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Tag: Salvation

I am a “Jesus Plus Nothing” Christian

jesus plus nothing

Many Christians take what I call a minimalist, reductionist approach to their faith. Perhaps you have run into such Christians. Ask them about their beliefs, and they respond, I am a “Jesus Plus Nothing” Christian! By saying this, such people avoid defending their beliefs, reducing Christianity to “Jesus.” In their minds, Christianity is all about having a personal relationship with the Son of God. Me and Jesus, best friends forever!

Evangelicals, in particular, are under increasing pressure to defend their beliefs and practices. Thanks to the Internet, Evangelicals can no longer hide behind cliches such as “The Bible Says” or “Thus Saith the Lord.” Not wanting or able to defend their beliefs, “Jesus Plus Nothing” Christians choose to focus on subjective claims such as personal testimonies of saving faith. However, are these believers really “Jesus Plus Nothing” Christians? Of course not.

The moment Christians say that they have a personal relationship with Jesus, they are making objective theological and historical claims. While such people try to avoid theological discussions, one can’t say “Jesus Plus Nothing” without having foundational theological beliefs. Claiming to be a Christian requires accepting certain Biblical claims: the deity of Christ, the incarnation of Jesus, Jesus’ virgin birth, Jesus’ miracles, Jesus’ death on the cross, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, and Jesus’ promised return to earth someday. Can one be a Christian and not believe these things? Can one be a Christian without believing the Bible is to some degree or the other the Word of God?

It seems clear, at least to me, that it is intellectually and theologically impossible to be a “Jesus Plus Nothing” Christian. And I suspect that believers who claim to be “Jesus Plus Nothing” Christians know that there is more to their faith than making a minimalist claim about Jesus.

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.

Bruce, You Were Religious, but Lost

religious but lost

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

I have been told countless times that the reason I am an atheist today is that I never met the R-E-A-L Jesus or that I was religious, but lost.  Several years ago, a man by the name of Ralph Ugarte left a comment in which he let me know that I had met a false Jesus. Filled with pride, as a pastor, I was all about self and good works. On most days — pardon what comes next — I want to tell Fundamentalist zealots such as Ugarte to go fuck themselves with a stick wrapped in barbed wire. Not today. What follows is Ugarte’s comment. By the way, Ugarte came to this site via a search for Tim Conway, pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio, Texas. This explains his mention of Pat Horner, the man with whom I had a falling out while he and I co-pastored Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas. Conway was a member of Community during my tenure there. (Please read the series I am a Publican and a Heathen.) All told, Ugarte read the aforementioned seriesDear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,  Why I Hate Jesus, and the ABOUT page.

Ugarte wrote:

Hello Mr. Bruce, I have a big problem with a lot of things that you’re saying. I’ve read your series of “I am a Publican and a Heathen” and I understand the problems and controversy you may have had with Pat Horner and some other leaders of the church. What I don’t understand is, what does any of this have to do with Jesus and God?

I also don’t want to place judgement on you, but you kind of placed it on yourself from the things you say, e.g., “RELIGION, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life”, “My being is so intertwined with RELIGION”, “I spent most of my adult life pastoring churches, preaching, and being involved in RELIGIOUS work”, “To say that the CHURCH was my life would be an understatement”, “As I have come to see, the CHURCH was actually my MISTRESS, and my adulterous affair with her…”.

The funny thing is, you never mentioned you did these things for Jesus, which kind of completes the puzzle, in that you were just RELIGIOUS. You made the CHURCH and your religious practice your GOD. While in your so-called church, you did the same things and are no different than what you hated in Pat Horner, PRIDEFULNESS. How? Well here’s an example “Fact is, I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What, do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?” Religion and politics? Is that what Jesus is to you, some religion? Well, here’s some true facts from me. I am not writing you some powerful unknown message. You know the message already, but the truth is that it was never in your heart. You kept it stuck somewhere in your head where your pride layed [sic] and you exalted yourself because you had the opportunity to teach and preach to others. Truth is, the real church was not in San Antonio, Texas as you believed. It is every where within the true servants of Christ throughout the world. Truth is, everyone in that Community was not saved, and those who were, are the true body of Christ. The simplest messages that you should have known and taken to heart years ago got lost somewhere in your religious pride. You became the Pharisees. Then when your local church no longer wanted you, you dump Jesus with it. Please tell me where that decision came from. Where in the bible does it say that the church is above Jesus? You know the scriptures. You’ve read the books. Jesus is the head of the church. So why would you glorify and have an adultress [sic] relationship with the church? How did the church become more important than Jesus? And how could you let that happened?

And yeh, maybe you’re right, “The church robbed me of so much of my life.” Yes, I believed that local church may have done you an injustice by allowing you to preach and teach without confirming your heart and desires to do so were for God alone, but it was also your fault because you fell in love with it. You fell in love with the glory of preaching and being a leader.

The truth is, I was you. I also was a member of a church where I got into arguments with the leaders, but not for the same reason that you did. The church I attended was also full of pride and did not recognize that they were missing the heart of Jesus. I spoke of these things and I was threaten to be excommunicated from the church because they felt I was insulting them and causing divisions. So I decided to leave on my own. And what did I do, I also dumped Jesus with it.

Now years later, I realized that I was wrong. I realized that there is no perfect church in this world. There is no church where everyone within the organized church is truly saved and walks with God 24 hrs a day. That doesn’t exist. So what am I to do.

I now walk with God regardless of what any church says or believes. If I want to know the truth, then I find it myself within the bible or by talking to God. I do attend a local church now, and yes, they are not perfect in their doctrines. Yes, members fall and may still be in bondage and may not be saved with their eyes opened. Yes, all who attend do not fully serve God and carry their cross. But then maybe that’s why I am there, to help others. Not as a so-called leader within the church. Not as a pastor. But as an example of what Christ is. That is how I serve the church of Jesus. I do it for him because he did it for me.

So what’s your excuse now?

The reason I typically no longer answer comments and emails such as this one is that I am tired of explaining myself. No matter what I tell Ugarte, his mind has made up — I was not what I claimed to be. When people won’t allow you to tell your story on your own terms and accept what you say at face value, it is a waste of time trying to convince them that they are wrong. That said, I do think such comments and emails are helpful in showing doubting and questioning Evangelicals the true nature of Fundamentalist Christianity. While I am sure Ugarte thought he was setting me straight, what he has really done is remind people why they are glad they are no longer Christians. Letters and comments such as his help make new atheists, and for that I am grateful.

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.

I Wish Evangelicals Would Make Up Their Minds About My Salvation

saved or lost

My writing can be found all over the Internet: on social media, Reddit, websites, and private discussion groups. Recently, an ex-Catholic Reddit group was talking about my deconversion. Many of the participants actually found my story helpful, and for that I am grateful.

In other places, my writing is used as fodder to deconstruct my life. One such discussion can be found in the Christianity subreddit. Titled, “Former decades-long pastor who became an atheist proves how ridiculous the concept of “Once-Saved-Always-Saved is” participants argued back and forth about whether I was a Christian in the past or whether I was presently still a believer. Let me give you several examples

Shamus:

That “pastor” never knew Christ personally. He admits it [I most certainly did not]. What he did do, however, is just go through the motions. Putting on the show. Saying all the right things. [This is a baldfaced lie.]

That is what is called a false convert. One can be a false convert for a day, or for an entire lifetime.

No sinner is saved by saying some words. If all one knows is ABOUT God, but one does not KNOW God…then they too are just going through the motions.

As the cliche goes: relationship, not religion.

Roll2Tide:

God’s word is forever true. This pastor’s salvation will forever be secured from God’s perspective.

Separately, this pastor is free to change course and reject that salvation, which he is currently doing.

The OSAS is most commonly spoken to or about a person who is afraid of having their salvation taken from them, and virtually never about a person trying get rid of salvation.

If that pastor doesn’t understand these things………I mean, seriously, this is vacation bible school level knowledge.

RicketyTicketyTock:

So, without getting into pretentious acronyms and big words that try and prove a point. I was raised in the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church as well, from birth until I was 18, I didn’t leave because I lost my faith, I left because I didn’t agree with the ridiculously strict rules that we were made to live by. That being said, they believed in the idea that if you asked Christ to be your personal savior then you were saved from that point on, forever. If you made a mistake, if you hurt someone, then it didn’t mean you lost your salvation. They also believe that there is no one sin that is greater than another, that all sin is sin, so whether you tell a white lie to your child or commit murder, sin is sin and there is no measure that a sin can be so bad that you lose your salvation.

