I recently received the following email from an Evangelical man named Jeff.
I read the seven articles associated with “My Journey” and “Dear Evangelical” on your web site.
Thank you for your honesty and integrity regarding your spiritual walk.
I’ve been a believer in Christ since I was a young child, and God has richly blessed me with a close relationship to him.
Therefore reading your articles produces a deep sadness in me because I can see that you’re missing out on the most important relationship that any human being can have.
One of the first things that popped into my mind while reading your articles was something I’ve believed a long time: “Anything that can be done without Jesus Christ is not Christianity.” You obviously have a significant intellect and great desire to learn and teach. Reading widely and accumulating knowledge is a worthy pursuit, as are many other pursuits. Many worthy endeavors, including all types of theological efforts, can be pursued without a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. Learning about someone does not mean that you have a love relationship with him/her.
Another quick comment relates to basic statistics. While I’m more than impressed at all the churches you’ve visited, please remember “sample size”. When performing statistical calculations it’s always important to consider sample size, or the number of statistical samples you have with respect to the entire population. If there are about 350,000 churches in the USA and you visited 100 of them, then your sample size is 100/350,000, which is less than 0.03% — an extremely small sample size. Thus when you claim something to the effect that all churches are the same, your sample size is so small that you have no credible basis for such a statement. I personally know some churches where the emphasis is the person of Jesus Christ above all else.
In none of the articles I read did I see any indication of the Holy Spirit’s work in your life. Awareness of your sin and belief in the forgiveness of your sin by Christ’s atoning sacrifice were not mentioned.
Penultimately, although I try to not tell people that they “should” do something, because you claim to be a voracious reader I have a few suggestions, if you have any appetite for spiritual wholeness:
• Books by pastors Ray C. Stedman, Dave Roper, John Piper, and Ray Ortlund
• Articles and books by apologists William Lane Craig, John Lennox, and C.S. Lewis
• Web site reasons.org (the authors of which present credible challenges to some of your claims)
• Short videos by Frank Turek
Lastly, one inescapable fact for me is that because the material universe is so amazingly complex there is no logical explanation for all of it to have come about by mere accident (randomness and mutation). I can’t imagine how so many clever/complex things could come about accidentally.
Where do I begin? It’s clear that Jeff doubts whether I was a True Christian®. Over the past decade, I have received countless email and blog comments that have asserted the same: that I was never a Christian; that I was deceived; that I was a wolf among sheep. Making these baseless assertions allow my critics to dismiss my story out of hand. It allows them to toss me aside into the reject bin that’s filled with countless other people who went to church but never knew the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
The problem with this argument, of course, is it that is absurd; little more than a wild conspiracy theory. I spent fifty years in the Christian church. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. During this time, I came into intimate contact with Evangelical congregants and ministerial colleagues. I also was close to a number of Evangelical evangelists, missionaries, and college professors. My life was surrounded by professing Christians. Not only that, but I married into a family of Evangelical preachers. My wife’s father was a pastor, as was her uncle. Polly had cousins who were pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. Yet, according to some Christian zealots, I had all of these people fooled. Not one of them — all of whom were indwelt by the Holy Spirit — discerned that I wasn’t a Christian. Not one. My critics will search high and low and not find one person willing to say, I doubted Bruce Gerencser was a Christian. In fact, what they will find is people willing to testify of my commitment to Jesus and my resolve to follow his teachings. I was in every way a lover of Jesus. I had an intimate, loving, and fulfilling relationship with Him, and was, myself, indwelt with the Holy Spirit.
Bruce, you are now an atheist. You don’t believe the Christian God exists, so why does it matter to you that people accept your confession of faith as true? What I want from people is for them to accept my story at face value. When I write about the past, I focus on what I believed at that time. Yes, I was worshiping a myth, but in my mind, I believed I was worshiping the one true God. In my mind, I believed that Jesus had saved me from my sins and called me to be a preacher of the gospel. I believed that the Bible was a supernatural text inspired by a supernatural God. I believed God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, lived inside of me. All of these beliefs were nonsensical, yet, at the time, I believed them with all my heart. Thus, I find it offensive when some Evangelicals dismiss my testimony of faith with a wave of the hand, saying that I never was a Christian. All I am asking is that people accept my story as it is and not try to read their personal judgments, opinions, and theology into my story. When the Jeffs of the world tell me they are Christians, I accept that what they are telling me is true. That’s how human interactions work. We respectfully allow others to tell their own stories. After all, who knows his story better than the person telling it, right?
I found Jeff’s email to be polite, yet littered with passive-aggressive attempts to cast doubt on my past Christian faith. Jeff focuses on my astute study habits and book reading. Worthy pursuits, says Jeff, but one can learn many things about Jesus, yet not have a love relationship with him. Hint, hint, that’s you Bruce. I was a student, an intellectual, but I never truly loved Jesus, Jeff suggests. How does he determine this is so? What criteria does he use to determine that I never truly loved Jesus? Did I say the wrong words when I asked Jesus to save me? Did I belong to the wrong sect? What was it in my writing that led Jeff to conclude Jesus and I never had an intimate relationship? Or is the real issue that my story makes Jeff uncomfortable; that the implications of my loss of faith casts doubts on some of his beliefs?
Most Christians, except those of Pelagian persuasion, believe that true faith is evidenced by good works. James makes this clear when he says:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:14-26)
I am more than happy to compare good works with Jeff or any other Christian. Not only did I have a credible profession of faith and orthodox beliefs, I also showed I was a follower of Christ through my works. Again, anyone and everyone who knew me as a Christian would testify that I was a true-blue child of God. This is why so many people find my loss of faith so disconcerting. If Bruce could lose his faith, they think, why anybody can.
Jeff goes on to cast more doubt on my past faith by saying, “In none of the articles I read did I see any indication of the Holy Spirit’s work in your life. Awareness of your sin and belief in the forgiveness of your sin by Christ’s atoning sacrifice were not mentioned.” Jeff read all of seven articles out of 2,722 posts — little more than a rounding error. Perhaps Jeff should invest time in truly getting to know the subject of his criticism. What Jeff has done so far is akin to someone reading the first seven chapters of Matthew and then saying they have read the Bible. Without fail, the sharpest critics of my life are those who can’t be bothered to read more than the first chapter or two of my autobiography.
For the sake of giving Jeff a thorough answer, let me address what he believes are omissions in my story. I believed that I was a broken, wretched sinner who deserved eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire. I believed that my sins separated me from God and that only through the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross could I be forgiven from my sins and be reconciled to God. At the age of fifteen, I came under conviction and the Holy Spirit revealed to me my sinfulness and need of salvation. I repented of my sins and asked Jesus to save me. From that moment in 1972 until November of 2008 — thirty-five years — I wholeheartedly believed that Jesus was my Lord, Savior, and King. While my theology changed over the years, I never lost sight of the centrality of Jesus Christ in my life. He was THE way, THE truth, and THE life. As far as the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, my good works speak for themselves. My devotion to preaching and teaching the Bible and evangelizing the lost was known far and near. I “felt” the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. I “felt” the Holy Spirit leading and directing me throughout my life. It matters not that I now believe that these things were the machinations of my mind, and not the work of a mythical, invisible Spirit. At the time, I believed and that’s what matters when trying to determine the truthfulness of my story.
Finally, I want to address Jeff suggesting I read books by this or that author, check out this or that website, or watch apologetical videos. Here’s what I said to him in my brief response to his email:
Up until I deconverted, I read every book John Piper wrote. I’m familiar with his writings and his teachings on Christian hedonism. I read a lot of books by authors who focused on inward spiritual development. My library had over one thousand books. I read authors from the 16th century to the current era. I hope you are not seriously suggesting that if I read this or that book by one or another author that I would miraculously see the light. Give me credit for doing my homework before leaving Christianity. While there were psychological components to my deconversion, the ultimate reasons were of an intellectual nature. I came to the conclusion that the Bible was not what Christians claim it is. I also came to see that Christianity just doesn’t make sense. See :
Many ex-Christians, including myself, spent agonizing weeks, months, and years trying to hang on to their faith. The more we read and studied, the more doubts and questions we had. None of us wanted to leave Christianity. Speaking for myself, why would I ever want to leave all that I had ever known? Why would I want to leave the foundation upon which my life, marriage, and family was built? Why would I want to leave the social connections I had built over five decades? Why would I want to lose all of my friends, men and women I had known for much of my adult life? Why would I want to leave a job that I personally found meaningful and fulfilling?
One need only read my letters: Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners and Dear Friend, to literally feel the angst and raw emotion in my decision to abandon all I knew and held dear. I suspect that many of the readers of this blog have similar testimonies.
Come November, it will be ten years since I walked out the back door of the Ney United Methodist Church, never to return. Since then, scores of Evangelical apologists have stopped by to “educate” me about the faults in my testimony of faith. I have, by now, heard it all. There are no new arguments for Christianity forthcoming. All Christian authors do is repackage the same old, tired, worn out arguments in books with new titles. If new evidence for Christianity is someday found, I will honestly and openly look at it and determine its worthiness. Until then, I am confident that I have thoroughly investigated the claims of Christianity. I am confident that my rejection of Christianity is intellectually sound.
After I responded to Jeff’s email, he sent me the following:
Given that engaging in internet dialogue is limiting, I thought a useful response would be for me to briefly document my personal situation if I were to “deconvert”.
If I Were to Deconvert from Christianity …
- I would become lonely because I would lose my closest, constant companion.
- Death would become a great unknown because the one who had conquered death would be dead.
- I would become unloved because the one who had known me most deeply me would be absent.
- I would lose the sweet communion with my Master.
- I would tumble into despair because my purpose for my life would be obliterated.
- I would become overburdened with guilt because my sins and failures would persist
- My hope for a better future would dissipate because no one would be preparing a better place for me.
- I would become fearful because I would lose my defender who had shielded me from attacks.
- I would become stoical because my emotions would be stunted.
- Beauty would become meaningless because I would lose the one who is beauty’s very essence.
- Making decisions would be fraught with fear because I would lose my personal guide.
- Temptations would become irresistible because the one holding me accountable would be gone.
- I would lose my hope of receiving deep, honest, lasting joy because my joy-giver would be absent.
- I would become mean because the one who had comforted my deepest hurts would be gone.
- Trials would become unbearable because my trial-bearer would be gone.
- If I lost my relatives and friends, I would be important to no one.
If I Were to Deconvert from Belief in God …
- My life would be devoid of meaning and significance because my life would be little more than the result of purposeless, random accidents (otherwise known as biological mutations).
- My standard for morality would vanish; morality would be determined by whoever had power over me.
- My understanding of the beginning of life would disappear.
- My understanding of the beginning of space and time would disappear.
- My desire to perform altruistic acts would be quenched.
- My mind would likely burst from a most unsettling conundrum: lacking a transcendent creator, the only other explanation for my existence would be neo-Darwinian evolution, which is illogical and untenable, leaving the question of my identity painfully unanswered.
- I would lose my part in the greatest story ever told.
- I would lose my ability to intervene through prayer on others’ behalf to God.
- My prospect for the end of the world would become fearful because it would depend on mankind’s actions instead of the will of the one who created it.
- My worldview would become nonsensical because the multitude of fine-tuning aspects of the universe would become inexplicable, impossible coincidences instead of evidences of a loving creator.
With so much to lose, how could I ever “deconvert”?
All I can say to what Jeff has written is *sigh.* Perhaps others will want to address Jeff’s false (and offensive) caricature of unbelievers. If I believed these things to be true, I too would live in hopelessness and despair. However, all that Jeff has done is show us how a Christian Fundamentalist views life and the universe. Presuppositions abound. Remove them, and everything looks gloriously and wonderfully different. There is life post-Jesus, of that I am sure. I have written countless posts about purpose and meaning, and how atheists/agnostics/humanists/unbelievers can and do find meaning and purpose in the present precisely because they have no need of religion. Jeff’s not interested in learning about these things because in Jesus he has all that he needs. Jeff married the first girl he ever dated, and now he judges all other marriages by his. He lacks the experience necessary to make such judgments of others. For him to suggest that his peculiar interpretation of an ancient religion and its text is the prescription for happiness, love, and fulfillment is beyond arrogant. Such is the nature of Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicalism is all that Jeff has ever known. Until he experiences life outside of the box, there’s not much hope for him. A wild, wonderful world awaits Jeff if he dares to scale the walls of his intellectual and psychological jail and escapes. He’s not ready to do so today, but there’s hope. You see, I once was a Jeff. And if I can find new life in reason and humanistic principles, I know Jeff can. With God — err, I mean intellectual inquiry — ANYTHING is possible!
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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