Menu Close

Why Many Christians Aren’t Interested in What I Have to Say

i just don't care

As many of you know, I see a secular counselor from time to time. More than once, he has challenged me over what he considers my naïveté about my fellow humans. For the longest time, I sincerely believed that if I just explained myself to people, they would at least understand where I am coming from.  While they might not agree with me, they would at least understand my viewpoint. I now know that many people, especially Evangelical Christians, aren’t interested in understanding where I am coming from. They are not interested in my beliefs, explanations, or story. Armed with certainty, God living inside of them, and an inspired, infallible, inerrant text in the crooks of their elbows, they already know who and what I am. Nothing I say will change their opinion of me.

These kinds of people think they know the REAL reasons I left the ministry and left Christianity. They are certain they know exactly why I became an atheist. If my telling my story contradicts their conclusions, then I am lying, deceived, delusional, or a con-artist. Because their mind is already made up, anything that does not fit into the narrative they believe to be true is rejected out of hand. One commenter told me years ago, Bruce, I know you better than you know yourself. I think there are a lot of Evangelical Christians who think this way about me. They think their special relationship with God gives them an understanding of me that other people might not have. Most of these people have never met me and the only things they know about me are what they read on this blog. They are quite certain that they know me inside and out.

When I tell them I left Christianity primarily for intellectual reasons they don’t believe me. There must be some other reason, perhaps a “secret” reason why I am no longer a Christian. They cannot imagine how anyone, having all the training and experience I have, could ever intellectually reject Jesus Christ. They are like people who drive Fords. They love driving a Ford, and because they love driving a Ford, everyone else should too. They can’t imagine ever driving any other car but a Ford. When asked what kind of car their parents drove, they will proudly say, a Ford! It never dawns on them that perhaps the reason they drive a Ford is because their parents drove a Ford. They are convinced they drive a Ford because it is better than every other automobile make, even though they have never driven any other make of car but Ford.

Most of the atheists/agnostics I know were Christians before they became an atheist/agnostic. Many of them were serious, devoted followers of Jesus Christ. They attended church regularly, were active in the church, read and studied their Bible, prayed regularly, and financially contributed to the church. In every way they were true-blue Christians.

These atheists, like myself, reached a place where they began to have doubts questions about the Bible and Christianity. These doubts and questions led to more doubts and questions. They never intended to not be Christian, but as they read and studied they came to the conclusion that they could no longer believe the tenets of Christianity. They lost their faith in God, the Bible, and Christianity. Few people can understand the pain and heartache that they faced and continue to face as they walked away from that which was once most precious.

Many of my critics assume that I jumped from fundamentalist Christianity to atheism. They refuse to take a careful look at the path that led me to where I am today. It goes something like this:

  • Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christian
  • Evangelical Christian (Calvinistic)
  • Emerging/Emergent Christian
  • Progressive/Liberal Christian
  • Universalist
  • Agnostic
  • Atheist/Humanist

I tried to find a natural stopping point as I slid down the slippery slope, but I couldn’t. No matter how much I tried to shut off my mind to the questions, they would continue to come to the forefront of my thinking and demand answers. It is the seeking of answers that finally led me to where I am today, and will lead me to where I will be tomorrow.

Many of those who refuse to accept my story at face value are sure that there is some other underlying motive for my unbelief. Brad, a  commenter on a post I wrote about Steven Furtick, is an excellent example of this. Here is what he had to say:

I’m sorry to hear that you left the ministry and even more that you decided to leave Christ for a life of Atheism. I do agree with some of your comments about Furtick and his financial lifestyle.

I actually relate more with the approach of Francis Chan, as described in his book Crazy Love, which I’m assuming that you are probably familiar with. The reason I wanted to comment is because the bigger picture that you are missing is salvation. No matter if Furtick is making poor decisions regarding his finances, that does not change his salvation.

I’m concerned for you Bruce. I understand that I came on your website and read your blog, but as a Christian and believer in Christ, I feel like that someone needs to simply remind you of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and unfailing love. I wonder if you were hurt somehow in the church?

Why did you serve God for so many years and then decide to leave from the protection and shadow of his ‘wing’? If you were hurt in the church, I’m sorry for that. You can’t however, hold God accountable for something one of his crazy kids may have done! I had a bad experience at Wal-Mart one time, but I still go back and buy my groceries there!

I will pray for you and believe that you will come back to Christ. I am a licensed therapist (Masters in Counseling) and an ordained minister and I own a private practice and work with hurting people everyday. My experience is that hurt people, hurt people! I think there is a possibility that you are hurt and bitter. Maybe not. I do know that you are confused because you left God’s calling for your life! Peter Pan, you have forgotten how to fly! Don’t worry, God still loves you more than you could ever imagine. Prodigal son, when are you going to return to your Father?

Brad thinks there is an underlying reason for why I am no longer in the ministry and no longer a Christian. He made no effort to read anything else I wrote but the Steven Furtick post, and based on that post he read he “intuited” that I must be hurt.

I want to conclude this post by dealing with the notion that the reason I deconverted was due to some underlying emotional issue. For the longest time, I refused to see my deconversion as anything other than an intellectual pursuit. I knew that admitting that I was angry, jaded, cynical, or hurt would allow critics to dismiss everything else I wrote. All that would matter to them is that I left Christianity for some other reason than an intellectual one.

This coming September, it will been thirteen years since I pastored a church and seven years since I walked away from Christianity. As I continue to analyze and understand why I no longer believe, I now know the reasons are many. While the intellectual reasons are certainly the main reason I no longer believe in God, I now know that there was/is an emotional component to my deconversion.

Was I hurt in some way? No. There was no crisis event that led me to renounce my faith. There were five years between pastoring my last church and my loss of faith. During this five-year period, I had numerous opportunities to pastor. I could have started a new church, and as late as 2007,  Polly and I had discussions about starting a church. I even contacted the Quaker/Friends denomination about starting a church in the Defiance, Ohio area. Until the last Sunday in November 2008, when I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time, I still thought of myself as a Christian pastor. I knew I was hanging on by a thin thread, but I still thought I could intellectually make it work. In the end, I couldn’t. No one hurt me, no church so injured me that I had no other choice but to leave Christianity. If anything, my deconversion was more like a married couple who loved each other dearly but couldn’t stand to be around each other. My lifelong marriage to Christianity ended, not only for intellectual reasons, but because I could no longer stand to be around American Christianity.

Anger came after I deconverted. For the longest time, I was angry at myself for wasting so much of my life in the ministry. I was angry over how the ministry hurt my wife and children and how my preaching hurt other people. I was angry over what Evangelical Christianity was doing to America. But, most of all, I was angry at Evangelical Christians who refused to take me at face value and who refused to allow me to authentically tell my story.

While I can still get angry at belligerent, self-righteous, arrogant, cement-headed Christians, most of the time I just sigh and shake my head as they deconstruct my life or let me know that they know the REAL reason(s) I am not in the ministry or why I am no longer a Christian. I now know that I cannot make the blind see or the deaf hear. While I can readily accept their confession of faith in Jesus Christ at face value, they cannot grant me the same respect. I suspect this is because of who I am.

I am not just a generic, run-of-the-mill Christian turned atheist. I am not someone who was raised in the church and then when I became an adult, rejected the faith of my parents. I am a man who spent fifty years in the Christian church. I am a man who started preaching when he was fifteen. I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. Even among the apostate pastors who are prominent today, I have more time on the job than most. Many pastors who deconvert do so after five or ten years in the ministry. Rare is the man who spends fifty years in the Evangelical church and walks away from it all.  I think this is the real reason many of my most vocal critics try to reduce me to dog shit on the bottom of their shoes. I wonder if they, deep down, fear that if someone such as I can lose my faith, that it is possible they can too? Perhaps when the doubts and questions they say they never have come to the surface in the still of the night, those doubts and questions have my face. Perhaps they are like a few former parishioners who cannot talk to me anymore because they find my deconversion so unsettling? They wonder, how can this be? How can Pastor Bruce be an atheist? He led me to Christ, he baptized me, he taught me the Bible, he loved me, cared for me, and prayed for me. If Bruce is an atheist, is the faith of anyone safe?

070216

Russell Wilson’s God:Does He Love the Seahawks More than the Packers?

russell wilson crying
Russel Wilson crying after God helped him beat the Green Bay Packers

According to Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, the Christian God is a Seahawks fan, at least for this week. Wilson had the worst game of his career, throwing four interceptions and was suffering four sacks. Wilson practically handed the game to the Green Bay Packers. But, Wilson had a secret weapon that Aaron Rodgers didn’t know about, God. Yes, Wilson called on the big man upstairs to give the Seahawks what they needed to defeat the Green Bay Packers.

Eight hours before game time, Wilson put in a praise order to Jesus:

russell wilson tweet
Russell Wilson Sends a Praise to Jesus so He’ll Remember Him Come Game Time

After the Seahawks stunning comeback win, Wilson and some of his Christian teammates knelt on the field and thanked God for their victory. Wilson later said:

“Just making the plays at the end. Keep believing. There was no doubt, I just had no doubt. We had no doubt as a team. The funny thing is I was on the sideline right before we went off that last drive and I told (offensive coordinator Darrell) Bevell, ‘be ready for the check’, for the play that we just ran through the touchdown. I said ‘I’m gonna pull a touchdown and win the game’. And sure enough man. I just believe that God prepared me for these situations. God’s prepared our team too as well. Like I said, I’m honored to be on this team. I’m going to the Super Bowl again.”

You see, there’s the problem. God was too busy helping Wilson prepare to beat the Seahawks to devote any time to rape and pillage going on in Nigeria. God was too busy helping Wilson understand the Packers’ defensive schemes to concern himself with children going to bed tonight without eating. What a mighty, mighty God Wilson serves, a God who can’t be bothered with the pressing needs of his creation because he’s too busy fixing a football game in Seattle.

Wilson tweeted out after the game:

russell wilson tweet 2
God Comes Through for Russell Wilson

As an atheist, I am amused by these kind of masturbatory displays of Christianity. Since Wilson’s God is a fiction, I know that the game was decided on the field. Green Bay had it in their grasp and let it get away. Wilson found a way to put off his horrible play and bring his team down the stretch to victory.

What troubles me is how many Christians are thrilled when a player or musician makes a public display of God affection. They are almost beside themselves when they hear their God, not just any God, THEIR God, mentioned on TV. Rarely do they consider how such things cheapen not only their religion but the God they worship.

jesus football

Do they really want to speak up for a God who takes time out of his busy schedule to help a football team win a game? The same could be said when people praise God for helping them to find their keys. Is this who the Christian God is — a divine bellhop who stands by waiting to meet the every whim of self-indulgent followers of Jesus?

Christians of every stripe should be offended when players such as Russell Wilson attribute their victory to God, the deity who loves every sport. It seems God helps football teams score the winning touchdown, baseball teams score the winning run, and golfers make the winning putt. I suppose God’s team even has some bowlers on it and he helps them get the 7-10 split to win the game. Is this what the Christian God has become, a genie who grants wishes to those who call upon his name?

