I know there is coming a day when physically, I will likely be unable to walk or ride in a car. Knowing this motivates me to walk and ride while I can. I am grateful that I have a partner who is willing to drive me where I want to go and walk with me, even if it means pushing my big ass in a wheelchair.

I am slowly beginning to recognize that it is in my best interest — psychologically and physically — to say no. I now have five grandchildren who are playing competitive sports. I have no doubt that someday eight or nine of them could easily be involved in school activities that I would like to attend. If I had my way, I would attend every one of their games. I thoroughly enjoy watching them play. But, I know that I cannot attend each and every game, especially in the COVID era. If I did so, I would be so physically worn out that I would not be able to do anything else. So, I have to say no when my heart says yes. It is the same with birthday parties and other family gatherings. I ALWAYS want to spend time with my family. We are very close and I want to spend as much time as possible with them, knowing that there is coming a day when all I will be is a memory in their minds and a photograph hanging on the wall. But, I also know that I cannot do everything, and there are times for the sake of my health that I have to say no. Polly’s mom is in declining health. While we have made several trips to Newark — a seven-hour round-trip — I feel guilty over not going to visit her more often. These trips are physically excruciating, and by the time we get home I often feel like I met Mike Tyson in an alley fight and lost. As much as I want to visit Mom every weekend, as we did years ago, I know I can’t. This is perhaps the best example of my physical limitations forcing me to say no.

Bit by bit I am learning that is okay to tell people no. It is not narcissistic to put self first. I am the only one who knows what it feels like to walk in my skin. Outwardly, I look like a typical overweight old man, one who certainly should not need to park in handicapped spaces. But inwardly, virtually every joint and muscle in my body hurts. Some days the pain medications work well, other days they don’t. These days no usually means I can’t. To quote the Bible, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

Do you have a hard time saying no? Are you a people pleaser? Please share your experiences in the comments section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser