Tag Archive: Salvation

Quote of the Day: Why Don’t You Just “Believe?”

bart ehrman

What do you have to lose by having faith and believing that Christ was born supernaturally as a result of a virgin birth to Mary, that Christ performed miracles, that Christ died by crucifixion and came back to life from the dead, and that Christ went back into heaven in a supernatural ascension into heaven? I don’t see any downside.

I get this kind of question on occasion. Usually when someone asks it they tie it to “Pascal’s Wager.”

….

The first question I would ask this person is: Are *you* able to believe something that you honestly do not think is true?

The question itself raises a much bigger issue: what does it mean to believe? Does anyone really and genuinely think that authentic faith means mouthing certain words that you don’t actually subscribe to in order to be let off the hook? Would God be convinced by that? Wouldn’t he, uh, see through it?  I assume so. So what good would it do for me to say that I believe something I don’t actually believe?

And how can I force myself to think something is true when I don’t think it is? Belief isn’t mouthing words or lying to get off the hook.

 

The second question I would ask is, for me, the real zinger: Can it really be a simple case of either/or?  Either you believe or not?  In other words, is it really a case that if you choose to believe and you’re right, you may be saved, but if you’re wrong you will be damned?   Doesn’t that assume there are only two options: believe in Christ for salvation or don’t and be damned?

That may have made sense for Pascal, who lived in a world where, for all practical purposes, there were TWO options. But what about our own world?  We don’t have two options. We have scads of them. And it is literally impossible to take them all.

That is to say:  If you want to make sure you cover your bases when it comes to salvation: WHICH religion do you follow? Suppose you decide, OK, I’ll take Pascal’s wager and decide (somehow) to believe in Christ? What if, it turns out, Christ is NOT the right option?  Or even, say, the only/best option?

In concrete terms:  what if you decide to believe in Christ and then it turns out the Muslims are right? You could be damned forever for choosing the wrong option. So how do you cover the Islamic option as well as the Christianity one? And … well …  there are lots of religions to choose from.

Even within Christianity: I know some Christians who have an entire detailed list of what you have to believe to be saved. And I know other Christians who have a *different* list. It is impossible to believe both at once, since they are at odds with one another. On a most simple level, I know different Christians who believe that if you do not belong to *their* denomination, you will be damned; and even Christians who say that you have to be baptized in *their particular church* to be saved. So what’cha gonna do?

On this logic, do you become Mormon to cover your bases? And Catholic? And Southern Baptist? And a Jehovah’s Witness? And an Independent-Bible-Believing-Hell-Fire-and-Brimstone Fundamentalist? And …. ?

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Why Don’t You Just Believe?, December 1, 2019

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Dear Jesus

Jesus

Painting by Jessie Kohn

Dear Jesus,

I’m sixty-two years old, and there has never been a moment when you were not in my life.

Mom and Dad talked about you before I was born, deciding to have me baptized by an Episcopal priest. They wanted me to grow up with good morals and love you, so they decided putting water on my forehead and having a priest recite religious words over me was the way to ensure my moral Christian future.

A few weeks after my birth, Mom and Dad gathered with family members to have me baptized. I was later told it was quite an affair, but I don’t remember anything about the day. Years later, I found my baptismal certificate. Signed by the priest, it declared I was a Christian.

Jesus, how could I have been a Christian at age four weeks? How did putting water on my head make me a follower of you? I don’t understand, but according to the certificate I was now part of my tribe’s religion: Protestant Christianity.

I turned five in 1962. Mom and Dad decided to move 2,300 miles to San Diego, California, believing that success and prosperity awaited them.

After getting settled, Mom and Dad said we need to find a new church to attend. Their shopping took them to the growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation pastored by Tim LaHaye. It was here that I learned that my tribe had a new religion: Fundamentalist Christianity.

I quickly learned that our previous religion worshipped a false God, and my baptism didn’t make me a Christian at all. If I wanted to be a True Christian®, I had to come forward to the front of the church, kneel at the altar, and pray a certain prayer. If I did these things, I would then be a Christian — forever. And so I did. This sure pleased Mom and Dad.

Later, I was baptized again, but the preacher didn’t sprinkle water on my forehead. That would not do, I was told. True Baptism® required me to be submerged in a tank of water. And so, one Sunday, I joined a line of people waiting to be baptized. I was excited, yet scared. Soon, it came time for me to be dunked. The preacher put his left hand behind my head and raised his right hand towards Heaven. He asked, “Bruce, do you confess before God and man that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior?” With a halting child’s voice, I replied, “Yes.” And with that, the preacher, with a hanky in his right hand, put his hand over my nose, dunked me in the water, and quickly lifted me up. I heard both the preacher and the congregation say, “Amen!”

Jesus, the Bible says that the angels in Heaven rejoice when a sinner gets saved. Do you remember the day I got saved? Do you remember hearing the angels in Heaven say, “Praise to the Lamb that was slain! Bruce Gerencser is now a child of God. Glory be, another soul snatched from the hands of Satan?”

After a few years in California, Mom and Dad discovered that there was not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and our family was just as poor in the Golden State as they were in dreary, flat rural northwest Ohio. And so we moved, a process that happened over and over to me throughout the next decade — eight different schools.

As I became more aware and observant of my environment, I noticed that Mom and Dad had changed. Mom, in particular, was quite animated and agitated over American social unrest and the war in Vietnam. Mom and Dad took us to a new church, First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio — an IFB church pastored by Jack Bennett. We attended church twice on Sunday and on Wednesday evening.

I attended Bryan schools for two years. Not long after I started fourth grade, Mom and Dad decided it was time to move yet again. This time, we were moving to a brand new tri-level home on Route 30 outside of Lima, Ohio. It was there that I started playing basketball and baseball — sports I would continue to play competitively for the next twenty years. It was also there than I began to see that something was very wrong with Mom. At the time, I didn’t understand what was going on with her. All I knew is that she could be “Mom” one day and a raging lunatic the next.

I was told by my pastors, Jesus, that you know and see everything. Just in case you were busy one day and missed what went on or were on vacation, let me share a few stories about what happened while we lived in Lima.

One night, Mom was upstairs, and I heard her screaming. She was having one of her “fits.” I decided to see if there was anything I could do to help her — that’s what the oldest child does. As I walked towards Mom’s bedroom, I saw her grabbing shoes and other things and violently throwing them down the hallway. This was the first time I remember being afraid . . .

One day, I got off the school bus and quickly ran to our home. I always had to be the first one in the door. As I walked into the kitchen, I noticed that Mom was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She had slit her wrists. I quickly ran to the next-door neighbor’s house and asked her to help. She quickly summoned an ambulance, and Mom’s life was saved.

Mom would try again, again, and again to kill herself: slitting her wrists, overdosing on medication, driving in front of a truck. At the age of fifty-four, she succeeded. One Sunday morning, Mom went into the bathroom, pointed a Ruger .357 at her heart, and pulled the trigger. She quickly slumped to the floor and was dead in minutes. Yet, she never stopped believing in you, Jesus. No matter what happened, Mom held on to her tribe’s God.