If that is so, why then is he silent when millions of people will call on his name asking him to save them from starvation, torture, rape, calamity, and death? Is God so busy with American sports players that he has no time for no account starving children in Africa? Is he so tuned in to helping Russell Wilson grab victory from the jaws of defeat, that he has no time to help those who are being raped, abused, and murdered by ISIS and Boko Haram?

So, I ask you dear Christian, is THIS the God you want me to worship and serve? Is Jesus really little more than Russell Wilson’s touchdown Jesus? If so, count me out. I want nothing to do with such a petty, heartless deity.

The good news is, God is fixing to get an ass-whipping two weeks from today. The Seattle Seahawks will play the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.  And here’s one thing I know: Tom Brady the Patriot quarterback and his coach Bill Belichick? They won’t spent any time in prayer meetings beseeching God to help them defeat the Seahawks. Instead, they will  be doing what consummate professionals do. They will study film, they will cook up schemes to help them win, and then Tom Brady and Co will go out on the field and play as smart and as hard as they can. And if and when they win? You can count on one thing, neither of them will be praising Jesus for the victory.

070316

Colton Burpo of Heaven is for Real Fame Says His Story is True!

burpo family christmas

And THANK YOU for helping us make a mountain of cash!

The Charismatic and Evangelical Christian world is in an uproar over Alex Malarkey’s denunciation and retraction of his story detailed in the best-selling The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven. Another book, detailing a young boy’s trip to heaven and back, came out about the same time as The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven. Heaven is for Real, details the story of Colton Burpo. You can read my review of the book here.

In a press release on the Crossroads Wesleyan Church website, Colton assures people that his story is true:

Dear Friends

I know there has been a lot of talk about the truth of other Heaven stories in the past few days. I just wanted to take a second and let everyone know that I stand by my story found in my book Heaven is for Real.  I still remember my experience in Heaven.  I want to keep telling people about my experience because it has given hope to so many people.

People may have their doubts about my story, but the thing is, I wasn’t coaxed into doing this.  I wanted to tell people about my experience.  In fact, I started sharing my story with my friends and people in our town way before there was a book called Heaven is for Real.

I hope that my story continues to point people to Jesus.

He really, really loves you.

Colton Burpo

Colton wants everyone to know that he stands by his story and that he wasn’t coaxed into telling his story. Of course, there is no empirical evidence to prove that Colton’s story is true. We are just going to have to take his word for it.

Let me give you several reasons why Colton or his preacher father will never disavow the story.

Well, really only ONE reason. The money.

all about the money

Money from book sales (over 10 million copies sold)

Money from the book sequel, Heaven Changes Everything

Money from conferences

Money from speaking engagements

Money from the movie that was made from the book. (the movie grossed 101 million dollars)

Money from DVD, digital download,  and Blu-ray sales

Money from Heaven is for Real curriculum

Money from the sale of Jesus Junk® (tee shirts, coffee mugs, tumblers, bracelet, greeting cards, music) (link no longer active)

Money from the Red Carpet Special. (link no longer active) For $43.00 and a suspension of rational thought, you’ll receive:

  • The Official Movie Edition of Heaven is for Real (Signed by the Burpo Family)
  • Heaven is for Real for Kids (Signed by the Burpo Family)
  • Heaven Changes Everything (Signed by the Burpo Family)
  • Prince of Peace note card and bookmark
  • Heaven is for Real Bracelet

BTW, I am planning to write a book titled An Atheist Goes to Heaven. It will detail the true story — true because I say it is — of an atheist who dies, goes to heaven, sees Jesus, comes back to earth, and still doesn’t believe. Ought to be a bestseller, don’t you think? I could follow it up with another book, I met Christopher Hitchens in Heaven and He HATES it There!

040816

But Our Church is DIFFERENT!

ice cream flavors

I pastored my last church in 2003. Between July of 2002 and November of 2008, my wife and I, along with our children, personally visited the churches that are listed below.  These are the church names we could remember. There are others we have either forgotten or vaguely remember, so we didn’t put them on the list. Churches in bold we attended more than once. All told, from 2002-2008 we visited about 125 churches. If I added every church I have ever attended or preached in my lifetime the count would be over 200.

When Christians tell me THEIR church is different I often tell them that I have been to THEIR church. Not literally of course, but one church or another that I have visited over the past 30+ years is just like theirs. Churches are not as unique as they would like to think they are. Polly and I concluded that the name over the door may be different, but after a while, they all look and sound the same. The  congregation size, building, music, and liturgy might be different, but this is nothing more than the man behind the counter at the ice cream shop asking you, regular cone, waffle cone, or bowl.

If the church has a website, I linked to it. A handful of these churches are no longer open.

Churches We Visited 2002-2008Location
Our Father’s HouseWest Unity, Ohio
First Brethren ChurchBryan, Ohio
First Baptist ChurchBryan, Ohio
Grace Community ChurchBryan, Ohio
Lick Creek Church of the BrethrenBryan,Ohio
First Church of ChristBryan, Ohio
Eastland Baptist ChurchBryan, Ohio
Bryan Alliance ChurchBryan, Ohio
Union Chapel Church of GodBryan, Ohio
Celebrate Life Christian FellowshipBryan, Ohio
Faith United Methodist ChurchBryan, Ohio
Trinity Episcopal ChurchBryan, Ohio
Archbold Evangelical Church Archbold, Ohio
Sherwood Baptist ChurchSherwood, Ohio
Ney Church of GodNey, Ohio
Ney United Methodist ChurchNey, Ohio
Sonrise Community ChurchNey, Ohio
Farmer United Methodist ChurchFarmer, Ohio
Lost Creek Emmanuel Missionary ChurchFarmer, Ohio
Hicksville Church of the NazareneHicksville, Ohio
Community Christian CenterHicksville, Ohio
Grace Bible ChurchButler, Indiana
St John’s Lutheran ChurchDefiance, Ohio
Harvest Life FellowshipDefiance, Ohio
Community Christian CenterDefiance, Ohio
Second Baptist ChurchDefiance, Ohio
First Baptist ChurchDefiance, Ohio
Grace Episcopal ChurchDefiance, Ohio
First Assembly of GodDefiance, Ohio
Defiance Christian ChurchDefiance, Ohio
First Presbyterian ChurchDefiance, Ohio
St John’s United Church of ChristDefiance, Ohio
Peace Lutheran ChurchDefiance, Ohio
Pine Grove Mennonite ChurchStryker, Ohio
St James Lutheran ChurchBurlington, Ohio
Zion Lutheran ChurchEdgerton, Ohio
Northwest Christian ChurchEdon, Ohio
Restoration FellowshipWilliams Center, Ohio
Pioneer Bible FellowshipPioneer, Ohio
Frontier Baptist ChurchFrontier, Michigan
Salem Mennonite ChurchWaldron, Michigan
Waldron Wesleyan ChurchWaldron, Michigan
Lickley Corners Baptist ChurchWaldron, Michigan
Prattville Community ChurchPrattville, Michigan
Betzer Community ChurchPittsford, Michigan
Fayette Church of the NazareneFayette, Ohio
Fayette Bible ChurchFayette, Ohio
Fayette Christian ChurchFayette, Ohio
Morenci Bible FellowshipMorenci, Michigan
First Baptist ChurchMorenci, Michigan
Demings Lake Reformed Baptist ChurchDemings Lake, Michigan
Medina Federated ChurchMedina, Michigan
Thornhill Baptist ChurchHudson, Michigan
First Baptist ChurchHudson, Michigan
Rollins Friends ChurchAddison, Michigan
Canandaigua Community ChurchCanandaigua. Michigan
Alvordton United BrethrenAlvordton, Ohio
Pettisville Missionary ChurchPettisville, Ohio
Vineyard ChurchToledo, Ohio
Providence Reformed Baptist ChurchToledo, Ohio
Lighthouse Memorial ChurchMillersport, Ohio
Newark Baptist TempleHeath, Ohio
Church of GodHeath, Ohio
30th Street Baptist ChurchHeath, Ohio
St Francis De Sales Catholic ChurchNewark, Ohio
Bible Baptist ChurchNewark, Ohio
Cedar Hill Baptist ChurchNewark, Ohio
Eastland Heights Baptist ChurchNewark, Ohio
Northside Baptist ChurchNewark, Ohio
Newark Brethren ChurchNewark, Ohio
St John’s Lutheran ChurchNewark, Ohio
Vineyard of Licking CountyNewark, Ohio
Vineyard Grace FellowshipNewark, Ohio
Grace FellowshipNewark, Ohio
Faith Bible ChurchJersey, Ohio
Vineyard Christian ChurchPataskala, Ohio
Cornerstone Baptist ChurchNew Lexington, Ohio
St Nicolas Greek Orthodox ChurchFort Wayne, Indiana
Nondenominational ChurchAngola, Indiana
Nondenominational ChurchFremont, Indiana
Victory Baptist ChurchClare, Michigan
First Assembly of GodYuma, Arizona
Desert Grace Community ChurchYuma, Arizona
Calvary Lutheran ChurchYuma, Arizona
Bible Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Calvary ChapelYuma, Arizona
OasisYuma, Arizona
Faith Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Valley Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Calvary Assembly of GodYuma, Arizona
Foothills Assembly of GodYuma, Arizona
Morningside Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Faith Horizons Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Stone Ridge Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Old Order Mennonite ChurchYuma, Arizona
Grace Bible FellowshipYuma, Arizona
Calvary Temple of Christ
Yuma, Arizona
Maranatha Baptist ChurchYuma, Arizona
Independent Lutheran ChurchYuma, Arizona
Community Christian ChurchYuma, Arizona
Church meeting in funeral chapelYuma, Arizona
Pentecostal ChurchWinterhaven, California
North Holtville Friends ChurchHoltville, California
Sierra Vista Baptist ChurchSierra Vista, Arizona
Hedgesville Baptist ChurchHedgesville, West Virginia
New Life Baptist ChurchWeston, West Virginia

 

Book Review: Heaven is for Real

heaven is for real

In light of the recent repudiation of The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven by its author, Alex Malarkey, I thought I would repost my review of a similar book of fiction, Colton Burpo’s story, Heaven is for Real.

Heaven is for Real is the life-near-death-back-to-life story of a four-year old boy named Colton Burpo. Colton is the son of Todd and Sonja Burpo. The story is revealed by Colton to his father over the course of three or four years (2003-2007). The book detailing the story was written in 2010.

Todd Burpo is the pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church (link no longer active) in Imperial, Nebraska. A significant amount of time is spent detailing the day-to-day life of Todd Burpo, pastor. Burpo paints an all-too-typical picture of the ministry. Long hours, overworked, underpaid, under-appreciated. As a former pastor myself, I found Burpo’s story seemed quite familiar.

