Tag Archive: Inerrancy of the Bible

Who Determines What the Bible Says?

the bible says

Repost from 2015. Extensively edited, rewritten, and corrected.

Two thousand years.

Two thousand years of Jesus.

Almost from the beginning, Christians put their oral traditions, teachings, and beliefs into writing. The Bibles used by twenty-first-century Christians all trace their authority back through history to Christian writings dating from around 50 CE forward. The original writings, the first edition writings, do not exist and any claim of inspiration for the “original” writings is nothing more than wishful, fanciful thinking. Every claim ever made by the Christian church rests on text of the Bible and how the church has interpreted that text. I am aware of the fact that the Christian church has been influenced by Gnosticism for most of its 2,000 year history, but for the most part, Christianity is a text-based religion that places the text of the Bible above personal experiences and revelations. Even when personal experiences and revelations are given weight and authority, they are almost always expected to conform to what is found in the text of the Bible.

Most Christians believe the Bible is inspired by God. They believe the words of the Bible came from God or at least represent, in fallible human form, what God wants humankind to know about God, life, salvation, death, judgment, and the afterlife. Many Christians believe every word of the Bible is inspired by God, and some Christians even go so far as to say that a particular translation, the King James Version, is inspired by God. Christians who hold this extreme view believe that God has preserved his Word through time and that every word of the King James Bible is from the lips of God himself. And countless other Christians believe the text of the Bible is inerrant and infallible. Ponder that thought for a moment. Every word in a book thousands of years old is true, without error, and perfect in every way. To quote the Evangelical bumper sticker, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me.” Some Evangelicals say, “God said it, and that settles it for me. It doesn’t matter whether I believe it or not!”

Most Christians believe the Bible is truth. While they may not believe ALL the Bible is truth, every Christian, at some point or the other, says THIS is truth. A person who does not believe the Bible is truth is not a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word. There is a form of Christianity floating about these days that suggests a person can be a Christian and not believe the Bible.This kind of Christian says “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” He  embraces Jesus as his Savior and guide, but often has no connection with organized Christianity. However, even the “spiritual but not religious” Christian must, sooner or later, appeal to the Bible. Without the Bible they would have no knowledge of Jesus, the locus of their faith.

Other Christians are what I call cafeteria Christians. They pick and choose what they want to believe. Most cafeteria Christians believe in Jesus since they DO want their sins forgiven and they DO want to go to heaven when they die, but when it comes to the hard sayings of the Bible, the teachings that get in the way of the American dream and living the way they want to live, the cafeteria Christians dismiss such sayings and teachings as old, outdated relics of past that have no value or application today. Simply put, they want a Jesus divorced from anything else the Bible says. Cafeteria Christians become quite adept at explaining away anything in the Bible with which they disagree.

This brings me to the point of this post. Who determines what the Bible says? Who decides what this verse or that verse says? Who is the arbiter of truth? Who is the final authority?

Some Christians say GOD is the final authority. The Bible is God’s Word . . . THUS SAITH THE LORD! These well-meaning Christians think that the teachings of the Bible are clear and understandable, needing no explanation or interpretation. Why, then, do they go to church on Sunday and listen to a man tell them what he thinks the Bible says? Why do they read books and commentaries written by people telling them what they think the Bible says? If the Bible is a self-attesting, self-explanatory text, why all the middlemen?

Some Christians say the HOLY SPIRIT is the final authority. God gave New Testament Christians (Old Testament believers only got a part-time Holy Spirit who came and went at will) the Holy Spirit to be their teacher and guide. The Holy Spirit teaches them everything necessary for life and godliness. It is not hard to see the Gnostic influence in this kind of thinking. If there is ONE Holy Spirit who teaches and guides every Christian, why is there no consensus among believers on what Christians believe? Why does the Holy Spirit give contradictory instructions or lessons? Why are there so many Christian sects? Surely, if the Holy Spirit is on his game, every sect would believe the same thing and they would become ONE body with ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism.

Some Christians are what I call red-letter Christians. They give weight and authority to the “words” of Jesus in the gospels, the words that are in red in many modern translations. With great passion and commitment, they attempt to walk in the steps of Jesus (WWJD). Unfortunately, they rarely consider whether the words attributed to Jesus in the gospels are actually his words. Jesus didn’t write any of the books found in the Bible, which, in my opinion, is quite odd. Most Biblical scholars question who actually wrote the gospels, and many scholars have serious reservations over Matthew, Mark, Luke or John being the authors of the gospels that bear their name.  Since the gospels are, at best, stories passed down by those alive at the time of Christ and not put in written form until decades after the death of Jesus, the best a modern-day Christian can say about the gospels is that they are words written by an unknown person who recorded what a third, fourth, fifth or twentieth party told the writer Jesus said.

bible made me an atheistClaims that the Bible is some sort of inspired text require faith. There’s no evidence for the claim that the Bible is inspired outside of the text itself.  Either you believe the Bible is, to some degree or the other, supernatural truth or you don’t. I am an atheist today primarily because I no longer believe the Bible is truth. While it is certainly a book filled with entertaining and thought-provoking stories, it is not, in any way, a supernatural text. While it certainly contains maxims worthy of emulation, it also contains God-approved behaviors that we moderns now consider at odds with human and scientific progress.

Every Christian belief rests not on God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, but on the authority of a human being or a group of human beings. It is humans who decide what the Bible says. It is humans who decide what this or that verse means. Whether it is a denomination, the Pope, theologians, a pastor, or an individual Christian, it is a human who is the final authority. At best, the only thing a Christian can claim is THUS SAITH THE POPE, MY DENOMINATION, MY PASTOR, MY COLLEGE PROFESSORS, OR MYSELF! Any claim that it is God speaking or leading is a matter of faith, a matter that cannot be proved empirically. In other words, you are just going to have to take their word for it — or not.

Christians need to get off their Bible High-Horse and admit who the real final authority is. The fact that there are thousands of Christian sects shows very clearly that humans are the ones with the final say on what the Bible does and doesn’t say. It is humans who preach, write books, teach theology classes, blog, and debate. God may have said a particular something, and there is no way for us to know if she did, but it is humans who get the final say about what God actually said or what she meant to say. Every Christian statement of belief is an interpretation of the Bible. It is that person or group saying, this is what the Bible says. In other words, the person is saying I know what God said. (One of the purposes of this blog is to demonstrate that the Bible can be made to say almost anything.)

Can you name one Christian teaching that ALL Christians agree upon? Outside of the fact that Jesus was a real person, every other teaching of the so-called “faith once delivered to the saints” is disputed by some Christian sect or the other. If the Christian church was a married couple they would have long since been divorced for irreconcilable differences. Oh wait, that is exactly what has happened. The Christian church is hopelessly splintered into thousands of sects, each competing with the other for the title of God’s Truth Holder. Children in Evangelical Sunday schools learn to sing the B-I-B-L-E song. In light of what I have written above, the lyrics of the song should be changed:

The B-I-B-L-E, yes that MIGHT be the Book for me, I SOMETIMES stand alone on the WORDS OF MEN, the B-I-B-L-E. B-I-B-L-E!!

Until God shows up in person and says yes, I wrote this convoluted, contradictory book that makes me out to be a hateful, vindictive sadist, I am not going to believe the Bible is God’s Word. If a benevolent, loving God really wrote the Bible, do you think she would have written what Christians say she did? If God had control of the writing process, do you think she would have included her unsavory side? If God was involved in putting the Bible together, don’t you think she would have proofread it to made sure there were no mistakes and that the text was internally consistent?

Instead, Christians spend countless hours trying to harmonize (make it all fit) the text of the Bible. They put forth laughable explanations for the glaring errors found in the Bible. Well, you know Bruce, Jesus cleansed the Temple at the start of his ministry AND at the end of his ministry! Sure he did. I wonder if Christians know how foolish some of their harmonizing attempts sound to those on the outside of the church or to someone like myself, who has been on both sides of the fence? Of course, according to the Bible, the various harmonization schemes sound foolish because non-Christians don’t have the Holy Spirit inside of them teaching them how to make square pegs fit in round holes. And round and round the merry-go-round goes.