The Bible tells us that no man can do anything to separate a saved individual from God, the only way to have your name removed from The Lamb’s Book of Life is to remove scripture from The Bible. No man can remove your place in heaven, not even yourself.

BigCountryRon:

No it doesn’t. I don’t care if you are an atheist or not, if it has been confirmed through confirmation, you are always a Catholic.

Dude is still saved.

TheApostleJeff:

None of those passages in scripture you quoted speak to OSAS, they speak to patterns / habits / fleshly behaviors that are so dominant that anybody displaying them regularly does not have eternal life in them.

I’d argue the pastor in discussion was never saved, nor were the ‘Christians’ he is comparing himself to. As evidence – nobody who has tasted and seen the Lord is good and then walked in that freedom for 40 years would ‘leave the faith’.

At the end of the day, nobody knows who is truly saved and who isn’t but God

There were sixty-eight comments in this discussion thread. According to these Christians, I was: never saved, still saved, or lost my salvation.

Which is it, Christians? If the Bible is the inspired Word of God and true in all that it says, why can’t the followers of Jesus figure out whether I was or still am a Christian? The Bible says that there is ONE LORD, ONE FAITH, and ONE BAPTISM. One faith, but Christians argue amongst themselves about what that faith is. And yet, they expect unbelievers to figure out which salvation shtick is true.

Perhaps the real issue here is the fact that the Bible can be used to prove almost anything. That’s why Arminians, Calvinists, and once-saved-always-saved Baptists wage war against one another over which of them is right. Allegedly, getting saved is the most important decision you will make. Why, then, can’t the author of the Bible, God, make the matter crystal clear?

I’m waiting God. . .

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.

How God Reminds Us Every Day That We Are Little More Than Worms and Slugs

original sin

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

— Issac Watts, Alas! and Did my Savior Bleed

Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good — above all, that we are better than someone else — I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object.

— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. (Psalm 22:6)

How much less man, that is a worm? and the son of man, which is a worm? (Job 25:6)

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7:24)

Original sin

Vile

Wicked

Hater of God

Worthy of pain, suffering, death, and eternal torture

According to the Bible, we are the lowest of low, little more than dung beetles, slugs, or worms. Thanks to Adam and Eve eating fruit from a tree in the Garden of Eden, all human beings are born depraved sinners — haters of God worthy of having the judgment and wrath of God poured out on their heads. None of us can escape this condemnation. As soon as the egg unites with sperm in the womb of a woman, a new vile and repulsive sinner is created. We don’t become sinners, we are sinners. Or so says Christianity.

What better way to attract and keep congregants than to convince them that they are broken, helpless, hopeless sinners who need to be glued back together with Jesus Salvation Glue® that can only be found at First Baptist Church on Main Street, Anywhere, Ohio. And when the Jesus Salvation Glue® doesn’t last, and bits and pieces of one’s life start breaking off, congregants are told to go to confession or walk the sawdust trail to an old-fashioned altar and get a resupply of Jesus Salvation Glue®.

And the cost for this wonderful, sin-erasing Jesus glue? EVERYTHING. Your life, possessions, money, and family now belong to God. If it wasn’t for Jesus Salvation Glue®, the Christian would still be like Humpty Dumpty, a pile of brokenness at the bottom of the proverbial wall. Since Jesus paid the ultimate price for sin by dying on the cross and taking a three-day weekend in Hell, the least groveling sinners can do is obediently follow him until they die. If Christians do this, then Jesus will give them rooms in God’s Trump Hotel®– rooms they will rarely use since they will be spending most of their time praising and worshiping God and prostrating themselves before his throne. And even in Heaven, there will be a final judgment for every Christian, a time when God will comb through the minutia of the lives of Christians, reminding them of all the times they sinned and how lucky they are that God is allowing them to enter his Heaven.

In the first iteration of this post, I wrote:

After several weeks of rain, we’ve finally gotten a break and are able to work in the yard and garden. Weeds are growing prolifically, and I am certain I heard them laughing at Polly and me as we, with aching muscles and joints, reached down to pull them up from the ground. I was so fatigued and in pain today that I laid on the ground and crawled along the flower beds pulling weeds. As I was doing this, I contemplated the wonders of Christianity. This is sarcasm, by the way, for those who tend to literally interpret my prose.

