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Tag: Arminianism

Bruce, You Are Misrepresenting Evangelicals

whining evangelical

I am often accused by readers of misrepresenting Evangelicals in my writing; that my descriptions and criticisms of Evangelicalism don’t apply to a reader’s sect, their church, or to them personally. I have heard, more times than I can count, Evangelicals say: my church is different, my pastor is different, my denomination is different, my college is different, I’m DIFFERENT, DIFFERENT, DIFFERENT! While it is certainly true that not all Evangelicals are the same, often the alleged differences are little more than the differences between ice cream flavors. Same basic ingredients with different flavors and toppings. Evangelicals can whine, bitch, moan, and complain about my writing, but the fact remains that I was part of the Christian church for 50 years, an Evangelical pastor for 25 of those years, have Evangelical family members — including pastors, evangelists, and missionaries — and closely follow the machinations of the Evangelical community. I am confident that I have a good handle on Evangelical beliefs and practices.

Over the years, I have perused the doctrinal statements of numerous Evangelical sects, churches, and parachurch organizations. The agreement I find in these documents allows me to conclude what it is that Evangelicals believe. Add to that the fact that I pastored six Evangelical churches, and I think I have a good handle on the “faith once delivered to the saints.”

But, Bruce, Evangelicals don’t agree with one another one a host of theological beliefs! I understand that, but such differences are tangential to the cardinal doctrines all Evangelical profess to believe. Thus, Charismatics speak in tongues, Baptists don’t. Holiness Christians believe in entire sanctification, Baptists don’t. Some Evangelicals are Calvinists some are Arminians, and others are Calminians. Evangelicals are all over the place when it comes to eschatology and ecclesiology. Some believe baptism is required for salvation, others don’t. The list of differences is extensive. See, Bruce, you are proving my point! No, actually, I am not. If you look underneath these peripheral differences — often called “distinctives — you find unity of belief:

  • The inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible
  • The sinfulness, depravity of man
  • The deity of Christ
  • The virgin birth of Christ
  • The blood atonement of Christ for man’s sin (usually subscribing to the substitutionary atonement theory)
  • The resurrection of Christ from the dead
  • The second coming of Christ
  • Separation from the world
  • Salvation from sin by and through Christ alone
  • Personal responsibility to share the gospel with sinners
  • Heaven and Hell are literal places

Anyone who claims to be an Evangelical yet denies one or more of these cardinal doctrines is Evangelical in name only. The fringe of the Evangelical tent is littered with pastors, professors, and congregants who hold all sorts of liberal/progressive Christian beliefs, yet refuse to own what they are. And I get it. Towards the tail end of my ministerial career, my beliefs were definitely not Evangelical. Yet, Evangelicalism was home. It was all that I had ever known. I couldn’t bring myself to abandon my metaphorical family, even though I was liberal/progressive belief-wise. Even today, 12 years removed from walking away from Christianity, I still, at times, miss my family. Not Jesus, not the ministry, but the social connection I had with many loving, wonderful people. 

Often, Evangelicals think I am misrepresenting them when I have the audacity to claim that Evangelicals are Fundamentalists. This argument alone has led all sorts of objections from Evangelicals who scream from rooftops, I AM NOT A FUNDAMENTALIST! However, as I show in my post, Are Evangelical Fundamentalists? Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalists both theologically and socially. There’s simply no way to be an Evangelical and not be a Fundamentalist.

Well, Bruce, I don’t care what you say, I am an Evangelical, and I am not a Fundamentalist! You can self-identify any way you want, but just because you do so doesn’t change the fact that your theological beliefs and social practices are Fundamentalist. If you walk, talk, and act like a Fundamentalist, you are one. 

