Tag Archive: Al Mohler

People of the Book: The Bible is the Only Book we Need

michael faraday all sufficient bible

Evangelicals love to claim that they are “people of the book” — the book being the Protestant Bible. Evangelicals talk a lot about the sufficiency of Scripture. According to these followers of Jesus, all that believers need for life and godliness can be found in the Bible. Yet, these same people write books, host radio programs, and blog about how the people of the book should understand and interpret the book they say contains everything Christians need to successfully live as followers of Jesus. Calvinists, in particular, make much of sola scriptura — Scripture alone. One such person is Jon Bloom, staff writer for John Piper’s Desiring God website. Bloom writes:

We have the New Testament largely because of the theological diseases that infected and afflicted the first-generation churches. The apostles wrote to clarify and remind early believers of things they had been taught, and to correct false doctrines that were springing up.

All of church history resembles the New Testament: remarkable outpourings of the Holy Spirit, gospel advances, churches planted, outbreaks of persecution and martyrdoms, doctrinal distortions and leadership abuses and all manner of sin causing churches to be, as the old hymn says, “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,” followed by Holy Spirit-empowered revival and reformation movements.

To have knowledge of church history is good — really good. It helps us keep perspective. It helps us keep from being too euphoric and triumphalist in revival, too depressed and defeatist in tribulation, and too enamored of The Next Big Thing, the new method, strategy, or movement that promises to be The Answer. Church history helps us remember, “Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us” (Ecclesiastes 1:10).

But it’s best to know our Bibles very well. The only proven antidote to the doctrinal and moral diseases that have always afflicted the churches of God is “holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2:16) and “not . . . go[ing] beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). Church history serves to confirm this is true.

We must submit to “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) and not allow the limits of our own understanding to place unbiblical limits on the “breadth and length and height and depth, and . . . the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:18–19). Plead with God for the strength to comprehend what is beyond our human ability to grasp (Ephesians 3:18).

And resolve not to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6).

And at the end of Bloom’s article? Books for sale that will help Christians better “understand” the all-sufficient Word of God.

Evangelical writers continue to churn out books, radio broadcasts, YouTube videos, audio recordings, and blog posts that are meant to “explain” what the Bible teaches. Or better put, meant to “explain” what that particular Evangelical thinks the Bible teaches. Why the need for all the extra-Biblical material if the Bible is the only book Christians will ever need? Why all the Bible study books if born-again, bought-by-the-blood. Holy-Ghost-filled Evangelicals have the very Words of God at their disposal?

The bookshelves found in the average Evangelical pastor’s study are filled with all sorts of books: commentaries, Bible translations, concordances, sermon outlines, sermon illustrations, Christian biographies, theological tomes, self-help books, and one-offs dealing with politics, the culture war, and clean Christian jokes. And thanks to computers, many of these books and study helps are now available online or through purchased software. Yet, come Sunday, these same pastors — after spending 10-20 hours reading and studying books about the Bible — will say to their congregations, “We are people of the Book! The inspired, inerrant, infallible Protestant Bible is all-sufficient. Praise be to God for giving us through his Word everything necessary to live in an evil world as his chosen people!”

Al Mohler, in a January 2016 blog post, lamented the theological and Biblical ignorance of many Christians. Mohler writes:

While America’s evangelical Christians are rightly concerned about the secular worldview’s rejection of biblical Christianity, we ought to give some urgent attention to a problem much closer to home–biblical illiteracy in the church. This scandalous problem is our own, and it’s up to us to fix it.

Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” How bad is it? Researchers tell us that it’s worse than most could imagine.

Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. “No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm. The bottom line? “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.”

Multiple surveys reveal the problem in stark terms. According to 82 percent of Americans, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a Bible verse. Those identified as born-again Christians did better–by one percent. A majority of adults think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one’s family.

Some of the statistics are enough to perplex even those aware of the problem. A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble.

Secularized Americans should not be expected to be knowledgeable about the Bible. As the nation’s civic conversation is stripped of all biblical references and content, Americans increasingly live in a Scripture-free public space. Confusion and ignorance of the Bible’s content should be assumed in post-Christian America.

The larger scandal is biblical ignorance among Christians. Choose whichever statistic or survey you like, the general pattern is the same. America’s Christians know less and less about the Bible. It shows.

How can a generation be biblically shaped in its understanding of human sexuality when it believes Sodom and Gomorrah to be a married couple? No wonder Christians show a growing tendency to compromise on the issue of homosexuality. Many who identify themselves as Christians are similarly confused about the Gospel itself. An individual who believes that “God helps those who help themselves” will find salvation by grace and justification by faith to be alien concepts.

Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation’s time and attention. The move to small group ministry has certainly increased opportunities for fellowship, but many of these groups never get beyond superficial Bible study.

Youth ministries are asked to fix problems, provide entertainment, and keep kids busy. How many local-church youth programs actually produce substantial Bible knowledge in young people?

Even the pulpit has been sidelined in many congregations. Preaching has taken a back seat to other concerns in corporate worship. The centrality of biblical preaching to the formation of disciples is lost, and Christian ignorance leads to Christian indolence and worse.

This really is our problem, and it is up to this generation of Christians to reverse course. Recovery starts at home. Parents are to be the first and most important educators of their own children, diligently teaching them the Word of God. [See Deuteronomy 6:4-9.] Parents cannot franchise their responsibility to the congregation, no matter how faithful and biblical it may be. God assigned parents this non-negotiable responsibility, and children must see their Christian parents as teachers and fellow students of God’s Word.

Churches must recover the centrality and urgency of biblical teaching and preaching, and refuse to sideline the teaching ministry of the preacher. Pastors and churches too busy–or too distracted–to make biblical knowledge a central aim of ministry will produce believers who simply do not know enough to be faithful disciples.

Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a leader in the hostile Calvinistic takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, thinks that the solution for the theological ignorance is for pastors to return to Biblical teaching and preaching. Mohler is a big proponent of expository preaching. (Expository preaching is a form of preaching that details the meaning of a particular text or passage of Scripture. It explains what the Bible means by what it says. Exegesis is technical and grammatical exposition, a careful drawing out of the exact meaning of a passage in its original context. Wikipedia) He thinks it is up to pastors to use some sort of Vulcan mind meld to impart Christian theological knowledge to church members, forgetting that many members have the attention span of a toddler and are more concerned with lunch and Sunday’s match-up between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots.

I thought that the only book that Christians need to the Bible. I thought that the Bible is all-sufficient. Surely, if God himself (the Holy Spirit) lives inside of every Christian and is their teacher and guide, shouldn’t every Evangelical know what the Bible says and means? Evidently not. Despite asking Jesus into to their heart and the Holy spirit living in said heart, Evangelicals still need clerics to tell them what the various books and verses of the Bible mean. For 2,000 years now, educated (and not so educated) pastors have been telling Christians what they should/must believe, going so far as to suggest that if Christians don’t believe the right things it is doubtful they will go to heaven when they die.

I was a part of the Christian church for fifty years, pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan for twenty-five of those years. I started my preaching career as a topical/textual preacher, moving to expository preaching once I embraced John Calvin’s doctrines of grace. I took seriously my obligation to preach and teach the word of God. As an expository preacher, I preached through numerous books of the Bible, including preaching over one hundred consecutive sermons from the gospel of John. Yet, despite all my preaching and teaching, most church members were content to believe what I believed. No matter how often I challenged and berated them over their lack of diligence and theological acumen, congregants were content to dust off their Bibles on Sunday and passively sit in the pew as Pastor Bruce preached to them the wondrous truths of God’s perfect Word. While a handful of church members would read theological books, study the Bible, and listen to sermon tapes, the rest of the congregation decided to live with the guilt of not being students of the Word.

The reasons for this lack of desire are many, but let me end this post with a few of them.

First, the people I pastored had a life outside of church. While the majority of church members attended church every time the doors were open — often two to four services a week — they also had other obligations: jobs, houses, lands, and families. As a pastor, I was paid to read and study the Bible. My schedule afforded me the leisure necessary to spend hours each week reading theological books. When I wanted or needed to do some intense study, all I had to do is cloister myself away in my study and put up a closed sign on the door. Trained to be “sensitive” to the man of God’s spiritual needs, congregants left me alone, believing that it was more important for me to hear from God than them.

Try as they might, most church members simply did not have the requisite time necessary to devote themselves to reading and studying the Bible. Members often resorted to short devotional booklets such as Our Daily Bread — a better-than-nothing approach that rarely, if ever, imparted any new knowledge about the teachings of the Bible.

percentage of americans who didnt read a book

Second, due to the belief that only certain Bible versions should be read: King James (KJV), New American Standard (NASB), English Standard (ESV), many members found the text of the Bible difficult to read. What do people who have a limited amount of time do when faced with a hard-to-read book? They put the book on the shelf, choosing to either read books that dumb down the Bible or supplant reading and studying with their pastor’s Sunday sermon. The sad fact is — Christian or not — most adults rarely read books, choosing instead to read blogs, news sites, and social media. Those who do read books are likely not reading religious tomes. Most Christians read religious fiction such as The Left Behind series or Christian self-help books. (You can check out Amazon’s Top 100 Best Sellers: Religion and Spirituality here.)

Finally, many of the people I pastored either found the Bible contradictory or boring. Whether this attitude was due to reading ability, education, or desire, the fact is most church members ignored the Bible, choosing, when they read, to peruse fictional books or easy-to-digest self-help books. I pastored people who read every book in the Left Behind series, yet couldn’t find a spare minute to read the Bible. One woman, a devoted follower of Jesus and active in the church, devoted her reading time, not to the Bible, but to books on famous crime stories and serial killers. Too bad I didn’t know to tell her that the God found in the pages of the Bible was/is the greatest serial killer of all time.

Bloom and Mohler are fighting a losing battle. Not only are most Christians no longer using the Bible as the all-sufficient rule for their lives, they also aren’t even bothering to read it. Perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to write a new Bible, one that has more of a True Blood, Game of Thrones, Ray Donavan, Criminal Minds, Walking Dead feel. Sticking with a Bronze Age religious text will only cause continued angst and depression among the Blooms and Mohlers of the world. If God himself can’t get Christians to read the all-sufficient Bible, what makes Evangelicals and parachurch leaders who, if the truth be known, don’t read the Bible much either, think they can do what God can’t do?

Fundamentalist Al Mohler Admits Same-Sex Marriage No Threat to Churches

al mohler

Al Mohler

I have repeatedly asked Evangelicals to give me ONE instance where pastors or churches would be harmed if same-sex couples are allowed to marry. Just one…how hard can it be to come up with ONE instance where two people in love marrying would materially harm any Evangelical church or pastor? Evidently, quite hard and Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary  agrees with me. Speaking in Columbus at the national gathering of Southern Baptists, Mohler stated:

“Look, I really don’t fear – it’s really important that you and the other presidents and every Southern Baptist pastor, every Gospel pastor, preacher needs to say ‘I’m not going to perform a same-sex wedding.’ But let’s be honest: There’s not really a danger that the sheriff’s gonna show up and say, ‘You have to do this.’ So far as I know, no pastor has been sued successfully for refusing to marry someone on other grounds; that’s not the real danger.”

“The real danger is we’re going to pay an enormous social, cultural price for not doing a same-sex ceremony….We’re going to be considered to be morally deficient. Let’s admit it: We’re much more accustomed to being accused of being morally superior. They’ve said we’ve been ‘stand-offish,’ meaning better than them. Now a large part of this culture thinks we are morally deficient. And we’re going to find that’s a very different way to do ministry.”

I sense resignation in Mohler’s words, realizing that all the Evangelical bigotry and hate towards homosexuals and same-sex couples has come to naught. According to Mohler, instead of being viewed as the standard bearers of Christian morality, Evangelicals are increasingly viewed as “morally deficient.” Morally deficient? Nope, just ignorant bigots who, like slave owners of a century ago, refuse to act justly.  Now that Mohler has told the faithful that there is no homo boogeyman under the bed, can we all get on with love, peace, and happiness…and equal protection under the law?

Christopher Hitchens is in Hell

christopher hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

According to those who KNOW the mind of God and KNOW the names written in the Book of Life, when Christopher Hitchens died on December 15, 2011, he went straight to hell to be tortured day and night by the Evangelical God for refusing to admit said God exists and for rejecting the salvation proffered by Jesus Christ. (the irony here is that all four Evangelicals mentioned in this post are Calvinists, men who believe no one can “choose” to be saved)

Al Mohler, fundamentalist president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had this to say:

al mohler tweet christopher hitchens

Rick Warren, fundamentalist pastor of Saddleback Church had this to say:

rick warren tweet about christopher hitchens

Doug Wilson, fundamentalist pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho had this to say:

We have no indication that Christopher ever called on the Lord before he died, and if he did not, then Scriptures plainly teach that he is lost forever.

The Defending Contending blog (link no longer active) took the pious approach and said that Hitchens lived his life as a hater of God, but since no human can know the true spiritual state of any person, they can not say whether Hitchens is in hell. Chris Hohnholz wrote:

The question that stands before us today of course, is where is Christopher Hitchens today. According to Mr. Hitchens, he simply ceased to exist, nothing more. But for the Christian, we know that we exist for eternity once this mortal body ceases functioning. There are only two possibilities as to where, Heaven or Hell. As Mr. Hitchens was created by God, and was bound to God’s laws, as we all are, he can only be in one of those two places. At first, it may seem quite easy to figure it out. He denied God, spoke vehemently against the Christian faith, and was often hateful and vitriolic in his speech regarding it. Considering that he made the statement there would be no deathbed conversion, it would be a simple thing to declare God sent him to hell. However, the truth is, we simply do not, and cannot know.

It is clear that Mr. Hitchens made a career of hating the very idea of God. But it is also clear that he was a common sinner just like the rest of us. He had a conscience, he was aware of right and wrong. He, like the rest of us, committed acts that were in violation of that conscience. We know that our consciences are God’s laws written upon our hearts. When we violate our conscience, we are violating God’s laws. Additionally, Mr. Hitchens debated with many Christians, he had heard the gospel presentation many times. There is little question that by the time of his death, Mr. Hitchens knew what God required of him. It is that time just prior to his death that we cannot know about. Is it at least possible, that as he faced those last moments, knowing death was coming that he considered those sins he committed, that he contemplated the gospel he had denied so many times, that he just might have repented and trusted Christ. If we are intellectually honest, we must say that it is possible. And since we cannot know, we hope that is what happened. We hope that we will find Mr. Hitchens in Heaven one day, for we do not wish the wrath of God on any man.

But we must also be honest say that he may not have repented. It is entirely possible that Mr. Hitchens held on to his rejection of God all the way into death. If so, Mr. Hitchens now stands before God in judgment for his sins. And not just for his atheism. As said before, our consciences are merely God’s law written on our hearts. When any man or woman breaks those laws, through lying, stealing, coveting, lusting, or blaspheming, they have sinned against a holy and righteous God. It is not just because he was an atheist that Mr. Hitchens may have stood condemned, it is because, as we all are, he was a sinner against the God who created him. And if that indeed is what occurred, even we Christians must mourn his death, for we do not wish Hell on any man. But we also rejoice that God is glorified, because His justice is perfect.

So what does that mean for the Christian? First, let us not run around proclaiming we know where Christopher Hitchens is, only God knows that. Let us share with people the truth, that if he repented and trusted Christ (which is our hope), he is in Heaven. But if he remained in his sins, he was condemned (as we all deserve). Let us not rejoice that another atheist voice is silent, that presents us as unkind and unloving. But let us not ignore that what he taught was blasphemous. As we engage in conversation with others on this, let us remember that, whatever Mr. Hitchens fate was, all of us face the same date with death.

This “sounds” nice, but don’t be deceived, I have heard these words many, many times and they are words uttered by people who don’t want to look bad before the world so they refrain from saying in public what they proclaim every week in the pulpit or behind closed doors.

There is NOTHING, I repeat NOTHING, in the life of Christopher Hitchens that remotely suggests he is now with God and the angels. He is in hell and Hohnholz knows it! I wish Evangelicals like Chris Hohnholz would at least own the abominable, horrendous doctrine they preach.

My friend Bud pretty well sums up my feelings on people like Mohler, Warren,Wilson and Hohnholz:

I feel even more sadness for those who are so blinded by religious prejudice that they see the death of Hitchens as an opportunity to peddle their religious wares. I’ve already expressed what I think about Albert Mohler’s recent comment on Twitter. Turns out that “purpose-driven” Rick Warren is just as classy as Mohler. Warren had his own douchebag moment on Twitter when he wrote: “Hitchens has died. I loved & prayed for him & grieve his loss. He knows the Truth now.” Yes, Rick, use a man’s death as a tool in your propaganda machine. If Warren truly “loved” Hitch, he would be honoring his memory instead of disgracing Hitchens for the sake of “the Truth” with a capital T.

How did Christopher Hitchens spend the final days of his life? Ian McEwan of the New York Times wrote:

The place where Christopher Hitchens spent his last few weeks was hardly bookish, but he made it his own. Close to downtown Houston is the Medical Center, a cluster of high-rises like La Défense of Paris, or London’s City, a financial district of a sort, where the common currency is illness…..

….. While I was with him another celebration took place in far away London, with Stephen Fry as host in the Festival Hall to reflect on the life and times of Christopher Hitchens. We helped him out of bed and into a chair and set my laptop in front of him. Alexander delved into the Internet with special passwords to get us linked to the event. He also plugged in his own portable stereo speakers. We had the sound connection well before the vision and what we heard was astounding, and for Christopher, uplifting. It was the noise of 2,000 voices small-talking before the event. Then we had a view from the stage of the audience, packed into their rows.

They all looked so young. I would have guessed that nearly all of them would have opposed Christopher strongly over Iraq. But here they were, and in cinemas all over the country, turning out for him. Christopher grinned and raised a thin arm in salute. Close family and friends may be in the room with you, but dying is lonely, the confinement is total. He could see for himself that the life outside this small room had not forgotten him. For a moment, pace Larkin, it was by way of the Internet that the world stretched a hand toward him.

The next morning, at Christopher’s request, Alexander and I set up a desk for him under a window. We helped him and his pole with its feed-lines across the room, arranged pillows on his chair, adjusted the height of his laptop. Talking and dozing were all very well, but Christopher had only a few days to produce 3,000 words on Ian Ker’s biography of Chesterton.

Whenever people talk of Christopher’s journalism, I will always think of this moment.

Consider the mix. Constant pain, weak as a kitten, morphine dragging him down, then the tangle of Reformation theology and politics, Chesterton’s romantic, imagined England suffused with the kind of Catholicism that mediated his brush with fascism and his taste for paradox, which Christopher wanted to debunk. At intervals, Christopher’s head would droop, his eyes close, then with superhuman effort he would drag himself awake to type another line. His long memory served him well, for he didn’t have the usual books on hand for this kind of thing. When it’s available, read the review. His unworldly fluency never deserted him, his commitment was passionate, and he never deserted his trade. He was the consummate writer, the brilliant friend. In Walter Pater’s famous phrase, he burned “with this hard gem-like flame.” Right to the end.