These Bible verses came to mind:

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Genesis 3:17-19)

If you like to grow things, you know that weeds come with the territory. If you don’t pull them, they will take over, and soon your yard looks like a movie set for a post-apocalyptic thriller titled The Revenge of the Weeds. As you pull the weeds, just remember that weeds are a reminder from God that you are a vile worm, worthy of death. If you are a Christian, every weed you pull is a reminder of how vile you were before God saved you. Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t apply salvation like Roundup? One application and the weeds are dead. One application of Jesus and all sin is eradicated. Why wouldn’t God do this? Wouldn’t it make life more enjoyable, not only for Christians, but God? Surely God gets tired of Deacon Bob going to the altar every Sunday to confess his child porn habit, or tires of Preacher Billy confessing his fits of anger towards his wife and family. Wouldn’t it be better to cure Bob and Billy once and for all of their “sins?” Why is God unwilling or unable to do so?

To Christians I say this: Wouldn’t this be a good day to cast off the belief that you are a broken sinner in need of salvation and forgiveness?  Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for, scratch that, and then you’ll be dead.

Proverbs 27:1 says:

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.

Good advice, but not for the reasons Christians think. This verse stresses to the Christian the importance of being saved, of having sins forgiven, and preparing to meet God face to face. As an atheist, I read this verse and it says to me that life is short. There is no promise of tomorrow and no one knows what might happen. So, live! Live each moment of every day as if it is your last, because someday, sooner than you think, it will be.

Let me leave you with the advice I give on the About page:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

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.

John 3:16: The Simplest Verse in the Bible, Right?

john 3 16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Christians tout John 3:16 as the simplest verse in the Bible. They revel in the simplicity of its message. It is often the first Bible verse children are taught to memorize.

Is John 3:16 really the simplest verse in the Bible?  What if we looked at John 3:16 through the lens of the plethora of theological beliefs within the Christian church?

We would first have to settle who wrote the gospel of John in general, and John 3:16 in particular. We know chapter and verse numbers were added fifteen centuries after the writing of John. There’s a lot of debate about who wrote John, when it was written, and whether it should even be considered a gospel or a part of the canon of Christian scripture.

Once we settle the textual legitimacy issue, we would then have to decide who is actually doing the speaking in John 3:16. The author of John? Jesus? Did the author actually hear Jesus speak these words? Is John 3:16 a verbatim quote of what Jesus said?

Now to the verse.

For God

Right away we are forced to decide which God the Bible is talking about. Christianity is hardly unified on the God question. Witness a Baptist and an Apostolic fight over whether the Trinity is taught in the Bible. Is God one? Is God three in one?

So Loved the World

It would seem that this part of the verse is pretty straight forward. God loves the world. World means God loves everyone. However, as millions of Calvinists will quickly tell you, all doesn’t necessarily mean all, and world doesn’t necessarily mean world. First, you have to take the verse and push it through the Calvinist sieve and then you can interpret John 3:16 correctly. World doesn’t mean everyone. It means out of every kindred, tribe, and tongue, God has people he loves and people he intends to save. In other words, God doesn’t savingly love everyone. It is right there in the verse, can’t YOU see it?

At about this point Calvinists launch into a discussion about the difference between God’s love for everyone (common grace) and the love he has for those he has chosen from before the foundation of the world. Of course, Arminians have a far different view of the scope of God’s love and grace. Let the never-ending debate begin.

That He Gave His only Begotten Son

We will assume that son means Jesus. This raises an issue right away, an issue about which many Christians have fumed over the years. Was Jesus always the son of God? One side adamantly says yes. The other side says he became the son and there was a time when he wasn’t the son.

Then we have to deal with the only son issue. Did God have more sons or daughters? As Mormonism becomes a mainstream Christian religion, what about their belief that Lucifer (the devil, Satan) is Jesus’ brother?

The next issue we have to deal is “how” Jesus was begotten. Did Jesus have a sperm-donating father?  If the Holy Spirit “begat” Jesus, how did that happen? Did God have sex with Mary? Virgin birth? “What a laugher,” many liberal Christians say. Everyone knows virgins can’t be pregnant. Besides, the word “virgin” means young woman. Liberals and Fundamentalists battle back and forth, each group certain their view is correct.

And there’s the whole consent issue. Did Mary consent to the Holy Ghost having sex with her? Did Mary have a choice in the matter?

That Whosoever Believeth in Him

Whosoever. Once again does this refer to everyone? No matter who you are, where you are, if you believe in Jesus you will have everlasting life? What about reprobates? Does “whosoever” apply to them? The Calvinist – – the party of the exclusion — says “whosoever” doesn’t mean everyone. Only the elect will savingly believe in Jesus. Everyone else, even if they wanted to, cannot savingly believe in Jesus. If you are not elect, predestined, chosen by God, you are headed for an eternity in the Lake of Fire. God decided before you were even born that you would burn forever.

What does it mean to believe? What do we have to believe? Here is where the whole issue becomes every sect for itself. Every flavor of Christian ice cream has its own take on what it means to believe and what it is a person must believe to be saved. Even among churches of the same denomination, there are differences about what it means to believe and what one must believe to be saved.

Should not Perish

What does it mean to perish? Death? First or second death? Hell? Lake of Fire? Purgatory? Eternal punishment? Temporary punishment? Annihilation?

But Have Everlasting Life

When it comes to life after death, all Christians believe that they will go to Heaven after they die. No matter what road they take, what theology they have, every sect/church believes everlasting life is the prize for those who believe.  Though . . . I do remember a debate among preachers about the difference between eternal life and everlasting life. It goes something like . . .

Here’s my point.  Even the simplest verse in the Bible can be interpreted different ways. Each interpreter believes his interpretation to be the correct one. The truth is, there is no such thing as Biblical truth. All we have are sects/churches/pastors/individuals, each saying their interpretation is the truth. Armed with study Bibles, concordances, and dictionaries, many Christians believe they are ready to emphatically tell anyone who will listen exactly what the Bible teaches.

Imagine a person who has never heard about any of the religions of the world. He has lived his life in isolation. One day he comes upon an inscription on a cave wall that says:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

What conclusions would he come to? Would he naturally come to the conclusions I mentioned above? Not likely. Perhaps he would start a religion. What is the likelihood that it would resemble any of the Christian sects? Once again, not likely.

This is why I don’t involve myself in long debates or discussions about the Bible. Such discussions become like ten students looking at a Monet, each giving their own interpretation. Then the teacher says,NO! NO! NO!, all of you are wrong. The picture is saying ________________.

After all, the Bible does say, Let every man be persuaded in his own mind . . .

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.

Hello Bruce, I’m a “Nice” Evangelical

hell

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

Several times a month, I get emails from Evangelicals who want to let me know that they are not like “other” Evangelicals. They want me to know that there are Evangelicals who are nice, polite, decent, kind, and respectful people. That’s great, their mothers taught them well. However, these “nice” Evangelicals aren’t really as nice as they would have me believe. They desperately want to be viewed in a good light, thinking if I just knew that there are “nice” Evangelicals, I would fall on my knees and call to Jesus to save me. As if my entire deconversion hangs on how I was treated while I was an Evangelical pastor.

When I am feeling up to it, I respond to the “nice” Evangelical’s email with a few questions. Questions like:

  • Do you believe that humans are inherently “sinful”; that humans are broken and in need of fixing?
  • Do you think believing in Jesus is the only way for people to have their sins forgiven?
  • Do you believe there is one true God, and that all other deities are false?
  • Do you believe the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible text?
  • Do you believe that a person must be saved/born again/become a follower of Jesus to go to Heaven when he dies?
  • Do you believe that a person who is not saved/born again/a follower of Jesus goes to Hell when he dies?

The answers to these questions will quickly reveal that the “nice” Evangelical is no different from Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson, Steven Anderson, Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, Bob Gray, Sr., Bryan Fischer, James Dobson, or Franklin Graham. The “nice” Evangelical and the nasty/hateful Evangelical, both share the same beliefs. The former comes in a nicer, more pleasing package, but inside the package are the same abhorrent, vile beliefs.

Sometimes, a “nice” Evangelical will be coy about his beliefs. When pressed on the question of God torturing non-Christians in Hell/Lake of Fire for eternity, he often replies that he leaves such things up to God. A “nice” Evangelical want me to know that he doesn’t judge, he just unconditionally l-o-v-e-s others. However, if he believes the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, then he already knows what God says on the matter. Fact: non-Christians will go to Hell when they die. Fact: atheists, agnostics, secularists, and humanists will go to Hell when they die. Fact: most of the readers of this blog will go to Hell when they die. Fact: most of my Facebook friends will go to Hell when they die. Fact: most of my Twitter followers will go to Hell when they die. Fact: and, to make it quite personal, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and most of their children will go to Hell when they die.

The “nice” Evangelical, if he is truly a Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Evangelical, is boxed in by his beliefs. There is one God — the Christian God; one way of salvation — Jesus; and Hell awaits all of those who reject him. This is why I respect someone like the late Fred Phelps more than I do a “nice” Evangelical. Phelps just tells non-Christians how it is. He makes no effort to hide his beliefs. The forwardness of such Evangelicals allows me to know exactly where I stand with them. No need for us to play the pretend-friend game or make nice with each other.

Sometimes, “nice” Evangelicals will take a psychological approach. They view me as one who has been wounded by the nasty, hateful, judgmental Evangelicals. They read a few of my blog posts and determine that I have been hurt in some way, and that this is the reason I am not a Christian. In their minds, they think if they are just really, really, really nice to me that I will be overwhelmed by their niceness and fall in love with Jesus all over again. Since “nice” Evangelicals think Jesus is w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l, they can’t imagine someone NOT wanting to become a follower of Awesome Jesus. A “nice” Evangelical sees Jesus patiently knocking on the door of my heart, pleading for me to let him in. Isn’t this the same Jesus who says that if I DON’T open the door, he is going to torture me for eternity in a lake that burns with fire and brimstone, a place where the worm dieth not? Isn’t this the same Jesus who will fit me with a special body after death so that no matter how severely he tortures me I can never die?

While there is certainly a truckload of harm and hurt in my Evangelical past, the reason I am not a Christian is because I do not believe the central claims of Christianity to be true. I don’t believe the Bible is an inspired, inerrant text. I don’t believe Jesus was God, virgin-born, a miracle worker, or resurrected from the dead. I don’t believe God created the world, nor do I believe in “sin.” Simply put, I reject everything one must believe to be a Christian. No matter how “nice” an Evangelical is to me, I do not buy what he is selling. Salvation requires faith, a faith I do not and will not have.

Look, I am glad that many Evangelicals are nice people. I am glad they treat me and others like me with kindness, decency, and respect. Their behavior certainly makes the world a better place. That said, I suspect their behavior is a reflection of their tribal training and culture more than it is their Evangelical beliefs. I am glad someone taught them to be decent, thoughtful people. I do, however, wish they would stop wasting their time by trying to “nice” me to Jesus. I have no interest in Jesus, and I think their time would be better spent teaching Evangelicals how to behave in public. As blog comments, news articles, blogs, social media,  and personal emails show, there are a lot of Evangelicals who don’t the first thing about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Instead of trying to save people who don’t want to be saved, “nice” Evangelicals should spend their time getting fellow Evangelicals saved.

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.

The Bankruptcy of the Evangelical Gospel

evangelical gospel

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

It’s Easter.

The real reason for Easter is___________________?

Come on kiddies, you know the answer.

Easter egg hunts?

Chocolate rabbits?

Candy?

Dyed eggs?

Candy?

Candy?

Candy?

No, silly. Easter is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus! Shall we talk about Christmas next? You know, the “reason” for the season. Give me my presents, Santa. Uh, thank you Jesus, for, uh, well, for something.

I read a number of Evangelical websites and blogs. Some days, I want to pull my hair out or bang my forehead on the table as I read about the latest faux threat to modern civilization or the “persecution” American Christians are facing because they have to treat LGBTQ as if they are human. I derisively laugh, cuss, and shake my head, but I must continue to wade through the bovine waste river if I plan to be an informed and literate writer. It’s my cross to bear. Buncha homophobes, the lot of them

I subscribe to the One Million Moms newsletter. One Million Moms is a smelly armpit of The American Family Association (AFA). Million Mommies is what I call the female outrage wing of AFA. They focus on boycotting companies that advertise things on TV shows they think are offensive, immoral, or anti-Christian. Their website lists the current outrages and companies who have changed their ways due to a Million Mommies boycott or letter-writing campaign. (Uber, Oreo, Frank’s Hot Sauce) They are well-organized, avid letter writers, and by all accounts, obsessed with the sex other people are having.

Monica Cole is the director of One Million Moms. Several years ago, Cole sent out a weekly Million Mommies newsletter that was different from others I have received in the past. No call to action, no letters to write, no boycott, no panties in a bunch. In other words, none of the usual angst-filled Million Mommies stuff. Cole, concerned for sinners such as you and me, made that week’s newsletter all about Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, and the Christian gospel. She hoped readers would forward it on to lost friends and family members:

If you know of someone who is not saved, please pass this on to them. Share the greatest gift of all with them: a relationship with Jesus Christ and eternal life. Also, share this with your brothers and sisters in Christ so they may use this to share with others. God commands that we share the gospel with others. We need to help one another become passionate followers of Jesus Christ.

What I found interesting is how Cole explained the gospel and salvation, Here’s what Cole thinks the gospel is and what a sinner should do to find salvation:

Resurrection Sunday is a time to Rejoice! Jesus paid a debt for us that no one else could ever pay so that we could be in heaven with Him for eternity. God gave the perfect sacrifice, His only Son, and if we believe in Him, then we will be forgiven and saved from our sins.

To be saved, you must believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for EVERYONE’S sins, including your own, and receive Him as your personal Savior so that one day you can be with our Heavenly Father. If you believe Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, you will also need to admit you are a sinner – as we all are. Romans 3:23 KJV says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” If you have never confessed your sin and belief in Christ, take time to do it right now. Jesus is the only way to be saved from your sins and receive eternal life.

On the third day, he rose again from the dead. This is the Good News that Christians celebrate: His Resurrection! He is ALIVE! And one day our Savior will return. He, and only He, sets us free from our sins! “Jesus saith unto him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.’” John 14:6 KJV

The birth of Jesus is wonderful, but the resurrection is even more exciting. It is the finale to the Christmas story. Jesus accomplished what he came for. Jesus’ last words before dying on the cross were documented in John 19:30 as, “It is finished.” He knew that all was now completed and that Scripture would be fulfilled. To suggest that more needs to be done to earn your way to heaven is the same as saying Jesus died for nothing. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV

Nails were not what held Jesus to the cross. Jesus had the power to come down from that cross, but He knew this is what had to be done for His believers to be saved. He died on the cross for you and me because of His love for us. He loved us that much! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 KJV

According to Cole, to be saved, people must believe and do the following:

  • Admit that Jesus died on the cross for their sins
  • Admit that they are sinners
  • Receive Him (Jesus) as their personal Savior

If people will do this they will:

  • Be saved from their sins
  • Receive eternal life
  • One day live with the Heavenly Father

That’s it!

Man, I am sooooo glad I did this 48 years ago. Praise Jesus, I am still gloriously, wonderfully saved! My eternal reservation is booked and I am ready to go when Jesus either calls my name or comes in the clouds to fetch me. I may be an atheist, but I sincerely prayed the sinner’s prayer. I’m good to go, right? A-w-e-s-o-m-e!

Sadly, this is the bankrupt gospel preached in thousands and thousands of Evangelical and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. It is the gospel preached by the likes of the late Jack Hyles, Bob Gray, Sr., Franklin Graham, Joel Osteen, Bethel Church Redding, Joyce Meyer, Greg Laurie, and most Evangelical megachurch pastors. It is a gospel that requires nothing more than I’ve-got-a-pulse sincerity and mental assent to a propositional set of facts. This gospel is what Deitrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”

I call this gospel the 1-2-3 repeat after me gospel. (Please see One, Two, Three, Repeat After Me: Salvation Bob Gray Style.) In theological terms, this truncated gospel is called decisional regeneration or easy believism. That I can still be considered a Christian should be offensive to every follower of Jesus, yet many people think that I am still a born-again child of God and Heaven will someday be my eternal home. I might lose some rewards, have my gym pass revoked, or my mansion might not be as spiffy as Charles Spurgeon’s, but my future is secure, all because I prayed the sinner’s prayer at age 15 at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio.

By stringing a bunch of Bible verses together, many Evangelical churches and pastors have reduced the Christian gospel to meaningless drivel. Being a Christian should mean something. Isn’t the essence of the Christian gospel following after Jesus? Can people really be Christians if they aren’t following Jesus, if they aren’t committed to believing and practicing his teachings?

Part of the problem is that there are at least five plans of salvation in the Bible. In the Old Testament, salvation was procured through keeping the law and blood sacrifice. In the New Testament, we have the gospel of Jesus, the gospel of Paul, the gospel of Peter, and the gospel of James. Each of these New Testament gospels is different from the others, and this is why there are so many Christian sects, each with their own gospel. Which gospel a sect, church, or pastor emphasizes determines what a person must do or believe to be a Christian.

Here in the 21st century, the gospel of Paul rules the salvation roost. Some sects, churches, and pastors try to merge Paul’s gospel with the others, resulting in a hybrid gospel. But, if being a Christian means following Jesus, shouldn’t HIS gospel be the one preached in Christian churches? Why do so few churches preach Jesus’s gospel? Why do they focus on Paul’s gospel and doctrine, and not Jesus’s gospel? Could the reason be that Jesus focused on how a person lives, and not what a person believes? Could the reason be that Jesus’ gospel required singular love and devotion to God and mankind — the two Great Commandments?

Take the sermon on the mount. Did Jesus preach anything remotely similar to Monica Cole’s gospel or the gospel that will be preached at countless Evangelical churches this Sunday? He did not. Jesus preached a gospel of works, a gospel that called on people to forsake their nets, family, and everything they held dear and follow after him. Jesus didn’t say to those gathered on the mount to hear him: say you are sorry for your sins and promise to believe in me after I die on the cross. He didn’t ask Jews to ask Jesus into their heart or walk down the aisle and make a public profession of faith. Compare what Jesus preached in Matthew 5-7 with what is preached in the average Evangelical church. The contrast couldn’t be starker. Jesus called to people and said follow me. Evangelical preachers call to people and say, believe these facts, pray this prayer. and you will be saved! Oh, and throw a tenner in the plate while you are at it.

The sermon on the mount is Jesus’ manifesto. He wanted to make sure people understood what it meant to be his follower. Any casual observer of Evangelicalism can see that the gospel preached by Jesus does not remotely resemble what is preached in most Evangelical churches. And it’s not just an Evangelical problem. Mainline and Catholic churches birthed generation after generation of nominal, name-only Christians. What we really have in America is cultural Christianity; a Christianity that bears little resemblance to the teachings and life of its founder.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus is quite clear about the essence of his gospel. Notice what he said:

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Sheep and Goats. Saved and Lost. Everlasting Punishment and Life Eternal. All determined, not by what people believe, but by how they live. Evangelicals have all kinds of explanations for this passage of Scripture. It’s a difficult, complex passage, they say. Doesn’t seem that way to me. A literal reading of the text makes it clear: what separates the sheep/saved from the goats/lost are their works. Surely Jesus meant what he said, yes? Why all the ‘splaining and excuses? Why all the theological gymnastics? Yes, Jesus contradicts Paul, but aren’t Christians followers of Jesus, not Paul?

The late Keith Green, an Evangelical from the Jesus People era, sang a song about Matthew 25. I still remember the ending: the only difference between these two groups of people is what they did and did not do!

I may be an atheist, but I admire and respect any Christians who take seriously their faith and do their best to follow after Jesus. 

There are many mainline, progressive, and liberal Christians who think the essence of Christianity is loving God with their heart, soul, and mind and loving their neighbor. After all, Jesus did say that the law and prophets, the entire Bible at the time, hinged on two commands: love God, love humanity.

Matthew 22:34-40 says:

But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Jesus also had this to say in Matthew 7:

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

I think I speak for many atheists, agnostics, and non-Christians when I say, if the Christianity on display in America remotely resembled Jesus’ gospel, I suspect we wouldn’t have much to complain about. If Evangelicals focused on loving God and loving humanity, the world would be a much better place. Instead, they focus on right beliefs, right morals, and right politics – my God, Evangelicals, again, overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump — and the result is what we see everywhere we look: hateful, mean, judgmental assholes who have no tolerance for any belief or way of life but their own. It is THIS Christianity that most of us find offensive.

No one should take this post as me saying that if Christianity was ______________, I would return to the fold. I think the historical foundation of Christianity is false and I cannot envision a way of looking beyond what I know in order to, by faith, “believe.” That said, I do admire people who take seriously the teachings of Jesus, and do their best to love others. I can say the same for any religion or worldview. The proof of its value is determined by the works of those who claim that particular religion as their own.

Keith Green? I am of the opinion that if he was still alive, he likely would have left Evangelicalism, thoroughly disgusted with what it has become.

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.