I get it. Evangelicalism is the most hated religious group in America. Thoughtful, kind, generous Evangelicals hate what Donald Trump and his merry band of culture warriors have done to our country. However, is the answer to stay on the deck of the Titanic as it rolls into the sea? If you are truly not a Fundamentalist, then join up with sects and churches that reflect your progressive/liberal beliefs and practices. Stop enabling the Evangelical monster. Let it die the death it so richly deserves.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

The GOD IS LOVE Myth

god is love

First John 4:8 states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lapsarian views

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

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

Ok, rabbit trail ended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revelation 5 ends with this statement:

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

men of mayhem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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

Evangelicals Love to Fuss and Fight

evangelical betrayal of jesus
Cartoon by Bob Englehart

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 15:34,35)

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. (1 Peter 3:8-11)

These Bible verses and others present a strong argument for unity and love being essential to Christian faith. The writer of 1 John makes it clear that anyone who does not love his brother is not a Christian. Several times in the New Testament, the Law and the Prophets is summed up thusly: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. In the Gospels, professing followers of Jesus are commanded to love even those who hate them. And speaking of unity, the writer of Proverbs 6 lists seven things God hates, one of which is “sowing discord among the brethren.”

Love and unity are essential to Christianity, yet rarely, if ever, demonstrated by Evangelicals. Instead, Evangelicals are known for fussing and fighting over everything from theology to music styles. Countless internecine wars have been fought over matters as trivial as hair styles, wearing jewelry, women wearing pants, which Bible translation to use, whether to give altar calls, and how often churches hold services. No matter is too trivial for Evangelicals to fight over. One need only look at how many Evangelical denominations there are and how fragmented individual churches are to see that Evangelicals never received the ‘Love and Unity” memo. And thanks to the Internet, the MMA machinations of Evangelicals are on display for all to see, complete with violent personal attacks on fellow Christians deemed heretics.

What’s heresy? In the Evangelical world, heresy is any belief different from mine. One need only watch Arminians and Calvinists go toe to toe over who has the “true” gospel. Each side casts the other as heretical, calling into question the opponent’s salvation. As a long-time Calvinist, I met numerous pastors who believed Arminianism was a false gospel and anyone who believed it was unsaved! And now that Calvinism has made huge inroads within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and has infected numerous SBC colleges and seminaries, non-Calvinistic Baptists are saying that John Calvin’s progeny are preaching a false gospel. Some go even so far to suggest that Calvinism leads to atheism!

Years ago, I pastored a church affiliated with the Christian Union (CU) denomination. In the early 1900s, CU suffered a schism over the doctrine of sanctification. This led to the establishment of a new denomination called the Churches of Christ in Christian Union. Both denominations have a strong, but aging/dying, presence here in Ohio. As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, I witnessed numerous conflicts and church splits. While all Evangelicals are Fundamentalists theologically, (see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) some sects, pastors, and churches take it to the extreme. Such is the case with the IFB church movement. The narrower beliefs become the more likely it is that there will be division. One oft-told joke about how the IFB church movement got its start comes from a story about Abram and Lot in Genesis 13:

And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south . . . And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land. And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left. And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.

Much like Abram and Lot, the IFB church movement came to be when they said to their former denominations or churches, you go your way and I’ll go mine. The IFB church movement was birthed from denominational battles over various points of doctrine and practice. Scores of churches and pastors left denominations such as the SBC and the American Baptist Convention, establishing their own fellowship groups or quasi-denominations. In the intervening sixty years, IFB churches and pastors have continued to squabble, resulting in a plethora of church splits and new, more “pure” groups. Each group believes they have the truth, and those who believe differently are either deemed heretics or erring brethren. This infighting is the main reason IFB churches tend to turn over their memberships every few years. The IFB churches I pastored had a steady stream of members from other churches visiting our services — church hoppers, I called them. These devoted followers of Christ were disgruntled or upset with their current churches, so they left, looking for greener pastures. One church I pastored took in over twenty-five members from one nearby IFB church. They loved my preaching, that is until they didn’t, and off they went to find a new church to attend. Many of them returned to their old church once the offending pastor left. Some of them were instrumental in starting new IFB or Bible Fellowship churches in the area.

