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Tag: Hell

Only Those of Us Who Believe in Heaven Have Hope

stairway to heaven

My wife, Polly, and I were talking about death: about how we are the youngest of the older adults in her family; that we could have a spate of deaths over the next decade. Polly’s parents are in their 80s and her surviving aunts and uncles are getting up there in age too. (Since I wrote this post in 2017, Polly’s father died, as well as several of her aunts and uncles.) Death comes for one and all. Sooner, and not later, death will come knocking on our doors and say it’s time to go. We will be permitted no protestations, given no second chances. For me personally, at that moment I will have written my last blog post, watched my last Reds game, and hugged and loved my family for the last time. Death brings an end to everything but the memories we leave behind in the minds of those who loved us or called us friend.

The permanence of death is one of the reasons men invented Gods, the afterlife, Heaven, and Hell. Most people have a hard time believing that this life is all there is. Believing that humans are somehow, someway superior to other animals or are their deity’s special creation, people hope life continues after death. For Christians, the Bible promises them if they worship the right God, believe the right things, and live a certain way, that one day their God will resurrect them from their graves, give them new bodies that will never suffer, age, feel pain, or die, and grant them title to a mansion in a New Heaven and a New Earth. Those of us raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches likely remember the song, Mansion Over the Hilltop:

I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined

[Chorus]

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we’ll never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold

Tho’ often tempted, tormented and tested
And, like the prophet, my pillow a stone
And tho’ I find here no permanent dwelling
I know He’ll give me a mansion my own

I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we’ll never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold

Tho’ often tempted, tormented and tested
And, like the prophet, my pillow a stone
And tho’ I find here no permanent dwelling
I know He’ll give me a mansion my own

Video Link

This song perfectly illustrates the view of eternity held by millions and millions of Christians. Life is viewed as little more than a preparation time for death and moving into new digs in the sweet by and by. Atheists, on the other hand, place great value on this life, on the here and now, because this is the only life we will ever have. Once we draw our last breath, we will either be turned into ashes or worm food.

I woke up to find Polly in something of an agitated mood — an uncommon state of mind for her. Her IFB mother had called earlier in the morning to let her know that her elderly IFB preacher uncle was in the hospital. He had to have emergency surgery to remove 12 inches of his bowel that had turned septic. Polly told her mom about the conversation we had last night about how everyone is getting old and dying. Polly mentioned to her mom that our oldest son had been looking at some old family photographs and said of one photo, sixty-six percent of the people in this picture are dead. Polly’s mom replied, well you know, only those of us who believe in Heaven have hope.

That’s been Mom’s approach of late, to begin every sermon one-liner with well, you know, reminding her daughter that what she plans to say next Polly already knows. Out of respect for her mom, Polly says nothing, but I fear the volcano is rumbling and will someday erupt. Polly said to me, this is what I should have told her: Those of us who don’t believe that shit don’t have to worry about getting into Heaven or worry about did we pray the prayer, believe the right things, or do the right things. If Polly actually said these things to her mom what would cause the most offense and outrage is that Polly said the word shit. 🙂 Imagine the outrage if it became known that Polly can, on occasion, use the F word. I am sure that her salty speech would be blamed on her continued corruption at the hands of Satan’s emissary, Bruce Gerencser.

I have no doubt that Mom is feeling her mortality and she wants to make certain that she will see Polly again in Heaven after d-e-a-t-h. You know, the whole unbroken family circle thing. While Polly understands her mom’s angst and wishfulness, she does find the mini-sermons irritating and offensive. Mom likely thinks, with death lurking in the shadows, that she needs to put as many good words in for Jesus as she can; that repeating Bible Truths® will turn back her daughter’s godlessness and worldliness; that if just the right words are spoken, the Holy Spirit will use them to pull Polly kicking and screaming back to the one true IFB faith. Now THAT would be entertaining!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

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 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 (IFB) 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 an engine. 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 being 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 you and your religion.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Dear Evangelical, Here’s The Number One Reason We Can’t be Friends

cant we be friends
Cartoon by Paco

It is not uncommon for me to receive emails from Evangelicals who really, really, really want to be my friend. These What a Friend We Have in Jesus Christians think that the reason I am no longer a follower of Jesus is that I never had good Christian friends. In fact, during my fifty years as an Evangelical church member and pastor, I had countless friends, including several men I would have considered my BFFs — best friends forever. (These best friends of mine had a different definition of forever, abandoning me once I started having doubts about Christianity and my faith.)

In November 2008, my divorce from Jesus was final, and those who once called me friend turned to praying for me, preaching sermons about me, gossiping about me, and sending me caustic, judgmental emails. Into this friendless void jump Evangelicals eager to be “real” friends with Bruce Gerencser, the Evangelical pastor-turned-atheist. Why do these friendship seekers want to be friends with me?

Some of them naïvely think that if I am just willing to be exposed to their kind, compassionate, loving version of Christianity, I will somehow, some way, be drawn back into the Evangelical fold. Their goal is the restoration of Bruce Gerencser. In other words, their offer of friendship has an ulterior motive — to win me back to Jesus.

Such attempts to be friends with me irritate the hell out me. I hate it when people, regardless of the reason, have ulterior motives when contacting me. Generally, I can spot ulterior motives a mile away. Depending on my mood, I might respond to these secret agents for Jesus by asking, what is it that you REALLY want? Cut the bullshit and tell me what it is you really want from me.

I have zero interest in having meaningful friendships with Evangelicals. I am fine with being acquainted with or doing business with Evangelicals, but I have no desire to have them over for dinner or to get our families together on the Fourth of July. And the reasons for this are not what Evangelicals might think. No, I don’t hate God, Christianity, or the Bible. None of the reasons Evangelicals think atheists are “unfriendly” apply here. Not that I am unfriendly. People who know me — saved or lost — know that I am a kind, compassionate, loving man with, when provoked, a bit of a quick-to-rise-and-recede redheaded temper. I am kind to animals, don’t step on ants, and don’t kill spiders. I lovingly endure my grandchildren jumping on me as if they are fighting in an MMA match, even though my body screams in pain. I love my friends, neighbors, and family. I get along well with others, even when put in circumstances made difficult by the airing of political and religious viewpoints I oppose. Simply put, on most days, I am a good man, brother, husband, father, and grandfather. Like everyone, I fall short in my relationships with others. When I hurt those who matter to me, I do my best to make things right. So whatever stereotype these friendship seekers might have of atheists, I don’t fit the bill.

The one and only reason I don’t befriend Evangelicals is their belief about Hell. Evangelicals believe that all humans are sinners, and without putting their faith and trust in Jesus Christ they will go to Hell — a place where all non-Christians spend eternity suffering eternal damnation in utter darkness and searing flames. Knowing that the high temperatures in Hell (and later, the Lake of Fire) would turn unsaved humans into sizzling grease spots, the Evangelical God of “love” gives them bodies capable of enduring never-ending pain and suffering. What a wonderful God, right?

lets be friends

I will soon be sixty-five years old. Sometime beyond this moment, I will draw my last breath. According to Evangelicals, the very next moment after I close my eyes in death, I will awake in Hell, ready to begin my eternal sentence of unimaginable pain and suffering. (A theological point in passing: most Evangelicals believe what I just wrote; however, according to orthodox Christian theology, God doesn’t give the saved and lost new bodies until Resurrection Day. So, I am not sure what it is that suffers when I land in Hell, but it won’t be my body. Maybe my suffering will come from my mind being subjected to a never-ending loop of Evangelical sermons and praise and worship ditties.)

Why, you ask, will I be tortured by God in Hell for eternity? One reason, and one reason alone — I do not believe Jesus is anything Christians say he is. And since Jesus is not God, not a Savior, and not divine in any way, and I see no evidence of his eternal existence in the present world, I have no reason to worship him. No matter how good a man I might be, all that matters when it comes to an eternity spent in Heaven or Hell is if I have checked the box on the Evangelical decision card that says: Yes, I prayed the sinner’s prayer and asked Jesus to forgive me and save me from my sins.

So, I ask you, WHY in the names of all humanity’s gods would I want to be friends with anyone who thinks I deserve to be put on the Evangelical God’s rack and stretched for years without end? You see, dear friendship seeker, it is your belief about Hell and my eternal destiny that makes it impossible for me to be your friend. No, Hell isn’t real, and I don’t fear what may come of me after death, but you believe these things to be true and they stand in the way of us having a meaningful friendship. I am thoroughly convinced that in this life and this life alone I have immortality. Once death claims me for its own, I will cease to be. Those who were friends with me will hopefully toast my life, telling their favorite Bruce stories. In time, as is the case for all of us, I will be but a fading memory, a mere blip on the screen of human life.

Bruce, surely you can ignore their beliefs about Hell and accept their offer of friendship. Sure, I could, but why should I? Why would I want to be friends with someone who thinks I deserve eternal punishment, who thinks I have done anything to deserve being endlessly tortured by God. Life is too short for me to give my friendship to people who believe their God plans to eternally roast me in the Lake of Fire if I don’t believe as they do.

Well, fine, Bruce, I WON’T be friends with you!!!  Okey dokey, smoky, don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out. I am too old to care whether someone is my friend or likes me. These days, my friend list is short, but those who are on it love and support me “just as I am,” and I am grateful for them being in my life. To Evangelicals who are butt-hurt because I won’t play in the sandbox with them, I say this: pick a new God who is not a violent, murderous psychopath and worship her. Then maybe, just maybe, we can be friends. As long as you hold the company line concerning sin, death, judgment, and Hell, I will not be your friend.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Death and the Afterlife: Things Evangelical Preachers Say That Aren’t in the Bible 

heaven and hell

One thing Christians have in common with non-believers is the fact that they will someday die. Death is the great equalizer. No matter our wealth and status, or lack thereof, there will come a day when each of us will draw his or her last breath. No second chances, no do-overs. All of us, at one time or the other, have pondered our mortality. The older we get, the more we think about death. As my health continues to decline, I have thought about my end. The last few days, in particular, have been difficult and challenging. I’ve found myself thinking, “do I want to do this anymore”? So much pain, so much nausea, and vomiting, so much fatigue . . . Death becomes, in my mind, a release from suffering.

It should come as no surprise then that most people turn to religion to find answers about death and the possibility of an afterlife. All the major religions of the world teach that there is life after death, be it in a resurrected or reincarnated form. Being the rational creatures we are, we can’t bear thoughts of no longer existing. Countless Evangelicals have asked me, surely you believe that there is SOMETHING after this life? Other Evangelicals have told me that they would have no reason to live if there weren’t life after death.

Sunday after Sunday, tens of millions of Americans gather in church buildings to worship a God that purportedly not only forgives their sins but gives them eternal life in Heaven after they die. If religious belief was only of value in this life and paid out no after-death benefits, I suspect many of the people pledging fealty and devotion to the Christian God on Sundays would instead spend the first day of the week engaging in recreation, working in their yards, or relaxing. Remove sin, fear, judgment, and eternal life from the script and I have no doubt that most churches would find themselves not only without congregants, but without preachers too.

Generally, the orthodox Christian belief about the afterlife goes something like this: each of us dies, physically remains in the grave until Judgment Day, at which time God will bodily resurrect the just and unjust from the dead, judge them, and either send them to God’s eternal kingdom (Heaven) or the Lake of Fire (Hell) for eternity. The former is a blissful place where there is no sin, pain, suffering, or death, whereas the latter is a dark place where its inhabitants face horrific pain and suffering. Both the just (saved) and unjust (lost) will be fitted with new bodies (creations) that never die, and for those cast in the Lake of Fire, their bodies will be able to withstand never-ending torment.

Now, seek out one hundred Evangelicals and ask them about death and the afterlife, and they will tell you something like this: after death, Christians go to Heaven, and non-Christians go to Hell.  Does what I have written here remotely sound like what I wrote in the previous paragraph? Nope. Most Christians believe that the moment after they close their eyes in death, they will awake in Heaven and be in the presence of God. The Bible, supposedly the final authority on all matters pertaining to life, death, and the afterlife, does not teach that Christians go to Heaven the moment they die. Neither does it teach that non-Christians go to Hell immediately after death. Instead, every person who has ever died presently lies rotting in the grave, awaiting the resurrection of the dead.

It’s not so sexy to tell people that their reserved rooms in Heaven and Hell will remain empty until Resurrection Day.  Peter? James? Judas? Moses? David? Abraham? Isaac? Jacob? Adam? Eve? John, Paul, George, and Ringo? Your parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles? None of them is or will be in Heaven or Hell until the trumpet of God sounds and Jesus returns to earth to judge the living and the dead.

Yet, every Sunday, Christian preachers remind congregants of what awaits them after death: Heaven for the saved, and Hell for the lost. Unsaved people are implored to get saved lest they die and split Hell wide open. Christians are encouraged to work hard for Jesus and promised great rewards in Heaven if they do so. Preachers tell wonderful stories about Heaven and horrific stories about Hell, reminding people that the sum of life is knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Attend Christian funerals and you will often hear preachers outright lie about the afterlife. I have yet to hear a preacher say that the dearly departed went to Hell. In every instance, preachers found some sliver of faith/belief to hang on to, thus justifying their preaching the subject of their funeral sermon into Heaven. Worse yet, preachers and family members will speak of Granny running around Heaven or Mom, Dad, and Rover looking down from Heaven watching their loved ones. I have heard countless Christians say that some close family member of theirs was “with them” as they did this or that. None of these hopeful ideas is supported by the teachings of the Bible. Granny isn’t running around in Heaven. Her body lies in the grave, awaiting the Resurrection. As nice as it sounds, and the warm, fuzzy feelings such thoughts give, no one is watching us from Pearly Gates.

Of course, as an atheist, I am firmly persuaded that death is the end-all. To misquote Hebrews 9:27And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this . . . nothing. I have one life to live and it is quickly passing by. It seems like yesterday that my wife and I, ages nineteen and twenty-one, were standing at the front of the Newark Baptist Temple altar, reciting our wedding vows to one another. Youthful in body and ready to take on the world, we had no thoughts of growing old. Yet, here we are, soon celebrating our 44th wedding anniversary, and in June I will turn sixty-five. Now our thoughts turn to end-of-life matters: retirement, healthcare, and what to do with the few years we have left.  My older readers know exactly what I am talking about. Who among us hasn’t lain in bed listening to the beat of our heart or the ticking of the clock? We know that each beat and each tick take us one moment closer to our last day among the living.

Bruce, if you don’t think there is life after death, why then did you spend most of this post talking about what Christians believe about death and the afterlife? This post is a plea to preachers to tell people the truth about life after death. First, preachers should tell people that they cannot know for certain whether there is life after death; that all that Christians have to go on is what is written in the Bible; that the belief that people live on after death is solely a matter of faith; that there is no evidence for claims that people live on in eternity after they die. Second, preachers should stop telling people lies about what happens the moment after someone dies. Stop with the whimsical stories about what dead people are doing in Heaven. Tell the truth: Granny lies rotting in the grave until Jesus comes to get her. If preachers are going to tell mythical stories about the afterlife, the least they can do is accurately state what the Bible says on the matter. Of course, doing so might cause people to lose hope, but Christians need to know that there is NOT an immediate payoff after death.

Let me conclude this post with an excerpt from a Time Magazine interview of Christian theologian N.T. Wright:

TIME: At one point you call the common view of heaven a “distortion and serious diminution of Christian hope.”

Wright: It really is. I’ve often heard people say, “I’m going to heaven soon, and I won’t need this stupid body there, thank goodness.’ That’s a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.

TIME: How so? It seems like a typical sentiment.

Wright: There are several important respects in which it’s unsupported by the New Testament. First, the timing. In the Bible we are told that you die, and enter an intermediate state. St. Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet. Secondly, our physical state. The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, “Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.” It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.

TIME: Is there anything more in the Bible about the period between death and the resurrection of the dead?

Wright: We know that we will be with God and with Christ, resting and being refreshed. Paul writes that it will be conscious, but compared with being bodily alive, it will be like being asleep. The Wisdom of Solomon, a Jewish text from about the same time as Jesus, says “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,” and that seems like a poetic way to put the Christian understanding, as well.

TIME: But it’s not where the real action is, so to speak?

Wright: No. Our culture is very interested in life after death, but the New Testament is much more interested in what I’ve called the life after life after death — in the ultimate resurrection into the new heavens and the new Earth. Jesus’ resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will “awake,” be embodied and participate in the renewal. John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest, has put it this way: “God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves.” That gets to two things nicely: that the period after death is a period when we are in God’s presence but not active in our own bodies, and also that the more important transformation will be when we are again embodied and administering Christ’s kingdom.

Wright: Never at any point do the Gospels or Paul say Jesus has been raised, therefore we are we are all going to heaven. They all say, Jesus is raised, therefore the new creation has begun, and we have a job to do.

TIME: That sounds a lot like… work.

Wright: It’s more exciting than hanging around listening to nice music. In Revelation and Paul’s letters we are told that God’s people will actually be running the new world on God’s behalf. The idea of our participation in the new creation goes back to Genesis, when humans are supposed to be running the Garden and looking after the animals. If you transpose that all the way through, it’s a picture like the one that you get at the end of Revelation.

TIME: And it ties into what you’ve written about this all having a moral dimension.

Wright: Both that, and the idea of bodily resurrection that people deny when they talk about their “souls going to Heaven.” If people think “my physical body doesn’t matter very much,” then who cares what I do with it? And if people think that our world, our cosmos, doesn’t matter much, who cares what we do with that? Much of “traditional” Christianity gives the impression that God has these rather arbitrary rules about how you have to behave, and if you disobey them you go to hell, rather than to heaven. What the New Testament really says is God wants you to be a renewed human being helping him to renew his creation, and his resurrection was the opening bell. And when he returns to fulfil the plan, you won’t be going up there to him, he’ll be coming down here.

TIME: That’s very different from, say, the vision put out in the Left Behind books.

Wright: Yes. If there’s going to be an Armageddon, and we’ll all be in heaven already or raptured up just in time, it really doesn’t matter if you have acid rain or greenhouse gases prior to that. Or, for that matter, whether you bombed civilians in Iraq. All that really matters is saving souls for that disembodied heaven.

TIME: Has anyone you’ve talked to expressed disappointment at the loss of the old view?

Wright: Yes, you might get disappointment in the case where somebody has recently gone through the death of somebody they love and they are wanting simply to be with them. And I’d say that’s understandable. But the end of Revelation describes a marvelous human participation in God’s plan. And in almost all cases, when I’ve explained this to people, there’s a sense of excitement and a sense of, “Why haven’t we been told this before?”

What are some of the other things that Christians say about death, Heaven, and Hell that either aren’t in the Bible or are distorted by preachers? Please share them in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Just Pray This Prayer and You Will be Saved!

gods simple plan of salvation tract

According to Evangelicals, getting saved is the most important decision you and I can make; more important than choosing whom to marry, where to work, what house to buy, whether to have children, and should I wear brown shoes with blue pants? (And the correct answer on the brown shoes, blue pants question is NO! NO! NO! Polly tells me I am fighting a losing battle. What’s next, women wearing white shoes before Easter? Dear God, what’s the world coming to? If this attack on propriety is not stemmed, people will be wearing pajamas in public.) Check all the boxes on your bucket list, but leave the PRAY SINNER’S PRAYER box unchecked and your life is deemed worthless — lacking in meaning, purpose, and direction.

Also according to Evangelicals, life begins and ends with Jesus. He is THE way, THE truth, and THE life. He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. Jesus, according to the Bible, is the great I AM. He is not only the savior of sinners, but he is also the creator of the universe. All that has been, is, and will be, emanates from God alone. This deity is the one true God. All other Gods are false gods. This means that the overwhelming majority of humans — past, present, and future — are not saved, will die unsaved, and as a result spend eternity in hell and the Lake of Fire.

Most Evangelicals believe that Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Mormons, and anyone else who hasn’t prayed the sinner’s prayer, will end up in hell with Satan, demons, fallen angels, and Barack Obama. Saying the sinner’s prayer is the one thing above all others that matters in this life. These false religions are sending billions of people to hell because their adherents haven’t prayed the Billy Graham-approved sinner’s prayer.

Fundamentalist Geri Ungurean recently asked the question, Have You Truly Been Born Again — Or Has the Evil One Deceived You? Ungurean used the God’s Simple Plan of Salvation tract published by Robert Porter’s Lifegate, Inc. as the primary text for her post. As I will show later, Ungurean edited the tract to better fit her theological beliefs, but for now, let’s focus on what she says about how a person is saved:

If you were to die today, and God asked you why He should let you into heaven – how would you answer Him?

….

I am asking you the most important question of life. Your joy or your sorrow for all eternity depends upon your answer. The question is: Are you saved? It is not a question of how good you are, nor if you are a church member, but are you saved? Are you sure you will go to Heaven when you die?

God says in order to go to Heaven, you must be born again. In John 3:7, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again.”

In the Bible God gives us the plan of how to be born again which means to be saved. His plan is simple! You can be saved today. How?

First, my friend, you must realize you are a sinner. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Because you are a sinner, you are condemned to death. “For the wages [payment] of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). This includes eternal separation from God in Hell.

“ . . . it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

But God loved you so much He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus, to bear your sin and die in your place. “ . . . He hath made Him [Jesus, Who knew no sin to be sin for us . . . that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus had to shed His blood and die. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11). “ . . . without shedding of blood is no remission [pardon]” (Hebrews 9:22).

“ . . . God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Although we cannot understand how, God said my sins and your sins were laid upon Jesus and He died in our place. He became our substitute. It is true. God cannot lie.

My friend, “God commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). This repentance is a change of mind that agrees with God that one is a sinner, and also agrees with what Jesus did for us on the Cross.

In Acts 16:30-31, the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas: “ . . . ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved ’ ”

Simply believe on Him as the one who bore your sin, died in your place, was buried, and whom God resurrected. His resurrection powerfully assures that the believer can claim everlasting life when Jesus is received as Savior.

“But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:12).

“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13).

Whosoever includes you. Shall be saved means not maybe, nor can, but shall  be saved.

Surely, you realize you are a sinner. Right now, wherever you are, repenting, lift your heart to God in prayer.

In Luke 18:13, the sinner prayed:

“God be merciful to me a sinner.” Just pray: “Oh God, I know I am a sinner. I believe Jesus was my substitute when He died on the Cross. I believe His shed blood, death, burial, and resurrection were for me. I now receive Him as my Savior. I thank You for the forgiveness of my sins, the gift of salvation and everlasting life, because of Your merciful grace. Amen.”

Just take God at His word and claim His salvation by faith. Believe, and you will be saved. No church, no lodge, no good works can save you. Remember, God does the saving. All of it!

God’s simple plan of salvation is: You are a sinner. Therefore, unless you believe on Jesus Who died in your place, you will spend eternity in Hell. If you believe on Him as your crucified, buried, and risen Savior, you receive forgiveness for all of your sins and His gift of eternal salvation by faith.

You say, “Surely, it cannot be that simple.” Yes, that simple!  It is scriptural. It is God’s plan. My friend, believe on Jesus and receive Him as Savior today.

If His plan is not perfectly clear, read this over and over, without laying it down, until you understand it. Your soul is worth more than all the world.

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

Be sure you are saved. If you lose your soul, you miss Heaven and lose all. Please!  Let God save you this very moment.

God’s power will save you, keep you saved, and enable you to live a victorious Christian life. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Do not trust your feelings. They change. Stand on God’s promises. They never change. After you are saved, there are five things to practice daily for spiritual growth:

Pray — you talk to God.
Read your Bible — God talks to you.
Witness — you talk for God.
Join a Bible Study — You will grow in your faith.
Develop relationships with other believers – Fellowship is so important!! – source

Here is a very simple prayer for those who want to know that they have truly been saved (born again).  God knows your heart, so He knows if you are genuine when you say this prayer.

Say this to God:

“Dear Lord Jesus, I understand that I am a sinner and I ask You for forgiveness. I believe that You died on the cross for my sins so that I could receive Your forgiveness and have eternal life. I ask You to come into my life right now and become my personal Savior. From this day forward, Lord, I give you control of my life. Make me a new person and help me to live for You.  Amen”

If you said this prayer just now, I want to welcome you to the family of God!  There is nothing in this life that is as important than what you just did. And did you know that the angels in heaven are rejoicing over you at this very moment?

Pretty standard Evangelical fare:

gods-simple-plan-of-salvation

I would ask you the reader to right now stop what you are doing and take sixty seconds to pray the sinner’s prayer, thus guaranteeing your room reservation for Trump Tower — Heaven location. I’ll wait. Pray, do it now, don’t delay. Push pause on the TV remote, call a time out, and do whatever it is that you need to do to carve out sixty seconds to do soul-saving business with the Evangelical God.

Did you pray the sinner’s prayer? Great, you will now go to Heaven when you die. No more worries. Once you are saved, you can never, ever lose the golden ticket to your mansion in the sky. No sin is so bad that it is not covered by the ‘Get out of Jail Free Clause’ in your Eternal Salvation Contract — Evangelical Edition.

This kind of thinking is what leads people to conclude that Bruce Gerencser, the atheist, is still a Christian. Once married to Christ, there is nothing I can do, including blasphemy and adultery, to divorce myself from God. I will lose rewards in Heaven and I might be punished for my sins in the here and now, but there is NOTHING I can do that will separate me from the love of God.

This, my friend, is the bastardized gospel preached by countless preachers and believed by millions and millions of Americans. Is this the gospel preached by Jesus, the apostles, and the Apostle Paul? Lots of Christians think so, that is until they are confronted with people and lifestyles that offend their religiosity. Can a gay man pray the prayer, remain gay, and go to Heaven when he dies? Can an atheist pray the prayer, remain godless, and go to Heaven when she dies? Can an abortion rights activist pray the prayer, continue advocating for abortion, and still go to Heaven when she dies? Can a child molester pray the prayer, go back to molesting boys, yet still make it to Heaven? If Ungurean’s post is taken at face value, the answer must be YES!

Back in my Calvinist days, we called this system of salvation “decisional regeneration” or “one-two-three, repeat after me.” Much of the membership growth in Evangelical churches is based on the notion of people mentally assenting to a set of historical and theological propositions. Believe THIS and thou shalt be SAVED! The Bible, at least in some verses, supports this version of Christian salvation:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation….For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.(Romans 10:9,10,13)

Sirs, what must I do to be saved?  And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (Acts 16:30,31)

That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 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 3:15,16)

However, in other verses, a far different plan of salvation is found. Take Jesus’ words in Mark 16:15-17:

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues.

Wait a minute Jesus, didn’t you say:

 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. (John 6:47)

Make up your mind, Jesus.

The truth is this: Christians have spent the last two-thousand years fighting internecine wars over which and whose plan of salvation is true; whose one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism is the faith once delivered to the saints. If this post makes it into the broader Christian blogosphere, rest assured, zealots for this or that plan of salvation will set me straight on what must be done by whom to guarantee entrance into God’s eternal kingdom — which is the final home of all believers, not Heaven.

Towards the end of the Ungurean’s cut-and-paste of Lifegate’s God’s Simple Plan of Salvation, she edits the tract to better reflect her personal views about salvation and Christianity. The original tract says:

Do not trust your feelings. They change. Stand on God’s promises. They never change. After you are saved, there are three things to practice daily for spiritual growth:

Pray — you talk to God.
Read your Bible — God talks to you.
Witness — you talk for God.

You should be baptized in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ as a public testimony of your salvation, and then unite with a Bible-believing church without delay. “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord . . . .” (2 Timothy 1:8)

“Whosoever therefore shall confess [testify of] Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32).

Ungurean edited the copyrighted tract to say:

Do not trust your feelings. They change. Stand on God’s promises. They never change. After you are saved, there are five things to practice daily for spiritual growth:

Pray — you talk to God.
Read your Bible — God talks to you.
Witness — you talk for God.
Join a Bible Study — You will grow in your faith.
Develop relationships with other believers – Fellowship is so important!!

The original gave three things to practice daily for spiritual growth. Ungurean disagreed, so she deleted what the original said about baptism, and added two practices: Join a Bible study [not a church?] and develop relationships with other believers.

Ungurean also had a problem with the tract’s proscribed prayer. While her post leaves the original prayer intact:

“Oh God, I know I am a sinner. I believe Jesus was my substitute when He died on the Cross. I believe His shed blood, death, burial, and resurrection were for me. I now receive Him as my Savior. I thank You for the forgiveness of my sins, the gift of salvation and everlasting life, because of Your merciful grace. Amen.”

Ungurean adds a prayer of her own:

“Dear Lord Jesus, I understand that I am a sinner and I ask You for forgiveness. I believe that You died on the cross for my sins so that I could receive Your forgiveness and have eternal life. I ask You to come into my life right now and become my personal Savior. From this day forward, Lord, I give you control of my life. Make me a new person and help me to live for You. Amen”

According to Ungurean, if you pray her soul-saving version:

If you said this prayer just now, I want to welcome you to the family of God!

Did you notice the difference between the two prayers? Ungurean added: From this day forward, Lord, I give you control of my life. Make me a new person and help me to live for You. And there’s Ungurean’s out. Yes, getting saved is as simple as believing a set of historical and theological facts (what she deems as factual, anyway) and praying a prayer. But, those who are really, really saved give demonstrable evidence that their lives are controlled by God. Who decides what this evidence is? Why every Evangelical church, pastor, and congregant, that’s who. Behind all their talk about grace, most Evangelicals actually believe that truly being a Christian requires a certain way of life. Except for the grace-extremists who say that once a person is saved, he is a-l-w-a-y-s saved, (men such as Jack Hyles, Bob Gray Sr., Curtis Hutson, R.B. Thieme, and Steven Anderson believe this), most Evangelicals actually preach some sort of salvation by works. And that’s okay, because that’s what the Bible says too. In fact, the Bible supports EVERY plan of salvation.

Here are a few other posts I have written on this subject:

Are you saved? Are you sure? Can you even be certain? Or, perhaps atheists, humanists, and not-punching-my-ticket-for-heaven religions are right. What really matters is the here and now; what really matters is living life to its fullest; what really matters is reducing pain and suffering; what really matters is making sure Donald Trump and his followers don’t destroy the world.  When it comes down to it, Evangelicalism is little more than escapism. Evangelicals see the world as that which must be endured until death or Jesus returns. And while waiting for these things to happen — it could be today, MARANATHA! — Evangelicals withdraw into the safety of their Fundamentalist subculture — only leaving for work, shopping, ballgames, and making sure unsaved people live according to Evangelical interpretations of a two-thousand-plus-year-old religious text.

Let me conclude this sermon with the jailor’s question in Act 16: Sirs, what must I do to be saved? When you get the answer to this question, please let me know. Based on two-thousand years of Christian history and a myriad of books, blog posts, and sermons purporting to definitively reveal the way to salvation and eternal life, I think I can confidently say that Christians are hopelessly confused and divided about what Ungurean and her fellow Evangelical say is the most important question we will ever be asked. Until these purveyors of salvation get it figured out, what should the rest of us do? To paraphrase Solomon: eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

Works for me.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

How Evangelicals View the World

I found the following graphic today on The Christian Post website. I transformed the graphic to accurately reflect how Evangelicals view the world. 🙂

how evangelicals view the world
bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

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? Inerrant? Infallible?
  • Do you believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; that no man comes to the Father except through him?
  • Do you believe salvation is found in and through 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 non-Christians 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 creature (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 human 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 that most 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 deepest longing of every person.