If Christians want to believe the Bible is some sort of truth, and worship God/Jesus/Holy Spirit based on what is written within its pages, I have no beef with them. If they want to believe the Bible and its teachings, who am I to say they can’t?  However, when they insist everyone acquiesce to their beliefs about the Bible and God, and that their peculiar belief system is the one true religion, then I have a problem. When Christians insist that the Bible and its teachings be taught to public school children or demand that their interpretation of the moral and ethical code taught in the Bible is applicable to everyone, they should expect pushback from people such as I. Since history gives us ample warning about what happens when any religion gains the power of the state, secularists like myself will continue to fight any attempt to enshrine Christianity as the official state religion.

Here’s what I am saying to Christians. Take the Bible, go to your houses of worship and believe and worship as you will. However, I expect you to keep your beliefs to yourself. If I don’t ask, you don’t tell. Stop all the theocratic, God-rule talk. Stop trying to turn the United States into a Christian nation. Stop demonizing everyone who disagrees with your beliefs. In other words, treat others with decency, love, and respect. Stop being a religious fanatic who thinks everyone should hear about your version of the Christian God and embrace your peculiar beliefs.

Do you think American Christians, especially conservative Catholics and Protestants, Mormons, and Evangelical Christians, can do what I mentioned above? Not a chance! They will continue to push, fight, and infiltrate until they have no more soldiers to fight with. They are like a disease that is only curable by death. The good news is that this brand of Christianity is slowly dying and, in time, long after you and I are dead, the American Jesus will have drawn its last breath. (Please see Why I Hate Jesus.)

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.

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Bruce, If You Just Have an “Unbiased Mind and Open Heart” You will See and Believe the Truth

open mind

It’s usually Evangelical Christians who want to know if I have, with an “unbiased mind and open heart,” read the Bible. When I tell them that I was in the Christian church for fifty years, attended an Evangelical Bible college, pastored Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, Southern Baptist, Sovereign Grace Baptist, Christian Union, and nondenominational churches for twenty-five years, and read and studied the Bible for every day for most my adult life, they are perplexed and confused. How could someone devote themselves to inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God and end up an atheist? The very thought of this leaves many Evangelicals walking around like robots, saying “does not compute, does not compute, does not compute.”

Some Evangelicals are unwilling to accept “reality,” so they make up reasons for why someone such as myself could immerse himself in the pages of the precious, holy, wonderful pure Word of God and yet come away an unbeliever. In their minds, the Bible has magical powers. Former Evangelicals have heard preachers say countless times, “just pick up the Bible, read the gospel of John, First John, and Romans, and you will know everything you need to know to become a Christian!” “Read and believe” is the message. Evangelicals believe that if unbelievers will just honestly and openly read the Bible, the Holy Spirit will show them the truth about God, life, sin, judgment, salvation, death, Heaven, Hell, and eternal life. What they never say is, “Start at Genesis and read the Bible from cover to cover.” Taking this approach usually kills any hope of conversion by the time unbelieving readers get to Numbers or Chronicles. It’s important that unbelievers read just the “right” verses, and not get sidetracked by the “hard” passages that will be explained after they have purchased a membership. You know, the fine print that reveals that the true Evangelical gospel is “believe and do the right things and ye shall be saved.”

So, in the minds of many Evangelicals, I am an atheist today because I didn’t have an “unbiased mind and open heart” when I read the Bible — as if there is any such thing as an unbiased mind. Years ago, a former congregant wrote to me and said that my loss of faith was due to books. Yes, books. I had read too many books and that’s why I lost my faith. She suggested that I stop reading books and just read the Bible. If I would do so, she was confident that I would soon return to Evangelical Christianity and pastoring churches.

Every once in a while, Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox zealots — both of whom believe that their club is the one true club — will contact me and ask me to study the teachings of Catholicism or Orthodoxy with an “unbiased mind and open heart,” believing that if I humbly do so, I will see the “truth.” Again, what I “hear” from such zealots is that their flavor of ice cream is the one true ice cream. However, when I look at the ice cream case, all I see is ice cream. Sure, I see different brands, ingredients, flavors, and packaging, but it’s all still ice cream.

Occasionally, I will a have a Muslim zealot contact me:

Peace be upon you Bruce,

Not sure how I stumbled to your blog, but I did. I like your style of writing. Direct and to the point.

I just curious to know if you are willing to (or maybe you have already) read the Qu’ran and put it to the test through your logical and analytical brain. The only requirements it demands, is an unbiased mind and open heart. I am not sure how you feel about these .

Anyway, I would appreciate an answer from you someday, if you find this of interest to you. If not, please disregard and I apologize for bothering you.

Thank you.

This worshipper of Allah asks me to use my “logical and analytical brain” to read the Qu’ran, testing whether its teachings are true. He asks that I use “an unbiased mind and open heart” in this endeavor.  What’s left unsaid in his email is that he is confident that if will do these things, that I will soon find myself bowing towards Mecca five times a day praying to Allah. That I don’t buy a prayer rug and devote myself to Allah and Qu’ran will, I am sure, be evidence to him that I did not use my “logical and analytical brain” to read the Qu’ran with “an unbiased mind and open heart.”

You see, the fact that I am not an Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, or a Muslim is proof to zealots of said religions that I am unwilling to honestly and openly accept, believe, and practice the teaching of their respective holy books. The books or the religions or the zealots are never to blame, I am. If only I would set aside my commitment to skepticism, rationalism, and intellectual inquiry, I would see and understand the “truth” — their truth. “But, Bruce, aren’t these zealots inviting you on a journey of intellectual inquiry?” On the face of the matter, it may seem that way, but really what zealots are asking me to do is go to the New York Public Library with its 53,000,000 books (and other items) and only select one book to read. True intellectual inquiry leads down many rows to different shelves, each containing a plethora of books that give light to my search for truth. Zealots want to box me in with only their divine book to read, warning me that failing to come to the proper theological conclusions will lead to eternal damnation. True intellectual inquiry says to me, “enjoy the journey.” I could no more limit my reading to one book than I could to limit my TV viewing to one channel. Think about all the wonderful programs I would have missed had I only watched CBS, and never watched HBO, Showtime, Starz, AMC, PBS, USA, Food Network, HGTV, History, Daystar, Nat Geo, FX, IFC, or SyFy. (One of these channels I NEVER watch. Can you guess which one?) We live in a golden age of TV programming. And so it is with books, websites, and blogs. So much awesome information is available to anyone willing to read. Why, in the name of Jehovah, Jesus, and Allah would I want to limit my inquiries to one book?

The path from religious bondage to freedom is paved with books. When Evangelicals want to quarrel with me over my contention that the Bible is not what they claim it is — a perfect supernaturally written text — the first thing I ask them is whether they have read any of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books. Some Evangelicals will lie, saying that they have “read” Ehrman. This usually means that they have read blogs, websites, or book reviews that supposedly refute Dr. Ehrman’s claims. I am convinced his books are the single best antidote to Evangelical beliefs about the nature, history, and text of the Bible. Disabuse Evangelicals of the notion that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, they will never look at Christianity the same way again.

Books, be they in printed or digital form, remain the most powerful tools in our arsenal. Blogs and websites have their place, but get zealots to sit down and read books outside of their theological rut, and you will likely change them forever.

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.

If You Don’t Believe What the Bible Says You Can’t Be Saved

word of god

Originally written March 2015. Updated, expanded, and edited.

An anonymous commenter left the following comment (no longer publicly available) on the Galatians 4 blog:

if the Bible is not truth; the Word of God – then NO ONE can be saved. If we do not believe the Bible, we cannot be saved.

This comment was left on a post on a blog entry titled, The IFB Pastor Turned Atheist: Those Who Fall Away. The post is about my defection from Christianity. The author of the blog post agrees with the anonymous commenter’s view: that if we do not believe the Bible we cannot be saved. (Interestingly, the owner of the Galatians 4 website is now an unbeliever.)

Here’s the problem with this view:

First, it makes salvation dependent on reading the right words and believing the right things.

Second, the first-century Christian church had no Bible. They had the Old Testament, a text that makes no mention of Christian salvation and Christian oral traditions. Besides, most early Christians could not read or write.

Third, the gospels were not written until decades after Jesus Christ died and resurrected from the dead. The writings of the Apostle Paul were written first, and they are quite sparse when it comes mentioning Jesus and clearly articulating the Christian gospel. Paul’s writings need the gospels for the Christian/Pauline gospel to make sense.

Fourth, the printing press was invented 1500 years AFTER the death of Jesus. What Bible did people read before the invention of the printing press?

Fifth, illiteracy and the cost of a printed Bible meant that most Christians did not own a copy of the Bible. They relied on others to read the Bible to them or pass on the oral stories of Christianity.

Sixth, it took centuries to complete the canon of the Christian Bible. Prior to this, Christians had “incomplete” Bibles, often containing only a few books of the Bible.

The anonymous commenter does what a lot of Christians do: he takes how things are now and reads it back into Christian Church history. You know, if the Oxford, Calf-Skinned KJV Scofield Bible was good enough for the Apostle Paul it is good enough for me.

Most Christians have little knowledge about the long, complex, and contradictory history of the Bible and the Christian church. This lack of historical knowledge allows them to make absurd statements like the anonymous commenter made on the Galatians 4 blog.

The bigger problem is the way Fundamentalists read the Bible. When they read the phrase “word of God” they assume it means “the Bible.” This, however, is not the case. Most of the instances in the Bible where we find the phrase “word of God” refer to spoken words or to Jesus Christ himself.

The phrase “word of God” appears 49 times in the Bible. As you can easily see, the phrase has several different meanings:

  • 1 Samuel 9:27 And as they were going down to the end of the city, Samuel said to Saul, Bid the servant pass on before us, (and he passed on,) but stand thou still a while, that I may show thee the word of God.
  • 1 Kings 12:22 But the word of God came unto Shemaiah the man of God, saying,
  • 1 Chronicles17:3 And it came to pass the same night, that the word of God came to Nathan, saying,
  • Proverbs 30:5 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
  • Mark 7:13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.
  • Luke 3:2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
  • Luke 4:4 And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.
  • Luke 5:1 And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,
  • Luke 8:11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
  • Luke 8:21 And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.
  • Luke 11:28 But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
  • John 10:35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
  • Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.
  • Acts 6:2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
  • Acts 6:7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
  • Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:
  • Acts 11:1 And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.
  • Acts 12:24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.
  • Acts 13:5 And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.
  • Acts 13:7 Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.
  • Acts 13:44 And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.
  • Acts 13:46 Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
  • Acts 17:13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.
  • Acts 18:11 And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
  • Acts 19:20 So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.
  • Romans 9:6 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:
  • Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
  • 1Corinthians14:36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
  • 2 Corithians 2:17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
  • Ephesians 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
  • Colossians 1:25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
  • 1 Timothy 4:5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
  • 2 Timothy 2:9 Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.
  • Titus 2:5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
  • Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
  • Hebrews 6:5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
  • Hebrews 11:3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
    Hebrews 13:7  Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
  • 1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
  • 2 Peter 3:5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
  • 1 John 2:14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
  • Revelation 1:2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
  • Revelation 1:9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
  • Revelation 6:9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
  • Revelation19:13 And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.
  • Revelation 20:4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

The word “scripture” appears thirty-two times in the Bible. Most of the time, the word scripture refers to the Old Testament, a text that is devoid of any mention of the Christian gospel, or ANYTHING Christian, for that matter.

The Bible states in John 1:1-2 that Jesus was the Word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. (The rest of John chapter 1 makes it clear that the “Word” John 1:1-2 is speaking of is Jesus, not the Bible.)

With this thought in mind, that Jesus is the Word, let’s look at Hebrews 4:12-14:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

Raise your hand if you have heard Hebrews 4:12-13 quoted in reference to the Bible, the Word of God? Anyone raised in a Baptist church has heard this countless times. However, look closely at Hebrews 4:12-14. Is the word of God here the Bible or Jesus? Notice the male pronoun in the phrase manifest in HIS sight? Verse 14 makes the “who” of the text very clear when it says, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God…”

The whole point of this exercise is to show that it is important to NOT read preconceived ideas and beliefs into the Biblical text. Pastors breed ignorance when they quote verses to “prove” a point and do not actually convey to the congregation what the text actually says. They also breed ignorance when they refuse to say, not “the Bible says” or “God says,” but “our Church says,” or “I say.” Far too many preachers are like Al Shannon, Jr, a fifty-year member of the Church of Christ. Shannon says about himself:

I adhere to the principle of speaking where the bible speaks, and remaining silent where the bible is silent. I do not add to or take from God’s Word nor do I go beyond that which was written. I prove all things by the scripture, and by no other source. This site is designed to preach the gospel and doctrine of [the Churches of] Christ unto all the world.

