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Tag: Progressive Christianity

God’s “Plan” for the Human Race

god loves you

Progressive Christians are fond of saying, “God is LOVE” — cue summer of love pop song. Finding the Old Testament God of judgment and wrath distasteful or offensive to their sensibilities, Progressive Christians excise the “bad” God from the Bible, choosing instead to focus on Jesus, the God of love. While I understand why Progressive Christians take this approach, it does do great violence to the teachings of the Bible and what Christians have historically believed about God. American Christianity is going through seismic changes and transformation. Beliefs once held dear by Christians are either revised or abandoned altogether. This is especially true with how Christians visualize God.

I wish every Christian held progressive beliefs and values. However, that doesn’t mean I find progressive hermenuetics and interpretations intellectually satisfying. While progressive beliefs make for a kinder, gentler world (and maybe that’s all that should matter), the Bible seems to be the odd man out. While Progressive Christians generally believe in the centrality of Jesus and his gospel, they are often sketchy on the details. Wanting to distance themselves from Evangelicalism, Progressive Christians jettison vast swaths of the Bible. No need to believe those things, Progressive Christians say. God is Love!

How do Progressive Christians know anything about Jesus or whether God is, in fact, love? What evidence do they have for these claims? Don’t they have to appeal to the Bible, much like their Evangelical brothers and sisters? Christianity is inherently a text-based religion. I have long argued: no Bible, no Christianity (not in any meaningful sense, anyway). If the Bible tells us that God is Love, should we not also accept what else it says about God?

Richard Dawkins had this to say about the God of the Old Testament:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

THAT God is in the Bible too. Why do Progressive Christians ignore this God? His works are found throughout the Bible, including the New Testament. As we do with each other, we must accept God’s goodness and badness — the sum of his nature and character. None of us is pure goodness. All of us can do bad things. All of us can be assholes. We are neither as good nor as bad as we think we are. We are . . . as God is . . . human.

Most Christians believe God created everything. As Creator, God is in control of his creation. He gives life, takes life, and nothing happens apart from his purpose and plan. And if God is not in charge, who is? If the creator doesn’t control his creation, who does?

If God is Creator and the Bible is an accurate account of God’s works and character, can we not know his future plans for the human race? Press the “God is Love” crowd with questions about the future, and few answers are given. I have often wondered if Progressive Christians are, at heart, universalists; that, in the end, everyone makes it to Heaven. While such a belief is appealing, one must ignore much of the Bible to reach such a conclusion.

Both the Old Testament and New Testament teach that there is coming a day when God will judge the living and the dead; that God will separate the saved from the lost; that only those who worshiped Jesus will spend eternity in Heaven (Eternal Kingdom of God). Those who didn’t worship Jesus — whatever the reason — will spend eternity in Hell (Lake of Fire).

If the Bible is an accurate record of the character and nature of God, then it is clear that those who are not Christians will one day face his judgment and wrath. On that day, the God of Love will be nowhere to be found. I know Progressive Christians want to believe otherwise, but as long as they appeal to the Bible for their beliefs, they must accept that their God of Love is also one mean son-of-a-bitch.

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.

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 am Still in the Ministry — a Guest Post by John Calvin

guest post

In response to my request for guest posts from liberal/progressive Christians, a reader I’ll call John Calvin submitted a thoughtful post detailing why he still, to some degree, “believes.” John is currently a minister in a  mainline Calvinistic denomination. John feared his words would be seen as blatant hypocrisy, but I hope readers will listen carefully to what John is trying to say, and consider the deep emotional and psychological struggles he faces every day. I know more than a few liberal/progressive ministers read this blog, including some who are atheists/agnostics and still preaching on Sundays.  I appreciate John’s willingness to be honest about where he is in his life, and how he struggles with the existence of God. May his words be instructive and helpful.

I grew up in fundamentalism, the holiness variety, and was caught by all the claws of its well-designed trap. In my culturally deprived southern working-class environment, the church was essentially all I had. There was music — bad music, but it was music. There was poetry — bad poetry, but it was poetry. There was literature — bad literature, but it was literature. There was community, and it wasn’t bad. In a childhood of some moving around, the church became my hometown. It seemed full of warm, loving people. Now, though, after all these years, I greatly resent the fact that my spiritual life was entrusted to them. They should not have been in charge of it. Was the warmth and loving just one more tooth in the trap?

I’m sure I thought it was God’s will that I attend a denominational college; that I take a degree in Biblical Literature. I also married into the family of a pastor who used his fundamentalist conservatism as a weapon. Marriage among undergraduates in that school, especially for ministerial students, was almost expected. If you didn’t get married, you would probably end up having pre-marital sex, and there was nothing God hated more than that. After college, I went to the denominational seminary.

