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Tag: Literalism

Family Driven Faith — Part One

bruce-and-polly-gerencser-1981
Bruce and Polly Gerencser with son #2, 1981, at Bruce’s mother’s home. Gotta love that porn stache. 🙂

This article was first published in 2011 on the blog No Longer Quivering. Corrected, revised, and updated.

For seven months in 2004, our family attended Faith Bible Church in Jersey, Ohio, a vibrant, growing, family-oriented church in central Ohio. We thought we had finally found a church to call home. One Sunday, after the morning service, Polly, my wife, was talking with a group of women who were trying to get to know her a bit better. One of the women asked Polly what she did during the day, and she, without a moment’s hesitation, said â€śI work.”

In a split second, everything changed.  You see, in this church, none of the women worked outside the home. The pastor taught that it was a violation of God’s divine order for women to work outside the home. They could have home-based money-making enterprises, but they were not to work outside the home. From that day forward, the women of the church were stand-offish towards Polly. Never mind that Polly had to work due to her husband’s disability. Never mind her job was the only thing that stood between us and living on the street. All that mattered was that our family was not ordered according to God’s divine plan. We stopped attending this church a short while later.

In the 1990s, I co-pastored Community Baptist Church, a growing Sovereign Grace Baptist church in Elmendorf, Texas (please see I am a Publican and a Heathen — Part One). A young woman in the church professed faith in Christ and desired to be baptized. Customarily, candidates for baptism were asked to give a public testimony of salvation before being baptized. This posed a problem for this particular woman because her husband not only believed that the Bible taught a divine order for the sexes and the home, he also believed women should be silent in church. (His wife also wore a head covering.) She wanted to give a public testimony, but she didn’t want to disobey her husband. This standoff went on for weeks until, one day, the woman came to my office in tears, lamenting that her husband was keeping her from following Christ. I agreed with her and counseled her to disobey her husband. She was baptized a short time later.

This church also believed that “church business” was the domain of men. When the church held business meetings, women were not allowed to speak. If they had a question, they had to whisper their question to a man, and then the man could ask the question on their behalf. Women were allowed to verbally ask for prayer and sing, but everything else was the domain of men. Very few of the women worked outside the home.

While I found both of these positions to be somewhat excessive and quite demeaning to women, I also believed that such positions could be proved from the Bible. While I didn’t take things as far as the aforementioned churches, I certainly believed that God had a divine order for the family and the church. I believed that God had ordained men to rule and women were to submit to male rule and authority. The highest calling for a woman was to marry, bear children, and be a keeper of the home. Children were to submit to their parents and obey every command given to them.

I believed the Bible taught a hierarchical system that must be kept to enjoy the favor and blessing of God. God, through his son Jesus, was the head over all things. Of course, what this really meant was that the Bible was the head over all things. Christianity is, above all else, a text-based religion. Without the Bible, there is no Christianity (in any meaningful sense of the word). As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, I believed the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. The Bible was the final rule and authority for everything, the blueprint for life.

IFB pastors say that the Bible is the rule for everything, but what they really mean is that their interpretation of the Bible is the rule for everything. I cannot emphasize this point enough. At the heart of the IFB church movement, the Patriarchal movement, and the Quiverfull movement, is a literalist interpretation of the Bible by pastors. Pastors, the under-shepherds of their churches, under direct authority from God, have the singular responsibility of teaching their churches what the Bible says (or better put, what his interpretations are). These pastors, divinely called by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, are the mouthpiece of God.

Practically speaking, the pastor is the final authority in the church. He is the law-giver, and he alone has the final say on virtually everything. The Bible is clear, the pastor is to rule the church, and church members are to submit to his rule. Pastors spend significant time reminding the church that God says he, the pastor, is the boss. The common phrase used to define this is pastoral authority.

Pastoral authority, IFB style, leads to dictatorial autocrats ruling over and controlling virtually every aspect of church members’ lives. Some churches recognize the problem with one man having so much power, so they have a plurality of elders or a board of elders or deacons. Sadly, all this does is make a group of men dictatorial autocrats ruling over and controlling virtually every aspect of church members’ lives

In a hierarchical system, God and the Bible come first. Underneath God and the Bible is the pastor. Church members are taught that submitting to the pastor’s teaching and authority is pleasing to God, and, if practiced, will bring the blessing of God.

As an IFB pastor, I taught church members that God and the Bible clearly defined the roles of men (husbands), women (wives), and children. In my mind, the Bible was clear: the husband is the head of the home and the wife is commanded to submit to the authority and rule of her husband. Much like the pastor in the church, the husband is the final authority in the home. It matters not if he is worthy of such responsibility. A husband is disobedient to God if he refuses to be the head of the home. The wife, if she refuses to submit to her husband’s authority, is a Jezebel and risks the judgment of God.

I taught women that God’s highest calling for them is marriage, having children, and keeping the home. I discouraged women from going to college. After all, why waste money going to college if you are going to be busy having children and keeping the home? I taught men that God’s highest calling for them is to be a leader. Men are called to lead the church, home, and government. In my mind, the strength or weakness of any culture, church, or home depended on whether men were fulfilling their divine calling to lead. Children, of course, are at the bottom of this hierarchical system. They are under the authority of God, the Bible, the pastor, their father, and their mother (and according to my three younger sons, their oldest brother). 🙂 Children have one divine calling in life, obedience!