The young Burpo family had their fair share of adversity. Todd was diagnosed with a severe leg problem, kidney stones, and hyperplasia. A  breast biopsy showed cancer cells which resulted in the surgical removal of Todd’s breasts. Sonja had a miscarriage. On top of these trials, their son Colton required emergency treatment for a ruptured appendix. Colton was shuffled among 3 hospitals before the proper diagnosis was made. He almost died. Almost…

According to the Burpos, Heaven is for Real is a testimony to the power of prayer. Multiple illustrations throughout the book give clear testimony to the Christian God being a prayer-answering God.  Todd gives a testimony of being healed of cancer. A biopsy was used to first diagnose Burpo’s cancer. After having a mastectomy, the doctor was astounded to find no cancer in the removed tissue. The doctor said “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how that happened.”  Burpo writes “I knew: God had loved me with a little miracle.”

The focus of Heaven is for Real is Colton Burpo’s near-death experience while being operated on for a ruptured appendix. After Colton came out of surgery, he began screaming for his father. Todd raced to his son’s side. Colton said to Todd, “Daddy, you know I almost died.”

There is little doubt about Colton almost dying. He went five days before being diagnosed with a ruptured appendix. By then, his body was full of infection. The doctors left tubes in Colton’s abdomen to drain the infection. After a grueling ordeal that lasted 15 days, Colton was released from the hospital. Burpo credits the prayers of God’s people for the miraculous deliverance of Colton from the jaws of death.

Burpo tells an incredible story that I have heard time and time again. Doctor bills are astronomical. What are we going to do? Pray! And lo and behold, God comes through with the exact amount needed to pay the medical bills.

A closer look at these kind of stories often yields a different conclusion. Take the Burpos’ case. First, the Burpos had insurance. According to the book, the deductible was $3,200.00. Burpo does not say what the maximum out-of-pocket amount is, so readers are left to wonder how much the insurance actually paid and how much the Burpo’s had to pay. What we do know is that God provided the Burpos with almost $23,000.00 in gifts and donations to be used for medical expenses.

After Colton was fully recovered, the Burpos noticed that Colton seemed quite focused on people knowing Jesus as their Savior (having Jesus in their heart).

Todd writes:

I didn’t know what to think. Where was this sudden concern over whether a stranger was saved , whether he had Jesus in his heart, as Colton put it, coming from?

Four months after Colton’s near-death experience, the Burpo family took a Fourth of July trip to Sioux City, South Dakota to visit Sonja’s brother. While traveling to Sioux City, Todd, Sonja and Colton had a discussion about Colton’s time in the hospital.

Colton: “Yes Mommy, I remember, that’s where the angels sang to me.”

Todd:  “Colton, you said the angels sang to you while you were in the hospital.”

Todd: “What did they sing to you?”

Colton: “Well they sang Jesus Loves Me and Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho. I asked them to sing We Will, We Will, Rock You, but they wouldn’t sing that” (implication: angels hate rock music).

Todd: “What did the angels look like?”

Colton: “ Well, one of them looked like Grandpa Dennis, but it wasn’t him ‘cause Grandpa Dennis has glasses.”

Colton: “Dad, Jesus had the angels sing to me because I was so scared. They made me feel better.”

Todd: “You mean Jesus was there?”

Colton: “Yeah Jesus was there.”

Todd: “Well, where was Jesus?”

Colton: “I was sitting in Jesus’ lap.”

Todd: “Colton, where were you when you saw Jesus?”

Colton: “At the hospital. You know, when Dr. O’Holleran was working on me.”

Todd: “But you were in the operating room, Colton. How could you see what we were doing?”

Colton: “ ‘Cause I could see you. I went up out of my body and I was looking down and I could see the doctor working on my body. And I saw you and Mommy . You were in a little room by yourself, praying; and Mommy was in a different room, and she was praying and talking on the phone.”

And so the story Heaven is for Real begins.

Here are some of the things that four-year old Colton revealed to his parents:

  • Jesus was baptized by his cousin and his cousin was really nice. (John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus.)
  • Jesus rode a rainbow-colored horse.
  • Jesus has brown hair and hair on his face.
  • Jesus has pretty eyes.
  • Jesus wore clothes that were purple and white.
  • Jesus wore a crown with a pink, diamond-like stone in the middle.
  • Jesus had red markers (nail prints) in his hands and feet.
  • Jesus gave Colton work to do and that was his favorite part of Heaven.
  • There were a lot of kids in heaven.
  • Everyone in heaven has wings and people fly everywhere they go.
  • Jesus didn’t have wings and he went up and down like an elevator.
  • All the people in heaven look like angels and have a light above their head.
  • He saw Pop, his Dad’s grandfather, in heaven.
  • Pop told Colton about his dog that had one blue and one brown eye.
  • Jesus went to Colton’s Dad and told him he wanted him (dad) to be a pastor.
  • Jesus was really happy Dad became a pastor.
  • Colton saw his  8-week-old miscarried sister in Heaven.
  • Colton told his Mom it was OK his sister died because God the Father adopted her.
  • His sister didn’t have a name in heaven because her parents never named her.
  • God the Father has a throne in heaven and Jesus sits on a throne right next to him.
  • Jesus sat on the right side of the Father.
  • The angel Gabriel sat on a throne on the left side of God the Father.
  • Colton sat on a small chair near the Holy Spirit.
  • Colton prayed for his parents while he was in Heaven.
  • The Holy Spirit is colored blue.
  • God and Jesus light up Heaven and it never gets dark.
  • There were animals in Heaven.
  • The gates of Heaven had gold and pearl on them.
  • The heavenly city was made of something shiny.
  • Jesus really, really, really loves children.
  • Jesus died on the cross so we could go see God, the Father.
  • No one is old in Heaven.
  • The Holy Spirit shoots power down from Heaven when Todd is preaching.
  • Satan is not in hell yet.
  • The angels use swords to keep Satan out of Heaven.
  • Jesus wouldn’t let Colton have a sword because it would be too dangerous.
  • Colton saw Satan (but refused to talk about it).

Colton also told of a future day when there will be a war. Good people and good angels are going to fight against Satan, bad angels, monsters, and bad people. While this war is going on, the women and children get to stand back and watch. Colton saw his Dad fighting on God’s side. Jesus wins and throws Satan into hell.

And so, there you have it. Colton told his father that he saw all of the above in three minutes. That’s how long he was in Heaven…three minutes. It took the Burpos four years to get the whole story out of Colton.

What are we to make of Heaven is for Real, A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back?

First, Colton was raised in a pastor’s home. He was taught from his earliest days the stories of the Bible. That he was conversant in “church-talk” should not be surprising. Most preacher’s kids learn “church-talk” at an early age.

It is quite evident that Colton has a vivid imagination. Having raised four boys myself, I am well aware of the imaginative powers young boys (and girls) have. My three-year-old grandson, only 11 months younger than Colton was when he had his vision, has quite an imagination. On any given day he believes he is Batman, Superman, or the Incredible Hulk.

Most of the book consists of Todd Burpo trying to prove that what Colton saw has a Biblical basis. Virtually every part of the vision was fact-checked according to the Bible. Colton’s vision always matched what the Bible said. Amazing, yes? The Bible is an amazing book. It can be made to say anything and it can be used to prove even the most astounding things.

As I read the book, I found myself saying, “is the story told by Colton in the language of a four year old?” It isn’t. The story has been polished for publication. Only Todd Burpo knows what the actual story is. I am not suggesting that Burpo is lying, but I am saying the story shows the marks of being shaped by adults. One, seemingly insignificant, example of this stood out to me. Colton asked the angels to sing We Will, We will Rock you. I thought, “would a boy a few months short of four say We Will, We Will Rock you or would he more likely say We will Rock you or Rock you?”

For those who are Evangelical Christians, the book has numerous theological problems. I want to focus on just one of them.

Colton describes heaven as a place filled with people, especially lots of kids. This description flies in the face of orthodox Christian doctrine concerning death and the resurrection from the dead. When people die, they are put in the grave to await the resurrection from the dead. Depending on what eschatological view a person has, the Christian’s body remains in the grave (or wherever its final resting place is) until Jesus comes again or until the final judgment.  At that moment, the Christian dead will be resurrected and given a perfect body. At this time, there are NO physical bodies running around heaven.

NT Wright writes:

There is no agreement in the church today about what happens to people when they die. Yet the New Testament is crystal clear on the matter: In a classic passage, Paul speaks of “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). There is no room for doubt as to what he means: God’s people are promised a new type of bodily existence, the fulfillment and redemption of our present bodily life. The rest of the early Christian writings, where they address the subject, are completely in tune with this.

The traditional picture of people going to either heaven or hell as a one-stage, postmortem journey represents a serious distortion and diminution of the Christian hope. Bodily resurrection is not just one odd bit of that hope. It is the element that gives shape and meaning to the rest of the story of God’s ultimate purposes. If we squeeze it to the margins, as many have done by implication, or indeed, if we leave it out altogether, as some have done quite explicitly, we don’t just lose an extra feature, like buying a car that happens not to have electrically operated mirrors. We lose the central engine, which drives it and gives every other component its reason for working.

….When Paul speaks in Philippians 3 of being “citizens of heaven,” he doesn’t mean that we shall retire there when we have finished our work here. He says in the next line that Jesus will come from heaven in order to transform the present humble body into a glorious body like his own. Jesus will do this by the power through which he makes all things subject to himself. This little statement contains in a nutshell more or less all Paul’s thought on the subject. The risen Jesus is both the model for the Christian’s future body and the means by which it comes.

Similarly, in Colossians 3:1–4, Paul says that when the Messiah (the one “who is your life”) appears, then you too will appear with him in glory. Paul does not say “one day you will go to be with him.” No, you already possess life in him. This new life, which the Christian possesses secretly, invisible to the world, will burst forth into full bodily reality and visibility.

The clearest and strongest passage is Romans 8:9–11. If the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus the Messiah, dwells in you, says Paul, then the one who raised the Messiah from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies as well, through his Spirit who dwells in you. God will give life, not to a disembodied spirit, not to what many people have thought of as a spiritual body in the sense of a nonphysical one, but “to your mortal bodies also.”

Other New Testament writers support this view. The first letter of John declares that when Jesus appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. The resurrection body of Jesus, which at the moment is almost unimaginable to us in its glory and power, will be the model for our own. And of course within John’s gospel, despite the puzzlement of those who want to read the book in a very different way, we have some of the clearest statements of future bodily resurrection. Jesus reaffirms the widespread Jewish expectation of resurrection in the last day, and announces that the hour for this has already arrived. It is quite explicit: “The hour is coming,” he says, “indeed, it is already here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of Man, and those who hear will live; when all in the graves will come out, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”….

Evidently bad theology is less of a problem for Evangelicals than is was years ago. Heaven is for Real is a bestselling book among Evangelical Christians. At our local library, the waiting list for Heaven is for Real is 488 patrons long. Astoundingly, it is the number one seller on the Amazon.com book list.

From a non-theist perspective, Heaven is for Real is cheap lit of the worst kind. It is a work of fiction, and not very good fiction either.  Sadly, many Evangelicals will see this as a wonderful, true story. The book reinforces their view that life is filled with tragedy but heaven awaits all those who, through Jesus, faithfully endure what life gives them.

Todd Burpo said in  the preface:

I am not a believer in superstition.

Heaven is for Real is 162 pages of proof that he does.

