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Tag: Calvinism

Is There Only One Plan of Salvation?

saved or lost

To hear many Evangelical preachers tell it, salvation is a transaction between God and humankind. Humankind is wicked, vile, and sinful, unable to do good and headed for eternity in the Lake of Fire. God, in his infinite wisdom, made a way for us to have our sins forgiven. Once we avail ourselves to this super-duper sin-erasing way, we have a ticket to Heaven that cannot be canceled. The moment we pray to Jesus and ask him to forgive us of our sins and come into our lives, one of Heaven’s angels puts a door hanger on a room in the Father’s House that says RESERVED.

Countless American Christians have prayed the sinner’s prayer and are certain that when they die, they will wake up in Heaven. They have successfully pulled the handle on God’s Salvation Dispensing Machine® and down the chute came a Fire Insurance policy that guarantees payment upon death. It is the only insurance that pays off to you AFTER you die.

Eternal security, also known as once-saved-always-saved, is a central tenet of many an Evangelical preacher’s soteriology. Once in the family, you can never leave the family. God’s family is like the mob, once you are in, you are in for life. What better thing to offer sinners than a guaranteed home in Heaven that costs them nothing more than a few heartfelt words?

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen

The Bible says in Romans 10:9,10,13:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Arminians — those who believe you can lose your salvation — object to the doctrine of eternal security. According to their theology, Christians can and do lose their salvation. Good works are necessary to maintain one’s salvation.  Calvinists also object to the doctrine of eternal security. They emphatically believe that a person must persevere, hold on until death. And if they don’t, this is proof that they were never really Christians.

Based on what I have written above, this means that someone such as myself, a reprobate, a denier of God and his offer of salvation, a man who once was saved, who once followed Jesus is either:

  • Still saved because once I was saved, I can never lose that salvation
  • Unsaved because I lost the salvation I once had
  • Never was saved

Over the years I have had numerous Christians tell me that one of these three statements is an accurate description of my present state. All of them are quite certain that they are 100% right about my standing with God and where I will end up when I die.

Every Christian sect would agree that salvation and eternal destiny are THE most important issues every person must decide. Amos 4:12 says, PREPARE to meet thy God. Surely then, God has made the whole salvation thing crystal clear, right? Nope.

Take the aforementioned verses in Romans 10:9,10, 13. It seems clear that belief = salvation = eternity in Heaven.  John 10:28 says:

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

and 1 John 5:13 says:

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

and Hebrews 8:38, 39 says:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

These are the verses on which the once-saved-always-saved believers hang their hats. Of course, Arminians and Calvinists both have arguments and rebuttals to the once-saved-always-saved interpretations. I once heard an Arminian preacher explain John 10:28 this way:

No man can pluck you out of God’s hand but you can jump out by yourself.

The point I am trying to make is that the whole notion of Christian salvation is hopelessly convoluted, complex, and contradictory. Right now, Evangelical preachers reading this post are:

jumping man

They are certain that THEIR soteriology, THEIR plan of salvation, is the right one. As I have stated numerous times, the Bible teaches multiple plans of salvation, with each plan contradicted by other Bible verses. Let me illustrate this. We already know what the once–saved-always-saved preacher says. Are there verses that contradict his salvation plan?

Hebrews 3:12-14 says:

Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end;

This passage seems to be quite clear. A brother (brethren) can have an evil heart of unbelief and walk away from God. He will only have salvation and eternal life if he is steadfast to the end.

Can a person, for a time, fall away, and then come back to Jesus? Is it possible for someone such as I to repent of my sin, renounce my atheism, and return to following Jesus? Countless Evangelical preachers would say, YES! It’s never too late. As long as you are a living, breathing soul, you can be saved.

But wait a minute!

billy mays

Doesn’t Romans 1 and 2 talk about people who can’t be saved, people who have been given by God over to a reprobate mind? Isn’t it too late for them? And what about the Jews? John 12:37-40 says:

But though he (Jesus) had done so many miracles before them (the Jews), yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.

God blinded the eyes and hardened the hearts of the Jews so they would not understand and be converted. In other words, these Jews couldn’t be saved. Does this no-salvation-for-you only apply to Jews alive during the days Jesus walked the streets of Galilee and Jerusalem? Evangelicals argue endlessly over the Jews and whether they can be saved or even need to be saved.

Now, if I can, let me land this plane. Consider a few passages from the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 6:4-6 says:

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

As a Christian, I was once enlightened and I tasted of the heavenly gift. I was made a partaker of the Holy Ghost, tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come. I am now an atheist and I have repudiated all that I once said I believed. According to Hebrews 6:4-6, it is IMPOSSIBLE for me to ever be saved again. Why? Because I make a mockery of Jesus’s atoning work on the cross.

The writer of Hebrews reiterates this in Hebrews 10:29-31:

Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Granted, theologians and preachers of every persuasion have explanations for the multiple, contradictory plans of salvation. Many will dismiss the Hebrews quotes with a wave of the hand, saying, these verses apply to the Jews not us. Others will open their sect’s systematic theology book, turn to the section on soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) and “prove” that any salvation scheme but theirs is wrong and will likely lead to eternal damnation and hellfire.

Here’s my point. If Christian theologians and preachers can’t agree on something as basic as salvation, what hope is there for those not trained in theology? How can people, without the preacher telling them, read the Bible and find out for themselves the way to Heaven?

From cover to cover, the Bible is a convoluted, contradictory mess. Try as theologians and preachers might to “harmonize” the Bible to fit their respective theological systems, they remain unable to simply answer the question, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 16 and Mark 16) Even with the passage that asks the question what must I do to be saved, Christian preachers argue amongst themselves over whether salvation requires baptism.

All of what I have detailed here is evidence that the Bible is very much a human-made book. Surely, if the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible as many Christians sects and preachers believe, one would think that the manner in which someone is saved, how one comes into right standing with God, would be clear. It’s not.