I follow and read numerous Evangelical blogs and news sites. One thing is certain: Evangelicals continue to fuss and fight, not only with liberal/progressive Christians, mainline denominations, but amongst themselves. Proverbial blood runs in the streets, a never-ending stream thanks to perceived offenses and heresies. The last three decades have given rise to what is called “discernment ministry.” These ministries believe God has called them to be gatekeepers or monitors of the Book of Life. They alone know what the “truth” is, and they aren’t shy about calling out anyone and everyone who violates their standard of orthodoxy. Long-time readers — all the way back to 2007-2008 when I was still a Christian — might remember a previous iteration of this blog attracting the attention of “discernment” preachers such as the late Ken Silva and a man who called himself Pastor Boy (he is now divorced and no longer in the ministry). (Please see the post, Rob Bell and Homosexuals on Silva’s “discernment” blog.) I was working my way through what it was that I actually believed theologically, and these esteemed discerners of “truth,” and others like them, decided that I was a false prophet and a heretic. My later deconversion was proof to them that they were right about me; that I never was a True Christian®.

It seems to me that there is a huge disconnect between what the Bible says about love and unity and how Evangelicals practice their faith. Evangelicals are roundly condemned as preachers of hate, even more so since they climbed into bed with the Republican Party and Donald Trump. Millennials and Generation Z are leaving Evangelical churches in record numbers. Many of them are abandoning organized religion altogether, and an increasing number of them have become agnostics and/or atheists. Why are Evangelical churches hemorrhaging young adults? Separatism and anti-culturalism, along with social Fundamentalism — anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, anti-public schools, anti-science, to name a few — are driving the train as it leaves the station. Evangelicalism is losing two generations of potential congregants, leading to widespread panic among church leaders and church growth gurus. Of course, Evangelical extremists see such departures as a good thing; that doctrinal purity is far more important than love and unity. Quality rather than quantity, they say.  We need to love what God loves and hate what God hates! Of course, the beliefs and practices they love and hate are, so ironically, the very things they say their God loves and hates.

I am well aware of what the Bible does and doesn’t say on these issues. I long ago concluded that the Bible can be used to prove anything, and that when asked which sect has the “truth,” I reply, all of them. They all have proof texts to support their versions of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Thus, everyone is right. Here’s my advice to Evangelical truth seekers.  Want to find the “true” church? Choose the one which has the best potlucks.

Christianity in general, and Evangelicalism in particular, is split into thousands of sects, and countless independent congregations, each believing that they are the holders of the one true faith. Lost on Protestants and Catholics and Evangelicals and Mainline Christians alike is what their fussing and fighting says to the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Where’s the love and unity? worldlings ask. Where are the believers who practice what the Bible says about love in 1 Corinthians 13?

What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. What if I could prophesy and understand all secrets and all knowledge? And what if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing, unless I loved others. What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing, unless I loved others. Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude. Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do. Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil. Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. Love never fails! (CEV)

Where, oh where, can we find such faith? Not among Evangelicals, that’s for sure. I am an atheist for many reasons, one of which is the lack of love and unity among Christians. If I looked at Christianity as a whole and saw people loving God and loving their neighbors, I perhaps would pause and reconsider the value of being a follower of Jesus. If I saw a group united in doctrine and practice, I might, at the very least, ponder the historic claims of Christianity. However, all I see is the fussing and fighting, and this tells me that whatever Christianity might have been twenty centuries ago, THAT version of Christianity no longer exists. What we have today is a religious version of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). While it is unlikely that anything or anyone will successfully “save” me from atheism/agnosticism/humanism, if I truly saw love and unity in action, I might, at the very least, admire those who follow after Jesus. Until then, I will continue to treat Evangelicalism as a blight on the human race, a worldview that causes great harm. Want to change my opinion of you, Evangelicals? Repent.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Questions: Bruce, As a Pastor, What Was Your View of Arminianism?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Mike asked, “Bruce, As a Pastor, What Was Your View of Arminianism?”

Before I answer this question, let me give a definition of Arminianism:

Arminianism is based on theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609) and his historic supporters known as Remonstrants. His teachings held to the five solae of the Reformation, but they were distinct from particular teachings of Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and other Protestant Reformers. Jacobus Arminius (Jakob Harmenszoon) was a student of Theodore Beza (Calvin’s successor) at the Theological University of Geneva. Arminianism is known to some as a soteriological diversification of Protestant Calvinist Christianity. However, to others, Arminianism is a reclamation of early Church theological consensus.