The Heaven is For Real website.

050516

Book Review: The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven

boy who came back from heaven

The internet is buzzing over Alex Malarkey’s repudiation of his earth-to- heaven-and-back story. Alex now says the story is a lie. In a recent press release, Alex stated:

An Open Letter to Lifeway and Other Sellers, Buyers, and Marketers of Heaven Tourism, by the Boy Who Did Not Come Back From Heaven.”

“Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.

I did not die. I did not go to heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.

It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though He committed none of His own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of heaven outside of what is written in the Bible … not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.”

Alex Malarkey

The gist of what has happened here is that Alex and his mother Beth, have repudiated the fundamentalists charismatic/pentecostal beliefs that are the foundation of Alex’s book. Sadly, they have taken up with a different group that is almost as bad. To the best of my knowledge, Alex and Beth are now in a John MacArthur-like Reformed/Calvinistic church. Their recent statements reveal that they have been deeply influenced by Reformed/Calvinist thinking, especially its emphasis on sola scriptura. For more information on this connection, please read the Pulpit and Pen blog and John MacArthur’s right hand man, Phil Johnson’s article, The Burpo-Malarkey Doctrine.

Are Beth and Alex Malarkey in a better religious setting? That’s for them to decide. They should, however, realize that they have traded one form of fundamentalism for another.

What follows is the review I wrote when The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven first came out. I thought it was lost, but I was able to retrieve it from The Wayback Machine.

The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, a remarkable account of miracles, angels, and life beyond this world is written by Kevin and Alex Malarkey.

At the bottom of the front cover are the words True StoryThe Boy Who Came Back From Heaven recounts the story of six-year-old Alex Malarkey, who was seriously injured in an automobile accident that left him paralyzed. While in a coma, Alex was taken to heaven and given the grand tour. He returned to earth and his body so that he could share with all of us the story found in the book. The book also records post-coma trips to heaven by Alex and even includes an angel appearance to Alex’s father Kevin Malarkey.

I almost stopped reading the book after reading the introduction. Kevin Malarkey, an Evangelical Christian therapist in Columbus Ohio wrote:

I’m not here to beat a drum, convince you of a theological argument, or force you to validate Alex’s experiences. But I humbly offer a challenge: suspend your judgment for just a few chapters. I think your life may be changed forever.

If Alex’s story is to be taken as a TRUE story, then why do I need to suspend my judgment? Should not the truth of the story be clear to all who read it?

According to Kevin Malarkey:

Heaven is real. There is an unseen world at work—an intensely  active spiritual realm right here on earth , all around us. And much of this activity keeps us from focusing on our future destination, the place where we will spend eternity. Alex has been there….

The only thing the book actually proves is that some people believe there is a heaven. The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven may be a true story, but it is a “true” story without one shred of provable truth. In other words, you are going to have to take the word of six-year-old (or 11-year-old by the time the book is written) Alex Malarkey that what he shares is the truth.

The story begins when Kevin and Alex Malarkey are involved in a horrific automobile accident. Kevin, while talking on his cellphone, turned in front of an automobile coming in the opposite direction. The driver of the other car was a woman with two young children. Alex was injured far worse than anyone else. The accident left him paralyzed and in a coma for 2 months.

At the accident scene, unconscious Alex saw:

  • Five angels carrying his father outside the car. Four were carrying the body and one angel was supporting his head and neck (the police report said Kevin Malarkey was ejected from the automobile).
  • The devil sitting in the front seat of the automobile accusing Alex of causing the accident.

While in a coma, Alex was taken to heaven. What did Alex see and experience while he was in heaven?

  • His father was in heaven too, but only for a short time.
  • Alex saw the five angels that carried his father’s body outside the automobile. The five angels stayed with Alex so his father could have time alone with God.  He pleaded to trade places with Alex, but God told him no. God sent his father’s spirit back to earth and Alex remained in heaven. God told him that he would heal him later on earth to bring more glory to His (God’s) name.
  • While in the emergency room, Alex watched everything that was going on from the ceiling. Jesus was standing right there beside him. Alex felt safe and he was not afraid to die.
  • While in the emergency room, Alex saw 150 pure white angels with fantastic wings who were all calling his name. After a while, they said “Alex, go back.”  Alex did go back and Jesus came with him and held him during his time in the emergency room.
  • Alex found himself in the presence of God. God had a human-like body, but a lot bigger. Alex was only allowed to see God from the neck down because the Bible says anyone who looks on the face of God dies.
  • There is an inner heaven and an outer heaven. The outer heaven has a hole that leads to hell.
  • There are lots of colorful, beautiful things to see, and beautiful music too.
  • Heaven is a lot like earth, but it is perfect in every detail.
  • Angels are white, have wings, and are sexless.
  • Some angels are short, 2 feet tall, and others are much taller.
  • There are different types of angels, with different jobs to do.
  • There are lots of buildings in heaven, but Alex only really noticed the Temple. God never leaves his throne in the Temple. There is a scroll in a glass container that only Jesus can read.

After Alex came out of  his coma, he continued to see other world beings. Angels were present in Alex’s hospital room. The angels helped Alex and the angels talked to Alex and he talked back to them.

One day, Alex told his father that he had something important to tell him. He wanted to make sure his father would not be sad after hearing what Alex had to say. Alex said:

There are two days I look forwards to more than any others in my life. The first is the day I die. You see, I can’t wait to get home. It’s not that I want to die right now; I’m not sad…. The second is the day when the devil goes to the Lake of Fire. I can’t wait for him to be gone for good.

According to Alex, demons and evil spirits came to visit him. He was thankful that his father taught him how to pray and how to take authority over the demons.

Alex had this to say about the devil, about demons  and evil spirits:

  • They are evil, scary, and ugly.
  • They accuse Alex of things, bring him doubt, make him feel sad, tell him he will never be healed, and that God won’t protect him.
  • The devil has three heads and all three heads have hair of fire (is the devil a redhead?). Each of the heads speak different lies at the same time.
  • The devil has beaming red eyes with flames for pupils. His nose is nasty and torn up.
  • The devil speaks English to Alex. His voice is screechy like a witch and changes into different sounds. The devil’s mouth is funny-looking with only a few moldy teeth.
  • The devil’s body has a human form but has no flesh.
  • The devil wears a torn and dirty robe.
  • The devil personally appeared to Alex. Sometimes, the devil came along with other evil spirits but sometimes he came alone.
  • Demons are often green and they have hair made of fire. Their skin and robes are just like the devil’s. Their eyes are like the devil’s and they have long fingernails.

According to Alex, demons walk around telling lies. In Frank Peretti style, Alex says that there is a spiritual war going on—angels against demons.

Towards the end of the book, Kevin Malarkey lets readers know that Alex has continued to take periodic trips to heaven. Readers are also told that Kevin himself had an experience where an angel named John appeared to him.

The angel John gave Kevin  a message:

I have anointed you with a message of hope…for the church….for the body of Christ…and for those who will be the body…..that He will be raised up and seen in His true glory…This is the word of the Lord given to you by the angel John.

Speak of Me, for Me, and about Me. Use Alex to show who I am. I have chosen him as a screen upon which to show myself. I am unity, the Trinity, a complete circle. Your story will lead to praise and worship, there will be altar calls. Your bills are the least of my worries. I will be with you all the days of your life. I will speak to you, I will guide you, I am in you. I am about you, you be about me. My love is unconditional. My vengeance is restricted for the holy. My apostles died for Me, will you die for Me? I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.

Most of the book is Kevin Malarkey’s explanation of Alex’s trips to heaven and how God is using them to reach other people. One chapter is devoted to the things that Alex knew about his time in the coma. To many people, this is proof above all proof. Alex talked of things that were not possible for him to know.

The story is what it is. Either you believe it or you don’t. Just like the book Heaven is for Real, you have the story of a young child being taken to heaven. Both boys waited for years before their story was put into print. Both stories show clear signs of being shaped by adult human hands (whether by parents or book editors).

I have no doubt that the Malarkey family believes what is written here. As with many Christians, they are desperate to know that their lives matter and that when death comes there is a new life that awaits beyond the grave.

As a non-believer, I found that the story said little that I would consider as proof that there is a God, a devil, a heaven, a hell, or that life continues beyond the grave. I found myself angry, once again, at the idea of a god who paralyzes a kid in an automobile accident so he can get some praise and glory. With all the suffering, sickness, disease, and death in the world, it seems to me that God has plenty enough praise and glory.

My conclusion? Kevin Malarkey asked me to suspend my judgment as I read the book. I could not do so, and, in my judgment, the book is a bunch of malarkey (meaningless talk and nonsense).

In June of 2014, I wrote the following update:

Last week, I reposted a review of The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven by Kevin and Alex Malarkey. After my review hit the internet, Beth Malarkey, the mother of Alex, contacted me via Twitter.  She let me know that Alex, now a teenager, did not write the story and he does not agree with what is in the book.

On her blog, Life’s a Journey, Beth wrote:

I never intended this blog to be a place that I would have to defend my son ALex’s indentity [sic] let alone the journey that he and he alone has endured. I started this blog as a “fun” thing to do and with the intention of maybe sharing some hope and bits of wisdom that has been learned through the struggles. I have taken this blog down from time to time not sure what to do with it and NEVER wanting to make it appear as if any of the people that I write about are extraordinary individuals…

,,,This past week a movie based off the book Heaven is for Real came out. I have not read the book, do not plan to, and am strongly opposed to the movie. Let’s just say that the Burpo book and the book that has Alex’s name listed as coauthor (The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven), as does the Tyndale Publishing website (can not understand how that can be), have a few things in common which I will not get into on here. I am trying to defend my son and truth. Here is something to think about….

It is both puzzling and painful to watch the book The Boy who Came Back from Heaven to not only continue to sell, but to continue, for the most part, to not be questioned. I could post facts and try to dispel many of the things contained within the pages of that book (have done a bit of that), I could continue to try to point out how Biblically off the book is (a few strategically placed scriptures does not make a book Biblically sound) and how it leads people away from the bible not to it (have done that as have others including John MacArthur and Phil Johnson), I could talk about how much it has hurt my son tremendously and even make financial statements public that would prove that he has not received monies from the book nor have a majority of his needs been funded by it (a fund that was set aside by a friend a few years ago has actually been paying for most things in the past few years but that fund is dwindling), I could…..but it seems like many people want to believe what they are given despite the wrong that it may be doing or the wrong that was done in the making of it.

When Alex first tried to tell a “pastor” how wrong the book was and how it needed stopped, Alex was told that the book was blessing people. Ok…first, Alex said that while he was struggling physically and trusting this person as someone who seemed to be concerned so the person was invalidating Alex’s feeling while justifying the wrong that Alex was trying to make that person aware of. . The person told Alex to “trust” him. Alex is the ONLY one that supposedly had the experiences being written about(Alex was a 6 year old and coming out of major brain trauma…note I am not saying what is true and not just that Alex was a kid with major brain trauma which alone should raise questions as to validity) Alex is the ONLY one who has endured not only a horrific set of injuries, but having his journey capitalized on. His struggles are NOT past tense nor is the “story.”

