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From Evangelicalism to Atheism — Part Three

creamery road zanesville ohio
Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I am often asked, when did you first begin to doubt? This is not an easy question for me to answer. As I look back over my life, there were many instances where I had doubts about certain theological or political beliefs. If there is one constant about life, it is change. Over time, our understanding, beliefs, and ideologies change. Sometimes, the change is so subtle that we are not really aware of it until we look back on our lives years later. Anyone who says that he has never changed his beliefs — and I know several pastors who say this about themselves — is either intellectually lazy, a liar, or living in denial.

Every preacher leaves Bible college with a borrowed theology. His theology is the theology that his parents, church, pastor, and college professors taught him. He believes what he believes because of the influence of others. Only when he is free of these influences does he begin to develop his own theological beliefs.

I have always been an avid student and reader. One of the frustrating things about the health problems I have is that I can no longer read as I used to. For many years, it was not uncommon for me to read 500 or more pages a week of theological and biographical texts. To this day, I rarely read fiction. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I accumulated a large library of books. These books were my constant companions and friends. When I left the ministry in 2003, I sold off my theological library on eBay.

While I learned many things as a student at Midwestern Baptist College, most of my theological education came from the countless hours I spent reading theological books, the Bible, and studying for my sermons. It was in the study that I began to come to theological conclusions different from what I had been taught by my parents, former churches, former pastors, and college professors. The most dramatic theological changes took place while I was pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, (later Mt. Perry) Ohio.

I started the Somerset Baptist Church in July of 1983 and pastored the church for eleven years. At that time, I was a typical Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor and remained so until the Jack Hyles scandal rocked the IFB world in 1986. As I waded through the Hyles scandal, I began to question the gospel preached by many IFB pastors and churches. Noted preachers such as Jack HylesCurtis Hutson, and the preachers associated with the Sword of the Lord, preached a truncated gospel, believing that repentance was a change of mind and not a change of conduct. Simply put, the unconverted sinner was against Jesus and now he was for him. Around this time, John MacArthur came out with his book, The Gospel According to Jesus. MacArthur attacked the easy-believism gospel preached in many Evangelical/Baptist churches. MacArthur stated that repentance was not only a change of mind but also a change of behavior. If there was no turning from sin, then there was no true repentance, and without repentance, there was no salvation.

The Hyles scandal, my careful assessment of the gospel preached by many in the IFB church movement, and MacArthur’s book, led me to conclude that the gospel I had been preaching was a truncated, shallow gospel. I began preaching a gospel that demanded sinners turn from their sins. I believed that if Jesus was not Lord of all your life then he was not Lord at all. I believed that if people said they were Christians, then they should act like it. Unless unregenerate sinners were willing to turn from their sin and fully embrace Jesus, there was no salvation for them.

In the late 1980s, I began to reconsider my eschatological beliefs.  I was taught dispensational, pre-tribulational, and premillennial eschatology (end times) in college, and every church I attended growing up preached this end-times scheme. As I restudied the various eschatological positions, my beliefs gradually shifted and matured until I embraced post-tribulationalism and amillennialism. At this point, I was clearly theologically wandering outside the boundary of my IFB heritage. This shift in eschatology resulted in some people leaving the church; however, it also attracted new members who held a similar eschatological views.

It was also in the late 1980s that my theological beliefs dramatically shifted from the one-point Calvinism (eternal security, once saved always saved) of the IFB church movement to five-point Calvinism. My introduction to Calvinism came through the preaching tapes of Rolfe Barnard, a former Southern Baptist and Sword of the Lord evangelist who died in the late 1960s. Barnard’s sermons were powerful declarations of the gospel according to Calvinism. As I listened to these tapes, it was like a light went on in my head. For a time, I was angry because I thought those who had taught me theology had lied to me. Why had no one ever told me about Calvinism? All they told me at Midwestern is that they were against Calvinism and anyone caught promoting it would be expelled.

I began devouring books about Calvinism. I opened a book account at Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service and bought countless Calvinistic, Puritan, Sovereign Grace Baptist books. I read the books of Puritan/Calvinist authors from the 17th,18th, and 19th centuries. I discovered that Baptists, at one time, were quite Calvinistic, and some of my heroes of the faith, including Charles Spurgeon, were five-point Calvinists. I even learned that there were Calvinists, such as the late Bruce Cummons, pastor of the Massillon Baptist Temple, in the IFB church movement.

From the late 1980s until the early 2000s, I was a committed, zealous five-point Calvinist. My preaching style changed from topical/textual sermons to expository sermons. I stopped giving altar calls as I began transforming the Somerset Baptist Church into a Calvinistic church. This move cost me 99% of my IFB pastor friends, a handful of church members, along with almost all of my Arminian friends.

For several years, I published a newsletter called The Sovereign Grace Reporter. I sent the newsletter to hundreds of IFB pastors, and this caused quite a shit-storm. Surprisingly, Polly’s uncle, the late-James Dennis, pastor of the IFB Newark Baptist Temple, was quite supportive. Keith Troyer, then pastor of Fallsburg Baptist Church, was also quite supportive. I would later be accused of leading Keith astray with the pernicious doctrines of John Calvin. (At the time, I considered Keith my best friend.)

Probably by now, some readers are wondering, Why the history lesson, Bruce? I think it is important for me to establish several things:

  • I was an avid reader of books
  • I was an avid student of whatever subject I am reading about
  • I was willing to go wherever the evidence led me
  • I was willing to change my beliefs even if it materially cost me or made me unpopular
  • Truth mattered more to me than being accepted by my peers, friends, or family

These things are still true today, though I can no longer read like I once did.

In my pastoring days, my colleagues in the ministry, friends, and parishioners loved me for these traits. They applauded my willingness to be true to the Word of God, even if they disagreed with me. Now these same people think I read and study too much. I have been told that the reason I am an atheist is because of books (and there is some truth in this statement)! If I would only stop reading all these books and just read THE BOOK, all would be well, one former parishioner told me.

Just as the leopard can’t change its spots, I can’t stop reading and studying. Sixty years ago, my mother created an intellectual monster when she taught me to read. She wanted her eldest son to be like her, a devourer of literature, a person who valued truth above the approbation of men. I owe her a great debt of gratitude.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

From Evangelicalism to Atheism — Part Two

creamery road zanesville ohio
Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

One of the questions I am often asked is, why did you become an Evangelical or why did you become an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist?

This is the wrong question. The real question is this: how could I NOT have become an Evangelical or Independent Fundamentalist Baptist?

Every child is born into this world without a religion. Not one of them knows one thing about God or religion, sin, salvation, or morality. As far as God and religion are concerned, every newborn is a blank slate.

Belief in God must be taught and learned. This teaching is done by parents, extended family, and the culture/society the child grows up in. Children taken to a church, temple, or synagogue, are taught to KNOW God; to know their parents’ religion.

Most children embrace the religion of their parents. Parents who worship the Christian God generally raise children who are Christian. This is especially the case when it comes to Evangelical children. From their toddler years forward, Evangelical children are taught that they are broken, vile sinners alienated from God who need personal salvation. They are taught that, unless they ask Jesus into their hearts, they will end up in Hell when they die. Every Sunday at church, at home during the week, and at school, if they attend a Christian school, Evangelical children face an onslaught of manipulative evangelistic methods geared to help them accept Jesus as their Savior and turn them into dutiful, tithing Evangelical Christians.

It should come as no surprise, then, that most Evangelical children make a salvation decision when they are quite young. This initial salvation experience usually carries them into their teenage years. They are safe and secure in Jesus until they are thirteen or fourteen years old.

During their teenage years, it is not uncommon for Evangelical children to either make another salvation decision or rededicate their lives to Christ. Why is it that so many Evangelical children make another decision during their teenage years?

Think about it. What happens during the teenage years? Children reach puberty, and they begin to discover they have sexual desires. They start wanting to do things that their pastor, church, and parents say are sinful. Most Evangelical teens, if not all, give in to sinful desires. They feel guilty for doing so, and they conclude that they must not “really” be saved or that they need to recommit their lives to Christ.

Many Evangelical teenagers find themselves caught in a constant cycle of sinning, getting saved/rededicating their life to Christ, sinning, getting saved/rededicating their life to Christ. As much as Evangelicals deny it, this cycle becomes the Protestant version of Catholic confession.

In the early 1960s, my Dad moved us from Bryan, Ohio to San Diego. California was the land of opportunity in the 1960s, and my Dad was certain his pot of gold was somewhere in San Diego. He ended up selling patio awnings and driving a truck, and three years later we moved back to Bryan. That pot of gold turned out to be empty.

While living in San Diego, our family attended Scott Memorial Baptist Church, an IFB institution. The pastor at the time was Tim LaHaye, of Left Behind and Act of Marriage fame.  Both of my parents made public professions of faith in Christ at Scott Memorial. I also asked Jesus into my heart in Junior Church. I was five years old.

Politically, my parents were right-wing extremists. They were members of the John Birch Society, hated Martin Luther King Jr, and supported the war effort in Vietnam. Their salvation decision at Scott Memorial fit well with their political and social ideology.

From this point forward, until my parent’s divorce in April of 1972, the Gerencser family was in church every time the doors were open. Sunday morning, Sunday night, prayer meeting, and revival meetings — we were front and center of whatever Fundamentalist church we were attending at the time. When I became a teenager, attending youth group after church was added to the schedule, along with regular youth group activities.

In the fall of 1972, Evangelist Al Lacy came to our church, Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, to hold a revival meeting. On Sunday, during Lacy’s sermon, the spirit of God came over me, telling me that I was a sinner in need of salvation. When it came time for the public invitation, I quickly stepped out of the pew, came down the aisle, and knelt at the altar. There, a church deacon by the name of Ray Salisbury took me through the Romans Road plan of salvation and I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins and come into my heart. I was fifteen. I was baptized that night, and a week or so later I went forward during the altar call and let the church know that God was calling me to be a preacher. Two weeks later, I preached my first sermon.

As a first-grader in San Diego, I told people that when I grew up I was going to be a preacher, and now, as a fifteen-year-old boy, I was telling the world that God was calling me to be what I wanted to be my entire life. From this point forward, most of the preachers I came in contact with worked with me and steered me towards fulfilling my calling. It came as a shock to no one that I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in 1976 to study for the ministry.

All told, I preached for thirty-two years, spending twenty-five of those years pastoring seven churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I preached more than four thousand sermons and taught countless Sunday school classes. For many years, I also preached on the street and at the local nursing home.So when someone asks, why did you become an Evangelical or why did you become an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, I counter that the real question, based on what I have written here is this: how could I have become anything else?

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

From Evangelicalism to Atheism — Part One

creamery road zanesville ohio
Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

In the following series, I intend to explore my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism. In future posts, I plan to look carefully at the process that took me from a card-carrying member of the Evangelical church through a loss of faith that ultimately led to atheism. In this post, I want to define the words Evangelicalism and atheism.

Ask an Evangelical to define Evangelical or Evangelicalism and it is unlikely that he or she can do so. In fact, it is doubtful that any two Evangelicals would give you the same definition of their shared heritage.

According to the National Association of Evangelicals, all member churches and groups MUST believe the following:

  • We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
  • We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
  • We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

In answering the question, What is an Evangelicalthe National Association of Evangelicals website states:

Evangelicals take the Bible seriously and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the “good news” of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.

We are a vibrant and diverse group, including believers found in many churches, denominations and nations. Our community brings together Reformed, Holiness, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic and other traditions. Our core theological convictions provide unity in the midst of our diversity. The NAE Statement of Faith offers a standard for these evangelical convictions.

Historian David Bebbington also provides a helpful summary of evangelical distinctives, identifying four primary characteristics of evangelicalism:

  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

These distinctives and theological convictions define us, not political, social, or cultural trends. In fact, many evangelicals rarely use the term “evangelical” to describe themselves, focusing simply on the core convictions of the triune God, the Bible, faith, Jesus, salvation, evangelism, and discipleship.

I know of NO true Evangelical who would dispute any of the above statements. I say TRUE Evangelical because there are many Evangelical church members, pastors, parachurch leaders, and institutions that are Evangelical in name only. They say they are Evangelical, when in fact their beliefs make it clear they are actually liberals or progressives.

It is important to understand that ALL Evangelicals are Fundamentalists. I’ve had countless Evangelicals object to me calling them Fundamentalists. However, if they believe the statements above, then they are Fundamentalists. If it walks, talks, and quacks like a Fundamentalist it is a Fundamentalist. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?)

Some Evangelicals are confused about Fundamentalism, or they want to distance themselves from the crazy, extreme right-wing Fundamentalists that are common in Evangelicalism. However, their lack of understanding about their theological and historical heritage or their dislike of the crazy uncles within Evangelicalism does not mean they are NOT Fundamentalists.

Within Evangelicalism there are two lines of Fundamentalism:

  • Theological Fundamentalism
  • Social Fundamentalism

If a person believes the National Association of Evangelicals’ statements regarding Evangelical belief and what an Evangelical is, then he or she is by definition a theological Fundamentalist.

Many Evangelicals wrongly think that because they are not like the Fundamentalists found in sects such as the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, that they are not Fundamentalists. However, when it comes to theology, there is little difference between a mainstream Evangelical and an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist.

Social Fundamentalism focuses on how a person lives the Evangelical Christian life. Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, along with many Holiness and Pentecostal groups, are noted for all the rules and regulations they have dictating how a professing Evangelical Christian should live. These kinds of sects strictly control everything from how a person dresses to whether or not a church member can watch or own a TV.

Many Evangelicals consider such rules and regulations legalism, and, wanting personal freedom, reject many of these rules and regulations as extra-biblical or works-salvation. These theological Fundamentalists make a concerted effort to distance themselves from social Fundamentalism.

However, can it really be said that an Evangelical can be a theological Fundamentalist, but not a social Fundamentalist? Strictly speaking, the answer is no. Because Evangelicals believe the Bible is “the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God” and have “a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority,” at some point every Evangelical is a social Fundamentalist.

If you doubt this, ask an Evangelical, Do you think a Christian must live according to the precepts, commands, and teachings of the Bible? He or she will resoundingly say Yes. They are, then, by definition, social Fundamentalists. Evangelicals who do not believe the Bible is the standard of living for the Christian are not really Evangelicals. They are liberals or progressives dressed up in Evangelical clothing.

Defining the words atheist or atheism is much simpler. According to Wikipedia, atheism is:

Atheism is in the broadest sense an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.

When I say I am an atheist, this is what I mean:

I am an agnostic and an atheist. On the God question, I am an agnostic. I can’t know if some sort of a deity exists. The extant data tells me there is no God, and I am confident that the deities presently worshiped by humans are human creations and no gods at all. I am confident that the Christian God is a myth, that the claims made for God and Jesus are untrue. It is “possible,” but unlikely — based on probabilities — that a deity of some sort exists. Maybe we will learn one day that what we call “life” is a game simulation played by an advanced alien species, or that somewhere “out there” — right Mulder? — lives our creator, a deistic sort of God. Again, unlikely, but since I don’t possess absolute knowledge — and neither do the religious — I remain agnostic on the God question. Since it is improbable any sort of God exists, I live my day-to-day life as an atheist — as if there is no God.

Now that I have made clear what I am talking about when I use the words Evangelical/Evangelicalism and atheist/atheism, I am now ready to start telling my story.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Updated WHY? Page

why

Updated September 24, 2020

It has been twelve years since I left Christianity and declared myself to be an atheist – twelve years of email from primarily Evangelical Christians asking me to explain WHY I am no longer a follower of Jesus. It has been a long time since someone has asked me a question that hasn’t already been asked by someone else. This is to be expected. There are only so many ways I can explain my reasons and motivations for becoming an atheist after spending 25 years in the ministry.

To help me better manage my time, I have decided to create a WHY page where I can point people when they have questions about my deconversion. After the questioner has read the following posts, I will then be quite happy to answer whatever questions they might have. I think these posts will likely answer 99% of the questions people ask me about my journey from Evangelicalism to Atheism.

My Journey

My Baptist Salvation Experience

The Battler

From Evangelicalism to Atheism Series (currently being updated)

Why I Stopped Believing

Please Help Me Understand Why You Stopped Believing

16 Reasons I am Not a Christian

Why I Hate Jesus

The Danger of Being in a Box and Why It Makes Sense When you Are in It

What I Found When I Left the Box

The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense

Why Am I the Only One Who Changed My Beliefs?

Bruce, What’s the REAL Reason You Left the Ministry?

An Email From a Former College Acquaintance

Why I “Retired” From the Ministry

Bruce Gerencser CLAIMS He Once Was a Christian

It’s Time to Tell the Truth: I Had an Affair

What Happened?

Bruce, You Are a Liar

Bruce, I Feel Sorry for You, Says Evangelical Man

Why Am I Different From My College Classmates?

Evangelical Man Doubts I Was a “True” Christian

It’s My Story and I’m Going to Tell It

Letters

Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners

Dear Friend

Dear Bruce Turner

Dear Ann

Dear Jesus

Dear Wendy

Dear Greg

Dear Jesus

Dear Family and Friends: Why I Can’t and Won’t Go to Church 

Interviews

Preacher Boys Podcast with Eric Skwarczynski

Interview with Neil the 604 Atheist

Atheist Talk Interview with Scott Lohman

The Angry Atheist Podcast with Reap Paden

The Corpsepaint Interview with Jay

Interview with Manny Otiko

Thank you for taking the time to read these posts. If you have any questions, please use the contact form to email me. If you are an Evangelical, I ask that you read one more post, Dear Evangelical, before sending me your question, sermon, prayer, rebuke, or denunciation. Thanks!

signature

Bruce, You Are Wrong!!

garfield never wrong

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Over the past thirteen years, various people have taken it upon themselves in emails, blog comments, Facebook comments, tweets, letters to the editor, sermons, and blog posts to emphatically tell me “Bruce, You Are Wrong!!” Be it my liberal politics, the teams I root for, or my humanistic, atheistic beliefs, these beacons of absolute truth are infallibly certain that I am wrong.

Let me confess right away that I have been wrong many, many, many times. I bet you didn’t know that, right? In fact, there’s not a day that goes by that I am not wrong in some moment, circumstance, or detail.

Usually, when someone writes to me to tell me I am wrong, they have a deeper, more sinister meaning for the word “wrong.” For the most part, I write about Christianity — particularly Evangelical Christianity and the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. Occasionally, I write about politics, education, sports, photography, and other sundry subjects, but Christianity and all its trappings is my main focus. I spend a great deal of time telling my story, detailing my journey, as only a good, humble, narcissistic ex-pastor can. This blog, whatever else it may or may not be, is this: “Bruce’s Story, Told by Bruce, According to Bruce, the Best He Can Remember It.”

When I am telling my story and my understanding of the journey I am on, I have little patience with those who tell me I am “wrong.” They dissect my life with the razor knife of their own experiences and beliefs, and determine that I am/was not what I say I am/was. They tell me I was never saved, never a Christian, never a real pastor, and I suspect someday someone will even challenge my circumcision.

These kinds of people want to control my storyline. My Evangelical critics want to set the standard by which my life — the one I lived, the one I am presently living — is judged, and it infuriates them when I won’t let them do so. I refuse to allow my story to be co-opted, controlled, or judged by any other standard than my own experiences. It is my life, and I know what I believed, how I lived, and I am certain I know my life better than anyone who only had this blog to judge me by. My dear wife of forty-two years is my best friend and she knows me pretty well, but she doesn’t know everything about me. Almost everything, but not quite. (Polly is wondering, “what the hell is Bruce keeping from me?)

Foolish is a person, armed with only printed words on a computer screen, who would judge a person’s life without any further evidence or knowledge. I certainly want people to enter into my story — in fact, I invite them in. But my readers are just visitors. They only know what I am willing to tell them. If my lover and best friend or my counselor can’t pierce Bruce Almighty’s inner sanctum, don’t think for a moment any outsider can. I’ve been reading the blogs of certain people — Zoe and Andrew Hackman — who have frequented this site for years. I am friends with them on Facebook. I know lots of things about them, but I would never arrogantly say I intimately “know” them. The same can be said for my editor. She’s been editing my writing for almost five years. We have never met in person, and it is likely we never will. I consider her a dear friend. We text each other almost daily. I know a lot about her past life and present life, about her spouse, children, grandchildren, etc. However, I would never presume on our relationship by saying I “know” everything there is to know about her. Yet, countless Evangelical critics think that my reading a few posts on this site that they “know” me, and are in a position to render infallible judgment. 

Sometimes, charges of being wrong are hurled my way because of something I have written about Christianity, the ministry, the Bible, or some other facet of Western Christianity. They vehemently disagree with my interpretation of a particular Bible verse, or they object to particular word usages, words such as Christian, Evangelical, or Fundamentalist.

What is the foundation of their charges against me? Why, their own beliefs and interpretations, or the beliefs and interpretations of their particular sect. Ultimately, the Bible becomes the focus of these kinds of accusations.

According to my eristical interlocutors, I am wrong because I have misread, misunderstood, misapplied, or distorted what the Bible teaches. How do my critics know this? Because they read, understand, and apply the Bible differently from me, and we all know that every Evangelical is infallible in his or her understanding of an allegedly divine religious text, written by mostly unknown authors thousands of years ago.

I could be wrong. In fact, I am quite certain that some of my interpretations of the Bible are wrong or could be better stated. I have no way of proving whether they are. All I have is my mind and my ability to read, and using these skills, I try, to the best of my ability, to discern and understand what a particular text in the Bible says. People are free to differ with me, but why should it be assumed that I am wrong and my critics are right? How do we make such a determination?

The Bible has the unique ability to be whatever a person wants it to be. Most people have a bit of Thomas Jefferson in them, scissors in hand, cutting out the things they disagree with or the things that weaken their theological, political, and social beliefs. The short of it is this: if you need to prove something, go to the Bible. You will likely find the answer you are looking for.

I am quite aware of the fact that I read the Bible differently from the Evangelical Christians who think I am wrong. The one-up I have on them is that I used to read the Bible as they do. I understand their hermeneutics and theology, and I am well aware of their interpretations. That said, I have no compulsion or need to read the Bible as Evangelicals or progressive/liberal Christians would read the Good Book. I have no need to make the Bible fit a peculiar systematic theology grid, as Evangelical Christians do. Instead, I try to read the Bible like the average, unenlightened Bruce would read the Bible. I try to transport myself back in time in hopes of getting a historical and cultural perspective on the passage I am reading.

In Genesis 1:26, God says “let us make man in our image.”  When I read this passage, I say to myself: this says there is a plurality of Gods. Let US. As I read the Old Testament, it is very clear to me that the Israelites were polytheistic and over time became monotheistic (or as oneness-Pentecostals would assert about Trinitarian Christians, they still ARE polytheistic).

Of course, those who think I am wrong say: but the New Testament says______ and they import their Trinitarian theology into the Genesis text. That’s all well and good if you are an Evangelical Christian, but I am not. I am quite free to read the Bible as it is written without forcing myself to put all the pegs in the right holes. The Christian has the burden to make it all fit, not I.

I may be wrong, but it is a leap of faith to assume that because I am wrong, you are right. There is no way to “prove” who is right or who is wrong when it comes to the Bible. Baptists and Campbellites (Church of Christ) spar often over one Greek word, eis, in Acts 2:38. Who is right? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all the arguments from both sides of the fence. Who is right? All of us have to determine for ourselves what we believe about God, Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity. This blog is simply my take on these things.

Seriously, the amount of skin I have in this game gets less and less every day. Talking about the Bible and what it purportedly teaches is all fun and games. Since the Bible no longer has a mystical, supernatural hold on me, I am quite free to ignore it at will. I am free to be wrong because being wrong about the Bible is like being wrong about picking the wrong players for a fantasy football league — not the end of the world.

My bigger focus is on those who are considering leaving Christianity or who have already left Christianity. I try to be a good example of a person who successfully broke the chains of bondage and left Christianity. I do not call on people to follow me or to do what I did. All I am is one guy with a story to tell. If my story helps someone, if it gives them the strength to take the big step they need to take, then I am grateful and humbled by being a small measure of help to them. However, if all I do is piss you off and make you think you have scabies, perhaps your short life would be better served reading other things than this blog. Telling me I am wrong will not bring the effect you desire. I will gladly admit to being wrong. Next?

Perhaps you are really hanging out here because, deep down, uncertainty is pulling at you, and you are trying to suppress it by lashing out at the poor, deluded, deceived, ignorant Evangelical-preacher-turned-atheist named Bruce. If me being your whipping boy leads to your deconversion, whip away, my friend, whip away.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Why I “Retired” from the Ministry

i quit

What follows is a post I wrote detailing the reasons why I retired from the ministry in 2005. When I wrote this, I had not yet declared myself an atheist/agnostic. As you will see, I was still clinging, ever so precariously, to my Christian beliefs. I hope you will find this post instructive and helpful in your own journey.

Originally written in 2008. Slightly edited, revised, and corrected.

I am often questioned about why I retired from the ministry. I started preaching as a teenage boy and I pastored my first church at age 24. Since then I have pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan, with my last pastorate being in 2003 (I candidated for several Southern Baptist churches in 2005). I have been married over 30 years, and I have spent my entire married life in the ministry.

Acquaintances, family, and friends are often miffed about why I walked away from the ministry. Why quit preaching? I am often asked. Surely there’s a church somewhere for you to pastor? Surely you still “want” to pastor? If God called you. how can you walk away from his calling?

Good questions, and quite frankly, I have more questions these days than I do answers. What follows is my attempt to shed some light on the “why” question.

Why did I retire from the ministry?