Dutch Arminianism was originally articulated in the Remonstrance (1610), a theological statement signed by 45 ministers and submitted to the States General of the Netherlands. The Synod of Dort (1618–19) was called by the States General to consider the Five Articles of Remonstrance. These articles asserted that:

  • Salvation (and condemnation on the day of judgment) was conditioned by the graciously-enabled faith (or unbelief) of man;
  • The Atonement is qualitatively adequate for all men, “yet that no one actually enjoys [experiences] this forgiveness of sins, except the believer …” and thus is limited to only those who trust in Christ;
  • “That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will,” and unaided by the Holy Spirit, no person is able to respond to God’s will;
  • The (Christian) Grace “of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of any good,” yet man may resist the Holy Spirit; and
  • Believers are able to resist sin through Grace, and Christ will keep them from falling; but whether they are beyond the possibility of ultimately forsaking God or “becoming devoid of grace … must be more particularly determined from the Scriptures.”

I was raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches and attended an IFB Bible college. I began my ministerial career holding to what is commonly called one-point Calvinism. I believed salvation was gained by a volitional act of human will, that the Holy Spirit could be resisted, and that once a person was saved he could never fall from grace. Eternal security, also known as once-saved-always-saved, is what sets IFB churches apart doctrinally from Arminian churches. Arminians believe Christians can lose their salvation. Their theology diverges in two directions when it comes to falling from grace. One group believes that Christians can lose their salvation and regain it at a later date. The other group believes that once Christians lose their salvation they can never again be saved. I came into contact with both groups during the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.

The Bible teaches both Arminianism and Calvinism. That’s what’s so great about the Bible, it can be used to prove almost anything. As a one-point Calvinist, whenever I came upon verses that affirmed the security of the believer, I made sure I exposed the error of Arminianism. When I preached from verses that seem to say that Christians could fall from grace, I usually pounded the pulpit, shouted, and tried to explain away what the verses clearly said. I have no doubt that Arminian preachers did the same at their churches. I didn’t believe that Arminians were false Christians. I just saw them as ignorant of biblical truth. During the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio, I had the opportunity to preach for a number of Arminian churches: Free Will Baptist, Church of the Nazarene, Christian Union, and Assembly of God. When preaching for these groups, I focused my preaching on the beliefs we shared, and not on our differences. This worked well until I got on the subject of sanctification at a Nazarene church. I so offended the congregation that the pastor told me that I was no longer welcome to preach at his church. I had planned to preach a week-long revival, but after two days I was fired. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have gone anywhere near the doctrine of sanctification, but God was leading and I let the congregation know that there was no such thing as sinless perfection. I knew that saying this would cause offense, but I said it anyway. In my mind, at the time, I believed being true to God was more important than avoiding controversy.

In the 1980s, my theology shifted from one-point Calvinism to John MacArthur-style lordship salvation and five-point Calvinism. At this juncture, my view of Arminianism radically changed. While I still thought many Arminians were Christians, I believed that they preached a corrupted, false gospel of works. More than a few of my Calvinistic ministerial colleagues believed that Arminians were false Christians; that Arminianism was inherently a works-based religion. As a fervent preacher of John Calvin’s gospel, I made Arminianism a frequent target. As an IFB preacher, I was aware that there were Arminians who attended my church. They loved my preaching style and my passion for evangelism, so they chose to ignore my one-point Calvinism. When I became a five-point Calvinist and started preaching the fullness of the doctrines of grace, Arminians felt quite unwelcome and stopped attending church. I don’t blame them for leaving the church. I imagine I would have done the same if my sincere beliefs had been assaulted and ridiculed week after week.