The ones making money from the book are NOT the ones staying up through the night, struggling for their breath, or were they the ones at six years old, waking up unable to move or breathe and in a strange place after last remember seeing a car coming right at the car he was riding in. What I have walked through with Alex over the past nine years has nearly broken me personally and spiritually. I have wept so deeply for what I have watched my children go through, been made aware of how ignorant I was of some things, how selfish I was, and how Biblically illiterate I was which allowed me to be deceived! Sure, I had read my Bible A LOT, but I had not studied it. I had listened to teachings but probably enjoyed more ear tickling than I am still even aware of(for that I repent and have experienced deep sorrow) I am so thankful that God is so merciful and patient. I am thankful that God allowed me to go ahead and fall for the junk that I did(and it was that junk)for I am fully aware of what it feels like to be pulled in.

There are many who are scamming and using the Word of God to do it. They are good, especially if you are not digging into your Bible and truly studying it. They study their audience and even read “success” books to try to build better and bigger…”ministries/businesses”. Please, examine what you see and read. I see many things from a different vantage point because of how much I have witnessed and am witnessing first hand…not second hand. I will remain puzzled and remain seeking truth in the Word of God! One more time..Alex did not write the book and it is not blessing him! Saying that it is blessing others to try to justify its wrong is just that…justification of wrong!

Beth is divorced from Kevin Malarkey and continues to be Alex’s primary caregiver.

052516

The Legacy of Jack Hyles

jack hyles
Jack Hyles, pastor First Baptist Church Hammond

Members of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana and people closely associated with Hyles-Anderson College and Pastor Jack Schaap were astonished at the firing of  Schaap for sexual misconduct with a minor and his later criminal conviction for these crimes. Evidently these people have a short memory or live in denial because First Baptist Church has a long history of pastors getting themselves in trouble with the fairer sex. (Please read Chicago Magazine feature story on First Baptist and their sordid history.)

Jack Schaap’s father-in-law, Jack Hyles, had a long-running illicit sexual relationship with his secretary. The evidence against Hyles was overwhelming, yet the church rejected the evidence and Jack Hyles continued to pastor the church until his death in 2001. (Please read The Biblical Evangelist’s report on Jack Hyles)

David Hyles, the son of Jack Hyles and youth pastor of First Baptist Church, had numerous sexual relationships with women in the church. The church quietly sent him away to pastor another church, not telling the new church about his sexual proclivities, and he continued to have numerous sexual relationships with women in the new church.

Many people praised the church for publicly exposing Jack Schaap’s “sin.” This is the same church that ignored Jack Hyles’ “sin,” covered up David Hyles’ “sin,” and whitewashed numerous other scandals in the  church and  college, so forgive me if I don’t think they are acting “better” than the Catholic Church (as one commenter said).

The people of First Baptist Church were taught by Hyles and Schaap that if they didn’t see something it didn’t happen. They were taught that unless an allegation could be confirmed by two or more witnesses (Matthew 18) they were not to believe it. This kind of thinking resulted in a culture where “sin” was ignored or swept under the proverbial rug (a rug that is so high now that you have to walk up a five- foot hill to get into the church).

In general, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement abhors scandal and its members do everything they can to cover it up. More important than the sin or the victims is the church’s testimony. The church’s testimony must be protected at all costs, even if  a pedophile in their midst is ignored , as was the case with Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida.

For First Baptist Church of Hammond to out Jack Schaap, they had to have been backed into a corner without the option of covering it up or quietly making the “problem” go away. Calling in attorney David Gibbs to “manage” the crisis speaks volumes about depth of the scandal.

The root of the Jack Schaap scandal is found in the ministry, teaching, and doctrine of his predecessor, Jack Hyles. The remainder of this post will focus on Jack Hyles. It is impossible to understand the Jack Schaap story without first looking at Jack Hyles’ forty-two year ministry at First Baptist Church of Hammond (a church that was an American Baptist Church until Hyles pulled it out of the Convention a few years after he arrived there in 1959).

In its heyday, First Baptist Church of Hammond was the largest church in the United States (and at times, claimed to be the largest church in the world). The Church was built around two things: the bus ministry and Jack Hyles.

jack hyles 1973
Jack Hyles, 1973

In 1973,  the  church saw attendances exceeding 25,000 people. At the center of this huge church was its pastor, Jack Hyles. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Jack Hyles was, as many of us described, the pope of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church movement. He authored numerous books with titles such as Let’s Go Soul Winning, Let’s Build an Evangelistic Church, Enemies of Soul Winning, The Hyles Church Manual, How to Rear Infants, How to Rear Children, How to Rear Teenagers, Satan’s Bid for Your Child, Marriage is a Commitment, Woman the Completer, and Blue Denim and Lace.

There is a hard-and-fast rule in the IFB movement: the greater the church attendance, the more authority  the pastor is granted and the more weight his words have. I heard countless big name IFB pastors say, “until you have as many eggs in your basket as I do you have no right to criticize me.” Pastors with small churches were looked down on and were expected to shut up and learn from those whose baskets were overflowing with eggs.

From 1976 to 1989, I heard Jack Hyles preach numerous times. I traveled to a number of Sword of the Lord Conferences, often taking with me people from the churches I pastored. Hyles was a dynamic preacher, a real motivator. He used very little of the Bible in his preaching. His sermons were always topical or textual and were littered with personal stories and illustrations.

Hyles was a narcissist. Most of his stories and illustrations were about his own personal life and exploits. His stories about him and his mother are legendary.

Over time, as I became more and more dissatisfied with the IFB movement, I paid closer attention to the substance of Hyles’ sermons. In particular, I focused on the stories that Hyles told. I came to the conclusion that Hyles was a narcissistic liar.

Hyles would often talk about how important and busy he was. In several sermons he talked about how many people he counseled every week. I sat down and did the math and I concluded it was physically impossible for Hyles to have counseled as many people each week as he claimed.

Hyles was a ruthless man. I watched him, during Q and A time, at a conference at the Newark Baptist Temple,  dress down and belittle pastors for asking the “wrong” question. He refused to allow anyone to challenge his authority as the king of the IFB hill.

To understand the scandals at First Baptist Church in Hammond, we must understand the gospel that has been preached at First Baptist for over 50 years. It is the same gospel that is/was preached by men like Bob Gray of Texas, Bob Gray of Jacksonville, Curtis Hutson, Dennis Corle, and thousands of other IFB pastors.

Jack Hyles preached a bastardized version of the Christian gospel. The Hyles gospel has been labeled as decisional regeneration or one, two, three, repeat after me. I used to label the gospel of the IFB church movement as:

  • win them
  • wet them
  • work them
  • waste them
lets go soulwinning
Jack Hyles, Let’s Go Soulwinning

The only thing that mattered was winning souls. IFB Evangelist Dennis Corle told me one time that I should spend more time soul winning and less time studying in preparation to preach on Sunday.

In the IFB church, the key to church growth is to keep more people coming in the front door than are going out the back door. IFB churches are notorious for turning over their church memberships, especially when a pastor leaves and a new one comes in.

The Hyles gospel focused on praying the sinners prayer. Pray this prayer and you are saved. Good works? They were desired and even expected, but if saved  people never exhibited any change in their lives they were still considered saved.

If a pastor dared suggest that new life in Christ meant a change of conduct, they were accused of preaching “works salvation” (the Lordship Salvation controversy). According to the Hyles gospel, it was all about praying the prayer, and once a person prayed the prayer they could NEVER EVER be lost again. This is why some people insist that I am still saved, even if I don’t want to be. Once God has you he never lets go of you.

The Hyles gospel filled churches with people who had made a mental assent to a set of propositional facts. Every year churches like First Baptist Church in Hammond and Longview Baptist Temple report thousands of people being saved. Most of these new converts stop attending after a short while, but this is of no consequence. They prayed the “prayer.” On to the next sinner in need of saving.

The IFB church movement is centered on men. Most IFB churches are pastored by one man who has total control of the church. Most IFB churches are congregational in name only, with the pastor being the autocratic king of the church.

david hyles greatest men
Jack Hyles, David Hyles, Jim Krall, World’s Greatest Men

Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, and countless other big-name IFB traveling preachers routinely promote the notion of pastoral authority. The pastor, under the authority of Jesus and powered by the Holy Spirit, is the final authority in the church. He is the hub around which everything turns.

An IFB church  is not known for their name but for who its pastor is. IFB church members routinely say, when asked about what church they attend, I go to Pastor So-and So’s church.

In a post titled The Cult of Personality, I wrote:

Churches aren’t known for what they believe or even the works they do. They are known for who their pastor is. When asked where  he goes to Church, a Christian will often say “I go to Pastor Smith’s Church.”

The focus of everything is on the pastor. He is the mover and shaker. He is what powers the machine. Without him it all fails.

Christian TV, radio and publishing is all about the personalities within the Church. Name recognition is the name of the game.

Does anyone really believe Rod Parsley is a good writer? Yet, his books sell. Why? Name recognition.

Everything is focused on and culminates with the sermon and the preacher.

I had people drive 40 minutes to the  church I pastored in SE Ohio. They loved my preaching. They thought I was the greatest preacher since the last guy they thought was wonderful. Really? As much as I think that I am a pretty good public speaker, they had to drive past 40  churches to get to the  church I pastored. Not one of those  churches had a preacher that could preach competently? ( Well maybe not, after hearing more than a few preachers.)

What happens when the pastor leaves the  church? What happens when the personalities change, when a new preacher takes over? Strife. Division. People leave the church . Why? Because church became about the preacher rather than about Jesus and serving others.

Why is it the pastor’s name is on everything? The sign out front. The bulletin . Every piece of literature the church produces. If it is really is all about Jesus then why does it matter if anyone knows the pastor’s name?

Ah, but it does matter. Many Evangelical Christians are good capitalists (serving a socialist Jesus). They are consumers first and Christians second.  They know people are “attracted” (the attractional method) to the church by the pastor, the programs, the building, etc.

They know the pastor becomes the face of their church. It shouldn’t be this way, but it is, and quite frankly, it is the church itself that must bear the blame for this.

The church members revel in the cult of personality. They love having a name- brand preacher. They watch Christian TV and listen to Christian radio because Pastor/Rev/Dr/Evangelist/Bishop/Apostle so-and so is on. Take away the names and it becomes as interesting as eating a no-name hamburger at a no-name restaurant surrounded by no-name people…

Is it any wonder IFB pastors and churches have the scandals they do? Members are taught to obey their pastor without question. He is the man of God. If he is doing something wrong God will chastise him.

This kind of thinking allows IFB pastors to commit adultery, molest children, and steal from the church without anyone ever knowing about it. I could spend the next two days writing about IFB pastors who have abused their place of authority and committed heinous acts against the people they pastored.

IFB churches think they are above the world and other churches because of what they believe. They are Bible believers and their pastors preach hard against sin. Because of this, they have a hard time believing that their pastor or any other noted preacher could ever commit sins like Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, David Hyles, and Bob Gray did.