This kind of thinking is common in every sect that believes the Bible is an inerrant, infallible text. They think THEIR interpretation is the one, true, exact interpretation, and they alone are preaching the pure word of God. They are naïvely or deliberately ignorant about the influence of geography, culture, environment, and tribal affiliation on what one believes. (Please see Why Most Americans are Christian.) In their minds, they believe exactly what was written on parchment 2,000 years ago. In Shannon’s sect, many of the churches have a building cornerstone that says AD 33. That’s right, just like the Catholic and Landmark Baptist sect, they believe they are the one true church, established by Jesus to propagate the true gospel to the ends of the earth.

This kind of intransigence closes the mind off from any other belief or idea. Until people can dare to think that they might be wrong, that their sect might be wrong, or that the claims they make for the Bible might be untrue, there is no hope of reaching them. They are intellectually walled off from any voice but their own.

Want to know more? I encourage you to read several of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books.

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.

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.

If Jesus is the “Peace” That Passeth All Understanding . . .

peace of god

Evangelicals believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. It’s not A BOOK, it is THE BOOK, a book above all others. All other books, except the Bible, are the words of fallible men. The Bible, on the other hand, is the WORD OF GOD. Written by men as they were moved (led/directed) by the Holy Ghost, (2 Peter 1:21) every word of the Bible is true. Evangelicals confidently (and arrogantly) believe that when they quote the Bible they are quoting the very words of God. (2 Timothy 3:16) Thus saith the Lord, right? I have engaged countless Evangelicals on this blog over the past five years. More than a few of them have told me, “Bruce, your argument is with God, not me! I just told you what God said!” In the minds of Evangelicals, quoting the Bible to me (or readers of this blog) is akin to God speaking directly to me. God said it, end of discussion.

Evangelicals believe that the Bible gives them everything they need pertaining to life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3) The Bible, then, is a roadmap, a divine blueprint for life. The truths of the Bible are unchanging and eternal, relevant and true for every generation. Just as Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, so is the Bible. (Hebrews 13:8) Thinking this way, of course, forces Evangelicals to defend all sorts of antiquated, immoral beliefs. If God said it, that settles it, right? And therein is the problem. If the Bible is “God speaking” then we humans better be paying attention. However, if the Bible is the words of men, then we are free to accept or reject what is written. If the Bible is just a bunch of contradictory books written by unknown Bronze age writers, it’s just bad literature. It’s time for a rewrite or perhaps a new Bible altogether.

Of course, Evangelicals are never going to admit that the Bible is anything but the timeless, precious words of God. Since that’s the case, I try to engage Evangelicals within the pages of the Bible; to challenge their interpretations; to call into question their application of the Bible.

Take the subject “peace.” The Bible says:

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. . . Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:1,27)

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6,7)

 Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all. (2 Thessalonians 3:16)

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: (Hebrews 12:14)

Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them. (Psalm 119:165)

These verses, and others, explicitly teach that Evangelicals should be the most peaceful people on the planet. Psalm 34:14 says the followers of Jesus should “seek peace and pursue it.” If Jesus is the “peace” that passes all understanding; if the Holy Ghost lives inside of every Evangelical, giving them peace and comfort no matter what comes their way, then why are so many Evangelicals anything but calm, cool, and collected? Eighty-one percent of white voting Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. Are they a peaceful lot? Ponder, for a moment, the lives of Evangelical culture warriors, and how they rage against the “world.” Do they strike you as people who have “peace that passes all understanding?” Everywhere I look, I see hateful, angry Evangelicals. Evidently, they don’t love God’s law. If Evangelicals loved the law of God, Psalm 119:165 says that they would have peace and NOTHING would offend them. Tell me, do Evangelicals seem “offended” by virtually e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g these days? What happened to the peace of God which is to rule and reign in their hearts?

Fourteen years ago, Polly’s sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. (Please see If One Soul Gets Saved It’s Worth It All) Our family gathered at the hospital, hoping to find out about her husband, who survived the crash. I couldn’t help but notice the family patriarch pacing back and forth, praying and quoting Bible verses. In any other setting, such behavior might land you on the psych ward. This man was a well-known Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher, with, at the time, 40 years in the ministry. I was a Christian, at the time, and I remember thinking how odd his behavior seemed. What happened to God’s peace? What happened to nothing happening apart from God’s perfect, sovereign will? Shouldn’t the family patriarch, along with every Christian in that room, accept that Kathy’s death was all part of God’s wonderful plan for her life? After all, as a child, she asked Jesus to save her. She was now in Heaven, praising Jesus for his love, mercy, and grace. Shouldn’t this “fact” have given all of us “peace”?

I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I watched scores of Christians suffer and die. I watched others bear the death of loved ones, loss of livelihood, divorce, and numerous other tragedies. I can’t remember anyone who had “peace” like the Bible talks about. Instead, I saw a range of emotions, normal human expressions of pain, loss, and grief. Were these people bad Christians? Of course not. They were human. And it there’s one thing I know for certain it is this: when life turns to shit and the walls crumble and collapse, atheists and Evangelicals alike respond the same way. The difference being, of course, that Evangelicals, thanks to their commitment to the Bible, are expected to rise above the struggles of life and have “peace.” That they don’t is not a reflection on them as much as it is on their beliefs.

Bruce, what’s your point? Damn, do I always have to have a point? 🙂 Yes, I have point. Evangelicals often come off as people who think they are above the fray; people who, thanks to Jesus, are immune to the struggles faced by the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. When “life” dumps a load of shit on their doorstep, Evangelicals are expected to smile and claim the victory. However, that’s not what we see. Instead, we see people who are just like the rest of us. And THAT’S my point. The Bible says in Galatians 5:22,23, that the fruit (evidence of) the Holy Spirit (who purportedly lives inside every Christian) is (present tense) love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Based on the inviolate Word of God just quoted, how many Christians do you know who have the fruit of the Spirit? That’s a rhetorical question. The answer is NONE. Certainly, the fruit of the Spirit is desirable for believer and unbeliever alike. However, all of us are feeble, frail human beings. Whether we are atheist, agnostic, pagan, Satanist, Buddhist, Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Evangelical, or liberal Christian, it matters not. All of us are one and the same. Thoughtful humanists understand this. It is our shared humanity that binds us together. While “peace” is a desirable behavior, at least for me anyway, none of us should feel we have failed when life overwhelms us like a tsunami and we lose our shit.

Make sense? I hope so. Please share your sage advice and thoughts in the comment section.

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.

Dear Evangelical, Just Because You Quote the Bible Doesn’t Make Your Comment True

abraham and isaac

Cartoon by Idan

I have been following and participating in a Facebook forum discussion about the recent move by Xperience Church (please see “We Accept Anyone No Matter What,” Local Evangelical Says) to an anchor store at the Northtowne Mall in Defiance, Ohio. The discussion has been lively, to say the least. One common theme throughout the discussion was the need for Evangelical Christians to quote the Bible, either by itself or as proof for their assertions. This led, of course, to Evangelicals arguing amongst themselves about what this or that verse “really” meant. Just another day on Facebook, right?

Evangelicals enter public forums with several presuppositions:

  • The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God
  • The Bible is THE book above all other books
  • Every word in the Bible is true
  • The Bible is NEVER wrong
  • Doubting the Bible’s truthfulness is sin
  • The words attributed to Jesus in the gospels were actually spoken by him
  • The Bible presents a blueprint, manual, guideline for living

Armed with these “truths” about the Bible, Evangelicals wage war against anyone and everyone who disagrees with them. I am sure virtually every non-Evangelical reader of this blog has had a social media interaction with an Evangelical, and more likely than not, the discussion included the believer quoting the Bible. During the discussion about Xperience Church, one Evangelical took to preaching, complete with quoted Bible verses. (Loose transcript follows) When she said she was just engaging in friendly discussion, I replied, no, you are preaching. She responded, I only quoted one passage of Scripture. I replied, actually you quoted five Bible verses. She retorted, well most of them were paraphrases. While that was indeed true, for someone like me, it was easy to see that she was referencing specific Bible verses. In other words, she was preaching.