I never remember wanting or planning to be a pastor. You might say I didn’t take career planning nearly seriously enough. What I wanted was to understand the religion I found myself struggling to swim in. Being more of a seeker than was warmly welcomed at that seminary — where the truth, having once been delivered unto the saints, was already fully known, I transferred to an old, Eastern establishment seminary. The intellectual freedom I felt there was a wonderful breath of fresh air. By the time I graduated with my M.Div. I had departed my holiness denomination and become a pastor in a large, so-called “mainline” denomination. Frankly, I was worn out, had a family, was in debt, and didn’t know what else to do. (I was twenty-nine years old. I had started school at age four. I had taken a year off, twice, at different times, but essentially I had been going to school for twenty-five years. My diploma was written in Latin. I couldn’t read it. I still have no idea what the damn thing says. But it had better be good.)

A lot happened in subsequent decades. That large denomination I joined is a lot smaller now, partially, I’m sure, because of my feeble efforts. That cute little holiness preacher’s daughter I married, who could play the piano and sing like a bird (good one, not some crow or red-winged blackbird), told me she was embarrassed to tell people she was married to a minister, had a string of affairs, and finally left my sorry ass flopping in the dust.

I got out of the ministry for a while. Then I remarried, this time to a woman with no apparent pride and who didn’t mind being married to a minister, so I got back in. Now I am supposed to be retired, but I am still a part-time pastor, having the best time I ever had in the ministry. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. Most of the time I found being a pastor a painful and uncomfortable experience. (Hey, I never wanted to do it anyway, but the hooks were well set.)

Now, as to why I am still doing what I do. I guess I fit the definition of a progressive, liberal Christian, I prefer the term “cultural Christian,” which to me is analogous to someone being a cultural Jew rather than being a religious Jew. Some people might call me an atheist. I have called myself that on occasion, but only to myself. Whatever is left of my Christianity is bereft of any supernatural elements.

I understand the Bible to be the product of human beings, at its best a record of peoples’ interpretations of how God had worked among them. The Bible is clearly full of errors, contradictions, and outrageous mythological constructions. The idea of a perfect, inerrant Bible delivered by the hand of God is ludicrous.

While I believe it is possible that Jesus of Nazareth was not a historical person, I also believe it is possible that he was. If the things the New Testament says happened, it is amazing that none of Jesus’ contemporaries felt them important enough to mention, not even the matter of Jewish saints coming out of their tombs on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Seriously? No one thought to jot that down? “Hey! Guess what happened!” Still, it seems to me probable that there was a guy back there somewhere to build the legends around. Much of the New Testament is no doubt fiction, designed to present him as a divine prophesy-fulfilling miracle worker. Even so, I find the core of his teachings to be inspiring and, even if they are not totally original, potentially revolutionary. I think his teachings of love and compassion are especially needed in a world that is increasingly violent and hateful, most especially when so many of those who call themselves Christ-followers are enabling the hatred and violence. (“Christians have to keep telling people they’re Christians, otherwise no one would notice.”)

The Church that says it follows him is a humiliation and an embarrassment. It has done some good in the world, but it has done some horrendous things too. I am not convinced that Christianity is a net positive force in the world. If nothing else it is guilty of diverting peoples’ attention from important issues such as living with love and compassion, to minor ones. What the church most demonstrates is that humans are institution-building animals.

So, again, why do I keep doing what I do, and why would I have any hope of being anything other than a blatant hypocrite?

It does not take much to reach the realization that there is no big man in the sky, that the earth and its creatures were not zapped into existence 6,000 years ago. Still, almost every human culture has tried in some way to grasp something beyond itself. Some have called it “God.” That “something beyond” has had a powerful impact on humans and their histories. As it happens, more humans identify with Christianity than any other single religion, as they have been doing for 2,000 years. I think that’s significant. Even if it is an amazing shared delusion, is it not something that can be honored for what good it does contain, for what good it has done? Are we right when we say, “Well, all those people were idiots?” “Thank God, our intellect is so much better than theirs that we have it all figured out and can toss it all aside like ideas of a flat Earth or the belief that some chickens have lips.” Does not the tradition, if nothing else, deserve some honor?

Maybe none of that works. Honestly, I was at least a little uncomfortable writing it. But, as I said, I am a cultural Christian. This is where I was born. This is where my people are. We share history and ritual and community. I sit with them as they die. I pray with them then and there. Not because I am challenging God to alter the laws of the universe, but because I hope and think the prayer might help them. It is not about me. It is an act of service on my part, because the whole thing is so much bigger than me, and I am willing to accept the reality of mystery. I see no benefit in standing by a bed in a hospice and saying, “Well, I’m sorry you’re dying, but don’t expect God to hold your hand through this. You’re just gonna slip back into the darkness forever, so get over it.” I expect to slip back into the darkness forever, sooner rather than later, and I’m fine with that, but I don’t think I have a right to impose that on them, at least at that point. That work needed to be done a long time before that.