Christopher Hitchens is greatly missed. I always appreciated his sharp tongue and pointed critique of religion. He made the religious fuss, fume, and squirm as he attacked their beliefs and practices.

Some day I will die. I have thought a lot about this, and while I am no Christopher Hitchens I can only imagine how my demise will be played out in the blogosphere and in the pulpit. According to my critics, when death comes hell awaits me. A special hell, punishment, and torture awaits me because I was once a believer and a pastor. I’ve spent the last seven years being threatened with hell and God’s judgment, but  If I have a choice between Heaven with Mohler, Warren, Wilson and Hohnholz and the Hell with Hitchens and a cast of others I greatly admire, give me Hitch and hell every time.

The world is richer because a man named Christopher Hitchens lived among us. While his body rots in the grave, his words remain. May his words continue to inspire people to consider a life and world without the oppression of religion. There can be a better tomorrow without God.

Let me conclude this post with a few quotes from Hitch’s last published work Mortality:

  • …The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of ‘acceptance,’ hasn’t so far had much application to my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been ‘in denial’ for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by the gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read — if not indeed to write — the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity…
  • …To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?…
  • …Myself, I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water…
  • …It’s normally agreed that the question ‘How are you?’ doesn’t put you on your oath to give a full or honest answer. So when asked these days, I tend to say something cryptic like, ‘A bit early to say.’ (If it’s the wonderful staff at my oncology clinic who inquire, I sometimes go so far as to respond, ‘I seem to have cancer today.’) Nobody wants to be told about the countless minor horrors and humiliations that become facts of ‘life’ when your body turns from being a friend to being a foe: the boring switch from chronic constipation to its sudden dramatic opposite; the equally nasty double cross of feeling acute hunger while fearing even the scent of food; the absolute misery of gut-wringing nausea on an utterly empty stomach; or the pathetic discovery that hair loss extends to the disappearance of the follicles in your nostrils, and thus to the childish and irritating phenomenon of a permanently runny nose. Sorry, but you did ask… It’s no fun to appreciate to the full the truth of the materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body…
  • …The man who prays is the one who thinks that god has arranged matters all wrong, but who also thinks that he can instruct god how to put them right…
  • …However, one thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. In fact, I now sometimes wonder why I ever thought it profound…In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker…
  • …Like so many of life’s varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don’t so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it’s time to be on my way. No, it’s the snickering that gets me down…
  • …So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing…

From the last page of Mortality:

“From Alan Lightman’s intricate 1993 novel Einstein’s Dreams; set in Berne in 1905:

With infinite life comes an infinite list of relatives. Grandparents never die, nor do great-grandparents, great-aunts…and so on, back through the generations, all alive and offering advice. Sons never escape from the shadows of their fathers. Nor do daughters of their mothers. No one ever comes into his own…Such is the cost of immortality. No person is whole. No person is free.”

You can buy Mortality from Amazon.com. I receive a few shekels if you click the link and purchase the book. It is available in hardback, paperback, Kindle.

Polite Evangelicals and What They Really Believe

politeness

Most Evangelicals are polite, kind, decent people. Most Evangelicals are nothing like hate mongers Bryan Fischer, Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, or the local street preacher. Most Evangelicals try to get along with others and do their best to integrate into society. When I go to the store to shop, buy groceries, get my car repaired, etc. I know that the most of the people waiting on me are Christian. And here in God’s country, most of them are Evangelical.

But, here’s the thing. Behind the polite, kind, decent, loving faces are hateful, judgmental beliefs. As I stated awhile back, there is little difference between the beliefs of the late Fred Phelps and Baptist seminary president and preacher Al Mohler. The beliefs of the Phelps clan and Westboro Baptist Church are not much different from the beliefs of the Duggars. Some may smile and be polite and others might angrily scream, but both believe that every non-Christian who dies will go to hell and be tortured by God for eternity. I recently wrote about this in a post titled What Kind of Christian Are You?

Ana Marie Cox, a writer for the The Daily Beast, wrote an article that exposes polite Evangelicalism for what it is:

The fight over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act has pulled back the curtain on the Polite Right.

Beltway-centric but not moderate, these cautious spokesmen for civility do not practice your drunk uncle’s bigotry. They endorse a more soft-spoken and socially acceptable kind of prejudice. This prejudice comes clothed in talk of tolerance and piety, appeals to fairness and freedom. 

They talk about faith and religious rights but what defenders of the pre-“fix” RFRA really wanted was the privilege of condoning bigotry without actually being associated with it. It’s more than a rhetorical sleight of hand to turn denial of service into an “infringement upon religious practice.” It’s Solomon sawing Lady Justice in half. Such an argument insists that theologically-condoned discrimination is somehow less hurtful than the normal, not-God-approved form. “You can still get married!” and “You can continue to deny service to those you see as morally unfit!” do not cancel each other out.