Polly and I have been married for almost forty-four years. We have grown six children, ages forty-two to twenty-eight. Our older children went to a public or Christian school for a few years, but for the next seventeen years, we homeschooled our children. For the first twenty years of marriage, we followed the hierarchical system detailed above. For the most part, Polly didn’t work and I was the breadwinner. I pastored churches full-time, but, due to the notoriously low pay in IFB churches, I also worked a number of secular jobs. For years on end, I worked sixty to eighty hours a week, and in doing so, neglected my wife and children. Regardless of the neglect, I was still the authority in the home. I was the final answer to every question. I ruled our home with a rod of iron and my family feared me. Of course, I never called their fear fear. I called it a healthy respect for authority. I gave the orders and they obeyed.

For many years, my wife (I don’t like using phrases like my wife and my children. While most people see these phrases as harmless, they are a reminder of the past, a past where Polly and the children were treated like slaves and property. I try to avoid using these phrases, but in some instances, they cannot be avoided) and I followed the general tenets of the Quiverfull movement. In the early 90s, we embraced Calvinism and became persuaded that using birth control was a sin. We believed that God was sovereign and He opened and closed the womb. Who were we to stand in the way of God blessing us with more children?

Our first child born under the “let God have his way” form of birth control was a beautiful redheaded girl with Down syndrome. Two years later, almost to the day,  we were blessed with another beautiful redheaded girl. Twenty months later, our youngest child, a son (should I call him beautiful too? Momma says yes!) was born.

Before we could blink, we had three more children, all in diapers. Polly was known in the family as Fertile Myrtle. I was persuaded that if I looked at her, she would get pregnant. I have no doubt that we would have had twenty children if we had continued to abstain from using birth control.

Fortunately, Polly’s doctor intervened and told us in no uncertain terms that Polly’s last pregnancy had taken a huge physical toll on her and any future pregnancies could kill her. We decided, God’s will be damned, that we were not going to have any more children. I was considered a hypocrite for not trusting God in this matter, but I had no desire to be wifeless with six children. Several years later, Polly had a tubal ligation and no more rabbits died.

In part two of this series, I plan to write about how the thinking mentioned in this post affected the churches I pastored and how it affected my family. I want to detail how this kind of thinking almost destroyed my marriage and how abandoning such thinking transformed my relationship with Polly and our children.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Thus Saith the Lord: The Sun Revolves Around the Earth

john jasper
Famed 19th Century Preacher John Jasper

If, as Christians say, the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God and is meant to be literally understood, shouldn’t Evangelicals believe the sun revolves around the earth? In the late 1800s, famed black preacher John Jasper preached a sermon titled ‘The Sun Do Move’. Here is some of what Jasper had to say (text edited for readability):

Now then, I have proved to you all these things as they are laid down in the Bible, chapter and verse. According to the text, Joshua showed in the sight of all Israel that The Sun Do Move, because he stopped it, by God’s command, for a whole day, as the text states. If he stopped it, that proves that the sun was moving, and moving over Joshua and the Amorites, and of course they were nowhere else than on this here earth, and consequently it was moving around the earth, and after the battle was over, it begun moving again in its regular course.

Therefore it is proved that the Sun Do Move around the earth. Now then, this great fact of the sun’s rotation may be illustrated by many powerful texts in the Bible : I will confine myself to the most striking ones. Notice Malachi, chapter 11, verse 2 — and that come from God’s own mouth, and their can be no properer authority than God’s authority. With His own lips he said, ” For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles.” What strikes us here is that the Sun Do Move ! ” My name shall be great among the Gentiles ” — (and we people of to-day is the Gentiles) — that, is an evidence that the Sun Do Move, for it’s God that says it. And take Ecclesiastes, first chapter, 5th verse : “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.” That’s an evidence that he arose, for if he had not done left the place, he could not haste to where he arose. Again, in Psalm l, verse 1 : ” The mighty God, even the Lord, hath spoken, and called the earth from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof.” I illustrates this as an evidence that the Sun Do Move, for the psalmist is the inspired writer, authorized by the Almighty to say this. The following texts I put in evidence : Psalm 113, Verse 3 : — ” From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the Lord’s name is to be praised.” Isaiah, Chapter 38, Verse 8 : ” Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees which is gone down in the sun-dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward ; so the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.” And Judges, Chapter 14, Verse 18 : ” Before the sun went down—.”

Now, from the expressions of all these texts, that is evidence that the Sun Do Move, for they were all inspired and written of God, of the Holy Spirit of God, who authorized to write these things. See, also, Jeremiah, chapter 31, verse 37: “Thus saith the Lord, if heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord.” Here is more evidence. No man can measure the distance from the sun to the earth, according to this text. Thus God says this distance can’t be found out, for it is impossible to measure the foundations of the earth. “In the firmament is the tabernacle of the sun ; he is gone forth as from one end of the heaven to the other, and his circuit is to the end of the earth,” saith the psalmist. That is, instead of the earth’s circling, the sun is circling the earth. Therefore the sun’s rotation can’t be overthrown.

The philosophers’ reasons to the contrary is a matter of impossibility. They say there is a nation that at 12 o’clock in the day has their foots opposite us : now it is an utter impossibility for them to know that there is any nation under there doing so, as, witness in Jeremiah, 31st chapter, verse 37, where it says the foundations of the earth can’t be measured.

Ken Ham, a defender of young-earth creationism, says that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Ham believes, for the most part, that the Bible should be read and interpreted literally. According to Ham, God spoke the universe into existence, using six, twenty-four-hour days to do so. Ham also believes Adam and Eve are the father and mother of the human race. Every crazy mythical story found in the book of Genesis — and the other 65 books of the Bible — is factual history. Why then doesn’t Ham embrace the geocentric model found in the Bible? In the aforementioned quote, John Jasper bathed his ‘sun do move’ belief in the waters of Holy Scripture. How dare Evangelicals deny the clear, unambiguous teachings of the Bible.

Just the other the day, Ham stated that the Bible is a science textbook that never changes, yet Ham holds to the heliocentric model espoused by modern science, and not the geocentric model believed by not only Jasper, but other Evangelicals today. Shame on Ken Ham for denying the Word of God and its infallible teachings. Why, this makes me wonder whether Ham is a closeted Bible-denying liberal!

Let me add in closing that John Jasper is widely revered in some corners of the Evangelical world. His biography and sermons have been republished. I owned a copy of Jasper’s biography for many years. What a great man of God, I thought at the time. Standing on the precious truths of the word of God! While I didn’t embrace Jasper’s geocentric view, I did believe that God did, in fact, miraculously cause the earth (and all other planets) to stand still. Such is the ignorance required to believe that what the Bible says about scientific matters is true.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Tim Gilleand Asks: How Can All Those Scientists be Wrong? 

bible vs evolution

Several years ago, Tim Gilleand wrote a blog post titled How Can All Those Scientists be Wrong? In his post, Gilleand argued that creationists and scientists both have the same data and that the difference between them is how that information is interpreted. Gilleand wrote:

I believe that the scientific method requires that all evidence must be interpreted before a conclusion is drawn.  My issue is not with the evidence itself, it is with the interpretation stage.  I believe that scientists interpret the evidence through a worldview filter.  Their worldview filter includes their personal beliefs about how the world does or does not operate.  For example, if I believe there is no supernatural influence in the world and everything continues on the way and the rate at which it always has, then I am going to interpret something like radiometric decay or geology much differently than someone who believes God has intervened in this world at various points in our early history.

Let’s look at a couple examples…

If God really created Adam on the literal sixth day of creation – how old do you think he might look on day 7?  Was he a full grown man?  30… maybe 40?  But the truth is he is only one day old.  He was created fully mature and able to sustain himself.  Now apply that concept to the rest of creation.  If God really created the world in six days fully mature and self-sustaining – how might that affect the apparent age of the earth?  And how might that affect our research if we left out that concept?  Might we come to a much different conclusion?  I think so.  The point is evidence like radiometric dating the age of the earth doesn’t rule out a special creation because things still might appear older than they truly are and yet that would still be in line Biblicaly (sic).

But isn’t that a deceptive God??  I hear this all the time.  No, it’s not.  Perhaps God never intended us to study the age of the earth while ignoring his revelation about how He did it!  Not God’s deception, human ignorance.

As for geology, we have to look at what might have happened had Noah’s flood actually covered and destroyed the whole world as the Bible seems to imply.  Take the layers at the Grand Canyon.  Two schools of thought: either a little bit of water (the Colorado River) over a long period of time (millions of years) OR a lot of water (the flood) over a little period of time.  The same evidence, different conclusions based on different interpretations that are dependent on our worldview assumptions.

Is the difference between creationists and scientists really a matter of worldview? Is it, as Gilleand says, a matter of how one interprets the world? Creationists would love for this to be true, but doing science requires no particular worldview. Some scientists are devout Christians, yet they come to the same conclusions as their non-Christian colleagues. It is the creationist alone who allows his worldview to radically alter his view of scientific data.

The argument Gilleand is trying to make is that creationists and scientists alike have a starting point from which they begin their investigations While this is, to some degree true, let me demonstrate the difference between the starting points of creationists and scientists. Scientists begin with what we know, the collective body of knowledge we call science. This body of knowledge changes often, as scientists continue to make new discoveries and test currently held scientific ideas. Any student of the modern scientific era knows that science has radically adapted and changed as new information is brought forth. Things that were once considered settled facts are later, thanks to the diligent work of scientists, shown to be wrong. This is why the scientific method is vitally important to our understanding of the universe and the future of all life. It is a self-correcting way of explaining and understanding the world.

Creationists, on the other hand, do not start with the collective body of knowledge we call science. Their starting point begins not with science at all, but with a literalist, Fundamentalist interpretation of the Christian Bible. Gilleand admits this when he says:

As a Christian, I believe God does and has intervened in our world.  I also believe the Bible is a historical, reliable account of the creation of the world.

….

We believe we have additional information in the revealed word of God – therefore we see our starting assumptions as more reliable than fallible human intellect because it comes straight from God who was there, observed it, and doesn’t lie.

For creationists like Gilleand, their interpretation of the world begins not with what they can see and know, but with what unknown authors wrote in an ancient religious text thousands of years ago. Creationists are less than honest when they say that the issue is how the scientific data is interpreted. No matter WHAT science says, creationists will always retreat to faith and their literalistic interpretation of the Bible. Non-creationists know that the universe is billions of years old. How do we know this? Science. While scientists continue to study the universe, creationists have no need to do so. Their minds are made up: God created the universe in six literal twenty-four hours days, 6,024 years ago. None of what science tells us about the universe ultimately matters to the creationist. Why? To put it simply: the BIBLE SAYS.

For these reasons, I have long suggested that it is generally a waste of time to argue matters of science with creationists. The issue is not one of science, but theology. This is why when creationists comment on this blog, I ignore their anti-science rants and instead attack their beliefs about the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. Once inerrancy and literalism fall, the argument for creationism is over. This is why, a few years back, when Gilleand stopped by this blog to wage war with the Evangelical preacher-turned-atheist, I challenged his view of the Bible. Gilleand ultimately retreated to the house of faith, safe from the assault of the evil, Christ-denying atheist.

If creationists want their understanding of the world to be accepted as the prevailing scientific view, then they need to start publishing studies in non-Evangelical peer-reviewed scientific journals. Why don’t creationists do this? Surely, if it is self-evident that creationism is true and just a matter of properly interpreting the scientific data, science journals should be filled with studies and papers by creationist scientists. Yet, year after year no studies or papers are forthcoming. The creationist answer for this is that there is a conspiracy by non-creationist scientists to keep creationists from publishing. Their evidence for this? None. If the evidence for creationism is overwhelming, then the science community will grudgingly admit they were wrong and embrace the creationist interpretation of the data. Of course, the creationist, at this point, responds, right, these scientists are unsaved. They don’t believe in the existence of the Christian God, nor do they believe that the Bible is a supernatural, authoritative text. So then, it is clear, the real issue is theology, not science.

Gilleand describes his apologetics ministry this way:

. . . a new apologetics ministry based in Northern Indiana.  Our mission stems from the verse found in Colossians 4:6 (NIV) – “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” We have formed this ministry to combat modern secularist tendencies to pull people (often times including Christians) away from the accurate original Biblical message. We will discuss hot topics ranging from creation vs. evolution, homosexuality, abortion, modern politics, the supposed separation of church and state, often-cited inaccuracies in the Scriptures, end times, and much more.  We aim to make our posts informative, researched from both sides of the aisle, and considerate of opposing views (grace) but firm in our stance (salt).

You see, even for Gilleand, it is not about the science. It is all about apologetics, the defending of the Fundamentalist Christian view of the world. In Gilleand’s eyes, everything begins and ends with the Christian God and the Protestant Christian Bible. Gilleand’s literalistic interpretation of the Bible becomes a box in which everything must fit. (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.) While Gilleand has convinced himself that he has “researched from both sides of the aisle” and considered “opposing views,” his “firm stance” never changes. This is Fundamentalism at its finest: No matter what, I believe. While Gilleand thinks of himself as being open-minded, the fact is he is only willing to consider data that neatly fits within his box. Any data outside of this box is rejected, labeled as being contrary to the Christian God and the Bible.

There is no hope of reaching people who think like this. Try as you might to reach them, their minds are walled off from anything that contradicts or challenges their worldview. For them, the lines are clearly drawn, and no amount of argument will change their minds. Until Fundamentalists are willing to venture past the lines they have drawn, there is no possible way for someone like me to move them away from their ill-informed, ignorant view of the world.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Jesus is Coming Soon: The Antichrist and the Mark of the Beast

jack chick tract the beast
From Jack Chick tract, The Beast

Growing up in the Evangelical church, I was exposed to eschatological preaching which purported to divine the future. Based on a literalistic interpretation of the books of Daniel and Revelation, Evangelical preachers speak of a day when Jesus will come in the clouds to rapture (remove) Christians from the earth. After the rapture, God will, for seven years, pour out his wrath on the earth. This period of divine slaughter and judgment is called the Great Tribulation.

During the Tribulation, the Antichrist, a powerful figure who wages war against God, will rise up and exert dominion over the earth. While Evangelicals have multiple interpretations of who and what the Antichrist is, all agree that he is one of the central figures of the Tribulation drama. According to the book of Revelation, the Antichrist will ultimately be defeated by Jesus and cast into the Lake of Fire.

Most Evangelicals believe the Antichrist is a real person. This belief has led to speculation about this or that person being the Antichrist. Some Evangelicals believe the Antichrist is alive today. What is interesting about these predictions about who the Antichrist might be is that the potential Antichrist always has political views opposed by Evangelicals. This is why some Evangelicals found it quite easy to label President Obama as the Antichrist, even more so when it was reported that Obama might head the United Nations after he left office. (Many Evangelicals believe the United Nations will be the vehicle used by the Antichrist to take over the world.)

According to many Evangelicals, during the Tribulation the Antichrist will take control of the world’s economy. No one will be able to buy or sell anything without having the mark of the Beast. The Biblical basis for this belief is found in Revelation 13:16-18:

 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

Prior to the modern technological era, many Evangelicals believed that the mark of the Beast was a tattoo of the number 666 on the hands or foreheads of the followers of the Antichrist. In recent decades, Evangelicals have suggested that the mark of the Beast could be some sort of bar code, a mark that can only be read by using a certain type of light, or an embedded chip. I remember one preacher who was certain that supermarket scanners were paving the way for the Antichrist and the mark of the Beast. The COVID-19 pandemic and the need for vaccinations have led countless Evangelicals to conclude that the “jab” is the way the mark of the Beast, in the form of a chip, will be used to control the masses. That’s one of the reasons many Evangelicals refuse to get vaccinated.

While the character of the mark has changed over the years, the importance of it has not. Anyone receiving the mark of the Beast will be doomed forever. Revelation 14:9-11 states:

And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

According to these verses, anyone who takes the mark of the Beast will face the fury of the wrath of God. Suffering, painful death, and an eternity in the Lake of Fire await all who take the mark.

The 1970s and 1980s were the heyday for literalistic interpretations of the book of Revelation. Evangelical pastors regularly preached sermons on the end-times, featuring subjects such as the rapture, the Great Tribulation, the second coming of Christ, the millennial reign of Christ, and the great white throne judgment. Filled with illustrations from newspapers, these sermons inflamed the passions of Evangelical churchgoers. As the headlines changed, so did the sermons, but the focal point remained the same: Jesus is coming soon.

end of the world

After the 88 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1988 debacle (you can read the complete text of 88 Reasons the Rapture Will Be in 1988 here), Evangelical passion for future events cooled. The rise of the religious right, a political movement with plans to take over America for Jesus and turn it into a theocratic state, turned Evangelical attention from the future to the present. Instead of seeking after the kingdom of Heaven, Evangelicals began to focus on building God’s kingdom on earth. Gone, for the most part, are prophecy conferences and literalistic sermons from Revelation and Daniel. Instead, pastors focus on felt needs and personal fulfillment. There are certainly Evangelicals pastors who continue to preach newspaper headline sermons, but such preachers are on the fringes of Evangelicalism — most often found in Charismatic, Pentecostal, and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches.

As I came of age in the 1970s, I heard frequent end-time sermons. Preachers warned that we were the last generation, those who would see the second coming of Jesus Christ. Men such as Jack Van Impe predicted Russia would invade and take over the United States, thereby ushering in the Great Tribulation. Many preachers believed that the rapture and the second coming of Christ would take place sometime between 1984 and 1988. The thinking went something like this:

  • Matthew 24 lists the signs of the coming of Jesus and end of the world. (verse 3: And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?) In verse 34, the Bible says: Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
  • Israel became a nation in 1948, a generation is 40 years long, thus, at the very latest, Jesus would return to earth in 1988.

In the late 1970s, I was a pastoral assistant to Jay Stuckey, pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio, a General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) congregation. Stuckey, as many preachers of his era, was obsessed with prophecy, the Illuminati, and numerous other conspiracies. Calls to evangelize were driven by Stuckey’s belief in the imminent return of Jesus; imminent meaning, at any moment. Forty years later, Stuckey and I are no longer in the ministry, Montpelier Baptist, a church that at one time had over 500 in attendance, is closed, and those who were once obsessed with the soon-return of Jesus have turned to more earthly matters such as marriage/divorce, children, jobs, houses, and economic prosperity. While these people still tacitly believe that Jesus will someday return to earth, their lives are no longer dominated by eschatological mania. In other words, they grew up.

Were you once part of a sect/church that was obsessed with the end-times? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce’s Top Ten List of Crazy Evangelical Beliefs

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One of the hardest things for me to admit is that I, at one time, believed things that I now know to be untrue. These fallacious beliefs had a deleterious effect on not only my life, but the lives of my wife, and the people who called me pastor. While everyone concerned would agree that we have escaped the consequences of my beliefs relatively unharmed, I can’t help but think how life might have been different had I not fallen for the greatest con game of all time: Evangelical Christianity.

On one hand, if I had not been raised in the Evangelical church nor attended an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college, I never would have met my wife. Perhaps, in an alternate timeline, I might have met a woman with the same beauty, charm, and kindness as Polly. Perhaps, I say. I remember another woman I dated before Polly. I was madly in love with her, yet, as I look back on our torrid, tumultuous relationship, I know that had we married, we likely would have killed each other — literally. Choosing a different path doesn’t necessarily bring a better outcome. The old adage isn’t always true: the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

This I know for sure: I spent most of my life believing things that are not true. And not just believing these things, but putting them into practice. It’s one thing to believe the Christian God exists, but it is a far different thing, based on that belief, to devote one’s life to serving and worshiping this God. And not just serving him on Sunday, the day when he demands fealty from his followers, but as a devoted slave, I served this God day and night; day after day, year after year, for almost 50 years. This God, found only within the pages of an ancient religious text, promised that he would care for me in this life, and after death, he would grant me eternal life in a glorious pain-free Heaven.

Daniel Dennett is right: There’s no polite way to suggest to someone that they have devoted their life to folly. Indeed, a life of folly. While I can, if given sufficient libations, cry over the spilled milk of my life, I choose, instead, to use my past life as a soldier for Jesus as a cautionary warning to all who dare to follow in my steps. I stand along the road of life waving my arms, hoping to turn sincere followers of this God away from the bridge-less chasm that awaits on the road ahead. Take another path, I passionately warn. Sadly, most of this God’s slaves will ignore my warnings, thinking that I am the one who is deceived and in need of saving.

There are other people similar to myself, who, due to their blind devotion to religious belief, squandered the best years of their lives. How can we not regret giving the years when we were strong, healthy, and full of life, to a mythical deity? And worse yet, how can we not regret giving our time, talent, and (lots of) money to the human-built religious machine that drives over all who dare to get in its way?

Like other survivors of the Evangelical con, I have made an uneasy peace with my past. I have many regrets over how I spent most of my adult life. I know there’s nothing I can do about the past. I choose to learn from my past experiences, using them to fuel my writing, in the hope that I can, in some small way, play a part in bringing Evangelicalism to an ignominious end. While I will not live long enough to see its demise, I hope that one day one of my descendants will be the person who holds a pillow over the Evangelical God’s face and finally smothers him to death.

What follows is Bruce’s Top Ten List of Crazy Beliefs. Most former Evangelicals will certainly find this list to be quite similar to theirs.

  1. The Bible is a God-inspired text, inerrant and infallible
  2. The universe was created in six twenty four hour days and is 6,024 years
  3. God talks to me
  4. The story of the supernatural Jesus — all of it
  5. There is an unseen Frank Peretti-like spiritual dimension inhabited by angels and demons
  6. There is a shadow government, a Satan influenced cabal that runs the world
  7. Demons possess people and inanimate objects such as toys
  8. Satan uses certain styles of music to control the masses
  9. Mental illness is caused by sin
  10. Government schools destroy the minds of students

My Evangelical journey began and ended with the Bible. My devotion to God was fueled by the belief that the Bible was a God-inspired text. This text was inerrant and infallible, and the God who wrote it meant for me to obey its commands and teachings.  Not only did this God expect me to obey, he also commanded me to teach others to do the same. And so I did. Thousands of people sat under the sound of my voice, hearing me declare that loving, serving, and worshiping the Evangelical God was the way to peace, blessing, the forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting.

Everything in my life flowed from my commitment to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. As Baptists are fond of saying: God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me!  My journey out of Evangelicalism was complete when I came to realize that what I once believed about the Bible was not true; that my worldview was built upon an irrational, intellectually lacking foundation. Once the Bible lost its magical power over me, other beliefs, like the ones mentioned above, quickly unraveled. When my mind was finally unfettered by the Evangelical delusion, I was then free to seek truth wherever it may be found. No longer was I walled in by a set of beliefs that forced me to embrace irrationality. (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) And much like most Evangelicals-turned-atheists/agnostics, I am grateful that skepticism, reason, and knowledge have set me free.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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Genesis 1-3: Who Was “God” Talking To?

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The night before October 23, 4004 BC, God, you know, THE God, the one and only God of the King James Bible, decided to create the universe. For the next six literal 24 hour days, God created the sun, moon, stars, planets, earth, animals, insects, fish, and plant life. Oh, and don’t forget God’s super-duper, special creation on day six:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Wait a minute . . . what’s this US thing all about? Do I detect polytheism? Whoever US is, they created a human man and woman in their image. (Genesis 2 says it was the LORD God that created Adam and Eve) After creating Adam and Eve, the Gods closed up their creation shop and went on vacation. Next October 23rd we will celebrate the 6,026th anniversary of the first day of creation. Time for a new Hallmark card, yes?

Now I am being a bit silly here, but let me point out something very important. It is clear, based on Genesis 1:27, that there was more than one God involved in creating humans. Once we get to Genesis 3, we see that there is one God called LORD God. It is this LORD God that comes to the Garden of Eden to talk to Adam and Eve. It is this LORD God that tells Adam and Eve their punishment for eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. An interesting point here is that Adam and Eve can see God and talk to him, yet the Bible says that no man has seen God at any time.

After Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit their eyes were opened and both knew, for the first time, that the other was naked. While we don’t know how long the time span was between the creation of Adam and Eve and their act of disobedience, it’s hard to imagine that neither Adam or Eve paid any attention to their partners’ nakedness. Surely they were created with a sex drive. Sooooo . . . I don’t know about you, but I think I would notice that the only other living person, the person who snuggled up to me around the Camp Eden campfire, was naked.

The LORD God, being the prude that countless Fundamentalist preachers have said he is, was quite disturbed over Adam and Eve’s nakedness. The LORD God took it upon himself to get some clothing for Adam and Eve. He spotted a bear or maybe a buffalo or mountain lion, and in the first act of violence on earth, the LORD God killed the animals so he could make Adam and Eve clothes to wear. Using a process that humans to this day have not discovered, the LORD God killed the animal(s), dried and tanned the skin, and sewed the skins into clothing quicker than a Chinese sweatshop worker sewing a shirt for Walmart.

The LORD God then had a conference call with the other Gods. He said, look, remember those two humans we created? Remember the one rule we gave them? Yeah . . . those dumb asses picked fruit off the tree and ate it. Now they are like us, knowing good and evil. We need to do something immediately lest they eat from the Tree of Life. We don’t want them to do that, right? If they do, they will live forever, just like us. Can’t have humans living forever.

So the LORD God, acting on behalf of the other Gods, evicted Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Of course, they didn’t want to go. After all, they only had one set of clothes in their dresser. But the LORD God was insistent and he drove them out of the Garden of Eden. To make sure that Adam and Eve could not eat from the Tree of Life, the LORD God put a flaming sword that turned every which way near the tree.

Reading Genesis 1-3 without importing Trinitarian theology into it presents a very different creation story from that which countless Evangelicals have been told. Go back to the text and read it for yourself. Is what I have written here plausible? On what basis do we say there was just one God? Is it not just as plausible to say that there was more than one God, a LORD God, and other Gods that were perhaps subservient to him/her?

But Bruce, in the first five days of creation the Bible says God (singular) created. True, but since humans weren’t created until day 6, who was God talking to on the first five days when the Bible says, and God said? Was he talking to himself? Perhaps he was talking to the other Gods, just like he did in Genesis 1:26 and 3:22?

And I am just getting started. Go back to the text, take off your Trinitarian, orthodox Christian glasses, and read it again. Is my story any less plausible than the one Evangelical children are taught in Sunday school?

Notes

There is textual evidence for God creating Eve AFTER the six days of creation in the second creation story found in Genesis 2. This conflicts with the first creation story in Genesis 1.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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The Ken Ham Maxim: The Bible Says . . .

creationism

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

It is quite easy to predict how Answers in Genesis CEO Ken Ham will react to a new scientific discovery. It doesn’t matter what the discovery is, Ham will judge its veracity based on whether it bolsters his literalist interpretation of the book of Genesis. If it does, Ham loudly proclaims that the new discovery proves God created the universe in six literal 24-hour days, 6,023 years ago. If it doesn’t, Ham, filled with the righteous indignation of an Old Testament prophet, declares that scientists are wrongly interpreting the data, using wrong methods, or are secret agents working for secularists who want to rid the world of Evangelicals

Several years ago, Ham’s hemorrhoids became inflamed over a study published by the Arizona State University Institute of Origin about a human jawbone discovered in Ethiopia in 2013.

The Guardian reported at the time:

A lower jaw bone and five teeth discovered on a hillside in Ethiopia are the oldest remains ever found that belong to the genus Homo, the lineage that ultimately led to modern humans.

Fossil hunters spotted the jaw poking out of a rocky slope in the dry and dusty Afar region of the country about 250 miles from Addis Ababa.

The US-led research team believes the individual lived about 2.8m years ago, when the now parched landscape was open grassland and shrubs nourished by tree-lined rivers and wetlands.

The remains are about 400,000 years older than fossils which had previously held the record as the earliest known specimens on the Homo lineage.

The discovery sheds light on a profoundly important but poorly understood period in human evolution that played out between two and three million years ago, when humans began the crucial transformation from ape-like animals into forms that used tools and eventually began to resemble modern humans.

“This is the first inkling we have of that transition to modern behaviour. We were no longer solving problems with our bodies but with our brains,” said Brian Villmoare at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

The new fossil, found at a site called Ledi-Geraru, has a handful of primitive features in common with an ancient forerunner of modern humans called Australopithecus afarensis. The most well-known specimen, the 3m-year-old Lucy, was unearthed in 1974 in Hadar, only 40 miles from the Ledi-Geraru site. But the latest fossil has more modern traits too. Some are seen only on the Homo lineage, such as a shallower chin bone…

…Other researchers agree. In a separate paper published in Nature, Fred Spoor at University College, London, reports a virtual reconstruction of a Homo habilis skull. “By digitally exploring what Homo habilis really looked like, we could infer the nature of its ancestor, but no such fossils were known,” said Spoor. “Now the Ledi-Geraru jaw has turned up as if on request, suggesting a plausible evolutionary link between Australopithecus afarensis and Homo habilis.”…

Ken Ham has a problem with any number that has more than four digits, that is unless it is a tax credit from the state of Kentucky, then he likes the number 18 with six zeroes. Since scientists are using numbers with lots of zeros to date the jawbone, Ham has published an article repudiating the recent find:

Headlines are buzzing with news about the oldest known human in the fossil record. The specimen—half a lower jawbone with five teeth—was found in the Ledi-Geraru research area in Ethiopia and has been recently reported in the journal Science. This jaw was found in 2013 about 12 miles from where “Lucy” was originally discovered. Lucy, of course, is an extinct ape called Australopithecus afarensis, and evolutionists believe Lucy was an important step in human evolution.

Officially dated at 2.8 million years, the Ledi jaw has been assigned a date midway between the “most recent” specimens of Australopithecus afarensis and the “oldest” examples of human fossils, Homo habilis. Researchers have not been able to determine the Ledi jaw’s species, but they are convinced it is a species of Homo. Its discoverers are touting it as a transitional form, a missing link between Lucy and Homo.

Now, we’ll post a more comprehensive article about the Ledi jaw next week. Our qualified AiG researchers will describe for you the anatomy of the new fossil and how it compares to the jaws and teeth of apes like Lucy and those of humans. But as much as the evolutionary community is raving about the convenient timeline connecting Lucy, the Ledi jaw, and later humans, many of their conclusions are based on the unverifiable dates assigned to it. And like all such millions-of-years claims, these dates are totally dependent on assumptions and worldview-based interpretations of radiometric dating methods. They are calling some of the Ledi jaw’s features “primitive” and others “advanced” because they assume that humans evolved from ape-like ancestors along this timeline.

You see, your worldview determines how you interpret the evidence. These scientists have a secular worldview, and they start with the assumption that humans evolved from ape-like ancestors so that’s what they see…

…But what does the Bible tell us? God made all kinds of land animals as well as Adam and Eve on Day Six of Creation week about 6,000 years ago. He made animals to reproduce and vary only within their created kinds. And this is confirmed through observational science. God made the first man, Adam, in His own image on that same day, from “the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7)—not through evolutionary processes and ape-like ancestors. He also made the first woman from the man (from Adam’s side). Obviously Christians cannot claim God supposedly used evolution as some try to do! No matter what evolutionary scientists claim about fossils like this, the truth is it is that while a fossil could be human or could be an ape, it could never be a transitional form…

For Ham, it’s never about the science. The Bible says . . . end of discussion. No matter what scientists find, if the new discovery contradicts Ham’s literalist reading of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, “qualified AIG researchers” will find some way to discredit the discovery. Their entire worldview depends on their ability to keep modern science contained within the matchbox of young-earth creationism. Scientists long ago lit a match and set fire to this box, but Ham and others like him, sit in the ashes of their ignorant beliefs and continue to pretend the box is still whole.

god said it
The Ken Ham Maxim, The Bible Says…

Is there any hope of reaching someone who is a creationist? Sure. Thousands of former creationists read this blog. They, at one time, had beliefs similar to those of Ken Ham. They are a testimony to the possibility of change. But, the only way for this to happen is to destroy the foundation these errant beliefs are built upon — the Protestant Christian Bible. Until creationists are willing to let go of literalism and the inerrancy of the Bible, there is no hope of reaching them. They have walled themselves off from anything that does not fit with their Fundamentalist beliefs.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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Evangelical Literalism: A Day is a Day Except When it Isn’t

bible literalism

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

All young-earth creationists are literalists, that is except when they aren’t. Let me illustrate this for you.

Six times in Genesis 1 the Bible says, the morning and even were the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth day. Young-earth creationists are emphatic that these days were literal 24-hour days.

In Genesis 2:1, the Bible states that on the seventh day God ended his creative work. According to other verses in the Bible, God rested on the seventh day. So God only rested one literal 24 hour day? I don’t know of any young-earth creationist who believes this.

God gave Adam the following command in Genesis 2:15-17:

And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it, And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Did Adam eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Did Eve? Of course they did. Did they die on the very day they ate the proverbial apple? Nope. According to Genesis 5:5:

. . . and all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.

Do you see the point I am making? Young earth creationists are literalists until it contradicts their interpretation of the Bible, then all of a sudden Adam dying on the day he sinned is meant to be taken metaphorically, or the word “day” really means a period of time.

I will repeat what I have said countless times: no one, not even Ken Ham, takes every verse in the Bible literally. Whenever it suits them or whenever it will bolster their arguments, Evangelicals are quite willing to abandon literalism.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bob the Baptist Says: I Don’t Interpret the Bible, I Just Read It and Believe What it Says

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Countless Evangelicals claim they believe that every word of their inspired, inerrant Bible is absolutely true. In their minds, every word in the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible is straight from the mouth of God. Thus, when they read the Bible, there’s no need to interpret it. God said it and they believe it! End of discussion.

If this notion is true, why, then, do Evangelical believers have such differing beliefs? Not only do their beliefs conflict with those of non-Evangelical Christians, their “infallible” beliefs are often at odds with the beliefs of their fellow Evangelicals. If there is ONE Lord, ONE Faith, and ONE Baptism, and all believers have God, the Holy Spirit, living inside of them acting as their teacher and guide, why all the differing beliefs? If all one needs to do is to read the Bible to find God’s truth, why do Christians hold a cornucopia of contradictory beliefs?

Suppose, for a minute, that a person living on an island came upon a copy of the Bible. This man has never been exposed to Christianity. He has never heard about the Christian God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. Would this man naturally come to the same beliefs as Evangelicals? Surely, if all one needs to do is read the wonderful, matchless Holy King James Bible to find God’s truth, shouldn’t this man come to the same conclusions as a Bible college-trained Evangelical preacher?

If all one needs to do is read the Bible to find “truth,” then why the need for pastors, teachers, and Bible college professors? If a man just needs to faithfully and diligently read the Bible to find truth, then why do pastors spend three to seven years in college learning how to properly study and understand the Bible? Why do pastors buy Bible commentaries and other theological books to help them with their studies? In fact, why do pastors preach sermons at all? If the Bible is truth, why not just read the Biblical text to congregants? Straight from God’s mouth to their ears, right?

The fact is, the moment a person starts reading the Bible, he is interpreting the text. There’s no such thing as just reading and believing. The mind of every Bible reader is conditioned by the religious beliefs held by his culture, family, and church. So, when he reads the Bible, he is filtering its words through the beliefs, teachings, dogma, and interpretations of others. There’s no such thing as naked truth, especially when it comes to the Bible. Its text has been interpreted and reinterpreted for thousands of years. What one generation of Christians believed is often not what a different generation believed. Evangelical preachers love to think that their churches are just like the churches of first century Christians. These promulgators of ignorance believe that First Baptist Church in Podunk, Mississippi is exactly the same as the churches founded by the apostles two thousand years ago. To the uninitiated, this kind of thinking sounds absurd, but having grown up in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, I can tell you that such thinking is common. IFB preachers love to think that their churches are “old-fashioned” congregations. In their minds, “old-fashioned” means their churches are patterned after early New Testament churches. What it really means, however, is that their churches are like congregations were in the 1950s.

Here’s the truth: God’s “truth” is actually man’s interpretation of an ancient religious text. Beliefs are, at best, educated opinions. At worst, beliefs are opinions of poorly educated dunces who think of themselves more highly than they ought. I am at the place where, when a Fundamentalist Christian says to me, THE BIBLE SAYS _________, my response is, So what? All you are doing is expressing your opinion.

This is why the best way to engage Evangelicals is to attack the nature of the Biblical text itself. When Evangelicals speak authoritatively, their foundation is not as strong as they think it is. This is why they need a plethora of presuppositions to prop up their house of cards. The Bible is God’s Word, Evangelicals say, because the Bible says it is. The Evangelical deity is the one true God because the Bible says he, he, and he is. The Evangelical God created the universe 6,023 years ago because the Bible says he did. Humans are sinners by nature because the Bible says they are. All these “truths” are KNOWN by unbelievers, so there is no need to prove them. Atheists and their ilk live in denial of these “truths.” In fact, there’s no such thing as an atheist because everyone KNOWS the Evangelical God is the one true God. Atheists suppress what they know to be true, or so the thinking goes anyway. The only way to effectively reach Evangelicals, then, is to challenge their infallible interpretations of the Bible. We must become like the Devil in Genesis when he said to Adam and Eve, Yea, hath God said? Are you sure God said what you believe he said, Baptist Bob? Once doubt is sown in their minds, then, and only then, are they ready to critically examine the Biblical text.

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

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