Tag Archive: Eschatology

This Is Your Life! Judgment Day

great white throne judgment 2

A Guest Post by ObstacleChick

Great White Throne Pictures presents: “This Is Your Life, ObstacleChick”
Presented in Technicolor

Starring:

ObstacleChick

Co-Starring:

ObstacleChick’s Mom
ObstacleChick’s Grandparents
ObstacleChick’s Extended Family
ObstacleChick’s Friends
ObstacleChick’s Dog

Special Guests:

ObstacleChick’s Schoolteachers and Administrators
ObstacleChick’s Sunday School Teachers
ObstacleChick’s Pastor, Youth Pastor, and Music Minister
The Pious Girls from Church & School

Limited Engagement Showing ONLY at Great White Throne Cinema   

When I was an adolescent and teen attending a Southern Baptist Church and Evangelical Christian school, my friends and I were taught as much fundamentalist evangelical doctrine as possible. Those who grew up in evangelical fundamentalist Christianity know that the number one priority of Christian parents is to make sure their children are saved; the sooner the better. Every teaching is geared toward indoctrinating children and making sure they know that they are sinners in need of salvation through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. There is no more important message that Christian parents, pastors, Sunday school teachers, Christian schoolteachers, and Christian staff can spread than this one. All children need to know that if they do not repent of their sins and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, they will spend eternity tormented in hell in the afterlife. And because you could be hit by a bus in the next few minutes, you’d better do it NOW. After death, there will be no do-overs. There will be no further opportunities. There will be no appeals granted. Nada. Zilch. End of the road.

As we teens grew older, our youth pastor made sure to impart to us as much information as possible about salvation, eschatology, and the afterlife to us so we would understand the urgency of making the right decision regarding salvation. He also made sure we understood that certain behaviors were unacceptable for young Christians growing in Christ and presenting a witness to the “world.” As the majority of students in the youth group attended public school, we heard less harping on “sins” of rock music, movies, magazines, etc., than those of us who attended Christian school heard, but it was clear that participating in many of these activities could hurt our “witness” to our peers, and they did harp on premarital sex and alcohol as mega-evils. At the Christian school, they didn’t hold back any punches preaching against the evils of rock music, the evils of dancing, the evils of alcohol, the evils of premarital sex, the evils of attending the roller-skating rink, the evils of movies, etc. There wasn’t really much left that wasn’t evil except for Classical music, the Beach Boys, Christian movies and books, church, and Christian school activities. (Yet two girls at my high school were still expelled for getting pregnant, and three boys were expelled for attending a party where alcohol was served.)

The eschatology is fuzzy to me now, with concepts of the rapture, pre-millennialism, post-millennialism, the mark of the beast, the anti-Christ, and so forth, but I did understand that at some point after death everyone would have to go to the Great White Throne Judgment where our fate would be determined. Would it be eternity in heaven, or would it be eternity in hell? (Cue music: DA DA DAAAAA!)

My teenage understanding of the Great White Throne Judgment was that that there would be God on a throne, Jesus on a throne, and somehow the Holy Spirit would be there too, though I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to see him as he was a spirit and whether a spirit could sit on a throne. Maybe we would get special afterlife vision that would allow us to see spirits. There would be angels and seraphim and cherubim and all people who had ever lived would be there, waiting to be judged, waiting to hear their fate.

At the Great White Throne Judgment, the way it was explained to us, each person’s life would be shown for all to see, and then the judgment would be handed out. As an avid reader, I was well-versed in visualizing scenes, and for the Great White Throne Judgment I envisioned a scene in which everything was white, the Trinity (were? was?) located on thrones on a raised platform, and masses of people stretched out before them. There was a very large movie screen near the Trinity, and when each person’s name was called that person would step forward so their life movie could be played on the movie screen. The Trinity would then render (their? his?) verdict, and the person would be escorted by seraphim, cherubim, or maybe St. Peter (I wasn’t clear on who the escorts were) to the proper exit to their eternal designation.

As we teens envisioned this Great White Throne Judgment, we were exhorted by youth ministry staff to make sure our movie was G-rated so we wouldn’t stand up there embarrassed before the masses of humanity. Who wants their sweet Grandma to see them participating in evils such as (gasp) dancing, or drinking alcohol, or — dare we even mention it — premarital sex? Surely not!  Not only did we need to keep our actions G-rated, we must also keep our thoughts G-rated as somehow those would be shown on the Great White Throne Movie Screen.

As the whole sequence of events was still confusing to me, I believed somehow that when people died, they could see what was happening on earth. When my great-grandmother Granny died when I was twelve years old, I was upset for several reasons. First, I really liked hanging out with Granny. She lived down the street, and she was my nice great-grandmother, not mean like Grandma F who lived with us. Granny would make biscuits and ham for me, and we enjoyed cleaning and rearranging her numerous knick-knacks while she told stories. Second, the only time I ever saw my grandfather cry was when he came home to tell us his mother died. That tore me up, and I cried too. Third, because I thought Granny could then see me that she would be able to see me taking a shower and doing other embarrassing things. In addition to grieving for the loss of Granny, I was upset for a long time just knowing that Granny was watching me all the time.

Not understanding the whole timeline of when the Great White Throne Judgment was, I thought maybe there was some sort of neutral after-death holding place where Granny and everyone else could see what people on earth were doing. My mom said when you died you went to sleep and woke up in heaven, but I knew there was a Great White Throne Judgment in there somewhere. And there had to be some sort of holding place because thousands of years might pass before the END TIMES. Another issue was how long would this whole Great White Judgment Movie Festival take? I mean, I knew eternity had no limits, and that a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years are as a day, but what were the logistics of this Great White Throne Judgment Movie Festival? It must take thousands of years, or days in deity terms. My mom said God wasn’t bound by time, so it didn’t matter, but I still couldn’t comprehend.

But what I did comprehend was how much I DREADED the Great White Throne Judgment. I was fearful of dying. I was afraid I would die and wake up in the Great White Throne Cinema with billions of other people, waiting in agony for my movie to be played and for everyone I knew to see all the naughty, mean, jealous, lustful thoughts I harbored. The Pious Girls at school and church would learn what I REALLY thought of them. My teachers would know that I sat in the back of class and talked and passed notes and then would be on the phone at night with my friends explaining what they’d all missed in class while I was bored and entertaining us all. My grandparents and mom would know that I had listened to rock music and watched MTV at my aunt & uncle’s house. It was going to be bad.

I dreaded death. The greatest relief of my existence would be if the Trinity told me I was destined for eternity in heaven. But getting through the movie viewing . . . I dreaded it beyond everything. Maybe I would get lucky and be last and everyone would have been sent to their fate, but I knew chances were slim to none.

What a damaging thing to teach impressionable youth, to manipulate their fear of hell and judgment to impress upon them the need to believe the right thing and to stay away from certain activities.

As an agnostic atheist, I don’t believe in any of that anymore. It took a long time to get over my fear of hell though. That was the last thing to leave me when I deconverted — even though I didn’t believe in god anymore, I was still afraid of hell. I had to literally reason with myself about my unrealistic fear of hell.  But now, I no longer fear death. Do I want to die today? No, because there are still things I want to do in life. But I don’t fear the Great White Throne Movie experience.

How Evangelical Theology Affects American Foreign Policy Regarding Israel and the Middle East

evangelical support of Israel

President Donald Trump, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have set in motion the withdrawal of the United States from UNESCO — United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Israel released a statement today saying that they too will be leaving UNESCO. What, you ask, did UNESCO do to warrant the Trump administration’s decision to cut American ties with the organization? News reports cite UNESCO’s recognition of the Palestinian state and anti-Israel bias as the reasons for the decision to withdraw. The withdrawal will take effect on December 31, 2018.

UNESCO was founded in 1945 by thirty-seven nations, citing as its purpose “to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science and culture.” What’s not to like, right? Remember, a new day has arrived in America. “America First,” along with the dismantling of everything accomplished during the eight years of the Obama administration, now drives domestic and foreign policy.  If President “my IQ is higher than yours” had his way, the United States would withdraw from the United Nations altogether. Much like Ronald Reagan, who also withdrew the United States from UNESCO in the 1980s, President Trump views the world through xenophobic glasses. “America First” has become “America Only.” Other countries are viewed as inferior, unable to match America’s power, prowess, and greatness. Millions of Americans rabidly support Trump’s flag-waving, national anthem-singing, pussy-grabbing Christian nationalism. Finally, white Evangelicals, KKK members, and white supremacists say, we have a president who understands the importance the CHRISTIAN God and guns; a president who “gets” the plight of white working-class Americans!

Key to understanding Trump’s decision to withdraw from UNESCO is the manner in which many Americans, especially members of Congress and presidential cabinet members and their staffs, view the State of Israel. Fueled by Evangelical theology, which I will discuss later in this post, the United States’ foreign policy is driven by the belief that Israel is God’s chosen people — a nation that must be protected and defended at all costs. Americans have strong opinions about Israel, much as they have in the current debate over NFL players kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem. Opposing Israeli policies towards Palestinians, for example, quickly leads to charges of antisemitism. On several occasions as I traverse the back roads of rural Northwest Ohio looking for photography opportunities, I have come across homes proudly flying Israel’s flag, right next to the red-white-and-blue. I doubt that the same scene can be found in Israel. Why do some Americans think that is perfectly normal to fly another nation’s flag right next to America’s flag?

The modern Jewish nation, officially called the State of Israel, was founded on May 18, 1948, and admitted as a member of the United Nations in 1949. Israel’s history, however, tracks back thousands of years to the mythical Bible figure Abraham. Genesis 12:1-7 states:

Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him.

Four take-aways from this text:

  • God commanded Abram (later Abraham) to leave the country of his birth and, by faith, travel to a land that God planned to give Abraham and his descendants.
  • God promised to bless Abram and make him a great nation
  • God promised to bless those who bless Abram and curse those who curse him
  • God said all nations of earth would be blessed because of Abram moving to a new land (that new land would later be called Israel)

While Abraham did not see the fulfillment of God’s promises to him, God promised in Genesis 15:18 that his progeny would indeed inherit the land:

 In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates

When the mythical Abram (there is no non-Biblical evidence for the existence of Abraham) was ninety-nine years old, God appeared to him, promising yet again to make him a great nation. Genesis 17:1-11 states:

And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.  And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.

Several things to note from this passage of Scripture:

  • Abram’s name is now Abraham
  • The covenant between God and Abraham/Israel is a never-ending covenant
  • God commanded Abraham to cut the foreskin off male genitals as a “sign” of the covenant between Jehovah and Abraham (Just remember men, the next time you look at your circumcised penis, blame God, Israel, and the Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.)

Abraham, married to Sarah, was, thanks to his wife’s infertility, childless. Sarah, wanting Abraham to experience the joys of fatherhood, gave her servant Hagar to Abraham so he could marry her and bear him a child. Hagar gave Abraham a son whose name was Ishmael. Sarah, at the ripe old age of ninety, finally conceived and bore a son named Isaac. When it came time for God to pass on his covenant, he skipped Abraham’s oldest son, choosing instead to bless Isaac. From that moment forward, there was conflict between Ismael and Isaac. The historical foundation of centuries of conflict in the Middle East rests on two brothers who couldn’t get along with each other. The same can be said for Isaac’s sons Jacob and Esau.

Keep in mind that the aforementioned Biblical “history” is what drives current Evangelical beliefs about the modern Israel, Palestine, and the Judeo-Christian war against Islam. In what other realm would mythical stories be acceptable reasons for foreign policy? Yet, that is exactly what currently drives American foreign policy as it relates to Israel, the establishment of the Palestinian state, and the prospects for peace in the Middle East.

Many Evangelical sects/pastors/churches/congregants believe that modern Israel is God’s chosen people; that the land inhabited by Israel (Isaac) was given to them in perpetuity; that Palestinian (Ishmael) land claims are baseless. President Obama was the first post-World War II president to challenge these assumptions, resulting in Obama being accused of antisemitism — the intense dislike (hatred) for and prejudice against Jewish people. Obama supported a two-state solution for the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian state, but thanks to irrational (and immoral) support of Israel’s “right” to own ALL the land given to them by God, no progress was made on this front. Israel’s abhorrent policies towards Palestinians, and America’s blind eye to behavior that would be roundly condemned if done by any other government, are driven by the belief that a land covenant made between a fictional God and a mythical Abraham is still in effect.

Liberal and progressive Christians tend to not believe that Israel has a God-given right to their land. Many of the people behind the two-state solution and attempts to broker peace in the Middle East are people of faith. Unfortunately, not many of these people of faith are Evangelical. Thanks to their literalistic reading of the Bible and their commitment to the belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, Evangelicals generally believe that Israel is the Judeo-Christian God’s chosen (covenant) people; that the land grant given to Abraham thousands of years ago is still in effect today, Further, Evangelicals believe that God blesses nations who support Israel and curses nations who don’t. This blind loyalty to God’s chosen people is held by countless Christian/Jewish congressmen/presidents — either out of a commitment to Evangelical theology or political expediency — leading to unwavering military funding and support for Israel.

We in Congress stand by Israel. In Congress, we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel. (Nancy Pelosi)

Now is not the time to be picking fights with Israel in what seems to be an attempt to curry favor with the Arab world. Now is the time when the United States must stand with Israel in the global struggle against the threats posed by radical Islam. We must remember what happens when Americans and decent minded people everywhere fail to stand up to evil. The message to us is: we must do all we can to ensure the survival of the State of Israel. At a time like this, it is crucial to stress the message that a strong Israel is in the best interest of American national security. Should any of us waver in our resolve, we must let the lessons of history propel us to action. If you deal with Iran, you are not welcome to deal with the United States. Our willingness to use force is on the table. (Eric Cantor)

Israel [is] the state where Jews entered into world history again like (the Biblical) ‘nation like all other nations.’ A state where Jews took up again after two millennia the precious burden of nationhood. Like all nations, our relationship has its trials and tensions. The disagreements of the moment cannot and will not undo the bond of generations. We (Eric Cantor and I) are sending a letter signed by a large number of Members of Congress to the administration to send the message that there should be no confusion anywhere in the world that whatever differences there may be on policy, at the core, there is an unbreakable, unshakable bond between Israel and the United States. (Steny Hoyer)

Through centuries of struggle, Jews across the world have been witnesses not only against the crimes of men, but for faith in God, and God alone. Theirs is a story of defiance in oppression and patience in tribulation — reaching back to the exodus and their exile into the diaspora. That story continued in the founding of the State of Israel. The story continues in the defense of the State of Israel. (George W Bush)

I make this promise to you: My Administration will always stand with Israel. (Donald Trump)

We love Israel. We will fight for Israel 100 percent, 1,000 percent. It will be there forever. (Donald Trump)

Pat Robertson, speaking to a gathering of Jews, had this to say about how Evangelicals view Israel:

Ladies and Gentleman, evangelical Christians support Israel because we believe that the words of Moses and the ancient prophets of Israel were inspired by God. We believe that the emergence of a Jewish state in the land promised by God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was ordained by God.

We believe that God has a plan for this nation which He intends to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.

According to the virulent Evangelical site World News Daily:

The Jewish people have a biblical mandate to occupy and control the land of Israel.

Evangelical pastor John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), had this to say about Israel in an introduction of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

He also changed the path of Christianity in America, when he asked me in 2006 if he thought American Christians could unite for Israel. Ancient Israel had Moses who led them in the desert; during the golden era they had King David, who conquered Jerusalem, and today, when there are existential threats, Israel has a champion who can confront the challenge; please welcome the prime minister…

the israel pledge

According to their website, CUFI has three million supporting members; people who support the following statement:

We believe that the Jewish people have a right to live in their ancient land of Israel, and that the modern State of Israel is the fulfillment of this historic right.

We maintain that there is no excuse for acts of terrorism against Israel and that Israel has the same right as every other nation to defend her citizens from such violent attacks.

We pledge to stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel and to speak out on their behalf whenever and wherever necessary until the attacks stop and they are finally living in peace and security with their neighbors.

Make no mistake about it, when push comes to shove, the United States will stand behind and in front of Israel no matter what that nation says or does. Donald Trump, along with many congressional Republicans, is itching to destroy Iran — one of Israel’s archenemies. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if someday Israel, at the behest of the American government, attacks Iran in an attempt to destroy its nuclear facilities. This, of course, will lead to war, and the United States will be standing at the front the battle to defend Israel’s action. Why? Because thousands of years ago a mythical God promised a mythical man that he would make him a great nation and give him a plot of land in perpetuity. And this same mythical God promised to bless the United States if she politically and militarily defends Israel and give her billions of dollars a year in aid and military support, and curse her if she didn’t.

Is it any wonder that foreigners increasingly view America as a land of religious nut jobs, enslaved to a Bronze Age religious text? My God, they think, here’s one of the most scientifically advanced countries on earth, yet their foreign policy is driven by the belief that the events recorded in the book of Genesis are real history, and not myths and fables.

As long as the Bible is given preferential and serious treatment by politicians, rational Americans should expect to see policies driven by Evangelical interpretations of the Bible. We see the same ignorance behind demands for creationism to be taught as science in the public schools, global climate change denial, anti-abortion laws, the execution of murderers, and other issues deemed “Biblical” by Evangelical leaders. At times, knowing this leads me to despair, but I remind myself that Evangelicalism is hemorrhaging Millennials, leading to numerical and financial decline. Someday, reason, not fanaticism, will triumph. Although I do not expect to see it myself, I hope my grandchildren will see a day when the Bible is finally relegated to the dustbin of human history.

As long as the Bible is given preferential and serious treatment by politicians, rational Americans should expect to see policies driven by Evangelical interpretations of the Bible. We see the same ignorance behind demands for creationism to be taught as science in the public schools, global climate change denial, anti-abortion laws, and the execution of murderers, along with any other issue deemed “Biblical” by Evangelical leaders. (sentence seems clunky, but I am too exhausted to think) At times, knowing this leads me to despair, but I remind myself that Evangelicalism is hemorrhaging Millennials, leading to numerical and financial decline. Some day, reason, not fanaticism, will triumph. Not in my lifetime, but perhaps my grandchildren will see a day when the Bible is finally relegated to the dustbin of human history.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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A Few Thoughts on People Who Say, “Praise God, I Have Never Changed my Beliefs”

i shall not me moved psalm 16One common refrain often heard in some corners of the Evangelical world goes something like this: Praise God, I have NEVER changed my beliefs. I am seventy years old and I still have the exact same beliefs I had at age twenty — fifty years ago. There is this idea floating on the backwaters of Evangelicalism that posits that change is bad, or even sinful. Pastors and congregants pride themselves in having held the one true faith their entire life, that their Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, rheumatology, and hamartiology is the same yesterday, today, and forever. These theological purists will also say that their behavior hasn’t changed either. The sins they were against in the 1970s are the same sins they oppose today. These “just like a tree planted by the waters, I shall not be moved” Christians believe that they love what God loves and hate what God hates; that their interpretations of the sixty-six books of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Christian Bible align closely with God’s mind; that thanks to the Holy Spirit living inside of them as their teacher and guide, they are spiritually mature people who feast on the meat of the Word of God, not the pablum most Christians eat. (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and Hebrews 5:11-13)

In most spheres of life, learning new things and discarding old beliefs, practices, and ideas is desired and expected. Not in Evangelicalism. Evangelicals cherish certainty. The Apostle Paul told young Timothy the preacher in 2 Timothy 1:12, KNOW in whom I have believed. Pastors challenge congregants to have a know-so salvation. Is it any wonder then, that because a premium is placed on certainty it breeds arrogance and leads to people to think that their beliefs have never changed? Bruce, are Evangelicals who think this way glorying in ignorance? Yes, and the Bible gives them cover for their ignorance in Acts 4:13:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

For the Bible-believing Evangelicals, being considered unlearned and ignorant by the “world’ is a badge of honor.  What Evangelicals doesn’t want it said of them, they had been with Jesus?

Paul warns the church at Colossae in Colossians 2:8:

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

Video Link

Evangelicals are frequently warned by their pastors to beware of the philosophies, traditions, and rudiments of the world. Better to be ignorant and know Jesus than to have a PhD and go to hell. A quick survey of Evangelicalism reveals all sorts of beliefs that lie deeply rooted in certainty-driven ignorance. Creationism, King James-Onlyism, Rapturism, and Landmarkism, to name a few, require adherents to deliberately and resolutely tune out any data that contradicts their beliefs. Science tells us that creationism is false. Evangelical solution? Ignore science and by faith believe that what the Bible says in Genesis 1-3 is literally true. The same goes for King James-Onlyism, Rapturism, and Landmarkism. When Evangelicals holding these beliefs find themselves intellectually challenged, they run to the safety of faith, ignoring anything that shows their theological and historical beliefs are false. Charismatics and Pentecostals do the same. They KNOW that God works miracles, baptizes people in the Holy Ghost, and gives spirit-filled people the ability to do mighty works in Jesus’ name, including speaking in tongues. Believing that their interpretations of certain passages of the Bible is infallibly correct, these swing-from-the-chandelier Christians reject anything that suggests otherwise.

More than a few Evangelicals will object to what I have written here. While they will admit that there’s a lot of ignorance in Evangelical churches, their churches and pastors value intellectual pursuit, saying that learning is a lifelong process. While this sounds good, when these claims are more closely examined, what is often found is a pseudo-intellectualism. While these intellectual “giants” of the Evangelical faith do indeed read books and spend significant amounts of time studying — I know I did for most of the years I spent in the ministry — it is WHAT they read and study that is problematic. True intellectual inquiry requires following the path wherever it leads, leaving no stone unturned. Such inquiry requires people to meet truth head on, not retreating or attempting to veer around. As a former Evangelical pastor and now an atheist, I challenge Christians to carefully examine what they say they believe. Surely, any belief worth having can withstand scrutiny and investigation, right? Evidently not. When Evangelicals have doubts or find their beliefs challenged, what do they do? Many of them run to their pastors for encouragement and support. Keeping asses in the pews is crucial — no asses, no offerings — so when congregants come to them with questions and doubts, these men of God will often recommend for reading “safe” books written by Christian apologists or approved Christian authors. Some pastors, especially those who pride themselves in having three books in their library — Bible, concordance, and dictionary — will tell doubters to, by faith, cling to Jesus, read the Bible, and pray, reminding them that DOUBT is caused by Satan and his emissaries in the world.

Evangelicals who pride themselves in being “widely” read — commonly found among Evangelical Calvinists — do spend significant time studying and reading. It is what they read that is the problem. While these Evangelicals will, at times, venture beyond the safe confines of the Evangelical bubble, most of their reading and study is of authors considered orthodox. In other words, they only read books that reinforce their presently-held beliefs. While there is some lateral movement in Evangelicalism — Arminians becoming Calvinists, Baptists becoming Charismatics, Premillennialists becoming Amillennialists, Non-cessationists becoming Cessationists, and rigid, far-right wing Fundamentalist Baptists becoming generic Evangelicals — most believers continue to hold on to the peculiar beliefs of their tribe, sect, or church. Their theological pursuits rarely, if ever, take them beyond the safety of their current beliefs and practices. Rare are Evangelicals who are willing to risk losing their faith in their search for truth.

Is it any wonder, then, that a premium is placed on being steadfast in the faith once delivered to the saints?  Revered are men and women whose theological roots run deep and who can always give an answer about the hope that lies within them. As an Evangelical pastor, I learned early that congregants wanted certainty. They wanted a pastor who firmly stood on the Word of God and had unmovable, unshakeable faith. If I had questions and doubts about this or that belief, church members didn’t want to hear about it. Tell us the unvarnished truth, Pastor Bruce. The reason, of course, for such desires is that many Evangelical church members have a borrowed belief system; that what their pastor believes is what they believe. Years ago, my theology shifted from the Baptist theology of the IFB church movement to Calvinism. As I began preaching expositionally and teaching congregants what Calvinists call the doctrines of grace, I was shocked by how few church members had a problem with the seismic changes in my theology and preaching. Looking back on this now, I have concluded that what mattered to members was having a sense of community, having a church family to call home. Most of them were never going to read the books I did or spend hours a day studying the Bible. Unlike their pastor, who had a job where he was actually paid to read and study, they had secular jobs that demanded their time and attention. They also had families to care for. What congregants wanted most of all was assurance that they were on the right path; that what they believed squared with the Bible. They were willing to trust that what I said was true. After all, I was the man God had chosen to be their pastor. Surely God and his man had their best interests at heart, right?

I pity and feel sorry for Evangelicals who pride themselves in never changing their beliefs. Many Evangelicals are just like people who never travel far from home. They have never experienced the rich diversity that lies beyond their doorstep. Years ago, during my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days, a large group new people showed up one Sunday to attend our morning service. I thought, at first, which nearby IFB church had a split? This group was not, however, disgruntled Baptists. They were Methodists. Once a year their church cancelled a Sunday service so attendees could visit a different church. Their pastor believed it was good for church members to be exposed to the heterogeneity found in Christianity. I thought, what an odd and dangerous thing to do — exposing members to potentially heretical teaching. Of course, I was glad they came to Somerset Baptist Church — The Fastest Growing Church in Perry County. God brought them my way so I could teach them the TRUTHWhy, some of these Methodists probably aren’t even saved, I thought at the time. If they were really, really, really saved, they wouldn’t be members of a liberal church.  Later in life, I came to see how wise the Methodist pastor was; that attending a wide spectrum of churches is a cure for arrogant, self-assured Fundamentalism. The next-to-last church I pastored (for seven years) — Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio — used an advertising slogan that stated, The Church Where the Only Label That Matters is Christian.  As pastor, I was willing to embrace all those who claimed the name Christian — Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Pentecostals, to name a few. The catholicity of Christianity was more important to me than theological orthodoxy.

I slowly came to realize that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did; that my theological underpinnings were just one of many ways of interpreting the Bible. I finally learned that I wasn’t infallible, and neither was the Bible. I suppose, had my experiences been different, my changed understanding of Christianity and faith might have led to mainline Christianity, liberalism, or Universalism. Instead, questions and doubts pushed me down the slippery slope Evangelical preachers warn about. Better to rest in certainty of belief and practice than end up like Bruce Gerencser, Evangelical pastors warn. Look at what happened to him! He is now, of all things, a God-hating, sin-loving atheist.  I may, indeed, be a cautionary tale, but I am here to tell readers that a wild, woolly, wonderful world awaits those who will abandon certainty of belief and allow intellectual inquiry to lead the way. Life becomes about the journey instead of the destination. Will you join me? (Please read Gone but Not Forgotten: 22 Years Later San Antonio Calvinists Still Preaching Against Bruce Gerencser and Ralph Wingate Jr Uses Me as a Sermon Illustration)

Jesus is Coming Soon: The Antichrist and the Mark of the Beast

jack chick tract the beast

From Jack Chick tract, The Beast

Growing up in the Evangelical church, I was exposed to eschatological preaching which purported to divine the future. Based on a literalistic interpretation of the book of Revelation, Evangelical preachers tell of a day when Jesus will come to rapture (remove) Christians from the earth. After the rapture, God will, for seven years, pour out his wrath on the earth.  This period of divine slaughter and judgment is called the Great Tribulation.

During the Tribulation, the Antichrist, a powerful figure who wages war against God, will rise up and exert dominion over the earth. While Evangelicals have multiple interpretations of who and what the Antichrist is, all agree that he is one of the central figures of the Tribulation drama. According to the book of Revelation, the Antichrist will ultimately be defeated by Jesus and cast into the Lake of Fire.

Most Evangelicals believe the Antichrist is a real person. This belief has led to speculation about this or that person being the Antichrist. Some Evangelicals believe the Antichrist is alive today and could be someone such as Barack Obama or Pope Francis. What is interesting about these predictions about who the Antichrist might be is that the potential Antichrist always has political views opposed by Evangelicals. This is why some Evangelicals find it quite easy to label President Obama as the Antichrist, even more so of late since it has been reported that Obama might head the United Nations after he leaves office. (Many Evangelicals believe the United Nations will be used by the Antichrist to take over the world.)

According to many Evangelicals, during the Tribulation the Antichrist will take control of the world’s economy. No one will be able to buy or sell anything without having the mark of the Beast. The Biblical basis for this belief is found in Revelation 13:16-18:

 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

Prior to the modern technological era, many Evangelicals believed that the mark of the Beast was a tattoo of the number 666 on the hands or foreheads of the followers of the Antichrist. In recent decades, Evangelicals have suggested that the mark of the Beast could be some sort of bar code, a mark that can only be read by using a certain type of light, or an embedded chip. I remember one preacher who was certain that supermarket scanners were paving the way for the Antichrist and the mark of the Beast.

While the character of  the mark has changed over the years, the importance of it has not. Anyone receiving the mark of the Beast will be doomed forever. Revelation 14:9-11 states:

And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

According to these verses, anyone who takes the mark of the Beast will face the fury of the wrath of God. Suffering and painful death await all who take the mark.

The 1970s and 1980s were the heyday for literalistic interpretations of the book of Revelation. Evangelical pastors regularly preached sermons on the end-times, featuring subjects such as the rapture, the Great Tribulation, the second coming of Christ, the millennial reign of Christ, and the great white throne judgment. Filled with illustrations from newspapers, these sermons inflamed the passions of Evangelical church goers. As the headlines changed, so did the sermons, but the focal point remained the same: Jesus is coming soon.

end of the world

After the 88 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1988 debacle, Evangelical passion for future events cooled. I am of the opinion that the rise of the religious right, a political movement with plans to take over America for Jesus, turned Evangelical attention from the future to the present. Instead of seeking after the kingdom of heaven, Evangelicals began to focus on building God’s kingdom on earth. Gone, for the most part, are prophecy conferences and literalistic sermons from Revelation and Daniel. Instead, pastors focus on felt-needs and personal fulfillment. There are certainly Evangelicals pastors who continue to preach newspaper headline sermons, but such preachers are on the fringes of Evangelicalism (most often found in charismatic, Pentecostal, and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches).

As I came of age in the 1970s, I heard frequent end-time sermons. Preachers warned that we were the last generation, those who would see the second coming of Jesus Christ. Men such as Jack Van Impe predicted Russia would invade and take over the United States, thereby ushering in the Great Tribulation. Many preachers believed that the rapture and the second coming of Christ would take place sometime between 1984 and 1988. The thinking went something like this: Israel became a nation in 1948, a generation is 40 years long, thus, at the very latest, Jesus would return to earth in 1988.

In the late 1970s, I was a pastoral assistant to Jay Stuckey, pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church, a General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) congregation. Stuckey, as many preachers of his era, was obsessed with prophecy, the Illuminati, and numerous other conspiracies. Calls to evangelize were driven by Stuckey’s belief in the imminent return of Jesus; imminent meaning, at any moment. Forty years later, Stuckey and I are no longer in the ministry, Montpelier Baptist, a church that one time had over 500 in attendance, is closed, and those who were once obsessed with the soon-return of Jesus have turned to more earthly matters such as marriage, children, jobs, houses, and economic prosperity. While these people still tacitly believe that Jesus will someday return to earth, their lives are no longer dominated by eschatological thoughts. In other words, they grew up.

Were you once part of a church that was obsessed with the end-times? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Note

I am well aware of the fact that Evangelicals are not in agreement about how the books of Daniel and Revelation should be interpreted. That said, it is not hard to find Evangelical blogs, websites, and news services promoting the eschatological beliefs mentioned in this post.

You can read the complete text of 88 Reasons the Rapture Will Be in 1988 here.

Do Evangelical Beliefs Lead to Mental Illness?

lisa haven

Charismatic Evangelical and Conspiracy theorist Lisa Haven

Do Evangelical beliefs lead to mental illness? Yes and no. Certainly, Evangelicals, thanks to their religious beliefs, are, to some degree, deluded. They believe things that aren’t true, but I am not inclined to think that this means they all have some sort of mental illness.  All of us are capable of self-delusion. That said, I do think some Evangelicals are mentally ill, and thanks to their beliefs, they see their illness as God giving them some sort of inside information about the world. These Evangelicals are the religious version of Mel Gibson in the movie Conspiracy Theory. Let me illustrate this with a YouTube video put out by a Charismatic Evangelical named Lisa Haven.

The following video details Haven’s belief that the United Nations is a secret front group for the nefarious New World Order.  This video has already been viewed over 40,000 times (85,000 people subscribe to Haven’s YouTube channel). The video is 11 minutes long, but I do hope you will watch all of it. Doing so will allow you to understand what follows. Be prepared to see lots of air quotes.

Video Link  (Sorry, for some reason embedding this video causes my RSS feed to break, so you will have to view it on YouTube)

As I watched this video, I was, at first, amused, and then quite sad. I told Polly, Here’s a young woman whose mind has already been ruined. Imagine, for a moment, where Lisa Haven will be 25 years from now? Will she still be, to use her words, “digging deep and finding truth…spread (ing) truth no matter where it lies?” Or will she be taking psychotropic drugs, wondering what went wrong? I’m sure some Evangelicals will object to me categorizing Haven, a mother of four children, as mentally ill, but any non-religious interpreter of her video would come to the same conclusion.  Remove the religious context and Haven’s rant sounds eerily like the rantings of a crazy person.

In a video titled 18 Unsettling Predictions For 2016: Warning You May Get More Then You Bargained For!, Haven makes 18 predictions (all grammatical errors in the original):

  1. Increased crime and more terrorist threats (due to mass immigration and influx of Refugees, he wants to bring in 10,000 alone in 2016)
  2. Rise of Islam and anti-semitism. Christianity will either stay stagnant or decrease.
  3. Economy will continue to falter, maybe even a “Global Recession.”
  4. America will becomes more third world in nature.
  5. More gun laws and restrictions will be enforced.
  6. An Increased amount of race riots and civil riots.
  7. More movement into the New World Order, Pope Francis will continue his push in this direction, likely embolden it.
  8. Increased earthquakes, tsunamis, weather activity as predicted in the Bible and the warning letter sent to FEMA by prior presidential advisor John L. Casey.
  9. More fusion centers, NSA surveillance and more suppression of truth over the Internet (things like Facebook, twitter, Google, will all work together to oust truths and suppress reality).
  10. A move in the direction of policed streets in the name of “safety.” Increased activity of military helicopters, drone activity, domestic military drills, etc. More laws will be passed promoting this.
  11. Possible World War III due to numerous rumors now transpiring with Russia, who is currently preparing for war against the United States and they want the battlefield to be Syria.
  12. Patriots, Christians, Conservatives, Libertarians, Gun Owners and Veterans will become more of a target.
  13. Activity in the Middle East will embolden! More war activity in Jerusalem, more attacks on Israel as the Bible predicts.
  14. If Obama has his way, due his clean power plan, our energy prices will increase.
  15. Increased demoralization done under the banner of “political correctness.”
  16. More technological advancements, including more movement in the direction of a global ID, Mark of the Beast style (however their goal is not to have this fully in place until 2030)
  17. World governments will become bolder in their tyrannical moves.
  18. America will either have a revival or be apathetic.

While there is an element of truth in some of Haven’s “predictions,”,  it should be clear to readers that her conspiratorial thinking is being driven by her Evangelical beliefs concerning the Bible and eschatology (future events).  Over the years, I have met numerous people such as Lisa Haven. Every one of them had one thing in common: Evangelical Christianity.

In a recent News2morrow interview, Haven shared how she views the world:

Another one – and I just put this story out yesterday, don’t know if you saw it – we could be having a repeat of what had happened in the Soviet Union here in America. And what I mean by that, in order to silence political opposition the Soviets started labeling political dissidents as a psychiatric disorder. The official label was sluggish schizophrenia.

They started labeling people with these titles, basically silencing any opposition that they had.  When I dive through some of the information I see in America, I see some of that being mimicked here. However they’re labeling it as conspiracy theorists and that could open a whole realm. I mean, you can say bible prophecy is a conspiracy theory. You can say a certain realm of patriotism is a conspiracy theory. The term is so broadly used.

There are various reports of research being done at colleges basically studying the minds of conspiracy theorists and labeling them with personality disorders. Again, when something like that happens, I’m like “Ahh!  What is the game here?”

….

I think, what could happen, is that they’re targeting political dissidents, basically the ones that are in opposition to what they want to play out – which would be your patriots, constitutionalists, veterans, Christians. They’ve been specifically targeted on numerous documents. We were targeted on Project Megiddo. There’s the right wing extremist documentation that we have today, and the presentations that they’re giving to our military. These are some of the, quote unquote, “right wing extremists” that are being labeled and targeted.

I think the reason why they’re doing that is, when something happens with the economy and we go into chaos, they’ll have reasons to go round up those dissidents – right wing extremists, as they label a lot of us. They could say that they’re rounding them up to prevent riots, and would send them to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) camps that they’ve set up. And they don’t call them FEMA camps – the official government term is internment camps.

….

Persecution can come in many forms. Right now there is a huge push of persecution against the reality of Christ. Right here in America! — that’s what we’re seeing starting. And that’s being turned into the lunatics that believe a lie. And part of that psychiatric diagnosis is that they are bringing in religion. So you can see what we might be headed in the future with something like that. They’re even claiming in some studies that I’ve read that it could be a medical diagnosis.

….

It’s hard to say, but I think we can push it back. We can delay it definitely. We’ve also seen the leaking of possible false flags that were planned by the government but were diverted because people in media have gotten it out. Sometimes people will say, “Oh but it never happened!” No, it didn’t – thankfully! Because it got diverted through media outlets, especially the alternative media.

The mainstream media seems to be government run. They can’t regulate the alternative media and that’s why they’re pushing that net neutrality (legislation) to put it on the lap of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).  Now if they can silence alternative media, they can implement their plans. But it can be diverted by waking up the masses.

What is it that drives Haven’s thinking? What leads a bright young woman to think that chem trails are poisoning all of us and that drinking tea will cleanse us of its deleterious effects?  What causes Haven to abandon her youth and devote her life to chasing after black helicopters, the New World Order, and Jesus? Two things: her belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Words of God and her literalistic interpretation of these words.

Haven is the poster child for what happens when someone really, really, really believes the Bible. Haven attends a charismatic church that, week in and week out, reinforces her end-times, conspiratorial beliefs. According to Haven’s website, she is taking classes through the International School of Ministry (ISOM), an online Charismatic Bible college. ISOM is operated by Berin Gilfillan and his wife Lisa. Both have secular degrees (University of Michigan, Michigan State), proving yet again that educated people can be quite deluded.

According to the ISOM website:

Each Trimester of ISOM study consists of 32 teaching sessions of training. You can click on each of the blue buttons below to explore the wonderful content of those five Trimesters. They contain a total of 160 sessions of teaching from 30 renowned instructors such as Jack Hayford, John Bevere, Joyce Meyer, A.R. Bernard, Reinhard Bonnke, Marilyn Hickey, Brian Houston, T.L. Osborn and Bill Winston to name a few.

This ISOM program is tried and tested and has been used around the world by over 330,000 students with wonderful results. Now that ISOM has make-up and review classes online, it is even more friendly for use by pastors and churches. Please note, however, that ISOM is NOT focused on high theology, but on practical training and impartation.

….

Many people who previously graduated with doctoral degrees from another institution have commented on how ISOM was so impartational and so different to their previous studies. It is possible for people to start ISOM at a higher level, but not recommended as ISOM core really contains some classic content. We allow students of any age to participate in ISOM. I have graduated two 11 year old students and one 91 year old.

The Gilfillans also give pastors an opportunity to have an ISOM in their church. According to the ISOM website, “ISOM is the world’s largest video Bible School and is being used in more than 15,000 locations, in 142 nations and in more than 70 languages.” The skeptic in me says, I would love to see ISOM’s and the Gilfillans financials. I suspect a lot of money is being made through “training” gullible Evangelical Christians for ministry. One such person is Lisa Haven.

Will Haven’s ISOM training encourage her to think critically? Of course not. The Gilfillans readily admit that ISOM ” is NOT focused on high theology, but on practical training and impartation.” In other words, all that ISOM training will do for Haven is reinforce her belief that she is called by God to expose the evil New World Order and all its attending conspiracies. Here is a list of some the classes Haven will have to take to get a degree from ISOM:

  • Foundations of the Faith
  • Supernatural Living
  • Praise & Worship
  • Fear of the Lord
  • Old Testament/New Testament Survey
  • Living by Faith
  • Jesus Our Healer, Today
  • Church-based training (or how you can start your own ISOM franchise)
  • Altar Call
  • Spiritual Breakthrough
  • Wilderness Mentalities
  • Spiritual Warfare

I have no doubt that the training provided by ISOM will only increase Haven’s conspiratorial delusions. While it would be tempting to put all the blame on Haven for her craziness, the truth is her church, pastor, parents, husband, ISOM, and tens of thousands of adoring YouTube followers, have made Haven into the person she is today.

Is Lisa Haven mentally ill? I don’t know. I’m not a doctor, so I am not qualified to make such a diagnosis. I can say, based on the videos I have viewed, Haven does exhibit the signs of someone who is mentally disturbed. Sadly, as many former Charismatics will attest, mental illness is just a typical Sunday night worship service at the local Charismatic Evangelical church. (If you doubt this, take some time to read the posts on WorldnetDaily and Charisma websites.)

Unless Lisa Haven has some sort of rational epiphany, there’s little that can be done to help her. Sadly, being deluded is not a crime (even though Haven thinks she will one day be imprisoned for her beliefs). She has been taken captive by her Bible and literalistic Evangelical beliefs. She will remain imprisoned until she sees the light and comes to realize that her entire worldview is based on lies.

Note

In the future, I plan to put on my investigative reporter hat and investigate ISOM and the Gilfillans. I’m particularly interested in following the money trail.

The Rapture, A Doctrine No One Really Believes

the rapture 3

Millions of American Evangelicals believe that Jesus is going to come back some day very soon, perhaps today, and rapture them from the earth.  This rapture, or catching up, is only for those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Most of the population of the world will be left behind. (Left Behind. Hmm, that would  be a great title for a poorly written fictional book series that would make its authors filthy rich.) For the Evangelical, maybe for the first time in their life, they will get to fly first class. All those who laughed at them or mocked their beliefs will be left behind as they soar through the clouds with Jesus on their way to God’s Motel 6.

After all the washed in the blood Christians are raptured, God will open a big can of whoop ass and for seven years he will pour out his judgment and wrath on the earth. (or 3 1/2 years depending on what kind of rapturist you are) By the time the Great Tribulation is over, God will have slaughtered almost every human being on the face of the earth. Awesome, right?

The rapture is a relatively new eschatological belief, dating back to the 19th century. (the history behind the belief is quite interesting)  Central to rapture belief is the notion that Jesus could return at any moment. I am sure most of you have heard a preacher say that we are waiting for the imminent return of Jesus. He could come today!

Evangelicals often try to scare me into repenting. Here’s what one Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) commenter said trying to scare me with the rapture:

Time is short and HE is coming again. I would hate to see you blogging about how the Lord came and raptured the Church, and how you got left behind, because you were to busy bashing Preachers about this or that. Be a man sir, Please for all of us.

The tactic used by this commenter is used every Sunday in uncounted Evangelical churches. Jesus could return today! Are you ready? Are you saved? You don’t want to be left behind! Are you right with God? Do you want Jesus to come back and not find you busy doing HIS work, HIS work meaning doing what the preacher wants you to do. Oh, these scaremongers are earnest in their pleas, yet when the service is over they pile into their car, drive to the local 10% off if you bring a church bulletin buffet for dinner, and then return home to catch their favorite football team on the TV. You see, these preachers really don’t believe what they are saying.  In fact, no one REALLY believes in the rapture and the imminent return of Jesus.

Right now, an Evangelical is reading the previous paragraph and is outraged that I would suggest that they don’t believe in the rapture. Little do they know that the very fact that they are reading this post is proof of my contention. If a person REALLY thought Jesus was coming back today, would they spend their time reading the blog of an apostate ex-Christian preacher? Of course not.

the rapture 2

How many times have you listened to a preacher preach a humdinger of a rapture sermon imploring people to get  saved because Jesus could come today, only to watch this same preacher after the service get in his car and drive down to the local Bob Evan’s for lunch?  If the preacher REALLY thought Jesus was coming back today, would he be spending time eating and fellowshipping at the local Bob Evans? Of course not.

Here’s how you can tell what any Evangelical REALLY believes. Just look at how they live their life from day-to-day. Do they live like a person who is expecting the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to show up at any moment? Does their life reflect their belief that this is the generation that will see the return of Jesus?  Of course not.  Like the rest of us, they are busy going to work, making money, mowing the grass, painting the kitchen, washing the car, and taking a vacation. Outside of what they do on Sunday and maybe on Wednesday, they live lives that aren’t any different from the rest of us. How they live betrays what they really believe.

If the rapture could happen today and we are one day closer to the tribulation than we were yesterday, and Evangelicals really believed this, wouldn’t they would be selling their possessions and doing all they could do to evangelize the world? Instead, they are sitting in front of a computer screen ordering the latest book in the Left Behind series or some other end times fiction series.  Tonight, instead of talking to their family, friends, and neighbors about the soon coming rapture, they will sit down in front of the TV and watch their favorite show or they will surf the internet, perhaps stopping by The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser to read what the apostate preacher wrote.  Their lifestyle betrays that they don’t REALLY believe the rapture is imminent.

If I believed that there was a fire coming that would burn down the homes of my family, friends, and neighbors, I would make sure everyone knew about it. It would be negligent on my part to NOT warn them of the fire to come.  Yet, most Christians rarely, if ever, share their faith. Even preachers who thunder, stomp, holler, spit, and snort as they preach about the need for sinners to get saved, rarely are diligent in evangelizing others. In the 8 years I have lived in Ney, Ohio, not one Christian or preacher has knocked on my door to warn of the doom to come. They left flyers for Back to Church Sunday, their ice cream social, or their craft bazaar, but not one time have they uttered a word or left a piece of literature that warned the village atheist and his family that Jesus is fixing to come to soon.

John the Baptist went to the wilderness and preached the gospel. The Apostle Paul went from town to town preaching the gospel. The Evangelicals of today? They go from conference to conference, church meeting to church meeting, and website to website,  learning how to be a fatter sheep. The world? It can go to hell, Duck Dynasty is on.

[signoff]

 

Charles Attempts to Understand the Fundamentalist Mind

god and knowledge

Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Charles asked:

I know you are probably going to slam me for asking this, but it really is something I have noticed time and time and time again across my nearly 63 years of life—and I am at a bit of a loss to understand it. So, here goes:

Why do Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals believe that the sole purpose of communications media (books, magazines, newspapers, movies, television shows, blogs, etc.) is to “teach me how I should live my life” in this world. All of my semi-fundie aunts are dead now, but they grew up in rural Tennessee in the period 1910-1930. In later years, (1930s onward), they would scrape up enough money to go to a movie, and they would go with the apparent notion that Joan Crawford will today on the movie screen “teach me how I should live my life if I move to the city.”

Whenever a fundie wants to banish a book from the public library, ban a movie, or whatever, the excuse is always something along the lines of: “Well, I’m afraid this book (or this movie) is going to teach people wrong things about…”

I gotta be honest with you Bruce. I think these people are just plain nuts. For example, I saw a DVD of the movie “Lucy” recently. At no time did I insert it into the DVD player, kick back in my easy chair, and say, “Scarlett is gonna teach me how I should live my life with this movie.” If I pick up the newest Superman comic book, I never say, “Superman is going to teach me a lesson on how I should live my life.”

I am a professional anthropologist. Human culture and society are my business, but this one is a little hard to understand. On occasion, I have wondered if this is a uniquely American disease of the mind with religious roots. For example, when the first pioneers pushed westward across the Appalachian Mountains into Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, the Bible was often the only book they owned. It was viewed as a book whose primary purpose was to “teach them how they should live their lives.” Historically, is it possible that they uncritically transferred this notion to every form of communications media that arrived on the scene?

Even nowadays, you can here fundies say, “I don’t like that short story because it does not teach a good moral lesson.” I just want to say back, “Well, maybe the author did not want to teach you a good moral lesson because he was just writing a story that he wanted to tell.”

What goes on in the minds of these people?

Here’s what I know for sure, the Christian fundamentalist operates from six presuppositions:

  • Their God, as revealed through the Bible, creation, and conscience,  is the one true God
  • The Bible is God’s divine revelation to humanity and contains everything necessary for life and godliness
  • Every person is a sinner in need of salvation
  • There is eternal life beyond the grave
  • Heaven/eternal kingdom of God is where Christians will spend eternity and hell/lake of fire is where non-Christians will spend eternity
  • This life is preparation for eternal life after death

Because Evangelicals believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, it becomes the foundation for how they view the world and live their lives (in theory anyway). This thinking permeates every aspect of their lives. It is not uncommon for Evangelicals to label themselves as “people of the book.” The Bible becomes a written oracle that speaks infallibly pertaining to life and godliness. It becomes THE truth above all others. Throw in the notion that the Holy Spirit lives inside Evangelicals as their teacher and guide, and is it any surprise that Evangelicals think the way they do?

Everything in the Evangelicals’ lives is filtered through the pages of the Bible. When they see something in the media that lines up with their beliefs, this is viewed as God giving them a life lesson or reinforcing their beliefs. Since most Evangelicals think homosexuality is a sin, they can turn to Romans 1, 2 and see that their view of the world is going to hell in a hand basket is affirmed by the Bible and recent events such as the legalization of same-sex marriage and the persecution of Christian wedding cake bakers.

Evangelicals often equate the smallest of things to God. From finding their keys to discovering a $20 bill in a pair of pants, every unexpected “blessing” is a sure sign of the truthfulness of the Bible. These “God sightings” are proof that they are on the right track and that their beliefs are true. So, when a Tim Tebow or some other sports star praises Jesus, they see the star’s words as an affirmation of their beliefs. Same goes for utterances about God at the Grammy Awards, Country Music Awards, and other show-biz award shows. Never mind that many of the singers are praising God for songs that promote debauchery and sin. All that matters is that they thanked God or their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Woo Hoo! Another God sighting!!

Evangelicals are also obsessed with eschatology. Always on the lookout for Jesus coming to rapture them away, they look for signs of his soon return (even though they are commanded not to do so). Again, this kind of thinking leads them to “see” God and signs everywhere they look. From RFID chips being the mark of the beast to mathematical formulas that predict the exact date of the rapture, Evangelicals seek out “evidence” for their eschatological beliefs. In doing so, they overlook the obvious; first century Christian expected the second coming of Jesus in their lifetime, yet here we are 2,000 years later, no Jesus. Perhaps Jesus likes his digs in heaven and is not coming back or his body lies silent in an unmarked grave outside of Jerusalem.

Evangelicals also believe God speaks to them, either through the Bible or through the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. When a person has God speaking directly to him, it is possible to see almost anything as a lesson or message from God. Spend some time on the CHARISMA website and you will come away thinking that Evangelicalism is actually an insane asylum. No belief is so far-fetched that it cannot be attributed to God. Years ago, a woman stood up in one of the churches I pastored and told a story about God appearing to her. A devout Evangelical Christian, she said God came in the night and spoke to her. Wanting to make sure it was God and not the devil, she asked for a sign. All of a sudden, she saw a blue light and she knew it was God. I thought then, as I do now, that she was confusing a blue light special at K-Mart with a visitation from God. (Note also the number of Republican candidates for President who say the Christian God TOLD them to run.)

Throw all these things in a bag and shake them up and what you end up with is a Christian version of McCarthyism. Everywhere Evangelicals look they see their God. When they pray for Grandma and she gets better they think God did it. When God doesn’t answer their prayer and Grandma dies? It’s God’s will. Either way, everything traces back to God. He is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

god said it

Understanding this explains why their thinking drives you nuts. As a man of science, you value evidence and facts. While you are still a believer, you do not check your brain at the door and ignorantly view the world as the Evangelical does. Evangelicals will likely say that they too value evidence and facts, but their evidence is the Bible, not what can be understood through reason, healthy skepticism, and the scientific method. When confronted with a challenge to their beliefs, the Bible and faith always win.

This is why I do not get into arguments and lengthy discussions with Evangelicals. The path always leads back to faith and THE BIBLE SAYS!  Once the Evangelical appeals to faith, there is no hope of a meaningful discussion. Just today, an Evangelical preacher “proved” to me that Jesus resurrected from the dead. How?  He quoted the Bible. In his mind, God said it and that settles it.

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Is God to Blame for Terrorist Attacks? Anne Graham Lotz Says, Yes!

911

Suppose a mother has a toddler who wants to play in the street.  She know her son could be hit by a car if he does, but she wants to teach him a lesson, so she allow him to play in the street.  Pretty soon a car comes down the street, hits her son, and he dies. Is she to blame for his death? After all, he is the one who wanted to play in the street. She just allowed/permitted him to do so. Yes, she could have stopped him, but she thought it important that he learn a lesson, so she let him have his way.

Does anyone think this mother is a good mother? Does anyone think, if this woman has any more children, that they should be removed from the home? Some Evangelicals think their God is just like this mother. According to fundamentalist Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham, because the United States turned its back on God, God is allowing terrorists to attack the U.S. Here’s what Lotz had to say on Jan Markell’s Understanding The Times radio program. (you can listen to broadcast here):

In the days of Noah, they were eating, drinking, getting married. There is nothing wrong with any of that. All of those are normal everyday activities. But in Noah’s day they did it all apart from God,” There was no acknowledgment of God. God was irrelevant to them. … I think that is where we are today.”

“I look at some of the things that we get preoccupied with, whether it’s an entertainer or whose baby they are having, or on the red carpet, or footballs being deflated by a quarterback. We zero in on those things and talk about them and we have no idea that we are on the edge of the whole world collapsing around us.That is the strongest similarity of the days of Noah and our day.”

“Today, we are consumed by superficial things. Some of the areas of the world they are not. If you go to Syria or Iraq, those Christians over there, I will guarantee you, are very focused. In America, we are just neglecting God and ignoring Him. I just saw a piece about the rise of atheism, people walking away from the church. In fact, the Christian church is declining, according to Pew Research.”

That is why God sends us wake-up calls. That’s why he allows the terrorists to strike or a tornado to rip through our city, because for whatever reason, we don’t seem to give Him our attention until we are desperate. If we don’t give Him our attention, then He is going to allow things to happen to make us more and more desperate until we do cry out.“…

…”We share the gospel because people whom we lead to Christ right now, it’s almost like we save them twice,” she said. “We save them from an earthly hell that is coming during the tribulation period, which I think we are very close to, and we save them from eternal hell, which is when you step into eternity. The second death is the worst of all when you are separated from God forever.”

9-11? Shooting in Charleston? Terrorist attack in Chattanooga?  Tornadoes? Earthquakes? Tsunamis? All warnings from God. In Lotz’s Bible-saturated mind, since 2008 when the great usurper, Barack Obama, took office, there has been an unprecedented rise in sin and disobedience. Since we live in the Last Days®, it should come as no surprise that God is allowing all these things to happen. He is trying to get our attention. Time is short, repent and turn to Lotz’s God for salvation. Like the mother above, God is simply allowing these things to take place to teach us a lesson. And like the mother who is rightly held accountable for her son being killed, God also must be held accountable for what he allows.

Evangelicals, especially of the Calvinistic variety, think it is their duty to defend God’s honor. They rightly understand that saying God CAUSED these events makes God look bad, so they try to defend the Big Man’s honor by saying he passively allowed these things to happen; he didn’t cause them. Wait a minute. Isn’t God the first cause of EVERYTHING? With causality comes responsibility and culpability.  Either God is in control of everything or he is not. If he’s not, then it is safe to conclude that this God is no God at all.

I could have taken another approach with this post. Lotz wrote that “In America, we are just neglecting God and ignoring Him.” I could have wrote about the petulant, infantile God who maims and murders innocents so Americans will pay attention to him. This God, the Evangelical God, he’s just a bad dude all the way around. Perhaps it is time to lock him up and throw away the key.

As Seen on Social Media: Why Atheists Are Praying for the Rapture

Graphics, Memes, Quotes, and Comments I’ve spotted on Facebook or Twitter.  Today’s graphic comes from Facebook. I think it accurately describes how many atheists feel about the rapture. That great day, sometime in the near future, when every Evangelical will be raptured from the earth and taken to their reserved seat in Heaven where they will gleefully watch God savagely maim and kill the majority of the human race.

rapture

Question: Please Explain the Eschatology of the IFB Church

clarence larkin judgments

Chart from Clarence Larkin’s book, Dispensational Truth. This is chart showing the various judgments and resurrections.

To see full size (3970×1811) please click here.

Several weeks back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Charles asked:

Bruce, you said “you said: “Christian orthodoxy teaches that when a person dies their body goes to the grave to await the resurrection of the just and unjust and the final judgment.” How then, could the rich man see and know Abraham and Lazarus and Abraham and Lazarus see the rich man?”

Can you explain where this “Dual Judgement” theology comes from, who originated it, and why not all fundies espouse it—like you did not espouse it in your quote above.

First, for those who may not know my entire story, I was not a fundamentalist towards the latter part of my time in the ministry. I left the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement in the late 1980’s. I then became an Evangelical Calvinist before becoming more liberal politically and theologically. When I left the ministry in 2005, I was aligned with the emergent church, red letter Christians, and Sojourners. My move left cost me almost all of my IFB friends and colleagues. When I became an agnostic/atheist/humanist, I lost all but two of my remaining Christian friends.

Second, when I wrote Christian orthodoxy teaches that when a person dies their body goes to the grave to await the resurrection of the just and unjust and the final judgment,” this was a reflection of my post IFB theology. I held to a post-tribulational, amillennial eschatology. One resurrection, one judgment.

Third, almost all IFB churches and pastors are dispensational, pre-tribulational, and premillennial. As such, they believe in multiple judgments. Lazarus and the rich man would have been judged before the death and resurrection of Jesus. Then there is a judgment after the rapture. This judgment is often called the Judgment (BEMA) Seat of Christ. At the end of the tribulation, there will be another judgment, and after the 1,000 year millennial reign of Christ on earth, there will be one more judgment, the final judgment of all who have not yet been judged.

Make sense? Of course not. But, it is in the B-i-b-l-e. Much of dispensational teaching is implied and inferred.

In recent years, I’ve noticed more eschatological diversity in the IFB church movement. I suspect this is due the fact that all the prophecy preaching over past 70 years has failed to materialize. After being theologically embarrassed and made out to be a fear-mongering false prophet, many IFB preachers have turned to simpler eschatological systems. I’ve even met IFB preachers who are Calvinistic and hold to a post-tribulational, amillennial eschatology. Their eschatology and soteriology have evolved, but their social fundamentalism has not. (please read Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists? to understand the terms social and theological fundamentalism)

Earth 6,000 Years Old, but Once in a 100,000 Years Solar Event Sign of God’s Judgment

elmer gantry 1960

Elmer Gantry, played by Burt Lancaster (1960), preaching on the evils of evolution

Worldnet Daily, home to a plethora of right-wing Evangelical writers and nut jobs, warns that an upcoming solar eclipse is a warning sign from God:

A solar eclipse coming on March 20 won’t just be an astronomical wonder – it will be an event that may be unprecedented in human history, according to biblical experts who say it is an unmistakable sign of judgment.

Root Source Ltd., which provides Christians access to Jewish teachings online, reports the eclipse will darken the sun just in time for the sunrise at the North Pole, where it will be visible for two minutes.

It will happen both on the first day of spring and on the first day of the Jewish religious calendar, the beginning of the month of Nisan.

Such an astronomical event only takes place once every 100,000 years, experts said.

In an exclusive interview with WND, Root Source co-founder Bob O’Dell pointed to the significance of an eclipse visible from the North Pole at this particular time.

“The North Pole can’t really be called the territory of any particular nation or people,” O’Dell said. “This is likely a message from God to the entire world.”

He also believes the path of the eclipse is significant.

“The total solar eclipse continuously hovers over water and ice. I’m reminded of Isaiah 11:9 – which tells us that ‘None will harm or destroy another on My entire holy mountain, for the land will be as full of the knowledge of the LORD as the sea is filled with water.’”

Root Source co-founder Gidon Ariel, an Orthodox Jew, is calling for people around the world to pray for two minutes starting at 10:18 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time. Ariel will be praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem at a time of day that Jewish tradition reserves for prayer in the Temple.

In a written statement, Ariel commented, “While a worldwide call to prayer is not typical for Jews like myself, the concurrence and rarity of this natural event, together with the times in which we live, points to prayer as being the right response to such an amazing natural event that might indicate the finger of God in history.”

The solar eclipse is already causing concern even in the secular world. The vast majority of the sun’s rays will be blocked in Europe during the event, and experts are warning of possible power shortages in nations that rely heavily on solar power.

Pastor Mark Biltz, author of “Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs,” sees a heavenly warning in the consequences of the eclipse, especially for the northern Europeans, who will be most affected.

In an exclusive interview with WND, Biltz explained, “In Jewish tradition, a total solar eclipse is a warning to the Gentiles and a sign of judgment on the nations. When we look at where the darkness will be, it will be in northern European countries like England and Sweden where we see the rise of Islam and anti-Israel sentiment. Europeans especially should take heed.”

Biltz also sees significance in the timing of the solar eclipse.

“An event of this magnitude at the very beginning of the religious new year demands attention. As the Bible tells us, there will be signs in the heavens on the feast days, and this is a very significant sign on a critical day.

“It’s the same day that there was the grand-opening ceremony of the tabernacle of Moses, with fire from heaven lighting the altar. Historically, this is a day of judgment.”

Biltz is the original discoverer of the four Blood Moons, a concept heavily promoted by pastor John Hagee. Biltz points out that the total solar eclipse comes in the midst of these Blood Moons and that there will be another heavenly sign only weeks after the eclipse.

“Only a few weeks after this total solar eclipse, there with be a blood moon over Passover,” he said. “If the total solar eclipse is a sign to the gentiles, this will be a sign to the Jewish people.

“This comes at a time when American aid for Israel has become an important political issue in the United States. But Israelis know they cannot put their survival in the hands of one who wishes their demise.

“All throughout history, Israel has put their hopes in foreign help rather than trusting in the God of Israel. From King Ahaz to King Zedekiah and throughout history. While the U.S. needs to back Israel, Israel needs to rely on the God of Israel.”

Biltz also points to other upcoming signs that will take place on feast days. There will be another solar eclipse on The Feast of Trumpets, on Sept. 13, 2015.

The final blood moon, a “super blood moon,” will appear during the Festival of Tabernacles, which is also known as a period of judgment for all the nations. Biltz believes that this is a sign that momentous events are in motion.

“The last time there were four blood moons in a row, it was 1967 and Israel captured Jerusalem,” Biltz said. “The time before that occurred just after the re-establishment of Israel. Christians need to be aware of these facts in order to understand what is happening in the world today.”

The blood moons teaching is receiving increased attention in the Christian community. Root Source is launching its own online educational course and ebook to educate both Christians and Jews about the blood moons…

World Net Daily is a defender of young earth creationism. If they follow Bishop James Ussher’s chronology, the earth is 6,019 years old. How then, can an event that happens once every 100,000 years be a warning sign from God? According to the nutters and wing nuts at World Net, the universe is only 6,000 or so years old. This means that there has been NO solar eclipse like the upcoming one on March 20th.

And when God’s judgment fails to fall as these false prophets say it will? By then, they will be on to other warnings and signs from God.  They are never called upon to account for their false prophecies. They’ve made their money off the gullible, and a few years from now, they will cook up another prophetic scheme so they can bilk sincere, ignorant Christians out of their money.

88 reasons edgar whisenant

27 years ago, Edgar Whisenant published 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. Almost five million copies of the book were given away or sold. Here we are, three decades later. Whisenant, repeatedly redid his “Biblical” calculations and said the rapture would occur in 1989, 1993, and 1994. He died in 2001 without ever seeing Jesus split the eastern sky.

Before him, crackpots like Hal Lindsey and Jack Van Impe  traveled the county preaching the soon return of Jesus. While I will still in high school, Van Impe, the walking Bible, came to Findlay, Ohio to hold a crusade. Thousands flocked to hear him preach. I remember hearing Van Impe emphatically state that the Russian flag would be flying over the US capitol in 1976. In the 1980’s Hal Lindsey warned that the 1980’s were going to be it. Then he said that it was doubtful that Christians would be on the earth after the year 2000. (remember the Y2K scare and religious fanaticism?) Both of these hucksters have been wrong over and over, yet their bank account balance continues to grow.

judgment day harold camping

And who can forget 2011, the year billboards appeared all over America warning that Jesus was coming again on May 21, 2011. Harold Camping, using the fund raising powers of his Family Radio empire, raised millions of dollars so he could warn the world of its soon to come demise. After May 21st came and went, Camping revised the date to October 21, 2011. Camping died in 2013 without ever seeing Jesus in the clouds coming to snatch him away.

Sites like World Net Daily and men like Hal Lindsey and Jack Van Impe prey on Christians who are fearful about the future. As they watch Christian America slide headlong into secularism and same-sex marriage, they find themselves wondering if the rapture could happen soon. No amount of common sense and reason will persuade them otherwise. Their trusted eschatological sources can’t be wrong! After all, their predictions are straight from the Bible. But, they are wrong. They have always been wrong. If these false prophets lived in Old Testament times they would have been long ago stoned to death.

Evangelicals, who are inherently fundamentalist, are conditioned to accept even the most ludicrous of ideas and beliefs. Taught to belief the Bible is an inerrant, infallible, and inspired book and taught that pastors and evangelists are the mouthpiece of God, they surrender their rational thinking skills and embrace the kinds of craziness found in the World Net Daily article. There is no hope for them until they realize that the Bible is not what their pastor says it is. Until they are willing to let go of inerrancy/infallibility/inspiration, they will continue to be easy marks for a 21st century version of Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry.

Note

Website that shows solar and lunar eclipses for the next ten years

While I think Jack Van Impe and Hal Lindsey are in it for the money, Edgar Whisenant and Harold Camping were sincere, well intentioned believers who became obsessed with prophecy.