Let me finish this post with Bruce Gerencser’s salvation plan:

Live well, do good works, and die. The only heaven and hell you will experience in this life is what you and your fellow human beings create.

Straight from the mouth of Bruce Almighty, written down on this inspired, inerrant, and infallible page. Thus saith Bruce.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: God Requires Christian Couples to Have Children

john piper

It is normal, beautiful, fitting, natural, and normative, according to Scripture, both explicitly and — I would say — implicitly in many places, for a married couple to have children. This was God’s plan from the moment of creation; it was part of what was “very good.” “God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.’”

….

This is the whole drift of God’s word: children are a gift; children are a blessing. When they are withheld, it is a heartache — sometimes even a judgment.

….

What a sadness when many modern women, shortsightedly I think, choose to forgo that blessing, while millions would literally give their right arm to have it. That’s observation number one: it’s just the way Scripture leans.

….

Of course, we don’t know whether we will have a disabled child or not, who changes our lives forever. Of course, we don’t know whether a child will break our heart with unbelief. Of course, we don’t know if our child will live six hours and then die. And of course, we do know that our children will demand enormous, focused attention. We do know that to raise a child in the Lord demands spiritual desperation and prayer and focus and attention. We do know that there will be financial demands from our lifelong commitment to this child. We do know that there will be thousands of hours that you must deny yourself an immediate felt need in order to do good to this child.

But from the standpoint of God’s word, none of those possible heartaches and none of these guaranteed stresses are reasons not to have children, because the Bible does not share the modern viewpoint that the aim of life is the avoidance of hardship. On the contrary, the assumption of the Bible is that through many tribulations we enter the kingdom (Acts 14:22), and that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness (James 1:3), and that there’s joy to be found through giving ourselves away. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

In other words, almost all the arguments for not having children are built on a worldview radically different from the Bible’s worldview.

….

There’s another problem with presuming to think that we can do more good by not having children — like, for climate change. The problem is: we simply do not know whether our child will be a debit or a credit to the human race — a curse or a blessing, a taker or a giver. We don’t know. He may be a freeloader with a big carbon footprint, or he may be the genius who invents the very means of saving millions of lives. Who do we think we are? My goodness, who do we think we are to predict that our children will be a loss rather than a gain for the world, and for the glory of Christ, whom we can believe and pray to?

We don’t know, and it’s not our business to know. Our business is to give them life and raise them up and do what we can to build into them every dream and every possibility and power and blessing for the world — and for the glorifying of God.

And my final observation is that not one couple in a thousand decides to have children by sitting down and calculating the effect of their child on global warming, or the replacement rate for the population so that thirty years from now the workforce will be big enough to sustain the aged, or whether we will certainly have enough resources to establish the child in a fruitful location. It just doesn’t happen that way — not for 99 percent of couples. And I’m suggesting it shouldn’t happen that way; we’re not smart enough for it to happen that way, and the Bible doesn’t encourage us to have children with that mindset.

— John Piper, Desiring God, Are Christian Couples Required to Have Kids? August 3, 2020

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, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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What Pastor Doug Wilson Thinks of Feminists, Slaves, and Homosexuals

pastor doug wilson

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Doug Wilson is the pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, a professor at New Saint Andrews College, and former editor of Credenda Agenda magazine. Back when I was a Calvinist with theocratic leanings, I read Credenda Agenda religiously.

A friend of mine sent me a quote from Doug Wilson’s book, Southern Slavery, As it Was. (his co-author was Steve Wilkins) Here’s what Wilson had to say:

Sodomites parade in the streets, claiming that if we do not appropriate more money to study why people with foul sexual habits get sick, we are somehow violating their civil rights. Feminists, in rebellion against God, invert the order of the home established by God. They do so in a way that seeks to rob women of their beauty in submission and their security in being loved. For two decades, we have seen millions of unborn children slaughtered in abortion clinics. How did we get here, and what is the way out? The question cannot be answered fully without careful study of the War Between the States and the controversies surrounding it. Slavery was one of those controversies.

Let this quote serve as a reminder that this kind of thinking is not the exclusive domain of groups such as Westboro Baptist Church, the Phelps clan, and Steven Anderson. Bigots can be found in almost every sect; with the number of bigots growing increasingly larger as the sect leans in a more conservative direction.

Wilson asks, which morality will it be, but same-sex marriage has nothing to do with morality. Allowing same-sex couples to marry affords them equal protection under the law and grants them the same civil rights as heterosexuals. Each of us have a right to privacy. Consenting adults have the right to engage in whatever sexual conduct that floats their boat without the government regulating the behavior. Theocrats such as Wilson desire and demand that their interpretation of the laws found in the Bible be codified and made the standard for everyone.

I find it hard to see how this is any different from Muslims who want to institute Sharia law. As the quotes below will show, Wilson is quite willing to use the power of the state to enforce his version of Biblical law. Wilson also thinks that there may be instances when execution is the rightful punishment for someone breaking the Evangelical God’s law.

Such thinking should cause all of us to shudder. While Islam is center stage in our culture, proponents of God rule are working behind the scenes to destroy America’s secular foundation and legislate and enact a Christian version of Sharia Law.

Here’s a Wilson quote I found on The Wartburg Watch:

“You might exile some homosexuals, depending on the circumstances and the age of the victim. There are circumstances where I’d be in favor of execution for adultery.

….

I’m not proposing legislation. All I’m doing is refusing to apologize for certain parts of the Bible.”

Here’s a Doug Wilson quote about rape and marriage I found on the Love, Joy, Feminism blog:

A final aspect of rape that should be briefly mentioned is perhaps closer to home. Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence.

When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.

This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.

But we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine. Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless.

True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours.

Here’s a Doug Wilson quote about slavery I found on the Are Women Human blog (link no longer active):

Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, [slavery] was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world. The credit for this must go to the predominance of Christianity. The gospel enabled men who were distinct in nearly every way, to live and work together, to be friends and often intimates…

The [WPA Slave] Narratives consistently portray an amazingly benign picture of Southern plantation life. Affection for former masters and mistresses is expressed in terms of unmistakable devotion. Testimony to the good treatment, kindness, and gentleness of many so-called “heartless slave holders” abounds. Many of the old slaves express a wistful desire to be back at the plantation.

Slave life was to them a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care. In the narratives taken as a whole, there is no pervasive cry of rage and anguish.. abuses came from a distinct and very small minority.

And finally, here’s Wilson’s take on the Boy Scouts allowing gay scouts:

I believe that certain unspeakable things will be going on in Boy Scout tents within about five years — with our current tolerance pimps making it all happen — and they will be things that could best be addressed by a judicious use of the strongest form of disapproval a culture has. While I believe that the judicial law of Moses ceased when the nation of Israel ceased, as the Westminster Confession teaches, I also believe the general equity of the law remains. I believe that the general equity of the law includes this strong rejection of homosexual behavior. I also believe that the law of the Old Testament was the model for our common law system, and our system should work in the same way.

By the way, no need for any comments saying that I have confounded homosexuality and pedophilia. I haven’t, and am just giving an example of the kind of same-sex behavior I could see supporting the death penalty for.

But look what I just did. I cited an application of Leviticus 20:13 that could still have broad societal consensus, even in these jaded days. This being the case, what you will have to do is bookmark this page, wait about ten years, and send your outraged cries up to the skies then. By that point, a large number of boys will have been ushered into the fellowship of these men, and there will have been at least two HBO series exalting the lifelong friendships that resulted, and it will then be obvious and apparent to all (in 2023) that I am an incorrigible hater.

Imagine living in a world ruled by Doug Wilson and his merry band of Fundamentalists. No thanks. And that’s why we must continue to fight against those who continue to clamor for and work towards the establishment of an Evangelical Christian theocracy. We must not rest until we have metaphorically driven a stake through the hearts of those who want to enslave the world with their anti-human beliefs.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

iPhones Lead Us to Jesus

apple jesus
“Steve Jobs is Jesus” by Daphne van Kesteren

Calvinists are fond of claiming the Sovereign God of John Calvin is the first cause, the source of everything. Everything we atheists say, do, and have comes from the Christian God. There’s no aspect of our lives which are not created and controlled by the thrice holy God. No matter how vivaciously we object to such stupid claims, Calvinists say that we know in our hearts of hearts that this is true.

Supposedly, everywhere we look there is evidence for the existence of God. And not just any God either. Oh no, all the evidence points to John Piper’s God. Only those who are deliberately blind or reprobates deny what is clear to all who have eyes to see. Or so the Calvinist say, anyhow.

Take Greg Morse, a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and a staff writer for John Piper’s Calvin-24/7 website Desiring God. Morse writes about his interaction with a man who told him that he was happy without God.

Here’s what Morse had to say:

“I know you don’t believe me, but I do not need Christianity to be happy. I am happier than most Christians I know.” Looking up from his coffee, he smiled and assured me, “I am glad you found happiness in Jesus, but I am quite content without him. I have found my path to happiness, and I am glad you have found a different one. We stand at the same end, it would appear.”

I did not know what to say.

I knew how to share the Joy of the world to the discontent, the miserable, the downcast, but I stood perplexed at this man who told me, in no uncertain terms, “I do not need Christ to be happy.” Wasn’t his heart restless until it found its rest in him? He assured me it wasn’t. Didn’t he have a God-shaped hole in his heart? He swore that he didn’t. And what was more, he truly seemed to be, as far as I could tell, happy.

Most atheists would likely agree with the happy man’s sentiment. We don’t need God/Jesus/Christianity for our lives to have meaning, purpose, and happiness. Many of us were, at one time, Greg Morse. We believed that the Christian God was the sole source of all that was good in our lives. Our joy and happiness came from God alone, not anything we ourselves did. We believed, that without Jesus, our lives were steaming piles of worthless shit. This is especially true for those of us who were Calvinists. There’s no better theological system than Calvinism for destroying human value, purpose, and self-worth.

Morse wants atheists and other believers to know that despite their claims, everything they have comes from the Calvinistic God.

Morse writes:

God allows those who ignore him, reject him, despise his glory, and belittle his name to breathe his air, feast on his food, swim in his waters, hike in his forests, ski on his mountains, laugh, sing, and dance on his lands. He has not yet evicted them. He has not taken back his bread from their plates nor his air from their lungs. Rather — and note the benevolence of the God of the universe — he “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

….

The man that I spoke with took these gifts from God, enjoyed them, and refused to say thank you.

Man is the only creature other than fallen angels to pay God back so basely. God opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing.

How dare unbelievers believe that the good in their lives comes from their own efforts and that of their fellow homo-sapiens. How dare we think we don’t need God/Jesus/Christianity.

This seems like a good place to interject my all-time favorite TV prayer.

Video Link

The character played by Jimmy Stewart believes in giving credit to whom creThe character played by Jimmy Stewart believes in giving credit to whom credit is due. As an atheist, I don’t pray and thank God for the meals prepared by my wife. Why should I? What, exactly, did God do? Every aspect of the meal, from its raw ingredients to the finish product, can be attributed to things other than a deity. Over the weekend, I made fried chicken. It turned out well, although Polly might have something to say about Tornado Bruce’s cooking behavior. 🙂 If Polly said to me about all my hard work, All praise be to Jesus for this wonderful fried chicken, I would be more than a bit upset.

Morse, on the other hand, has never cooked a meal, or done anything else for that matter, without at least thinking that Jesus was worthy of all praise, honor and glory.

Morse concludes his post by telling readers what he would say to the aforementioned godless happy man if given the opportunity to do so again:

The Christian faith is not merely about man’s happiness, although God gives more joy than you can now imagine. Christianity addresses how sinful men, women, and children can be reconciled to their Creator and live happy lives for his glory. God has placed good gifts to summon you to see God’s ultimate gift: his Son, Jesus Christ. He came to save a people he didn’t have to save. To live a life we couldn’t live. To die the death we deserved to die. And to rise, summoning all everywhere to turn away from their sin, and trust in his finished work on the cross for sinners.

The smartphone in your pocket has everything to do with this God. The music massaging your ears, the colors jumping before your eyes, the gladness of heart and the love you feel are kindnesses from God with one message upon their lips: “Repent and believe.”

With a straight face with Morse asserts without one whit of evidence, “The smartphone in your pocket has everything to do with this [the Calvinistic] God.” In other words, if I carefully peer into the screen of my iPhone I will see “God.” That’s right, iPhones lead us to Jesus. Android phones? Straight to Satan and Hell! Only iPhones lead to the straight and narrow way.

That Morse would dare to utter such nonsense out loud is quite amusing. If we listen carefully, we can hear Steve Jobs hollering from Hell, Dammit! How dare God take credit for my creation, and that of Apple.

Nothing Morse writes is new. As a devout Calvinistic Evangelical, I heard countless sermons, and preached more than a few myself, that promoted the notion that we humans are helpless; that everything we have physically and materially comes from God; that without Jesus our lives are n-o-t-h-i-n-g.

How has your life changed since deconverting? Did you find it hard to give up giving all praises and blessing to God from whom all things flow? Do you now give credit to whom credit is due? Do you have Christian family who steals the credit for your happiness and success and gives it to their God? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

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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.

Questions: Was Biblical Inerrancy the Primary Reason I Deconverted?

i have a question

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Emersonian asked:

I suppose, not to assume that I understood Steve’s question better than he does (especially since he’s commented above) — the follow-up question is this: was there a line for you between rejecting biblical inerrancy/Christ’s divinity and embracing atheism? Obviously there are many folks (myself included) who believe in a concept of “god” without the trappings of evangelical Christianity . . . so I’d say, even if this wasn’t the question Steve was really asking, do you feel that you went through multiple stages of detachment from religion (rejecting evangelical Christianity, then Christianity as a whole upon further examination, then rejection of the concept of a God of any kind) or was it all a package deal — if the evangelical view isn’t true then all of it must be BS? I know that you and Polly did attend non-evangelical churches of various types after your departure from your former congregation: how did that inform your eventual acceptance of your own atheism?

Perhaps what Emersonian wants to know is whether I think I threw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater; that in abandoning Evangelicalism (the bathwater), I threw out God (the baby) altogether. I certainly understand how someone might read my story, miss a few of the connecting dots, and come to this conclusion. However, this is not what happened, as I shall explain below.

I have been asked on several occasions if I thought I would still be a Christian had I begun life in liberal Christianity instead of Evangelicalism? This is a good question, but one, of course, that I cannot answer. Playing the “what might have been” game is an interesting endeavor, but it is impossible to know how things might have turned out had I walked through door number one instead of door number three. I am sixty-two years old. The sum of my life is a long string of choices. Each choice sent me down a certain path. A different decision along the way would have sent me in a different direction. Maybe I would have married a different woman, gone to a different college, chosen a different profession, or lived in a different state. The fact remains, however, that I made certain choices that resulted in certain outcomes. So it is with me being an Evangelical Christian for 50 years of my life. I was born to Evangelical parents, grew up in an Evangelical home, attended Evangelical churches, went to an Evangelical college, and married an Evangelical woman. We spent the next twenty-five years ministering in Evangelical congregations, gave birth to six Evangelical children, and had numerous Evangelical cats and dogs.

My life was so deeply immersed in the Way, Truth, and Life of Evangelical Christianity that even today, eleven years removed from the day I walked out the Ney United Methodist Church for the last time, I wrestle with the vestigial remains of Evangelicalism. Now, this does not mean that I, deep down in my heart of hearts, still yearn to be a Christian. I don’t. What it does mean, however, is that five decades of Evangelical training and indoctrination left a deep scar upon my life; a scar that is fading with time, but will likely never totally fade away.

It is certainly true that coming to understand that the Bible was not an inspired, inerrant, infallible text shook my religious foundation. “If the Bible is NOT what Evangelicals claim it is,” I asked myself, “are any of its teachings true?” Answering this question forced me to re-study the central claims of Christianity; especially beliefs that were supernatural in nature. From creation to apocalypse, I took a careful look at the doctrines I once held dear. I painfully concluded that the central claims of Christianity could not be rationally and intellectually sustained.

I have always been the type of person who follows the evidence wherever it leads. This is why my theological foundation shifted several times when I was a Christian. I entered the ministry as an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher. Over time, I abandoned cheap grace, one-two-three, repeat-after-me soteriology and embraced Calvinism. A decade or so later I abandoned Calvinism. When I left the ministry in 2005, I was preaching what some of my critics called a social, works-based gospel. I was a far different preacher and man in 2005 from the one I was when I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in 1976. Time changes all of us, and I am no exception.

Take my eschatological beliefs. For many years, I held to a dispensational, pretribulational, premillennial eschatology. Once I embraced Calvinism, I adopted a posttribulational, amillennial eschatology. Countless other beliefs changed over the years. The more I read, the more my beliefs evolved. This approach to gaining knowledge continued as I contemplated leaving Christianity. The goal has always been the same: to know the truth.

“Why didn’t I become a liberal Christian?” you might ask. Surely, I could have abandoned Evangelicalism, yet held on to the Christian God. Maybe, but I doubt it. I value truth more than many liberal/progressive Christians do. Liberals seem willing to jettison virtually every Christian belief save believing in the existence of Jesus/God. Their beliefs can fit on the front side of a 3×5 card. I find myself asking, “why bother?” Such people are usually universalists, so there’s no concern about unbelief landing anyone in Hell. I suppose there is value in the social aspects of belonging to a church, but I enjoy sleeping in on Sundays far more than I do listening to terrible, lifeless sermons and attempting to sing songs best suited for the Vienna Boys Choir.

After I left the ministry and before I deconverted, our family visited over 100 churches in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Arizona, and California. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) We attended churches across the sectarian Christian spectrum. The only churches we avoided were IFB congregations. Our goal was to find a church to call home that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. After three years of searching, we concluded that all the churches we visited were pretty much the same. Sure, we experienced different liturgies, different worship/preaching styles, etc., but at a foundational level, these churches differed very little from each other.  I know, I know, every church thinks theirs is “special.”  Every church thinks their buffet is better than those of other churches. Every church thinks their flavor of ice cream (please see My Heart Goes Out to You or Please Try my Flavor of Ice Cream) is better than any other flavor. That’s what happens when you spend your life in inbred relationships; when you spend your life in religious bubbles that give the appearance of rightness. Ultimately, it was exposure to the “world” that led me down the path of deconversion. Once freed from the authoritarian hold of the inerrant Word of God, I was free to read and study whatever I wanted. I was no longer walled in by Evangelical beliefs. I was free to follow the path wherever it went. This led to where I am today.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

The Cruel Message of Calvinism

Guest post by Linda

One of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor in a church nursery, rolling a big ball to a little boy who would then roll it back to me. I was delighted with this simple game. An equally delighted adult was watching us. I can’t remember who she was, but I am sure she was smiling and encouraging us in our ball rolling. We were probably three or four years old. I felt safe, happy, and comfortable.

My family went to church every Sunday. I didn’t understand why of course, but it was always fun because there were other kids to play with. Eventually I outgrew the nursery and began attending Sunday school. In Sunday school the teachers were always ladies and they were always sweet. They taught us all sorts of Bible stories. It wasn’t quite as fun as the nursery had been, but it was pleasant and sometimes we got to color. We soon began learning about Jesus. We would sing “Jesus Loves Me” or the song about the wise man who built his house upon a rock, smacking our fists into our palms to show how good and solid the rock was. There was an important message in these songs, though I wasn’t sure what it was.

After a while, Sunday school took a more serious turn. Our teacher taught us about lepers. Lepers were people who had a terrible disease that caused their body parts to rot and fall off. Other people hated them and made them live far away. Only Jesus was kind to lepers. Jesus was better than other people. Like the Sunday school songs, there was an important message in this story. I still didn’t fully understand it, but so far, I liked Jesus a lot. I was glad he was nice to the sick people and he even helped one of them get well. I don’t remember the first time we heard about Jesus dying on the cross to save us, but the teacher started bringing it up every week. She told us it was very important for us to believe that Jesus died to save us from our sins. It had never occurred to me not to believe something an adult said, especially a teacher, so it seemed kind of strange that she thought we might not believe her story.

Around this time, I started learning to read. Thanks to TV, I even learned that all people did not use the same words as we Americans did. Some people spoke and wrote a language called Spanish. It had different words for things like “water” and “friend.” This was amazing. The subject of language came up one week in Sunday school when our teacher taught us about the Tower of Babel. In this story, God punished some men who tried to build a giant tower they could use to climb into Heaven. He did this by switching everyone’s words around. It all made sense now! That must have been where Spanish had come from, plus a whole bunch of other languages I had never even heard of. I found myself smugly wondering why God had written the Bible in English. I decided it must be because English was the best language.

It was the 1970s. Hippies were everywhere. Stores carried posters and signs with slogans like: “Keep On Truckin’,” “Peace,” and “Smile God Loves You.” One week our sweet Sunday school teacher had a warning for us kids. She told us not to believe the signs that said “Smile God Loves You” because they weren’t true. God did not love everybody. I didn’t think much about this warning at the time. I was already learning not to question the things I heard in church. As the years went by and I transitioned from a curious child into a quiet teenager, I grew frustrated with church. Those early lessons about kind and helpful Jesus didn’t mesh with the grown-up sermons about a righteous, angry God. The punishment doled out by God at the Tower of Babel seemed like a prank compared to burning unbelievers in Hell forever. I didn’t understand what we were supposed to do for Jesus. I knew that He had died for us wicked humans, but there was something crucial I was missing. Why did all these people spend every Sunday listening to the preacher talk about it? What was the point? Our preacher spent a lot of time and energy ranting about all these other preachers who had everything wrong. There was a long list of these false preachers. He also had a long list of behaviors that would not help you get into Heaven: praying, tithing, getting baptized, helping the poor, caring for the sick, winning souls, going to church, volunteering in church, building the church, studying the Bible, serving your community, and on and on and on. I got tense just listening to him talk about all the ways you could waste your time trying to be a good person. It was like listening to a song with an overly long introduction. I kept waiting for the tension to break and for him to finally say what we should do to get into Heaven, but he never did.

It occurred to me that church was vastly different from school. In school, you learned about a new subject, studied it, took tests on it, then you moved on to the next level. You repeated this process from first grade to second grade to third grade and so on. By the time you got to middle school, you didn’t keep going over the same topics you learned in grade school; you were expected to have them memorized so they could form the foundation of more advanced subjects. Not so in church. In church you went every Sunday, year after year, to hear the same lecture about how horrible you are and how you deserve to burn in Hell and how Jesus would save you from Hell if only . . . something. What that something was, I couldn’t quite grasp. I wondered if I was dumb. Obviously, every other person in church understood it, so why didn’t I? Confusion morphed into anger and I started to hate going to church. I was closing in on adulthood and longing for independence. It felt like church was keeping me trapped in childhood. My escape finally began when I left home for college at the age of eighteen. I was still a Christian, though I could not have described my actual beliefs to anyone who might have asked. I knew what I was supposed to say, but those Christian-approved words didn’t match up with the thoughts and emotions I kept inside. In college I made the shocking discovery that other people sometimes questioned the origins of the Bible. They talked about it as if it were any other book written by men. Even more shocking was the fact that college instructors now encouraged us students to think about these things. They wanted us to think! I couldn’t handle it. I decided they were all evil. Though I had problems with Christianity myself, it felt like an attack to hear others criticize the faith — my faith! Even so, I did begin allowing myself to think, just a little bit at first. This was the beginning of the end of my faith. It wasn’t until many years later that I finally left Christianity for good. It took a long time to get rid of the fear that I might accidentally come to the wrong conclusion and burn forever because of it. And it wasn’t until the advent of the internet, decades later, that I finally understood what our preacher was really saying all along. I had started reading online articles about Christianity in its various forms. When I came across a description of Calvinism, I realized that there was a good reason our preacher never told us what to do to get into Heaven. He did not believe it mattered one bit what we did, because God had already decided who was in and who was out.

I had heard this long ago, this doctrine of predestination. It hadn’t upset me too much back then, because I was so deep in fundamentalist brain fog that I couldn’t process the horror. It just didn’t sink in. Now I thought about all the convoluted, pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook I had heard masqueraded as wisdom. And I realized that the particular message of our peculiar brand of Calvinism did not require years of lectures to understand. It was as simple as it was cruel: God created some people to damn and some people to save. There is nothing any human being can do to change this situation so it is foolish to even try. I cannot describe the way this realization made me feel. I was astonished at how ridiculous it was, and at how many otherwise intelligent adults really believed that this was the sort of thing a righteous creator would do. It still gives me a strange feeling to think about how that church, which I first knew as a safe and happy place, was never anything more than a shrine to violence and injustice.

“Old-Fashioned” Preaching: Calling Sin Sin, Stepping on Toes, And Naming Names

old-fashioned preaching jack hyles

“Old-fashioned” is a word used by Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers and churches to describe their ministries and preaching. It is not uncommon to hear of IFB churches labeling themselves as “old-fashioned” churches. When asked what they mean by the word “old-fashioned,” IFB preachers will say “our churches are like the first-century churches in the Bible.” Never mind the fact that their churches don’t remotely resemble early Christian churches. IFB preachers see themselves as the keepers of the “faith once delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3) They believe that their Baptist theology is the same as that which Jesus, the 12 disciples, and the Apostle Paul preached almost 2,000 years ago. Sound like something straight out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? It is. As anyone who has spent time in “old-fashioned” IFB churches knows, such churches pattern themselves after 1950s Evangelical churches, and not the churches founded by  Peter, Timothy, and Paul. There’s nothing in IFB belief and practice that resembles early church practices. N-o-t-h-i-n-g.

IFB pastors frequently say that they are “old-fashioned” preachers, preaching the “old-fashioned” faith. What, exactly, is “old-fashioned” preaching? In what way does it differ from modern preaching? “Old-fashioned” IFB pastors think that “old-fashioned” preaching requires stepping on toes, calling sin sin, and naming names. “Old-fashioned” preaching is also called “hard” preaching. As opposed to what — “soft preaching”; on viagra preaching as opposed to erectile dysfunction preaching?

billy sunday preaching
Evangelist Billy Sunday, an IFB Idol

“Old-fashioned” preaching usually includes theatrics by preachers: loud preaching, shouting, pacing the platform, standing on the pews, pounding the pulpit, running the aisles with Bible raised high, to name a few. Such preaching is quite entertaining, but “old-fashioned?” Hardly. Such preaching styles find their roots in southern revivalism. People attend “old-fashioned” churches because they want to emotionally “feel” God. Thinking that they are “feeling” the Holy Ghost, well-intentioned congregants are blind to the fact that they are being psychologically manipulated by purveyors of “old-fashioned” preaching.

If I stopped writing at this point, most readers would laugh and dismiss “old-fashioned” preaching as a harmless cultural artifact of Christian Fundamentalism. However, many IFB preachers use “old-fashioned” preaching to abuse, manipulate, and control congregants. Imagine sitting in church on Sunday and hearing your pastor preach on the very “sins” you confessed to him during counseling? Or imagine being called out by name from the pulpit? Imagine having to sit in church and silently endure belittling sermons that are used by expert manipulators to control your behavior and that of your fellow church members? I spent decades of my adult life attending IFB churches. Such sermons are common. As an IFB pastor, I preached similar “old-fashioned” sermons. Imagine the poor school teachers who had to endure my sermon on the evil of unions. Or pants-wearing women who had to silently suffer as I lambasted them for their slutty dress. There was no “sin” that couldn’t be turned into a forty-minute, better-wear-steel-toed-boots, “old-fashioned” hellfire and brimstone sermon. I look back on that period of my ministerial career, and all I can say is this: “Bruce, you were a raving lunatic.” And so were my colleagues in the ministry, and the preachers I heard at preacher’s meetings and conferences.

Fortunately, I didn’t remain an “old-fashioned” preacher. In the late 1980s, I realized that what I was supposed to do as a pastor was teach the Bible to congregants and help them in their day-to-day lives. Of course, some of my colleagues thought I had abandoned “old-fashioned” Christianity or had lost my “fire.” Perhaps, but I came to a place in my life where I was content to just teach the Bible and let God do his work as he saw fit. I stopped the pulpit theatrics and abandoned the use of psychologically manipulative sermon illustrations. I also stopped giving altar calls. Granted, my new-found Calvinistic theology drove some of these changes, but the bigger issue for me is that I was tired of beating congregants over the head with the proverbial “sin” stick.

Did you attend an “old-fashioned” church? Did your pastor preach “old-fashioned” sermons? Please leave your “old-fashioned” thoughts in the comment section. 🙂

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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.

Black Collar Crime: Southern Baptist Pastor Stephen Bratton Accused of Sexually Molesting Teenager

stephen bratton

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Stephen Bratton, pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, stands accused of sexually molesting a teenage relative.  The Houston Chronicle reports:

A former pastor of a Southern Baptist church in north Harris County faces charges of molesting a teenage relative, sometimes multiple times a day, over the course of two years, court records show.

Stephen Bratton, who resigned from Grace Family Baptist Church in Cypress Station last month, was charged Friday with continuous sexual abuse of a child, Senior Deputy Thomas Gilliland said Saturday. The 43-year-old is accused of inappropriate touching that escalated to “sexual intercourse multiple times a day or several times a week” from 2013 to 2015, Gilliland said.

….

Bratton has been an outspoken pro-life advocate, making national news recently for supporting a failed bill that would have made it possible to criminally charge women who terminate their pregnancies.

Bratton came forward to his wife about the abuse on May 15, according to a probable cause document. She called his co-pastors at 4 a.m. to organize a meeting, while Bratton contacted them later that day to say he had “sinned in grievous ways.”

“It was criminal,” said David Shiflet, pastor of the Grace Family Baptist Church in Conroe. “That’s when he came clean.”

The criminal investigation began on May 16 after Bratton allegedly confessed to three Southern Baptist clergy members that he abused the child. Two of Bratton’s co-pastors, Aaron Wright and Erin Frye, met with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office at their church on Bammel Westfield Road that same day, while Shiflet said he referred the complaint to the Department of Family Protective Services.

….

Bratton has been excommunicated and is no longer receiving a salary from the church, Wright said.

“This person’s life is in such a contradiction to the faith that we see no evidence that they are a Christian,” he continued.

Bratton worked at the Old River Baptist Church in Dayton from 2004 to 2007. He now lists himself as unemployed on his LinkedIn profile.

The pastors declined to talk about Bratton’s family other than to say he was no longer living with his wife and their seven children. Court records show an emergency protection order was granted in the case.

….

Grace Family Baptist, a Calvinistic Southern Baptist congregation,  released the following statement:

We are aware of the situation regarding Stephen Bratton and the charges that have been filed against him and of his arrest on June 14th.

Stephen Bratton confessed to Erin Frye and Aaron Wright, both pastors at the church, of sexually abusing a minor in an ongoing way for a number of years on May 16th.  This is the first time this had been brought to the attention of the pastors.

This activity is wrong according to Biblical and civil law and the church condemns the behavior as abhorrent.

The elders immediately filed a police report with Harris County Sheriff’s Office the same day, May 16th.  As the weeks followed the pastors continued to make contact with the detective because they desired the case to be brought forward so that justice would be served.   Once the case began we continued to cooperate fully throughout the investigation.

The elders have called upon Stephen Bratton to accept the full responsibility for his actions and to place himself at the mercy of the criminal justice system.

Stephen is no longer in a position of leadership at the church and is no longer receiving a salary.

Stephen Bratton was also excommunicated by the church the following Sunday, May 19th. Therefore he is no longer a member of the church.

Currently we are working to meet the needs of the family and the victim.

We have deep grief for the victim and have sought to respect the privacy and identity of the victim throughout this process.

Much Like Mutual Orgasm, God Has “Perfect” Timing

gods-timing-is-always-perfect

Imagine for a moment a passionate, uninhibited couple making love. As their naked bodies writhe in unison, they reach a point of sexual release. And in that perfectly timed moment, both simultaneously have an orgasm. Nothing better, at least to me, than such moments in life. My wife and I have been married for almost 41 years. We have made love a time or two. As any long-married couple will tell you, not every sexual encounter leads to sky rockets in flight, afternoon delight. Sometimes, the sex is just good or okay. But there are also times when the sex is magical, when it seems that everything is perfectly aligned, leading to the type of momentary experience I mentioned above.

As I was reading a comment on social media from an Evangelical talking about God’s “perfect” timing, I thought about how this notion is quite similar to a couple having a mutual orgasm. Bruce, you have a “dirty” mind, some Evangelical is sure to say. Yep, I do. Now that we have THAT out of the way . . .

Most Evangelicals believe that their God not only created the universe, but also controls every aspect of their lives. Calvinists, in particular, preach up the sovereignty of God, believing that everything that happens — past, present, and future — is ordained and decreed by God. I wonder if the recent mass shooting at a Jewish synagogue by an Orthodox Presbyterian man has Calvinists questioning God’s string pulling in their lives? I doubt it. God is God, and if Calvinists stick to their fatalistic beliefs, they must conclude that the carnage and murder wreaked by John Earnest was according to God’s inscrutable will. The same could be said for every mass shooting.

Most Evangelicals believe that their God is involved in not only life’s big things, but also what is considered minutia, the trivial things of life. According to Evangelical orthodoxy, the Triune God of the Protestant Bible is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. God is all-powerful, present everywhere, and knows everything. According to the Gospels, God cares for the fallen sparrow and knows the very number of hairs we have on our heads. He is a God of detail; a God who pays close attention to the small stuff. Years ago, I preached a sermon about the cliché, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I rejected this notion, telling congregants that God sweated the small stuff and so should they. A cursory reading of the Bible reveals that the Christian deity most certainly cares about our every behavior. The Bible story that illustrates this best is that of Uzzah and the Ark of Covenant. 2 Samuel 6:1-8 states:

Again, David gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose, and went with all the people that were with him from Baale of Judah, to bring up from thence the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the Lord of hosts that dwelleth between the cherubims. And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals. And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God. And David was displeased, because the Lord had made a breach upon Uzzah: and he called the name of the place Perezuzzah to this day.

Uzzah, being a good Jew, saw the Ark shaking, and fearing the embodiment of God’s presence would fall, he put out his hand to steady it. How did God reward Uzzah for his quick save? He smote him — love the King James Bible! — and Uzzah died.

According to the Rational Christianity website:

The Ark of the Covenant was an embodiment of God’s presence with the Israelites. The atonement cover (or “mercy seat”) that covered the ark was God’s throne (2 Sam 6:2) and God’s presence was above it (Lev 16:2); it was also the place where God met Moses and gave him commands (Ex 25:22). If someone approached the ark, they would effectively be in God’s presence – a sinner standing before a holy God who does not tolerate evil (Ps 5:4-6) – and would die as a result of their sins. For this reason, God had given the Israelites many rules concerning the Ark of the Covenant. It was to be kept in the Most Holy Place in the temple, hidden from view by a curtain (Ex 26:33). Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and then only after he had undergone ceremonial cleansing, made sacrifices to atone for his sins and the nation’s sins, and burned incense to conceal the atonement cover (Lev 16). When the ark was moved, it was covered with at least 3 layers of cloth by the priests to protect others from seeing it (Num 4:5-6, 15, 18-20); the priests/Levites carried it and everyone else had to stay about a thousand yards away (Josh 3:4). These laws enforced the concept of God’s holiness: sinful people couldn’t be in his presence, not even the high priest.

Hence, when Uzzah touched the ark, he was profaning it and disobeying God; he should have grabbed the poles used for carrying the ark instead, for that was their purpose (Ex 25:14-15)

God sure made his point, didn’t he?

Another Bible story that punctuates God’s attention to triviality is found in Acts 5:5-11:

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.

Acts 4 details the story behind the aforementioned passage of Scripture. Recent Jewish converts were selling their lands and houses and giving the proceeds to the Apostles so they could buy a Lear jet. Verses 34 and 35 state:

Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

Married converts Ananias and Sapphira want to do their part, so they sold a parcel of land, planning to donate the money to the Apostles. Being good Independent Baptists, however, Ananias and Sapphira decided to short God a few bucks so they could take a vacation to Rome. Somehow, the Apostle Peter, who just weeks before denied knowing Jesus, found out about Ananias’ and Sapphira’s greed and exposed their subterfuge. Once exposed, God rained judgment down upon their heads, killing them both. As a pastor, I said on more than one occasion that if God still killed Christians today for lying as Ananias and Sapphira did, churches would be empty. One little lie, and God struck both of them dead. Damn, Jesus, your Father sure has a temper!

It’s clear from Holy Writ that the Evangelical God cares about everything Christians do. Thus, it is not surprising that Evangelicals believe that Jesus sits in Heaven hearing their prayers, making sure that their requests align with his will. And at the exact moment a prayer lines up with the perfect will of God, the request is granted, leading the recipient to praise God’s “perfect” timing.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Evangelicals believe that these verses teach that there is a time (and purpose) for everything. Evangelicals are known for divining what happens in their lives as God’s “perfect” timing. Meet a man at Starbucks you later marry? God’s “perfect” timing. Find a red Ford Fiesta at a price you can afford? God’s “perfect” timing. Need a house to rent and find one that’s just the right price? God’s “perfect” timing. Receive a call from a church wanting you to be their next pastor? God’s “perfect” timing. Leaving a church to pastor another church? God’s “perfect” timing. Having sex with your secretary in your study? God’s “perfect” timing. Okay, I am kidding about the last one. That aside, Evangelicals believe that whatever unfolds in their lives is according to some sort of divine clock God uses to determine what will and won’t happen in their lives.

Bruce, this is nonsense! Yes, it is, but this doesn’t change the fact that most Evangelicals view God as the controller of their lives (as do many Catholics, Muslims, and other religious people). In the real world, there’s no master string-puller. Luck, and not divine decree, often facilitates many of the events in our lives. Back in my college days, I believed the Evangelical God brought my wife and me together. After all, I had planned to enroll at Prairie Bible Institute in Canada, but at the last minute God — also known as a lack of money — “led” me to register for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I planned to have fun dating as many girls as I could, eventually settling on one to marry when I was a junior or a senior. God, however, had other plans for me — a beautiful, dark-haired seventeen-year-old preacher’s daughter. I dated one girl for a couple of weeks, but then I decided to ask Polly out on a date. Talk about God playing matchmaker!  Six months later, I asked Polly to marry me, and in July we will celebrate 41 years of marriage. God’s will? God’s timing? Pfft! . . . Luck, just plain luck. Two years before meeting Polly, I was wildly in love with a college girl I met while attending a Baptist church in Sierra Vista, Arizona. We talked about marriage, and for six months we had one hell of a torrid relationship — within the boundaries of no-sex-before-marriage Christianity. And then, POOF! our relationship was over and I moved back to Ohio. Years later, I would conclude that had this girl and I married, one of us would had ended up in prison for murdering the other. Both of us had similar personalities: outgoing and temperamental. Was our failed relationship God’s “perfect” timing for our lives? Of course not. We were lucky that we dodged a bullet.

As I look back over my life, I can see luck playing out time and time again. Not always, of course. Sometimes, I can see that things happened because of decisions I made or decisions that were made by others. Who is absent in this survey of my life, however, is the Christian God.

The next time you are having an awesome roll in sheets with your lover, I hope when you achieve that mutual orgasm, you will be reminded of God’s “perfect” timing. 🙂 Or at the very least, how lucky you are to have had such a wonderful experience.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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.