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Non-Christians Can’t Understand the Bible but They Should Read It Anyway

natural man doesnt understand the things of god

Evangelical number one says to an unbeliever, you need to read the Bible. Within its pages you will find the good news of the gospel. Through this message, you will find the forgiveness of sins and life eternal — that is, if God decrees it to be so and you haven’t committed the unpardonable sin.

Evangelical number two says to an unbeliever, the natural (non-Christian) people cannot understand the things of God (the Bible) because they are spiritually discerned. Since non-Christians are dead in trespasses and sins and the Holy Spirit does not live inside them, they cannot understand the Bible. Unless God gives non-Christians ears to hear and eyes to see, they are unable to discern and comprehend the only supernatural book ever written, the Protestant Christian Bible.

Confused? How about I let Leslie, a Fundamentalist Christian blogger, explain this to all of us unregenerate, unsaved enemies of God:

Have you ever tried to talk to someone about the Gospel, just to have them declare that the Bible is simply another book? Where do you go with this?
….
But the question (and answer) that impacted me most was this one: What do you do when an unbeliever says the Bible is just like any other book and full of errors and contradictions?

This does seem to be a very relevant question in this day and age, does it not? The authority of scripture has been so undermined that few people believe the Bible to be the very Word of God anymore.

Dr. John) MacArthur gave a two-part answer to this question that I found incredibly encouraging. I am conveying his general thoughts (not his word for word answer) and then sharing some of my thoughts about what he said.

First, we need to stop expecting them to believe the Bible is the Word of God. Of course, they don’t. And Scripture tells us that they can’t until God unveils their eyes and shines His light on their hearts.

You may be thinking– Wait! You mean it’s not up to us to shine the light on to their hearts?

We can present it. We can share it. We can try to persuade them. But only God can give the light of His knowledge to a searching heart.
….
Unbelievers can’t understand until God opens their eyes. It’s impossible.

Secondly, if someone is challenging us about the Bible, he suggested that we ask them one simple question: Have you read the Bible?

If they say no, then suggest to them that this is a very strong statement to make about a book they’ve never read. If they decide to do their own study at that point, then let the Bible speak for itself.

Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

Hebrews 4:12  confirms this: For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The Bible will speak for itself to the unregenerate, seeking heart. God may use us to help someone to find salvation but He doesn’t need us.

According to Leslie, non-Christians cannot understand the Bible. No matter how much they read the Good Book, unless God gives them understanding, its meaning will remain beyond their ability to comprehend and understand. Yet, Leslie gives a completely different answer (to be fair, she is parroting Fundamentalist John MacArthur) when saying how Christians should handle non-Christians who say the Bible is filled with contradictions. Have you read the Bible? she suggests saying to atheists and unbelievers. Leslie assumes most non-Christians haven’t read the Bible, not knowing that many unbelievers know the Bible quite well and have likely read and studied it more than most Evangelicals. That doesn’t matter of course. Why? Remember, non-Christians have no capacity to understand the Bible. But wait, didn’t Leslie say they should read it? Now you are catching on . . . around and around the mulberry bush we go.

What Leslie, John MacArthur, and a cast of millions believe is that to understand the Bible non-Christians need some sort of Gnostic superpower. Without this supernatural ability to see and understand what the words of the Bible mean, it becomes just another book gathering dust on the bookshelf. So what about people such as myself, Robert M. Price, Dan Barker, John Loftus, and Bart Ehrman? All of us spent years reading and studying the Bible, allowing God to teach us the “real” meanings of its words. Yet, now that we no longer believe, does this mean that POOF! — all our knowledge has disappeared? I wonder if Evangelicals understand how ludicrous and silly it sounds when they suggest that non-Christians can’t understand the Bible. The Bible — truth be told — is not that complicated. Having read it from cover to cover numerous times, I know what it says. After studying it for thousands of hours and preaching over 4,000 sermons, I think I can safely say I know the Bible (from an Evangelical perspective). I think I am more than ready to test out of this class and move on to hard books such as George R.R. Martin’s Games of Thrones.

Leslie quotes Hebrews 4:12:

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Based on this verse, Leslie concludes that the Bible has some sort of magic power, a living book that is able to divine human thought and intent. I wonder, is this just for Christians? I just went to the bookshelf and retrieved my trusty Cambridge, leather-bound King James Version of the Holy Bible. After removing several inches of dust, I held my Bible on the side of my head and waited for it speak. Tell me, oh Bible, what am I thinking? What are my intentions? I waited and waited, yet nothing happened. Hmm . . . I wonder, am I doing it wrong? Then it dawned on me . . . Leslie is misinterpreting the Bible. Up from the recesses of my sin-addled mind came the memory of how this verse is often misinterpreted by Evangelical parishioners and pastors alike.

Hebrews 4:13 says (remember context, context, context):

Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

You see, the word of God is a HE, a HE that sees all things. This word of God is not the Bible, it is likely JESUS (see John 1). It is Jesus (or the Holy Spirit) who discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart. The Bible? It is a book that is no different from any other book. Written by numerous men — many of them unknown — over hundreds of years, the Bible is a compilation of religious, historical, and poetic writings. It is not, in any way, some sort of magical book that contains messages that can only be unlocked by those who have the special Evangelical decoder ring. Containing sixty-six books, the Bible is littered with contradictions and internal inconsistencies. All the Evangelical parlor tricks in the world can’t harmonize its words. Numerous Gods, numerous salvation plans, and numerous contradictory interpretations await those who dare to read its pages. Evangelicals such as Leslie will deny what I have written, oblivious to the true nature of the Biblical text. Filled with faith, God’s chosen ones thumb their noses at academics who dare suggest that the Bible is not what Evangelicals claim it is. In the aforementioned quote, Leslie told her readers to ask those who say the Bible has contradictions if they have ever read it. Yes, Leslie, we have. Perhaps the real question is whether Leslie has read any books by authors such as Bart Ehrman, Robert M. Price, or John Loftus, or a host of other non-believing scholars. These men were all, at one time, Evangelicals. Now they are atheists. I wonder if Leslie has studied the history of Christianity or how the Bible came to be? My money is on Leslie — if she has done any study at all — not having read any books by authors outside of the narrow Fundamentalist constraints of the Evangelical box.

Often, when Evangelicals say they have studied these issues, what they really mean is that they have read apologetic books written by Evangelical authors. Warned of the dangers that await those who read authors such as Bart Ehrman, Evangelicals only read books that are on the Approved Evangelical Authors list. And here’s what many non-Christians don’t know. Most Evangelicals NEVER read theologically oriented books. In fact, most of them rarely read the Bible. How then do Evangelicals come to know what they believe? Simple. Every Sunday at 11:00 AM they report to Bible Knowledge Class 101, also known as Sunday Morning worship. While Evangelicals are encouraged to bring their Bibles to church so they can follow along as their pastors teach them the Bible, once the service is over, these Bibles will be returned to storage, only to retrieved the following Sunday. When Evangelicals are asked about what THEY believe, most often what they reply with is what their pastor believes. He is the arbiter and purveyor of what is true. And like lambs to the slaughter, church members follow along. Yet, according to Leslie, these illiterate Evangelicals know more about the Bible than Evangelicals-turned-atheists who spent a lifetime parsing the Greek and divining every word of its text. Only in the Christian church does this kind of thinking exist. Imagine someone saying that only a person who lived at Hogwarts could “really” understand the Harry Potter books. Why non-Hogwarts-living Potterite readers would laugh at such a thought. As with all literature, anyone willing to read and study the Bible can understand its teachings.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Interpreting the Bible: One Book, Endless Interpretations

bono baptist church

Evangelicals would have you believe that the Bible is an inexhaustible book filled with the very words of God (as interpreted by them). Someone can read the Bible for fifty years and still not mine its depths. It’s the only book ever written that can never be fully understood, or so Evangelicals tell us. This is why no two Evangelicals can agree on exactly what the Bible says. As a Christian, I engaged in numerous discussions about a particular Bible text only to have my opponent say, well Brother, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Each of us had a version of truth, each of us had proof that our interpretation was correct. If the Bible is what Evangelicals claim it is, shouldn’t truth be concise, clear, and easy to understand? Why all the disagreement and heated debate among Christians over what the Bible teaches? Doesn’t the Bible say that God is NOT the author of confusion? Yet, everywhere I look I see confusion.

One of the reasons for the confusion is the Evangelical (and Baptist) doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. Unlike the Israelites of the Old Testament, Evangelicals don’t need Moses or a priest to go before God on their behalf. They can directly access God without going through a middleman. The same goes for the Bible. Since God himself, the Holy Spirit, lives inside every Christian, they have no need of a human to teach them what the Bible says. God is their teacher, and who better to teach Christians what the Bible says than its author, right? Here’s what the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:12-16:

 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

According to this text, Christians have received the Spirit of God and are taught by him. The reason someone like me, a natural man, can’t understand the Bible is because I don’t have the Holy Spirit living inside of me. Only Christians can spiritually discern what is truth. In fact, Christians have the mind of Christ — Christ being God — so this means that Christians have the mind of God.  If this is so, why is there so much confusion about what to believe and what the Bible says about most anything?

Christian sects can’t even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, and communion. Each sect thinks its interpretation is the one ordained by God and clearly taught in the Bible. Two thousand years of councils, decrees, confessions, and doctrinal statements reveal that Christians are incapable of coming to any common agreement on anything. Even the nature of Jesus and God are in dispute. Broaden the discussion to ecclesiology, eschatology, and pneumatology, throw in the endless debates over hermeneutics and orthopraxy, and you end up with endless versions of the faith once delivered unto the saints.

The Bible says one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God. It also says that God’s chosen people are to be of one mind, dwell in unity, and love one another. Yet, everywhere I look, I see the opposite. Many Lords, many Faiths, many Baptisms, many Gods, many minds and disunity, dysfunction, disagreement, and internecine war. Christians object when people like me point these things out. How dare I judge Christianity! All I am doing is using the same standard to judge Christianity as Christians use to judge my life and that of everyone else who is not a Christian. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, yes?

In 2003, I pastored Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. Victory, a Southern Baptist church, closed its doors a few years after I resigned. While many of the members were decent people, the church had lots of dysfunction, thus qualifying it to be rescued by Bruce Gerencser. As I look back on the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I can now see that I was drawn to churches that I could either start from scratch or fix. Victory was a fixer-upper, a church I thought God and I could get back on track. Instead of fixing the church, it fixed me. Victory would be the last church I pastored.

Victory had a traditional Sunday school, one that used quarterlies. I hated quarterlies, but I decided that I didn’t want the turmoil that would come from trying to change the Sunday school curriculum. One of the men in the church, Steve, taught the adult class. Every week, the adults would get together and take turns reading the lesson and the appropriate verses. Then they would discuss what the lesson/verses meant to them. That’s right, each class member had his or her own opinion, and each opinion was given equal weight. It was like taking a test where there are no wrong answers.

One week, the lesson was on election. As a Calvinist, I had a good understanding of the various soteriological beliefs on election. It was quite interesting to hear the various ‘what it means to me’ interpretations of election. The Sunday school teacher, a man with no theological training outside of being able to read, said the word “election” in the Bible meant “we get to choose.” I tried to gently explain to him that no sect taught such a belief, but his mind was settled; election, like in voting for a president, meant each of us making a choice of God and Jesus.

Take the photograph at the top of this post. This photo was taken at a specific place on a certain date and time. It only has one meaning, yet using the ‘what it means to me’ approach someone might conclude that BONO, of U2 fame, started a Baptist church or there is a church named after him. Surely, every belief, every opinion should be given the same weight and respect, right? Of course not. The photo is of the sign for the Bono Baptist Church in Martin, Ohio, an unincorporated village in Ottawa County. The sign is located on State Route 2, across the road from I ‘Heart’ U, God sign. I can vouch for the photo because I am the one who took it.

Multiply ‘what it means to me’ by the number of Christians in the world and you end up with millions of Christianities. Catholics love to point out that this is a Protestant problem, but they have their own version of ‘what it means to me’. The pope, the vicar of Christ, God’s representative on earth, is quite clear about using birth control being a sin. Yet, most Catholic women, at one time or another, use birth control. The same could be said of a number of set-in-stone Catholic teachings. Both the Protestants and the Catholics have a paint-by-number Christianity that allows Christians to ignore the color guide and use whatever color fits their fancy.

So, when a Christian sect, pastor, priest, blogger, Bible college professor, or church member says THUS SAITH THE LORD, the BIBLE says, or THIS is THE truth, I hope they will forgive me for laughing. At best, Christianity is a religion based on personal interpretation and opinion, with each person, to quote the Bible, “being fully persuaded in their his own mind.” At worst, it is the faith of the uneducated who, thanks to tribal and cultural influence, mouth beliefs they have no intellectual ability or desire to defend.

I have come to the conclusion that every Christian sect and every interpretation of the Bible is correct. DING! DING! DING! Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner! They all win! The Bible, along with 2,000 years of Christian church history, can be used to prove almost any belief. Calvinists and Arminians have been squaring off and fighting for centuries, each believing that their interpretation is correct and God is on their side. And even here, there are uncounted shades of Calvinism and Arminianism, with each shade resolutely saying theirs is the right color. From the most ardent Fundamentalist to the most liberal Christian, followers of Jesus use the Bible to prop up their beliefs. Yea! Go Team Jesus!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

No Bible No Christianity: Why Do Many Christians Distance Themselves From the Bible?

bible

If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. St.Augustine

Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ. St. Jerome

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. Irenaeus

This seal have thou ever on thy mind; which now by way of summary has been touched on in its heads, and if the Lord grant, shall hereafter be set forth according to our power, with Scripture proofs. For concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures. Cyril of Jerusalem

The generality of men still fluctuate in their opinions about this, which are as erroneous as they are numerous. As for ourselves, if the Gentile philosophy, which deals methodically with all these points, were really adequate for a demonstration, it would certainly be superfluous to add a discussion on the soul to those speculations. But while the latter proceeded, on the subject of the soul, as far in the direction of supposed consequences as the thinker pleased, we are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings. Gregory of Nyssa

Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right Basil the Great

There is no Christianity without the Bible. Bruce Almighty, Bishop of Ney

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16, 17

I am becoming increasingly weary of attempting to interact with Christians who refuse to see that the Bible is central to their faith. It seems that an increasing number of American Christians are uncomfortable with the teachings of the Bible. They think by saying I don’t worship the Bible, I worship God, or I am a follower of Jesus, not a follower of the Bible that they are somehow free of the Bible and its uncomfortable dictates.

No Bible Christians like to remind me that the early church operated according to oral traditions, as if this is somehow the end-all answer to my criticism. The problem with this line of thinking is that the oral traditions were codified in the letters that make up the New Testament, and this was completed within eighty years of the death of Christ. Go ahead and focus on the oral tradition of the church, but that has not been the standard for 1,900 years.

Take a look at Jewish temple practice during the lifetime of Jesus. Were they people of a book? Sure. The Scriptures were central to their religious practice. The first converts to Christianity were Jewish. They were very familiar and comfortable with the propagation and use of religious texts. For those who continue to disagree with me on this subject, I have several things I would like for you to consider.

When you attend church this Sunday, how much of your religious practice will be according to what your particular denomination/church/pastor believes the Bible teaches concerning the proper way to worship God (whether you believe in the normative or regulative principle)? When you recite the Lord’s Prayer or the creed of your church, what is their foundation? Oral traditions or the Bible? When your pastor stands up and preaches, what will he be preaching from? Oral traditions or the Bible? Would it be okay for your pastor to set the Bible aside and spend his time talking about this or that oral tradition, with you having no way of knowing whether he is telling the truth? What is your church’s objective standard of truth?

When a person claims to be a Christian, he or she is claiming they are a follower of Jesus Christ. By their profession of faith, they are willingly submitting themselves to the teachings of Christ. Where are his teachings found? How does one become a follower of Jesus Christ? Where do we find the necessary steps for becoming a Christian?

Your church has certain practices and beliefs because it believes that the Bible clearly teaches them. Even people who love to sit on the three-legged stool of Bible, reason, and tradition seem to forget, as they are busy extolling how reasonable their church is, that ONE of the legs IS the Bible. Even tradition-oriented churches like the Roman Catholic Church appeal to the Bible as a rule and standard.

Imagine for a moment a world without the Bible. Would you naturally come to the same beliefs about God, Jesus, Christianity, etc.? Of course not. There is little historical evidence apart from the Bible that Jesus ever existed, and no evidence that a person named Jesus was born of a virgin, worked miracles, or was resurrected from the dead.

For those who contend they can have Christianity without the Bible, please tell me how that is possible. Without Jesus, there is no Christianity and without the Bible, there is no Jesus. The foundation of the Christian church is the Bible, or perhaps better put, what the Bible says about God, Jesus, and salvation is the foundation of the church. Evangelicals go to churches that proudly say “Thus saith the Lord.” The Thuses are codified in the Christian Bible. Every Sunday, Christians gather together to worship their God, and in doing so they prove that the Bible is central to their faith.

Even liberal Christians are held captive by the Bible. Every liberal Christian, at some point or another, must say this or that part of the Bible is truth. No matter how much some liberals try to distance themselves from the Bible by appealing to tradition, reason, common sense, or their theology training, sooner or later they must return to the Bible as the ground of their faith. It is the Bible that tells them of Jesus. They can’t get that information anywhere else but the Bible.

It is quite amusing that I believe in the Bible more than many Christians do. I don’t see it as a divine text nor do I think any deity had anything to do with its writing, but I do recognize that the foundation and hope of the Christian church are found within its pages. Either you believe the Bible is truth or you don’t. Either it is your rule for faith and practice or it is not, Either you embrace the God and Jesus of the Bible or you don’t.

I get it, the Bible is a book hopelessly out of touch with the twenty-first century. It is a book that endorses things we now consider immoral and criminal. It is a book that glorifies a God who is mean, vindictive, violent, and petty. The problems with the Bible are legion. It has errors, mistakes, and contradictions, but it is still the foundation of Christianity. If a person is not willing to embrace the Bible, then it is time for them to admit they are not Christian. They might be spiritual or think Jesus was a great teacher, prophet, or example, but they are most certainly not Christian.

For twenty centuries, the standard of the Christian church has been the Bible. Regardless of what part reason and tradition played, the central focus of the church is the teachings of the Bible, particularly the teachings of the New Testament. Those attempting to jettison the Bible while still claiming to be a Christian are actually promoting a new religion, a religion that is not found in the history of the Christian church.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

They Come From a Storybook

grimm characters

Bethany (my 32-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome) and I used to religiously watch the hit TV show Grimm. She continues to watch reruns of the show over and over on Netflix and Amazon Prime.  She is quite intense when she watches the show and can easily recite to anyone who asks (or doesn’t ask) the Grimm storyline, complete with character descriptions.

One of the problems Bethany has watching TV is that she has a hard time distinguishing between fact and fiction. As we were watching Grimm, Bethany asked, they are all real, right? I snickered a bit, and then told her, no, they are not real. They come from a storybook.

Later, I was watching a crime procedural show and one of the characters explained how it is possible for a large number of people to testify to a certain event happening. The detective said:

People make things up and it is told over and over. Eventually it becomes common knowledge.

And then I thought to myself: just like the stories in the Bible.

I can just imagine an Evangelical preacher reading this post and doing this while screaming:

jumping man

THE BIBLE IS DIFFERENT!!! In what way is the Bible different? Think about this question a bit before trying to defend the Bible as a historically accurate, factual book (let alone inerrant and infallible). Do we have any more evidence for the Jesus of the Bible than we do the fictional creatures in Grimm? While there may have been a man named Jesus who lived and died in Palestine, is there any evidence for a Jesus who was the miracle-working, divine, son of God?

Just because people say something is so doesn’t mean it is factual or true. Evangelical preachers follow the path described above by the detective. They repeat stories that have been told over, and over, and over again — rarely asking, “is this true?” As with the end result of the telephone game, the Jesus story of the twenty-first century is wildly different from the Jesus story of the first, second, twelfth, or fifteenth century.

Evangelicals embarrass themselves when they assert that what they believe is exactly the same as what the first-century church believed. What is their evidence for this claim? Why, the passed-down stories about Jesus, passed down from Christian to Christian, sect to sect, for the past two-thousand years.

I am an occasional reader of Smithsonian Magazine. In the January 2015 issue, I learned from an article about Martin Luther King, Jr. that “King and his demonstrators were driven out of Selma by the police on “Bloody Sunday.” I also learned that the Watt Riots took place in 1967.

Imagine for a moment that I am telling my children about my life growing up in the 1960s. Imagine me saying to them, I remember seeing the Watts Riots on TV in 1967. My children would accept this as a fact because they know I was born in 1957, so I was alive during the race riots of the 1960s. Perhaps they would pass this on to their children, a story of how life was when Gramps was a kid.

The February 2015 edition of Smithsonian came out with a correction. King was not in Selma on Bloody Sunday. He arrive two days later. The Watts Riots? They took place in 1965, not 1967.

Now ponder how the stories of the Bible came into being and why people repeat them and believe them today. It’s really that simple.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Why Evangelical Christians Believe the Bible is the Words of God

bible word of god

Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own judgement or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human judgement, feel perfectly assured—as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it—that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God. We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our judgement, but we subject our intellect and judgement to it as too transcendent for us to estimate.  (John Calvin)

I wish Evangelicals would be honest about this instead of trying to “prove” the Bible is true, reliable, accurate, scientifically correct, historically precise, etc., etc., etc.

Evangelicals believe the Bible is the words of God because the Holy Spirit tells them it is. The Bible is truth because God tells them it is. Their belief is a matter of faith. If it is not, then they are guilty of using circular reasoning; the Bible is truth because the Bible says the Bible is truth.

Evangelicals embarrass themselves and their religion when they attempt to “prove” that the Bible is truth. One either accepts the claims of the Bible as truth or they don’t. It has always been about faith.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:1-6)

I am an atheist today because I do not have the requisite faith necessary to believe that the Bible is a supernatural book written by a supernatural God. I do not have the requisite faith necessary to believe that the Bible is in any way truth or God’s message to humankind. While I can competently discuss, argue, and debate the intellectual reasons why I think the Bible is the errant, fallible work of men, the reason I am not a Christian is because I am unwilling to set reason and rationality aside to accept, by faith, that the Bible is an authoritative text straight from the mouth of Jehovah.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

No Books Needed: I Just Read the Bible

john ruskin bible

One Sunday twenty years ago, several young families walked into the door of the church just before the start of the evening service. We rarely had visitors on Sunday evening, so their attendance was rather a surprise. After the service was over, I engaged one of the visitors, a young husband, in a bit of get-to-know-you banter. The man had little interest in chit-chat, immediately asking me several pointed theological questions. I did my best to answer the man’s questions, but I could tell that he didn’t approve of my answers.

Always the polite pastor, I told the disapproving man that I had a book that might prove helpful in answering his questions. The man curtly replied, I am not interested in reading a book. I just read the Bible and that is all I need. And with that, he said good night and his family walked out the door never to return.

Sadly, this kind of thinking is quite common in Evangelical churches, even among pastors. I know of one pastor who is proud of the fact that his study library consists of only a handful of books. In his mind, without any proper theological training, he is quite capable of properly interpreting the Bible. This pastor believes God, through the inner workings of the third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, teaches him everything he needs to know. In other words, he is an Evangelical version of the Pope. God speaks to him directly as he reads and studies the Bible. However, when church members profess the same, and those members’ interpretations of the Bible differ with his, why they are deemed to be wrong. If it is the Holy Spirit who teaches and guides Evangelicals, wouldn’t he be teaching each Christian the same thing? Yet, Evangelical churches are awash in competing theological beliefs, with each adherent believing that his interpretations are the right ones.

Years ago, I attended a preacher’s meeting (a monthly gathering of pastors for food, fellowship, and preaching) in Lancaster, Ohio. One of the speakers, a rather obese man, even by fat-man Bruce Gerencser standards, fashioned himself to be what he called a “Biblical” preacher. His sermon had no form or structure. He would read a verse, stop, and then say what God was “leading” him to say. As with the two previous illustrations, this preacher thought his personal interpretations of the Bible were the equivalent of God’s.

Many Evangelical pastors love to hide behind flowery theological sayings which are meant to convey the thought that their sermons are straight from God’s Office of Sermon Distribution. The truth is, their sermons are just their opinions of what the Bible says. That they refuse to read any other books but the Bible (and often read only one translation of the Bible) actually increases the likelihood that their interpretation is errant and fallible. These Bible-only people have, in effect, turned themselves into the final authorities on what God has said.

If I were still a Christian and looking for a church to attend, the first thing I would do is take a look at the pastor’s library. You can tell a lot about a man by the books he reads. If looking at a pastor’s library reveals a paucity of commentaries and language aids, you can be sure that man is not fit to teach others a religious text that is, by all accounts, a complex, difficult text to interpret and understand. Only in Evangelicalism is ignorance praised as a virtue. This thinking will, in the end, prove to be the death of Evangelicalism.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Is Christianity a Religion or a Relationship?

christianity a relationship

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

I’m sure you’ve heard it before: Man gives us religion, but Jesus gives us life; True Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship; Religion kills, Jesus gives life. According to this line of thinking, religion is bad and Jesus is good. I have often been told that my reactions and objections to Christianity are really about religion, not Christianity. In fact, I’ve been told, more than a few times by Evangelical zealots, that I never had a real relationship with Jesus at all. I had religion, but not Jesus.

There is this assumption that if somehow, some way, we can get back to a pristine version of Christianity; first-century Christianity; a Christianity that is pure and free from the trappings of 2,000 years of history, we will end up with the Christianity of Jesus.  This, of course, is bullshit. Western Christianity is actually the Apostle Paul’s baby, and I doubt most of those trying to find authentic-Jesus-Christianity would really want it if they found it. In Matthew 5-7, Jesus makes it clear what it means to be his follower. Modern-day Christians ought to contemplate these verses a bit before they say, I am a follower of Jesus.

Is there any such thing as pure Christianity? Even if we go back to the first century, we find division and controversy among those who called themselves Christians. They weren’t unified, and shortly after the death of Christ, we find a huge controversy between Peter and Paul over whether a person had to be circumcised to be saved. The early church was made up mostly of Jews, and many of them thought it proper to expect Gentile converts to adhere to the teachings of Judaism. As history shows, the followers of Jesus were considered a subset of Judaism for many years. And then we have James’ and John’s take on what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Their gospels bear little resemblance to that of Paul.

From day one, Christianity was a controversy-filled religion. Christianity was not something that was new. It was a culmination, completion, or extension of something that was old. According to theologians, Jesus was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament types and shadows. The New Testament church (the elect) became the covenant people of God. Without understanding Judaism it is impossible to understand Christianity. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say Judaism was not a religion, it was a relationship. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say religion kills, but Judaism gives life. Yet, one would be right to suggest that without Judaism (or the Bible) there would be no Christianity.

Judaism is a religion and so is Christianity. I realize that some people want to distance themselves from the modern Christian church. The church is a monolithic behemoth full of corruption and perversion, and there is little within the church that is worthy of emulation. But just because you don’t like organized Christianity doesn’t mean it’s not what it says it is.

Who is it that gave us the Bible? Men. Who is it, then, that told us about Jesus? Men. Who is it that tells us everything we know about the teachings of the Bible? Men. It is clear that men gave us Christianity. Using the logic set forth in the first paragraph, Christianity is indeed a religion. How could it be otherwise? If true Christianity is this mystical I-feel-it-and-I-know belief, how could people know for sure that they have the real thing? Well, the Bible says___________. Yes, and that brings us right back to the men at the center of Christianity.

For those who believe in the distinction between religion and Christianity, I would ask them to describe the differences between the two. I would ask them to tell me what this pure Christianity looks like and where I can experience it. I would ask them to explain to me how they can square the teachings of the Bible with their belief that one can have Christianity without the church.

This kind of thinking primarily exists in the United States. We are a nation of individualists, and that’s why we are attracted to individualistic (narcissistic) forms of religion. If the Bible teaches us anything, it teaches that Christianity is a communal religion with every believer being a part of the whole. The Bible speaks of the church as a body, and that every part is vitally important to the rest of the body.

Let me be clear, it is impossible for people to claim Christianity and reject the church. Without the church and the Bible, there is no such thing as Christianity. Since the church wrote the Bible, it is the church that gave us Christianity. To be a Christian requires a communal connection with a visible body of believers. It has always been this way, and it is up to the Christianity-is-not-a-religion crowd to show why it shouldn’t continue to be this way.

Feelings and personal opinions don’t matter here. What does the Bible say? Is the Bible the bedrock of Evangelical Christianity? I maintain that there is no Christianity without the Bible. It is up to those who disagree to prove otherwise. Show me how it is possible to have Christianity without the church or Christianity without the Bible. From my seat in the atheist pew, the church and the Bible are joined at the hip and each needs the other to survive.

I’m sure someone is going to ask why this matters to me. After all, I’m not a Christian, so why do I care? This issue matters to me because I write a good bit about Evangelical Christianity. Whenever my writing gets too uncomfortable for Evangelicals, they like to suggest that I am not writing about their brand or their version of Christianity. They like to suggest that I have confused religion with Christianity. When family members do bad things, they like to divorce themselves from their relatives and pretend there is no familial connection. But, like it or not, every Christian is connected to other Christians, and the crazy uncles and aunts are part of the family.

I will tell my Christian readers this: it is your Church, live with it. When you attempt to have a Christianity without the Church, you are in effect starting your own religion, the Church of the Churchless Christ-Followers. You are simply doing what Christians have been doing for 2,000 years, spawning tens of thousands of sects.  If you don’t like what you see, start something new, right? But no matter how much you try, and no matter how often you reinvent yourself, Christianity will always be a religion.

Wikipedia states it succinctly:

Religion is the belief in and worship of a god or gods, or in general a set of beliefs explaining the existence of and giving meaning to the universe, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

Christianity was, is, and always will be a religion.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Does the Bible Command Parents to Beat Their Children?

dennis the menance being spanked

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

The Bible speaks, you decide. And please, no revisionists who hilariously say that a “rod” is actually a shepherd’s crook used to gently guide the sheep (children) along.

The Bible says:

  • Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. Ephesians 6:1-3
  • Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Colossians 3:20
  • In the lips of him that hath understanding wisdom is found: but a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding. Proverbs 10:13
  • He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. Proverbs 13:24
  • Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. Proverbs 22:15
  • Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. Proverbs 23:13,14
  • A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back. Proverbs 26:3
  • The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. Proverbs 29:15
  • My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth, Proverbs 3:11,12
  • If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? Hebrews 12:7-9

These verses are often used to justify the brutal, violent beating of children and teenagers. God demands obedience, and children who refuse to obey should be beaten into submission. Through the centuries, countless Christian parents have used paddles, whips, hairbrushes, books, belts, or anything else that was handy, to beat their children. Better to beat them than lose them to the devil, right?

spanking

Most of us who were once Bible-believing, sin-hating, devil-chasing Evangelical literalists now see that our disciplinary methods were abusive, cruel, and ineffective. It’s hard to look back at how we disciplined our children as “unto the Lord” and not feel regret and shame. I know that’s how it is for me.

I was a stern taskmaster. I believed the Bible laid out the pattern I had to follow IF there was to be any hope of my children turning out well. I can now say that my children turned out well DESPITE the whippings I gave them. Their love, respect, and forgiveness overwhelm me. I don’t deserve it.

They know I was just doing what I thought God commanded me to do, but knowing that I inflicted unnecessary pain on my children is heartbreaking. I am often asked if I think all spanking — which is actually beating — is child abuse. In general, yes I do. I think there are better ways to discipline children than by hitting them. While I make some allowance for slapping a toddler’s hand now and again, I do not think hitting, punching, or slapping a child is the best way to get them to obey or conform.

Yes, the Bible says ___________________, and we who desire to live in a less violent world must be willing to say that the Bible is w-r-o-n-g. The authors of the Bible likely reflected the way children were disciplined during their time, but we have come to the place where we now know that beating children, for whatever reason, is not only unproductive, but it is also abusive.

spanking with belt

If you are a parent with young children, how do you discipline your children? I am an old man, the product of an era gone by, an era when violence against children was the rule and not the exception. If we truly want to live a nonviolent way of life, it must begin with our treatment of those who are innocent, weak, and vulnerable. If you had to give discipline advice to a young father or mother, what would you tell them? Please share your advice in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Evangelical Literalism: A Day is a Day Except When it Isn’t

bible literalism

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

All young-earth creationists are literalists, that is except when they aren’t. Let me illustrate this for you.

Six times in Genesis 1 the Bible says, the morning and even were the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth day. Young-earth creationists are emphatic that these days were literal 24-hour days.

In Genesis 2:1, the Bible states that on the seventh day God ended his creative work. According to other verses in the Bible, God rested on the seventh day. So God only rested one literal 24 hour day? I don’t know of any young-earth creationist who believes this.

God gave Adam the following command in Genesis 2:15-17:

And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it, And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Did Adam eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Did Eve? Of course they did. Did they die on the very day they ate the proverbial apple? Nope. According to Genesis 5:5:

. . . and all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.

Do you see the point I am making? Young earth creationists are literalists until it contradicts their interpretation of the Bible, then all of a sudden Adam dying on the day he sinned is meant to be taken metaphorically, or the word “day” really means a period of time.

I will repeat what I have said countless times: no one, not even Ken Ham, takes every verse in the Bible literally. Whenever it suits them or whenever it will bolster their arguments, Evangelicals are quite willing to abandon literalism.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser