Tag Archive: Knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Religion Another Away of Understanding Truth? by Sean Carroll

god-creating-earth

Contrary to what many Evangelical apologists think, scientists do not have (or think they have) answers for every possible question about the universe, life, and human existence. While science does answer many questions that humans deem important, there are yet many unanswered questions that scientists diligently seek to answer. Because science does not have ALL the answers, Evangelicals often say that religion is another empirical and equally valid way of determining and understanding truth. Of course, when science conflicts with religious truth what happens? Most Evangelicals reject that scientific truth, and put their faith in what the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God says about the matter. This is why there are millions of American who believe the universe is 6,021 years old, Adam and Eve were real people, and the earth was destroyed by a flood 4,000 or so years ago. This is also why snake oil salesmen like Ken Ham can build million dollar monuments to ignorance such as the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter.

As Physicist Sean Carroll makes clear in the following two-minute video, scientists do not have all the answers, nor have they ever claimed that they do. But, regardless of the lack of answers, science still remains the best way for us to understand our world.

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Bruce, You Are Doing an Awesome Job, Says One Fundamentalist Christian

curiosity

Readers might be surprised to learn that I am frequently contacted by Evangelicals who think I am still a Christian. They send me their prayer requests, ask for donations, ask for church recommendations, or have some pressing theological question they would like me to answer. Several Evangelicals have even wanted me to help them get the victory over sexual sin! Showing an utter lack of curiosity (Please see Curiosity, A Missing Evangelical Trait.) they assume I am a member of the Jesus Club™. Imagine their surprise when they find out I am a God-hating, baby-eating, Satan-worshiping, sin-loving atheist. One woman sent me a long email about how wonderful she thought I was — a true brother in Christ. And then, less than a day later, she sent me another email expressing her dismay over me being an atheist. The cognitive dissonance this caused her was so overwhelming that she didn’t know what to do. Surely an atheist couldn’t say or write anything that would “speak to her soul,” yet that is exactly what my writing did for her.

I am always amused when Evangelicals suggest that now that I am an atheist I no longer understand the Bible or Evangelical Christianity. They assume that the moment I said I no longer believe, God sent a supernatural vacuüm cleaner to earth and sucked five decades of knowledge out of my brain. After all the BIBLE says, But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. Now that I am a “natural” man, I no longer understand the Bible. This argument is so absurd that I don’t even try to respond. I know what I know, regardless of my “spiritual” condition.

Just this week I received an email from an Evangelical praising me for showing the vileness of the song My Church. The letter writer wrote, with a subject of Great Job!:

You probably don’t need to hear this, but I just this week heard the “My Church” song and was disgusted. I wanted to look up the lyrics to talk about in a lesson at church and found your sight[sic]. What you are doing is awesome.

A short while later, the letter writer, after checking out my awesome Christian blog, sent me this:

I just emailed you and I’m sorry for wasting your time. At a glance I thought you were someone who loved God and saw things the same way I do. I am not going to say things you already know, nor come to a level that some on your pages have as far as trying to belittle your opinion. Those actions are not very Christian, but at the same time i felt I needed to let you know that after reviewing your blog I see I was hasty in my earlier email and hope the furthest away from you continuing in this work. Though your desire is for this to not happen; I do pray that God will help you in health but more importantly find your way to him.

And…just like that I went from AWESOME to a bad man in need of salvation.

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I am an expert at post tagging. Each day, upwards of twenty-five percent of my blog traffic comes from search engines. Most of these searches are performed by Christians. Each day hundreds of people come to this site thinking they are reading the writing of a brother in the Lord. Thanks to every post being appropriately and religiously tagged, my writing is usually well-ranked by Google and Bing. Of course, subject matter helps. When Evangelicals want to know if it is a sin for a man to have long hair, they usually end up at this site. And that is good, right? Knowledge is the only cure for Fundamentalism.

I’m Not a Scientist but I Play One on Atheist Blogs

creationism cartoon

This is not a science blog. I have no training in science, outside of high school and college biology classes and whatever knowledge I have gained from the books I’ve read. I don’t engage in long, protracted science discussions because I don’t have the education necessary to do so. I know my limitations. Theology, the Bible, Evangelicalism, and sex are my specialties and this is why I primarily write on these subjects (Okay , maybe not sex).

When I post a science article, I do so because I think it will either help readers or it illustrates the ignorance that is pervasive in many corners of the Christian and Evangelical world. I don’t have the skill or knowledge to adequately defend evolution, but I do know people who do, and I trust them because they have the requisite training, knowledge, and experience to speak authoritatively. All of us, to some degree or another, trust experts. No one knows everything.

The problem that arises when I post a science article is that it attracts young earth creationists. Armed with a limited understanding of science, colored by creationist presuppositions, creationists want to debate and argue with me about the article I posted. Generally, I try to steer such arguments back to the Bible and theology because I think that is the best way to disembowel creationism. Ask yourself, when’s the last time you’ve seen creationists abandon their beliefs as a result of a blog debate or discussion? It doesn’t happen, and the reason is quite simple: abandoning their beliefs would require them to also let go of their faith. Until creationists are willing to entertain the notion that they might be wrong about the inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration of the Bible, there is no way to reach them. Facts don’t matter because faith always trumps facts.

Young earth creationists love to come to blogs like mine because they can make themselves look like they are experts in disciplines such as biology, archeology, and cosmology. They know I am not going to engage them in a science discussion, and unless someone with a science background responds to them, that’s where the discussion ends. I’m sure they think they’ve won a mighty victory for God, but all that has happened is that no one wants to waste their time with someone who has no true desire to follow the evidentiary path wherever it leads.

I am content to let them play a scientist on this blog. If those of you trained in the sciences want to engage them, please do so. I will stick to what I know: theology, the Bible, and Evangelicalism. And even with these things, I have backed countless Evangelicals into a corner only to have them throw their hands up and tap out by saying FAITH FAITH FAITH! Once someone appeals to faith, all discussion is over (at least for me it is).

Going forward, I think I will point those who want to argue and debate science to blogs such as Why Evolution is TrueExploring Our MatrixThe Sensuous CurmudgeonGod of EvolutionThe Panda’s Thumb, or Confessions of a Young Earth Creationist. (If you know of other writers who have a good understanding of science, creationism, and Evangelicalism, please share the link to their site in the comment section.)  Each of us has competency in certain subjects or disciplines. I know where my competency lies and I don’t pretend to know what I don’t know. Now, this does not mean that I have no understanding of science and the scientific method. I do, and my knowledge increases every time I read a science article, blog, or book. But, I could follow this path for the next 25 years and still not have the necessary expertise to pass myself off as an expert. I find it laughable that someone — anyone — thinks they can read x number of books and be as competent and knowledgeable as those who have spent 6-10 years in college training for a specific scientific field and now work in that field every day of their life. Such thinking is called hubris.

The good news about my areas of expertise — theology, the Bible, and Evangelicalism — is that rarely is there any new information. Outside of archeological finds that might have some connection to the Bible, there’s not much happening in Bible Town. Sure, there are small skirmishes going on over the historicity of Jesus and what the Bible really, really, really says about _______________, but for the most part it’s just the same shit, different day.  I don’t wake up in the morning and say, Hey, I wonder what new and exciting story about the Bible, theology, or Evangelicalism awaits me. (This is one of the reasons Hector Avalos gives for the ending of Biblical studies programs. The End of Biblical Studies by Hector Avalos.)

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I am not suggesting that someone can’t become conversant and competent in a specific subject without going to college. I know firsthand the importance of study and hard work. That’s what I did for 25 years, spending hours and hours each week reading and studying the Bible and theology. Would I have been better off if I had gone to Princeton and not an Evangelical Bible college? Sure, but I did a pretty good job over 25 years of plugging up the lack-of-knowledge holes. I still have gaps in my knowledge, but that can be said of every person. None of us knows everything, even when it comes to our particular area of expertise. I am a serious amateur photographer and I know a good bit about the craft. but, the more I read and practice my craft, the more I realize how much I still don’t know.

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