Halfway through my fifth-grade year, Mom and Dad moved to Farmer, Ohio. I attended Farmer Elementary School for the fifth and sixth grades. One day, I was home from school sick, and Mom’s brother-in-law stopped by. He didn’t know I was in my bedroom. After he left, Mom came to my room crying, saying, “I have been raped. I need you to call the police.” I was twelve. Do you remember this day, Jesus? Where were you? I thought you were all-powerful? Why didn’t you do anything?

From Farmer, we moved to  Deshler, Ohio for my seventh-grade year of school. Then Mom and Dad moved us to Findlay, Ohio. By then, my parents’ marriage was in shambles. Dad never seemed to be home and Mom continued to have wild, manic mood swings. Shortly before the end of ninth grade, Dad matter-of-factly informed me that they were getting a divorce. “We don’t love each other anymore,” Dad said. And with that, he turned and walked away, leaving me to wallow in my pain. That’s how Dad always treated me. I can’t remember a time when he embraced me or said “I love you.” I would learn years later that “Dad” was not my biological father. I wonder, Jesus, was this why he kept me at arm’s length emotionally?

After moving to Findlay, Mom and Dad joined Trinity Baptist Church — a fast-growing IFB congregation pastored by Gene Millioni. After Mom and Dad divorced, they stopped attending church. Both of them quickly remarried. Dad married a nineteen-year-old girl with a baby, and Mom married her first cousin — a recent prison parolee. So much upheaval and turmoil, Jesus. Where were you when all of this was going on? I know, I know, you were there in spirit.

Mom and Dad may have stopped going to church, but I didn’t. By then, I had a lot of friends and had started dating, so there was no way I was going to miss church. Besides, attending church got me away from home, a place where Dad’s new and improved wife made it clear I wasn’t welcome.

One fall weeknight, I sat in church with my friends listening to Evangelist Al Lacy. I was fifteen. As is the custom in IFB churches, Lacy prayed at the end of his sermon, asking, “with every head bowed and every eye closed, is there anyone here who is not saved and would like me to pray for them?” I had been feeling under “conviction” during the sermon. I thought, “maybe I not saved?” So, I raised my hand. Lacy prayed for those of us who had raised our hands and then had everyone stand. As the congregation sang Just as I am, Lacy said, “if you raised your hand, I want you to step out of your seat and come to the altar. Someone will meet you there and show you how you can know Jesus as your Lord and Savior.” Much to the surprise of my friends, I haltingly stepped out from my seat and walked to the front. I was met by Ray Salisbury — a church deacon. Ray had me kneel as he took me through a set of Bible verses called the Roman’s Road. After quizzing me on what I had read, Ray asked me if I wanted to be saved. I said, “yes,” and then Ray said, “pray this prayer after me: Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner and I know you died on the cross for my sins. Right now, I ask you to forgive me of my sins and come into my heart and save me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” After I prayed the prayer, Ray said “AMEN!” “Did you really believe what you prayed?” I replied, “yes.” “Then you are now a child of God, a born-again Christian.”

The next Sunday, I was baptized, and the Sunday after that, I went forward again, letting the church know that you, Jesus, were calling me to preach. I was all in after that. For the next thirty-five years, Jesus, I lived and breathed you. You were my life, the sum of my existence.

At the age of nineteen, I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. It was here I received training to become a proper IFB pastor, and it was here I met the love of my life, a beautiful dark-haired preacher’s daughter. We married during the summer between our sophomore and junior years. We were so excited about our new life, thrilled to be preparing to work in God’s vineyard. We planned to graduate, go to a small community to start a new IFB church, buy a white two-story house with a white picket fence, and have two children: Jason and Bethany, and live happily ever after. However, Jesus, you had different plans for us. Do you remember what happened to us? Surely you do, right? Friends and teachers told us that you were testing us!  By early spring, Polly was six months pregnant and I was laid off from my machine shop job. We were destitute, yet, the college dean told us, “Jesus, wants you to trust him and stay in college.” No offer of financial help was forthcoming, and we finally had to move out of our apartment. With my tail between my legs, I packed up our meager belongings returned to Bryan, Ohio. I had failed your test, Jesus. I still remember what one of my friends told me, “If you leave now, God will NEVER use you!”

What did he know, right? After moving, I quickly secured secular employment and began working at a local IFB church. For the next twenty-five years, I pastored Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Jesus, you were my constant companion, my lover, friend, and confidante. I sure loved you, and I believed you loved me too.We BFF’s, right?  Sometimes, I wondered if you really loved me as much I love you. Our love affair was virtual in nature. We never met face-to-face, but I believed in my heart of hearts you were the very reason for my existence. When I doubted this, I attributed my doubts to Satan or to me not praying hard enough or reading the Bible enough. I never thought for one moment, Jesus, that you might be a figment of my imagination, a lie taught to me by my parents and pastors. I was a true believer. That is until I wasn’t.

At age fifty, I finally realized, Jesus, that you were a myth, the main character of a 2,000-year-old fictional story. I finally concluded that all those times when I wondered where you were, were in fact, true. I couldn’t find you because you were dead. You had died almost 2,000 years before. The Bible told me about your death, but I really believed that you resurrected from the dead. I feel so silly now. Dead people don’t come back to life. Your resurrection from the dead was just a campfire story, and I had foolishly believed it. I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Everyone I knew believed the same story. All of us believed that the miracles attributed to you, Jesus, really happened; that you were a virgin-born God-man; that you ascended to Heaven to prepare a mansion for us to live in after we die.

It all seems so silly, now, but Jesus, I really did believe in you. Fifty years, Jesus. The prime of my life, I gave to you, only to find out that you were a lie. Yet, here I am today, and you are still “with” me. My parents, pastors, and professors did a good job of indoctrinating me. You are very much “real” to me, even though you lie buried somewhere on a Judean hillside. Try as I might, I can’t get you out of my mind. I have come to accept that you will never leave me.

You should know, Jesus — well, you can’t know, you are dead — that I spend my days helping people get away from you. What did you say, Jesus? I can’t hear you. I can hear the voices of Christians condemning me as a heretic, blasphemer, and hater of God. I can hear them praying for my death and threatening me with eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire. Their voices are loud and clear, but your voice, Jesus? Silence.

Always silent, Jesus. Why is that?

If you ever want to talk to me, you know where I live. Show up at my door, Jesus, and that will be a miracle I can believe in. Better yet, if you can help the Cincinnati Bengals win their last six games, well, I just might rethink your existence. Not going to happen, I know. The Bengals are going to bungle their way to an 0-16 record.

If you can’t help my football team win a few games, Jesus, what good are you? It’s not like I am asking you to feed the hungry, heal the sick, or put an end to violence and war. That would require you to give a shit, Jesus, and if there’s one thing I have learned over the past sixty-two years, it is this: you don’t give a shit about what happens on earth. We humans are on our own, and that’s fine with me.

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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.

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.

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Devout IFB Christian Struggles with Understanding my Story

somerset baptist church 1985

Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985

What follows is a discussion I had today with a devout Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christian.  As you will see, Jack (not his real name) genuinely had a hard time wrapping his mind around my story. Schooled in IFB soteriology, Jack cannot fathom someone being saved, and then lost. In his mind, that’s impossible. Yet, here I am. 🙂

Jack: Hey Bruce, I just read a little about your life and your description of how IFB preachers are treated like Demigods. I was saved in 1981 and God changed my life and Christ is my Saviour. I went to Hyles Anderson College for a little bit. I’m back with the Lord. The Lord seems to have restored me and I’m happier and have more peace and am winning souls consistently. Are you saying that none of this is real to you anymore? What about God, and Heaven and Hell and Judgement? I’m just asking I’m not trying to argue. I’m curious about your response.

Bruce: I’m an atheist, so no, I don’t think there is a God, Heaven, Hell, judgment, etc. You might find these posts helpful:

https://brucegerencser.net/why/

Jack: Are you familiar with Dr. Jack Hyles?

Bruce: Yes, I’ve written extensively about Hyles and his son.

Jack: So what about getting saved, you never believed in that?

Bruce: Yes, I was saved, and now I’m not.

Jack: You really believe you were saved? How can you lose your salvation when the Lord comes into your heart?

Bruce: Don’t let your theology get in the way of reality. Countless people faithfully follow Jesus for years and then deconvert.

Jack: You don’t believe in being born again, and the Lord coming into your heart, and you becoming a new creature?

Bruce: Of course I did, but now I don’t.

Jack: So you don’t think that really happens?

Bruce: I “believe” it happened. All religious experiences are psychological in nature. We can believe all sorts of things that aren’t true or convince ourselves that certain experiences were real.

Jack: I believe the Lord really did come into my heart; there has been an internal change that cannot be denied! IT IS REAL! My desires changed, and my outlook, and I’m in the Light now, I see things differently! By faith!

Bruce: It’s “real” because you think it is. You want, need it to be real, so it is. And that’s fine.

Jack: You don’t think peace and comfort and joy and God’s love is real. I experience it!

Bruce: You “experience” what you believe those things to be. Again, all religious experiences are psychological in nature. Devout believers in other religions have similar “experiences.”

Usually, when an IFB Christian contacts me, I roll up my sleeves and ready myself for a bloody fight. Either that or I just say fuck off and turn on Sports Center. I sensed that Jack really wanted to understand my story, so I decided to briefly engage him in a discussion. I thought, “maybe, just maybe, I can get Jack to look beyond his narrow Fundamentalist theology.” I am not sure I accomplished that, but I hope that I planted a few seeds of doubt that might germinate and cause Jack to rethink his worldview. Not every online discussion has to end in hostility and conflict. I am content to put in a good word for reason, skepticism, and intellectual inquiry and move on.

Trained by the late Jack Hyles and his acolytes at First Baptist Church in Hammond and Hyles-Anderson College, Jack believes that once a person prays the sinner’s prayer and asks Jesus into his heart, he is a Christian; and once saved, always saved. In Jack’s mind, there’s nothing I can say or do to separate myself from God (Romans 8:35-39). Because I prayed the sinner’s prayer at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, at the age of fifteen, I am forever a child of God, and Heaven awaits me after I die. No matter what I have said or done in the intervening forty-seven years, nothing can undo what took place one fall night years ago. I could become a Muslim, commit mass murder, or sexually molest children — it matters not — once saved, always saved.

IFB Christians such as Jack are left with two possibilities after reading my story:

  • I never was a Christian
  • I am a backslidden Christian

The first possibility is absurd. There’s nothing in my past that suggests that I was anything but a devoted, committed, sincere follower of Jesus. The fact that I am now an atheist does not magically erase my past (or the knowledge I have about Christianity and the Bible). The only honest explanation for my past is this: I once was a Christian, and now I am not.

The second possibility is equally absurd. There is nothing in my present life that remotely suggests that I am a Christian. Anyone who reads my blog surely knows that I am not, in any way, a Christian. Not an Evangelical; not an IFB Christian; not a liberal Christian; not a progressive Christian; not a Christian humanist; not a Christian universalist; not a Christian, period. I am a card-carrying atheist, a member in good standing of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.

When someone tells me that they are a Christian, I accept their “testimony” at face value. Jack says he has been an IFB Christian for thirty-eight years. I believe him. It’s his storyline. Who better to tell his story than Jack? I just wish that Christians would do the same for Evangelicals-turned-atheists. “But Bruce,” Christians say, “the Bible says yada yada yada yada.” What the Bible purportedly says is not my problem. I get it. Jack can’t square my story with his peculiar theology. Countless Evangelicals have the same problem when they read my story. Again, that’s not my problem. I know what I know. Ask anyone who knew me when I was a Christian: Was Bruce a “real” follower of Jesus; a True Christian®? To a person, they will say, absolutely! Either I deceived my wife, children, in-laws, extended family, friends, college roommates, professors, ministerial colleagues, and congregants, or I really was a Christian. What’s more likely? Trust me, I am not a very good liar. Me not having been a Christian is akin to the moon landing being a hoax.

Stories such as mine will continue to cause cognitive dissonance for IFB Christians such as Jack. All I can hope for is that by reading my story, they will have doubts and questions that will lead to further investigation and inquiry. Fundamentalist Christians can and do change. I once believed as Jack did, and so did many of the readers of this blog. Yet, we are now unbelievers. Deconversion is a slow, agonizing, painful process. Some people cannot bear the questions and doubts, so they retreat into the safety of the house of faith. Others, however, are willing to suffer through the process, believing that truth and freedom await them on the other side. There’s a gospel song that says, we’ve come this far by faith, we can’t turn back now. For people such as myself, we’ve come this far by reason, we can’t turn back now.

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.

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.

The Cruel Message of Calvinism

Guest post by Linda

One of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor in a church nursery, rolling a big ball to a little boy who would then roll it back to me. I was delighted with this simple game. An equally delighted adult was watching us. I can’t remember who she was, but I am sure she was smiling and encouraging us in our ball rolling. We were probably three or four years old. I felt safe, happy, and comfortable.

My family went to church every Sunday. I didn’t understand why of course, but it was always fun because there were other kids to play with. Eventually I outgrew the nursery and began attending Sunday school. In Sunday school the teachers were always ladies and they were always sweet. They taught us all sorts of Bible stories. It wasn’t quite as fun as the nursery had been, but it was pleasant and sometimes we got to color. We soon began learning about Jesus. We would sing “Jesus Loves Me” or the song about the wise man who built his house upon a rock, smacking our fists into our palms to show how good and solid the rock was. There was an important message in these songs, though I wasn’t sure what it was.

After a while, Sunday school took a more serious turn. Our teacher taught us about lepers. Lepers were people who had a terrible disease that caused their body parts to rot and fall off. Other people hated them and made them live far away. Only Jesus was kind to lepers. Jesus was better than other people. Like the Sunday school songs, there was an important message in this story. I still didn’t fully understand it, but so far, I liked Jesus a lot. I was glad he was nice to the sick people and he even helped one of them get well. I don’t remember the first time we heard about Jesus dying on the cross to save us, but the teacher started bringing it up every week. She told us it was very important for us to believe that Jesus died to save us from our sins. It had never occurred to me not to believe something an adult said, especially a teacher, so it seemed kind of strange that she thought we might not believe her story.

Around this time, I started learning to read. Thanks to TV, I even learned that all people did not use the same words as we Americans did. Some people spoke and wrote a language called Spanish. It had different words for things like “water” and “friend.” This was amazing. The subject of language came up one week in Sunday school when our teacher taught us about the Tower of Babel. In this story, God punished some men who tried to build a giant tower they could use to climb into Heaven. He did this by switching everyone’s words around. It all made sense now! That must have been where Spanish had come from, plus a whole bunch of other languages I had never even heard of. I found myself smugly wondering why God had written the Bible in English. I decided it must be because English was the best language.

