Tag Archive: Gospel

Preaching Love or Fear, It Matters Not, Non-Christians Still Go to Hell When They Die

god loves you so much

According to Darren Wilson, founder and CEO of WP Films and a Christian filmmaker, preaching God’s wrath and judgment is the wrong way to preach the gospel to sinners. Wilson, an Evangelical, certainly believes Hell awaits all those who reject Jesus and his awesome offer of salvation, but the best way to reach sinners is to preach up the God of love. In a recent Charisma article, Wilson described his God is love gospel this way:

Jesus loves you. Jesus died for you. Jesus wants to change you, make you into the person you were always intended to be. To focus on what’s coming is to miss the point entirely. Jesus isn’t fire insurance for some future event. He is now. He is present in your circumstances and your life right here.

Forget all that judgment, wrath, and hell stuff. No need to fear God, sinners. Jesus l-o-v-e-s you and has a wonderful plan for your life. The problem, of course, with this kind of gospel is that the Bible says a hell of a lot about the gospel that Wilson wants Evangelicals to stop preaching. Wilson wants to preach the love gospel, and once people are saved then they can be told about all the bad stuff they missed. No need to mention the bad stuff before it is necessary to do so. Is it any wonder that many people who buy what Wilson is selling, a year or two down the road, after learning all the harmful, bat-shit-crazy stuff Evangelicals believe, abandon Christianity and return to the “world”? Wilson’s love gospel is like the man who goes to great lengths to woo a woman. His pull-out-all-the-stops love eventually leads to the woman marrying him. Five years later, the woman is sick. She goes to the doctor, has some blood tests done, only to find out she has HIV. She thinks, how did I contract HIV? The only man I have had sex with is my wonderful, loving husband. When she tells her husband about her diagnosis, he replies, yeah, I should have told you beforehand, I am HIV positive.

Wilson, along with other love gospel preachers, is being deceitful when he withholds the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Jesus and his disciples, along with the Apostle Paul, certainly had plenty to say about Hell, the Lake of Fire, and God’s past, present, and future judgment and wrath. Wilson, much like many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preachers who reduce salvation to repeating a prayer, wants to scale down the gospel to a teaspoon or two of Jesus-sugar. Remember, Wilson still believes in the reality of hell. In the aforementioned Charisma article, Wilson recounts a conversation he had with a street preacher:

We were in Nashville for a showing at Rocketown, and I was sitting in the green room waiting for showtime when some friends came in and told me there were picketers outside. Well that sounded exciting!  I’ve never had picketers before, so I decided to go meet them.

I walked outside and immediately heard them on the other side of the building. They were on their blowhorn and were shouting at everyone standing in line waiting go get in. They had signs announcing the fires of hell as well as pictures of aborted fetuses (there must be a picketer kit available, so you can have all your bases covered no matter what you’re picketing), and they were just causing all kinds of angst for the people still in line. So I walked up to the guy on the blowhorn and extended my hand.

“Hi, I’m Darren.”

He looked at me, then down at my hand, then back at me. His smile was not friendly. And he wouldn’t shake my hand.

“I know who you are. You’re lying to people.”

I was genuinely curious about this accusation, so I took the bait.

“How am I lying to them?” I asked.

“You’re not telling them that unless they turn from their sins they’re going to burn in hell.”

And right there, we found our impasse. Keep in mind the gulf between us isn’t found in our theology—I wholeheartedly agree that Jesus is the only way to the Father, and if you don’t follow Him you will spend eternity apart from Him, which, fires or not, will be a true hell. No, where we parted ways was in which approach we were choosing to introduce people to Jesus. He wanted to talk about consequences. I prefer to talk about acceptance. He wanted me to start using fear as a ministry tool, whereas I much prefer to use love.

buford pusser

Wilson is like the car salesman who tries to sell you a brand-new car by talking about how pretty the car is without mentioning the fact that the automobile doesn’t have a motor. The car sure looks nice, but it won’t get you where you need to go. As I mentioned in the post, Alternative Viewpoints on Hell: Evangelicals Attempt to Give the Vengeful God a Makeover, many Evangelicals reinterpret the hard things of the Bible so they will be viewed in a better light by unbelievers. Who wants to be known as the neighbor who thinks everyone on his block is facing eternal torture in the Lake of Fire unless they eat the right flavor of Evangelical ice cream? Unlike the Independent Fundamentalist Baptists in the neighborhood who delight in telling people they are headed for H-E-L-L, the Wilsons of Christianity want to be viewed as nice, loving human beings. Personally, I prefer being told the truth, and that truth — as recorded in the very Bible Wilson considers an inspired, inerrant, infallible text — is that most human beings will spend eternity bring tortured by the thrice-holy God in the Lake of Fire. I suspect most of the readers of this blog value truth. And I am fairly certain that Wilson does too. I suspect that when the Jesus loves you shtick doesn’t work, it’s time to go all Paul Harvey on sinners and tell them the rest of the story. If the carrot won’t work, it’s time to hit sinners with a Buford Pusser’s club-sized stick and let them know what awaits if they don’t repent and believe in Jesus.

It matters not which gospel is preached. Wilson’s gospel is certainly a feel-good gospel that avoids the harsh reality that the Bible says a lot more about wrath, judgment, and hell than it does love and heaven. But, it is a gospel of omission; a gospel that doesn’t warn people of the consequences of not believing in Jesus and following the teachings of the Christian Bible. The gospel of street preachers warns of the judgment and hell that awaits all those who aren’t like them, ignoring that the Bible also speaks of a schizophrenic God of love, kindness, and mercy.  Either way, for Atheists, Agnostics, Satanists, Pagans, Muslims, Buddhists, Shintoists, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, their end is the same — Hell and the Lake of Fire.  And it is for this reason that all the theological minutia of Christianity is meaningless. All that matters is what happens to non-Christians after they die. Smile and tell me Jesus loves me or screw up your face and scream at me about my sins, it matters not. All I want to know is this: if Bruce, the atheist dies today what would happen to him? Where would he spend eternity? Your answers will tell me everything I need to know about your religion.

Seven Things Evangelicals Say to Atheists and Why They Shouldn’t Say Them

 

jesus loves atheists

Seven years ago, I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church, never to return. While I still had a modicum of believe in the existence of a God, I was done with organized, institutional Christianity. Once free of the church, it was not long before I slid to the bottom of the slippery slope of unbelief.  Since then, numerous Evangelicals have attempted to win me back to Jesus or restore me to good standing with the church. Try as they might, I remain an unrepentant atheist, an apostate and enemy of Christianity.

What follows is a list of seven things that Evangelicals have said to me over the years in their attempts to get me to renew my membership with Club Jesus. I have no doubt that every Evangelical-turned-atheist has heard the same things.

I’ll Pray for You

I’ll pray for you is the number one statement Evangelicals make to those who have left the faith. According to Evangelicals, prayer can fix any problem, including turning atheists into a believers. Here’s the problem with this kind of thinking. Prayer doesn’t work. For many former Evangelicals, unanswered prayer is one the reasons they deconverted.

During the deconversion process, I made a careful accounting of past prayers and their answers. I specifically focused on answered, big-need prayers. In every case, I was able to trace the affirmative answer back to human instrumentality. While I certainly had several I can’t explain it moments, these were not enough to lead me to believe that the Christian God answered prayer.

And here’s the thing, I don’t know of one Evangelical-turned-atheist who has ever returned to Evangelicalism.  Despite all the prayers, those who leave don’t return. Wouldn’t it be a big boost for Evangelical stock if God reached down and saved Bruce Gerencser, the atheist preacher? Imagine what a splash it would make if someone such as I returned to the faith. But it doesn’t happen. Why is that? For many former Evangelicals, we deconverted because we learned that the Evangelical church is built on a faulty foundation: the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. Once people  realize and accept that the Bible is not what Evangelicals say it is, they are then free to examine more carefully the central claims of Christianity. In my case, I found that Evangelical beliefs could not withstand intellectual scrutiny.

No matter what I say, Evangelicals are going to continue to pray for me. Rarely does a week go by without several Evangelicals letting me know that they are storming the throne room of God on my behalf (or praying God will kill me). Fine, by all means pray. But there is no need to let me know that you are doing so. Surely God is able to hear and answer your prayer without me knowing about it.

Have You Ever Heard the Gospel?

The short, snarky answer is, of course not! I spent 50 years in the Christian church and pastored churches for 25 years, yet I never heard the gospel one time. Amazing, isn’t it?  When Evangelicals take this approach with me, what they really want to know is whether I have heard their version of the gospel. You see, there is no such thing as THE Evangelical gospel. Evangelicals incessantly fight over whose gospel is true. Calvinists and Arminians are fighting a seven-century war over which group has the faith once delivered to the saints. The Bible says, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, yet Christians have spent 21 centuries proving God a liar. The Bible tells us that Christians will be known by their unity and love, yet these beliefs have been turned on their head by sectarians who believe that the only unity and love possible is with people who are part of their exclusive club.

When Christians ever figure out what the gospel is, I hope they will let me know. Until then, I plan to pop some popcorn and watch the comedy known as the internecine wars of Christianity. As one commenter on Facebook recently said, and I paraphrase,  Evangelicals think that their battles over right doctrine are some sort of intellectual pursuit. They are not. From the outside, all the wrangling over doctrinal minutia looks a lot like toddlers fighting over toys.

God Laid You on My Heart

Several weeks ago, a former long-time friend and colleague in the ministry contacted me, out of the blue, on Facebook. A few years back, he contacted me and told me what he thought of my deconversion and its effect on my family. Needless to say, his words were not kind, and after we traded a couple of emails he stopped writing.

Now my former friend is back. Why? God laid me on his heart. This time, he decided to approach me in a kinder, more respectful way. We traded emails that talked about our families and that was the end of that. While this man was, at one time my closest friend, we no longer have anything in common. The elephant in the room will always be my atheism and intellectual assault of Evangelical Christianity. And I get it, I really do. It is hard to maintain a friendship with someone who thinks your beliefs are intellectual rubbish.

Over the years, numerous former church members and ministerial friends have contacted me because they believed God had laid Bruce Gerencser on their hearts. Instead of wanting to catch up or talk about old times, they thought God has a personal mission for them: contact Bruce Gerencser. In most cases, their message from God is preceded by them doing a web search on my name. In others words, they wondered what I was up to, so they fired up their browser, loaded Google, typed in my name, and were then presented with pages of links for Bruce Gerencser (I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world). Was it God who was leading them to do the search, or was it curiosity, wondering what Bruce is up to these days?

As an atheist, I don’t think God exists, so Evangelicals telling me that God laid Bruce Gerencser on their heart has no effect on me. Sometimes I want to ask Evangelicals how they KNOW God talked to them about me, but I already know all the stock answers for such a question. Evangelicals know what they know, and all the reason in the world won’t change their mind.

God is Trying to Get Your Attention

Evangelicals believe that their God, as owner of everything, is personally and intimately involved in his creation. Despite evidence to the contrary, Evangelicals believe that God is an everyday, real presence, not only in their lives, but the lives of every person, saved or lost. When Evangelicals read my story, they often focus on the health problems I have. See, Evangelicals say, God is afflicting you so he can get your attention. If I really believed this to be true, I would immediately become an Evangelical again. I would be quite willing to put time in at Club Jesus if it meant that my pain would go away.

However, when I take a careful look at the “health” of Evangelicals, I see that they are every bit as “afflicted” as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Well, the Evangelical says, God uses sickness to test, try, or punish Christians. Far more important than bodily health is spiritual health.

Each and every day is a struggle for me. I’ve detailed this many times over the years, so I won’t bore you with the details again. If I thought that the unrelenting pain I suffer with is God’s doing, I highly doubt knowing this would turn me into worshiper of Jesus. What kind of God hurts people so they will love and worship him? In the real world, such abusers are considered criminals, the scum of the earth. Yet, when God abuses people it is because he loves them and he has a wonderful plan for their lives. No thanks! I have no interest in worshiping such a God. I would rather burn in hell than worship a God who spends his days inflicting pain, suffering, disease, and death on not only humans, but all living things.

You’ll Go to Hell if You Don’t Accept Jesus

The more Fundamentalist the Evangelicals, the more likely they are to tell atheists and unbelievers that they will end up in Hell unless they repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. In others words, God is saying that if people don’t accept his ordained way of salvation, that he plans to torture them eternally in a pit of fire and brimstone. In what other setting does such an approach work? Hello, I am your local Kirby Sweeper salesman. If you don’t buy a sweeper from me, I will burn your house to the ground. Such a psychopath would quickly be arrested and locked up. Yet, God, who is every bit as psychopathic as the Kirby salesman, is given a pass.

When Evangelicals try the Hell approach, I quickly tell them that I don’t believe in the existence of Hell; that the only hell is that which humans inflict on each other. Sometimes, toying with them, I will ask them, exactly WHERE is hell?  Most of the time, I let Evangelicals know that threatening me with Hell will not work. I am immune to being threatened into anything. I spent most of my preaching career threatening people, warning them of the suddenness of death and the surety of hell. Over the years, hundreds of people responded to my threats, embracing the wonderful, loving, psychopathic God of Christianity. I now know that such an approach mentally and emotionally harms people. Constantly being warned about impending eternal judgment often leaves a deep and lasting emotional scar. Consider me scarred.

I Know the Holy Spirit is Speaking to You

Some Evangelicals, those who are more liberal-minded and have kind hearts, read a few of my blog posts and then “discern” that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me.  Such people often have a great affinity for my critiques of the Evangelical church, In fact, some of them, not paying attention to the fact that I am an atheist, think I am a member of their club. I have received numerous emails from “fellow” brothers and sisters in Lord. When I respond and let them know that I am an atheist, they often can’t believe that I am a child of Satan. How could the Devil’s spawn ever write the way Bruce does? they think to themselves.

I happen to be quite conversant in all things Evangelical. Even though I haven’t pastored a church in over a decade, I still follow the machinations of Evangelicalism quite closely. It is a subject that interests me, and I suspect this interest shows in my writing. However, my pastime should not in any way be confused with the Holy Spirit speaking to me.

Since I don’t believe in God, telling me that third part of the Trinity is speaking to me has no value. First, how can anyone possibly KNOW that the Holy Spirit is carrying on a conversation with me in my head? Isn’t such a thing beyond the purview of even the sharpest of God’s discerners? Telling me that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me is akin to telling me that aliens from a far-away galaxy are telepathically speaking to me. The only voices in my head are mine.

Do You Want Your Children or Grandchildren to Grow Up Without Knowing God?

Ah yes, the classic do it for the kids line of thinking. Here’s the thing: now that I am closing in on 60, I have had six decades to contemplate belief in God and its effect on the human race. That’s a long time. I have spent most of my life drinking deeply at the trough of Christianity. I now know that the water in the trough was a mirage. I thought the healing waters of the Christian God imparted morality and ethics to all who would drink, but these days I’ve come to see that, while religion can play part in dispensing morality and ethics, it often, thanks to rigid dogma, proves to be an impediment to moral and ethical development.

Evangelicals, in particular, think that morality and ethics ONLY come from the Christian God. No matter how many studies prove that such a claim is not true, Evangelicals continue to hang on to the belief that their God and the Bible are the sole sources of morality. This kind of thinking has turned into the culture war. Evangelicals demand that everyone live according to their moral code. They even go as far as using the government to force others to live by their peculiar interpretations of the Bible. If only the Ten Commandments were taught in school, America would be great again, the Evangelical says. However, when unbelievers take a close look at how Evangelicals live, they quickly find out that God’s chosen ones don’t practice what they preach. If the Evangelicals are anything, they are hypocrites.

My six children are all grown. All of them have made up their own minds about God. None of them worships the Evangelical God. For the most part, my children are indifferent to religion, ALL religion. My grandchildren? I hope they never see the inside of an Evangelical church. I think Evangelical belief often causes emotional and mental damage. In some cases, such beliefs can lead to abuse or turn people into abusers. Why would I ever want my grandchildren within a light year of an Evangelical church?

If I could script the lives of my grandchildren (and I can’t) I would love for them to take a World Religion class. I know that exposing them to other religions besides Christianity will dampen or destroy any affinity they might have for Evangelicalism. Exposure to knowledge is a sure cure for Fundamentalism. The more my grandchildren learn about religion (and humanism and atheism), the less likely they are to follow down the same pernicious path Nana and Grandpa followed decades ago. If they still decide to embrace some sort of religion, I hope they will embrace practices that affirm their self-worth and cause them to love others. Such values cannot be found in an Evangelical church because they are always secondary to right belief and rigid obedience.

As I watch my grandchildren grow up, I can’t help but see how different they are from their parents (and this is due to their parents allowing them wander down paths they were never allowed to go). I revel in their thirst for knowledge, knowing that satisfying this thirst will inoculate them from being infected by the mind-killing disease of religious Fundamentalism. Perhaps, in their generation the curse will finally be broken. While Polly’s parents lament what my (our) unbelief is doing to my children and grandchildren, I see things differently. I now know that intellectual and personal freedom lead to a life filled with meaning and purpose. Most all of all, I want those who bear my name to live lives filled with happiness. Shouldn’t that be our hope for everyone?

Does the Bible Contain Multiple Plans of Salvation?

saved or lost

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.

Van asked:

In one of your recent posts, you made reference to the four different plans of salvation in the NT: one each from Jesus, Paul, Peter, and James. In that post you said Paul’s was the prevalent teaching in 21st century evangelical churches, and you expounded on Jesus’. Can you summarize the Peter and James plans, and ‘compare and contrast’ the four plans?

This is a great question. In the Old Testament, it is quite clear that salvation depended on the Israelite keeping the law of God. Evangelicals will go to great lengths to find the gospel of grace in the Old Testament, but such attempts are wishful thinking. Salvation belonged only to the Jews and was contingent on them keeping the Law. This was the religious system Jesus was born into, as were all the Apostles. There’s nothing in the Bible that suggests Jesus repudiated the religion of his ancestors and parents. For many years, Christianity was considered a subset of Judaism.

I am of the opinion that Jesus’ Christianity is defined in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7. Any cursory reading of this passage reveals that Jesus’ Christianity was rooted in how a person lived. Jesus was saying, you want to be my disciple? This is how a disciple of mine lives. The Christian church would be well-served if it returned to the Christianity of Jesus. Imagine how much better off the world would be if Christians practiced the teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount.

Peter’s salvation was rooted in the laws of Judaism. While he was certainly a follower of Jesus, he believed, at least for a time, that a person had to be circumcised to be saved. He and Paul got into an argument over this issue. In Galatians 2 we find:

And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do. But when Peter was come to Antioch, I (Paul) withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

This passage reveals a sharp contrast between the gospel of Paul and the gospel of Peter and Barnabas, another man Paul had a falling-out with.  In Acts 15, we find that there was great controversy over whether a Gentile had to be circumcised to be saved:

And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.

A council was held in Jerusalem to settle the matter and the church decided that circumcision was not required for salvation. They did, however, give Gentiles the following commands:

..That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

James, who I think was the brother of Jesus, sets forth the conditions of his gospel in the book of James, chapter 2. Here, James says that faith without works is dead:

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

James is clear, a faith without works is no faith at all.

We find this same faith plus works gospel in the book of 1 John. Evangelicals rarely understand I John. Often used as a source text for proof texts, I John actually advances a works based salvation that goes so far as to say that any Christian who sins is not a child of God. Evangelicals love to quote 1 John 5:13:

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

Evangelicals love the part that says, that ye may know that ye have eternal life. They proudly say that they have a know-so salvation, yet they ignore the first part of the text where John says, these things have I written unto you. What things? The things John wrote in the previous four chapters —  things that clearly show that NO Evangelical is a child of God.

Paul, the supposed writer of most of the books in the New Testament, taught a gospel of right belief. While he often mentions the grace of God, God’s grace was contingent on believing the right things. A Christian was one who believed A, B, and C. In the book of Romans, Paul taught a gospel that Evangelicals have turned into what is commonly called the Romans Road:

  • For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God Romans 3:23
  • As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. Romans 3:10,11
  • For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23
  • But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
  • That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Romans 10:9-13
  • Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: Romans 5:1
  • There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:1,38,39

This is the gospel that dominates American Christianity. Various sects will throw in requirements like water baptism or being baptized with the Holy Ghost, but the main ingredients of their gospel can be found in the verses mentioned above.

Two thousand years removed from the time when Jesus walked along the shores of Galilee, it is clear that Paul’s gospel won the gospel battle. While many progressive/liberal Christians preach a more works-oriented social gospel, Evangelicals are very much the children of Paul. It is clear that there were competing gospels within in the early church. Anyone who suggests that the early Christian church had one gospel and was some sort of pure Christianity hasn’t read much of the Bible. They wrongly assume that what we now see in Christendom is what has always existed. As Steven Pinker pointed out in one of his books, Christianity is constantly evolving, giving birth to new Christianities. I suspect Paul, Peter, James, John and Jesus would find  21st century Christianity to be quite strange, perhaps even heretical.

Most Christians rarely read each book of the Bible as a stand-alone text. Instead, they invest vast amounts of energy trying to reconcile the various books of the Bible and the competing gospels found within their pages. I am not inclined to do so. I have no need to make my theology fit a particular system. What I see are competing gospels, and history tells me that Paul, for the most part, has won the gospel battle. These other gospels make an appearance here and there throughout history, but Christianity continues to be dominated by Paul’s gospel of believe the right things and thou shalt live.

This is a short explanation of the various gospels found in the Bible. It would require thousands of words to do this subject justice. I hope this post is enough to challenge Evangelical assumptions about Jesus, the gospel, and salvation. The Bible says, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, but as this post shows, such a claim is false, or some sort of ideal that has never been realized.

071116

You Can’t Judge Christianity by the Product it Produces

love with actions not words

You can’t judge Christianity by the product it produces.

Or so I am told.

Even though we judge the veracity of virtually of everything by the product it produces, Christians think that Christianity should be exempt from such examination.

Raise the issue of the disconnect between the way Christians live and the truth they say they believe, and you’ll be told the only issue is the truth of the gospel.

“Christians are hypocrites”

So what. The gospel message is what matters.

“Christians live lives that are not any different from their non-Christian neighbors.”

So what. The gospel message is what matters.

Christians go around with bumper stickers that say “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” and  expect non-Christians to understand.

Non-Christians are told time and again that Jesus is the answer to what ails them.

Jesus will change their life if they will  trust him as their Lord and Savior.

Jesus fixes the broken, heals the hurting, and make every follower of him a new creation.

Jesus forgives sin, wipes the slate clean, and the Holy Spirit lives inside every believer to teach and guide them.

The Bible says Christians have the mind of Christ.

The Bible also says that Christians are to be perfect, even as their Father in Heaven is perfect.

Christians are even told in the book of James their lives must be sinless and 1 John says anyone who sins is of the devil.

The Bible also says they are to be holy just like God is holy.

The same Bible that tells us the gospel message that we are told we must accept as truth also presents a Christian lifestyle radically different from how Christians live today.

A lifestyle, it seems, that despite having their sins forgiven, being made a new creature in Christ, and having God live inside them, Christians are unable to live it.

We live in a nation inundated with Christian churches, Christian books, Christian TV and radio. Christianity is the professed religion of 78% of Americans. One out of four Americans are Evangelical. The United States is the most Christian nation on earth.

Yet, for the most part, those who profess they are Christian live are no differently than their non-Christian neighbor.

They preach Jesus is the answer, but the non-Christian looks at the Christian and says “how’s that working out for you?

If Christians truly want to impress the world, if Christians want to give the world a reason to pause and consider the truth of the gospel, then live like it matters.

Stop preaching and start living.

In other word put up or shut up.

While I believe the Bible to be an errant, fallible, non-inspired work of men, if Christians truly lived their lives according to the words of Jesus, it might make me pause for a moment to consider the message of Jesus.

But, I know I am safe. Christians love money, food, power, sex, pleasure, entertainment, material goods, etc just like the rest of us. For all their talk of heaven, they seem to want to stay alive right here on earth with the rest of us.

The product produced shows that the advertising is false.

Change the product and people might start believing the advertising.

I see nothing within Christianity that says to me “come home.”

I like my new  residence.

And I can sleep in on Sunday.

Dear Evangelical, If The Christian Gospel is True

sharing the gospel

Dear Evangelical,

I have some questions for you.

  • Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God?
  • Do you believe the Bible is true?
  • Do you believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life?
  • Do you believe salvation is found in Jesus alone?
  • Do you believe a person must put their faith and trust in Jesus to be saved?
  • Do you believe a person must put their faith and trust in Jesus to go to heaven after they die?
  • Do you believe the unsaved/non-Christian/unbeliever will go to hell when they die?
  • Do you believe death could happen at any moment?
  • Do you believe this life is preparation for the life to come?
  • Do you believe the church has the obligation to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person?
  • Do you believe you can tell what a person believes is important by how they spend their time and how they spend their money?

Pretty straightforward questions. Not much room to wiggle, debate or excuse.

Most Evangelicals would say yes to most, if not all, of these questions.

Now, if I  really believed that hell was real, death was certain, and Jesus was the only hope for humanity, I would spend every waking hour telling this to others. I would live simply and spend my money  on making sure this message got out to the world. I would not waste one moment of my time with the frivolous things of this world, using that time to witness to others.

Surely, if what Evangelicals say they believe is true, the message JESUS SAVES is the most important message ever given to humanity.

Easter is the Christian proclamation that Jesus, the son of God, died on the cross for our sin and on the third day rose again from the dead conquering death and hell. Truly there is VICTORY IN JESUS.

And all the people said, Amen.

So, explain something to me. Be honest.

Why is it most that  Evangelicals LIVE like what I wrote above is a complete falsehood?

Most Evangelicals never share their faith with anyone.

Many churches go years without adding one new convert to their membership.

Most Evangelicals live, behave, and die just like their non-Christian neighbors, family, and friends.

It seems that Evangelicals don’t really believe what they are preaching.

I am not pointing a finger at you.

I am just asking for you to be honest.

If Jesus is the answer to all life’s questions.

If Jesus satisfies every longing a soul has.

If Jesus will clean up and change  sinners.

If hell is real.

If heaven is real.

If death is certain.

Why do you live like none of this is true?

How many people did you share the gospel with last week? Last month? Last year? Since you have been a Christian?

How about your pastor? For all his talk about the gospel, how many people has he personally witnessed to this week? Last month? Last year? Since he entered the ministry?

How many new members have joined  your church because they were witnessed to by a member of your church? (transfers from other churches don’t count)

How many new convert baptisms took place at your church last year?

My point in this little exercise is this: talk is cheap.

You want others to become a Christian.

You want others to follow Jesus.

Why should they?

If you don’t really believe the gospel, why should you expect anyone else to?

Here is my take on that matter.

Religion is a personal matter.

Even though the Bible says it is not, you live like it is, so you must believe it is.

Since it is a personal matter, each of us should be free to worship or not worship.

One thing we all agree on..

We all are going to die.

Let’s agree to leave the afterlife to the afterlife.

I am willing to settle up with God after I die.

Life would be so much better for everyone if each of us had the liberty to live life freely without being evangelized or coerced into making a religious profession. (and let’s be honest, a lot of the evangelistic techniques used by Evangelicals is coercion.)

This does not mean we can’t talk about religion. This doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the Bible.

But, let’s talk as fellow citizens of earth. Let’s talk as people who have in common humanity.

If we do this, you are relieved of the burden of witnessing and I am relieved of being an evangelistic target.

Let’s just be you and me.

The Bankruptcy of the Evangelical Gospel

evangelical gospel

It’s Easter.

The real reason for Easter is___________________?

Come on kiddies, you know the answer.

Easter egg hunts?

Chocolate rabbits?

Candy?

Dyed eggs?

Candy?

Candy?

Candy?

No,silly. Easter is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus!

I subscribe to a number of Evangelical newsletters and blogs. Some days, I want to pull my hair out or bang my forehead on the table as I read about the latest threat to modern civilization or the persecution American Christians are facing because they have to treat gays like they are human. I laugh, cuss, and shake my head, but I must continue to wade through the bovine waste river if I plan to be an informed and literate writer. It’s my cross to bear.

I subscribe to the One Million Moms newsletter. One Million Moms is an arm of The American Family Association (AFA). Million Mommies is what what I call the female outrage wing of AFA. They focus on boycotting companies that advertise of TV shows they think are offensive, immoral, or anti-Christian. Their website lists the current outrages and companies who have changed their ways due to a Million Mommies boycott or letter writing campaign. They are well-organized, avid letter writers, and by all accounts, sexually frustrated.

Monica Cole is the director of One Million Moms. Cole sent out the weekly Million Mommies newsletter today. It is different from others I have received in the past. No call to action, no letters to write, no boycott. In other words, none of the usual Million Mommies stuff. Cole, concerned for sinners like you and I, made this week’s newsletter all about Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, and the Christian gospel. She hopes readers will forward it on to lost friends and family members:

If you know of someone who is not saved, please pass this on to them. Share the greatest gift of all with them: a relationship with Jesus Christ and eternal life. Also, share this with your brothers and sisters in Christ so they may use this to share with others. God commands that we share the gospel with others. We need to help one another become passionate followers of Jesus Christ.

What I found interesting is how Cole explains the gospel and salvation, Here’s what Cole thinks the gospel is and what a sinner should do to find salvation:

Resurrection Sunday is a time to Rejoice! Jesus paid a debt for us that no one else could ever pay so that we could be in heaven with Him for eternity. God gave the perfect sacrifice, His only Son, and if we believe in Him, then we will be forgiven and saved from our sins.

To be saved, you must believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for EVERYONE’S sins, including your own, and receive Him as your personal Savior so that one day you can be with our Heavenly Father. If you believe Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, you will also need to admit you are a sinner – as we all are. Romans 3:23 KJV says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” If you have never confessed your sin and belief in Christ, take time to do it right now. Jesus is the only way to be saved from your sins and receive eternal life.

On the third day, he rose again from the dead. This is the Good News that Christians celebrate: His Resurrection! He is ALIVE! And one day our Savior will return. He, and only He, sets us free from our sins! “Jesus saith unto him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.’” John 14:6 KJV

The birth of Jesus is wonderful, but the resurrection is even more exciting. It is the finale to the Christmas story. Jesus accomplished what he came for. Jesus’ last words before dying on the cross were documented in John 19:30 as, “It is finished.” He knew that all was now completed and that Scripture would be fulfilled. To suggest that more needs to be done to earn your way to heaven is the same as saying Jesus died for nothing. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV

Nails were not what held Jesus to the cross. Jesus had the power to come down from that cross, but He knew this is what had to be done for His believers to be saved. He died on the cross for you and me because of His love for us. He loved us that much! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 KJV

According to Cole, to be saved, one must believe and do the following:

  • Admit that Jesus died on the cross for their sins
  • Admit that they are a sinner
  • Receive Him (Jesus) as their personal Savior

If a person will do this they will:

  • Be saved from their sins
  • Receive eternal life
  • One day live with the Heavenly Father

That’s it!

Man, I am sooooo glad I did this 43 years ago. My reservation is booked and I am ready to go when Jesus either calls my name or comes in the clouds to get me. I many be an atheist, but I sincerely prayed the sinner’s prayer. I’m good to go, right?

Sadly, this is the bankrupt gospel preached in thousands of Evangelical and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. It is the gospel preached by the likes of Jack Hyles, Bob Gray, Billy Graham, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and most Evangelical mega church pastors.  It is a gospel that requires nothing more than sincerity and mental assent to a set of facts.

I call this gospel the 1-2-3 repeat after me gospel. In theological terms, it is called decisional regeneration or easy believism. That I can still be considered a Christian should be offensive to every follower of Jesus, yet many people think that I am still a Christian and heaven will someday be my eternal home. I might lose some rewards or my mansion might not be as nice as Charles Spurgeon’s, but my future is secure, all because I prayed the prayer.

By stringing a bunch of Bible verses together, many Evangelical churches and pastors have reduced the Christian gospel to meaningless drivel. Being a Christian should meaning something.  Isn’t  the essence of the Christian gospel following after Jesus? Can someone really be a Christian if they aren’t following Jesus, if they aren’t committed to believing and practicing his teachings?

Part of the problem is that there are at least four plans of salvation in the Bible. In the Old Testament, salvation was procured through keeping the law and blood sacrifice. In the New Testament, we have the gospel of Jesus, the gospel of Paul, the gospel of Peter, and the gospel of James. Each of these New Testament gospels is different from the others, and this is why there are so many Christian sects. Which gospel a sect, church, or pastor emphasizes determines what a person must do to be a Christian.

Here in the 21st century, the gospel of Paul rules the salvation roost. Some sects, churches, and pastors try to merge Paul’s gospel with the others, resulting in a hybrid gospel. But, if being a Christian means following Jesus, shouldn’t HIS gospel be the one preached in Christian churches? Why do so few churches preach Jesus’s gospel? Why do they focus on Paul’s gospel and doctrine and not Jesus’s gospel?  Could the reason be that Jesus focused on how a person lives and not what a person believes?

Take the sermon on the mount. Did Jesus preach anything remotely similar to Monica Cole’s gospel or the gospel that will be preached at countless Christian churches this Sunday? He did not. Jesus preached a gospel of works, a gospel that callsed on people to forsake their nets, family, and everything they held dear and follow after him. Jesus didn’t say to those gathered on the mount to hear him: say you are sorry for your sins and promise to believe in me after I die on the cross. He didn’t ask Jews to ask Jesus into their heart or walk down the aisle and make a public profession of faith. Compare what Jesus preached in Matthew 5-7 with what is preached in the average Evangelical church. The contrast couldn’t be starker. Jesus called to people and said follow me. Evangelicals call to people and say, believe these facts, pray this prayer.

I think the sermon on the mount is Jesus’s manifesto. He wanted to make sure people understood what it meant to be his follower. Any casual observer of Evangelicalism can see that the gospel preached by Jesus does not remotely resemble what is preached in many Evangelical churches. And it’s not just an Evangelical problem. Mainline and Catholic churches birthed generation after generation of nominal, name-only Christianity. What we really have in America is cultural Christianity, a Christianity that bears little resemblance to its founder.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus is quite clear about the essence of his gospel. Notice what he said:

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Sheep and Goats. Saved and Lost. Everlasting Punishment and Life Eternal. All determined, not by what a person believes, but by how they live. Evangelicals have all kinds of explanations for this passage of scripture. It’s a difficult, complex passage, they say. Doesn’t seem that way to me. A literal reading of the text makes it clear: what separates the sheep/saved from the goats/lost is their works. Surely Jesus meant what he said, yes? Why all the ‘splaining and excuses? Why all the theological gymnastics?  Yes, Jesus contradicts Paul, but aren’t Christians followers of Jesus, not Paul?

The late Keith Green, an Evangelical from the Jesus People era, sang a song about Matthew 25. I still remember the ending: the only difference between these two groups of people is what they did and did not do!

I may be an atheist, but I admire and respect any Christian who takes seriously their faith and does their best to follow after Jesus. 

There are many mainline, progressive, and liberal Christians who think the essence of Christianity is loving God with their heart, soul, and mind and loving their neighbor. After all, Jesus did say that the law and prophets, the entire Bible at the time, hinged on two commands: love God, love humanity.

Matthew 22:34-40 says:

But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Jesus also had this to say in Matthew 7:

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

I think I speak for many atheists, agnostics, and non-Christians when I say, if the Christianity on display in America remotely resembled Jesus’s gospel, I suspect we wouldn’t have much to complain about. If Evangelicals focused on loving God and love humanity, the world would be a much better place. Instead, they focus on right beliefs, right morals, and right politics, and the result is what we see everywhere we look: hateful,mean, judgmental assholes who have no tolerance for any belief or way of life but their own. It is THIS Christianity that most of us find offensive.

Notes

No one should take this post as me saying that if Christianity was ______________, I would become a Christian. I think the historical foundation of Christianity is false and I can not envision a way of looking beyond what I know in order to “believe.”  That said, I do admire people who take serious the teachings of Jesus and do their best to love others. I can say the same for any religion or worldview. The proof of its value is determined by the works  of those who claim that particular religion as their own.

Keith Green? I am of the opinion that if he was still alive he likely would have left Evangelicalism, thoroughly disgusted with what it has become.