Randy Ellis, a reporter for The Oklahoman, writes:
In an unusual plea deal, a Spencer man has been sentenced to 15 years on probation after pleading guilty to brutally raping and sodomizing a 13-year-old girl at Falls Creek church camp.
Benjamin Lawrence Petty, 36, tied rope around the girl’s wrists, raped her and then threatened her with physical harm if she told anyone, according to the criminal charge. He was at the camp as a cook at the time of the 2016 offense.
Murray County Assistant District Attorney David Pyle, who negotiated the guilty plea, said Petty is “legally blind” and that was a major factor in his decision not to insist on prison time.
Petty was given the suspended sentence by District Judge Wallace Coppedge on Jan. 19 after entering a negotiated guilty plea to first-degree rape, forcible sodomy and rape by instrumentation. All three are felonies.
A woman in Judge Coppedge’s office said he would not be making any statement.
“The big thing is Mr. Petty is legally blind and the parents (of the victim) live out of state and this little girl lives out of state and didn’t want to make all the travels back and forth,” Pyle said. “The plea was negotiated with their permission.”
Petty was already legally blind at the time of the rape, Pyle said. Under terms of the probation, Petty will be required to wear an ankle monitor for 24 months, register as a sex offender and obtain treatment. He had no prior felony convictions, according to plea agreement documents.
Bruce Robertson, an attorney who is helping represent the victim’s interests in a civil case, said the family’s consent to the plea agreement came after “the family was told by the district attorney’s office that the rapist would not serve any meaningful prison time due to his medical conditions.”
The girl was raped in June 2016, while attending church camp at Falls Creek with a group from Terrell, Texas, according to court records filed in the civil lawsuit.
The rapist was brought to the camp to serve as a cook by The Country Estates Baptist Church of Midwest City, according to that lawsuit.
The First Baptist Church of Terrell is named as a defendant in the lawsuit along with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and The Country Estates Baptist Church.
Currently pending in the civil case is a request by attorneys for the Midwest City church to question the rape victim about her “prior history of voluntary sexual activity.”
Oklahoma County District Judge Aletia Timmons rejected the initial request, saying, “I don’t think it has any — even a scintilla of any relevance to anything.”
Attorneys for the church have asked the judge to reconsider her decision, claiming the victim talked with fellow campers about “her sexual activities and history with her then-boyfriend, including her fear that she might be pregnant with her boyfriend’s child.”
The church’s attorneys contend that is relevant because it may have “contributed to her physical and emotional damages.”
Attorneys for the victim claim the rape, itself, is responsible for the girl sustaining physical, emotional and psychological damages.
“We are saddened to see that the church has stooped to victim-blaming,” Robertson said. “While we will not publicly debate the consensual sexual history, if any, of our teenage client, we fail to understand how the church can conceivably argue that any female’s consensual relations are relevant to the trauma suffered as the result of a horrific, violent rape. The church has improperly used information in its motion which we believe is in violation of the court’s protective order and we will not comment further at this time.”
The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma is a cooperative owned by a partnership of Oklahoma Baptist churches. It owns and operates Falls Creek, which is located in the Arbuckle Mountains in south-central Oklahoma. About 54,000 adolescent campers attend the camp during the summer camping season, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit accuses the churches and Baptist General Convention of negligence, contending they didn’t do a good enough job of checking the backgrounds of workers, failed to adequately supervise sponsors and camp participants, and failed to train them on how to recognize and avoid predators.
The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.
Paul Pressler, best known for his instrumental roll in turning back the Southern Baptist Convention from its drift into liberalism, stands accused of sexually abusing a former office assistant. The assistant has filed a $1 million civil suit against Pressler, along with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Paige Patterson, and First Baptist Church in Houston.
Adelle M. Banks, a reporter for Religions News Service, writes:
Paul Pressler, a key figure in the self-identified “conservative resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention in the late 1970s and early ’80s, is fighting a lawsuit by a former office assistant who alleges the onetime Texas appeals court judge sexually abused him over the course of several decades.
Gareld Duane Rollins Jr. filed the $1 million suit Oct. 18 in the District Court in Harris County.
The plaintiff, now in his 50s, claims he was abused by Pressler starting when he was in his midteens, continuing when he was hired as a “boy Friday” in the judge’s home office and ending around 2014 when Rollins was rearrested and imprisoned for driving while intoxicated.
In a court document responding to the claims, Pressler and his wife, Nancy, a co-defendant, “categorically deny each and every allegation.”
Pressler’s attorney, Ted Tredennick, said the suit’s claims cannot be taken seriously.
“Mr. Rollins is clearly a deeply troubled man, with a track record of multiple felonies and incarceration, and it is the height of irresponsibility that anyone would present such a bizarre and frivolous case,” according to a statement from Tredennick.
The 40-page suit describes sexual acts that allegedly occurred around the time Pressler enrolled Rollins in a Bible study at First Baptist Church in Houston. The suit says Pressler told Rollins he should consider the alleged rape “our secret, our freedom, no one but God would understand.”
Rollins’ attorney who filed the suit, Daniel Shea, is a Houston lawyer and former Catholic deacon who previously represented young men who alleged they were sexually abused by a seminarian who fled to his native Colombia after the charges arose. That case was settled in 2008.
Legal documents filed in the suit against Pressler, now in his 80s, contain letters he wrote on behalf of Rollins to a parole board reviewing his status after he was charged with forgery and driving under the influence. The suit says Rollins turned to drugs and alcohol—leading to multiple DUI arrests—as a response to the alleged abuse.
In one letter, Pressler mentions plans to employ Rollins after the younger man was granted parole and released from rehab.
The suit also names as defendants Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and its president, Paige Patterson, and Houston’s First Baptist Church, and claims they are liable for their professional, personal or denominational connections with Pressler.
The legal document also goes into the movement led by Pressler and Patterson starting in 1979 that turned the Southern Baptist Convention in a more conservative direction after deep theological battles. It claims the movement was focused on power, which the suit called “a key ingredient in the abuse of children and women.”
Mark Lanier, a Houston lawyer representing Patterson and his seminary, rejected the allegations, saying they are “riddled with errors and falsehoods.”
“We will diligently defend the fine reputation of Dr. Patterson and SWBTS in court,” he said, referring to the seminary.
Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches are known for their commitment to literalism, Biblical inerrancy, and strict codes of personal conduct. Demographically, IFB churchgoers tend to be white, Republican, and middle to lower class. IFB churches also have anti-culture tendencies, as revealed in their support of the Christian school and home school movements. The IFB church movement has spawned numerous colleges, including Hyles-Anderson College, Tennessee Temple, Midwestern Baptist College, Baptist Bible College, Pensacola Christian College, Clarks Summit University, Maranatha Baptist University, Massillon Baptist College, Crown College of the Bible, Faith Baptist Bible College, and West Coast Baptist College. Though not explicitly IFB institutions, Bob Jones University, Liberty University, Cedarville University, and Cornerstone University are sympathetic to IFB beliefs and practices, and attract a number of IFB students. You can find a comprehensive list of IFB secondary institutions here.
Millions of Americans attend IFB churches. Add to this number those Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches who hold similar Fundamentalist theological and social beliefs, and IFB churches are a sizeable minority within the broad Evangelical tent. While some IFB apologists trace the movement’s genesis to the Modernist-Fundamentalist battle of the 1920s, most would say that the IFB church movement was birthed out of opposition to liberalism in the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the fathers of the movement were Southern Baptist pastors who pulled their churches out of the Convention. I attended numerous Sword of the Lord conferences in the 1970s and 1980s where big-name IFB preachers trumpeted the astronomical numerical growth of their churches while delighting in spouting statistics that showed the SBC was in decline. I heard Jack Hyles, then the pastor of the largest church in the world — First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana — run down the list of the largest churches in America, pointing out how many of them were IFB churches. Hyles, along with countless other IFB preachers of that era, believed that their churches’ growth and the SBC’s decline were sure signs of God’s approval and blessing.
Today, the IFB church movement is in steep numerical decline. Churches which once had thousands of members are now closed or are a shell of what they once were. IFB colleges have also seen drops in enrollment due to the fact that the feeders for these institutions — IFB churches — aren’t sending as many students to their schools. The Southern Baptist Convention, on the other hand, has been reclaimed from liberalism and many of the largest churches in America are affiliated with the Convention. (The SBC is the first denomination that I am aware of that has reversed its course and returned to its Fundamentalist roots. The Convention is now home to a burgeoning Calvinistic movement. Many liberal/progressive SBC churches broke away in the 1991 (1,900 churches) and formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Liberals who remain will either seek out friendlier associations or be excommunicated.)
For countless Christians, the IFB church movement is all they have ever known. Their entire lives, from baby dedications to graduation from an IFB college, have been dominated and controlled by Baptist Fundamentalism. In many ways, the IFB church movement is a cult that shelters families from the evil, Satanic outside world. All that congregants are required to do is believe and obey. Is it any wonder that the hymn Trust and Obey is a popular hymn in many IFB churches? Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. For those born and raised in the IFB bubble, all they know is what they have been taught by their parents, pastors, and teachers. Encouraged to make professions of faith at an early age, these cradle Baptists know little about the world outside of the IFB bubble. The bubble protects them from outside, worldly influences and helps to reinforce IFB beliefs and practices. (And when IFB youths run afoul of the strict rules found in IFB churches, they are sometimes sent off to IFB group homes and camps so they can be “rehabilitated.”)
The video below graphically (and beautifully) illustrates how deeply and thoroughly Fundamentalist beliefs dominate the thinking of those raised in Fundamentalist churches. Sung by Champion Baptist College (now Champion Christian University) tour group, the song I Have Been Blessed, is a compendium of IFB beliefs. The young adults singing this song really believe what they are singing. Outsiders might label these singers ignorant — and they are — but I choose to be more charitable, knowing that their singing of this song is simply a reflection of the tribal religion they have been a part of their entire lives.
I have great sympathy for people who know only what they have been taught in IFB churches and institutions. From the early 1960s to the mind-1990s, I was one such person. My parents were saved at an IFB church in the 1960s and from that day forward we religiously attended IFB churches. When my parents divorced in the early 1970s, I continued to attend IFB churches. In many ways, these congregations became my family, giving me love and structure. After high school, I attended an IFB college, and from 1979 to 1994 I pastored IFB churches. (One church, Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, would not call itself an IFB church due to its Calvinistic beliefs, but its social practices and anti-culture beliefs put it squarely in the IFB camp.) I was, in every way, a true-blue believer, never questioning my beliefs until I was in my 40s. I know firsthand how IFB indoctrination affects a person intellectually and psychologically.
Not everyone, of course, is born into the IFB church movement. Others become members due to the movement’s aggressive evangelistic efforts and methodology. Particular targets are people who have messy, unhappy lives or have drug/alcohol addictions. Wanting deliverance from their present lives, these people are often quite receptive when they come in contact with IFB preachers and church members who promise them that, if they will believe the IFB gospel, then Jesus will make their lives brand new and deliver them from their chaotic, broken lives. Once saved, these newly minted Christians are encouraged to join the churches that cared enough about them to share the Good News® with them. And many of these people do indeed join IFB churches, but unlike those raised in such churches, these outsiders often have a harder time accepting IFB social strictures. More than a few of them stop attending church or seek out congregations that aren’t as extreme.
And then there are the people who deliberately seek out IFB churches to attend. Drawn to such churches by their need for doctrinal purity, certainty, and a safe haven from the world, they are thrilled to find churches that believe the Bible from cover to cover (even though, as anyone who has studied the IFB church movement knows, IFB preachers and congregants pick and choose beliefs just as non-IFB Christians do). Perfectionists, in particular, find IFB churches quite appealing. If IFB churches and their pastors are anything, they are certain that their beliefs and practices come straight from the mouth of the Christian God (God wrote the Bible, so its words are his). Perfectionists — as I know firsthand — love structure, control, and order.
Perfectionists make the perfect members. They joyously buy into the go-go-go, do-do-do, work-for-the-night-is-coming-when-no-man-can-work, better-to-burn-out-than-rust-out thinking that permeates IFB churches. There’s no time for rest and comfort. The Bible is true, judgment is sure, hell is real, and there are billions of lost souls who need to hear the IFB gospel. How dare anyone who truly loves Jesus live a life of ease while sinners are dying in their sins and going to hell. On and on go the clichés. I suspect that most successful IFB preachers have perfectionist tendencies.
Many IFB church members were once members of Evangelical or mainline churches. Concerns over perceived liberalism drive them to seek out churches who still believe in the Book, the Blood, and the Blessed Hope. Tired of pastors who refuse, they believe, to preach the whole counsel of God or to stand against worldliness, these disaffected Christians often find that IFB churches believe what they believe, so they leave their churches and join with the Baptists.
While I could give other reasons people attend IFB churches, those mentioned above cover the majority of people who attend Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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David Boyd, pastor of Wheelwright Baptist Center (link no longer active) in Wheelwright, Kentucky, was arrested and charged with “distribution of matter portraying sex performance by a minor.” LEX18.com reports:
The former pastor of Wheelwright Baptist Church has been arrested and charged with distribution of matter portraying sex performance by a minor.
David Boyd was arrested Friday morning at 9:08 a.m.
Boyd is still listed as the Director of Wheelwright Baptist Church, but we are told that he recently stepped away as pastor. Neighbors say that he stepped down around the time they saw police raiding his home and taking computers.
According to the Wheelwright Baptist Center website: (link no longer active)
David and Stephanie Boyd are the new directors of the former Kentucky Baptist Convention-owned ministry center in the Floyd County community of Wheelwright. A native of Wheelwright, David Boyd said his “spiritual mentor” was longtime center director and NAMB missionary, Charles Wilson. The Appalachian headquarters of World Servants, a ministry with its roots in Youth for Christ, will be headquartered at the ministry center. Stephanie Boyd directs World Servants Appalachian initiative
Wheelwright Baptist is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Last week, Benjamin Nelson, pastor of Peoria Baptist Church (link no longer active) in Hillsboro, Texas was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl. The Star-Telegram reports:
A man who leads a small Baptist church and is attending seminary in Waco was arrested Monday and faces child sexual assault charges.
Benjamin William Nelson, 28, was arrested at his home and booked into the Hill County Jail. He was being held Sunday on two charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child and one charge of deadly conduct, according to Whitney police.
Whitney police told Fox4News a mother found Nelson in a car with her underage daughter in a Whitney shopping center late Sunday. Police said the deadly conduct charge stems from Nelson driving recklessly near the teen’s mother as he left the scene.
According to Nelson’s Facebook page, he is married, is pastor of Peoria Baptist Church and is attending George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University.
A local pastor who was arrested by the Whitney Police Department Monday, February 27, on charges of sexual assault of a child is facing two new charges.
Benjamin William Nelson, 27, of Waco, who was pastor of Peoria Baptist Church at the time of his arrest, was initially facing two charges of sexual assault of a child and one charge of deadly conduct.
On Thursday, March 2, Whitney Police filed two new charges on Nelson.
Whitney Police Chief Chris Bentley said that charges of indecency with a child and online solicitation of a minor were added.
Justice of the Peace Shane Brassell set bonds totaling $755,000 on Nelson on the initial charges.
Bonds totaling $50,000 were added on the two new charges.
Bentley said that additional charges are pending, and Nelson’s electronic devices have been sent to a Waco facility for investigation.
The chief added that police are concerned Nelson may have had contact with other children online.
As of today, Nelson is still listed as the pastor of Peoria Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation. According to Nelson’s about page: (link no longer active)
Rev. Ben Nelson was born and raised in deep east Texas, behind the pine curtain, in Center, Texas. He was dedicated, baptized, licensed, married, and ordained by the First Baptist Church of Center, where he met his wife Casey. Ben earned undergraduate degrees at the University of Texas at Austin, and Casey earned undergraduate degrees at Baylor University.
From 2011 to 2016 Ben served as a Campus Pastor with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Texas A&M University. He’s preached revivals, coordinated evangelism campaigns, led overseas mission trips, planted new Bible studies, and equipped generations of college students to follow Jesus faithfully for the rest of their lives.
In 2016 Ben and Casey felt the Lord calling Ben to begin in the pastorate and begin coursework on his Masters of Divinity degree at Baylor’s Truett Seminary. He came to us in view of a call in August of 2016, and he’s been preaching the Word to our congregation ever since.
Ben serves as a leader among equals, and works alongside the deacons and the congregation to see Christ’s Kingdom come, and Christ’s will done in our church and our community.
One Texas lawmaker is trying to make no-fault divorce no more in the Lone Star State.
Texas State Rep. Matt Krause of Ft. Worth filed a bill that would effectively disallow divorce on the grounds of “insupportability,” meaning no-fault divorces.
Currently “all 50 states offer some type of no-fault divorce, (and) in 17 states and the District of Columbia, you can only file for divorce on no-fault grounds,” said a KXAN-TV news story.
Meanwhile, evidence shows that a majority of divorces in Texas are filed on no-fault grounds, and Krause believes this policy will lead to a decline in divorce and family breakdown.
“I think people have seen the negative effects of divorce and the breakdown of the family for a long time. I think this could go some way in reversing that trend,” he said.
Currently, Texas offers six categories of fault-based divorces, including: “adultery, cruelty, abandonment and a felony conviction, living apart for at least three years or confinement to a mental hospital.” Krause said the bill would establish “some type of due process. There needs to be some kind of mechanism to where that other spouse has a defense.”
The idea of re-introducing fault is not about assigning blame as much as it is about treating divorce more seriously and substantively. Krause cited a Heritage Foundation report that said, “A recent University of Texas study of divorced spouses found that only a third of them felt that they had done enough to try to save their marriage. Moreover, children of divorce disproportionately suffer from such maladies as depression, compromised health, childhood sexual abuse, arrests and addiction.”
Whether or not the bill ever becomes law, the policy idea itself raises some important issues for Christians to consider. As Christians, we understand the devastating effects of divorce and have seen it in our own families, neighborhoods, churches and communities.
If we are perfectly honest, we will admit that divorce has become all too commonplace and convenient. We further recognize that “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16) and that, according to Jesus, it was because of the hardness of their hearts, that God permitted divorces among the Israelites, “but it was not this way from the beginning” (Matt. 19:8).
Even though Jesus and the Apostle Paul have outlined some limited Scriptural grounds for divorce, we have institutionalized divorce in a way that would have shocked Paul. We also have lost sight of the fact that divorce is a tragic step. To that end, churches should not leave it to politicians to address runaway divorce and family breakdown.
Evangelicals love to claim that they are “people of the book” — the book being the Protestant Bible. Evangelicals talk a lot about the sufficiency of Scripture. According to these followers of Jesus, all that believers need for life and godliness can be found in the Bible. Yet, these same people write books, host radio programs, and blog about how the people of the book should understand and interpret the book they say contains everything Christians need to successfully live as followers of Jesus. Calvinists, in particular, make much of sola scriptura — Scripture alone. One such person is Jon Bloom, staff writer for John Piper’s Desiring God website. Bloom writes:
We have the New Testament largely because of the theological diseases that infected and afflicted the first-generation churches. The apostles wrote to clarify and remind early believers of things they had been taught, and to correct false doctrines that were springing up.
All of church history resembles the New Testament: remarkable outpourings of the Holy Spirit, gospel advances, churches planted, outbreaks of persecution and martyrdoms, doctrinal distortions and leadership abuses and all manner of sin causing churches to be, as the old hymn says, “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,” followed by Holy Spirit-empowered revival and reformation movements.
To have knowledge of church history is good — really good. It helps us keep perspective. It helps us keep from being too euphoric and triumphalist in revival, too depressed and defeatist in tribulation, and too enamored of The Next Big Thing, the new method, strategy, or movement that promises to be The Answer. Church history helps us remember, “Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us” (Ecclesiastes 1:10).
But it’s best to know our Bibles very well. The only proven antidote to the doctrinal and moral diseases that have always afflicted the churches of God is “holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2:16) and “not . . . go[ing] beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). Church history serves to confirm this is true.
We must submit to “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) and not allow the limits of our own understanding to place unbiblical limits on the “breadth and length and height and depth, and . . . the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:18–19). Plead with God for the strength to comprehend what is beyond our human ability to grasp (Ephesians 3:18).
And resolve not to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6).
And at the end of Bloom’s article? Books for sale that will help Christians better “understand” the all-sufficient Word of God.
Evangelical writers continue to churn out books, radio broadcasts, YouTube videos, audio recordings, and blog posts that are meant to “explain” what the Bible teaches. Or better put, meant to “explain” what that particular Evangelical thinks the Bible teaches. Why the need for all the extra-Biblical material if the Bible is the only book Christians will ever need? Why all the Bible study books if born-again, bought-by-the-blood. Holy-Ghost-filled Evangelicals have the very Words of God at their disposal?
The bookshelves found in the average Evangelical pastor’s study are filled with all sorts of books: commentaries, Bible translations, concordances, sermon outlines, sermon illustrations, Christian biographies, theological tomes, self-help books, and one-offs dealing with politics, the culture war, and clean Christian jokes. And thanks to computers, many of these books and study helps are now available online or through purchased software. Yet, come Sunday, these same pastors — after spending 10-20 hours reading and studying books about the Bible — will say to their congregations, “We are people of the Book! The inspired, inerrant, infallible Protestant Bible is all-sufficient. Praise be to God for giving us through his Word everything necessary to live in an evil world as his chosen people!”
Al Mohler, in a January 2016 blog post, lamented the theological and Biblical ignorance of many Christians. Mohler writes:
While America’s evangelical Christians are rightly concerned about the secular worldview’s rejection of biblical Christianity, we ought to give some urgent attention to a problem much closer to home–biblical illiteracy in the church. This scandalous problem is our own, and it’s up to us to fix it.
Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” How bad is it? Researchers tell us that it’s worse than most could imagine.
Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. “No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm. The bottom line? “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.”
Multiple surveys reveal the problem in stark terms. According to 82 percent of Americans, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a Bible verse. Those identified as born-again Christians did better–by one percent. A majority of adults think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one’s family.
Some of the statistics are enough to perplex even those aware of the problem. A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble.
Secularized Americans should not be expected to be knowledgeable about the Bible. As the nation’s civic conversation is stripped of all biblical references and content, Americans increasingly live in a Scripture-free public space. Confusion and ignorance of the Bible’s content should be assumed in post-Christian America.
The larger scandal is biblical ignorance among Christians. Choose whichever statistic or survey you like, the general pattern is the same. America’s Christians know less and less about the Bible. It shows.
How can a generation be biblically shaped in its understanding of human sexuality when it believes Sodom and Gomorrah to be a married couple? No wonder Christians show a growing tendency to compromise on the issue of homosexuality. Many who identify themselves as Christians are similarly confused about the Gospel itself. An individual who believes that “God helps those who help themselves” will find salvation by grace and justification by faith to be alien concepts.
Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation’s time and attention. The move to small group ministry has certainly increased opportunities for fellowship, but many of these groups never get beyond superficial Bible study.
Youth ministries are asked to fix problems, provide entertainment, and keep kids busy. How many local-church youth programs actually produce substantial Bible knowledge in young people?
Even the pulpit has been sidelined in many congregations. Preaching has taken a back seat to other concerns in corporate worship. The centrality of biblical preaching to the formation of disciples is lost, and Christian ignorance leads to Christian indolence and worse.
This really is our problem, and it is up to this generation of Christians to reverse course. Recovery starts at home. Parents are to be the first and most important educators of their own children, diligently teaching them the Word of God. [See Deuteronomy 6:4-9.] Parents cannot franchise their responsibility to the congregation, no matter how faithful and biblical it may be. God assigned parents this non-negotiable responsibility, and children must see their Christian parents as teachers and fellow students of God’s Word.
Churches must recover the centrality and urgency of biblical teaching and preaching, and refuse to sideline the teaching ministry of the preacher. Pastors and churches too busy–or too distracted–to make biblical knowledge a central aim of ministry will produce believers who simply do not know enough to be faithful disciples.
Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a leader in the hostile Calvinistic takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, thinks that the solution for the theological ignorance is for pastors to return to Biblical teaching and preaching. Mohler is a big proponent of expository preaching. (Expository preaching is a form of preaching that details the meaning of a particular text or passage of Scripture. It explains what the Bible means by what it says. Exegesis is technical and grammatical exposition, a careful drawing out of the exact meaning of a passage in its original context. Wikipedia) He thinks it is up to pastors to use some sort of Vulcan mind meld to impart Christian theological knowledge to church members, forgetting that many members have the attention span of a toddler and are more concerned with lunch and Sunday’s match-up between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots.
I thought that the only book that Christians need to the Bible. I thought that the Bible is all-sufficient. Surely, if God himself (the Holy Spirit) lives inside of every Christian and is their teacher and guide, shouldn’t every Evangelical know what the Bible says and means? Evidently not. Despite asking Jesus into to their heart and the Holy spirit living in said heart, Evangelicals still need clerics to tell them what the various books and verses of the Bible mean. For 2,000 years now, educated (and not so educated) pastors have been telling Christians what they should/must believe, going so far as to suggest that if Christians don’t believe the right things it is doubtful they will go to heaven when they die.
I was a part of the Christian church for fifty years, pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan for twenty-five of those years. I started my preaching career as a topical/textual preacher, moving to expository preaching once I embraced John Calvin’s doctrines of grace. I took seriously my obligation to preach and teach the word of God. As an expository preacher, I preached through numerous books of the Bible, including preaching over one hundred consecutive sermons from the gospel of John. Yet, despite all my preaching and teaching, most church members were content to believe what I believed. No matter how often I challenged and berated them over their lack of diligence and theological acumen, congregants were content to dust off their Bibles on Sunday and passively sit in the pew as Pastor Bruce preached to them the wondrous truths of God’s perfect Word. While a handful of church members would read theological books, study the Bible, and listen to sermon tapes, the rest of the congregation decided to live with the guilt of not being students of the Word.
The reasons for this lack of desire are many, but let me end this post with a few of them.
First, the people I pastored had a life outside of church. While the majority of church members attended church every time the doors were open — often two to four services a week — they also had other obligations: jobs, houses, lands, and families. As a pastor, I was paid to read and study the Bible. My schedule afforded me the leisure necessary to spend hours each week reading theological books. When I wanted or needed to do some intense study, all I had to do is cloister myself away in my study and put up a closed sign on the door. Trained to be “sensitive” to the man of God’s spiritual needs, congregants left me alone, believing that it was more important for me to hear from God than them.
Try as they might, most church members simply did not have the requisite time necessary to devote themselves to reading and studying the Bible. Members often resorted to short devotional booklets such as Our Daily Bread — a better-than-nothing approach that rarely, if ever, imparted any new knowledge about the teachings of the Bible.
Second, due to the belief that only certain Bible versions should be read: King James (KJV), New American Standard (NASB), English Standard (ESV), many members found the text of the Bible difficult to read. What do people who have a limited amount of time do when faced with a hard-to-read book? They put the book on the shelf, choosing to either read books that dumb down the Bible or supplant reading and studying with their pastor’s Sunday sermon. The sad fact is — Christian or not — most adults rarely read books, choosing instead to read blogs, news sites, and social media. Those who do read books are likely not reading religious tomes. Most Christians read religious fiction such as The Left Behind series or Christian self-help books. (You can check out Amazon’s Top 100 Best Sellers: Religion and Spirituality here.)
Finally, many of the people I pastored either found the Bible contradictory or boring. Whether this attitude was due to reading ability, education, or desire, the fact is most church members ignored the Bible, choosing, when they read, to peruse fictional books or easy-to-digest self-help books. I pastored people who read every book in the Left Behind series, yet couldn’t find a spare minute to read the Bible. One woman, a devoted follower of Jesus and active in the church, devoted her reading time, not to the Bible, but to books on famous crime stories and serial killers. Too bad I didn’t know to tell her that the God found in the pages of the Bible was/is the greatest serial killer of all time.
Bloom and Mohler are fighting a losing battle. Not only are most Christians no longer using the Bible as the all-sufficient rule for their lives, they also aren’t even bothering to read it. Perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to write a new Bible, one that has more of a True Blood, Game of Thrones, Ray Donavan, Criminal Minds, Walking Dead feel. Sticking with a Bronze Age religious text will only cause continued angst and depression among the Blooms and Mohlers of the world. If God himself can’t get Christians to read the all-sufficient Bible, what makes Evangelicals and parachurch leaders who, if the truth be known, don’t read the Bible much either, think they can do what God can’t do?
Last year, attention whore J.D. Hall, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Sidney, Montana (the church’s website proudly reports that men such as Fundamentalists Paul Washer, James White, Voddie Baucham, Chris Rosebrough, Douglas Wilson, Ray Comfort, Phil Johnson, Justin Peters, and Sye Ten Bruggencate have preached there) , wrote an “apology” letter to the LGBT community. He reposted his letter today on the Pulpit & Pen website — a trash repository for all things Fundamentalist, Baptist, and Calvinistic. When I first saw the headline of Hall’s post I thought, has J.D. Hall had a come-to-Jesus moment? Dare I hope that Hall is repudiating his hatred for LGBT people? These thoughts were quickly extinguished by the fact that unless Hall is admitting he is a transvestite Baptist, there’s zero chance that he will turn from his gay-hating ways.
As a Christian who has been forced to evaluate where I stand in recent days in light of Scripture, in both tone and message, I would like to apologize for myself and other Christians…
1. I’m sorry that any of us ever referred to you as a “gay community.” Really, that’s not helpful. A “community” is a group of individuals that either live in the same place or share the same values. Sodomy (defined as unnatural and immoral sexual behavior) is not a value. Sodomy is a deviancy. Now, if you defined “community” as sharing interests and not values, then there could theoretically be a gay community because you hold unnatural and immoral sexual behavior as a common interest. However, to call you a “community” would legitimize this sin in a way that we don’t legitimize any other sin. For example, we don’t recognize “the thieving community” or the “the lying community” or “the bank-robbing community” or “the rapist community” or the “white collar criminal community.” If communities could be founded upon self-destructive behavior, those communities would be self-defeating, and a self-defeating community is no community at all. In fact, a truly “gay community” would be extinct within one generation. Your unnatural sexual deviancy leads to death; legitimate communities are self-populating and regenerative. It was a dumb term for Christians to start using, and I apologize for all of those who inadvertently give credence to the narrative that yours is a community and not a group of sinners who share in community-destroying behavior.
2. I’m sorry that Christians have made a habit of referring to you as LGBT or LGBTQ or by any other acronym or term, identifying you by your sin. First, it is unfair and unhelpful to identify you by your sin. This is actually discriminatory against you, because we don’t behave this way toward any other group of sinners. Adulterers don’t find their identity in adultery. Liars don’t find their identity in lying. Gluttons don’t find their identity in gluttony. We tend to view others as “people who happen to [fill in the blank with any number of sins].” We haven’t viewed you as people – first and foremost – who suffer from the sinful desire of sodomy. Now, you have self-identified as LGBT, because there is a unique tendency when it comes to homosexuality to let the sin consume you as a person, but we should not have participated in the unfortunate reality that your identity has become wrapped up in sinful behavior. If you thought of yourself as a person who suffers from homosexual desires, rather than as a homosexual, you might realize that you’re more than your specific sexual deviancy.
3. I’m sorry that we’ve given you the impression that “self-identifying” is a thing. Yes, I know I’ve used the term to get a point across in this letter of apology. But, here’s the thing…you don’t get to “self-identify.” God gave you your identity. Bruce Jenner is not Caitlyn. That’s silly. He’s a guy who emasculated himself to look like a woman, adding breasts and makeup and tucking appendages. It’s a game of dress up, essentially. And if he were to remove his genitalia, he still wouldn’t be a woman. He’d be a man without his genitalia. Bruce Jenner will never have PMS. That’s because he’s not a woman. It’s really, really mean for Christians to be anything but straightforward with this reality. I’m convinced that Bruce Jenner doesn’t have people around him that loves [sic] him, or else they would tell him that he doesn’t look like a beautiful woman. He looks like the person that kids on the bus snicker at behind them, and dare one another to go up and touch. Christians, if we were loving, would say “Bless your heart, but you’re not a woman. You’re a man trying to look like a woman, but no one really thinks you’re accomplishing that so well. You are Bruce, and God made you to be Bruce, and you can never be Caitlyn.”
6. Finally, I apologize for all the professed Christians that you thought had convictions, only to find out that they were sniveling, driveling compromise machines. It probably surprised you how they changed their tune and their tone when the Supreme Court ruled. That’s especially tragic. It’s tragic, because I know that your conscience is cutting you. I know that even truth suppressed in unrighteousness hurts. It’s painful, I’m sure. You might even be on the look-out for conviction and resolve and truth, and while perhaps being glad to see the rainbow filter go on your professing-Christian Facebook friends’ profiles, you’re a little let down that there isn’t an unchanging reality out there somewhere. Down deep, you know that you need that. I’m sorry for all those who have professed Christ, but haven’t loved you (or Him) enough to dig their heels in and speak a truth that’s as helpful as it is inconvenient.
I sincerely hope you’ll forgive us for these shortcomings, and we strive to do better in the future.
While Evangelicals fall all over themselves attempting to explain that Steven Anderson is some sort of lone homo-hater, Hall’s “apology” letter is a reminder that hatred of LGBT people can be found in EVERY Evangelical church. (Hall’s church, for example, is a Southern Baptist congregation that self-identifies as Reformed Baptist.) I am sure Hall is a proud as a peacock over his “apology” letter. Ha! Ha! Ha! No apology here, you sexual deviants. God’s still hates you, and since I, a properly circumcised Calvinist, love what God loves and hate what God hates, I hate YOU! As Steven Anderson does, J.D. Hall and the Pen & Pulpit blog have a large following — including 2,373 likes on Facebook and 6,708 followers on Twitter. Hall and other Pulpit & Pen contributors also use a radio program, podcasts, frequent blog posts to promote their version of Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals who now realize how their vitriol towards the LGBT community caused much harm need to own the fact that there are numerous Halls and Andersons within Evangelicalism (and the Southern Baptist Convention). Granted, many of these haters will never preach hateful sermons as Anderson does, or pen hurtful “apology” letters. Many Evangelicals are too “nice” to ever do such things, but don’t be deceived by their niceness. Behind closed doors, in the safety of their faggot-free churches and homes, these “nice” Evangelicals continue to rail against the letters of the rainbow, condemning LGBT people to hell.
Many evangelical preachers have what I call the Elijah syndrome. In First Kings chapter 18, we find the story of the prophet Elijah doing battle with the 450 false prophets of Baal. According to the Bible, Elijah decided to prove to Israel that Jehovah was the true and living God. Elijah did this by building an altar, placing a slaughtered bullock on the stone edifice, and calling fire down from heaven to consume the bullock. This all-consuming fire was so hot that it melted the altar’s rocks. According to modern science, melting rock into molten lava requires a heat of 1,000 to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. Certainly, if Elijah did nothing else, he put on a good show.
After God demonstrated his power, Elijah told the people of Israel to gather up the false prophets and slaughter them. Nothing says I’m a loving God like some old-fashioned bloodshed and slaughter. When Queen Jezebel heard that Elijah and the Israelites had slaughtered Baal’s prophets, she sent a message to Elijah that said, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. Elijah, fearing for his life, ran away into the wilderness.
In First Kings chapter 19 we find Elijah camped out underneath a juniper tree. An angel appeared to Elijah and told him that he needed to eat because God had a long journey ahead for him. After eating, Elijah journeyed 40 days to Mount Horeb, the very place God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The Lord came to Elijah and asked him what he was doing at Mount Horeb (which is strange, because an angel, one of God’s celestial beings, told him to go to there). Here is what Elijah had to say:
I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
Elijah saw himself as the one remaining true prophet in the land. God reminded him in First Kings 19:18 that there were actually 7,000 prophets who had not yet bowed a knee to Baal.
Every time I think of this story I am reminded of the fact that a lot of Evangelical preachers see themselves as some sort of modern-day Elijah. And like Elijah, each thinks he is the one remaining prophet in the community standing up for God, the Bible, and Evangelical morality. Such preachers delude themselves into thinking that they alone are standing true, that they alone are preaching the right message. Some of these preachers, men such as Robert Lyte and AW Pink, think that the Christian church is so morally compromised that they can no longer in good conscience be a part of it (Susan-Anne White would another example of this, even though she doesn’t claim to be a preacher).
As readers of this blog know, the longer people steep their mind in waters of Fundamentalist belief, the more extreme they become. Over time, sin lists grow, beliefs harden, and certainty and arrogance convinces preachers that they alone are standing for God. While every community has numerous Christian churches, there are always a handful of churches that think they are above the murky waters of generic Evangelicalism. Like Elijah, they believe that they have been chosen by God to speak on his behalf to the world.
I remember thinking this of myself back when I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mount Perry, Ohio. Everywhere I looked I saw churches and pastors who were not winning souls and waging war against Satan, sin, and godlessness. As the church began to grow, I convinced myself that people were attending the church because they wanted to hear a true man of God. What I understood later is that these people found me likable and enjoyed my sermons. So much for being a rugged, stand-alone prophet of God.
The next time you see a street preacher just remember he likely thinks that he is like Elijah, the lone prophet of God. After all, he is the only one standing on the street corner, right? If all the other neighboring churches and pastors really cared about America they too would be on nearby street corners preaching against sin, gun control, abortion, secularism, atheism, Barack Obama, evolution, liberalism, and any other issue deemed a moral affront to the thrice-holy God of Evangelical Christianity.
This I alone remain true to God way of thinking is what turns preachers into insufferable, arrogant, hypocritical pricks. Thinking that they have some sort of inside knowledge about God and the Bible, they are determined to share what they think they know with everyone, even if people don’t want to hear it.
Preachers like Jack Hyles and Fred Phelps did not start out as pontificating bloviators. Over time, they convinced themselves that they had been chosen uniquely by God to speak on his behalf. Once convinced of this, their pronouncements became more severe. These Elijah-like prophets of God, thinking that most churches and pastors are Biblically and morally compromised, withdrew from the larger Christian body.
Inherent to the nature of Fundamentalism is the need to separate and divide. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a good example of this. The IFB church movement was born out of rebellion against perceived liberalism in the American, Northern, and Southern Baptist conventions. Originally this separation was due to German rationalism and higher textual criticism. These days, IFB churches and pastors separate due to silly things like music, Bible translations, long hair on men, and whether women should wear pants. Recently, Bob Gray, Sr., the retired pontiff of the Longview Baptist Temple in Longview, Texas wrote a blog post about the importance of being a prophet like Elijah. Here is some of the issues Gray thinks are important:(link no longer active)
In our fundamental churches, schools, and colleges we have some rules, regulations, and standards. We have rules about dating, dress, haircuts on the males, makeup on the females, hairstyles, clothing, smoking, dancing, bad music, Hollywood movies, speech, respect for authority, proper conduct, etc.
Immediately the accusations begin to come when such a stand is taken. The cry is always the same, and the charge is always the same. “Why, that is nothing but legalism with all those rules, standards, and regulations for they are nothing but promoting legalism!”
The truth of the matter is, when you associate legalism with rules, regulations and standards, people with neo-evangelical hearts who masquerade make such statements in fundamental Baptist clothing. Sometimes they are made by people who were real fundamental Baptist at one time, and yet have become weary of the battle and long to return to the onions, watermelons, leaks, cucumbers, and garlic of acceptance. Also, this cry of legalism often comes from the desks of colleges and seminaries built on fundamental foundations with walls of compromise and a leaking roof of pseudo liberty.
We have grown to desire that our truth be accredited by worldly educated error. We want a license from wrong to do right! My (sic) I remind all of us of that fundamental world we believed in and practiced before we had teenagers, home-schoolers, liberal fundamental colleges, Bill Gothard, Oral Roberts University, Benny Hinn, his girlfriend Evangelist Paula White, amusement parks, and before Jerry Falwell slid down a charismatic water slide!
This generation must not listen to the prophets of compromise who are silently bridging fundamentalism to a liberal Southern Baptist Convention in order to garner the crowds. No one is legalistic who insists on standards. When someone adds anything to salvation, other than the shed and applied blood of Jesus Christ, is by definition a legalist.
When you conveniently compromise you are not only betraying Billy Sunday, Sam Jones, Bob Jones Sr., Mordecai Ham, John Wesley, John R. Rice, Curtis Hutson, Lester Roloff, Lee Roberson, Tom Malone, and Jack Hyles, but you are betraying your own standards of just a few years back.
If we cannot have our padded pews with hell-fire and brimstone preaching, then let us go back to the sawdust trail and the store front buildings while sitting on wooden benches.
If we cannot have organs with trained choirs without the seven-fold Amens and the crusty anthems, then let us go back to the “pie-anar” and tuning fork.
If we cannot have a marriage of proper grammar and the mourner’s bench with preaching on Hell, Heaven, the rapture, the second coming, and separation, then let us go back to split infinitives, dangling participles, and hung gerunds.
If tiled restrooms and chandeliers are not conducive to the old-time religion, then let us mark off a path and build an outhouse. Let us screw a 60-watt light bulb in it and order a Sears & Roebuck catalogue for the outhouse and get right with God.
If we have to include Kierkegaard, Brunner, and Niebuhr in our required reading in order to be intellectual theologically, then let us go back to the Blue-black Speller, the ABC’s, the alphabet, and the simple preaching of thus saith the Lord God! We have listened too much to psychologists in the pulpit and not enough to leather lunged Baptist preachers. We have listened too much to philosophers and not enough to old-fashioned prophets of God. We have listened too much to so-called Christian TV and radio and not enough to men of God.
Legalism is not a godly mother who insists that her daughter dress modestly. Legalism is not parents enrolling their children in a Christian school that believes as they do about separation from the world. Legalism is not a dedicated aged godly dad who takes his son to the barbershop instead of a beauty shop every two weeks.
Legalism is not a faithful youth director who insists his teenagers dress appropriately. Legalism is not a hard working pastor who insists that his Sunday school teachers not smoke, not drink alcohol, no tobacco use, no movies, they visit absentees, and go soul winning.
Legalism is not the careful godly educator who forbids his students to dance or listen to bad music. Legalism is not the man of God who cries aloud against mixed swimming, in essence mixed nudity, against vampire lipstick promoting drugs, and young males with their Billy Idol bleached porky pine spiked chili bowl hair do!
Right has not changed and wrong has not changed just because you enter into a different century. Black is still black and white is still white. Good is still good and bad is still bad. Legalism is not the faithful man of God who cries aloud against sin.
Most of the Scriptures are about rules on how Christians ought to live! I challenge you to take Genesis and try to show unsaved people how to be saved or redeemed from going to Hell. Now you will find types of salvation, but you will have a tough time finding the plan of salvation in Genesis.
Liquor, dope, elicit (sic) sex, Hollywood, cigarettes, bad music, etc., enslaves and is addictive. God’s do’s and don’ts builds walls of protection for his people!
The good news is this: the IFB church movement is dying on the vine. Their churches and institutions are but a shell of what they once were. Instead of taking a hard look at why IFB churches are dying and young adults are fleeing to the friendlier confines of “worldly” Evangelical churches, preachers like Gray, Sr. double down on legalistic standards and rules. Instead of considering whether their controlling, abusive behavior is to blame, these Elijah-like preachers blame those who rejected their moralizing and checklist Christianity. Gray, Sr. will go to the grave believing that if people would just follow the rules about “dating, dress, haircuts on the males, makeup on the females, hairstyles, clothing, smoking, dancing, bad music, Hollywood movies, speech, respect for authority, and proper conduct,” the shekinah glory (glory of God) would fall from heaven and all would be well.
Do you have an Elijah-like preacher where you live? Is there a preacher in your town who thinks he uniquely speaks for God? Perhaps you once attended a church that was pastored by a man who thought he was special or unique. If so, please share your observations in the comment section.
Fundamentalist Al Mohler has his panties in a knot a-g-a-i-n. This happens so often that Mohler recently had to have a pantiedectomy to remove over a dozen pairs of panties that were permanently ensconced in his rectum. It is always something with Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. This time, Mohler is upset about a Newsweek article on the Bible.
The feature article, The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin, is written by Kurt Eichenwald. Mohler notes that Eichenwald has, in the past, written for The New York Times and Vanity Fair. In other words, Mohler wants his followers to know that Eichenwald is a l-i-b-e-r-a-l.
Mohler contends that Eichenwald is out of his element in writing about the Bible. Evidently, being an investigative reporter is not sufficient to write about the Good Book. I suspect Mohler thinks that only theologians and people who actually believe the Bible is anything more than a fiction book should be the only ones worthy of writing about the Timeless Word of God®.
It always amuses me when people like Mohler play the “you are not qualified” card. Mohler is quite the hypocrite. He routinely writes on subjects he is not qualified to write on; subjects like politics, medicine, art, and science. According to Mohler’s website:
A native of Lakeland, Fla., Dr. Mohler was a Faculty Scholar at Florida Atlantic University before receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. He holds a master of divinity degree and the doctor of philosophy (in systematic and historical theology) from Southern Seminary. He has pursued additional study at the St. Meinrad School of Theology and has done research at University of Oxford (England)
Best I can tell, Mohler has no serious training in science, politics, medicine, or art, yet he is somehow “qualified to write on these issues. Of course, I understand why. Evangelical pastors have the ear of God and are qualified to pontificate on any issue “God” wants them to. Evangelical pastors are noted for knowing everything there is to know about anything and everything. Doubt me? Just ask one of them.
I think Mohler is more than qualified to write on a variety of subjects. He is an older man with a lot of education. But then, so is Eichenwald, and that’s my point. Just because Eichenwald is not an Evangelical Christian or a college trained theologian doesn’t mean he is not capable of writing an article about the Bible. He can read and is an investigative reporter and he is well equipped to write on most any subject he puts his mind to.
They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.
They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.
This is no longer a matter of personal or private faith. With politicians, social leaders and even some clergy invoking a book they seem to have never read and whose phrases they don’t understand, America is being besieged by Biblical illiteracy. Climate change is said to be impossible because of promises God made to Noah; Mosaic law from the Old Testament directs American government; creationism should be taught in schools; helping Syrians resist chemical weapons attacks is a sign of the end times—all of these arguments have been advanced by modern evangelical politicians and their brethren, yet none of them are supported in the Scriptures as they were originally written.
The Bible is not the book many American fundamentalists and political opportunists think it is, or more precisely, what they want it to be. Their lack of knowledge about the Bible is well established. A Pew Research poll in 2010 found that evangelicals ranked only a smidgen higher than atheists in familiarity with the New Testament and Jesus’s teachings. “Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don’t read it,’’ wrote George Gallup Jr. and Jim Castelli, pollsters and researchers whose work focused on religion in the United States. The Barna Group, a Christian polling firm, found in 2012 that evangelicals accepted the attitudes and beliefs of the Pharisees—religious leaders depicted throughout the New Testament as opposing Christ and his message—more than they accepted the teachings of Jesus.
Newsweek’s exploration here of the Bible’s history and meaning is not intended to advance a particular theology or debate the existence of God. Rather, it is designed to shine a light on a book that has been abused by people who claim to revere it but don’t read it, in the process creating misery for others. When the illiteracy of self-proclaimed Biblical literalists leads parents to banish children from their homes, when it sets neighbor against neighbor, when it engenders hate and condemnation, when it impedes science and undermines intellectual advancement, the topic has become too important for Americans to ignore, whether they are deeply devout or tepidly faithful, believers or atheists.
This examination—based in large part on the works of scores of theologians and scholars, some of which dates back centuries—is a review of the Bible’s history and a recounting of its words. It is only through accepting where the Bible comes from— and who put it together—that anyone can comprehend what history’s most important book says and, just as important, what it does not say.
“These manuscripts were originally written in Koiné, or ‘common’ Greek, and not all of the amateur copyists spoke the language or were even fully literate. Some copied the script without understanding the words. And Koiné was written in what is known as scriptio continua—meaning no spaces between words and no punctuation. So, a sentence like weshouldgoeatmom could be interpreted as ‘We should go eat, Mom,’ or ‘We should go eat Mom.’ Sentences can have different meaning depending on where the spaces are placed.For example,godisnowhere could be ‘God is now here’ or ‘God is nowhere.’”
But Kurt Eichenwald’s essay is not ground-breaking in any sense. These arguments have been around for centuries in some form. He mixes serious points of argument with caricatures and cartoons and he does exactly what he accuses Christians of doing — he picks his “facts” and arguments for deliberate effect.
Newsweek’s cover story is exactly what happens when a writer fueled by open antipathy to evangelical Christianity tries to throw every argument he can think of against the Bible and its authority. To put the matter plainly, no honest historian would recognize the portrait of Christian history presented in this essay as accurate and no credible journalist would recognize this screed as balanced.
Oddly enough, Kurt Eichenwald’s attack on evangelical Christianity would likely be a measure more effective had he left out the personal invective that opens his essay and appears pervasively. He has an axe to grind, and grind he does.
But the authority of the Bible is not the victim of the grinding. To the contrary, this article is likely to do far more damage to Newsweek in its sad new reality. Kurt Eichenwald probably has little to lose among his friends at Vanity Fair, but this article is nothing less than an embarrassment. To take advantage of Newsweek’s title — it so misrepresents the truth, it’s a sin.
Mohler thinks Eichenwald has an axe to grind. And Mohler doesn’t? His weekly missives are one long lesson in the art of axe grinding. How about we all admit we each have axes to grind? Let’s look beyond what may be over the top characterizations by Eichenwald and deal with the one salient fact he makes clear; the Bible is a horribly misrepresented, misunderstood book. Most Christians are ignorant about the history of the Bible and its teachings. Most Christians spend very little time reading and studying the Bible. Even among Evangelicals, people who love to claim they are people of the Book, Bible literacy and serious study of the Bible is lacking.
I suspect Mohler yearns for the day when churches, pastors, colleges, and seminaries controlled the flow of information. Before the internet, people didn’t have access to websites that dismantle, discredit, and obliterate the arguments pastors and theologians make for the Bible and its teachings. Unbelief is on the rise, the none’s continue to grow, and Bart Ehrman’s books are New York Times bestsellers. Information about the history of the Bible and its teachings can no longer be contained within the four walls of the church or seminary.
The bigger problem is that Christians, especially of the Fundamentalist and Evangelical stripe, now know that their pastor has been lying to them. Their pastor knew that the Bible is not an infallible, inerrant, or inspired book, he knew it contained errors, mistakes, and contradictions, yet he hid these things from parishioners. Conscientious Christians are right to wonder about what else their pastor isn’t telling them? Maybe it is time to check out other expressions of faith that don’t denigrate people over their gender, sexuality, or politics.
The internet will be the death of Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity in America. Certainly Christianity will survive, but its future form will be much different from the Bible thumping days of the19th-20th century. Evangelicalism is dying. Mohler’s own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), continues to lose members. Actual church attendance and baptisms are in decline and the average congregation is filled with those over 50. On any given Sunday, over half of the people who are on the membership roll of a Southern Baptist church are nowhere to be found. (check the bed or the lake) SBC leaders fear they are losing a whole generation of young people. Instead of looking inward for the reason this is so, they blame it on American culture, Hollywood, emergent theology, etc. They seem unable to see that the real problem is irrelevance and an inability to answer the hard questions presented by science. Young adults continue to seek truth but they no longer look to the church for the answers.
Men like Al Mohler will continue to rage against the machine, blaming anyone and everyone but himself. At his funeral he will be eulogized as a stanch defender of the faith and the nursing home crowd in attendance will feebly say Amen.
Like everything that is of human construction, death, change, and rebirth are sure to come to American Christianity. It remains to be seen what Christianity will look like when my grandchildren are my age. That is, if the rapture hasn’t happened and carried all the real Christians® away.