In late 1990s, I moved away from five-point Calvinism and adopted more of a hybrid theology. My focus at this point in the ministry was on how Christians lived out the gospel. Instead of focusing on doctrinal purity and salvation, I turned my attention towards promoting good works. I was troubled by the disconnect between Evangelical belief and Evangelical practice. Instead of focusing on doctrine, I focused on lifestyle. I came to the conclusion that true Christianity was not measured by what we said, but by what we did. If I had to pick a particular theological system of thought that best fit my beliefs at this time, it would’ve been Anabaptist or Mennonite theology. This change theologically coincided with my changing political beliefs. As my political beliefs moved leftward, so did my theology. The last church I pastored was Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. A man who was a member of the church in Mount Perry, Ohio came to hear me preach one Sunday. He remarked afterward that I was preaching more of a social gospel. I suspect he was right. Fifteen years later, as a card-carrying member of First Church of Atheism, I still think that beliefs are measured by behavior; that what matters the most is not our beliefs, but our actions. Of what value is humanism if it fails to motivate us to do good works?

Ironically, many of my former IFB congregants and colleagues in the ministry believe that I am still a Christian. This is where the doctrine of once-saved-always-saved becomes absurd. Here I am, a blasphemer of God and a denier of everything Evangelicals hold dear, yet because, at a moment in time, I prayed the sinner’s prayer, I am forever a Christian. Nothing I can say or do will void my Lifetime Eternal Life Warranty®. I am forever married to Jesus, even if I’m a whore. This means that the ex-Christian readers of this blog are still saved. Good news, right? We can sleep in on Sundays and still go to heaven when we die! Proponents of once-saved-always-saved say that this doctrine promotes the grace of God; that God is not a quitter. What it actually does, however, is make a mockery of God’s grace. If subsequent belief and lifestyle do not matter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right: Evangelicals are preaching a gospel of “cheap grace.”

Arminians, on the other hand, believe that Christians can and do fall from grace. Such people see me as someone who was once saved and now is lost. I prefer this designation. It honestly describes my life. I once was a Christian; I once was a follower Jesus; I once devoted myself to the teachings of Christ; and now I am an unbeliever. Arminians take my testimony at face value. They believe me when I say, I once was saved and now I am lost. 

It is not uncommon for IFB churches to have hundreds of conversions each year. Yet, attendance grows very little. Shouldn’t there be a connection between soul saved and asses in the pew? I know one church that prides itself in having won tens of thousands of souls to Christ, yet the church runs two thousand or so people in attendance. Surely, saying “I am a Christian” ought to mean something. I find myself thinking that I take Christianity and the Bible more seriously than most Evangelicals. If Jesus is all that Evangelicals say he is, shouldn’t how they live their lives reflect this? One need only look at Evangelical support of Donald Trump to see how disconnected behavior has become from belief. While there is nothing Evangelicals can say that would ever win me back to Jesus, I might be persuaded to admire their religion and their God from afar if I ever saw that their beliefs made them better people. Unfortunately, most Evangelicals live lives no different from those of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. In fact, I have met atheists, agnostics, humanists, Buddhists, and pagans who live exemplary lives; people who love their fellow-man and do what they can to make the world a better place to live. If forced to choose, I’m with godless humanists; people who try their best to meaningfully impact the lives of others as they march to hell.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Not My Will, But Yours, Evangelicals Say to Their God

free will

Evangelicals, regardless of their peculiar theological beliefs, all believe that the Christian God is the one true God, and that he, as the creator of all things, is the giver of life, and is sovereign and in control of all things. While some theologically ignorant Evangelicals will argue that humans have unrestricted free will and are thus totally responsible for their own actions, a careful reading of the Bible makes it clear that God rules and reigns over all, and there is nothing that happens apart from his will. Calvinists and Arminians love argue about free will and whether once a person is saved he can ever fall from grace, but both agree that God determines who is saved and what happens in our lives. It is God, through the merit and work of Jesus Christ, who saves sinners from their sins. No one can save themselves. Evangelicals deny that there is anything such as luck or circumstance. Things happen because God wants them to happen, and no amount of work or objection can change God’s plan. From the election of political leaders to the very air we breathe, God is in control.

In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus commands his followers to pray in this manner:

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Christians are to pray for God’s will to be done in earth as it is in heaven. Jesus illustrated this command in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed:

O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:39)

O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. (Matthew 26:42)

Those of us raised in Evangelical churches have heard people say countless times, not my will, Lord, but yours be done. Such utterances are statements of faith rooted in the belief that God has a perfect plan for everyone’s life; and Christians are duty-bound to fully and passively submit to this plan. God’s machinations are never to be questioned or doubted. The apostle Paul in Romans 9 told those who would dare to question God choosing to only save certain people (the elect):

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

Simply put, Paul is saying the critics of God’s purpose and plan should shut the fuck up; that God is the creator of all things and he has the absolute right to do whatever he wants.