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 congregation (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, if he exists, 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 are coercive).

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 shared 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.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Heaven and Hell, The Carrot and the Stick

carrot and stick

The four tools most often used by Evangelical preachers to keep people in the pews are:

  • The threat of God’s judgment
  • The threat of Hell
  • The promise of forgiveness
  • The promise of life after death

As with Jonathan Edwards in his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Evangelical preachers warn parishioners of the judgment to come and the Hell that awaits anyone who does not repent of their sins and become a follower of Jesus.

Here’s what Edwards had to say:

…The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment…

While few Evangelical preachers can turn a word and speak as eloquently as Edwards, their message is still the same: judgment and Hell await those who do not repent of their sins and follow after Jesus.

Preachers often use what I call the carrot and stick approach. Every person has a choice to make about where they spend eternity. While Calvinists and Arminians argue endlessly over whether we really are free to choose, saving faith does require an act of volition. Every person must choose between Heaven and Hell. Become a follower of Jesus and Heaven, the carrot awaits when you die. Reject Jesus, his salvific work on the cross, and his death-defying resurrection from the dead, then Hell, the stick, awaits you when you die.

Evangelical preachers impress on those under the sound of their voice that it is important to make a decision for Christ NOW! The Bible says in the last part of II Corinthians 6:2:

…behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation.

According to Evangelical preachers, none of us has the promise of tomorrow. Proverbs 27:1 states:

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.

Evangelical preachers are like Larry the Cable Guy. Git ‘er Done! Today, right now, don’t delay.

Some preachers spice up their sermons with illustrations of people who died suddenly or who died after hearing and rejecting the preacher’s warning about God’s judgment and Hell. These stories, true or not, are meant to elicit an immediate response. When I was a preacher, my goal was to press every person who heard my sermon to make a decision. I was of the opinion that there was no such thing as a neutral position. Once a person heard the gospel, heard my sermon, they had a choice to make. Heaven or Hell, which will it be?

A regular reader of this blog sent me a Franklin Graham quote that I think will help illustrate what I am trying to say in this post:

“Death is serious, eternal business. Once our physical hearts beat for the last time, we will instantly find ourselves either in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in all His splendor, or in the pit of Hell away from His presence.”

There’s the carrot and the stick. Heaven or Hell; choose now while your heart is still beating. The moment your heart stops beating, your eternal destiny is settled.

Think for a moment about what Graham said here about the heart stopping. So, if a person’s heart stops, his eternal destiny is settled? What if his heart is restarted using a defibrillator? Does this mean his eternal destiny is not really settled and he gets another chance to decide, heaven or Hell? For those people who have heart transplants, does that mean that they need to decide again?

The bigger problem with Graham’s statement is that it is bad theology. According to orthodox Christian theology, when people die, they do not go to heaven or Hell. Instead, they go to the grave and will remain there until the resurrection of the dead. Grandma is not up in Heaven running around, nor is she peering over the portals of Heaven watching her grandchildren play. Neither is Christopher Hitchens in Hell, being tormented day and night for daring to mock the thrice-holy God. They are dead, lying in the grave, awaiting the second coming of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead.

After the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment will take place and every person will be sent to his or her final reward. And even here, many Evangelical preachers, including Graham, get it wrong. Christians will not spend eternity in Heaven. Instead, they will spend it in the Kingdom of God. Hitchens and the rest of us reprobates? We will not spend eternity in Hell. Instead, we will spend it in the Lake of Fire.

Revelation 20:11-15 makes this quite clear:

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

and Revelation 21:1-8:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

And here is an even more interesting point. Isn’t our eternal destiny settled by repenting of our sins and following after Jesus? These texts state that everyone is judged according to their works, that it is works that determine whether Grandma, Hitchens, or anyone else goes to Heaven or Hell.

I wish Evangelical preachers would get together and figure out exactly where it is we are all going when we die. I wish they would determine if it is really up to we to decide? With so much confusion and lack of theological precision, how are poor, lost atheists such as us supposed to determine in what hotel to make my final reservation?

The purpose of this post is to show how confusing and contradictory Evangelical preachers and their theology can be. If they are not precise and clear, can mere untrained, unwashed Philistines such as us have any hope of finding THE Way, Truth, and Life?

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

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Bruce Gerencser