Evangelicals are encouraged to read, study, and memorize the Bible. Through Sunday services and various meetings throughout the week, Evangelical minds quickly become saturated with Bible verses. This saturation is so deep that Evangelicals often parrot Bible quotations without even knowing it. Taught that the Bible is the divine answer book for life, Evangelicals will often offer up this or that passage of Scriptures as THE answer to whatever is being discussed. No issue is beyond proof-texting. Sadly, Evangelicals think that by posting a “thus saith the Lord,” they are engaging in discussion, when in fact, they are little more than a parrot at the local pet store who repeats a handful of learned phrases.

Most Evangelicals fail to question or challenge the presuppositions their proof-texting is based upon. To quote my favorite Bible character, Lucifer, “Yea hath God said?” Is the Bible really the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God? Is the Bible really THE book above all other books? How can you be certain the Bible is NEVER wrong? How can you be certain the words attributed to Jesus are actually his? It is not enough to believe the Bible is a God-given supernatural book. Beliefs are not the same as facts or evidence. “Well, I believe these things by faith,” Evangelicals say. Fine, but why should I or anyone else accept what you are saying is true? If you cannot show that the Bible is what you say it is, why should any of us listen to a word you have to say? Personally, I am not willing to faith-it. I want facts, evidence, truth. Surely, Evangelicals “should” want the same.

I have been accused of being a Bart Ehrman fanboy. Maybe I am, or maybe, just maybe, his books are the single best way to disabuse Evangelicals of their beliefs about the Bible. If I can get an Evangelical to honestly and openly read several of Dr. Ehrman’s books, I know that it is likely that their sincerely-held beliefs about the Bible will crumble and crash to the ground. If Evangelicals truly seek “truth,” then they must be willing to lose their faith; or at the very least radically change their beliefs.

The Bible is not what Evangelicals claim it is. Educated Evangelical preachers know this, yet on Sundays they play make-believe, leading congregants to think that the Bible is the very words of God/Jesus. These preachers know this is a lie, but their identity and economic wellbeing are based on perpetuating this untruth Sunday after Sunday. They must not tell congregants the truth lest they find out the emperor has no clothes. Evangelical preachers know that if their charges question the purity and veracity of the Holy Bible, why, what’s next? Questions are the slippery slope that leads to liberalism and apostasy. For these preachers, better to lie than to cause people to lose their faith.

Years ago, I wrote a post about a dear friend and ministerial colleague coming to see me after he received Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners. Titled, Dear Friend, I wrote:

I was also troubled by your suggestion that I not share my beliefs with anyone. You told me my beliefs could cause others to lose their faith! Is the Christian faith so tenuous that one man can cause others to lose their faith? Surely, the Holy Spirit is far more powerful than Bruce. (even if I am Bruce Almighty)

I am aware of the fact that my apostasy has troubled some people. If Bruce can walk away from the faith…how can any of us stand? I have no answer for this line of thinking. I am but one man…shall I live in denial of what I believe? Shall I say nothing when I am asked of the hope that lies within me? Christians are implored to share their faith at all times. Are agnostics and atheists not allowed to have the same freedom?

My ex-friend viewed my story as a threat to the faith of others. To protect them, he asked me to keep quiet about my loss of faith. In other words, he asked me to lie or deceive people. In his mind, protecting the flock was far more important than “truth.” So it is with the nature and history of the Bible. Evangelical preachers, out of fear of burning everything to the ground, shelter their congregants from “truth.” Better for them to go to Heaven blissfully unaware of the truth about the Bible than to risk them turning into Bruce Gerencser. In their minds, the end (Heaven) justifies the means.

Sadly, most Evangelical preachers act like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. Remember the dialog between Nicholson and Tom Cruise? Nicholson said, “you can’t handle the truth!” Is this not what Evangelical pastors say when they withhold the truth about the Bible from their congregations? Perhaps it is time for full disclosure, letting the chips fall where they may. Surely, the Christian God is able to protect his sheep from the wiles of an ex-Evangelical-preacher-turned-atheist or a book-writing professor. If he can’t, then perhaps it is time to question whether God is the all-powerful, all-knowing deity millions of American Evangelicals say he is. Perhaps, in the end, this God is just a character in a work of fiction.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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