It was the 1970s. Hippies were everywhere. Stores carried posters and signs with slogans like: “Keep On Truckin’,” “Peace,” and “Smile God Loves You.” One week our sweet Sunday school teacher had a warning for us kids. She told us not to believe the signs that said “Smile God Loves You” because they weren’t true. God did not love everybody. I didn’t think much about this warning at the time. I was already learning not to question the things I heard in church. As the years went by and I transitioned from a curious child into a quiet teenager, I grew frustrated with church. Those early lessons about kind and helpful Jesus didn’t mesh with the grown-up sermons about a righteous, angry God. The punishment doled out by God at the Tower of Babel seemed like a prank compared to burning unbelievers in Hell forever. I didn’t understand what we were supposed to do for Jesus. I knew that He had died for us wicked humans, but there was something crucial I was missing. Why did all these people spend every Sunday listening to the preacher talk about it? What was the point? Our preacher spent a lot of time and energy ranting about all these other preachers who had everything wrong. There was a long list of these false preachers. He also had a long list of behaviors that would not help you get into Heaven: praying, tithing, getting baptized, helping the poor, caring for the sick, winning souls, going to church, volunteering in church, building the church, studying the Bible, serving your community, and on and on and on. I got tense just listening to him talk about all the ways you could waste your time trying to be a good person. It was like listening to a song with an overly long introduction. I kept waiting for the tension to break and for him to finally say what we should do to get into Heaven, but he never did.

It occurred to me that church was vastly different from school. In school, you learned about a new subject, studied it, took tests on it, then you moved on to the next level. You repeated this process from first grade to second grade to third grade and so on. By the time you got to middle school, you didn’t keep going over the same topics you learned in grade school; you were expected to have them memorized so they could form the foundation of more advanced subjects. Not so in church. In church you went every Sunday, year after year, to hear the same lecture about how horrible you are and how you deserve to burn in Hell and how Jesus would save you from Hell if only . . . something. What that something was, I couldn’t quite grasp. I wondered if I was dumb. Obviously, every other person in church understood it, so why didn’t I? Confusion morphed into anger and I started to hate going to church. I was closing in on adulthood and longing for independence. It felt like church was keeping me trapped in childhood. My escape finally began when I left home for college at the age of eighteen. I was still a Christian, though I could not have described my actual beliefs to anyone who might have asked. I knew what I was supposed to say, but those Christian-approved words didn’t match up with the thoughts and emotions I kept inside. In college I made the shocking discovery that other people sometimes questioned the origins of the Bible. They talked about it as if it were any other book written by men. Even more shocking was the fact that college instructors now encouraged us students to think about these things. They wanted us to think! I couldn’t handle it. I decided they were all evil. Though I had problems with Christianity myself, it felt like an attack to hear others criticize the faith — my faith! Even so, I did begin allowing myself to think, just a little bit at first. This was the beginning of the end of my faith. It wasn’t until many years later that I finally left Christianity for good. It took a long time to get rid of the fear that I might accidentally come to the wrong conclusion and burn forever because of it. And it wasn’t until the advent of the internet, decades later, that I finally understood what our preacher was really saying all along. I had started reading online articles about Christianity in its various forms. When I came across a description of Calvinism, I realized that there was a good reason our preacher never told us what to do to get into Heaven. He did not believe it mattered one bit what we did, because God had already decided who was in and who was out.

I had heard this long ago, this doctrine of predestination. It hadn’t upset me too much back then, because I was so deep in fundamentalist brain fog that I couldn’t process the horror. It just didn’t sink in. Now I thought about all the convoluted, pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook I had heard masqueraded as wisdom. And I realized that the particular message of our peculiar brand of Calvinism did not require years of lectures to understand. It was as simple as it was cruel: God created some people to damn and some people to save. There is nothing any human being can do to change this situation so it is foolish to even try. I cannot describe the way this realization made me feel. I was astonished at how ridiculous it was, and at how many otherwise intelligent adults really believed that this was the sort of thing a righteous creator would do. It still gives me a strange feeling to think about how that church, which I first knew as a safe and happy place, was never anything more than a shrine to violence and injustice.

Most Evangelicals Don’t Choose to Become Christians

indoctrinating children

Here’s one of the dirty little secrets rarely spoken of by Evangelical pastors and leaders: most Evangelicals don’t choose to become Christians. Now, I’m not talking about the internecine war between Calvinists and Arminians over free-will. What I am talking about today is how people become members of Evangelical churches. Being a Christian, of course, is a requirement for membership, but most church members did not choose to become Christians — even if they think they did. Let me explain.

People come into the Evangelical church one of three ways:

  • They are born into and grow up in the church. They are what are called cradle Evangelicals.
  • They have a crisis conversion — a born-again experience — and, after baptism, are admitted into membership.
  • They are already Christians and are members of other churches. They leave these churches and join Evangelical congregations. This is commonly called transfer growth.

Let me deal with these in reverse order.

Transfer Growth 

Despite all their talk about evangelizing the lost and reaching the world with the gospel, most Evangelical churches — particularly megachurches — “grow” through transfer growth — Methodists becoming Baptists, Baptists becoming Charismatics, Nazarene congregants becoming Reformed Baptists, etc. Far too many Evangelicals want to be entertained and “fed,” so they seek out churches that can meet their “felt needs.” Thinking that their present churches are “dead” or lacking in some way, Evangelicals visit other churches hoping to find one that clicks with them; one that offers the preaching, programs, music, and handsome preacher they are looking for.

The past forty years have been hard on small, often rural, churches. As megachurches pop-up everywhere, they steal or entice away disaffected congregants from smaller churches. This is how a new church plant can skyrocket from a dozen people to hundreds in a matter of weeks or months. Megachurches, or mega-size aspiring church planters, deliberately target people who are looking for a church that is “relevant” or has the best damn band in the land. Music, in particular, has become a primary reason people leave their churches and join up with new churches. Oh, Evangelicals won’t say this out loud, choosing instead to give all sorts of “spiritual” reasons for desertion, but when pressed they will admit that they sure do love the music at their new church. Like it or not, the quality of a church’s band is often the biggest factor in whether prospective members will join the club. Small churches, of course, can’t compete with congregations that have large budgets, paid music staff, and worship leaders who look like Ken or Barbie. Brother Bill leading congregants in the hymns of the faith can’t compete with coiffed worship bands who play and sing the latest praise and worship music with professionalism and skill.

Crisis Conversion

Regardless of the fact that most Evangelical church growth comes from transfers from other congregations, membership via crisis conversion is a fairly frequent occurrence. Evangelizers seek out people who are having troubles in their lives: marital problems, family issues, substance abuse, incarceration, criminal behavior, sexual perversion, to name a few, and share with them that the solution to their problems is Jesus Christ. How aggressive churches are in this regard varies from church to church. In the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church (IFB) movement, churches tend to emphasize evangelization. I heard countless evangelists say that churches should find the biggest, baddest, meanest man in town and win him to Jesus. Seeking out the dregs of society was common, as was targeting the poor and disadvantaged. Promising that Jesus was the cure for what ailed them and the church was the family they never had, countless people accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, were baptized, and became members of Bible-believing churches.

As a youth growing up in the IFB church movement, I heard countless testimonies from people who were bad people before Jesus saved them. I heard stories of changed lives from people who said they were a mob hit-man, Satanist, occultist, drug trafficker, prostitute, drug addict, alcoholic, porn star, bank robber, Black Panther, to name a few. The badder the person, the greater the conversion, or so the stories went, anyway. Many of these stories were later discredited or proved to be lies, but they sure made a mark on me. “Wow! Look at what Jesus did for these people! If Jesus can save them, he can save anyone!”

Cradle Evangelicals

Most Evangelical church members are born into and grow up in the church. As is common among all religions, their parents chose for them what their religion would be. My parents were saved, baptized and became members of an IFB megachurch in the early 1960s. While I was baptized as an infant in the Episcopalian church, the church of my youth all the way up to age 50 was Evangelical Christianity. There was never a time I chose to be an Evangelical. My parents believed right-wing, racist, Fundamentalist Christianity was the one true faith, and following the words of the prophet Jeremiah, they determined “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) I suspect most of the ex-Evangelicals who read this blog can say the same; that their religion was chosen for them. Yes, I made a profession of faith as a young child and again as a fifteen-year-old teen, (Please see My Baptist Salvation Experience) but these “choices” were really expected rituals that all church children went through; little more than confirmation in Roman Catholicism or mainline churches.

Fifteen years ago, a Barna Research study revealed:

For years, church leaders have heard the claim that nearly nine out of ten Christians accept Jesus as their savior before the age of 18. If that statistic was accurate in the past, it no longer depicts U.S. society. The current Barna study indicates that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and that two out of three born-again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. One out of eight born-again people (13%) made their profession of faith while 18 to 21 years old. Less than one out of every four born-again Christians (23%) embraced Christ after their twenty-first birthday. Barna noted that these figures are consistent with similar studies it has conducted during the past twenty years.

The survey data show that Catholics who become born again are even more likely than Protestants to do so before reaching high school. Among those currently associated with a Catholic church and who are born again, two out of three (66%) accepted Christ before age 13; one-fifth (21%) did so from 13 to 21; and the remaining 13% made that decision as an adult. In contrast, born-again people aligned with a Protestant church make that choice at an older age: 40% did so as children, 35% during the 13-to-21-age span, and one-quarter (25%) as adults.

The precipitating event for someone to accept Christ as his or her savior varied by the age of the individual making that spiritual commitment.

For instance, among Christians who embraced Christ before their teen years, half were led to Christ by their parents, with another one in five led by some other friend or relative. Comparatively few accepted Jesus in response to a minister’s personal prompting (7%) and only one out of eight cited a special event as the turning point in their journey. Among those who mentioned events, about half identified a church service. Just 1% mentioned media evangelism or other special situations as being responsible for their conversion.

Among people who accepted Christ when they were age 13 through 21, the process was much more diverse. One out of five credited a friend with bringing them to Christ, and a similar proportion said their parents were responsible for their decision. One-fifth also recalled an event as the trigger for their commitment. One-sixth of the people saved as teens (16%) listed a relative other than their parent as the primary influencer. Ministers were cited by one out of every ten Christians who accepted Christ during the 13-to-21-age bracket, while media and special personal situations were listed by only 1%.

Dave Shibley, a writer for Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), states:

I believe in the validity of child evangelism.

For one thing, statistics are on its side. 19 out of 20 Christians receive Christ before the age of 25. After that, the odds against conversion become astronomical.

Early conversion saves not only a soul, but potentially points an entire life toward service to God and man. In 15 years of ministry I’ve met no one who is sorry he came to Christ early in life. I’ve encountered many who are sorry they didn’t.

….

Children are reached more easily than adults. Jay Kesler, president of Youth for Christ International, has well said, “Any evangelism after high school isn’t evangelism. It’s really salvage.”

Young children are notably tender. Their sincerity is never in doubt. Their heart attitudes contribute to genuine conversion. And Jesus told adults that they must become as children to experience the new birth (Matt. 18:3).

True, children who make an early profession of faith sometimes struggle with assurance and make a second public commitment later. They often say, “I didn’t know what I was doing the first time.” More likely, however, the personal worker attending the child didn’t know what he was doing.

We need not fully understand the Gospel to be saved; we need only believe and receive it. What adult fully comprehends the rationale or the magnitude of redemption?

Some argue that children are unable to stay true to their commitment. Yet the late English preacher Charles Spurgeon noted, “Out of a church of 2,700 members, I have never had to exclude a single one who was received while yet a child. Teachers and superintendents should not merely believe in the possibility of early conversion, but in the ferquency [sic] of it.”

Child evangelism assists in the formation of character. The Bible clearly teaches that man’s only capability for good lies in the imputed righteousness of Christ. We do not expect unconverted adults to act like Christians. The same should be true for children.

Christians seem to be the only ones who believe they should wait to influence children’s minds. Advertisers don’t wait. Child abusers don’t wait. Neither do humanist educators, false religions and cults, or Satan.

The church that reaches its children has a better chance of reaching its adults. Often newly-converted children win their parents and grandparents to the Lord. Those children grow up to be adults who can nurture their own families to faith in Jesus Christ.

Lest we forget, Christianity is always just one generation from extinction. We must reach the coming generation with the Gospel.

As you can see, Evangelical churches and parachurch groups know how important it is to evangelize children. That’s why they have junior church programs, youth programs, vacation Bible school (VBS), and countless other ministries/programs. These programs are used to indoctrinate children before they can make rational, informed decisions about religion, God, and the Bible, sucking youngsters into the Evangelical ghetto before they have a chance to “think.”  Evangelizers don’t want children and teenagers to use critical thinking skills to ponder whether the claims of Christianity are true. Instead, they are expected to believe and obeyMom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and their church knows what’s best for them, children are told, so there is no need to “think” about these things. Just follow the prescribed salvation rituals and all will be well. And for most of the people sitting in Evangelical churches, this is exactly how they became members in good standing.

Many former Evangelicals will tell you that studying the Bible and the claims of Christianity as a teen or adult are what eventually led to their loss of faith. Their stories show that Evangelical indoctrination of children is no longer as effective as it was a generation ago. Thanks to the Internet, younger Evangelicals now have access to information about Christianity and the Bible that they have never heard from their parents, pastors, and Christian school teachers. Facts and evidence, along with skeptical, rational thinking are the best cure for those infected with Fundamentalist thinking as youths.

Churches can no longer rely on cradle Evangelicals to prop up ministries for another generation. Too many young congregants are exiting stage left, never to be seen again, save at weddings and funerals. So, Evangelical churches will focus on pilfering people from “dead” or “liberal” congregations or double-down on evangelizing the meanest, baddest people in town. Whether these approaches will pump enough new blood into the Evangelical churches remains to be seen.

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.

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.

My Baptist Salvation Experience

bruce gerencser 1971

Bruce Gerencser, Ninth Grade, 1971-72

Over the past twelve years, I have received countless emails from Evangelicals wanting me to share with them my salvation testimony. Some of these interlocutors sincerely want to understand my past and how it is I became an atheist. Others are looking for discrepancies or errors — from their theological perspective, anyway — in my testimony. Finding these glosses allows them to dismiss my story out of hand, saying, Bruce, you never were a Christian. I used to take great offense when Evangelical zealots dismissed my past life of love, faith, and devotion to Jesus, but I no longer do so. I now realize that many Evangelicals must neuter my story lest it force them to consider and answer uncomfortable questions about their own lives and theology. It’s far easier to just dismiss me out of hand, saying that I never was a Christian; that I was deceived, a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or any of the other epithets Evangelicals throw my way. I have never said to a Christian, I don’t believe your testimony of saving faith. I accept what they tell me at face value. You say you are a Christian; that Jesus is your Lord and Savior? Who am I to doubt your story? Unfortunately, many Evangelicals don’t seem similarly inclined when it comes to my story or those of other Evangelicals-turned-atheists.

What follows my Baptist salvation testimony. Instead of writing out my testimony every time some asks me for it, I will now send them to this post.

I was raised in the Evangelical church. My parents were saved in the early 1960s at Scott Memorial Baptist Church (now Shadow Mountain Community Church)  in El Cajon, California, pastored at the time by Tim LaHaye. From that time forward, the Gerencser family attended Evangelical churches — mostly Bible Southern Baptist,  or Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregations.

evangelist al lacy

Evangelist Al Lacy

In the spring of 1972, my parents divorced after 15 years of marriage. Both of my parents remarried several months later. While my parents and their new spouses, along with my brother and sister, stopped attending church, I continued to attend Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. In the fall of 1972, a high-powered IFB evangelist named Al Lacy came to Trinity to hold a week-long revival meeting. One night, as I sat in the meeting with my friends, I felt deep conviction over my sins while the evangelist preached. I tried to push aside the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart, but when the evangelist gave the invitation, I knew that I needed to go forward. I knew that I was a wretched sinner in need of salvation. (Romans 3) I knew that I was headed for Hell and that Jesus, the resurrected son of God, was the only person who could save me from my sin. I knelt at the altar and asked Jesus to forgive me of my sin and save me. I put my faith and trust in Jesus, that he alone was my Lord and Savior. (That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamedRomans 10:9-11)

I got up from the altar a changed person. I had no doubt that I was a new creation, old things had passed away, and all things had become new.  (Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The next Sunday, I was baptized, and several weeks later I stood before the church and declared that I believed God was calling me to preach. For the next thirty-five years, I lived a life committed to following after Jesus and the teachings of the Bible. While I failed many times as a Christian, there was never a time where I doubted that Jesus was my Lord and Savior. I loved him with all my heart, soul, and mind, and my heart burned with the desire to preach and teach the Word of God, evangelize the lost, and help Christians mature in their faith. No one doubted that I was a Christian. Not my Christian family; not my Christian friends; not my colleagues in the ministry; not the people who lovingly called me preacher. I was, in every way, a devoted Christian husband, father, and pastor. As all Christians do, I sinned in thought, word, and deed, but when I did, I confessed my sin to the Lord and asked for his forgiveness. (If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)  And then I got up from my knees and strived to make my calling and election sure. (Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. (2 Peter 1:10)

This is my testimony.

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.

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.

Independent Baptist Songs: Heaven Came Down by John W. Peterson

john w peterson

From time to time, I plan to post lyrics from the songs we sang in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches I grew up in and pastored. Unbelievers and non-Fundamentalists might find some of these lyrics quite interesting, and, at times, funny or disturbing. Enjoy!

Today’s Independent Baptist Song is Heaven Came Down by John W. Peterson. I was able to find a video of this song being sung by the Temple Baptist Church congregation in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Heaven Came Down was one of my favorite songs. The churches I attended and pastored would lustily sing this song, with congregants with higher pitched voices singing the last line right out of the ballpark.  Heaven Came Down reminded me, at the time, of the wonderful relationship I had with Jesus and Heaven that awaited me after I died.

I am many years removed from my church singing days, but songs such as Heaven Came Down still lurk deep within my mind. As I listened to the video below, I sang along, not missing a word. Using music to religiously indoctrinate people works, as I can surely attest. I suspect many readers can say the same; that try as we might to wash our religious past from our minds, songs and Bible verses live on.

Video Link

Heaven Came Down by John W. Peterson

O what a wonderful, wonderful day, day I will never forget;
After I’d wandered in darkness away, Jesus my Savior I met.
O what a tender, compassionate friend, He met the need of my heart;
Shadows dispelling, with joy I am telling, He made all the darkness depart.

Chorus
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul,  (filled my soul)
When at the cross the Savior made me whole;  (made me whole)
My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day,
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul!  (filled my soul)

Born of the Spirit with life from above into God’s family divine,
Justified fully thru Calvary’s love, O what a standing is mine!
And the transaction so quickly was made, when as a sinner I came,
Took of the offer, of grace He did proffer, He saved me, O praise His dear name!

Chorus
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul,  (filled my soul)
When at the cross the Savior made me whole;  (made me whole)
My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day,
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul!  (filled my soul)

Now I’ve a hope that will surely endure after the passing of time;
I have a future in heaven for sure there in those mansions sublime.
And it’s because of that wonderful day, when at the cross I believed;
Riches eternal and blessings supernal, from His precious hand I received.

Chorus
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul,  (filled my soul)
When at the cross the Savior made me whole;  (made me whole)
My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day,
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul!  (filled my soul)

Heaven came down and glory filled my soul.

About John W. Peterson:

John W. Peterson (1921-2006) was born in Lindsborg, Kansas, and began his musical career while he was still in his teens. During World War II, he served as an Army Air Force pilot flying the famed “China Hump.”Later, he attended Moody Bible Institute and served on the radio staff there for a number of years. In 1953, he graduated from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago and shortly thereafter settled in Pennsylvania to continue his songwriting career. He then moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where for over ten years he was President and Editor-in-Chief of Singspiration, a sacred music publishing company. He also served on the board of Gospel Films, Inc. of Muskegon, Michigan for several years. Later he moved to Scottsdale, Arizona where he continued his writing and co-founded Good Life Productions. A few years later, the John W. Peterson Music Company was established. During this time, he also served on the board of Family Life Radio Network in Tucson, Arizona. He had wide experience as a choral director, and throughout his career was in great demand as a guest conductor of his own works.

His music is loved and sung around the world. Mr. Peterson has composed well over 1000 individual songs, including titles such as: “It Took a Miracle,” “Over the Sunset Mountains,” “So Send I You,” “Springs of Living Water,” “Heaven Came Down,” “Jesus Is Coming Again” and “Surely Goodness and Mercy.” In addition, he has written 35 cantatas and musicals. Among these are “Night of Miracles,” “Born a King,” “No Greater Love,” “Carol of Christmas,” “Jesus Is Coming,” “King of Kings,” “Down from His Glory” and “The Last Week.” Approximately 10,000,000 copies of these cantatas and musicals have been published and sold.

In 1967, the National Evangelical Film Foundation presented Mr. Peterson with the Sacred Music Award in recognition of his accomplishments in the field of sacred music. In the same year, he received the honorary degree, Doctor of Sacred Music, from John Brown University. In 1971, he received the honorary degree, Doctor of Divinity, from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon; and in 1979, he received the honorary degree, Doctor of Fine Arts, from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1977, his autobiography, “The Miracle Goes On,” was published by Zondervan Publishing House, and a film by the same title was released by Gospel Films. In 1986, Mr. Peterson was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and in 1996 at MusiCalifornia, he received the prestigious Ray DeVries Church Music Award. He’s listed in “Who’s Who in America” and “Who’s Who in the World.”

Is Getting “Saved” Better Than Any Human Experience?

nothing no one compares to jesus

According to many Evangelicals, getting “saved” is better than any experience humans could possibly have. Is this really true? Or is it, perhaps, essential for Evangelicals to convinces themselves of this in order to justify claims that Jesus is the best friend, spouse, and lover anyone could ever have? Evangelicals are convinced — outwardly anyway — that their Jesus is the most awesome dude that ever walked on planet Earth; and even now from his Father’s third heaven, he continues to show that he is the best-God-ever. According to those who are saved and sanctified by the mighty blood of Jesus, their Savior, Lord, King, and Vending Machine Operator is da bomb. No matter how good, kind, and loving someone might be, no one  is a match for J-E-S-U-S. Jesus H. Christ is the sum and end of everything. If Jesus was in the running for Man of the Year, he would win every year. No man, woman, or deity can compare to Jesus. Or so Evangelicals say, anyway.

What’s odd here is the fact that not one Evangelical has EVER seen Jesus. Two thousand years ago, Jesus was nailed to a Roman cross and crucified. While Jesus purportedly made a surprising return to life after being dead for 3 days, he disappeared a short time later, never to be seen again. Evangelicals allege that Jesus is now sitting on a throne in Heaven, busily hearing and answering their prayers; but they have no evidence outside of the Bible for this claim. Imagine a friend telling you that her spouse/boyfriend is an awesome person; that he is quite the lover; that no one in the entire world is as good as he is. Yet, when you ask, I would sure love to meet this hunka burning love of yours, she replies, You can’t. He’s invisible. What would your next thought be? That’s a rhetorical question, of course. Rational people would encourage their friend to seek out professional psychiatric help. Yet, because loving the invisible Jesus is a religious belief, we are expected to, without judgment, smile and say, that’s nice.

Most Evangelicals enter into a saving relationship with Jesus one of two ways: either they grow up in the church or they have a crisis in their life and someone tells them, Jesus is the cure for what ails you! The latter tend to have powerful emotional experiences that they believe are Jesus delivering them from their crisis (sins). Sunday after Sunday, Evangelical preachers present Jesus as the elixir for the soul. Never mind the fact that humans don’t have souls. Most people believe they do, and that’s what makes them perfect targets for preachers promising invisible fixes for their invisible, sin-blackened souls.

Once people are convinced that Jesus has awesomely saved them from their sin, it is not much of a stretch to believe that their conversion experience is the best thing that ever happened. And people who have been conditioned this way go through life believing that nothing will ever measure up to that moment they prayed the sinner’s prayer and Jesus, by and through the power of the Holy Spirit, saved them. Making love, watching your first child be born, holding your first grandchild in your arms, and countless other awesome emotional experiences we humans have —  none of them measures up to mouthing a prayer at a Baptist church altar or praying to the TV at the end of a Billy Graham Crusade.

Sunday after Sunday, the “Jesus is Awesome” trope is preached, sung, and reinforced. Is it any wonder, then, that many Evangelicals truly believe that getting saved is better than any other experience they could have? Even if some Evangelicals believe otherwise, they have to pretend that the three minutes of sex they had with Jesus is the best fuck ever. This, of course, leads to a paucity of experience; a life where no experience measures up the moment they were saved.

Unbelievers know, however, that life offers us all sorts of experiences — good, bad, and indifferent. And some of these experiences rise above the normality of life and make our Top Ten Experiences List.  A few years ago, Polly and I attended a Darius Rucker concert in Fort Wayne. We had never been to a country concert, so we didn’t know what to expect. Boy, were we in for the time of our lives! There was a buzz in the arena from the start. When Rucker hit the stage and started singing, we found his performance to be every bit as powerful as anything we had ever experienced in church. And believe me, we had experienced the power and presence of the mythical Holy Ghost many times. Yet, here was a heathen — by Evangelical standards — bringing down the Shekinah Glory (the glorious presence of God) as he sang. For two hours, Polly and I, along with thousands of other people, were emotionally raptured away. It was an experience neither of us will ever forget.

I could spend the next hour detailing the salvation-level experiences I have had in my life; the difference being that these experiences are rooted in reality, not myth. As a photographer, I have witnessed and photographed moments in time that were breathtaking; every bit as awesome as walking the sawdust trail and getting saved. It’s too bad for Evangelicals that every experience in their lives post-salvation must be relegated to an inferior status. To do otherwise is to worship a false God. Anything put before the jealous Evangelical God is considered idolatry. Jesus alone deserves all the praise, honor, and glory. Yes, Evangelicals have all sorts of awesome experiences in their lives, but the praise, honor, and glory for experiencing them must always be given to Jesus. Life = Jesus. Or so Evangelicals say, anyway.

Many of us have likely heard an Evangelical preacher say, the most important decision you will ever make in your life is to get saved! Ponder that thought for a moment. Was the salvation experience I had at the altar of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay of such a nature that no other decision in life will be as important? Forty-seven years have passed since I asked Jesus to save me from my sin. I can say that while getting saved was certainly transformative, I have made countless decisions and had numerous experiences that were every bit as awesome as that moment in 1972.

As a non-Christian, I don’t have to measure life’s experiences by a momentary episode in time. My wife and I have made love countless times over the past forty years. Sometimes the sex was okay; other times is was good; and sometimes it was bed-frame-breaking, chandelier-rattling awesome. Imagine if I had to say that every sexual experience was not as good as the first time. While it was certainly thrilling to have sex for the first time, I have definitely experienced lovemaking that surpasses that first 100-meter dash. Awesome, but quickly over. And that’s the point I want to make to Evangelicals. Don’t make your salvation experience the end-all. Don’t believe what your preachers are telling you about life. If you are blessed with long life, you will have many wonderful experiences, experiences that are every bit as mind-blowing as Jesus. You will never feel this, however, as long as Jesus is lurking in the shadows. Don’t let Elwood P. Dowd’s pooka named Harvey get in the way of you experiencing all that life has to offer.

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.

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: True Salvation Requires the King James Bible Says Jack Hyles

jack hyles 1973

Jack Hyles, 1973

This is the one hundred and ninety-fourth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip of  Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, saying that true salvation can only come through the King James Bible.

Video Link

Selling Jesus

going steady with jesus

Two weeks ago, on a cold, wet Ohio winter day, a door-to-door hustler for Erie Construction knocked on our door, asking if we would be interested in receiving a vinyl siding estimate. I said, “sure.” We either have to side or repaint our home this year, so I thought, here’s my opportunity to get our first estimate.

Last Friday, two Erie Construction salesmen showed up at 1:20 p.m. for our 1:00 p.m. estimate. STRIKE ONE. Don’t be late. I have plenty of things to do on any given day, and if I set time aside to hear your sales pitch, BE ON TIME!  Neither salesman apologized for being late. I gave them a pass, though it is not uncommon for me to tell tardy salesmen, “sorry, you missed your window of opportunity. Maybe later.” Of course, this usually pisses them off. And I care how much? Not at all. BE ON TIME!

Having spent most of my adult life selling Jesus, I am quite familiar with the techniques used by salesman to get me to sign on the dotted line. The only difference between selling religion and siding/vacuüm cleaners/automobiles is the product. The goal is the same. Get the customer to buy your product, be it Jesus with an eternal warranty or Erie Construction premium siding with an original owner lifetime warranty.

The salesmen entered our home and sat down at our dining room table. One man carried the props, and the other, the alpha-closer, carried a portfolio of “magic” papers with which he would later attempt to WOW us. The alpha-closer did ninety-nine percent of the talking. He asked us questions about our backgrounds, family, and employment. It was Sales 101. Get to know the prospective mark. Attempt to befriend them. Use the information given to you to develop a bond. I used this very technique hundreds and hundreds of time as I traveled the highways and hedges of the communities in which I pastored, seeking to sell salvation to people I considered “lost.”

One humorous moment occurred when the salesman asked us what we did for a living. After Polly recited her résumé, the salesman turned to me and asked what I did for a living. I gave my typical answer: “I am retired and I own a photography business.” Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, this answer satisfies salesmen and busybodies alike. Not this time. The salesman asked, “Bruce, what did you do before you retired?” Remember, the word “retired” in my vocabulary means “I left the ministry and Christianity.” The word covers up shit I don’t want to talk about to strangers. I paused for a moment, thinking how best to answer the man’s question. I was already irritated by their tardiness, so I thought, how about a bit of snark?  I said, “I was a pastor for twenty-five years. I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan.” I then continued, saying, “don’t read anything into that. God and I had a falling out and we are not on speaking terms.”

When salesmen find out I was a pastor, it is common for them to change their behavior. Anything to make a sale, right? As I often do, I made sure I used several swear words during our discussion. This was me saying, “I ain’t one of THOSE preachers, God dammit!” Fortunately, no further questions were asked. Both salesmen asked if they could measure the outside of our home. I said “sure.” Off they went, returning ten or so minutes later, measurements in hand, ready to present to us the best siding deal on planet earth.

The alpha-salesman continued his pitch by telling us the benefits of doing business with a AAA company such as Erie Construction. Evidently, he never thought an old curmudgeon such as I would bother to fact-check his claims. After they were gone, I consulted GOD — the Internet — and found out that Erie Construction was NOT a AAA company. I am sure they have thousands of satisfied customers, but they also have customers who were not satisfied with their work due to missed job start/finish dates, shoddy workmanship, and poor warranty work.

As a seller of Jesus, I too shared with prospects the wonders of the Son of God. Evangelicalism was, in my mind at the time, a AAA company, offering the forgiveness of sin, eternal life after death, and peace, purpose, and direction in this life. Who wouldn’t want to buy what I was selling, right? Most of my evangelizing took place pre-Internet. I didn’t have to worry about negative reviews of Jesus, Evangelicalism, me personally, or the church I was pastoring at the time. I relied on people taking my word for it. Today? Thanks to the Internet, Evangelicalism has been exposed for what it is: a psychologically harmful con-job; a system of belief that robs people of their humanity and their money.

The alpha-salesmen breathlessly shared with us the wonders of Erie Construction’s premium grade one-hundred percent vinyl siding. He spent significant time dissing his competition and their inferior siding, even though he later admitted Erie sells “inferior” siding too. “Buy cheap siding and it only last five to eight years,” he told us.  The salesman also discounted the value of repainting our home. Polly and I painted it ourselves over two summers — 2007, 2008.  I told the salesman that we were thinking about hiring someone to paint our home. Eleven years have passed since the Mrs. and I painted our home. The past decade has not been kind to us health-wise. We are still able to do some of the painting, but we would have to hire someone to do the ladder work.

The salesman sensed that we were weighing “siding versus paint,” so he quickly pulled out his “magic” papers and showed us why painting our home was not cost-effective. His statistics were grossly inflated for the area we lived in. I told him, “look, I am not in good health, so I am not going be around twenty years from now.” The salesman quickly rebuffed my mortality claim, saying, “oh you’ll be around for a long time!” STRIKE TWO. I replied, “no, really, I am on the short side of life.” The salesman wouldn’t hear of it, telling me that I had a long life ahead of me. At this point, I almost said, “Look dude. You need to listen to me. I am not long for this life. If I make it to seventy, I’ll be happy.” I said nothing, deciding that I wanted to get their price for siding our home.

As a salesman for Jesus, I reminded prospects that my Jesus was the one true God, and that the salvation I was selling was the only one to promise true forgiveness of sin and eternal life after death. My “siding” was superior to that which other sects and churches were selling. I often told people, “has anyone else ever cared about you enough to knock on your door and share the Good News® with you?” Of course, I knew it was unlikely anyone but the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses had ever tried to evangelize them. Those sects were cults. I was representing the white American Jesus and Christianity. No one had a product like mine.

Finally, it came to time for the salesman to close the deal. He started using heavy-handed sales techniques, hoping that he could entice us into biting. His price? $25,000! Keep in mind, we already have new windows, doors, soffits, and gutters, so his estimate was just for the siding. His estimate, astoundingly, did not cover our small outbuilding. He asked us what we thought of the price, and I replied, “that’s a good bit more than we expected. I had thought the estimate would come in closer to $12,000-$15,000.”  “Quality costs,” the salesman told us. He proceeded to use the fact that we drive a newer car as a reason why we should have Erie side our home. “It’s evident you value quality in an automobile. Surely, you want the same for your home!” I thought, “yeah and your siding almost costs as much as our car!”

The alpha-salesman attempted numerous times to get us to sign on the dotted line. Each time, I told him, we are not prepared to make a decision today. Evidently, he was hard of hearing, because no matter how often I said, “not today,” he came back at us with a slightly different angle, hoping we would say “yes.” Somewhere in this process, I said to myself, “STRIKE THREE!” I wasn’t going to do business with Erie regardless of their price. The salesman even tried to appeal to my vanity, saying I could take photos before and after and Erie would pay me to use them on their website. “What,” I thought, “$500?” I said nothing, and the salesman finally intuited that we weren’t going to buy siding from him. His demeanor was that of the air being let out of a balloon. And with that, he and his sidekick packed up their props and exited stage right.

As a seller of the Evangelical Gospel, I pressured people into praying the sinner’s prayer. I warned them of the dangers of delay. “No one knows what might happen tomorrow,” I said. “Do you really want to risk God’s judgment and eternity in Hell?” I would remind them that this might be the only time they had an opportunity to buy God’s miraculous covers-everything siding, uh I mean salvation. Whether from the pulpit or at their front door, I reminded sinners of the urgency of covering up their sinfulness with Jesus’ premium salvation, complete with an eternal warranty. Most people said, “no thanks,” but over the course of twenty-five years, hundreds and hundreds of people said, “yes!”  Some of them found great value in what I was selling. Most converts, however, found out that the “siding” I was selling was not as good as I said it was. The storms of life came their way and often ripped their “siding” away, exposing the fact that Jesus was NOT the “friend who never will leave you” as I promised he was. What they found, instead, was a religion that demanded their fealty and money. Most of them, eventually, said, as we did to Erie Construction, “no, thanks!”

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.