  • I retired because the word “retire” is a better word than “quit.” I don’t want to be known as a quitter. I was told my whole life by my peers that God hates quitters. I can still hear the scathing words of Tom Malone and Jack Hyles ringing in my ears as they skinned quitters alive in their sermons. So I use the word retire but, truth be told, I have just plain quit.
  • For health reasons. I have Fibromyalgia. I am in constant pain. Last year I was tested for MS and the tests were inconclusive. I have numbness in my face, hands, and legs. My doctor ruefully told me that he is uncertain as to what my actual neurological problem is. I’ll just have to wait to see what “breaks.” I am a type A, perfectionist workaholic. I worked myself into a physical collapse, foolishly thinking that anyone cared how hard I worked. God didn’t, and neither did the people I pastored.
  • For family reasons. I sacrificed my family and my marriage for a mistress called the Church. I lived for the Church. I was willing to die for the Church. I worked long hours for lousy pay. I allowed my family and my wife to become appendages to the work I was doing. They were the default clean-up, tear-down crew and did all the jobs no one else wanted to do. Our family was so wrapped up in the Church that we lost our self-identity. I want my children to know me for more than just being a pastor. I want my wife to have a husband who doesn’t always put her second to the Church. Whoever said “you must sacrifice your family for the sake of your calling” is not only wrong but also a destroyer of families. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that family comes first.
  • Changing theology. My theology is undergoing a complete and thorough overhaul. I entered the ministry as a Fundamentalist Baptist. I have become, over time, progressive in my thinking and I now identify with liberal causes and beliefs. I am not the man I once was, but neither am I the man I want to be. As my friend Tammy Schoch told me recently, “it is normal in mid-age to reevaluate one’s beliefs and to readjust or change your beliefs accordingly.”
  • Thomas Merton and Wendell Berry. These two writers have fundamentally changed how I look at the world and how I view my place in it. I have come to realize that I spent most of my adult life wasting my time with a religion that made no difference in the world I live in and a religion I have increasingly come to believe doesn’t do much to prepare us for the next life either.
  • The meaninglessness of vast parts of American Christianity. I now realize that most of what we do in Christianity doesn’t amount to much of anything. We seem to spend most of our time and effort making sure we have things to spend most of our time and effort on. We collect money so we can spend the money so we can collect money so we can spend the money . . . it seems that much of our work is simply done to keep the Titanic floating. Little progress is made in truly making a difference in the world.
  • Changing understanding of the Bible. I started out in the ministry as a King James-Only, every-word-of-the-Bible-is-inerrant believer. I have come to understand that such a belief is not only unsustainable theologically but is absolutely irrational. I no longer use the Bible as a science or history textbook and I no longer need to read any particular systematic theology into the text in order to enjoy reading the Bible. I simply enjoy reading the Biblical narrative for its own sake. It now speaks to me in ways I never thought possible.
  • Meeting people of other religious faiths or no faith at all. I was blessed with Catholic daughters-in-law. They forced me to come to terms with my deep-seated hatred for any religion but my own. As you may well know, we Baptists hate Catholics. The big change for me was when I attended a Midnight Christmas mass with my wife and some of our children. What a beautiful and powerful service. It shook my bigoted bones right down to my core.
  • Gandhi. Gandhi showed me the way of peace, of non-violent resistance. Of course, according to my Baptist beliefs, Gandhi is burning in Hell right at this moment. I no longer believe that, and I do not believe such vengeful hate by God is consistent with His love and mercy. I have abandoned the classic Baptist understanding of hell and I believe in annihilation. My beliefs are becoming more and more universalist as I go along. I will leave it to God to sort out the “who is in and who is not.”
  • For mental health reasons. I came to the realization that I was full of fear and regret. I feared God and I regretted wasting my life serving a deity I only served out of fear. No matter how perfect I was, no matter how much I did, I simply couldn’t meet God’s standard (or that of the men who spoke for God). I despaired for my life. I have since been introduced to a God who loves and has mercy and who does not use fear in his dealings with his children.
  • For my kids and grandkids. I want to know my kids and grandkids. I want to be more than just a religious guru to them. I want to be able to enjoy THIS life with them without everything revolving around the NEXT life. I struggle with the “dad doesn’t go to Church any more” . . . but I hope in time I can have a relationship with my kids and grandkids that doesn’t revolve around religion. Yes, I still want to talk about God, but I also want to enjoy the day-to-day things of life and I want to share those things with my kids and grandkids.
  • Guilt. This is the biggest problem I face — guilt over how I have lived my life, how I wasted my life, and how I hurt my family. I am sure some pious soul is going to tell me “Get over it and move on with life.” I wish I could, but I can’t. Until I can come to terms with the past 30 or 40 years, I cannot move forward from here. I am sure my wife is tired of me living in 1985 or 1994, but I must resolve the issues that plague me before I can move forward. I am making progress in this area and I plan to start on a book in the new year titled “From Eternity to Here.” Several people, I respect greatly have suggested that writing a book might be cathartic, just what I need to move my life forward.(I still want to write a book, but I fear physically it is an impossible goal.)
  • I simply don’t want to be in the ministry anymore. I have no desire for it and I do not want to give the requisite time necessary to be a “good” pastor. I believe I still have good teaching skills and I have a sincere desire to be a help to others, but I do not want to exercise my gifts in a traditional Church setting. I have wasted enough time already and I don’t want to waste anymore.

I could pastor a church tomorrow if I wanted to. Thousands of churches are without pastors. Most of them don’t deserve to have another pastor. They have chewed up and spit out the previous 20 pastors and they will do the same to the next one. Quite frankly, many Churches just need to die. As I look back at how willing I was to sacrifice so small Churches could have a “full time” pastor, I am ashamed of myself. Living on food stamps, with my kids wearing hand-me-down clothes, all so people could say “we have a full-time pastor and he has kids” The most I ever made in the ministry, counting housing, salary and reimbursements, was $26,000. While everyone else progressed economically, my family was supposed to settle for welfare wages and a chicken or two. I never pastored a church that took it upon themselves to offer me a raise. I had to ask, and often plead and beg, to get a raise. I saw their cars and houses. I saw their material stores, yet I was just supposed to sing “Oh how I love Jesus, thank you for keeping me poor.”

The most prosperous times of my life came when I was bi-vocational. I managed restaurants, sold insurance, delivered newspapers, pumped gas, and managed government grant programs. In retrospect, I should have always been bi-vocational. I should not have allowed the church to keep me poor. My problem was that I could never do anything half-way. I still can’t. So while I worked a full-time secular job, I also worked the church job full-time. I often worked 60 or 70 hours a week, rarely taking a day off. Vacations? We only took them if I was preaching a conference somewhere. Dates with my wife? Only if there was a church outing to go to.

I realize some of this sounds like the grousing of a bitter old man. I shall plead guilty to that charge. I am bitter at times, and as the Dixie Chicks said “I am not ready to make nice.” I fully accept my own culpability in the affairs of my life. I write for the sake of my family and for the sake of my own mental health. I also write this as a warning to young pastors who are tempted to take the same path I took.

I will stop writing this with the sharing of the biggest breakthrough in my life over the past few months. I spent my life “living for Jesus and Living for Others.” I bought into the mantra of Jesus First, Others Second, and Bruce doesn’t matter. I spent far too much time worrying about what others thought of me, of how they viewed my ministry and family.

My big breakthrough is pretty simple. I have come to the place where I don’t give a shit about what others think of me or what I believe. I don’t give a shit that you are upset that I wrote the word shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. I simply don’t care. Things matter to me, but what someone thinks of me personally or what they think of my beliefs, I don’t care. It has been liberating to be delivered from the judgments of others.

Have you said WOW yet? I heard you!  Let me paraphrase Thomas Merton. People were upset with Merton because his beliefs were always changing, always in motion. He said he frustrated his critics because just when they thought they had him pinned down on an issue, they found out he had already move on to something else.

That’s me, always moving, until the heart stops beating.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bruce, I Love and Respect Your Position

What Evangelicals Really Think About Atheists

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Bruce, I love and respect your position.

No, you don’t.

And you shouldn’t.

If you are a Christian, I mean a card-carrying member of the Jesus club, you should find my views abhorrent, loathsome, and damnable.

I know you say you are my friend.

I know you have become adept at separating the man from his message.

I appreciate the fact that you make an attempt to love me where I am and how I am.

But I wonder . . .

Do you really love me for being me, or is your love a means to an end?

Perhaps you operate under the delusion that if you just love me as you think Jesus loves me that I will return to the Christian faith and the universe, your universe, will be in balance once again.

You hold on, hoping that the hounds of heaven chase me down and drag me kicking and screaming back to the Kingdom of God.

Sometimes, I think you are like those people whose spouses have died. Night after night, they sit on the couch hoping that it is all a mistake and that their spouse is going to walk through the door.

I am not coming through the door.

It is time for you to embrace reality.

What Evangelicals Really Think About Atheists

I am an unbeliever, one with lots of knowledge about Christianity, but an unbeliever nonetheless.

I am an apostate.

I am a Christ-denier.

My life is a repudiation of all you believe is true.

I spit in the face of God and trample under the blood of the covenant.

Outside of these things I am still a pretty good guy.

You don’t really love and respect my position.

How can you?

I stand in opposition to virtually everything you believe.

Besides, I voted for Obama, and I plan to vote for Biden in November.

You believe the Bible is God’s truth.

I don’t.

You believe that human beings are vile, depraved sinners needing salvation.

I don’t.

You believe Jesus is the way, truth, and life.

I don’t.

You think attending church on Sunday is the most important thing a person can do.

I don’t.

What does the Bible say about someone like me?

Be honest.

I am a dog returned to his vomit (2 Peter 2:22).

I am a pig returned to the pig pen (2 Peter 2:22).

I have given heed to seducing spirits and the doctrines of devils (1 Timothy 4:1).

I am a scoffer walking in my own lusts (2 Peter 3:2-7).

I am willingly ignorant (2 Peter 3:2-7).

I am a false prophet, a false teacher out to deceive all who come in contact with me (Matthew 24:11-12).

Let me remind you of what the Bible says about someone like me:

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.

And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly;

And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;

And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked:

(For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)

The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:

But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.

Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord.

But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption;

And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you;

Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children:

Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;

But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet.

These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.

For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.

While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.

For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.

For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.

But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. (2 Peter 2)

What Evangelicals Really Think About Atheists

The Bible is clear. God has spoken. It would have been better for me not to have ever known Jesus, never to have been saved.

I understand why some Evangelicals become so violent, so aggressive with me. I am a fly in their ointment, a stench that cannot be removed. Their answer is to declare that I never was a Christian, that I never was saved, that I never believed the truth, that I am a publican and a heathen (Matthew 18).

But YOU know better.

You know what I believed.

You know how I lived.

You know . . .

I don’t ask you to love and respect my position.

Stand for what you believe, what you think is the truth.

All I ask of you is that you truly have an answer for the hope that lies within you (1 Peter 3:15).

Don’t tell me what your denomination, pastor, or church believes.

Don’t tell me to read the latest, greatest book by a Christian apologist.

What do YOU really believe?

If you know what you believe, shout it out from the mountaintops.

But, if you are not so sure . . .

If you have questions . . .

If you have doubts . . .

Consider me an alternative viewpoint.

I am not a guru.

I am not a prophet.

I am just one man on a journey from eternity to here.

This blog is the written expression of my journey.

It is my “bible.”

I am nothing more than one man crying in the wilderness of his own life, seeking to know and understand not only his own life, but the lives of those he inhabits the earth with.

Most of all, I am here to help.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Dear Family and Friends: Why I Can’t and Won’t Go to Church 

no church

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

To those who call me Bruce, Butch, Dad, or Grandpa:

In November 2008, Polly and I attended church for the last time. Since then, I have walked through the doors of a church three times, once for a baby baptism, and twice for a funeral. All three experiences left me angry and irritated.

The first service was a baby baptism at a local Catholic church. I thought, Bruce, ignore the bullshit, you are there to support your children. I was fine until the priest began exorcising the devil out of my granddaughter. I wanted to scream, but I didn’t. After the service, I made up my mind that I would never again attend such a service. No baptisms, no confirmations, no dedications, no nothing. Nada, zero, zip. All of my children and extended family know this. Polly is free to attend any or none of these services, but I can’t and I won’t.

The last two services were funerals. One was the funeral of my sexual predator uncle. The local Baptist preacher preached my uncle right into heaven. (I wrote about that here: Dear Pastor, Do You Believe in Hell.) The second service was for Polly’s fundamentalist uncle. Nice guy, but the service was all about Jesus, complete with a sermon and call to salvation. Again, I wanted to scream, but I reminded myself that I was there to support our family.

I’ve decided I can suck it up and endure the Jesus talk for the sake of family. I know there are a lot of funerals in our future, that is if the rapture doesn’t take place. I wish it would so there would be no Christians left to bother me. I’ll do my best to support my family in their hour of grief; however, anyone who tries to evangelize me does so at their own risk. I refuse to be bullied by sanctimonious Bible thumpers who think they are salvation dispensing machines.

I’ve decided that I will walk through the door of a church for two events: funerals and weddings. That’s it. I don’t do church, and the sooner family, friends, and local Christian zealots understand this the better. If the event doesn’t say funeral or wedding, I ain’t going. I can’t and I won’t. If this causes someone to be angry, upset, or irritated, there is nothing I can do about it. That’s their problem.

You see, twelve years ago I said to my family, “you are free.” (Please see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners.) Be who and what you want to be. Be/stay a Christian, choose another religion or philosophical system, or choose nothing at all. With freedom comes choice. It seems the religious love their choice. They find great benefit, purpose, and meaning, through their particular religion. That’s great. If it makes them happy, then I am happy. But, shouldn’t I be afforded the same freedom and happiness? Why shouldn’t my wife and I have the freedom to NOT participate in church services, rituals, and the like?

Suppose I worship the Cat God Purr. Once a year, all the Purrites get together at my house for a very special service. Part of our ritual is the sacrifice of a female cat. Much like the Israelites in the Bible with their blood sacrifices to Jehovah, we offer up a cat as our sacrifice to Purr. Afterward, we roast the cat and eat it, and in doing so we are taking into our body and soul the blood and body of Cat God Purr.

Now imagine me inviting my Christian family to the service. I let them know when the service is and how important it is to me for them to be there. I also let them know that I would like them to partake of the roasted cat so they too could have inside of them the blood and body of the Cat God Purr. Can you imagine how they would respond?

First, in their eyes Purr is a false God. Second, the cat roasting ritual is barbaric and offensive. While I may invite them to the service, I would certainly understand if they didn’t come. Why? Because my God is not their God and I respect their right to believe whatever they want to believe. 

It seems if people are atheists, they are not afforded the same decency and respect. Did Polly and I become lesser persons, parents, or grandparents the moment we stopped believing? Does our relationship with family and friends hinge on us sitting our ass in a pew for ten minutes or an hour? Frankly, I refuse to let any particular circumstance harm a relationship. If someone asks me to go to a church service or a ritual and I say no and they never ask me again, it’s no big deal. However, once someone knows that I do NOT attend such services and they continue to ask me anyway, this tells me that they do not respect me.

I spent 50 years in the Christian church and 25 years in the ministry. I’ve had enough church to last me ten lifetimes. The best way for the religious and the nonreligious to get along is for both sides to compartmentalize their beliefs. I don’t talk about religion/atheism/humanism with my Christian family and friends unless they ask. If they ask, I will gladly give my opinion or share my viewpoint. I am not going to invite them to hear Sam Harris speak, nor am I going to give them Bart Ehrman’s books. If they ask or want to know, that’s different, but if they don’t then I choose to focus on the other things we have in common and leave religion/atheism in the closet. Christian family and friends need to do the same. If I ask, then by all means tell me. If not, let’s focus on the things we have in common. Life is too short to have conflict over religion.

I subscribe to the when-in-Rome-Do-as-the-Romans-Do rule. When I am at a Christian’s home and they offer up a prayer to their deity, I respectfully bow my head. It’s their home and they are free to do what they want. Yes, I have an opinion about God and prayer, but their home is not the place to share it. The same goes for my home. We are not religious, we are not Christian. We don’t pray over our meals, nor do we give the gods one thought before we eat. While we do allow Polly’s dad to pray over the meal when he is here, that is out of respect for him. No big deal, just one more prayer hitting the ceiling. Thousands are already embedded in the paint, what’s one more?

When Christians come to my home, they shouldn’t expect me to change how I live or how I talk. I shouldn’t have to change the music I am listening to, change the TV channel, or remove books from the bookshelf. This is our home, and anyone, even family, who walks through the door is a guest. And the same goes for the Christian’s home. If I visit there, I don’t expect them to do anything different from what they normally do. I respect their space, their freedom.

Freedom is supposed to be a two-way street. Unfortunately, for many Christians it is a one-way street called Their Way. They want the freedom to worship their God and practice their faith, but they don’t want to grant others the same freedom. Of course, I know why. They think they have the truth and Polly and I are on a false path that leads to judgment, hell, and eternal punishment. They don’t want us to continue driving on the highway that leads to perdition. But, here’s the thing . . . we don’t think we are on the highway to hell. Since we don’t believe there is a God, it naturally follows that we don’t believe in hell, judgment, heaven, or eternity. It’s up to us to determine what road we want to travel, and for Polly and me, we are quite happy to drive on the road named Reason.

Let me conclude this post with a personal thought about church services in general and why I can’t and won’t attend them.  First, I know the Bible inside and out. I have a theological education, an education that began at a Bible college and continued through the 25 years I spent pastoring churches. So, when I hear preachers and priests preach, I can spot the bullshit from a mile away. I also have little tolerance for preachers who lack the requisite skills necessary to craft a good sermon and deliver it. In my opinion, there’s lots of anemic, pathetic preaching these days. Second, I find many of the rituals offensive. Casting the devil out an infant? Washing away sin with water? Services that are all show and no substance? Vows that are uttered and become lies before the service is over?  Wine and wafers turning into real blood and flesh? Magic wand rituals and practices that pretend to make the past go away and make the present brand new? Preachers, pastors, bishops, and priests touching a person and conferring some sort of divine power? All of these things are offensive to me. They are reminders to me of the bankruptcy of religion and why I want nothing to do with it.

I know that I can’t force people to accept me as I am, but I can choose how and when I interact with them. Years ago, I was listening to Dr. Laura and a grandmother called up complaining about her daughter-in-law. Dr. Laura told her to quit her bitching. If she didn’t, she risked not being able to see her grandchildren. That was good advice and I remembered it years later when my fundamentalist step-grandmother called me. I wrote about this in the post Dear Ann:

. . . For his seventy-fifth birthday you had a party for Grandpa. You called a few days before the party and told me that if I was any kind of grandson at all that my family and I would be at the party. Never mind Polly would have to take off work. Never mind the party was on a night we had church. All that mattered to you was that we showed up to give Grandpa’s birthday party an air of respectability.

I remember what came next like it was yesterday. The true Ann rose to the surface and you preceded to tell me what a terrible grandson I was and how terrible my family was. You were vicious and vindictive.

Finally, after forty years, I had had enough. I told you that you should have worried about the importance of family twenty years ago. I then told you that I was no longer interested in having any contact with you or Grandpa. Like my mother, I decided to get off the Tieken drama train…

That’s what can happen when we push, badger, and cajole. I am an atheist, not a Christian, and will likely remain so until I die. My family and friends need to come to terms with this, and if they don’t, then it’s on them if they ruin our relationship.

When our children married, we vowed that we would NEVER be meddling parents/grandparents. If we offer our opinion on something, we do it once. That’s it. Unless someone asks, we don’t say another word. Every person in my family has the right to live freely and authentically. Yes, they make decisions that I think are foolish, but it’s their life and they are free to live it any way they want. Whether it is Polly’s parents, our children, our daughters-in-law, or our grandchildren, we don’t meddle in their lives. We want them to be happy. If they are happy, then we are happy.

All that I want is the freedom to live my life authentically. Surely, that’s not too much to ask.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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The Midwestern Baptist College Preacher Who Became an Atheist

polly shope bruce gerencser 1977
Polly Shope and Bruce Gerencser, February 1977, Midwestern Baptist College Sweetheart Banquet, the only time we were allowed to be closer than six inches apart.

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly also attended the college, as did her father and uncle before her. While not as large or as prestigious as institutions such as Bob Jones University, Hyles-Anderson College, Tennessee Temple, or Pensacola Christian College, Midwestern is known for turning out men who are church planters and fierce defenders of the Word of God. Started in 1953 by Dr. Tom Malone, Midwestern once had an enrollment of over 400 students. These days, the enrollment is less than a hundred, and in 2010 the college moved its location to Shalom Baptist Church in Orion, Michigan.

At one time, Midwestern advertised itself as a character building factory. Over the past 67 years, this factory has graduated hundreds of men and women, each devoted to the IFB faith. While some of the students who attended Midwestern no longer wear the Fundamentalists label, I do not know of one Midwestern attendee who is a liberal. As best I can tell, there is only one man who became a liberal, and that is yours truly. Certainly, many churches pastored by Midwestern-trained men are Evangelical and to the left of the Fundamentalism taught by the college, but none of them, as far as I know, are liberals theologically. Even more amazing, as far as atheism is concerned, I am the only person who attended Midwestern and entered the ministry as a Midwestern-trained preacher who is now an atheist.

i am special

I am soooo special.  From time to time, I see in the logs search strings such as “the Midwestern Baptist College preacher who became an atheist.” Google? This site is number one, top of the page. Same with Bing.  Even when generically searching for “Midwestern Baptist College Pontiac” this site is listed twice on the first page, fifth and sixth, respectively. I am quite sure that the prominence of my writing in search engine results for Midwestern irritates the hell out those who still profess fealty to the IFB religion and who still view the late Tom Malone as a demigod.

I am as rare as a real science exhibit at Ken “Hambo” Ham’s Creationist Museum. I am sure there are others who attended Midwestern who no longer believe, but I am the only person who has dared to poke his head above the proverbial ground and say so.

Are you a former Midwestern attendee or graduate who is no longer a Christian? I would love to hear from you. Please use the Contact Form to send me an email. Much like the search for extraterrestrial life, surely, somewhere there’s another former Midwestern student who no longer believes. I’m listening. . .

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Evangelical Man Wants Me to Tell the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth About My Life

calvin and hobbes proving truth

Recently, an Evangelical man by the name of Roger Smoak left the following comment on Why I Hate Jesus, the most widely read (and misunderstood) post on this site:

I would be interested in knowing what Really happened? Was it your fibromalga that wasn’t healed? Was it your oldest daughter with cystic fibrosis? Was it your dad dying at an early age or you mom who committed suicide?Was it depression you faced when you quit believing and/or your wife (pastor’s child) had to choose between you and her faith? Was it all the material wealth you experienced during your pastoring where you saw pastors who appeared to worship money instead of God? If the “Western Jesus” has destroyed your belief why can’t you believe in the Jesus of the New Testament? Every day you preached did you question is this was all a farce? What happened when you finally turned agnostic and publicly proclaimed this? Were you pastoring a church? I guess just as you judge others I would like to hear from yourself, church members, family, or someone who could shed some true light on what really happened to you.

When I receive comments such as this — and I have received hundreds of them over the past thirteen years — the first thing I do is look at the site logs to see exactly what the commenter has read.

Take Roger, a South Carolinian. He read:

That’s it. Right next to the Why I Hate Jesus page is a page titled WHY? On this page is a plethora of posts that curious readers can read, and in doing so find most of their questions about my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism answered. Evidently, Roger didn’t see this page or couldn’t be bothered to look at its content.

Evangelicals tend not to be very curious, that is unless they are surfing YouPorn. Then they are quite interested in every aspect of female and male bodies. But actually reading about and investigating the life of an Evangelical pastor turned atheist? Nah, how much information does one need to judge a man the Bible says is a fool, a follower of Satan.

In 2015 post titled Curiosity, A Missing Evangelical Trait, I wrote:

Why is it that so many Evangelicals have no desire to be curious? Yes, I know many are, so don’t get your panties in a bunch if you are a curiouser-than-a-cat Evangelical, but many aren’t. I frequently get emails or blog comments from Evangelical Christians wanting to “help” me find my way to Jesus. Such people are certain that they possess the requisite knowledge and skill to win me to Jesus. They are sure that if they just befriend me, quote the right verses, soothe my hurts, or understand my pain, I will fall on my knees and fellate their God.

I was in the Christian church for fifty years. I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five of those years. I have a Bible college education. Surely they understand that I am not an atheist out of ignorance? Of course not, and here is where their lack of curiosity gets them in trouble. They often don’t know anything about me or this blog. Why? Because they did a Google/Bing/Yahoo search for _________________ and their search brought them to a single blog post of mine. (Or the past 90 days, 64,000+ first-time visitors have come to this site via a search engine — mostly Google.) These searchers read that one post and immediately conclude that I am a poor wayfaring waif in need of their peculiar flavor of Jesus.

When I get comments such as these, I go to the logs and see what pages they read. Usually, they have only read the pages their search brought them to. Their lack of curiosity (or laziness) is astounding, leading them to make wild judgments about me, and come to rash, ill-informed conclusions. If they would just read the About page and the WHY page they would be better informed about me and this blog. How hard can it be, right?

I suspect part of the reason Evangelicals are not, in general, known for their curiosity, is because they are one-hundred percent certain that they are absolutely right. In their minds, they worship the one, true God and this God lives inside of them. This God walks with them, talks with them, and tells them that they are his own. They have a supernatural book given to them by this supernatural God. This book contains all the answers about life they will ever need. Why should they read anything else?

When you are certain, there’s no need to think, reason, investigate, question, or doubt. When the triune God is on your team, no need to consider any other team. When your God/sect/church/pastor has declared that strawberry ice cream is the one true ice cream, no need to try Rocky Road, Mint Chocolate Chip, or any other flavor.

Simply put, no need to know anything else, when you already know all you need to know. God said it and that settled it. One true God, one true religious text, one way of salvation. The earth is 6,023 years old, created in six literal twenty-four-hour days. The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible blueprint for Christ-honoring families, happy marriages, obedient children, and great sex. When the answer to every question is God, it’s not surprising to find that Evangelicals are not curious.

The good news is that more and more Evangelicals are discovering the curiosity that lies dormant beneath the surface of their lives. Once they make this discovery, they are on their way out of the closed-minded, senses-dulling prison of Evangelicalism. They will find out that science can and does explain the world they live in. Science doesn’t have all the answers, but it is asking the right questions.

Still want/need to believe in a transcendent deity or some sort of spirituality? Once free of the heaven/hell, saved/lost, in/out, good/bad paradigm of Evangelicalism, people are free to wander at will. When the fear of hell and judgment is gone, they are free to experience those things that are meaningful to them. Once the question is no longer will you go to heaven when you die, the journey rather than the destination becomes what matters.

Curiosity may kill the cat, but trust me Evangelicals, it won’t kill you.

Now let me circle back around to Roger’s comment.

From the get-go, Roger says that he thinks I am lying or withholding information. He wants to know what REALLY happened to me. Well, shit, Roger, this blog is titled, The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. This is a clue that says, HEY ROGER, THIS BLOG IS ABOUT THE LIFE OF EVANGELICAL PASTOR-TURNED-ATHEIST BRUCE GERENCSER!

Most readers would say that I am open, honest, and transparent about my past and present life. I have been willing to write about things that are painful and embarrassing to me. I have never wanted to paint a less-than-honest picture of my life. I watched too many preachers do just that back in my preaching days, and I see it going on still today. Sometimes, I want to scream to them TELL THE FUCKING TRUTH! Alas, Evangelicalism is built on a foundation of truth avoidance; a culture that values name, reputation, and prestige more than it does honesty and truth.

Roger goes through a greatest hits list of reasons he thinks may be the reason I left the ministry and later left Christianity (grammar corrected for readability):

  • Was it your fibromyalgia that wasn’t healed?
  • Was it your oldest daughter with cystic fibrosis?
  • Was it your dad dying at an early age?
  • Was it your mom committing suicide?
  • Was it the depression you faced when you quit believing?
  • Was it your wife — pastor’s child — having to choose between you and her faith?
  • Was it your lack of material wealth you experienced during your pastoring, especially when you saw pastors who appeared to worship money instead of God?

Let me call Roger’s statements the Seven Was-Its.

Was-It Number One: Was it your fibromyalgia that wasn’t healed?

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1996 — 12 years before I walked away from Christianity. During my career as a pastor, I battled chronic bronchitis, had bacterial pneumonia twice, had pleurisy several times, contracted mononucleosis — which almost killed me — and was treated for a plethora of joint and muscle problems. Not one time did I question God. I accepted being sick as God’s perfect plan for my life.

Was-It Number Two: Was it your oldest daughter with cystic fibrosis?

Actually, my oldest daughter has Down syndrome. When Bethany was born thirty years ago, my wife and I viewed her as a gift from God. We never questioned God blessing us with Bethany. Bethany having Down syndrome played no part in my deconversion.

Was-It Number Three: Was it your dad dying at an early age?

A curious reader would have found out that my dad and I weren’t close. We didn’t have an adversarial relationship, but definitely not close. I was outside the church raking leaves when Polly told me Dad was dead. We hugged, and I went back raking leaves. While I now miss my dad, his death played no part in my deconversion.

Several months ago, I had my DNA tested. I learned what I have long suspected — that Dad was not my biological father. (I plan to write about this someday.) I found that my father was a truck driver who lived in Chicago at the time. He likely met my seventeen-year-old mom while she was working at The Hub, a now-defunct truck stop in Bryan, Ohio. I have a half-brother in Michigan. Talk about messing up your ancestry tree.

Was-It Number Four: Was it your mom committing suicide?

Mom and I were close. Her suicide at age fifty-four deeply affected me. I so wish she were here today so she could play grandma to our grandchildren. (Please see Barbara.) That said, Mom’s death played no part in my loss of faith. My life with Mom certainly affected me in more ways than I can count, but not when it came to walking away from Christianity.

Was-It Number Five: Was it the depression you faced when you quit believing?

This one is almost funny. I have battled depression most of my adult life — from my early 20s. Thus, depression was the dark passenger of my life from the time I pastored my first church until today. The difference back then is that I buried my depression under a mountain of lies, prayers, and Bible verses. After I left Christianity, I sought out a secular psychologist to talk to. It was only then that I began to unwind the complexities of my life. I still battle depression today. It ain’t going away. My mental health goal is to keep from falling into the rabbit hole and having suicidal thoughts. Sometimes, I fail.

Was-It Number Six: Was it your wife — a pastor’s child — having to choose between you and her faith?

Now, this one is downright funny — and stupid. Yes, Polly is the daughter of a retired Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor. Her parents have attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio for over four decades. That said, Polly has never had to make a choice between her “faith” and her husband of forty-one years. I never sensed that she struggled with choosing between me and God. Sure, we left Christianity together, but that’s where the similarities end. Each of us has our own reasons for deconverting. One thing is certain, if I ever said I was planning to re-enter the ministry or start attending an Evangelical church again, Polly would like divorce me or kill me with one of her Lodge cast iron pans. Trust me on this one, my wife has zero interest in Christianity. In many ways, her feelings about the past are much stronger than mine. The only difference is that Polly doesn’t write about her feelings on a blog that is read by thousands of people.

Was-It Number Seven: Was it your lack of material wealth you experienced during your pastoring, especially when you saw pastors who appeared to worship money instead of God?

Seven strikes and you are out, Roger. For most of my ministry, I believed that living in poverty was God’s chosen path for me and my family. A good case can be made from the Bible that materialism and wealth are contrary to the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. While I prayed for material blessing, I never questioned God’s provision. I worked my ass off, and let God take care of the details.

Roger goes on to ask, “if the ‘Western Jesus’ has destroyed your belief why can’t you believe in the Jesus of the New Testament?

These are the kind of questions that make me want to scream. Roger evidently has never read a Christian history book. He thinks that his brand of Christianity is that of Jesus, the Apostles, and the first century church, when it is, in fact, every bit as westernized as mine was in my preaching days. In fact, I suspect if Roger had met me back in the day, he would have loved my preaching and teaching.

By not being curious, Roger misunderstands the chronology of my life. Roger writes:

Every day you preached did you question is this was all a farce? What happened when you finally turned agnostic and publicly proclaimed this? Were you pastoring a church?

I pastored my last church in 2003 and left the ministry in 2005 — three years before my deconversion in November 2008. I still did some preaching, but I no longer was interested in the dog-and-pony show called the ministry. In 2005 — as a last fling of sorts — I candidated at several Southern Baptist churches in West Virginia. It became clear to me that my heart was no longer in the ministry, and neither was Polly’s. We spent the next three years trying to find a church we could call home. (Please see But Our Church is DIFFERENT! for a list of the churches we visited.) In the end, we concluded that despite the names above the doors, churches are all pretty much the same.

Roger concludes his comment by saying:

I guess just as you judge others, I would like to hear from yourself, church members, family, or someone who could shed some true light on what really happened to you.

This brings me around to the fact that Roger thinks I am lying about my past and present life. He wants to “judge” my life, and determine for himself the “real” reasons I left the ministry and later left Christianity. Roger would love to interrogate my wife and children or “someone” — whoever the hell that is — who would confirm the “real” reasons I am no longer an Evangelical pastor. Something tells me that Roger thinks he already knows the “truth” about my life. He just needs someone to authenticate and confirm his judgments.

I have decided to be brutally open and honest with Roger. I sincerely — in the name of Loki –want him to know the truth about me.

Roger, I never was a Christian. The joke is on the thousands of people I pastored. I was a deceiver, a false prophet, a destroyer of souls. I spent most of my adult life living a lie, pretending to be a follower of Jesus just so I could work 60-80 hours a week, earn $12,000 a year, live off of food stamps, drive $300 cars, and raise six children in a 12′ by 60′ foot mobile home. Instead of accepting secular employment that paid fabulously well, I chose the aforementioned lifestyle all because I wanted to be a wolf among sheep.

I know you really want to know about the sex stuff. You got me, Roger. I fathered several children with female congregants. I also had gay relationships with several deacons. Not only that, I also was a porn addict, frequented houses of prostitution, and attended all-male revues at the local strip club.

I spent five years teaching church children without pay at our Christian Academy. I taught them the Bible and the doctrines of historic Christianity. Why? I was a deceiver, an apostate.

Today, I am a crossdressing worshiper of Satan. Every Halloween, I sacrifice Christian infants to Lord Lucifer. I spend every waking hour trying to destroy God. I hate him, as I do all Christian churches and pastors.

This, I suspect, is more akin to Roger’s narrative of my life than reality. Why read, investigate, ask questions, and attempt to understand when you can read a couple of pages and render infallible, self-righteous judgment.

Let me leave Roger with a verse from the Bible he says he believes. Proverbs 18:13 says:

New International Version
To answer before listening– that is folly and shame.

New Living Translation
Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.

English Standard Version
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.

New American Standard Bible
He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.

New King James Version
He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him.

King James Bible
He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.

Christian Standard Bible
The one who gives an answer before he listens–this is foolishness and disgrace for him.

Contemporary English Version (my favorite)
It’s stupid and embarrassing to give an answer before you listen.

Good News Translation
Listen before you answer. If you don’t, you are being stupid and insulting.

Holman Christian Standard Bible
The one who gives an answer before he listens– this is foolishness and disgrace for him.

New American Standard 1977
He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.

American Standard Version
He that giveth answer before he heareth, It is folly and shame unto him.

Douay-Rheims Bible
He that answereth before he heareth sheweth himself to be a fool, and worthy of confusion.

Thus saith the Lord.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

What Motivated Me to Work so Hard for Jesus

working for jesus

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected

It all started with my belief that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. I considered the Bible the road map for navigating through a Satan-dominated, sin-plagued world. The Bible, along with the Holy Spirit who lived inside of me, was my God’s way of speaking to me and telling me what to do

According to how Evangelicals interpret the Protestant Bible, every person is a vile sinner under the just condemnation of God, deserving eternal punishment in Hell/Lake of Fire. The Bible also says that God graciously provides a way for us to have our sins forgiven and avoid eternal punishment. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to the earth to be the final atonement for our sins. Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross, and three days later rose again from the dead, conquering death and the grave. Our salvation and eternal destiny rest squarely on the merit and work of Jesus. He, and he alone, is the way, truth, and life. Through the preaching of the Word (the Bible) and the work of the Holy Spirit, God calls out to sinners, saying, repent and believe the gospel. Those who hear his voice are gloriously saved and made part of the family of God.

The Bible taught me that as a God-called, God-ordained minister of the gospel, I had the solemn obligation to preach the good news to everyone. Work for the night is coming. Leave everything for the sake of the gospel. Only one life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ. These clichés were not mere words to me. They were clarion calls to forsake all, including my family and economic security, and follow Jesus.

Every church I attended, every youth group I was a part of, and every summer youth camp I went to, reinforced the belief that God wanted (demanded) one hundred percent of me. All to Jesus I surrender, All to Him I freely give, says the old gospel song, I Surrender All. I went to an Evangelical Bible college to train for the ministry. Every class curriculum, every professor, every chapel speaker shouted out to students:

Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.
We never will give in while souls are lost in sin
Souls for Jesus is our battle cry.

My wife went to college to get an Mrs. degree. She believed God wanted her to marry a preacher. Polly knew that she would have to make sacrifices for the sake of her husband’s call. She was taught that Jesus, the ministry, and the church came first. She was also taught that her husband was specially chosen by God to proclaim the good news of the gospel. She was encouraged to read biographies of great men and women of faith to learn how to deal with being married to a man of God. Polly and I entered marriage and the ministry knowing God had called us to a life of self-denial and devotion to the work of the ministry. Hand in hand, we embraced the work we believed God had set before us.

I consider 1983-1994 to be the high point of my ministerial career. I pastored a growing, busy Evangelical church. Sinners were being saved, baptized, and joining the church. Backsliders were being reclaimed. God was smiling on our work. Not only was this my observation, but it was the observation of my colleagues in the ministry. God was doing something special at Somerset Baptist Church.

During this time, I did a lot of preaching.  A typical week for me looked something like this:

  • Jail ministry on Tuesday
  • Nursing home ministry on Wednesday
  • Midweek service on Thursday
  • Street preaching 2-3 days a week
  • Teaching the adult Sunday school class
  • Preaching twice on Sunday

We also had a tuition-free Christian academy, open only to the children of church members. In addition to my busy church preaching schedule, I held revival services and preached at bible conferences and pastor’s fellowships. I was motivated by what I believed the Bible taught me about the work of the ministry.  I looked at the life of the apostles and thought that they were a pattern to follow. Run the race, Paul told me, I. I was totally committed to what I believed was God’s calling on my life.

Some Christians object and say “you are the one who worked yourself to death. Don’t blame the Church or God. OUR pastor doesn’t work this way. He takes time for his family. Blah. Blah Blah.” Even now, as an atheist, I find such objections lame. If the Bible is true, if what it says about God, sin, salvation, death, Hell, and Heaven is true, how dare any preacher or any Christian for that matter, treat the gospel of Jesus Christ so carelessly.  How dare any preacher not burn himself out for the sake of those in need of salvation. No time for busywork. No time for golfing with your fellow preachers.

More than a few pastors are lazy hirelings who do just enough to keep from getting fired. They pastor a church for two or three years, wear out their welcome, and then move on down the road to another church. I have no respect for pastors who defend their laziness by stressing the importance of balance in their lives. Where do they find such a notion in the Bible they say they believe? Jesus doesn’t call them to balance. He calls them to forsake all and follow him.

One of the reasons I see Christianity as a bankrupt religion is the lackadaisical approach Christians and their spiritual leaders have towards matters that supposedly have eternal consequences. Most of what goes on in the average church is meaningless bullshit. Call a business meeting to decide on the color of the paint for the nursery walls and everyone shows up. Implore people to come out for church visitation and the same three or four people show up.

Why should I take the Bible, God, Jesus, salvation, Heaven or Hell seriously when most Christians and pastors live lives that suggest they don’t. It took leaving the Christian church and leaving the ministry for me to realize that most of what I was chasing after was nothing more than a fool’s errand. Many of the ex-ministers who read this blog know what I am talking about. So much of life wasted, and for what? Too bad I had to be fifty years old before I realized what life is all about. Too bad I sacrificed my health on the altar of the eternal before I realized that there is no eternity, just the here and now.

From a psychological perspective, I understand that my type-A, workaholic personality made it easy for me to be the preacher I came to be. Whether it was pastoring churches or managing restaurants, I worked day and night, rarely taking time off for family or leisure. I still have the same tendencies, the difference now being that the list of things that matter to me is very small. Polly matters. Family matters. My neighbors matter. But matters of eternity, Heaven, and Hell? Nary a thought these days. If the Christian God exists, then I am screwed, and more than a few of the readers of this blog are too. However, I don’t think the Christian version of God exists, so I am investing all my time, money, and talent — how many times did you hear that phrase in a sermon? — on the only life I have — this one. I will leave it up to the gods and my family to do what they will with me after I am dead. Of course, depending on what happens to me after death, I could come back from the dead and write a book titled, “Heaven is for Real and Boy are the Atheists In Trouble.”

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Advice for a Young Evangelical Bible College Student

questions

I receive all sorts of emails every day, everything from personal attacks to honest questions. Rarely does a week go by where I don’t receive an email that deeply affects me emotionally. Several days ago, I received one such email from a young Evangelical Bible college student. After reading and pondering his words , I thought his email would be a great subject for a blog post.

I have removed all personally identifiable information. People who email me in good faith can rest assured that I will always protect their privacy. Here’s what this young man had to say:

I am a Biblical Studies major in pursuit of becoming a pastor. Growing up, faith was all I had and everything that I held onto. Over the past year, I have learned things about the faith and the church that have left me confused and hurt. I am going into student debt to pursue this “calling” I feel in my life. Yet, this calling has slowly faded away and I am sitting here writing this, confused on what to do or where to go. I am scared to let go of my faith, although I am not sure why. It is hard for me to ignore hard facts and scientific explanations. They just make sense. I know you said you have 25 years of ministry, and my whole life has been built up for me to go into ministry as well. I am looking for answers, and I do not know who to turn to as all of my family and friends are believers, and I honestly do not feel comfortable coming to them. Please write me back any advice, book to read, or just honestly someone to share experiences with.

I want to applaud this man for being willing at such a young age to question his beliefs and seek out answers to his doubts and questions. I wish I had the courage this young man has back when I was a student at Midwestern Baptist College in the mid-1970s. Sadly, I was a true-blue believer, and with nary a question or doubt, I continued on a ministerial path that led me to pastorates in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I was fifty years old before questions and doubts overwhelmed belief and I deconverted.

My objective in responding to this man is NOT to convert him to atheism. I have never been an evangelist for atheism, and I don’t intend to be one. My goal remains the same as always: to help people who have doubts and questions about Christianity or who have already deconverted. I see myself as a facilitator. To use a worn-out cliché, life really is a journey. Evangelicalism teaches — dare I say demands — believers to focus on the destination — Heaven or Hell, and not the journey. Life is little more than preparation for meeting and living with God in the life to come. I challenge people to see that life is all about the journey. Your destination is immaterial. Walk the path that is in front of you, following its course wherever it leads. In doing so, you will end up exactly where you need to be. My only regret is that I waited until I was in my forties before I realized this grand truth.

This man comes from a family who is devoted to Jesus. I can only imagine how painful his doubts and questions are as he thinks about how seeking answers might affect his relationship with his family. As many readers of this blog know firsthand, daring to step outside of the prescribed rut of Evangelical faith can lead to catastrophic consequences. Verbalizing such things can lead to estrangement and excommunication. That’s why I warn people in the post Count the Cost Before You Say I Am an Atheist to carefully consider confessing unbelief to Evangelical family and friends. Once you share your doubts and questions or admit you no longer believe, you no longer control what happens next. That’s why several commenters on this blog call themselves atheist Christians. Family (or economic) concerns prevent them from being out and proud. I would say to this young man: ponder carefully what you say or do going forward. Weigh the consequences carefully.

The email writer mentions having a “calling,” that he is attending an Evangelical college to pursue that calling. Evangelicals believe that men are “called” by God into the ministry. I wrote about that very subject two weeks ago in a post titled, I’m a Prophet, Preacher, or Evangelist Because I Say I Am. When you believe that God is “calling” you, it can be quite a struggle when you begin to doubt not only your call, but also your beliefs. I remember the struggles I had over trying to reconcile what I believed was a divine calling with my waning faith. In the end, my slide down the slippery slope of unbelief destroyed any notion of a divine calling. As an atheist and a humanist, I still have a sense of what I consider a “calling.” Not in a supernatural sense, of course, but I still feel drawn to helping others — Christian or not.

I am more than forty years older than this young man. I try to picture myself at the age of twenty-one sitting in my dorm room questioning my faith. This man is surrounded by people who appear resolute in their Christian beliefs, yet he has doubts and questions. Is there something wrong with him? Of course not, though Evangelical zealots will say that this man is being tempted by Satan, battling “secret” sin, or is not a True Christian®. Remember, questions and doubts are not really permitted in Evangelical circles. Oh, apologists will beg to differ, but the fact remains that doubts and questions are permissible only if they lead to Biblical answers. Straying outside of the safe confines of the Evangelical box is verboten, as is asking an ex-Evangelical-turned-atheist preacher for help. (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.)

When doubting Evangelicals ask me for advice, I typically suggest that they read Dr. Bart Ehrman’s books. The reason I do so is because Ehrman, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a leading authority on the New Testament and the history of early Christianity, is a former Evangelical. Ehrman began his ministerial training at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Illinois — both staunch Evangelical institutions. He finished his M.Div. and Ph.D. at Princeton Theological Seminary. Today, he is the author of numerous books on the history of the New Testament.

Evangelicals typically believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. This belief is foundational to Evangelical faith, and that’s why I point doubters to Ehrman’s books. Written on a popular level, Ehrman’s books lay siege to and destroy the Evangelical notion that the Bible is in any way inerrant or infallible. Inspired? That’s a faith claim. Inerrancy and infallibility, on the other hand, are matters of facts and evidence.

I would suggest that this man read several of Ehrman’s books. Here’s a partial list of his works:

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

Ehrman recently released a book titled, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife. I am currently reading through this book. Fascinating, to say the least. I have concluded, so far, that there’s a lot I don’t know about Heaven or Hell from a historical or Biblical perspective.

I am confident that reading Ehrman’s books will disabuse all but the most stubborn of Evangelicals of their belief that the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible text. While coming to an enlightened conclusion about the Bible does not necessarily lead to unbelief, it does render Evangelical dogma untenable. Once this happens, an Evangelical is ready to take a hard look at what it is he really believes. Once the Bible loses its power and authority over a believer, he is free to let facts and science determine the validity of religious beliefs. For me personally, skeptically and intellectually examining the core tenets of Christianity led me to conclude that these beliefs could not be rationally sustained. Your mileage may vary. Many ex-Evangelicals find ways to hang on to some sort of Christian faith. Any move away from the Fundamentalist tendencies of Evangelicalism is a good one. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?)

I hope this young man will continue to correspond with me. I sincerely wish nothing but the best for him, realizing that difficult days lie ahead for him if he continues to walk the path he is on. Unlike Evangelical family and friends, I am more than willing to help regardless of where his journey takes him. I have six grown children, all of whom were raised in Evangelical churches. Not only was I their father and prison warden, but I was also their pastor. After Polly and I left Christianity in 2008, I have watched as my children have struggled with matters of faith. Their respective journeys have taken them away from Evangelicalism, but not necessarily towards unbelief. The unbelief of their parents, especially their preacher father, gave them the freedom to wander; to seek knowledge and understanding outside of the narrow confines of Fundamentalism. I wish the same for this young man.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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