Tag Archive: Inerrancy of the Bible

Questions: Was Biblical Inerrancy the Primary Reason I Deconverted?

i have a question

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

Emersonian asked:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Why I Thought I was “Qualified” to Counsel Others

want truth read bible

Recent posts about Christian counseling caused more than a few outraged Evangelical counselors to object to my assertions. (Please see Beware of Christian Counselors, Questions: Should People Trust Christian Counselors with Degrees from Secular Schools?, and Outrage Over Christian Counselor Post.) Of particular note were the people who emphatically said that pastors are NOT counselors; that pastors offer congregants spiritual advice, and not professional counseling (regardless of what congregants believe they are receiving).

Anyone who has attended an Evangelical church knows that such an assertion is false. Pastors routinely counsel people — both inside and outside of their churches — and counselees believe they are receiving professional services. I don’t know of an Evangelical preacher who doesn’t provide counseling services. It is for this reason that I wrote the post Beware of Christian Counselors. Just because a man is a pastor doesn’t make him qualified to counsel people. In fact, I would argue that many pastors cause incalculable harm by posing as trained and qualified counselors — their only qualifications being that they own a Bible and can read.

I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five of those years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Over the course of my ministerial career, I counseled hundreds of people. When people walked into my office, they believed — without ever checking — that I was qualified to provide counseling services; that I had all the answers for whatever was ailing them. Why did I think I was “qualified” to counsel people?

I grew up in churches where the pastor (or youth director) was considered God’s Answer Man®. Armed with an inspired, inerrant, and infallible King James Bible, my pastors were ready, willing, and able to dispense supposed life-changing wisdom. I watched my mentally-ill mother suffer through countless pastoral counseling sessions without ever getting the help that she needed. Her failure to respond to their Biblical admonitions was, according to our pastors, a lack of obedience on her part to God/Church/Bible. Her confinements to Toledo State Mental Hospital, drug addiction, and periodic electroshock therapy treatments should have been screaming warning signs to these men of God, but they weren’t. Mom wanted
“God’s best” for her life, so she sought out counseling from her pastors. Every pastor believed he could “fix” Barbara. Arrogant to the end, these servants of God believed they offered the mentally ill the same deliverance Jesus gave the Maniac of Gadara. Mom finally found the deliverance she so desperately sought. One Sunday morning, she turned a Ruger .357 magnum on herself, blowing a hole in her heart. Mom ignominiously died in a matter of minutes. She was 54. (Please see Barbara.) All praise be to Jesus, right? At least she was “saved” and went to Heaven.

I don’t remember a time before her death when Mom’s mental health problems weren’t a part of my life. For the longest time, I shamefully believed that Mom was just a drug addict who loved sin more than she loved Jesus. If she would only repent and follow the teachings of the Bible, all would be well. Oh, how I wish life offered do-overs! I guarantee you that my mom would have received different care; that I would have been a better son. Would the outcome have changed? I don’t know, but one thing is for sure, I will NEVER have the opportunity to find out.

Young preachers tend to model what they see in the lives of their pastors and older colleagues in the ministry. I know I did. I never heard one pastor or colleague suggest that he was anything but competent to counsel church members. I never heard one sermon that ever suggested that anything other than Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible were answers for the human condition. Secular counselors and mental health treatment were routinely ridiculed and condemned. It was even suggested that “mental illness” was nothing more than the result of disobedience to God.

In the mid-1970s, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an unaccredited Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. Many of my professors were graduates of Midwestern — quite the incestuous relationship. Professors sporting doctorates were often honorary doctors, having received this recognition from Midwestern or another IFB school. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor) All told, I took one class related to counseling. Most of the class was spent “debunking” secular psychology and counseling. Everything I experienced at Midwestern taught me that my pastors and colleagues were right: Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible were all that people needed to successfully navigate life.

I entered the ministry believing that I was called by God to “shepherd” his flock (fellow Christians), and offer them infallible counsel and help from the Word of God. I sincerely believed that the Bible was God’s answer book; a divine blueprint for life; a standard by which Christians were to live their lives. I believed the answer to every question was “Thus Saith the Lord!” My past experiences with my mom should have taught me differently, but I viewed her as a rebellious sinner, and not someone who needed physical and psychological help.

As a pastor, I counseled hundreds of congregants and outsiders. Not one time did I say to a counselee, “you need professional help.” How could I? My entire life and ministry were built upon the notion that “With God (and by extension the Bible) All Things Are Possible.” In my mind, Jesus and the Bible were a vending machine. Just push the proper buttons for whatever was ailing a person, and out came the answer. When you believe, as Evangelicals do, in the sufficiency of Scripture, to do anything that suggests otherwise is heresy.

I know that what I have written so far sounds insane to non-Evangelical Christians and unbelievers. However, when you live in the Evangelical bubble, everything makes sense. The Bible as the manual for mental illness? Yes, Praise Jesus! Prayers as a cure for whatever ails you? Absolutely! In a self-contained world — built brick-upon-brick with verses from an ancient religious text — such nonsense seems reasonable. When you are told for years that the “world” is out to destroy you and your family, and that safety and protection can only be found in Jesus, the church, and the Holy Bible, the level of dysfunction and harm should come as no surprise. It was not until I left the ministry (2005) and left Christianity (2008), that I was able to experience life outside of the Evangelical box. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it and What I Found When I Left the Box.) It was then, as many of you can attest in your own lives, that I realized that I had a lot of bat-shit crazy beliefs. I had caused incalculable harm to people who loved me and called me preacher. While they bear some blame for the damage done (and sadly many former congregants are still being ritually abused in Evangelical churches), I bear the greater burden. I had a duty and responsibility to competently help them. Instead, I arrogantly believed, as the Apostle Paul did, that I could be “all things to all men.” Marital problems? Rebellious children? Substance abuse? Sexual dysfunction? Suicidal thoughts? Mental illness? Financial problems? Praise be to Jesus, I had ALL the answers. Except, I didn’t, and for that, I will forever live with regret. I can’t fix the past, but I sure as hell can warn people about what goes on behind closed office doors in countless Evangelical churches and Christian counseling “ministries.”

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Is the Main Point of the Bible to Point People Towards Faith in Jesus?

it is all about jesus

Recently, Charles S. Oaxpatu, who writes a blog called Flee from Christian Fundamentalism, and who calls himself a liberal mainline Christian wrote:

We also know the Holy Bible is not infallible—and neither are many of the fundies who read and study it.  The main purpose of the Bible is to point all people toward faith in Jesus Christ and invite people into reconciled discipleship and fellowship with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. However, millions of Americans read the Bible, put it down, and reject the Holy Trinity, reconciliation, and discipleship.

The sentiment expressed by this man about the Bible and its purpose is quite common among liberal Christians. In their minds, the Bible was written for the purpose of pointing “all people toward faith in Jesus Christ and invite people into reconciled discipleship and fellowship with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit.” Everything else found in the Bible is minutiae that can be ignored or disregarded without a second thought. When asked how they come to this hermeneutic, rarely, if ever, do liberal Christians give a cogent, rational answer. As with their Fundamentalist brethren, liberals just believe. The only difference between them theologically is WHAT each of them believes; which foods they put on their plates from the Christian Buffet and which foods they leave behind. (Please see Is Liberal Christianity the Answer for Disaffected Evangelicals?)

While the author of the above quote despises Christian Fundamentalists, he fails to see that he is, to some degree, a theological Fundamentalist too. While he rejects much of what Evangelicals believe and practice, he does have infallible, non-negotiable beliefs, starting with the belief that the Christian God is three-in-one — what he calls the “Holy Trinity.” He also must believe that humans are sinners. If not, there’s no need for reconciliation or restored fellowship with God. So, he does have theological beliefs in common with Evangelicals.

Christians, regardless of their labels, have cardinal, infallible beliefs that are foundational to their faith. From an atheistic perspective, I find this man’s Christianity just as intellectually lacking as that of the most ardent of Baptist Fundamentalists. Both groups operate under a certain set of presuppositions. That’s not to say that both are equally harmful — they are not. But, those of us who are skeptical, rational non-believers find the entire spectrum of Christianity intellectually lacking.

One question I have often pondered is what the outcome of my life might have been had I been exposed to liberal Christianity instead of Evangelicalism. Would I have still entered the ministry? Would I still have given myself to the service of others? Maybe, but then maybe not. Evangelicalism presented a very narrow path for my life, so my conversion at age fifteen, call to the ministry, and the twenty-five years I spent pastoring Evangelical churches is unsurprising. Liberal Christianity would have, I believe, presented me with a wide-open path career-wise. Instead of a pastor, I might have become a social worker, high school teacher, or a college professor — all of which I have thought I would have liked to do had I been raised differently.

I am in no way trying to disparage the liberal Christian readers of this blog. I appreciate your support and all that you have done to make this site a friendly place to hang out. But we both can be honest, can we not, that we love and respect one another, not because of our beliefs, but because of how we live our day-to-day lives. Atheist or Christian, we both try to live meaningful lives and help others. Is that not all any of us can do?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: Bart Ehrman Asks, “Why am I an Enemy?’

bart ehrman

And so the personal question that I struggle with a good deal.  OK, this is really highly personal, it’s just me.   But I often feel sad about being seen as an “enemy” of the Christian faith.   People tell me I am all the time – both people who despise me and people who are rooting me on.   Yet the views I put out there for public scrutiny are almost NEVER things that I’ve come up with myself, that I’ve dreamt up, that I’m trying to push on others with no evidence or argument – just crazy liberal ideas I’ve come up with to lead people away from the faith.

So why am I an enemy?

Of course I know why, and my views were given additional support last week, at the international meeting of New Testament scholars I attended in Marburg.  I was talking with a German scholar about advanced training in biblical studies in Germany these days, and he told me that in German theological schools (in his experience), students simply are not as a rule very interested in the historical study of the New Testament per.  The kinds of historical issues we deal with on the blog are simply not pressing matters for them.  These are not why they are in theological training, either to teach or to minister in churches.

Instead, he indicated, the ONE question / issue that most of these students have is:  “How can I be Christian in this increasingly secular world?”

Of course they are interested in historical knowledge – but it’s not what’s driving them.  Instead it is an existential question about faith.  That makes so much sense.  It is what was driving me at that stage too.   But when this fellow scholar told me that, I realized even more clearly why I get so much opposition, even in some learned circles.

Most of the people who are in the business of studying the Bible are committed to faith.  That’s what generates their interest.  And these days it is very hard.  Christians are under attack.   From science, from philosophy, from the neo-atheists, from a society/culture that increasingly doesn’t care.   And the problem with someone like me is that I’m not helping the cause.  On the contrary, I’m not just someone from the outside taking potshots at this faith.  I’m someone who came from within it, and left it, with good reasons, and who argues views that are taken by people in the wider culture to be “evidence” that the faith has no good rational basis.  Even though I disagree with that assessment (since I know full well that people can be devout believers but still agree with everything I say) (not that anyone agrees with everything I say) (sometimes *I* don’t agree with everything I say…) – even though I disagree with that assessment, I get it.

Christians – even Christian scholars – want to cling on to their faith, to cherish it, and promote it, and what they see as negative assaults on the basis of their faith is threatening, especially – this is the key point – if it comes from someone who is *outside* the community of faith but who used to be inside it and understands the views of those who are still inside it extremely well, but who now rejects these views.  And says things that can lead others to reject them as well.

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Who is the Enemy?, August 9, 2019

Why Am I the Only One Who Changed My Beliefs?

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

Dr. Bart Ehrman, a former Evangelical Christian and now an agnostic, writes:

Two things have happened to me this week that have made me think rather intensely about the path I’ve taken in life, and how radically it has swerved from the paths of others who were like me at the age of 20. I emphasize “who were like me.”   The reality is that the path I was on already at 20 was (now I see) extremely weird, and to outsiders looks more than a little bizarre. I was a hard-core evangelical Christian dedicated to ministry for the sake of the gospel. Not exactly what most 20-year-olds (including any of my many high school friends) were doing at the time.  If ever I want a conversation-stopper at a cocktail party, all I need do is say something about my past.

Still, given that as my starting point, what happened next is even more highly unusual. And I was abruptly reminded it of it this week, twice.   First, on Monday I had a radio/podcast debate here in London on “Premier Christian Radio” (it is the leading Christian radio station in England) (not that it has a lot of competition, but it is indeed a high class operation) with another scholar of the New Testament, Peter Williams, one of the world’s experts on ancient Syriac as it relates to the Bible (both OT and NT), former professor at the University of Aberdeen and current head of Tyndale House in Cambridge.

I have known Pete for years; he is a committed evangelical Christian with a view of the infallibility of the Bible. Our debate was on the question of whether the Gospels are historically reliable (a topic of frequent recurrence on this blog, obviously) (some bloggers may think “interminable” recurrence). He thinks there is not a single mistake in the Gospels, of any kind.  I think there are. You’ve heard this kind of debate before, so I won’t be recounting the ins and outs (although they were quite different from those you’ve seen before; still, it won’t matter for this post).

The second thing that happened is that I received a Facebook post from a former friend (I emphasize “former” since we apparently are no longer friendly) and classmate of mine from my Moody Bible Institute days (mid 70s), in which he lambasted the fellow alumni from my graduating class for holding me in any kind of esteem. The implication of his lambast was that I’m the enemy of the truth and no one should respect me or my views. I haven’t talked with this fellow for over 40 years, but last I knew we were friends, on the same floor in the dorm and the same basketball team. OK, I couldn’t hit a jump shot, but still, is that reason to be upset four decades later?

In any event, these two events made me think hard about one issue in particular, one that I keep coming back to in my head, in my life, and, occasionally, on this blog: why is it that some people are willing to change their minds about what they hold most dear and important in their lives and other people retain their same views, come hell or high water?    Why do some people explore options and think about whether they were originally “right” or not (about religion, personal ethics, social issues, politics, etc.), and other people cling tenaciously to the views they were given when they were 14 years old? It’s an interesting question.

Because I changed my views on something near and dear to me and my then-friends, I’m a persona non grata in the circles I used to run around in. And granted, I have zero desire (OK, far less than zero) to run around in them now. But I don’t feel any animosity toward my former friends, or think they’re going to roast in hell because of their views, and wish that torment would begin sooner than later. I understand why they do (toward me), but it’s sad and disheartening.

….

What I’m more interested in is why I would have changed my mind and others like him absolutely don’t. Even scholars.  Their views significantly deepen, become more sophisticated, more nuanced – but the views don’t change. (My sense of my former classmates at Moody – at least the ones I hear about – is that their views don’t even deepen or grow more sophisticated; they literally think pretty much the same thing as they did when they were mid-teenagers, only now with more conviction and passion).

The reason I find the whole matter sad is almost entirely personal (I guess sadness by definition is). My former evangelical friends and current evangelical debate partners think I’m an enemy of the truth, when I’ve spent almost my entire weird journey trying to come to the truth. And so far as I can tell, they haven’t. I’m not trying to be ungenerous, but it does seem to me to be the reality.

I’ll try to put it in the most direct terms here: how is it at all plausible, or humanly possible, that someone can question, explore, look into, consider the beliefs they were taught as a young child (in the home, in church, in … whatever context) and after 40 years of thinking about it decide that everything they were taught is absolutely right? The views *they* were taught, out of the sixty trillion possible views out there, are absolutely right? The problem with these particular views (of evangelical Christianity) is that if they are indeed right, everyone else in the known universe is wrong and going to be tormented forever because of it.

I know most Christians don’t think this: I’m just talking about this particular type of Christian. And they don’t seem to see how strange it is that they are right because they agree with what they were taught as young children. Yes, they don’t see it that way. They think they are right because they agree with the Bible which comes from God so they agree with God and I (and everyone else on the planet) disagree with God. But the reality is that this is the view they were handed as young kids.

Dr. Ehrman brings up a question that I have long pondered “why am I different from my former Evangelical friends, parishioners, and colleagues in the ministry?” I spent most of the first fifty years of my life in the Evangelical church. I attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college, married an IFB pastor’s daughter, and spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Yet, in November 2008, I divorced Jesus. Several months later, I sent a letter titled Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners to several hundred people who knew me well. From that point forward, I became known as Bruce, the Evangelical pastor who became an atheist. As a result of my deconversion, I lost scores of lifelong relationships. I learned quickly that what held our relationships together was the glue of fidelity to orthodox Christianity; that once I repudiated the central claims of Christianity and rejected the notion that the Bible was, in any way, an inspired, inerrant, infallible text, all pretense of friendship was gone. Today? I have two Evangelicals friends (and former parishioners), and even with them, I find that our relationships are strained due to their utterances on social media about the evils of atheism and not believing in Jesus. I ignore the things they post and say, but I do take it personally. And that’s it, for me, when it comes to connections to my Evangelical past.

I have known a number of Evangelical pastors over the years, and without exception, all of them say that they still believe and preach the truths we all held dear decades ago. Several of them have retired or left the ministry, but I have searched in vain for one ministerial colleague who lost his faith and is now an atheist or an agnostic. One is a lonely number, and I am it!  A handful of these “men of God” have moderated their Fundamentalist beliefs and practices, but the majority of them still hew to the old-time gospel. Many of these men still believe the same things they did when they were in Bible college over forty years ago. Dr. Ehrman has written numerous books about the nature of the New Testament text, and in doing so he has shredded the notion that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. (I don’t mention inspiration here because it is a faith claim, whereas claims of inerrancy and infallibility can be empirically tested.) Either these Bible-believers — most of whom believe the King James Bible is the perfect, preserved Word of God for English-speaking people — have never read one of Dr. Ehrman’s books or they have, ignoring, discounting, or denying what he had to say.

I remember having a discussion years ago with a dear friend and colleague of mine about the notion that the King James Bible was inerrant. I provided him a list of words that had been changed in the 1769 revision of the KJV. I thought that telling him there were word differences between the 1611 and 1769 editions would open his eyes to the folly of translational inerrancy. Instead, he doubled-down and said that he wouldn’t believe the KJV had errors even if I could prove it did!  This conversation took place in the late 1980s. Thirty years later, this man, of course, is no longer friends with me, and he still believes that the KJV is inerrant and infallible. And based on a perusal of his church’s website, he still holds to the same doctrinal beliefs he had when he graduated from a small Ohio-based IFB Bible college in the early 1980s. I fondly remember the conversations we had over lunch about hot topics such as: Calvinism, pre-wrath rapture, divorce, and countless other subjects. My ex-friend always struck me as a man who valued and appreciated knowledge and intellectual integrity. Yet, despite decades of reading books and studying the Bible, he remains unmoved from his Fundamentalist beliefs. Why is that?

As long-time readers know, my wife’s father graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — the same college Polly and I attended — and worked for and pastored IFB churches until he retired. Polly’s uncle, Jim Dennis, attended Midwestern in the 1960s and pastored the Newark Baptist Temple for almost fifty years. Jim’s children are all in the ministry. His two daughters married Pensacola Christian College-trained preachers, and his son — also trained at Pensacola — is a pastor. And now, Jim’s grandchildren are heading off to Bible college. The third generation is attending institutions such as The Crown College and West Coast Baptist College. As I look at my wife’s family, I want to scream. Why is it that no one can see the error of Fundamentalist thinking; that no one can see that Evangelical beliefs cannot be rationally and intellectually sustained; that no one can see the psychological damage done by Fundamentalist thinking? What made Polly and me different from her Jesus-loving family? Why could we see what they cannot?

I do know that many Evangelical preachers take great pride in believing the same things today that they believed twenty, thirty, or fifty years ago. It’s almost as if they believe that God (and their pastors/professors) told them everything they needed to know in their twenties, and there’s no reason to revisit past beliefs. It’s as if these preachers are proud of the fact that “ignorance is bliss.” It’s not that these men don’t read books, they do. However, a quick inventory of their libraries reveals that they rarely, if ever, read books by non-IFB or non-Evangelical writers. These preachers know what they know, and there’s no reason to read anything that might change their beliefs. In fact, anything that might cause the least bit of doubt is suspect and considered the work of Satan.

For whatever reason, I was never one to sit still intellectually. I blame this on my mother. She taught me to read at an early age and helped me learn that the library was my best friend. Even as an IFB pastor, I read authors who were on the fringe of the movement, and my reading expanded well beyond Christian orthodoxy in the latter years of my time in the ministry. As a pastor, I devoted myself to reading books, studying the Bible, and making sure my beliefs aligned with what I was learning. This process, of course, led to numerous theological and lifestyle changes over the years. The boy who enrolled at Midwestern at age nineteen was very different from the man who walked away from the ministry at forty-seven, and Christianity at age fifty. In between these bookends were thousands and thousands of hours spent in the study. Whatever my critics might say about me, no one can accuse me of not taking my studies and preaching seriously. Noted IFB evangelist “Dr” Dennis Corle told me that my ministry would be best served if I just spent a few hours a week preparing my sermons, and spent the rest of my time soulwinning. I didn’t follow his advice. I believed then that the people who called me “preacher” deserved to hear quality, educated, well-crafted sermons. I could do this and STILL have time for soulwinning. I have since come to the conclusion that Evangelicalism is littered with lazy preachers who have little regard for their congregants; who barf up pabulum week after week, rarely spending significant time in their studies. And why should they, I suppose? If you KNOW that your beliefs are straight from the mouth of God, there’s no need to read books that might challenge said beliefs.

Several years ago, a former church member wrote to me about my loss of faith. She was sure she knew what the problem was and how I could get myself back on the proverbial sawdust trail. You see, according to her, all those books I read over the years were the problem. If I would just go back to reading only the B-I-B-L-E, then my faith would somehow magically reappear. In her mind, I knew too much, and that what I needed was some good old Baptist ignorance. Did not the Bible say about Peter and John in Acts 4:13:

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

Peter and John were thought to be unlearned, ignorant men, yet their lives revealed that they were men who had been with Jesus. Surely, being known for having been with Jesus is far more important than being known as a learned, educated man, right?

And at the end of the day, I can’t unlearn what I know. I refuse to limit my intellectual inquiries. I refuse to rest on what I know today being the end-all, the zenith of wisdom and knowledge. No, in fact, leaving Christianity has shown me how much I don’t know; that despite the countless hours I spent reading books, I have not yet scratched the surface of human knowledge and understanding. The best I can say is this, “I know more today than I did yesterday.” And to quote Buzz Lightyear, “To Infinity and Beyond!”

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Things That Make Your Non-Evangelical Friends Say WTF? — Part One

wtf

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Until the past couple of years, I didn’t talk about my Evangelical Christian upbringing very much with my husband and kids. My husband’s family attended Catholic Mass on Christmas and Easter, and while he went through First Communion, he and his brothers didn’t really attend Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) classes very often. He and his two brothers were never confirmed as teens. As we stopped attending church when our children were seven and five, they don’t really know much about Christianity and barely remember going to Sunday school at the open and affirming Congregational United Church of Christ that we attended. But a couple of years ago, when my daughter announced that she wanted to leave New Jersey to attend college in the South, I started remembering some of the things that happened in Southern Baptist Church or in Fundamentalist Christian school where most of the staff were members of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches.

Here are some of the things that I have told my family that elicited the WTF? response.

Salvation

The concept that we are all sinners due to Original Sin brought onto the entire human race because Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating a fruit they were told not to eat. Therefore, all humanity is doomed to toil and suffering on earth and eternity in hell. But wait! God decided he would impregnate an ignorant Middle Eastern teenager with himself/his son, preach, do some miracles, and stir up trouble for three years, get arrested, tortured and hung on a Roman cross, spend a weekend in hell (roughly a weekend depending on which gospel you read), rise from the dead and show himself to some people (how many and which ones depends on which gospel you read), and ascend back to heaven where he sits at the right hand of his father/himself along with the Holy Spirit/themselves and will come back to earth at some unknown point. Whew!

Making a Public Profession of Faith

When someone realizes that they need salvation in order to escape eternity in hell, they are required to show publicly that they accept the doctrine of salvation and that they are ready to be baptized and to become members in good standing of the church. Some people will say something, others will leave it to the pastor to introduce them. In any case, it is a REQUIREMENT that the person be seen publicly declaring that they’re a filthy, dirty sinner in need of the sacrifice of Jesus in order to be saved (from eternity in hell, don’t forget that part). The primary time that one makes one’s public profession of faith is during the Altar Call at the end of the service.

Altar Calls

Every service concluded with an Altar Call in which the congregation would sing an appropriate hymn such as “Just As I Am” to encourage people to come forward to “make their profession of faith” or to “rededicate their lives to Christ.” If no one was coming forward, often the singing would stop, the organist would play, and the pastor would command, “Every head bowed, every eye closed” to encourage the shy to come forward without everyone looking at them. Sometimes I felt like someone would just go forward so the pastor wouldn’t feel bad that no one was going forward.

Baptism by Immersion

One of the hallmarks of being any brand of Baptist is to be baptized by immersion as (supposedly) practiced by John the Baptist of gospel fame. When people publicly make a profession of faith, meaning that they confess to being a worthless sinner in need of salvation by accepting that the sinless son of God, Jesus, came to earth to minister, die, and be resurrected as sacrifice for the sins of the world, and they promise to renounce sin, then they will be baptized. Baptism is a symbolic gesture that our sins are washed away by the precious blood of the slain Lamb of God and that we are clean creatures in Christ.

Biblical Inerrancy/Literalism

When the conservatives took over the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1970s and cleared house in their seminaries, the concept of Biblical inerrancy/literalism took hold. This meant that pastors must teach that the Bible was the inspired Word of God, that everything written in the Bible was literal and historical fact, and that the entire writings were indisputable. End of story. So improbable concepts are considered historical fact, such as a six-day creation of the universe and two human beings from whom every other human being descended; a worldwide flood that destroyed all living creatures and plants except eight humans and two of each living land creature (plus seven pairs of each “clean” creature) were saved and were the sources for repopulation of the entire earth; a talking donkey; a talking snake; a man who lived inside a whale’s digestive tract for three days; three men who survived after being inside a fiery furnace; a virgin birth; a couple of resurrections from the dead. Any findings from science or history that contradict what is found in the pages of the (King James Version of the) Bible are considered to be false deceptions from Satan. Of course.