Indeed, many of those who supported Indiana’s original law recognized this—that denying service to gay couples is an impediment to their gaining full civil rights. The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, for one. Fischer is a nationally-syndicated radio host, not simply a lone fruitcake, even though the next exit down from his particular brand of crazy is the Westboro Baptist Church: His Twitter feed is full of references to “the Church of the Rainbow Jihad,” “same-sex cakes,” the “Gay Gestapo,” and several warnings that “Big Gay is not about ‘marriage equality’ but ‘homosexual supremacy.’”

It’s easy to mock the idea of “Big Gay” (what a size queen!), but Fischer’s logic is the perfect mirror to the argument of the law’s critics. All you have to do is scale down the hyperbole, and read “full civil rights” where Fischer fears “gay rule.” Indiana’s RFRA was intended to hamper the progress of “Big Gay and the Homosexual Supremacy” (my favorite Motown band). If the original RFRA had been implemented, the civil rights for LGTB individuals would have been diminished…

…The Polite Right wants nothing to do with Fischer. When I drew attention to his Twitter timeline, the proudly reasonable conservatives that populate the Acela Corridor were offended. They demanded that I acknowledge that Fischer is not representative of all conservatives, or even all defenders of the law—and that’s true, in the sense that Polite Right would never sully themselves with such obvious homophobia…

But while it’s Bryan Fischer’s rhetoric that makes him so amusingly offensive, it’s his logic and his goals that demand an answer from those who are aligned with him as far as the RFRA goes. In other words: I believe my friends on the Polite Right when they say they don’t hate gay people; but when it comes to the RFRA, I am not convinced that emotional or theological context is less important than acts of discrimination itself. 

Put another way: Two different Christian bakery owners both refuse to bake a cake for two different gay weddings. One bakery owner says that’s because he believes gay people are sinful sodomites that regularly recruit and molest children. The other says she loves and respects gay people but “just can’t participate in a ceremony that goes against my faith.” The Indiana RFRA was written to protect both bakers, not just the nice one.

Of course, both sides of the debate have their drunk uncles. On the left, it was a bunch of randy Yelpers and rageful Twitterers that embarrassed the more selectively outraged RFRA critics. The Memories Pizza owners turned out to be the nice, presentable sort of discriminators, and some of their online critics went overboard in expressing their upset…

…I’m proud to live in a society where being accused of bigotry is itself offensive. I like it that decent people don’t want to be associated with obvious homophobes. But the polite solution to an association with an obvious homophobe isn’t to simply deny the relationship—it’s to ask yourself what you have in common.

The problem is that Bryan Fischer and the Polite Right want the same thing, for the same reasons, even if they use very different language to make their case. They’re activist allies, joined at the hip whether they like it or not. You might even say they’re married.

Let’s not pretend that smiling, polite Evangelicals don’t have reprehensible beliefs. Behind their façade are beliefs that promote hate, bigotry, and discrimination. But, Bruce I am an Evangelical and I support the gay community in their quest for equal protection under the law. I think global warming is real, hell is a myth, and I hate how many of my fellow Evangelicals behave. Fine, let me ask you this: why do you remain in the Evangelical church? Why do you continue to support beliefs and practices you object to? Perhaps it is time for you to exit stage left and move on to religious confines where love, equality, and respect for all are the rule. Are we not judged by those we keep company with?  Silence is consent. If you truly love others and desire equality for all, how can you remain silent or support sects, churches, and pastors who preach hate, bigotry, and discrimination?

Al Mohler Upset Over Newsweek Article About the Bible

newsweek the bible

Fundamentalist Al Mohler has his panties in a knot a-g-a-i-n. This happens so often that Mohler recently had to have a pantiedectomy to remove over a dozen pairs of panties that were permanently ensconced in his rectum. It is always something with Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  This time, Mohler is upset about a Newsweek article on the Bible.

The feature article, The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin, is written by Kurt Eichenwald. Mohler notes that Eichenwald has, in the past, written for The New York Times and Vanity Fair. In other words, Mohler wants his followers to know that Eichenwald is a l-i-b-e-r-a-l.

Mohler contends that Eichenwald is out of his element in writing about the Bible. Evidently, being an investigative reporter is not sufficient to write about the Good Book. I suspect Mohler thinks that only theologians and people who actually believe the Bible is anything more than a fiction book should be the only ones worthy of writing about the Timeless Word of God®.

It always amuses me when people like Mohler play the “you are not qualified” card. Mohler is quite the hypocrite. He routinely writes on subjects he is not qualified to write on; subjects like politics, medicine, art, and science. According to Mohler’s website:

A native of Lakeland, Fla., Dr. Mohler was a Faculty Scholar at Florida Atlantic University before receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. He holds a master of divinity degree and the doctor of philosophy (in systematic and historical theology) from Southern Seminary. He has pursued additional study at the St. Meinrad School of Theology and has done research at University of Oxford (England)

Best I can tell, Mohler has no serious training in science, politics, medicine, or art, yet he is somehow “qualified to write on these issues.  Of course, I understand why. Evangelical pastors have the ear of God and are qualified to pontificate on any issue “God” wants them to. Evangelical pastors are noted for knowing everything there is to know about anything and everything. Doubt me? Just ask one of them.

I think Mohler is more than qualified to write on a variety of subjects. He is an older man with a lot of education. But then, so is Eichenwald, and that’s my point. Just because Eichenwald is not an Evangelical Christian or a college trained theologian doesn’t mean he is not capable of writing an article about the Bible. He can read and is an investigative reporter and he is well equipped to write on most any subject he puts his mind to.

Here are a few excerpts from the Newsweek article:

They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.

This is no longer a matter of personal or private faith. With politicians, social leaders and even some clergy invoking a book they seem to have never read and whose phrases they don’t understand, America is being besieged by Biblical illiteracy. Climate change is said to be impossible because of promises God made to Noah; Mosaic law from the Old Testament directs American government; creationism should be taught in schools; helping Syrians resist chemical weapons attacks is a sign of the end times—all of these arguments have been advanced by modern evangelical politicians and their brethren, yet none of them are supported in the Scriptures as they were originally written.

The Bible is not the book many American fundamentalists and political opportunists think it is, or more precisely, what they want it to be. Their lack of knowledge about the Bible is well established. A Pew Research poll in 2010 found that evangelicals ranked only a smidgen higher than atheists in familiarity with the New Testament and Jesus’s teachings. “Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don’t read it,’’ wrote George Gallup Jr. and Jim Castelli, pollsters and researchers whose work focused on religion in the United States. The Barna Group, a Christian polling firm, found in 2012 that evangelicals accepted the attitudes and beliefs of the Pharisees—religious leaders depicted throughout the New Testament as opposing Christ and his message—more than they accepted the teachings of Jesus.

Newsweek’s exploration here of the Bible’s history and meaning is not intended to advance a particular theology or debate the existence of God. Rather, it is designed to shine a light on a book that has been abused by people who claim to revere it but don’t read it, in the process creating misery for others. When the illiteracy of self-proclaimed Biblical literalists leads parents to banish children from their homes, when it sets neighbor against neighbor, when it engenders hate and condemnation, when it impedes science and undermines intellectual advancement, the topic has become too important for Americans to ignore, whether they are deeply devout or tepidly faithful, believers or atheists.

This examination—based in large part on the works of scores of theologians and scholars, some of which dates back centuries—is a review of the Bible’s history and a recounting of its words. It is only through accepting where the Bible comes from— and who put it together—that anyone can comprehend what history’s most important book says and, just as important, what it does not say.

Later in the article, Eichenwald writes:

“These manuscripts were originally written in Koiné, or ‘common’ Greek, and not all of the amateur copyists spoke the language or were even fully literate. Some copied the script without understanding the words. And Koiné was written in what is known as scriptio continua—meaning no spaces between words and no punctuation. So, a sentence like weshouldgoeatmom could be interpreted as ‘We should go eat, Mom,’ or ‘We should go eat Mom.’ Sentences can have different meaning depending on where the spaces are placed.For example,godisnowhere could be ‘God is now here’ or ‘God is nowhere.’”

If you are interested in reading all of Mohler’s objections, you can read them here.

Mohler concludes his article by saying:

But Kurt Eichenwald’s essay is not ground-breaking in any sense. These arguments have been around for centuries in some form. He mixes serious points of argument with caricatures and cartoons and he does exactly what he accuses Christians of doing — he picks his “facts” and arguments for deliberate effect.

Newsweek’s cover story is exactly what happens when a writer fueled by open antipathy to evangelical Christianity tries to throw every argument he can think of against the Bible and its authority. To put the matter plainly, no honest historian would recognize the portrait of Christian history presented in this essay as accurate and no credible journalist would recognize this screed as balanced.

Oddly enough, Kurt Eichenwald’s attack on evangelical Christianity would likely be a measure more effective had he left out the personal invective that opens his essay and appears pervasively. He has an axe to grind, and grind he does.

But the authority of the Bible is not the victim of the grinding. To the contrary, this article is likely to do far more damage to Newsweek in its sad new reality. Kurt Eichenwald probably has little to lose among his friends at Vanity Fair, but this article is nothing less than an embarrassment. To take advantage of Newsweek’s title — it so misrepresents the truth, it’s a sin.