Bob Gray, pastor emeritus of Longview Baptist Temple had this to say on this blog about the Schaap scandal (I was unable to find the post on Gray’s blog):

May I present the practical side?  There exists more molestation cases proportionately reported in the 42,000 churches of the Southern Baptist Convention than in the 22,000 independent Baptist churches.  Consider the largest denomination in our nation, the Catholic Church, and then think on their sexual transgressions for a while.  This is not to take lightly one person who is violated by a leader in a church.

Look carefully at the argument Gray is making here. The Southern Baptists and the Catholics are worse than us! Praise Jesus! Such thinking should sicken all of us.

Here is what I know about the IFB movement. They will wail and moan for a while, but, in a few weeks or months, the scandal will pass, and they will go back to “winning souls” and “preaching hard against sin.” It is only a matter of time before a-n-o-t-h-e-r scandal rocks the IFB movement. Until the IFB movement repudiates its corruption of the Christian gospel and changes how their churches are governed, there is no hope of meaningful change.

Change is not likely to come because of their literalism and their belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. Armed with certainty, knowing they are right, they will continue to preach a corrupted gospel and allow narcissistic pastors to rule over them. Why? Because, it IS in the Bible…

Did You Know Spaghetti Straps are Sinful?

girl wearing spaghetti straps
Girl Wearing “Sinful” Spaghetti Straps

When people think of Christian fundamentalism they most often think of the fundamentalism found in Evangelicalism and the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. However, as the following story will show, fundamentalism is alive and well in the Roman Catholic church.

Melanie Pritchard, Founder of Vera Bella Catholic Girls’ Formation Program and the Executive Director of the Foundation for Life and Love, recently wrote an article about why she does not let her four-year old daughter wear spaghetti straps:

My four-year-old daughter Ella received a doll from a relative for Christmas that was wearing a fluffy pink skirt and a spaghetti strap tank-top covered by a sweater. To my daughter’s wild surprise, she also received the same outfit as her doll, in her own size. She put on her new outfit immediately to match her doll. I call them “the twinsy-bops,” since my daughter proceeded to try to wear the same outfit as her doll for the few days following Christmas.

Although I love the doll’s and my daughter’s outfits in their completion, I don’t allow my daughter or her dolls to wear spaghetti straps without something covering the tank-top. Some may think I go overboard or even call me a prude, but I am parenting with an advantage. I have inside knowledge of the working relationships between parents and their teenage daughters. Since I have been speaking to teenagers and their parents for the past 15 years, I have gained an extensive knowledge of the kind of drop-down-drag-out battles parents have with their teenage girls and their wardrobes.

One of those battles is over spaghetti strap tank-tops being worn without something else covering them. Now, I’ll admit, when my four-year-old attempts to wear the new spaghetti strap tank-top, she doesn’t look immodest. She still manages to look innocent and dignified. So, why won’t I allow my daughter to begin wearing these types of tank-tops at age four? Because the battle she and I will inevitably have over tank tops will be a lot easier to win if the standard never changes. The same rings true for two-piece bathing suits and other clothes that will not protect her dignity and mystery when she is at a more womanly stage in her life…

For those of us raised in the IFB and Evangelical church, Pritchard’s argument is quite familiar. Better to win the battle over clothing when a child is young and impressionable than when she is a teenager. Better to teach her “modesty” at age four than try to get her to dress “modestly” at age fifteen.

Pritchard recounts a story about her daughter that she thinks illustrates that her daughter is starting to understand the importance of modesty and why she should not wear spaghetti straps:

A couple days later, we went to enjoy taco Tuesday at a locally owned restaurant in town. We were sitting at our table waiting for our food when Ella grabbed my arm and pulled me close to her. She was pointing to the hostess with the very womanly figure wearing a spaghetti strap tank-top that kept sliding up to reveal her stomach and was accentuating and revealing her large chest. Ella whispered in my ear, “Mom, her mystery isn’t protected. She is wearing a spaghetti-strap and it’s not modest.”

Ella saw it for herself. It clicked for my four-year-old. She began to have a small amount of judgment in her voice as she continued to talk about this woman. I explained gently, “Ella, we can’t judge her or talk about her behind her back. She may not know her beautiful mystery and why she should protect it. Instead, we should pray that God may reveal it to her, so she knows just how special she is.” Ella was satisfied with my answer and agreed to pray for her.

Later in the article Pritchard reveals the real reason she won’t let her daughter wear spaghetti straps. Some day, her daughter will be a teenager, and if she hasn’t learned to be modest she might dress immodestly and attract poor, helpless horn dog Catholic boys:

I meet many parents who have allowed their daughters to wear spaghetti-straps, tube tops, leggings as pants, two-piece swim suits, and other clothing when they were young when their figures hadn’t emerged, only to find out there comes a time when they become extremely uncomfortable with their beautiful, womanly, innocent, teenage daughters wearing them in public. Fathers are by far the ones who cringe the most when they speak to me. They know teen-age boys. Every father was a teenage boy once. They cringe at the way their daughters are dressing, but the fight is so big, they often back down and let their girls wear what they want.

As a parent of six children, I know the importance of teaching children to dress appropriately. However, there is a difference between appropriate and puritanical. Pritchard goes far beyond appropriate and teaches her daughter a way of thinking that will result in her thinking her now-womanly body is sinful and must be covered up lest poor, helpless men take sexual advantage of her.

Pritchard, with her silly objection to her daughter wearing a top with spaghetti straps (and tube tops, leggings as pants, two-piece swim suits), is making sure her daughter will grow up to be a sexually repressed Catholic woman. Instead of teaching her daughter to dress appropriately, she is planting the seed of sexual repression.

Her ban of certain clothing will do little to help her daughter when she becomes a sexually aware woman. Silly talk about a woman’s “mystery” will not keep her daughter from desiring what is natural: sex. While we can certainly debate whether it is a good idea for teenagers to have sex, the fact of the matter is they do:

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the year 2007, 35% of US high school students were currently sexually active and 47.8% of US high school students reported having had sexual intercourse. This percentage has decreased slightly since 1991..

Self-report surveys suggest that half of all 15- to 19-year-olds have had oral sex. That percentage rises to 70% by the time they turn 19, and equal numbers of boys and girls participate. Research indicating that oral sex is less risky to teens’ emotional and physical well being than vaginal sex has been advanced;[13] researchers at the University of California do not believe this conclusion is warranted. They found that oral sex, as well as vaginal sex, was associated with negative consequences. Of adolescents engaging in oral sex only, girls were twice as likely as boys to report feeling bad about themselves and nearly three times as likely to feel used. Despite their behaviors, 90% of adolescents “agree that most young people have sex before they are really ready.”

The average age of first sexual intercourse in the United States is 17.0 for males and 17.3 for females, and this has been rising in recent years. The percentage of teens who are waiting longer to have sex has been increasing. For those teens who have had sex, 70% of girls and 56% of boys said that their first sexual experience was with a steady partner, while 16% of girls and 28% of boys report losing their virginity to someone they had just met or who was just a friend.

Pritchard belongs to a sect that is known for sexual repression and the denial of natural human sexuality. The Church also condemns masturbation and birth control. One would think if the Church wanted unmarried Catholics to remain sexually pure that they would encourage masturbation as an acceptable release of sexual tension. One would also think that the church would encourage Catholic women to use birth control since it would help eliminate the need for abortion. But they don’t. I wonder how different the discussion and rules would be if women were allowed to have a say in the teachings of the Church?

When it comes to human sexuality, the male-controlled Catholic Church is fighting a losing battle. In 2012, the Guttmacher Institute had this to say about Catholic women having sex and using birth control:

“Guttmacher’s analysis of data from the federal government’s National Survey of Family Growth found that the vast majority of American women of reproductive age (15–44) — including 99% of all sexually experienced women and 98% of those who identify themselves as Catholic — have used a method of contraception other than natural family planning at some point. Women may be classified as sexually experienced regardless of whether they are currently sexually active, using contraceptives, pregnant, trying to get pregnant or postpartum.

“By their early 20s, some 79% of never-married women — and 89% of never-married Catholic women — have had sex. (Presumably, all married women have done so.) In short, most American women (including Catholics) have had sex by their early 20s, and virtually all of them have used contraceptives other than natural family planning.

It is now known that the best way to combat unplanned teen pregnancy is to provide sex education and easy access to birth control. Just say no because God says so, is not a plan. Yet, Pritchard’s church wants to deny teens and unmarried women the means to keep from getting pregnant.

Knowing how the Catholic church views human sexuality helps to explain Pritchard’s puritanical obsession with her four-year old daughter’s clothing. She doesn’t want her daughter to grow up to be one of those “easy” Catholic girls whom boys are fond of talking about.

Instead of teaching her daughter to embrace her sexuality and prepare her for life as a sexual being, she is teaching her that a woman’s body should be covered up so her “mystery” is not revealed. This is no different from the teaching of the IFB church, with its prohibitions against wearing any form of clothing that reveals the female shape and body. The reason?  The teens and men of the church are pathetic, helpless creatures who are little more than dogs seeking bitches in heat.

Instead of teaching accountability and responsibility, religious zealots such as Pritchard teach repression and impotence. Sexually awake young women wearing spaghetti straps is not the problem. Any teen boy or man who can’t sexually control himself if he sees a woman wearing a top with spaghetti straps is pathetic. Men, regardless of their age, need to be responsible for their sexual behavior and the manner in which they treat women. Women should not be forced to manage not only their own sexuality but the sexuality of men who can’t help themselves. They are not the gatekeepers, the protectors of the “mystery.” Men need to own their sexuality and act appropriately (as the Catholic church needs to own its cover-up and protection of the real predators that roam the sanctuary and rectory: Catholic priests).

Lest readers think Pritchard is a lone fundamentalist Catholic, I leave you with the advice another fundamentalist Catholic woman, T.M. Gaouette, gives to sexually aware Catholic girls:

In a 2004 article titled “The Forgotten Virtue: Modesty In Dress,” author Monsignor Charles M. Mangan lays out a basic guide founded upon principles of modesty set by Pope Pius XII in 1957. These values are still valid today and I’ve found them to be very helpful in determining what’s modest and what’s not.

With Mangan’s help, I will offer specific guidelines on dressing modestly.

To dress modestly is to avoid deliberately causing sexual excitement in oneself or one’s neighbor (Mangan).

The objective of modesty is to refrain from wearing clothing that causes lustful thoughts, whether intentionally or unintentionally. When dressing modestly, Christian girls should avoid clothes that reveal, enhance or highlight certain body parts.

  • Bust: Avoid tight or see-through shirts or tops without appropriate undergarments, and tops with low plunging necklines that reveal a cleavage. If you have a large bust, then you should also stay away from spaghetti straps and strapless designs.
  • Thighs: When it comes to skirts, select those that are no shorter than above the knee. Make sure you account for how high the skirt rises when you sit. When it comes to shorts, opt for those that don’t expose too much of the thigh.
  • Back: Refrain from wearing backless shirts or dresses that plunge in the back. These styles are designed to look sexy.
  • Stomach: Shirts and tops should always cover the stomach.
  • Butt: Avoid tight skirts, shorts, dresses and pants that reveal the shape and curve of the buttocks. I also would avoid pants with words printed on the butt, since they are designed to cause the eyes to gaze at that area of your body.

I added “butt” to Mangan’s list because it often causes lustful thoughts in men when highlighted by tight shorts, pants, dresses and skirts.

There usually are no exceptions to the above rules in the case of everyday clothing. When it comes to athletic wear, make sure that your ensemble doesn’t look sexy.

Clothing fulfills three necessary requirements: hygiene, decency and adornment. These are ‘so deeply rooted in nature that they cannot be disregarded or contradicted without provoking hostility and prejudice’ (Mangan quoting Pope Pius XII).

In addition to these guidelines, I believe that, in some instances, modesty is subjective. One item of clothing may be immodest on one person, but modest on another. For example, spaghetti straps can look both modest and immodest, depending on the size of the person’s bust. However, modesty in this case can usually be attained by adding a cardigan or light jacket.

Dear reader, what do you think? Is Pritchard correct in not allowing her four-year old to wear a top with spaghetti straps? You already know what I think. Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

040816

Heaven and Hell, The Carrot and the Stick

carrot and stick

The two tools most often used by Evangelical preachers to keep people in the pews are:

  • The threat of God’s judgment
  • The threat of hell

As with Jonathan Edwards in his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Evangelical preachers warn parishioners of the judgment to come and the hell that awaits anyone who does not repent of their sins and become a follower of Jesus.

Here’s what Edwards had to say:

…The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment…

While few Evangelical preachers can turn a word and speak as eloquently as Edwards, their message is still the same: judgment and hell awaits those who do not repent of their sins and follow after Jesus.

Preachers often use what I call the carrot and stick approach. Every person has a choice to make about where they spend eternity. While Calvinists and Arminians argue endlessly over whether we really are free to choose, saving faith does require an act of volition. Every person must choose between heaven and hell. Become a follower of Jesus and heaven, the carrot awaits when you die. Reject Jesus, his salvific work on the cross and his death-defying resurrection from the dead, then hell, the stick, awaits you when you die.

Evangelical preachers impress on those under the sound of their voice that it is important to make a decision for Christ NOW! The Bible says in the last part of II Corinthians 6:2:

…behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation.

According to Evangelical preachers, none of us has the promise of tomorrow. Proverbs 27:1 states:

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.

Evangelical preachers are like Larry the Cable Guy. Git ‘er Done! Today, right now, don’t delay.

Some preachers spice up their sermons with illustrations of people who died suddenly or who died after hearing and rejecting the preacher’s warning about God’s judgment and hell. These stories, true or not, are meant to elicit an immediate response. When I was a preacher, my goal was to press every person who heard my sermon to make a decision. I was of the opinion that there was no such thing as a neutral position. Once a person heard the gospel, heard my sermon, they had a choice to make. Heaven or hell, which will it be?

A regular reader of this blog sent me a Franklin Graham quote that I think will help illustrate what I am trying to say in this post:

“Death is serious, eternal business. Once our physical hearts beat for the last time, we will instantly find ourselves either in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in all His splendor, or in the pit of Hell away from His presence.”

There’s the carrot and the stick. Heaven or hell; choose now while your heart is still beating. The moment your heart stops beating, your eternal destiny is settled.

Think for a moment about what Graham said here about the heart stopping. So, if a person’s heart stops, his eternal destiny is settled? What if his heart is restarted using a defibrillator? Does this mean his eternal destiny is not really settled and he gets another chance to decide, heaven or hell? For those people who have heart transplants, does that mean that they need to decide again?

The bigger problem with Graham’s statement is that it is bad theology. According to orthodox Christian theology, when people die, they do not go to heaven or hell. Instead, they go to the grave and will remain there until the resurrection of the dead. Grandma is not up in Heaven running around, nor is she peering over the portals of Heaven watching her grandchildren play. Neither is Christopher Hitchens in hell, being tormented day and night for daring to mock the thrice holy God. They are dead, lying in the grave, awaiting the second coming of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead.

After the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment will take place and every person will be sent to his or her eternal destiny. And even here, many Evangelical preachers, including Graham, get it wrong. Christians will not spend eternity in Heaven. Instead, they will spend it in the kingdom of God. Hitchens and the rest of us reprobates? We will not spend eternity in hell. Instead we will spend it in the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:11-15 makes this quite clear:

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

and Revelation 21:1-8:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

And here an even more interesting point. Isn’t our eternal destiny is settled by repenting of our sins and following after Jesus? These texts state that everyone is judged by their works, that it is works that determine whether Grandma, Hitchens, or anyone else goes to heaven or hell.

I wish Evangelical preachers would get together and figure out exactly where it is we are all going when we die. I wish they would  determine if it is really up to me to decide? With so much confusion and lack of theological precision, how is a poor, lost atheist such as I am, supposed to determine in what hotel to make my final reservation?

The purpose of this post is to show how confusing and contradictory Evangelical preachers and their theology can be. If they are not precise and clear, can mere untrained, unwashed Philistines such as we are have any hope of finding THE Way, Truth, and Life?

050516

 

Somerset Baptist Church: A Trip Down Memory Lane

somerset baptist church mt perry ohio auditorium
Somerset Baptist Church Auditorium after Remodel, 1992

In July of 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. In 1985, we bought a Methodist church building near Mt Perry, Ohio for $5,000.00. The church, built in 1831 and one of the oldest Methodist buildings in Ohio, would be the church home until Polly and I moved away in 1994.

During the 11 years I was pastor, hundreds of church members came and went and we hauled thousands of kids to church on one of our four buses. For 5 years, we operated a private Christian school, open only to the children of the church. It was tuition-free.

bruce gerencser 1983
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1983

Today, I uploaded over a hundred pictures from our time at Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset/Mt Perry, Ohio. I made the album public so readers of this blog could view them. You can see them here.

This was the church where I came of age as a pastor. In 1983, I was a hardcore, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor. When I moved away in 1994 to co-pastor Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, I was a committed Calvinistic, Reformed Baptist pastor.  I went through tremendous intellectual and social transformation during these 11 years.

As I scanned the pictures, my mind was flooded with wonderful memories of the shared experiences I had with the church family. Yes, there were bad times, stupid times, dumb ass times. Yes, I was a fundamentalist and that brought all kinds of baggage with it. But, as I looked at the pictures, I didn’t think about beliefs. My thoughts were of the wonderful times we had. Yes, fundamentalism mentally and emotionally hurt and scarred me, but that does not mean there are no good memories. There are lots of them. In fact, the vast majority of the memories I have are good ones. Sometimes, when people deconvert they often become so fixated on the negative that happened that they forget the good times. I know I did.

bruce gerencser 1991
Bruce Gerencser, 1991, Somerset Baptist Academy

I also shed some tears. There were a handful of people in the pictures who are now dead. Cancer, heart attacks, and car accidents claimed their lives and all I have left of them is the pictures and our shared memories.

After I posted the pictures to Facebook, I heard from a number of people who were once part of the church. Most of the people I heard from were children when I was at Somerset Baptist Church. They are now middle-aged with families of their own. Their parents, like me, are old and gray. It was nice to hear from them.

I decided to upload to Facebook all of the old pictures I have. They aren’t very good – the best a $20.00 camera could offer. In fact, they are down-right terrible. But, infused into the photos are memories, and it is those memories that matter. In the coming weeks, I will find out if the lesion on my pancreas is cancer. If it is, I know the prognosis is, “it sucks to be me.” I am OK with that, not that I have any choice in the matter. I wanted to upload these pictures while I could. Even without the current health problems I have, I know that I am on the shorter end of life. The sun is long in the western sky and I thought it best to share the photos while I could.

bruce and polly gerencser 1985
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985

I feel old today, as a man who has lived a long life. But, I also feel blessed to have lived a good life, a life marked by contradiction, conflict, grief, and change, along with happiness, joy, and goodness. It is the sum of my life.

bruce gerencser 1990's
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990’s
bruce gerencser 1987
Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, 1987

050516

Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Bruce Gerencser

questions

Updated April 13, 2016.

I wrote the following to inform those who don’t know me about my past and present life. While this is in no way the sum of my life, it should help to answer some of the questions readers might have. I try to be open and honest. If you have a personal question you would like me to answer, please send me an email or leave your question in the comment section.

I also wrote a humorous follow-up to this post. You can read it here.

How do you pronounce Gerencser?

Grr IN Sir

What nationality is your name?

Hungarian

How old are you?

58

How long have you been married?

37 years

How many children do you have?

Six

How many grandchildren do you have?

Eleven  ten granddaughters and one grandson

How many times have you been married?

Once

Where do you live?

Rural NW Ohio, the village of Ney. One stoplight, one gas station, one pizza place/bar, and one restaurant/bar. We have lived here since 2007.

Do you own your own home?

Yes

What color is your hair?

Well it used to be bright red, some say orange. These days, it is a faded, dull red, mostly white. (see picture above)

How tall are you?

Six foot

How much do you weigh?

I currently weigh 365 pounds. I weighed 160 pounds at age 18, 180 pounds the day I got married, and 225 pounds five years after I married. I am twice the man I was on my wedding day.

Which hand are you?

Left, 100% left.

What color are your eyes?

They range from gray to sparkling blue. Polly says my eye color is determined by my mood.

What is your body shape?

I have short legs (29 inch inseam) and a long body. One man told me I was built like a fire plug.

What’s wrong with you?

How much time do you have? I have suffered with depression most of my life. I have Fibromyalgia, diagnosed in 1997. Since 2007, I have had non-specific neurological problems that affect my ability to stand and walk. I live with daily, unrelenting pain. I walk with a cane and often have to use a wheelchair.

What sports teams do you root for?

Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Louisville Bats, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Toledo Mud Hens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Ohio State football and basketball.

I am also a dirt track racing fan.

Did you play sports?

Yes, I played Little League and City League baseball and City League basketball. I played one year of junior high football.

I was usually good enough to make the team, but I tended to be on the far end of the bench (except for City League basketball, where I was a starter).

Should Pete Rose be in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame?

Yes

What do you like to do for fun or to relax?

Go anywhere with Polly.

Attend a sporting event with my sons.

Read non-fiction books.

Take a walk in the woods, or a walk anywhere with the love of my life by my side. These days, it is usually Polly pushing me in a wheelchair when we take walks.

What are your hobbies?

I am a serious amateur photographer. I use Sony, Tamron, and Sigma equipment.

I have extensive computer/Windows software knowledge. I build my own computers.

I also like to garden and work in the yard when I am able.

When did you buy your first computer?

1992, a V-Tech 286.

Who are your favorite authors?

Thomas Merton, Henry David Thoreau, Bart Ehrman, and Wendell Berry, along with countless other authors who have helped me along the way.

What is your favorite comic?

Get Fuzzy.

What foods do you like?

Food.

Do you drink alcohol?

Yes, I like wine and spirits. I am not a beer drinker.

What are your favorite restaurants?

Mad Anthony’s in Fort Wayne and Auburn, Indiana, Red Lobster, and Texas Roadhouse.

For dessert, I like Eric’s Ice Cream in Defiance, Ohio and Dietsch Brothers Ice Cream in Findlay, Ohio.

What is your favorite ice cream?

Rocky Road and Mint Chocolate Chip.

What is your favorite candies?

Double dipped chocolate malted milk balls from Dietsch’s, Clark, Zero, Zagnut, Snickers, and Milky Way candy bars, and Goetz’s Carmel Creams.

What communities have you lived in?

Over the past 58 years, I have lived in:

Ohio: Bryan (numerous times), Ney (twice), Farmer, Deshler, Harrod, Findlay, Mount Blanchard, Alvordton (twice), Newark (twice), Buckeye Lake, New Lexington (twice), Junction City, Mount Perry, Glenford, and Somerset.

California: San Diego and Chula Vista.

Arizona: Tucson, Sierra Vista, Hereford, and Yuma.

Michigan: Pontiac and Clare.

Texas: Elmendorf.

How many houses have you lived in?

16 houses by age 21 and 18 more houses since Polly and I have been married.

How many cars have you owned?

Over 60. The cheapest cost $25.00, the most expensive cost $29,000.00.

What car do you currently own?

2015 Ford Escape.

What was your favorite car?

The 1970 Chevrolet Nova SS I owned in the 1970s.

What was your least favorite car?

Any of the cars I owned that were made by American Motors.

Besides pastoring, what jobs have you worked?

Janitor, gas station attendant, short order cook, newspaper motor route, life insurance salesman, sweeper salesman, restaurant general manager, network manager, durable medical equipment supply office manager, dairy department manager, grocery stock clerk, workfare/court offender program manager, litter control manager/officer, building code enforcement officer, grant manager, real estate updater for auditor’s office, farm worker, mechanic, cable box repairman, shipping and receiving, turret lathe operator, and numerous general laborer jobs in factories.

What was your favorite job?

Restaurant general manager.

What is your favorite color?

Blue.

What are your politics?

Liberal, progressive, socialist.

Are you an atheist?

Yes.

Are you a humanist?

Yes.

What is your worldview?

I am agnostic on the God question. I cannot know for certain if a god of some sort exists, but I think it is highly improbable. It is possible that a deity of some sort might someday reveal herself to us, but I highly doubt it. I am convinced that all of the deities in the human panoply of gods are the creation of humans.

I live my day-to-day life as an atheist. Thoughts of God never enter my mind unless I am writing an article for this website.

I try to live my life according to the humanist ideals spelled out in the various humanist manifestos.

Do you fear going to hell?

No more than I fear Mickey Mouse breaking into my house and stealing my TV.

In other words, since heaven, hell, and the devil are the fictions of humans, I don’t fear hell.

What churches did you pastor?

Montpelier Baptist Church, Montpelier, Ohio – Assistant Pastor.

Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio – Assistant Pastor.

Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio – Pastor.

Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas – Pastor.

Olive Branch Christian Union Church, Fayette, Ohio – Pastor.

Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio – Pastor.

Victory Baptist Church, Clare, Michigan – Pastor.

What was your favorite church?

Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio.

How many churches did you start?

Five.

I helped start Emmanuel Baptist Church, Buckeye Lake, Ohio.

I started Somerset Baptist Church, Somerset, Ohio and Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio.

While co-pastor of Community Baptist Church, Elmendorf, Texas, I started two churches, one in Floresville, Texas and one in Stockdale, Texas.

Have you ever been baptized?

Three times.

I was baptized as an infant at the Lutheran church in Bryan, Ohio.

I was baptized when my parents joined Eastland Baptist Mission in Bryan, Ohio.

I was baptized at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio after I made a public profession of faith.

When were you saved?

I made a public profession of faith at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio at the age of 15.

When were you called to preach?

I was called to preach several weeks after I was saved.

Where did you attend college?

Midwestern Baptist College, Pontiac, Michigan 1976-79.

How many churches have you visited/preached at in your lifetime?

Over 150.

What can you tell me about your wife?

We met at Bible college. Polly is a pastor’s daughter. She is my lover and best friend. She is an awesome cook, a great seamstress, and she never lets me have all the covers.

What can you tell me about your kids?

Well, there are six of them, four sons and two daughters. Four of them are married and have children of their own. One of them is going through a divorce. Five of them are gainfully employed. Our oldest daughter has Down Syndrome.

Are your children Christian?

You’ll have to ask them. None of them is Evangelical and all of them have left the faith of their youth.

Do you have any siblings?

Yes, a brother and sister. They both live in Arizona (Chandler and Tombstone).

Are your parents still living?

No. My father died at the age of 49 from a stroke and my Mom committed suicide at the age of 54.

What kind of music do you like to listen to?

I like every style of music except rap, old-style country, and opera.

Who are your favorite artists?

Matt Nathanson, Eliza Gilkyson, Darius Rucker, Theory of a Deadman, Staind, Seether, Lucinda Williams, The Carpenters, Collective Soul, Sugarland.

What is your favorite movie?

Mosquito Coast and Hell in the Pacific.

If you could live any place in the world where would you live?

Anywhere near water as long as Polly is with me and my children live 20 minutes away.

Why do you blog?

I have a story to tell and blogging is my way of telling it.

Why do you stop blogging from time to time?

Depression and health problems.

Have you made a lot of money blogging?

Yes, millions of dollars. So much money that I don’t know what to do with it.

Serious answer? Last year, blog donations totaled about $2000. I don’t write to make money. I write because I want and need to.

Are you writing a book?

Yes, I started it a dozen times and I hope to have it done before I die. I signed a book contract last December. I hope to have it completed by the end of summer.

What’s most important to you?

My family.

What’s least important to you?

The approbation of others.

What is your favorite season?

Fall.

If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?

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

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

041316

Can Anyone Really Know They Are Saved?

saved lost

Yes.

No.

Maybe.

What do I mean by the word “saved”? Delivered. Redeemed. Set free. Bought by the blood. Justified. (Looked at by God just as if I never sinned.)

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.(Romans 10:9, 10)

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)

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3,4)

Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Timothy 1:9)

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. Mark 16:16

Oops. Scratch that last one. Don’t want to start a war between the Baptists and the Campbellites. (Church of Christ)

Let me set aside, for a moment, the fact that these verses teach several different salvations. Most Christians interpret these verses, and others, in a very basic, generic way:

I am a sinner. Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins. Three days later he resurrected from  the dead. Believing this message, I admit I am a sinner, I repent of my sins, and by faith I trust Jesus to forgive me of my sins and save me. I am trusting Jesus to save me and keep me until I die. By putting my faith and trust in Jesus I know I will go to heaven when I die. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

There are three basic schools of thought when it comes to salvation. I know there are various shades of each of these. Please, spare me the emails and comments that say I didn’t properly describe YOUR TRIBE.

Once Saved, Always Saved

There is the “once saved, always saved” school. According to this school of thought, once a person is saved he can never be un-saved. No matter what the person does, no matter how the person lives, he is saved forever. A person can stop attending Church, stop doing ANYTHING that remotely suggests that he is saved, yet “once saved, always saved.” One noted writer even said that a person could go to the altar and be saved and then leave the Church, curse God, and live like a heathen the remainder of his life…it matters not, “once saved, always saved.”

This is the belief of most Baptists and many Evangelicals and fundamentalists. Salvation becomes a form of “fire insurance.” People don’t want to go to hell, so they get saved. Whew, that’s over. Next!

Coupled with this belief is the notion that the believer will be rewarded some day for doing the right things in this life. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

So, people might be “once saved always saved” but if they don’t live right they will lose their rewards in heaven. The nature of this loss of rewards is never clearly defined. Maybe their mansion won’t have indoor plumbing? (John 14:1-6)

Some “once saved always saved” believers realize that their version of salvation really looks bad. They know their brand of salvation looks like it is preaching a “live like hell, still go to heaven” message.

To counter this, they teach that Christians who live carnally will be chastised (corrected) by God in this life. If a carnal Christian is not chastised, it is proof that they were never “really” saved. After all the Bible says in Hebrews 12:8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Countless once-saved-always-saved Baptists have told me that I am still a Christian. No matter what I do, no matter I believe, I can never, ever lose my salvation. I suppose if this is the case then there will be a lot of atheists in heaven.

Conditional Salvation, Arminianism

Arminian groups  hold to a conditional salvation. They believe a person is saved by grace but kept by works (works they do by the power of God, so it is really all of grace). In this school of thought, people can only know they are saved in the present moment. Their future salvation is conditioned on them doing the right things. This is the belief of groups like the Free-Will Baptists, Methodists, Wesleyans, etc.(groups who trace back their heritage to John and Charles Wesley and Jacobus Arminius).

A believer can do certain things that will result in the loss of salvation. Some Arminian groups believe you can only lose your salvation one time. In other words, “once saved, once lost, always lost.”

The Bible says in Hebrews 6:4-6:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Other Arminian groups believe a person can repeatedly be saved, lost, saved, lost, saved. They often talk about a line that is crossed, when a person goes from a state of grace to being lost again. I have asked repeatedly over the years exactly where that line is and no one can tell me. I have been told by more than one Arminian preacher, “You just KNOW when you have crossed the line.”

Arminians have no problem explaining my life. It is quite simple to them; I once was saved and now I am lost.

Perseverance of the Saints, Calvinism

The final school of thought is the Calvinistic school. Calvinist groups like the Presbyterians, some Baptists, Episcopalians,etc adhere to what is commonly called the five points of Calvinism (which were actually articulated as a reply to the Arminians). Point number five is the perseverance of the saints or the preservation of the saints.

The perseverance of the saints is “once saved, always saved” with a twist.  Calvinists believe salvation is a work done totally by God. From start to finish it is God who does it all. A person can not believe, exercise faith, or do anything apart from God giving them the power to do so. Those whom God saves, God keeps. Now, God only saves a certain number of people. God knows exactly how many he will save. They are the elect. They have been predestined to salvation. No one but the elect will be saved. Everyone else need not apply.

The God who saves is the God who causes believers to persevere to the end. If they don’t persevere to the end, then that is proof they were never saved to start with.

After hearing my story Calvinists conclude I never was saved.  I didn’t persevere. I have received common grace but not God’s special, saving grace. In other words, God toyed with me and then said fuck you. The contradiction in their conclusion is that they can not know if I might yet persevere in the future. Perhaps I am just going through an atheist phase.

No Calvinists can know for sure they are saved. They can HOPE they are. They can constantly examine their lives to see if they are availing themselves to the means of grace, but until they die they can not know for sure they are saved. They MUST persevere to the end to be sure. They are hoping God comes through for them, but they won’t know for sure until the end. After all, they too could be deluded. They too could be following a false Christ. Perhaps God is just toying with them too and they will end up bunking in hell with atheists such as I.

Imagine a person going from church to church trying to find out the one true Christian message of salvation. You would think Christians could agree on the most basic of truths, salvation.

But they don’t.

I am convinced that Christians better hope that God is a universalist. If not, hell is going to be filled with Christians.

042916