I do strive for authenticity in my preaching. I do not lie to people. I do not present the Bible as a magic book, but as a book written by real flesh and blood human beings. I do not pretend that Adam and Eve were real people. I straightforwardly acknowledge that evolution is true. At the same time, even though my cultural Christianity has lost its supernatural elements, I will never stand up on Easter morning and say, “Look folks, we know this never happened. Dead people don’t come back to life. If this was true we could at least expect the Gospels to get their stories straight.” I think of it as being respectful of people.

I do not encourage peoples’ belief in their mythological Father-God “up there” somewhere, and that the instant they die they’ll be reunited with their dead loved ones at Jesus’ feet by the crystal sea. Maybe I leave people to assume that I believe much of that just like they do, and maybe that all by itself makes me that blatant hypocrite. On the other hand, maybe that is what gives me the opportunity to move them along, little by little.

I genuinely care for the people in my parish. I embrace them with love. I try to educate them to have a better understanding of the Bible and what it means to be a Christian in these days, and I know that to some extent I succeed. I try, as gently as I can, to challenge their assumptions and presuppositions. I try to lead them to what I would like to believe is a more mature faith.

Sometimes, I think I must sound like a broken record, saying over and over, “Come on! Let’s live as Jesus said! With love and compassion.” I also feel like the voice of one crying in the wilderness when the vast majority of American Christians seem to be saying, “Screw that!”

I do not care about maintaining the institution of the church, which is too bad, because ultimately I believe that’s what parish ministry is all about.

I admit to being conflicted. Sometimes I think I would like to turn in my resignation and run out the door yelling, “Freedom!” I haven’t yet, and it is not because I’m getting paid. I do take the money, but if I stopped getting those big church bucks it wouldn’t change my life one bit. I guess I do it because for whatever reason it still matters to me. I’ve never been able to get those hooks out of me. I once asked a friend who seemed to have the same ambivalence about ministry that I had, after he had been fired as president of a seminary, “Would you do it again?” He said, “I would have to. It’s my curse.” I understood completely.

One thing for sure has happened. Here in my Calvinistic denomination, I have finally proved the truth of Arminianism. I have definitely lost my salvation. But, hey, heaven for the climate and hell for the company. Am I right?

“Those” Christians are Crazy: I’m Not That Kind of Christian

crazy christian
Cartoon by Adam Ford

This blog attracts all sorts of readers, from ardent Fundamentalists to atheists. I long ago stopped trying to figure out why this or that group reads my writing. I am just happy that ANYONE does. Most of my focus is on Evangelical Christianity. Liberal and progressive Christians, along with fringe Evangelicals, enjoy my critiques and takedowns of religious beliefs they consider insane. Such people will often leave comments that say, “Those Christians are crazy. I’m glad I am not that kind of Christian!” In their minds, Fundamentalists are crazy, and real Christians would never believe such things. Rejecting the God of wrath, liberal and progressive Christians assert that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Any belief that’s not consistent with “God is love” is wrong — regardless of what the Bible says. Thus, when Fundamentalists thunder and rage against sin, consigning billions of people to the flames of Hell, liberal and progressive Christians say, God is love! While I certainly appreciate the love and kindness injected into Christianity by such a view, I find it intellectually lacking. Only by dismissing or reinterpreting vast portions of the Bible can one come to the singular conclusion that God is love. God is “love,” but he is also a vindictive, mean, capricious son-of-a-bitch. Both Gods are in the Bible, but liberal and progressive Christians choose to ignore the latter. (And it could be argued that Christian Fundamentalists have lost all sense of God’s love.)

When Fundamentalists preach creationism or claim the earth is flat, liberal and progressive Christians rightly say, “those” Christians are crazy. Yet, when pressed on their own beliefs, most of them admit that they are to some degree or another theistic evolutionists. Seventy-five percent of the people of the United States believe that God, either by direct action or guided evolution, created the universe. (Please see Jerry Coyne’s post, Secularism on the rise: new Gallup poll shows that 40% of Americans are young-earth creationists, 33% are theistic evolutionists, and 22% are naturalistic evolutionists)  So, then, it seems that “crazy” is just a matter of degree. Sure, theistic evolution as a belief is better than nonsensically believing that the universe is 6,024 years old, but it is hardly a scientifically rigorous system of thought.

Fundamentalists are known for being literalists — people of the Book. They aren’t, but that’s how they perceive themselves. Fundamentalists, much like liberal and progressive believers, are cafeteria Christians. Down the Bible line they go, picking and choosing what they want to believe. This is why we have millions of Christianities and Jesuses. Each believer makes and molds Jesus in his or her own image. The only difference, really, between Fundamentalists and liberal/progressive Christians is the foods they put on their trays — each believing that their food choices best represent Jesus and historic Christianity. Good luck trying to figure out which group is right. While I prefer liberal and progressive Christianity due to its harmlessness, I find Christianity, in general, irrationally and intellectually stupefying. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) I am convinced that more than a few liberal and progressive Christians are actually atheists/agnostics. Many liberal and progressive believers have jettisoned more of the Bible than did Thomas Jefferson, yet, for some reason, they hang on to Christianity. Fear? Family connections? The need for spirituality? I don’t know. I can’t speak to the reasons why people refuse to let go of the bones of faith. What I do wish they would do is at least be honest about their beliefs, hermeneutics, and how they rationalize the teachings of the Bible — rejecting literalism when it’s embarrassing, yet clinging to it when it comes to Jesus, saving faith, and life after death. And perhaps therein lies the crux of their faith: the need to believe that there is more to life than the here and now; that death is not the end.

Liberal and progressive Christians think Evangelicals are nuts. Who in their right minds believes as Fundamentalists do? liberals and progressives think. But, to those of us who are no longer Christians, we see craziness in Evangelicalism and liberal/progressive Christianity alike: a virgin teenager being impregnated by the Holy Ghost and giving birth to a God-man, that God-man working countless science-defying miracles, dying on a Roman cross, resurrecting from the dead, and ascending to Heaven. Every liberal and progressive Christian I know, along with every Evangelical, believes that Jesus was the Son of God, died for human sin, and resurrected from the dead. These three claims alone are, to unbelievers, absurd. So, when liberal and progressive believers say, “those” Christians are crazy, what atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers see is a matter of degree. We recognize the world is a better place the more liberal and progressive religions become, but we can’t ignore the “craziness” that is found in every system of faith.

To my liberal and progressive Christian readers, I say this: I would love to have you explain your worldview, how you understand the Bible, and what hermeneutics you use to interpret the Bible. I would love for you to explain to readers how you make Christianity work for you. I mean it. I am more than willing to grant you the floor and let you explain why you still believe. I am certain that the unbelievers who frequent this blog will give you a fair hearing and treat you with love and respect. We fight a common enemy — Fundamentalism. On that, we can agree. All I am asking for is for liberal and progressive Christians who are willing to do so, to explain “why” they continue to put their faith and trust in Jesus — and by extension Christianity. If you would like to write a guest post, please send your submission to me via the Contact form.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Does God Hate People?

tim-conway-god-hates-you

Does God hate people? Liberal and progressive Christians say, ABSOLUTELY NOT! GOD LOVES EVERYONE! Much like their Evangelical brethren, they appeal to the Bible (and personal feelings) to prove their beliefs. In their minds, the essence of God is his love for his creation. Personally, I like this flavor of Christianity. Loving self and others is a good thing. The problem with it and all other peculiar interpretations of the Bible that it is come to by ignoring what other verses say. The Bible is a hopelessly contradictory book, and it can be used to prove almost anything. Take Tim Conway, pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio, Texas. I was Tim’s pastor for a time in the 1990s. He is a diehard, fire-breathing Fundamentalist Calvinist. Tim reads the same the Bible as liberals and progressives do and concludes that God not only hates sin, he hates those who do it. I will let Tim share with you his view on the matter. The video is short, so I hope you will take the time to watch it.

Video Link

If you read the comments on this video, you will see that Christians are quite divided over Tim’s hate message. And that is the point of this post. The Bible is inexhaustible to the degree that it can be used as proof for countless competing beliefs. This alone is proof enough for the bankruptcy of Christianity. If Christians can’t even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, communion, and can’t agree on whether God hates or loves sinners, why should unbelievers bother to give Christianity a moment’s notice? The Bible says that there is ONE Lord, ONE Faith, and ONE Baptism, yet thousands of Christian sects, each differing with the other, suggest otherwise.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: Atheists and Progressive Christians Must Work Together for the Common Good by Sarahbeth Caplin

work togetherLately, it’s occurred to me that progressive-leaning Christians like myself have more in common with atheists right now than with white evangelicals, the ones who, overwhelmingly, will stop at nothing to see the United States turn into a theocracy, using Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale as a handbook rather than as a cautionary tale.

Religious beliefs aside, atheists and progressive Christians need each other during these uncertain times. Our politics, if nothing else, are more alike than they are different. You don’t need to share spirituality to understand the consequences of enforcing so-called “bathroom safety” laws that target transgender people, rejecting climate change, allowing businesses to deny women’s health care, or allowing Creationism to be taught alongside evolution in public schools. As citizens, we all have common adversaries, among them faith-based ignorance and bigotry. As human beings, we also have common causes worth uniting for: freedom and education.

— Sarahbeth Caplin, The Friendly Atheist, Atheists and Progressive Christians Must Work Together to Fight Evangelicals, November 26, 2017

Bruce Gerencser