The Road to Atheism is Littered with Well-Read Bibles

andrew-seidel-quote

One of the charges Evangelical apologists love to level against atheists is that they don’t really know what the Bible says and teaches; that atheists are ignorant of that which they criticize. While it is certainly true that some atheists know very little about the Bible, the same can’t be said of ex-pastors such as myself, John LoftusDan BarkerDavid Madison, and the members of the Clergy Project. Nor can it be said of countless atheists who were formerly devoted followers of Jesus Christ; former Evangelicals who daily read and studied their Bibles and attended church every time the doors were open; former Evangelicals who devoured books on Christian theology and loved to talk about the teachings of the Bible. Such people know the Bible inside and out. Their paths from Evangelicalism to atheism are littered with well-worn, dog-eared Bibles. (Please see the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series.)

Many Evangelical apologists believe that only through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can one truly understand the teachings of the Bible. Thus, a one-time Evangelical such as Dr. Bart Ehrman may have an academic understanding of the Bible, but he can’t really “know” the depths and intricacies of its teachings. This line of argument, of course, is an attempt to dismiss out of hand criticisms of the Bible by atheists and other non-Christians. Evidently, the moment I said I was no longer a Christian, everything I learned about the Bible during the fifty years I spent in the church and twenty-five years I spent in the ministry disappeared in some sort of supernatural Men in Black mind wipe. Thoughtful Evangelicals realize the absurdity of this argument and refrain from using it, but alas many Evangelical zealots aren’t “thoughtful.” In their minds, atheists are the enemies of God, reprobates, apostates, and haters of God, the Bible, and Christianity. No matter what we might have known in the past, now that we are followers of Satan, our minds and intellectual processes are ruined. No atheist can know as much about the Bible as a Spirit-filled Evangelical, or so they think anyway.

Does it really take the Holy Spirit to know and understand the teachings of the Bible? Of course not. And it is absurd to argue otherwise. The Bible is a book, no different from the QuranBook of Mormon, or Huckleberry Finn. Any claims made for its supernatural nature require faith, a faith that is unnecessary to have when it comes to understanding the Bible. If a person can read, is he or she not able to understand what the Bible says? Don’t Evangelicals themselves admit this fact when Gideons hand out Bibles and non-Christians are encouraged to read the gospels? If the teachings of the Bible cannot be naturally understood without some sort of Holy Ghost magic, why challenge unbelievers to read the wrongly-called Good Book?

I suspect the real issue is that when atheists read the Bible, they are free from the constraints of doctrinal statements, systematic theologies, and hermeneutics. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard about reading the Bible came from Dr. Ehrman, who suggested reading each book of the Bible as a stand-alone text. Let the author speak for himself. Of course, such readings of the Bible destroy attempts by Evangelical apologists to harmonize the Bible — to make all the disparate, contradictory parts “fit.” Go back and read the first three chapters of the book of Genesis without appealing to parlor tricks used to make the text mesh with what Trinitarian Evangelicals believe about God and creation. A fair-minded reader might conclude that there are multiple gods. An excellent book on this subject is The Evolution of God by Robert Wright.

Over the course of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I read the Bible from cover to cover numerous times. I spent thousands of hours reading and studying the Bible, and thousands of more hours reading theological tomes. Even today, a decade removed from the last time I darkened the doors of a Christian church, I still have a mind brimming with Bible verses and things I learned as an Evangelical pastor. One of the ironies of the health problems I have, with its attendant memory problems, is that I tend to have problems with short-term memory, not long-term. Thus, I can’t remember that recent Christopher Hitchens quote I read, but I can remember a quote by Charles Spurgeon or John MacArthur from decades ago. Believe me, there are days when I wish I could flush my mind of all the religious nonsense that clutters up its space. So much wasted mental real estate . . .

The reasons I divorced Jesus are many. I have spent countless hours writing about why I am no longer a Christian. That said, the primary reason I am an atheist today is the Bible. As I began to have questions and doubts about the central claims of Christianity, I decided to re-read and study the Bible, determining what it was I really believed. I found that many of my beliefs were false or grounded in narrowly defined theological frameworks that could not be sustained intellectually. Once I let the Bible speak for itself, my Evangelical house came tumbling to the ground. I tried, for a time, to find a resting spot that allowed me to hang on to some sort of Christian faith. Alas, I did not find these things satisfying intellectually. Eventually, my slide down the slippery slope landed me where I am today — a committed agnostic and atheist.

At the very least, Evangelical apologists should grudgingly admit that many Evangelicals-turned-atheists know the Bible as well they do. Now if we could get apologists to know and understand atheism/agnosticism/humanism as well as many ex-Evangelicals know the Bible, that would be great. People such as myself have a distinct advantage over many Evangelical apologists. We have lived on both sides of the street. We have read atheist authors and Christian ones. That’s why, when an Evangelical wants to argue with me about the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, I ask them, have you read any of Bart Ehrman’s books? If they haven’t, I don’t waste my time with them. Their problem is one of ignorance, and until they are willing to do their homework, there’s really no hope for them.

I will forever, until dementia or death robs me of my mind, remain a student and reader of the Bible.  My reasons for doing so are different today from what they were when I was pastoring churches, but my goal remains the same: to help people see and understand the truth.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: Why Evangelicals Believe the Bible CAN’T Have Errors, Mistakes, or Contradictions

bart ehrman

My view was (and still is) that for personal religious reasons Rev. Firth [an Evangelical pastor Dr. Ehrman was debating on whether the Bible had contradictions] is committed to the idea that there can be no contradictions in the Bible.  He believes the Bible is the completely inspired and inerrant word of God with no mistakes of any kind whatsoever.  This is a religious view grounded on theological principles.  The view is beautiful in a way, in its simple elegance.  If there can’t be contradictions in the Bible, because God would never contradict himself, then there won’t be contradictions in the Bible.  And so anything that may “on the surface” (as Rev. Firth indicated) appear to be a contradiction is not actually one.  There is a way to explain everything.

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, The Bart Ehrman Blog, Do My Biases Mean I *Have* to Find Contradictions?,May 20, 2019

Why Evangelical Christianity is Dying

trump loves jesus

Cartoon by Bob Englehart

Evangelicalism is dying. Oh, Evangelicals still make lots of noise and have a stranglehold on the Republican Party, but their grip on America is weakening and, in time, their hold will falter, leading to epic collapse. The Week reports:

While 63 percent of Americans over the age of 65 are white Christians, only 24 percent of those under the age of 30 are, a group far outnumbered by the 38 percent of young adults who are unaffiliated. Unless there’s some kind of dramatic Christian awakening that produces millions of converts, that means that in the future the ranks of Christians in general and white Christians in particular are likely to shrink.

This won’t happen any time soon, but that train is a coming, and nothing can stop it. Younger Evangelicals, in particular, are exiting their churches stage left, never to return. Those who remain tend to be more liberal politically, socially, and theologically, than their parents and grandparents. These cradle Evangelicals will, in time, seek out the friendlier confines of Liberal/Progressive Christianity. The late Rachel Evans is a good example of an Evangelical who tried to change things from within, but failing to do so, left the church of her youth and became an Episcopalian.

death of evangelicalism

What drives the slow death of Evangelical Christianity?

Evangelical Hatred of LGBTQ People

Evangelical hatred for LGBTQ people is well-known. See an anti-LGBTQ bill and you will find Evangelicals lurking in the shadows. Older Evangelicals lived in a world where homosexuals stayed in the closet where they belonged. Younger Evangelicals have LGBTQ friends. Exposure to people who are different from them makes it hard for them to condemn people to Hell for being “different.” The more that Evangelical young adults read, travel, and attend secular universities, the more likely it is that they will abandon the Evangelicalism of their childhoods.

Evangelical Support of Racist Immigration Policies

American Evangelicals generally support the anti-immigration policies of Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Older Evangelicals tend to live in white monocultures where exposure to non-white people is limited or non-existent. Younger Evangelicals are more likely to know and be friends with people of color. Again, exposure to people different from them forces younger Evangelicals to question the racist beliefs of their parents and grandparents.

Evangelical Support of Creationism

Most Evangelicals believe God created the universe in six twenty-four-hour days. Older Evangelicals are more likely to believe Genesis 1-3 is the de facto scientific explanation for how the universe came into existence. Younger Evangelicals, exposed to non-religious science curriculua, are less likely believe the old Evangelical canard: God Did It! They know the universe is billions of years old, and that evolution best explains the natural world. The more science training young Evangelicals receive, the more likely it is that they will cast aside creationism and its gussied-up cousin, intelligent design.

Evangelical Rhetoric on Abortion

Evangelicals are the power behind the culture war. Most younger Evangelicals grew up in churches where sermons frequently focused on this or that cultural hot-button issue. Abortion is one such issue. Younger Evangelicals are more likely to be pro-choice or support exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, and the life of the mother. The continued war against the number one way to end abortion — birth control — is confusing and contradictory to younger Evangelicals. Not wanting to wait until marriage to have sex, many younger Evangelicals know how important the use of birth control is.

Evangelical Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage

Evangelicals stand at the forefront of opposition to same-sex marriage. Younger Evangelicals, believing you can’t help but love who you love, are less likely to have a problem with gay marriage. Again, this goes back to being exposed to people different from themselves. Many younger Evangelicals personally know same-sex couples, and these personal connections make it hard/unlikely for them to oppose same-sex marriage.

Evangelical Denial of Global Climate Change and Global Warming

Evangelicalism is front and center in the global climate change debate. Older Evangelicals, in particular, often believe climate change/global warming is a myth or something not to worry about because God is on the job. Younger Evangelicals see firsthand what violent storms, floods, melting ice caps, and rising temperatures are doing to their planet. They are angered by the “que sera, sera” approach to life of older Evangelicals; tired of “I’m going to die soon” or “the rapture is imminent” indifference from their parents, grandparents, and older church members.

Evangelical Insistence that the Bible is Inerrant

Evangelicals traditionally believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Most older Evangelicals believe their Bibles are they very words of God. Many younger Evangelicals, however, have serious questions and doubts about the nature of the Biblical text. The non-answers they receive from their churches/pastors don’t measure up to their expectations. And when questions go unanswered, young Evangelicals turn to the Internet for answers, finding evidence that their pastors, parents, and Sunday school teachers are lying about the Bible These seekers wonder, “what else are our pastors lying about?”

Evangelical Support of President Donald Trump

In 2016, eighty-one percent of voting white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. Without their votes, Hillary Clinton would have won the election. Younger Evangelicals tended to vote for liberal/progressive candidates, candidates that better reflected their worldview. Record numbers of young Evangelicals voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Younger Evangelicals see that their pastors, parents, and grandparents were willing to sacrifice moral principles to gain political power, and it disgusts them. In 2020, the party that captures this voting bloc will win the election.

Put all of these things together, and what you have is a religious sect that no longer represents younger Evangelicals; a sect that sold its soul for political expediency and power. While scores of younger Evangelicals leave Evangelicalism, never to return, others yearn for a religion that matters.

They are increasingly concluding that Evangelicalism is irredeemable, so they leave. I fully expect this exodus to increase, leading to the eventual death of Evangelical Christianity.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

My First Steps Towards Believing the Bible Was Not Inerrant

bible inspired word of god

I grew up in a religious faith that taught me the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. The word “inspired” meant that that the Bible was the word of God; that holy men of old who wrote the Bible were told by the Holy Spirit exactly what to write. Some of my pastors believed in the dictation theory. The authors of the Bible were mere automatons who wrote what God dictated to them. Other pastors believed that men wrote the Bible, thus their writing reflects their personality and culture. God, through some sort of supernatural means, made sure that human influence on the Bible was in every way perfect and aligned with what he wanted to be said.

The inspiration got complicated when dealing with the question of WHAT, exactly, was inspired. Were the original manuscripts alone inspired? If so, there’s no such thing as the inspired Word of God because the original manuscripts do not exist. Were the extant manuscripts inspired? Some pastors believed that the totality of existing manuscripts made up the inspired Word of God, and some pastors believed that certain translations — namely the King James Version — were the inspired Word of God. Regardless of how they answered the WHAT question, all of them believed that God supernaturally preserved his Word down through the ages, and the Bibles we held in our hands were the Word of God.

The word “inerrant” meant “without mistake, contradiction, or error.” Some pastors, knowing that every Bible translation had errors and mistakes, said they believed the original manuscripts were inerrant, and modern translations were faithful, reliable, and could be depended on in matters of faith, practice, morality, and anything else the Bible addressed. Of course, these men were arguing for the inerrancy of a text they had never seen, and there is no evidence for its existence. Whatever the “original” manuscripts might have been, their exact wording and content are lost, never to be found.

The word “infallible” meant incapable of error in every matter it addressed. Thus, when the Bible spoke about matters of science and history, it was always true, and without error. No matter what scientists and historians say about a particular matter, what the Bible says is the final authority. That’s why almost half of Americans believe the Christian God created the universe sometime in the past 10,000 years.

At the age of nineteen, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution that prided itself in turning out preacher boys. My three years at Midwestern reinforced everything I had been taught as a youth. Every professor and chapel speaker believed the King James Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. I was a seedling and Midwestern was a controlled-environment hothouse. Is it any wonder that I grew up to be a Bible thumper; believing that EVERY word in the Bible was straight from the mouth of God? If ever someone was a product of his environment, it was Bruce Gerencser.

I left Midwestern in 1979 and embarked on a ministerial career that took me to churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.  I stood before thousands of people with Bible held high and declared, THUS SAITH THE LORD! For many years, I preached only from the King James Bible. I believed it was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God for English speaking people. Towards the end of my ministerial career, I started using the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and after that I began using the English Standard Version (ESV).

Many of my former Fundamentalist colleagues in the ministry and congregants trace the beginning of my unbelief back to my voracious reading habit and my abandonment of the King James Bible. One woman, after hearing of my loss of faith. wrote to me and said that I should stop reading books and only read the B-I-B-L-E. She just knew that I if I would stop reading non-Biblical books, my doubts would magically disappear. In other words, ignorance is bliss.

As I pondered my past and what  things ultimately led to my loss of faith, two things stood out: a book on alleged Bible contradictions and the differences between the 1611 and 1769 editions of the King James Bible.

As I studied for my sermons, I would often come across verses or passages of Scripture that didn’t make sense to me. I would consult various commentaries and grammatical aids, and usually I was able to reconcile whatever it was that was giving me difficulty.  Sometimes, however, I ran into what could only be described as contradictions – competing passages of Scripture. In these times, I consulted the book on alleged contradictions in the Bible. Often, my confusion would dissipate, but over time I began to think that the explanations and resolutions the book gave were shallow, not on point, or down-right nonsensical. Finally, I quit reading this book and decided to just trust God, believing that he would never give us a Bible with errors, mistakes, and contradictions. I decided, as many Evangelical do, to “faith” it.

For many years, the only Bible translation I used was the 1769 edition of the King James Bible. I had been taught as a child and in college that the original version — 1611 — of the King James Version and the 1769 version were identical. I later found out they were not; that there were numerous differences between the two editions. (Please read the Wikipedia article on the 1769 King James Bible for more information on this subject.)

I remember finding a list of the differences between the two editions and sharing it with my best friend — who was also an IFB pastor. He dismissed the differences out of hand, telling me that even if I could show him an error in the King James Bible, he would still, by faith, believe the Bible is inerrant! Over the next few months, he would repeat this mantra to me again and again. He, to this day, believes the King James Bible is inerrant. I, on the other hand, couldn’t do so. Learning that there were differences between the editions forced me to alter my beliefs, at least inwardly. It would be another decade before I could admit that the Bible was not inerrant. But even then, I downplayed the errors, mistakes, and contradictions. I continued to read about the nature of the Biblical text, but I kept that knowledge to myself. It was not until I left the ministry that I finally could see that the Bible was NOT what my pastors and professors said it was; that it was not what I told countless congregants it was. Once the Bible lost its authority, I was then free to question other aspects of my faith, leading, ultimately, to where I am today. My journey away from Evangelicalism to atheism began and ended with the Bible.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bruce Has a Dream: Evangelical Calvinist Tim Challies Says the Bible is WRONG!

the bible says

Recently, Evangelical Tim Challies wrote a post titled If the Bible Is Wrong, I’m So, So Wrong. Here’s an excerpt:

If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong about the origins of this world. The Bible tells me that it was created by God over the course of six days and not nearly as long ago as the millions of billions of years other people claim.

….

If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong about the origins of humanity. The Bible tells me that the first two human beings were created by God and placed on this earth as complete, grown human beings, not that they evolved slowly from lesser organisms.

….

If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong about the purpose of humanity. The Bible tells me that mankind was put on this earth to bring glory to God. We exist to do good for others which in turn shines a spotlight on our ultimately good God. This stands in the face of a mission of personal empowerment or human achievement.

If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong about the purpose of family. The Bible tells me that marriage exists to serve as a miniature of the relationship of God to his people through the complementarity of husband and wife.

….

If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong about the great problem and the great need of human beings. The Bible tells me our great problem is that we’ve sinned against a holy God, become rebels against him, and desperately need reconciliation. We are not good people who make the occasional poor choice, not innocent people who sometimes act ignorantly, but evil people who hate God and our fellow man. Our great need is not self-esteem or tolerance or new forms of politics or economics, but the forgiveness that comes by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong about the future. The Bible tells me that history will culminate in the return of Jesus Christ who will come to judge the living and the dead. The world will not end with ecological catastrophe or nuclear holocaust, but with the re-appearance of the glorious Christ.

….

If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong about today’s most pressing cultural issues: homosexuality, gay marriage, transgenderism, abortion, climate change. If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong about today’s most pressing theological issues: the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the nature of same-sex attraction, the authority and sufficiency of scripture. If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong in how I relate to money, how I honor my body, how I use my time. I’m wrong over and over, again and again, through and through. I’m poor, pathetic, pitiable, and blind.

Challies says, “If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong over and over, again and again, through and through. I’m poor, pathetic, pitiable, and blind.” Thank you Tim for finally admitting this. Rare is the believer who can openly and honestly admit that the Bible is not what Evangelicals say it is; that it is not in any way the inspired, inerrant, infallible World of God.

Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, wake up you are dreaming . . .

Damn, it was all a dream . . .

You see, Challies concluded his post with this:

But I’ve made my choice. I’ve examined the evidence and have chosen to believe it’s not wrong, but right. I’ve chosen to believe it’s good and pure and true, infallible and inerrant and sufficient. I’ve chosen to take it on its own terms, to believe it all the way, to live by its every word. I’ve chosen to be in—all-in.

bible literalism

Challies says he has “examined the evidence,” but no one who has genuinely examined the facts about the nature of the Biblical text can, with a straight face, say it is “pure and true, infallible and inerrant.” Tim’s Evangelical theology obstructs his vision, keeping him from seeing that the Bible is nothing more than an ancient religious text written by fallible men. Errors and contradictions abound. One need only to read a few of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books to know that inerrancy is a pig in a poke.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Are There Contradictions in the Bible?

bible inerrancy

Millions of Americans believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. This belief is the foundation of much of the nonsense spouted by Evangelical culture warriors and Republican politicians. In their minds, the Bible is written by God and is perfect in every way, including matters of science and history. Blinded by lifetimes of Fundamentalist indoctrination, they believe that no one has ever proved the Bible has mistakes, contradictions, or errors. The B-i-b-l-e, yes that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God, The B-i-b-l-e. BIBLE! Or so the popular Evangelical song goes anyway. No matter what other books say, if their words contradict the Bible, then they are wrong. God can never, ever be wrong, so that means the only book he ever wrote can’t be wrong either.

Those of us who are ex-Evangelicals turned atheists/agnostics/humanists/pagans/liberal Christians know how the belief that the Bible is inerrant negatively affects the ability to reason and think critically. What belief underpins creationism, flat-eartherism, hatred of LGBT people, and opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, premarital sex, birth control, family planning, socialism, gambling, drug use, alcohol drinking, women working outside of the home, women wearing pants, long hair on men, rock music, and Game of Thrones — shall I go on?  Without people believing the Bible is some sort of infallible religious text, most of these “beliefs” turn into personal opinions. It is only when the Bible is vested with inerrant authority that it becomes a dangerous weapon in the hands of preachers and congregants alike.

Of course, the Bible is not inerrant, nor is it infallible. Whether one believes the Bible is inspired is a matter of faith, not fact, so this aspect of belief is beyond empirical inquiry. Yesterday, Dr. Bart Ehrman posted an article on whether the Bible has contradictions. Here are three of the four of contradictions Bart listed:

I start with one that may seem completely unimportant, but is, to me, a clear contradiction. In Mark 5:21-24 a man named Jairus approaches Jesus in distress.  His daughter is “very ill.”  He wants Jesus to come heal her so she doesn’t die.  Jesus agrees to go, but before he can get to Jairus’s home, he is delayed by a woman who herself desperately needs to be healed (5:25-34).  While Jesus is dealing with her – it takes a while – someone comes from Jairus’s house to tell him that it is too late, the girl has now died (5:35).  Jesus comforts Jairus, goes, and raises her from the dead.  Matthew also tells the story (Matthew 9:18-26).  But in this case …Matthew also tells the story (Matthew 9:18-26).  But in this case Jairus comes to Jesus to tell him that “My daughter has just now died” (9:18).  He wants him to raise her from the dead.   Jesus goes and do so.

So the contradiction: when Jairus comes to Jesus: does he want him to heal his sick daughter, who unfortunately dies before Jesus can get there?  Or does Jairus come only after the girl is dead, wanting Jesus to raise her from the dead?

Of more importance, but a famous one. Matthew and Luke both give a genealogy of Jesus that is strictly patrilineal: father to son, going back for generations (Matthew 1:1-16 starting with Abraham and bringing the family line down to Joseph, Jesus’ alleged father; Luke 3:23-38 starting with Joseph and taking the family line the other direction, all the way past Abraham to Adam).

Question: Who was Joseph’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, and so on –all the way back to King David?   Was it Jacob, Mathan, and Eleazar … (Matthew 1:15-16)?  Or was it Heli, Matthat, and Levi… (Luke 3:23-24).

In considering the question, note: both genealogies are *explicit* that this is the line of Joseph (not, for example, Mary; or the brother of Joseph; or someone else.  Joseph).  And note, these are not simply alternative names for the same people: most of the names are *completely* different from one another, all the way back to David.  That’s because in Matthew Joseph is the descendant of David’s son Solomon; in Luke he is the descendant of a different son, Nathan.  Moreover, the genealogies are patrilineal – not traced through mothers but explicitly through fathers to sons.

More complicated. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1-23), he is born in Bethlehem.  Nothing indicates that his parents came from anywhere else to get there: there is no story here of a trip from Nazareth to register for a census only to find there was “no room in the inn.”  They simply are in Bethlehem.  When the wise men come to worship the child, the King of the Jews, Herod, learns of Jesus’ existence, and he sends the troops to kill him (2:16-18).  Joseph is warned in a dream, and he takes Jesus and Mary and they travel, on foot, to Egypt, where they remain until Herod dies (2:13-15, 19-23).  When they return home, though, they cannot return to Bethlehem (presumably their home, since there would be no other reason to ponder coming back there), and so relocate in Nazareth.In Luke’s account (Luke 2:1-39) Joseph and Mary are from Nazareth and they end up in Bethlehem because of a census in which “the entire world should be enrolled” (Luke 2:1).  Mary is pregnant, full term, and happens to give birth while they are there.  After Jesus is circumcised (2:21), and brought to the temple (2:22), they perform the sacrifice required for women who have given birth in order to return to ritual purity (2:24).  This is to follow the law laid out in Leviticus 12:2-8; the sacrifice was to happen 33 days after the circumcision (so 40 days after birth).  As soon as that is completed, they return straight to Nazareth (2:39).

There is no word in Luke about King Herod’s decision to have the child killed or of the flight of the holy family to Egypt.  And so, the contradiction:  if Luke is right that 40 days after Jesus’ birth, the family returned directly to Nazareth, how can Matthew be right that they instead went and stayed in Egypt until the death of Herod?

If you want to learn more about the text of the Bible and Christian church history, I encourage you to join Dr. Ehrman’s blog. The annual membership fee is $24.99, with all proceeds going to charity.

Video Link

Remember, it only takes one error, contradiction, or mistake to bring the inerrancy house tumbling down. Most educated Evangelical pastors know that the Bible isn’t what they claim it is, yet Sunday after Sunday they stand before their congregations and say, THUS SAITH THE LORD! These liars for Jesus know they would be unemployed and the pews would be empty if congregants ever learned the truth about the Biblical text.

I have had a number of Evangelical preachers and laypeople come to this site, certain that their Bibles (and beliefs) were infallibly true. As I always do, I asked them to read several of Bart Ehrman’s books. There is no value is trying to engage zealots if they won’t, at least, look at the evidence for the claim that the Bible is NOT an inerrant, infallible text. Over the past decade, I have only had one person read Dr. Ehrman’s books and still believe the Bible is inerrant. Everyone else was forced to admit that the Bible was not what Evangelicals claim it is. Sometimes, this resulted in loss of faith. Other times, people held on to their faith, but moved on to religious environments that valued intellectual inquiry and facts. Want to destroy the hold Christian Fundamentalism has on our country? Disabuse Evangelicals of the notion that the Bible is some sort of perfect text, different from all other books. Once Evangelicals see that the Bible is not what their preachers and teachers say it is, they will be forced to determine whether they can trust anything their leaders say.

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.