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Tag: Self Denial

Evangelical Writer Allison Barron Says None of Us Deserves Happiness

allison barron

“I don’t think most of us realize how centered around feelings we are. Every day, we make decisions and evaluate our circumstances based on how we feel at the time. Plus, our culture is constantly telling us to “follow our hearts” and do whatever feels good because we deserve it. We are amazing and wonderful, and we deserve happiness (often in the form of a new hair care product or prime rib sandwich or shiny SUV or whatever that billboard on the side of the street is trying to sell us).

Well, sorry, culture, but we don’t deserve happiness. We’re human beings who lie and cheat and steal and fight and hold grudges and hurt our loved ones, and we don’t actually deserve anything. I strive to be a good, caring person, but I still make mistakes and end up hurting people. However, God gives us the opportunity for a beautiful, pain-free future with Him because of this amazing thing called grace.”

— Allison Barron, The Gospel Coalition, Debunking the Myth of Happiness, March 14, 2017

Allison Barron is a Calvinist, so her beliefs about original sin and total depravity color her thinking when she says that we humans not only don’t deserve happiness, we don’t deserve ANYTHING! That’s right, saved or lost, all of us are worms, undeserving of any of good things that come our way. If we experience blessings and happiness, we mustn’t think that we deserve these things. We don’t. Unregenerate sinners deserve the wrath of God and, after death, unrelenting torture in the Lake of Fire. God might be the creator of everything, but because Adam and Eve ate some fruit they shouldn’t have, God has turned away from humanity, judging them unworthy of his love, grace, mercy, and compassion. During the days of Noah and the flood (Genesis 6-9), God determined that the human race was so vile the he had to destroy every living thing, save Noah and his family, the animals on the ark, birds in the air, and fishes in the sea. God slaughtered men, women, children, and the unborn. (So much for God being pro-life.) Why? Because he could; because he deemed the entire human race unworthy of redemption. Think of all the animals that were killed during the flood. What did they do to deserve such an ignoble end? At best, they were props in an object lesson: mess with God and he will kill you.

Even the elect, those whom God chose to save from before the foundation of the world, are, apart from Christ, viewed in the same light as the non-elect. According to the substitutionary atonement theory, Jesus stands between God the Father and the saved. When Jesus died on the cross, his Father brutally tortured him because of the sins of the elect. All that Jesus suffered on the cross was because of the sinfulness of the elect. (According to Calvinism, Jesus only died for the elect. The non-elect have never been a part of God’s redemptive plan.) If it weren’t for Jesus reconciling the elect to God the father, they too would be under the wrath of the Almighty.

Calvinists such as Barron go groveling through life, believing that they are unworthy of any kindness, goodness, or blessing that comes their way. These things indeed come their way, but only because of God’s grace, not because of their good works, effort, or luck.  Calvinists spend their lives tamping down any thoughts they have of worth, of deserving that which they worked for, or stumbled upon out of luck. All that is good comes from God, and God alone. Any thoughts of self-worth or self-esteem are viewed as affronts to the righteousness and holiness of God. This thinking is what drives the self-deprecating speeches and interviews given by athletes, musicians, and actors. All the glory, praise, and honor go to Jesus/God, they say, ignoring the fact that who and what they are is due to many factors, the greatest of which is their personal effort and hard work. If all the glory truly belongs to God, why bother to work at one’s craft?

Surely Lebron James and Stephen Curry and Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and Clayton Kershaw and Joey Votto — all-stars and future hall of famers the lot of them — are good at what they do because of God’s grace, right? Why spend hours a day, virtually every day of the year working on their skill set? If their greatness is due to God alone, then no practice is needed. Or, perhaps Barron’s God is a work of fiction, and those who achieve much in this life do so primarily because of their diligent, hard work. Certainly genetics, environment, social status, education, and a healthy dose of luck play a part too, but without committing themselves to excellence they would never have become household names. Again, exactly what part did the Christian God play in their development?

As most Christians do, Barron looks to a time after death when she will have a wonderful, beautiful pain-free life with God. For now, she and fellow predestinarians must endure life, awaiting that day when Jesus will return to earth, resurrect and judge humanity — sending the saved (elect) to God’s Trump Tower® and the lost (non-elect) to the Lake of Fire — and then God, with his mighty power, will make ALL things new. The redeemed will spend eternity loving and praising the God who took credit for all the good things they did while on fallen earth. Imagine spending eternity with a husband who never worked a day in his life, but took credit for your hard work. That’s God.

Calvinism is a dour religion, one that demands its adherents endure to the end if they hope to have any chance of getting a room in Heaven. Even then, there will be Calvinists who will diligently persevere to the end, only to find out that the joke is on them, they never were among the elect. No Calvinists can never know for sure that they are saved. They hope so. They hope they are among the elect. They hope they will persevere to the end. They hope on judgment day to hear God say, well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord. 

Count me as one person who is glad he walked away from Christianity and its denial of self and personal worth. None of us is perfect, and when we cause harm to others, we need to make things right. As much as lies within us, we should be at peace with all men. If we live long enough, we will meet people who don’t deserve love, kindness, or respect from us. There be assholes in this land of ours — unworthy of one moment of our time. For the people we call family, friends, and colleagues — those who make our lives richer in every way — I hope we all can say that they deserve the goodness, kindness, and blessing that comes their way. While life certainly isn’t fair, and bad things far too often happen to good people, in general we reap what we sow. If I want to reap a life filled with love, mercy, and kindness, then I must be willing to sow the same. What goes around, comes around, no God needed.

Unlike Barron, I know a number of amazing, wonderful people. Barron might object, saying that she does know such people, but they are amazing and wonderful because of God and not their own inherent goodness. And therein lies the problem. God clouds Barron’s view of others to such a degree, that all she sees is J-e-s-u-s (what boring view).  For the uncircumcised, unwashed Philistines of the world, we have no need of a God blocking our view.

As an atheist, I can clearly see those who deserve goodness and blessing; those who deserve good jobs, nice cars, wonderful houses, fancy clothing, and big-ass 60 inch LED televisions. My dear wife endured a life of self-denial as a pastor’s wife, living in a 12×60 foot trailer with six children and a workaholic husband. She did without nice clothing, shoes, and the finer things of life, all for the sake of the ministry. Both of us sacrificed financial security and health, believing that our poverty was a sign of our devotion to Calvin’s God.  There’s is not enough life left for me to shower my wife with all that she deserves — all that SHE deserves, not God.

Now that we are free from a God who demanded absolute fealty and servitude — a God who demanded all the praise, worship, and glory — Polly and I are free to reward not only each other, but our family and friends, with all the kindness, goodness, and love they so richly deserve — all that THEY deserve, not God. We are also free to spread the gospel of a God-free, sin-free, judgment-free, hell-free, heaven-free life. Live each day to its fullest. Enjoy each and every day. Pour your life into those who matter. Eat, drink and be merry, and make sure you have a designated driver. Work hard, doing the best you can. Strive to be a better person tomorrow than you were today. Life is all about living. To riff on an Evangelical cliché: only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done now will last.

Let me leave you with the words of Wendell Berry in the Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Difficulty Accepting the Praise and Approbation of Others

self denial john macarthur

Here is some of what the Bible had to say about pride:

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate. (Proverbs 8:13)

 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look… (Proverbs 6:16,17)

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (I John 2:16)

Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished. (Proverbs 16:5)

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Evangelicals are frequently warned about the dangers of pride — of thinking more highly of self than one ought to. We owe everything to Jesus, Evangelical preachers say, and without him we have no power to do anything good. Readers who are on Facebook and have Evangelical friends likely see regular reports in their news feed of how awesome Jesus is. Something good happens in the lives of Evangelicals and their status report reads, ALL PRAISE TO JESUS for ____________________. Last night, I watched the thrilling North Carolina vs Villanova college basketball championship game — a contest which Villanova won on a last second jump shot. One of the sideline reporters interviewed one of the heroes of the game and the first words out of his mouth were I THANK MY LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST! Earlier in the day I had read report about a nanny saving a baby in a stroller from being hit by a car — giving up her body to bear the brunt of the accident. Nearby witnesses rushed to her aid, lifting the car off of her body and giving her emergency medical treatment. The local sheriff considered the story to be a miracle of God!

Where, oh were was God or his son Jesus? As I watched the basketball game, I didn’t see any dunk shots by J.C. I didn’t see God setting picks or making fouls shots. The same goes for the accident. If what happened was a miracle from God, exactly where was God? From what I can tell, it was PEOPLE not God who helped the nanny — likely saving her life. Despite there being no evidence for God doing anything, Christians continue to give God praise, honor, and glory that he does not deserve.

Evangelicals are taught that is always wrong to take credit for doing anything; and yes I mean ANYTHING. According to the Bible, Christians have no power of their own. According to the last part of John 15:5, Jesus told his followers: for without me ye can do nothing. Why, without God, we wouldn’t even be able to draw the next breath. No matter how much hard work Evangelicals put into something, the praise always goes to Jesus. He alone is the reason Evangelicals do good works. I could spend hours studying for a sermon, yet if my sermon was well received and well delivered it was all because of Jesus. Simply put, Evangelicals believe that they are a conduit through which God does his work on earth. According to the Casting Crowns song, If We are the Body, Christians are supposed to be the words, hands, and feet of God.

Evangelicals are frequently reminded of the importance of self-denial. Jesus first, others second, yourself last, goes the Evangelical acronym for JOY. How this works out in real life is that serving Jesus and others is ALL that matters. Self is a hindrance that keeps Christians from fully and resolutely living according to the teachings of the Bible and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. (Please see I Did it All for Jesus: My Life of Self-Denial and Learning to Be Human Again After a Lifetime of Self-Denial) I have been accused over the years of taking Christianity too seriously. The reason, according to these critics, that I left the ministry and Christianity is because I didn’t have a balanced life. If I had just learned to balance my Evangelical beliefs with my personal and family wants, needs, and desires, all would have been well. Are these critics right? Consider these verses:

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me, For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24,25)

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1,2)

For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:15,16)

For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. (James 4:14,15)

Who is it, then, that takes these verses seriously and attempts to pattern their lives after them? The balanced Christian? Or Evangelicals who push their pots into the center of the table and say, “We are all in”? Are these Evangelicals to be faulted for taking God at his word? Are they to be faulted for desiring to pattern their lives after Jesus and his disciples? Shouldn’t Evangelical preachers see in the Apostle Paul the epitome of what it means to be a man led by God?

without jesus I am nothingThe book of Revelation speaks of those who follow the Lamb (Jesus) whithersoever he goeth. That was the kind of follower I wanted to be. Blinkered like an Amish horse, all I saw was Jesus ahead of me leading the way. While I failed many times, my goal was always to, without reservation, follow and serve Jesus. The only way to do this was to get self out of the way.

Living this way brought much heartache, suffering, and economic deprivation. (Please see How Fundamentalist Christianity Affected My View of Money and Material Things) I now know that self (and family) does matter. I now know that it is healthy to put self first. I have spent countless hours in counseling trying to reconnect with Bruce Gerencser. I spent the bulk of my adult life burying self. When I deconverted, I had no clue as to who I really was. Even today, I am not at all certain that I have reached a place where I am free of the damage wrought by a lifetime of self-denial, metaphorical self-flagellation, and prostrating myself before God and his son Jesus. Having spent most of my life on my knees, I still find it hard to stand up and walk by my own power.

One area that I need to work on is accepting the praise and approbation of others. When I take a photograph that I know is pretty good, I find it hard to accept the praise others heap upon this example of my photographic skills. Polly has taken to getting after me about this, reminding me of the fact that I put hard work into improving my photography skills. I have the same problem when readers complement me over something I have written. I know that my writing has helped thousands of people over the years, but I have a hard time accepting praise and gratitude from those I have helped. There is still deep within me the feeling that I do not deserve anything. Even when I come into some sort of economic windfall, I find myself thinking, I do not deserve this. Try as I might, I have been unable to shake the notion of self-denial. Certainly, I have come a long way and I am in a much better place psychologically that I once was, but I know God and his demand of personal sacrifice still lurk in the shadows. Perhaps someday I will be able to accept the kind words of others without feeling some sort of shame for accepting what should only be given to God.

As many former Evangelicals know, God can still lurk in the shadows of our lives. I am almost eight years removed from the day I walked away in the Christian church, yet I still battle with what I call an Evangelical hangover. I suppose this is inevitable. After all, I spent 50 years in the Christian church and 25 years in the ministry. I spent the vast majority of my adult life praising and worshiping Jesus. I preached thousands of sermons and read countless Christian books. I immersed myself in the pages of the Bible, and rarely did a day go by that I did not spend time reading it. While I can point to the date when I attended a Christian church for the last time and the date when I said to myself, I am no longer a Christian, flushing my life of residual religiosity and faith is a day by day process that continues to this very moment.

How about you? Do you still have some sort of Evangelical hangover? Do you have a hard time accepting the praise and approbation of others? Has it been difficult for you to regain a sense of self after years of denial? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.


Bruce Gerencser