Throughout the New Testament, Paul reminds Christians of the importance of dying to self; of crucifying the flesh; of giving oneself totally, completely, and without reservation to God. Christians are commanded to give themselves as living sacrifices to God. In the Old Testament, God’s people are reminded that Jehovah’s thoughts are not their thoughts and his ways are not their ways. In other words, Christians might think that a certain action is right, when in fact it is not; that God has a higher purpose, plan, and agenda that cannot be understood by mere humans. Instead of trying to understand why this or that is happening in their lives, followers of Jesus are commanded to blindly believe that their God is working out everything in their lives according to his purpose or plan. No matter what happens, believers are told, God only wants what’s best for you. A church not far from my home has emblazoned on his building the words, God is good all the time. For these believers, God’s actions must never be questioned. Romans 8:28 says: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

How do Evangelicals know what the will of God is? Generally, the sources for determining God’s will are thus:

  • The Bible
  • The leadership of the Holy Spirit who lives inside of every believer
  • The counsel of mature followers of Jesus
  • The alignment of circumstances that are such that there is no doubt that God is behind what is happening

I was a part of the Christian church for fifty years, and I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five of those years. I know a good bit about submitting oneself to the will of God, and I watched countless Evangelicals suss out God’s will for their lives. I found that in almost every circumstance, God’s will coincided with what people wanted to do. Christians love to gussy up their decisions with spiritual sounding statements such as; yielding to Christ, following in his footsteps, etc., but no matter how the picture is painted, one fact remains: God’s will and human desire are one and the same. As a pastor, I made numerous decisions that I believed were the result of God’s leadership. I stood before church congregations and told them that I believed this or that — buying property, starting a new program, stopping an old program, buying a copier, purchasing a bus, starting the school, to name a few — was the will of God. How did I know that these things were the will of God? Because it seemed the right thing to do at the time; or it was something that I wanted to do.

I wish Evangelicals would be honest about their decision-making process. It’s evident to anyone who is paying attention that Evangelicals make decisions just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world do. Whatever the factors might be that affect and influence our decisions, the fact remains that we do what we want to do. Think of this post as a sermon. Thousands of Evangelical pastors will stand behind pulpits on Sunday and preach what they believe God has laid upon their hearts. Some of them might even tell parishioners that they wanted to preach a different sermon, but God commanded them to preach this sermon. These preachers will lead congregants to believe that their sermons come from God, and that they are preaching their sermons because God’s will demands it. Thus, any objections to what these preachers are saying are viewed as challenges to God’s will. All of us have had social media experiences with Bible thumpers who dump a bunch of Bible verses on our wall. When we object to their proof texting, they respond, your problem is with God, not me. God said it, I didn’t. As an atheist, I delivered this sermon (post) because I wanted to and I thought it might be helpful to people with questions and doubts about Evangelical Christianity. When Evangelical preachers deliver their sermons, the small print says: I, God, approve of this message. When Bruce the atheist preacher delivers his sermon, there is no small print. The words I write and speak our mine, and mine alone. While certainly my writing is influenced by my past and present experiences, I claim no higher authority than self. I write, say, and do what I want. And so it is with Evangelical Christians, whether or not they are willing to admit it. The reason I know this to be true is that the Christian God is a mythical being, and so talk of God’s will or God leading is — how do the British put it? — poppycock. The only voice whispering in the ears of Evangelicals is their own. No God, no Holy Spirit, no Satan.

I’m sure more than a few Evangelical readers will be outraged over what I’ve written here. For those upset over this post, I ask you: how do you know that it is God leading or speaking to you? What evidence do you have for your claim that you are following the will of God? What evidence do you have for the voice your head being anything other than your own wants, needs, and desires? And if everything happens to God’s purpose and plan, does that include me writing this post? If God really is the sovereign of the universe, does he control what I say and do?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bruce Gerencser