Mohler thinks Eichenwald has an axe to grind. And Mohler doesn’t? His weekly missives are one long lesson in the art of axe grinding. How about we all admit we each have axes to grind? Let’s look beyond what may be over the top characterizations by Eichenwald and deal with the one salient fact he makes clear; the Bible is a horribly misrepresented, misunderstood book. Most Christians are ignorant about the history of the Bible and its teachings. Most Christians spend very little time reading and studying the Bible. Even among Evangelicals, people who love to claim they are people of the Book,  Bible literacy and serious study of the Bible is lacking.

I suspect Mohler yearns for the day when churches, pastors, colleges, and seminaries controlled the flow of information. Before the internet, people didn’t have access to websites that dismantle, discredit, and obliterate the arguments pastors and theologians make for the Bible and its teachings. Unbelief is on the rise, the none’s continue to grow, and Bart Ehrman’s books are New York Times bestsellers. Information about the history of the Bible and its teachings can no longer be contained within the four walls of the church or seminary.

The bigger problem is that Christians, especially of the Fundamentalist and Evangelical stripe, now know that their pastor has been lying to them. Their pastor knew that the Bible is not an infallible, inerrant, or inspired book, he knew it contained errors, mistakes, and contradictions, yet he hid these things from parishioners. Conscientious Christians are right to wonder about what else their pastor isn’t telling them? Maybe it is time to check out other expressions of faith that don’t denigrate people over their gender, sexuality, or politics.

The internet will be the death of Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity in America. Certainly Christianity will survive, but its future form will be much different from the Bible thumping days of the19th-20th century. Evangelicalism is dying. Mohler’s own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), continues to lose members. Actual church attendance and baptisms are in decline and the average  congregation is filled with those over 50. On any given Sunday, over half of the people who are on the membership roll of a Southern Baptist church are nowhere to be found. (check the bed or the lake)  SBC leaders fear they are losing a whole generation of young people. Instead of looking inward for the reason this is so, they blame it on American culture, Hollywood, emergent theology, etc. They seem unable to see that the real problem is irrelevance and an inability to answer the hard questions presented by science.  Young adults continue to seek truth but they no longer look to the church for the answers.

Men like Al Mohler will continue to rage against the machine, blaming anyone and everyone but himself. At his funeral he will be eulogized as a stanch defender of the faith and the nursing home crowd in attendance will feebly say Amen.

Like everything that is of human construction, death, change, and rebirth are sure to come to American Christianity. It remains to be seen what Christianity will look like when my grandchildren are my age. That is, if the rapture hasn’t happened and carried all the real Christians® away.

Evangelical Vote No Longer Enough to Carry Election

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News. Published December 12, 2012.

Dear Editor:

After the re-election of President Obama, Dr. Al Mohler, a noted right-wing Southern Baptist leader, told his followers that the American people had heard the right-wing message and rejected it.

Contrary to recent letters to the editor, the reason President Obama was re-elected was not because right-wing Christians didn’t vote. They did vote, and as this election makes very clear, their numbers are no longer sufficient to carry a national election.

What is the message of the religious right? Is it an inclusive message? Is it a message that broadly appeals to Americans?

The religious-right and the Republican Party are joined at the hip, and the Republican Party’s unwillingness to sever this tie has led to embarrassing defeats in the last two presidential elections.

Thanks to the religious right and the Tea Party, the Republican Party is now an extremist party dominated by white, aging, right-wing Christians. The Party is now known, like fundamentalist Christian churches are, for what they are against rather than what they are for.

As Mohler rightly understood, most Americans have rejected the right-wing exclusionary message. More and more Americans are coming to understand that mixing politics and religion is harmful to our republic.

Groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a group I proudly support, continue to point out the unconstitutional entanglement of church and state in our schools and government entities. Every month the Freedom from Religion Foundation newsletter reports legal victories in cases concerning the separation of church and state. The courts continue, much to the consternation of the religious right, to reaffirm the legal fact the United States is a secular state and there is a strict wall of separation between church and state.

Twenty percent of Americans are now considered “nones”, people who are indifferent to religion or are atheists or agnostics. What is most encouraging is that this percentage jumps to 34 percent for young adults.

Young adults increasingly reject the bigoted, exclusionary message of right-wing Christianity (and by extension the Republican Party). On issues like homosexuality, abortion, immigration, socialized medicine, and war, young adults reject the message and values of right-wing Christianity.

I am encouraged by the changing beliefs and values of American young adults. I am profoundly glad that my six children have rejected the narrow, judgmental, exclusionary right-wing Christianity they were raised in. I have great hope that my eight grandchildren will grow up to be loving, accepting adults who do not judge others based on their religion, skin color, or sexual orientation.

In the Bible there is a story about King Belshazzar (Daniel 5). The Bible has this to say about Belshazzar’s kingdom: Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting. This is exactly what is happening in America. The right-wing Christian message has been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Belshazzar lost his kingdom and exclusionary, bigoted right-wing Christians are losing theirs. This is good news for all who love freedom and liberty.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney