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Tag: Deconversion

What Shall We Say About Evangelicals-Turned-Atheists Who Return to Christianity?

i have a question

A reader named Martin read the post The Lies Evangelicals Tell About Being Former Atheists or Evangelizing the Godless and asked:

“I can’t imagine someone rejecting all he knows to be true for a belief system that he has already deemed incoherent, irrational, and false.”

Isn’t this just the atheist version of “once saved always saved”? Once an atheist, always an atheist. “You didn’t have true disbelief, you were merely a none!”

Here’s what I said in context:

So when I hear Evangelical talking heads speak of being atheists before they became Christians, I want them to explain how they are using the word “atheist.” More often than not, they are using the word incorrectly. The word “atheist” is not a placeholder for unbelief. When an Evangelical tells me he was an atheist before becoming a Christian, I want to know exactly how he became an atheist. If he says, oh, I always was an atheist, I then know that he was a NONE and not an atheist. The same goes for people who say they were Evangelicals, became atheists, and then later returned to Evangelicalism. While it is certainly within the realm of possibility for someone to follow such a path, I have a hard time believing someone who says he was a studious atheist, realized the error of his way, and became an Evangelical. Knowing first-hand what goes into someone leaving Evangelicalism and embracing atheism, I can’t imagine someone rejecting all he knows to be true for a belief system that he has already deemed incoherent, irrational, and false. It leaves me wondering, what is the real reason for returning to the Evangelical cult?

I never speak in absolute terms. I recognize when it comes to human beings, almost anything is possible. Thus, I would never say “once an atheist, always an atheist.” I would say, however, that when I hear that people who were Evangelical-turned-atheists returned to atheism, I question their motives for doing so. Why did they become atheists to start with? Why did they really embrace Evangelicalism again?

People who deconvert from Evangelicalism primarily do so for intellectual reasons. They reach a place where they conclude that the central claims of Christianity are not true. Certainly, psychological and emotional factors play a part, but most Evangelicals-turned-atheists I have talked to told me that the main reason they are no longer Christians is that they don’t believe the Bible and the teachings of the church are true. Thus, when people return to Christianity after claiming to be atheists, I have to wonder if they did the intellectual work required to become an atheist. It’s hard (not impossible) for me to imagine people knowing that Christianity is built on untruths and myths ever returning to the faith they left. Sure, it happens, but it is rare.

Why then do people return to the garlic and leeks of Egypt (Christianity) once they have found the Promised Land (atheism)? Over the past fifteen years I have been writing about Evangelical Christianity a handful of notable Evangelicals-turned-atheists have returned to Evangelicalism. A few of them embraced liberal forms of Christianity, sects where they could believe in evolution and universalism and still be considered Christians. Most of them returned to the faith because they missed the “church,” with its community and fellowship. We atheists don’t do fellowship and community very well. It can be lonely being a heathen in a local community of Christians. Some people can’t handle this loneliness (and this is not a criticism) so they return to that which was familiar and comfortable for them — the church. They find some way to be at peace with the cognitive dissonance they have, choosing personal peace and happiness over reason.

I don’t know of one committed Evangelical who deconverted for intellectual reasons and later returned to Christianity for intellectual reasons. I am sure they exist, I just don’t know of any. How can someone rationally conclude that the Bible is errant and fallible; that Jesus was not divine; that Jesus was not virgin born; that Jesus was not a miracle worker; that Jesus did not resurrect from the dead and then return to a sect who believes these things are true and requires you to believe them if you want to be a member of the church? That seems to be a bridge too far.

Sadly, Evangelical churches and preachers love to publicize and promote these reclaimed sheep. Imagine if I publicly announced that I was no longer an atheist; that I was returning to Christianity and the ministry. Why, I would be an overnight celebrity! I would quickly have scores of speaking gigs and a fat bank account balance. “Evangelical Preacher-Turned-Atheist Bruce Gerencser Returns to the Faith! Come Hear His Exciting Testimony of Deliverance from the Jaws of Satanic Atheism.” I am sure I would write a few books. Churches would have me come to teach people how to win atheists to Christ. No one would ever bother to ask me WHY? All they see is a reclaimed soul for Jesus. They aren’t interested in hearing the real reasons I returned to the fold.

I surmise many Evangelicals-turned-atheists expected more from atheism than it could provide (nor was ever meant to provide). A man and woman were married for twenty-five years. Over time, they grew distant from each other. Realizing they both had different needs and wants, the couple divorced and when their separate ways. One night the man called the woman to see how she was doing. He suggested they eat dinner together and catch up. One thing led to another, and the couple ended up in bed. Why? Familiarity. I suspect that is one of the primary reasons Evangelicals-turned-atheists return to Christianity. They want, need, and crave the familiarity they had with their “lover,” the church. I don’t fault them for doing so. Just don’t tell me they did so for intellectual reasons. Either Christianity is true or it’s not. If you through skeptical inquiry and careful, thorough study, conclude that the central claims of Christianity are false, what evidence could later convince you that you were wrong? I can’t think of any. Thus, if you return to the faith, you are likely doing so for reasons other than intellectual.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Deconstruction Advice for Evangelical Christians

deconversion

What would prompt you [someone who has questions about Christianity] to feed on the garbage you’re reading and watching, thereby polluting your mind?…Certainly, someone does need to read and interact with secular material, but that person is not (yet) you. You first need to prepare yourself…Quit reading and watching the infidel material you’ve been absorbing. Confess your recklessness and irresponsibility to God. Notice: I’m not saying, quit asking questions. I’m saying, quit going to the wrong people for answers.

Evangelical Apologist William Lane Craig

I get a lot of emails from Evangelical Christians who are struggling with their faith. Pastors, evangelists, missionaries, college professors, and devout church members will contact me about their existential struggles. Some of them have questions, others just want someone to listen to them. Consider how bad it is for many Evangelicals that they can’t talk to their pastors or other church leaders, so they contact a stranger on the Internet. They read my story and it resonates with them. They see me as someone who will understand, and they hope I will listen to them or answer their questions.

My goal as a writer has always been the same: to help people who have doubts and questions about Christianity and to help people who have left Christianity altogether. My objective has never been evangelization. While scores of people have deconverted after interacting with me, that’s never been my goal. I genuinely want to help people. I suspect that I am not much different today from the way I was as a pastor. Of course, I no longer see salvation or restoration as the end-all. I am content to help people wherever they are on this journey called life. I don’t try to “save” people. I’m content to let people come to their own conclusions. I might challenge their worldview and beliefs, but I know that their journey is theirs, and I’m content to let them follow the path wherever it leads. Any movement away from Fundamentalism (please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) is a good one.

When interacting with deconstructing Evangelicals, the first thing I do is listen. I am fascinated by their stories, so similar, yet so different. Sadly, they find themselves in a lonely place. No one wants to listen to them. Their pastors see them as a “problem” that needs to be fixed. Evangelicalism demands conformity and obedience. While differences of belief are permitted, typically they are discouraged or expected to fit closely defined parameters. Evangelicalism is like a box. Church members are free to wander within the box, asking hard questions such as premillennial or postmillennial, KJV or NIV, speaking in tongues or not, Calvinism or Arminianism, and a host of other game interpretations. Asking hard questions about God, the Bible, and the central claims of Christianity are unwelcome, and will quickly bring a visit from the pastor or a list of approved books from Evangelical apologists to read. Dare to climb out of the box to see what’s on the outside and you will be judged, condemned, and marginalized. And in some cases, you will be asked to shut the hell up or you will be threatened with excommunication. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You Are In It and What I Found When I Left the Box.)

When interacting with Evangelicals, the first thing I do is encourage them to read books and blogs, listen to podcasts, and watch YouTube videos. I suggest they stay away from Evangelical apologists and preachers. Such people have an agenda: to keep asses in the pews and money in the offering plates. Their goal is to maintain the status quo and protect at all costs that which they and their fellow gatekeepers have built. They know that providing honest answers to questions about God, the Bible, and church history will cause more doubts and questions, and even unbelief.

When dealing with Evangelicals, I always recommend they read authors such as Bart Ehrman and John Shelby Spong. If I sense they can handle stronger doses of medicine, I recommend authors such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the anthologies published by John Loftus. These men speak truth, but their books can be difficult for sensitive Christians to swallow.

If, as Evangelicals allege, God, the Bible, and life after death are the most important things facing the human race, then it behooves us to know whether their claims are true. Reading books written by Evangelical authors will only reinforce, not challenge, beliefs. Such writers are certain they are right, and they want you to be just as certain as they are. Non-Evangelical authors are usually more interested in facts and evidence. Their goal is education, not evangelization and conversion.

The second thing I do is encourage them to talk to people who have different beliefs from theirs. Visit non-Evangelical churches. Interact with writers who are willing to listen and try to answer what questions you might have. My inbox is always open. I will interact with some people for a time and then I won’t hear from them again. I am quite happy to be “used” if I can help people in some way. Sometimes, people will reconnect with me years later. Often, they email me to let me know where they are in life or that they are now an atheist.

Third, I ask people to be brutally honest with themselves. Meet truth in the middle of the road and do business. Don’t try to back up or go around. If people are willing to do so, they will always end up exactly where they need to be. While many of them will remain Christians, I am confident that they will come to understand that Evangelicalism cannot be rationally sustained; that the Bible is not inerrant or infallible; that many of their beliefs are irrational and harmful. Evangelicalism sells itself as THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life, but many people learn that there is a Christianity that exists that is not Fundamentalist; one built on a foundation of love, peace, mercy, and kindness. While I am always happy when people embrace atheism, I know that most people won’t. Thus, I gently encourage people to expand their religious horizons. The goal, from my seat in the atheist pew, is to smother the life out of Evangelicalism.

Hopefully, this short post will be helpful for those who are on the path away from Evangelicalism. I have no interest in arguing with zealots or debating apologists. I don’t intend to cast my pearls before swine. But I do want to befriend deconstructing Evangelicals and help them in any way I can.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Responding to John Piper’s “Five Reasons Evangelical Christians Fall Away”

john piper
John Piper

John Piper recently delivered the commencement address at Bethany College and Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Titled Seventy Years Without Shipwreck, Piper humble-brags about the fact that he has been a Fundamentalist Christian for seventy years; that God has never forsaken him; that he never deconverted.

Piper begins his address by letting students know that he doesn’t like the word “deconversion.” Piper thinks the word is trendy; a word devised by Satan to mask what is really going on; a word that has no basis in reality (since, according to Piper’s Calvinistic theology, it is impossible to “deconvert”).

Piper states:

The word deconversion is not in the Oxford English Dictionary. At least, not yet. Words are created to name reality, not the other way around. But we didn’t need the word deconversion. The Bible abounds with words and descriptions of some forsaking Christ:

apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:3)

falling away (Matthew 24:10)

shipwreck of faith (1 Timothy 1:19)

turning back from following the Lord (Zephaniah 1:6)

trampling underfoot the Son of God (Hebrews 10:29)

going out from us (1 John 2:19)

cutting off of a branch (John 15:2)

becoming disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27)

turning away from listening to the truth (2 Timothy 4:4)

denying the Master who bought them (2 Peter 2:1)

We didn’t need a new word. My guess is that the new word deconversion came into existence so that the old, foolish, tragic, heart-breaking reality could feel as trendy as the word. How shrewd is our enemy.

The overarching premise of Piper’s address is that people deconvert not for unresolved questions about “history, science, logic, or ethics,” but because they have a deep-seated love for “darkness” and sin. Yes, the reason you and I walked away from Christianity is that we wanted to sin; that our faith precluded us from fulfilling our lusts and desires, so we divorced Jesus so we could fuck, steal, lie, cheat, and murder to our heart’s content.

penn gillette

While this argument may work with those uninitiated in Evangelical Christianity, those who spent their lives working in God’s vineyard (and coal mine) know better. There’s plenty of fucking, stealing, lying, cheating, and murdering going on among God’s elect. Murder, you say? Yes, murder. One church member I pastored murdered his infant daughter by shaking her to death. Another church member slaughtered his ex-girlfriend with a knife in a fit of rage. He is presently serving a life sentence. While neither of these men were “committed” followers of Jesus, they both professed saving faith in Jesus Christ. Besides, I personally know a number of on-fire Christians, pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and college professors who committed adultery and fornication — both heterosexual and homosexual. Piper has been in the ministry too long not to know these things. There’s no difference between how Christians live and how the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines and Jezebels of the world live.

Piper goes on to list five ways the deconverted sin. First, they have a love for “life’s cares, riches, and pleasures. Second, they have a “love for the present age.” Third, the deconverted “reject a good conscience.” Forth, they become “re-entangled in worldly defilements,” and finally the deconverted have been led astray by the “deceitfulness of sin.”

Piper sums up his five points this way:

I don’t think you will find any exceptions to this in the Bible. The root cause of apostasy, or falling away, or making shipwreck of faith, or deconversion, is not the failure to detect truth, but the failure to desire holiness. Not the absence of light, but the love for the dark. Not the problems of science, but the preference for sin.

In other words, Piper only sees one reason for our apostasy: sin. No matter what we say, no matter how many times we tell our stories and explain ourselves, the Pipers of the world refuse to accept we what say at face value. I can only conclude, then, that Piper and his ilk deliberately lie about unbelievers and their motivations, using their apostasy to justify their theological beliefs.

Piper concludes his address by saying that Christians who deconvert were never True Christians®. Of course, he does . . .

Piper states:

We all know — you have been well taught — that God never loses any of his elect. Not one of his predestined children is ever lost. “For those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). None of them deconverts finally. The ship of saving faith always makes it to the haven. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

With a quote from the Bible and a wave of his arrogant, self-righteous hand, Piper dismisses millions of people who were once devoted followers of Jesus; people who loved the Lamb and followed him wherever he went; people who committed their lives to sacrificially serving the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords; people who were Christian in every possible way. I was part of the Evangelical church for fifty years, and a pastor for twenty-five years. Much like Piper, I was a Christian for a long, long time. Imagine if I dismissed Piper’s faith out of hand. After all, he has not lived a sinless life; marital problems, disaffected children, and all sorts of less-than-Christian behavior. Piper would rightly be offended if I dismissed the totality of his life, focusing, instead, on his “sins.” Maybe the good pastor secretly has hedonistic desires, and not the Christian kind that he loves to preach about.

How about we accept each other’s stories at face value? That’s what decent, thoughtful people do. When a Christian tells me their conversion story, I believe them. I expect the same treatment in return. I once was a Christian, and now I am not. But, Bruce, the Bible says ____________. That’s your problem, not mine. My past life was one of devotion to Jesus and the work of the ministry — in thought, word, and deed. It’s your thinking that needs to change, not mine. And as long as Piper and his merry band of keepers of the Book of Life continue to ignore the stories of those who have walked away from the faith, they will never truly understand why an increasing number of believers are exiting the church stage left.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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 Our Christians Friends Leave Us When We Deconvert

church is a family

One thing being a part of a church does for us is give us a community through which we find meaning, purpose, and identity. I spent the first fifty years of my life in the Christian church. For many years, I attended church twice on Sunday and on Wednesdays or Thursdays for prayer meeting. These church families I was a part of were central to my life. Most of my friendships were developed in connection with the church and my work as a pastor. I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I developed scores of friendships, not only with congregants but also with colleagues in the ministry. As a pastor, I would attend pastor’s conferences and meetings. It was at these meetings that I had opportunities to talk with my preacher friends, sharing with them my “burdens.” We would laugh, cry, and pray together, knowing that the bond we had as fellow followers of Jesus and God-called preachers of the gospel was rooted in loving each other as Christ Jesus loved us.  A handful of preachers became close, intimate friends with my wife and me. Our families would get together for food, fun, and fellowship — hallmarks of Baptist intimacy. We saw vulnerabilities in each other that our congregants never would. We could confide in each other, seeking advice on how to handle this or that problem or church member. When news of church difficulties came our way, we would call each other, or take each other out for lunch. These fellow men of God were dear to my heart, people that I expected to have as friends until I died.

As a teenager, I had lots of friends, male and female. Most of my friends were fellow church members, though I did have, thanks to playing sports, a few friends in the “world.” I always found it easy to meet new people and make friendships. I had no qualms about talking to complete strangers, a gift that suited me well as a pastor. As a nineteen-year-old boy, I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I quickly made a lot of new friends, including one who sleeps beside me to this day. I lived in a dorm room with three other men. Virtually every waking hour of my life was spent with fellow students — at church, school, and social events. As anyone who has ever lived in a college dormitory will tell you, dorm life is busy and full of activity. Practical jokes were an everyday occurrence, and, as a consummate jokester, I found great satisfaction in pulling one over on my fellow students. I lived on a dormitory wing that was labeled the “party” wing. The other dormitory wing was called the “spiritual” wing. My fellow party-wing residents loved Jesus, but they loved having a good time too. The spiritual wing? They loved Jesus too, but frowned on doing anything that might be perceived as bawdy or mischievous.

One day, a pastor by the name of A.V. Henderson preached at chapel (students were required to attend chapel five days a week). I have preached and heard thousands of sermons in my lifetime. I remember very few of them. I do, however, vividly remember Henderson’s sermon, even forty-five years later. Henderson was the pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Detroit. Temple was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) megachurch founded by Baptist luminary J. Frank Norris and later pastored by G.B. Vick. The 1970s were the zenith of the IFB church movement. Most of the largest churches in the United States were IFB churches. Churches such as Temple Baptist were pastored by men who were great orators and pulpiteers. Henderson was no exception. Henderson’s chapel sermon was from the book of Job. It was, by all counts, a thrilling, rousing sermon. However, Henderson said something during his sermon that I didn’t, at the time, understand. He said, with that distinct Texas drawl of his, that people will go through life with very few true friendships; that most people were fortunate to have two or three lifelong friends. I thought at the time, what’s he talking about? I have lots of friends! Forty years-five later, I now know that A.V. Henderson was right; that true friends are rare indeed; that if you have two or three such friends, you should consider yourself fortunate.

It has been almost fifteen years since I last attended church; fifteen years since I have listened to preaching; fifteen years since I have sung the hymns of the faith; fifteen years since I have dropped money in an offering plate; fifteen years since I broke bread with people I considered my family. In early 2009, I sent a letter to my family and friends detailing my loss of faith. You can read the letter here: Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. I grossly underestimated how people would respond to my letter. In a matter of days, I received angry, venomous emails, letters, and phone calls. One ministerial colleague drove four hours to my home, hoping to turn me back towards the faith. You can read the letter I sent to him here: Dear Friend. I was shocked by how hateful and vitriolic my friends were to me. And here I am fifteen years later, and I still, on occasion, hear from someone who knew me and is shocked over my betrayal of all that I once held dear.

The friendships of a lifetime are now gone — all of them, save my friendship with an Evangelical man I have known for fifty-seven years (we walked to elementary school together). A.V. Henderson’s words ring true. I have one friend who has walked with me through every phase of my life. The rest of my “true” friends have written me off (2 Corinthians 6:14), kicked the dirt off their shoes (Mark 6:10, 11), or turned me over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (I Corinthians 5). I was naive to think that it could be any other way.

Many people believe in unconditional love. I know, at one time, I did. I have learned, however, that unconditional love is largely a myth. (Please read Does God Love Us Unconditionally?) Unconditional love suggests that nothing we do to those we love can break the bond we have with them. Many people carry the notion of unconditional love into their friendships. We think, these people love me, no matter what. They will always be my friends. And then something happens. In my case, I spit in the face of God, pissed on the blood of Jesus, and used the pages of the Bible to wipe my ass, so to speak. I repudiated everything I once believed, and in doing so called into question the beliefs of my friends. The glue that held our friendships together was our fealty to a set of theological beliefs. Once these beliefs were questioned and discarded by me, that bond was irreparably broken. If the connection Christians have with their churches is akin to family, then when people walk away from the beliefs and practices of these families, they are, in effect, divorcing themselves from their families.

Marital divorce tears the bond between husband and wife. When Christians divorce themselves from Jesus, the bonds they have with their friends are ripped asunder. While this divorce can be amicable, most often it is not. My divorce from Jesus and the church was very much like a high-profile tabloid divorce. And even though the judge signed the divorce decree fifteen years ago, repercussions remain to this day.

I have learned that few friendships last a lifetime. Most friendships are dependent on time and location. Remember all your friends who signed your high school yearbook? Are you still friends with them today? Remember the best-buds-for-life from your college days? What happened to those friendships? Were these relationships true friendships? Sure, but they weren’t meant to last a lifetime. And that’s okay.

I don’t blame my former friends for the failure of our friendships. I am the one who moved. I am the one who changed his beliefs. I am the one who ripped apart the bond of our friendship. I do, however, hold them accountable for their horrendous treatment of me once I deconverted. They could have hugged me and said, I don’t understand WHY you are doing this, but I appreciate the good times we had together. I wish you, Polly, and the kids well. Instead, I was treated like dog shit on a shoe bottom; a person worthy of scorn, ridicule, and denunciation. By treating me this way, they destroyed any chance of restoration. Why would I ever want to be friends again with people who treated me like the scum of the earth?

I have spent the past decade and a half developing new friendships. These days, most of my friendships are digital — people who I will likely never meet face to face. This has resulted in Polly and me becoming closer, not only loving each other, but also enjoying each other’s company. For most of my marriage, Jesus, the church, and the ministry were my first loves. (Please see It’s Time to Tell the Truth: I Had an Affair.) It’s not that I didn’t love my children and wife, I did. But they were never number one in my life, and Polly and the kids knew it. I was a God-called man who devoted his life to Jesus and the church. Polly knew that marrying a preacher meant that she and the kids would have to share me with the church. (And her teachers in college and fellow pastor’s wives told her that’s how it had to be. God came first.) Little did she know that she would spend way too many years getting leftovers from a man who loved her but was worn out from burning the proverbial candle at both ends. Now that religion no longer gets between us, Polly and I are free to forge an unencumbered relationship. We have always loved each other, but what has now changed is that we really like each other too and are best friends. And in Polly, I have found one of the true friends A.V. Henderson preached about forty-five years ago. I am indeed, blessed.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Elizabeth Prata Reveals She’s Never Talked to an Evangelical-Turned-Atheist, But Knows They Never Were True Christians

hear see speak no evil

It’s Tuesday. A new day for Evangelical zealots to read the minds of Evangelicals-turned-atheists and tell them why they “really” deconverted, and what their “real” motivations were for abandoning Christianity. Elizabeth Prata is one such tone-deaf Evangelical.

In a post titled, Can You Be an Ex-Christian? Prata stated:

There’s no such thing as an ex-Christian. Look at 1 John-

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (1 John 2:19)

John is saying here that people who ‘backslide’ and then fall away from the faith entirely, never really were saved to begin with. “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him,” (Titus 1:16).

For many professing “ex-Christians”, it starts with apostasy, something Paul said there would be plenty of in the last days.

….

So the apostate’s progression is: profess Christ by mouth… but since there was no visible fruit to show the state of grace they were claiming on the inside, they were never really saved; fail to walk closely with Jesus by procrastinating in discipleship, bible study, prayer, and/or worship, furthering the distance between themselves and Jesus; listen to or promote destructive heresies that either they knowingly or unknowingly begin to believe, start doubting Christ’s sufficiency; doubt more, and then slide to full blown renunciation and end up in a state of atheism.

….

The end result of a Christian in name only – that is, one who claimed Jesus but never really believed – and is one who is at risk of being tempted by destructive heresies, and ultimately of apostasy. What comes next is atheism.

Atheism is a natural cul-de-sac in the road away from the cross.

….

After apostasy settles in and atheism rears its head, a person is well and truly now in the dangerous pits of despair, misplacing their burgeoning faith in something for a faith in nothing that will last forever.

I’m should just say “sigh” (please see Why I Use the Word “Sigh”), but for the sake of the children 🙂 I will respond to Prata’s awful prattle.

It’s evident Prata has never meaningfully talked to Evangelicals-turned-atheists. Instead, much as countless other Evangelicals have done, she ignores their stories out of hand, justifying her boorish behavior by quoting the Bible. Much like Joe Sperber did in his email interaction with me, (please see Joe, The Evangelical, Likens My Life to Driving Off a Cliff and Committing Suicide) Prata uses 1 John 2:19 to justify her out-of-hand dismissal of deconversion stories:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

According to Prata’s interpretation of this verse — a common interpretation — Evangelicals-turned-atheists were never Christians. Why? True Christians never leave the church. And make no mistake about it, the “us” in this verse is the local, visible church, and not the invisible, universal church. True Christians go to church and continue going to church all the days of their lives. Evangelicals-turned-atheists stopped going to church, so this is “proof” that they were never Christians.

This is akin to a man who was married to a woman for fifty years before divorcing his wife. The Pratas of the world say to the man, “you never were married.” Absurd, right? The man was married, and now he’s not. No amount of revision can change the fact that the man was married for fifty years. So it is when it comes to the deconversion stories of former Evangelicals. These people were once Christians and now they are not, regardless of what the Bible says. Facts are facts. Surely, that’s a “fact” we can all agree upon.

Here’s the money quote:

So the apostate’s progression is: profess Christ by mouth… but since there was no visible fruit to show the state of grace they were claiming on the inside, they were never really saved; fail to walk closely with Jesus by procrastinating in discipleship, bible study, prayer, and/or worship, furthering the distance between themselves and Jesus; listen to or promote destructive heresies that either they knowingly or unknowingly begin to believe, start doubting Christ’s sufficiency; doubt more, and then slide to full blown renunciation and end up in a state of atheism.

According to Prata, Evangelicals-turned-atheists never had “visible fruit to show the state of grace they were claiming on the inside.” In other words, their “works” didn’t match their words. Prata confidently states “Evangelicals-turned-atheists, procrastinated in discipleship, bible study, prayer, and/or worship, furthering the distance between themselves and Jesus; listening to or promoting destructive heresies.” Does this sound remotely true to you, especially those of you who were pastors, evangelists, missionaries, youth pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons, Christian school teachers, and Evangelical college professors? Does this remotely sound true to those of you who were in church every time the doors were open? Of course not.

I was in the Evangelical church for fifty years, and a pastor for twenty-five years. I slavishly, passionately, and devotedly loved and followed Jesus. I forsook my houses, lands, and material possessions for the “sake of the call.” I devoted my life to preaching the gospel, winning souls, and building up the people of God. I daily read and studied the Bible, spending thousands and thousands of hours immersed in the Word. I preached 4,000 sermons. For years, I was an expositional preacher. I was not perfect, sinning daily in thought, word, and deed. But, the bend of my life (to quote John MacArthur) was towards holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. I raised my children up in nurture and admonition of the Lord. My wife and I, along with our six children, separated ourselves from the “world.” Personal holiness was important to us. We homeschooled our children, doing everything we could to train them up in the ways of the Lord. My theology certainly moderated and changed over the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, but never strayed beyond Christian orthodoxy. Based on my story alone, it is abundantly clear that what Prata says about Evangelicals-turned-atheists is not true. I know she reads this blog, so I call on her to immediately repent and apologized to those whose character she has besmirched. Will she do so? I doubt it. Evangelicals drive cars that don’t have reverse gear. Certainty breeds arrogance, and arrogance precludes Evangelicals from admitting they are wrong.

Why do Evangelicals refuse to accept the stories of Evangelicals-turned-atheists at face value? Why do they close their eyes and plug their ears, pretending to not see and hear what is right in front of them? Why do they continue to quote Bible verses and sermonize? Why, if all else fails, do they turn to violence and torture porn, threatening Evangelicals-turned-atheists with eternal, everlasting torment in the Lake of Fire? Why do the stories of Evangelicals-turned-atheists bother them so much, often causing them to erupt in outrage? Why not just ignore those who deconvert, giving them over to Satan as the Apostle Paul did?

Here’s what I think: our stories scare the shit out of them. They know our stories ring true, yet we walked (or ran) away from God, Jesus, the Bible, and the church. And if this can happen to us, it could happen to them too. Over the years, several former church members — close friends — ended their friendships with me. Why? They found my story to be disconcerting. How is it possible that the man they called Preacher, the man who led them to Christ, baptized them, and taught them the Word of God, is an atheist? Unable to come to terms with my loss of faith, they distance themselves from me lest my atheist cooties rub off on them. One close ministerial colleague of mine, upon learning I left the faith, came to my home to beg me to reconsider. After hours of begging and pleading, it became clear to this man that I would never return to Christianity. (Please see Dear Friend.) He then begged me to NOT tell anyone about my deconversion, fearing that my doing so would lead people away from Jesus. Of course, I could not honor his request.

There’s nothing more powerful than a well-told story. This is why I am just one man with a story to tell. I write, people read, and decide for themselves whether my story rings true. Traffic numbers suggest that my story rings true for thousands and thousands of people. I receive frequent emails and comments from people thanking me for my writing. I am humbled by their kind words, reminders of the fact that my story matters. And so does yours. If you have not told your story, I hope you will consider doing so. Please contact me if you would like to share your story on this site.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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Yet Another Evangelical Who Fails to Understand Deconstruction

Several months ago, an Evangelical zealot named Nate posted the following on Twitter. Nate is a homeschooling Calvinist:

deconstruction

My first response is to say “sigh.” (Please see Why I Use the Word “Sigh”) Another day, another stupid response to deconstruction from a clueless Evangelical. Such zealots make no effort to understand why Evangelical Christians deconstruct and, at times, as I did, deconvert. People who actually go through the process are rarely, if ever, interviewed. Instead, the Nates of the world put words in the mouths of former Evangelicals. Evidently, God gives them some sort of supernatural power that allows them to peer into the minds of ex-Evangelicals and discern the “real” reasons they walked away from Evangelicalism. Imagine if I made a list of reasons people become Christians without ever talking to people of faith and then posted it on social media for all to see. Why, Evangelicals would lose their collective shit.

Nate believes that those going through the deconstruction process are emotional narcissists, with secret desires to sin, who have problems with the Bible. Rather than engage us honestly, Nate chooses, instead, to attack our character.

Do I have a problem with the Bible? Yep, lots of problems. Why not focus on that instead of claiming people like me are emotionally unhinged, secretly want to fuck their neighbors, and are selfish and in love with themselves? Why not honest interaction instead of character assassination?

Memo to Nate: when you personally attack those you oppose, that’s a sure sign that you have no rational evidence for your arguments. Is it any wonder, then, after dealing with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Nates over the years, I am inclined these days to just say “fuck off”? When someone makes no attempt to engage me thoughtfully, respectfully, and honestly, I’m not inclined to give them the time of day.

Do better Evangelicals, do better.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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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.

Christianity: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense

guest post

A guest post by John, who blogs at Shifting Beliefs.

My journey towards deconversion started slowly around 2008. I had been discussing the teaching about tithing with a friend of mine. We had some disagreements about the subject so I went into a very in-depth study about tithing. Long story short, what I had been taught in various churches, and what I had taught as well, didn’t line up with what the Bible says and doesn’t say about tithing. Then I started wondering, what else does the Bible say and not say regarding different topics? The more I read the Bible without the church lenses and learned to think critically, the less and less it made sense. I would say my deconversion probably took about eight years total. In some ways, it’s still happening.

On this side of things, Christianity really doesn’t make much sense anymore. At least not to me. Starting right off the bat with the creation story. god creates everything, ending with man and woman as the last thing created. He puts them in a utopia, creates a tree that they are not supposed to eat from, and puts it right in the middle of the garden. Then a talking snake convinces Eve, who convinces Adam, to eat the fruit from it. Thus dooming mankind to sin and sickness and death and eviction from the garden. Surely, with God being all-knowing, he knew that’s what would happen, right? So why do it? Then there is the part about them “realizing” they were naked and god having to make clothes for them. Soon after, Eve gives birth to Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel, god gets pissed and sends him on his way to the land of Nod. There apparently are people here because Cain gets married and had kids. Where the hell did these people come from?

A while later, Genesis talks about the sons of god who started hooking up with human women. There is much speculation on who the sons of god were. But anyway, the women apparently gave birth to giants. Then god decided that all the humans were wicked to the bone and regretted making them. What? Again, did he not know this was going to happen? And so he decides to kill all the humans and animals on the earth, except Noah and his family, and just start over. Looking past the fact that he is committing genocide, let’s look at how he does it. He could have done a Thanos and snapped his finger and just wiped out the humans and the animals. Quick and painless. But, that’s not how he chooses to do it. He’s going to drown all the humans and animals. It’s not only a slow death, but a terrifying one as well. Can you imagine the panic and terror that all the humans and animals went through? That’s a sick mother fucker, right there! God is good, my ass!

Then there are all the people and animals that god had his people kill later on because they wouldn’t worship the right god.

Skipping ahead to the new testament: you can do a simple Google search to find all the inconsistencies in the gospels and throughout the rest of the new testament, so I won’t go into those. Do you remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts? The believers had decided to put a commune together and sell all their stuff and put it in a joint account. Ananias and Sapphira lied about how much they sold the land for and god killed them for it. God will kill someone for lying but he allows thousands of children to be molested by clergy around the world on a regular basis. What . . . the . . . fuck?! The god you read about in the bible versus the god of today’s real-life doesn’t line up at all. The Bible tells about Jesus and the apostles healing people all the time. The accounts of “healing” that I’ve run into, I’m skeptical. How about some folks with ALS getting healed or amputees’ limbs growing back? That would get me back to drinking the Kool-Aid again! All the stories and “accounts” through the Bible just don’t make sense to me anymore.

The fact that there are at least 200 Christian denominations in the US and something like 40,000 worldwide doesn’t make sense. Surely if the Bible is the “word of god”, god could communicate the same truth to all Christians. Right?

And what about the idea of a literal hell. Even though god has quite a long history of killing people, the Bible states in many places that he is good and his mercy endures forever. Huh. That’s interesting. Supposedly, god is love and 1 Corinthians 13 describes what this love looks like. In case you are not familiar with these verses, they go something like this: Love is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, it is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It keeps no record of wrongs. Oh really? Adam and Eve, the genocide of the human race, the slaughter of multiple groups of people, and the doctrine of hell all say otherwise.

And if a person studies the history of the Bible, how it came to be, the historical and scientific accuracy of the Bible (or lack thereof), and so on . . . it doesn’t make sense!

This post only scratches the surface of what no longer makes sense to me about religion, specifically Christianity. I’m not 100% convinced that there is no deity/god of any kind. I don’t think that can be proven either way. But I am pretty damn sure that if there is one god, or many, it/he/she/they are not the god of the Bible or Christianity. Or of any other holy book that’s ever existed. I think part of the reason religions exist is that they are man’s way of trying to describe something that is indescribable.

I still really like this quote by Barry Taylor, a road manager for AC/DC, “God is the name of the blanket we throw over the mystery to give it shape.”

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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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.

Mark Farnham Gives Ten Reasons Evangelicals Deconvert

deconversion

Mark Farnham, a Fundamentalist Christian, is associate professor and coordinator of pastoral and pre-seminary majors at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Yesterday, Farnham wrote an article for Sharper Iron titled Ten Reasons Christians Are Deconstructing Their Faith.

Farnham ignorantly stated:

  1. They have experienced some hurt, trauma, or abuse at the hands of professing Christians, churches, and/or pastors.
  2. They have spent too much time reading, listening, watching, and talking to people espousing weak theology, heresy, and the hiss of the serpent asking, “Did God really say?”
  3. They have wittingly or unwittingly absorbed and adopted naturalistic, atheistic, and hedonistic assumptions and presuppositions and then critiqued the Bible in light of those. As a result they find the Bible objectionable, ludicrous, or repugnant.
  4. They have tired of the scorn, ridicule, and pressure of the unbelieving world, and find it easier to abandon the faith to just get along.
  5. They had deeply-felt expectations for life and what God would do, and when disappointed, could not bear the thought of worshiping the God they feel has let them down.
  6. They have misunderstood and misinterpreted the Bible’s revelation about the character and actions of God, and have come to believe that they are more moral than God, and now stand in condemnation of God’s character and his actions in the pages of Scripture.
  7. They grew up in legalistic churches and families where an abundance of man-made rules were added to the gospel and to God’s moral law. At some point they tired of these oppressive environments and could not separate true Christianity from the legalism, and so left the faith.
  8. They fed on liberal social justice and incipient Marxism, and found the Bible’s acceptance of inequality because of the curse of sin and the Bible’s call to suffering wanting according to their new belief system that salvation is deliverance from inequality.
  9. They simply no longer wished to be bound to the biblical ethic, most often related to the Bible’s clear restriction of sexual activity to one man and one woman in a monogamous covenant of marriage. They wanted to have sex and not feel guilty about it.
  10. They were never true believers to begin with. They are apostates who posed as Christians, very convincingly and for a long time. 1 John 2:19–22 “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. [20] But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.” (ESV)

Let me translate. Evangelicals who deconstruct/deconvert:

  • They have been hurt
  • They spent too much time reading the wrong books and blogs and listening to the wrong podcasts (“wrong” means anything that doesn’t conform to Farnham’s peculiar Fundamentalist beliefs)
  • They have a worldly worldview
  • They are tired of being “persecuted” by the world
  • They feel let down by God
  • They misunderstand the Bible
  • They grew up in legalistic churches and could not separate legalism from True Christianity® (says a Fundamentalist with a straight face)
  • They embraced “liberal” political beliefs
  • They want to fuck anyone they want
  • They were never True Christians®

Absent from Farnham’s screed is any interaction with people who have actually deconstructed/deconverted. No need. Farnham “knows” why people walk/run away from Christianity. Instead of presenting a careful, thoughtful, nuanced look at why people leave the faith, Farnham chooses to build a “these people are weak, ignorant, shallow, selfish, lustful, never-were-Christians” strawman. Anything but accepting the stories of people at face value.

Other Posts About Deconversion

I Smell Fear: Another Gospel Coalition Article on “Deconstruction”

The War Against Deconstructing Evangelicals

Quote of the Day: Evangelicals Ignore Those Who Left at Their Own Peril

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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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, the Pornographer: Why I “Really” Left the Christian Faith

this was your life

Evangelical Christian apologist William Lane Craig writes, in response to a question about doubt (link no longer active);

Be on guard for Satan’s deceptions. Never lose sight of the fact that you are involved in a spiritual warfare and that there is an enemy of your soul who hates you intensely, whose goal is your destruction, and who will stop at nothing to destroy you. Which leads me to ask: why are you reading those infidel websites anyway, when you know how destructive they are to your faith? These sites are literally pornographic (evil writing) and so ought in general to be shunned. Sure, somebody has to read them and refute them; but why does it have to be you? Let somebody else, who can handle it, do it. Remember: Doubt is not just a matter of academic debate or disinterested intellectual discussion; it involves a battle for your very soul, and if Satan can use doubt to immobilize you or destroy you, then he will.

I firmly believe, and I think the Bizarro-testimonies of those who have lost their faith and apostatized bears out, that moral and spiritual lapses are the principal cause for failure to persevere rather than intellectual doubts. But intellectual doubts become a convenient and self-flattering excuse for spiritual failure because we thereby portray ourselves as such intelligent persons rather than as moral and spiritual failures. I think that the key to victorious Christian living is not to have all your questions answered — which is probably impossible in a finite lifetime — but to learn to live successfully with unanswered questions. The key is to prevent unanswered questions from becoming destructive doubts. I believe that can be done by keeping in mind the proper ground of our knowledge of Christianity’s truth and by cultivating the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

First, Craig describes infidel websites like mine as:

  • A tool of Satan used to destroy the souls of Christians
  • Pornographic (evil writing)
  • Something that, in general, should be shunned

Craig readily admits that websites like mine can cause Christians to doubt their faith. While I have no interest in converting any Christian to atheism, I do think the tenets of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible should be carefully and fully investigated. If my writing causes a Christian to question and have doubts . . . good!

If Christianity is worth believing it will withstand any questions or doubts a believer might have. If Christianity is what it claims to be, then websites like this one will do little to no harm. Of course, I think that Christianity is NOT what it claims to be, and that is one of the reasons people are leaving the faith in droves.

Second, Craig attempts to dismiss people like me by calling our testimony of loss of faith a Bizarro-testimony (not to be believed). Craig contends we lost our faith, not for intellectual reasons, but because of spiritual or moral failure.  He believes former Christians use intellectual doubts as a cover for moral or spiritual failure. In doing this, Craig moves the focus from Christianity and the Bible to the individual. According to Craig, I am no longer a Christian because of some moral lapse or spiritual deficiency in my life.

I will leave it to Detectives for Jesus to ferret out my moral or spiritual failures. I doubt they will find much to hang me by, but I will readily admit that I, like every other Christian and pastor, had moral and spiritual failures. After all, since I STILL had a sin nature, moral and spiritual failure was sure to happen, right? That said, I have no affairs lurking in my closet, just in case someone thinks moral failure = screwing a church member.

Craig lives in a world of willing, deliberate delusion. He refuses to accept the fact that many of us, especially those of us who were once pastors, left the ministry and the Christian faith for intellectual reasons. I have written many times about this subject. The primary reason I left Christianity was that I no longer believed the Bible was the Word of God. I no longer believed the Bible was “truth.” I no longer believed that the central character of the Bible, Jesus, was who the Bible says he was (and I use the word “was” because I don’t believe Jesus “is”). (Please see the WHY page for information on why I left Christianity.)

I didn’t have a moral or spiritual collapse that led to me leaving Christianity. Instead, I decided to investigate again the claims of Christianity and its divine Holy Book. Conclusion? I weighed Christianity and the Bible in the balance and found them wanting. (Daniel 5:27)

At the end of the day, it really is all about the Bible.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

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