Tag Archive: Sovereignty of God

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Unsaved People are Evil Regardless of What They Do

john piper

John Piper

Pastor John, hello! When something huge and good happens in a society — like a faulty government system is fixed, or slavery is abolished, or minorities are given more equal treatment, or anything of the like — is God secretly at work in that moment inspiring things to happen? What is God’s role in positive social changes?”

Christian Good

Well first, let’s be sure that we have a distinctively Christian view of the term “positive social change.” Whenever we’re talking about change among unbelievers, the term positive must always be qualified in our minds so that we don’t stop thinking like Christians and simply think like unbelievers.

Christians know that all so-called positive deeds done from a heart of unbelief, or disregard for the glory of God, or disregard for the eternal good of people, or disregard for reliance upon the mercies of God in Christ, those deeds — no matter how beneficial they are in the short run for our prosperity or health or freedom — still are acts of rebellion against God, so they are not positive in the ultimate sense.

I’m assuming that when Jim asks about God’s role in positive social change, he means change for the short-term benefits of people, like rising material standards of living and greater health and more safety and more freedom to act out our convictions, even if the short-term benefits for society are not accompanied by spiritual awakening or faith in Jesus. So, that’s the question I’m asking. What’s the role of God in those kinds of societal changes? That’s what I assume he’s asking.

….

Here’s my conclusion in answer to Jim’s question “What is God’s role in positive social change?”

God is always involved. He is always ultimate. He is always decisive. This of course means, as anyone would immediately infer, that he’s also ultimate and decisive over the so-called negative social changes as well.

God rules all things either by his positive agency, more or less directly causing things, or by permission, which is equally wise and equally purposeful, since God knows what everybody is going to do, and he permits them to do evil.

— John Piper, Desiring God, What Part Does God Play in Positive Social Change? September 24, 2018

God Has a Plan for My Life

jeremiah 29 11

I photograph a number of local high school sporting events. Of late, I have been shooting Friday night football games. It is not uncommon to see along the sidelines injured players dressed in street clothes, unable to suit up for that night’s game. Several weeks ago, I struck up a conversation with one such young man. Earlier this year, this boy had been in a serious car accident that nearly killed him. He showed me photographs of his car after the accident, and I was amazed that he walked away from the collision alive. I expressed my amazement to him, to which he replied, well it’s evident that God has a plan for my life. I nodded my head and then said, you’re one lucky guy.

Two weeks ago was his first game of the year. He saw limited action. Last Friday, he was actively involved in his teams thrilling victory. Unfortunately, with two or so minutes left in the game, he broke his arm, ending his season. I immediately thought about what he told me about God having a plan for his life. What kind of God “saves” someone from a gruesome auto accident only to turn right around and break his arm? You see, if, as Evangelicals allege, that God is sovereign and he controls everything, then the God that caused this boy’s car accident and then saved his life is the same God who put into motion the play that broke his arm and ended his season. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how Evangelicals rationalize God’s behavior. What kind of God behaves in such bizarre manners? I could spend days telling similar stories about Christian experiences with the God who has a “plan” for their lives; stories that illustrate that the Christian God behaves quite bizarrely towards his chosen people.

Evangelicals believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, and is everywhere. It is impossible to escape the reach of the Christian God. He is the creator of all things — the first cause, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. Nothing happens apart from his purpose, plan, and will. The Psalmist said of God in Psalm 139:

Whither shall I go from thy [God] spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them

It is for these reasons that Evangelicals believe their God has a plan for their lives. From the moment their fathers’ sperm united with their mothers’ egg until they draw their last breath, God is working everything in their lives according to his purpose and plan. This thinking is so deeply ingrained in Evangelicals that it is impossible for them to consider how irrational such thinking really is. Based on the aforementioned illustration, God causes car accidents but calls the tow truck company afterwards, and he breaks arms but makes sure to send EMS to transport the injured to the emergency room. It sure sounds to me as if God is the type of person who likes to break stuff so he can fix it. This is the type of father who loves causing his family pain and suffering so he can teach them a lesson. At the heart of the belief that God has a plan for their lives is the notion that God uses the bad things in life to test and try Christians. Unbelievers have bad things that happen in their life because that’s what happens to sinners who are in rebellion to God. He’s trying to get our attention, so we face all sorts of adversity, trial, suffering, and loss because God has a message for us: think this stuff I’m heaping upon your head is bad? An eternity in the Lake of Fire is far worse. Southern Baptist evangelist Rolfe Barnard said that such things are warning signs along the road of life meant to cause us to stop and ponder our spiritual condition. Next time you hear of non-Christians dying of cancer or some other dreaded disease, just remember God was trying to get their attention (or killing them for not paying attention).

We mustn’t question or doubt God’s motives in doing what he does. Such questions are considered blasphemy. The apostle Paul said in the book of Romans that the creator God has a right to do whatever he wants. After all, he made us, and if he wants to afflict us, then that’s his right. As created beings, we have no right to complain. Sometimes I think Evangelicalism is much like the HBO show Westworld; a world where humans (God) create hosts to do with what they will. These humans are free to do what they want to the hosts, with their behavior only limited by how perverse their thinking is. Much like the dystopian TV show (and movie) Purge, humans are left to act on their wants, desires, and impulses. While Christians would argue that God is loving and just and would never act as humans do on Westworld or Purge, any cursory examination of God’s behavior suggests otherwise. God’s actions often mimic those of psychopaths and sociopaths. God is much more like the unsubs on Criminal Minds — violent, capricious, and arbitrary.

proverbs 19 21

Sometimes I wonder if Christians say “God has a plan for my life” because that’s what they are expected to say. Repeat the company line, Evangelicals think to themselves. God’s name and character must never be besmirched or dragged through the mud. God must always be seen as the good guy; the one wearing the white hat; the loving, doting father who only wants what’s best for his children. Yet, one need only read the Bible to see that God is anything but; that he is a ruthless, vindictive deity who is willing to wipe out the entire human race because they broke his rules. Yes, the Bible says, God is love, but if we apply the rule of judging people by what they do and not what they say, God comes across as a hateful, mean-spirited son of a bitch.

I am well aware of the fact that most Christians construct a God in their own image, ignoring not only what the Bible says about their God but also the implications and consequences of their theology. God is whatever Christians want him to be. Progressive Christians ignore much of the Old Testament and focus on Bible verses that speak of God’s love, compassion, and faithfulness. Calvinists love the Old Testament and focus on verses that portray God as a stern, demanding authoritarian. Many Evangelicals, on the other hand, see God as their buddy, lover, or their best friend. God is whatever you want him to be. Isn’t that the beauty of Christianity and the Bible? You can take the Bible and make it say whatever you want it to. It pretty much can be used to prove almost anything. So it is when it comes to painting a picture of God. Believers focus on the attributes of God that appeal to them, molding and shaping him into their own image. All Christians do this. I know I did. How could it be otherwise? No one has ever seen God or spoken to him, so all any of us are left with is what the Bible says and how pastors and churches interpret it. God’s not going to audibly tell anyone what’s right or wrong, belief-wise, so individual Christians are left to their own devices to determine who God is and what they should believe about him. This is why there are thousands of Christian sects with millions of members, each with their own view of God and interpretation of the Bible.

Most Christians are what I would call nominal or cultural Christians. They affiliate with this or that brand of Christianity, yet they infrequently attend church, rarely support its work with their money, and seldom give serious thought to what it is they really believe. Most grew up in Christian homes raised by Christian parents who taught them the one true faith, even if the sum of that teaching was to tell them that their family was Christian/Baptist/Methodist/Catholic, etc. Most Christians believe because they have always believed; because their parents always believed; because their grandparents always believed, and so on. In this sense, the United States is a Christian nation. Yes, it is rapidly succumbing to secularism, but the fact remains that by and large we at the very least nominally embrace Christianity as our country’s religion. This cultural Christianity is so deeply ingrained into American thinking that it often corrupts our ability to see things as they are. This is why most Christians with nary a thought say God has a plan for their lives, even though the facts of their lives and American culture at large suggest otherwise. This is why I don’t generally correct people or challenge their thinking when they speak of God having a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious plan for their lives. While I wish the aforementioned boy would ponder what kind of God it is that causes car accidents and breaks arms, I realize most Americans aren’t into such deep thinking. In some warped and bizarre way, saying God has a plan for their lives gives Evangelicals comfort. Most of us want to think that our lives have meaning and purpose, and what better way to gain this than to say an invisible deity who has never been seen and has never spoken perfectly and lovingly controls our lives; so that when bad things happen we can explain them away by saying, God has a reason for this happening to me. Sadly, for many people, they can’t bear the harsh reality of a world governed by indifference; a world where shit happens. I can’t help but think of Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert. Eifert is a top shelf football player when healthy. Sadly, most of his young career has been marred by injuries. 2018 was to be the year when Eifert finally was healthy and ready to help lead the Bengals to the playoffs. On Sunday, Eifert unfortunately gruesomely broke his ankle and is done for the season. What should we make of Eifert’s injury? Is there any other explanation but one: shit happens?

As an atheist, I know that life is random and things happen for no other reason than bad or good luck. There is no grand plan, no blueprint for the future. Life is what it is, and all any of us can do is embrace and live with what comes our way. I am not suggesting that we have no control over our lives. I’m not a fatalist. I know that there is some connection between making good decisions and consequences. But, I also know that making good decisions can, at times, result in things turning out differently from how we expected them to. Again, shit happens. Rare is the day that we don’t have to deal with something not turning out as planned or something happening that we did not expect. If this is all God’s plan, he sure is schizophrenic. If there is no God, then the only plan we have is the one we make. And that’s the essence of the humanist ideal — a human-centered view and understanding of the world. As a humanist, I strive to understand my insignificant place in this world and what I can do to make better not only my life, but those of my family, friends, neighbors, and fellow earth dwellers. I know that human behavior has consequences. One need only look at global climate change (global warming) to see how human behavior materially affects the world we live in. One need only to investigate the consequences of Donald Trump’s trade war to see its harmfulness. The same can be said for countless political and social decisions made by politicians, bankers, and corporate executives. Much of what comes our way is beyond our control. All any of us can do is make responsible, thoughtful, informed decisions; hoping that in doing so, things will work out well for us. Thinking that a cosmic deity has some sort of master plan only complicates matters by shutting off critical thinking about life. Simplistically believing that God is in control of the universe and everything in it allows Evangelicals to faith-it or let-go-and-let-God. It’s the ultimate surrender of the will and abdication of personal responsibility — a refusal to accept reality. I refuse to live in such a world. I genuinely feel bad for the boy with the broken arm and I genuinely lament the loss of Tyler Eifert of the Cincinnati Bengals. I have no time for a fictional God; a deity who supposedly holds earth in the palm of his hand. Such thoughts bear no resemblance to what I can see with my eyes and know with my mind.

Did you grow up in a religious culture that made much of God having a plan for everyone’s life? Please share your experiences in the comment section; that is, if doing so is part of God’s plan for you.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

How Evangelicalism Distorts Reality and Causes Harm

john piper sleep

I recently talked to a high school football player about an accident he was in that almost killed him. I told him that he was one lucky guy to have survived the crash (he was t-boned by a woman who ran a stop sign). He replied, well God still has a plan for me! Polly’s Mom will soon have surgery for breast cancer. She has thrown herself into the arms of Jesus whom she believes will always take care of her and never leave or forsake her. Polly’s father went through hip replacement surgery two years ago, hoping that the surgery would ease his pain and increase his mobility. Instead, in what can only be described as an unmitigated disaster, Polly’s father will never walk more than a few steps again and is relegated to a wheelchair. When asked about his plight, he replies, this is all part of God’s plan. I am putting my faith and trust in Jesus, believing that all things will work out according to his plan. I have a dear Christian friend who has spent the past decade battling one affliction after another. This year, to add insult to injury, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. My friend has faced the indignity of losing her hair from chemotherapy/radiation treatments. Yet, no matter what comes her way, she knows that God will give her strength as he works out his plan in her life.

God is good all the time, Evangelicals say. He has a purpose and plan for everyone, and everything that happens in their lives is according to God’s divine script for their lives. And even when it comes to death, Evangelicals believe that God has appointed a date/time when they will die. No one comes into the world and no one leave this world unless God says they can. The Bible says:

See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand. (Deuteronomy 32:39)

Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. (Acts 17:25,28)

I am [Jesus] he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. (Revelation 1:18)

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: (Hebrews 9:27)

What makes things worse is that not only do Evangelicals believe that God has a purpose and plan for their lives, they also believe that no matter how much they suffer or face adversity, once they die, God will reward them with eternal life in Heaven. I call this the divine payoff. Revelation 21:4 says:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Evangelicals hang their hat on the belief that a perfect life awaits them after death. They will be reunited with their Christian loved ones and never again have to deal with non-Christians. A perfect world in every way, preachers say, one wherein dwells love, peace, and righteousness. It comes as no surprise then, that many Evangelicals just float through life, facing what comes their way with indifference, believing God will make all things new in the end and give them the desires of their hearts (hearts that have been changed by God).

The problem with this kind of fanciful thinking, of course, is that it is irrational. Evangelicals have no proof for their claims except to say, THE BIBLE SAYS! And therein lies the problem. Countless Christians believe the Bible is a supernatural text written by a supernatural God, and given to them to reveal the truth about life, death, and the afterlife. Evangelicals have no tangible evidence for these claims except to quote book, chapter, and verse. God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me, Evangelicals say about the Bible. Faith blinds them to reality and often leads to real-life, disastrous outcomes. I can’t help but think of my father-in-law. When the surgeon recommended hip replacement, Dad said yes, believing that God would work everything out according to his will. That the surgery was an epic failure is of no matter. Whatever happens is according to God’s sovereign, unknowable plan. Evangelicals are conditioned to never gripe or complain about anything. They are told to have faith, believing: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) The Apostle Paul said in Romans 9:20,21:

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?  Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

Don’t bitch, whine, or complain, Christians! God is on the job, and everything that happens in your lives is according to his script for your life. Buckle up and hang on. Those who make it to the ride’s end will be handsomely rewarded with pain-free eternal lives. Years ago, I heard Polly’s cousin, Evangelist David Young, say, there is coming a day when you will be glad you are a Christian! The Bibles does say, after all, that he that endureth to the end shall be saved. In the minds of Christians, there is coming a day when they will be vindicated and everything will be made new. Life on this side of the grave is viewed as insignificant, a mere moment in time when compared with millions of years of blessed, wonderful, atheist-free eternal life. This present life, then, is all about preparing to meet God face to face. According to James 4:14:

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

For us old-timers who attended school back in the day when buildings were heated with boilers, we can remember aimlessly watching the stream rise up from the radiators and dissipate on cold winter days. This aptly describes how Evangelicals are taught to view life.

If Christianity is anything, it is the religion of helplessness. The Christian song, I Can’t Even Walk Without You Holding my Hand perfectly illustrates this:

I thought number one
Would surely be me
I thought I could be
what I wanted to be
I thought I could build
on life’s sinking sand
but now I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand

I thought I could do a lot on my own
I thought I could make it all day long
I thought of myself as a mighty big man
but Lord I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand

O Lord I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand
the mountains too high
and the valleys too wide
down on my knees
that’s where I learned to stand
O Lord I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand

I think I’ll make Jesus my all and all
and if I’m in trouble
on his name I’ll call,
if I didn’t trust him
I’d be less of a man
cause Lord I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand

O Lord I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand
the mountains too high
and the valleys too wide
down on my knees
that’s where I learned to stand
cause Lord I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand

O Lord I can’t even walk
without you holding my hand

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In Acts 17:28, Paul says: For in him we live, and move, and have our being …

Millions and millions of Christians believe that they couldn’t breathe or walk without God giving them the power and strength to do so. In 2016, the late Billy Graham wrote:

Did you ever stop to ask yourself where you got the inner strength to overcome these problems? Yes, I realize you probably take credit for it—but in reality, God made you, and He was the One who gave you the ability to do it. In other words, without God’s unseen help you would have been helpless.

Why, then, do you find it so hard to admit you need God, or to turn to Him when you face something you don’t know how to handle (as you inevitably will)? There may be several reasons—but the basic reason can be summed up in one word: pride. Pride makes you want to take all the credit for the things you’ve been able to accomplish, and pride also makes you want to do everything on your own.

But pride can be a very dangerous thing, blinding us to our faults and cutting us off from others. Pride also can lead us into doing things that are wrong, because we think they’ll make us greater or more powerful. The Bible warns, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

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John Piper had this to say about Christian helplessness:

Suppose you are totally paralyzed and can do nothing for yourself but talk. And suppose a strong and reliable friend promised to live with you and do whatever you needed done. How could you glorify this friend if a stranger came to see you?

Would you glorify his generosity and strength by trying to get out of bed and carry him? No! You would say, “Friend, please come lift me up, and would you put a pillow behind me so I can look at my guest? And would you please put my glasses on for me?”

And so your visitor would learn from your requests that you are helpless and that your friend is strong and kind. You glorify your friend by needing him, and by asking him for help, and counting on him.

In John 15:5, Jesus says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” So we really are paralyzed. Without Christ, we are capable of no Christ-exalting good. As Paul says in Romans 7:18, “Nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.”

Such thinking distorts reality and can cause great harm. Christians beg and plead with God for deliverance from “sin,” believing that God will give them victory over their transgressions. And when they fall or run into the same “sin” again? Why, 1 John 1:9 covers it all: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. All helpless Evangelicals need to do is confess their “sins” and God wipes their slate clean. Their helplessness breeds codependency. Evangelicals are never told that they have the power to change their ways. Want to stop looking at porn? Stop looking a porn. Want to stop being an abusive spouse? Change your ways. But instead of taking personal responsibility for bad behavior and changing their ways, Evangelicals cast all their “sins” and burdens at the feet of Jesus, crying, LORD I AM HELPLESS. PLEASE HELP ME. Such thinking breeds infantilism. Poor, helpless Christians caught in an endless cycle of repentance and forgiveness never develop the resolve to change their ways. And Jesus the drug dealer likes them this way — hooked on helpless pleading for forgiveness.

This kind of thinking is rooted in the teachings of the Bible. Whatever it says, Evangelicals say, is true. If God says Christians are helpless without him, that means they are helpless. God has spoken, end of story. As long as the followers of Jesus give the Bible undue, unwarranted influence over their lives, they will continue to be helpless. The Christian God doesn’t heal mental cripples, he makes them. In fact, God wants Christians to totally depend on him. If Christians wake up and realize they DON’T need God to live their lives, I suspect that many of the “sins” (bad behaviors) they struggle with will find resolution. The burden of change rests on us. Yes, change is hard, but it is possible if we truly put our mind to it. Begging and pleading with God accomplishes nothing. How can it, right? At best, the Creator is a deistic entity who isn’t involved in the ministrations of men. It’s far more likely, however, that we are on our own, and if we want to change it is up to us to do so.

How did Christian beliefs about the nature and helpless of man distort reality in your life? Did these beliefs cause harm, not only to yourself, but to others? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Not My Will, But Yours, Evangelicals Say to Their God

free will

Evangelicals, regardless of their peculiar theological beliefs, all believe that the Christian God is the one true God, and that he, as the creator of all things, is the giver of life, and is sovereign and in control of all things. While some theologically ignorant Evangelicals will argue that humans have unrestricted free will and are thus totally responsible for their own actions, a careful reading of the Bible makes it clear that God rules and reigns over all, and there is nothing that happens apart from his will. Calvinists and Arminians love argue about free will and whether once a person is saved he can ever fall from grace, but both agree that God determines who is saved and what happens in our lives. It is God, through the merit and work of Jesus Christ, who saves sinners from their sins. No one can save themselves. Evangelicals deny that there is anything such as luck or circumstance. Things happen because God wants them to happen, and no amount of work or objection can change God’s plan. From the election of political leaders to the very air we breathe, God is in control.

In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus commands his followers to pray in this manner:

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Christians are to pray for God’s will to be done in earth as it is in heaven. Jesus illustrated this command in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed:

O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:39)

O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. (Matthew 26:42)

Those of us raised in Evangelical churches have heard people say countless times, not my will, Lord, but yours be done. Such utterances are statements of faith rooted in the belief that God has a perfect plan for everyone’s life; and Christians are duty-bound to fully and passively submit to this plan. God’s machinations are never to be questioned or doubted. The apostle Paul in Romans 9 told those who would dare to question God choosing to only save certain people (the elect):

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

Simply put, Paul is saying the critics of God’s purpose and plan should shut the fuck up; that God is the creator of all things and he has the absolute right to do whatever he wants.

Throughout the New Testament, Paul reminds Christians of the importance of dying to self; of crucifying the flesh; of giving oneself totally, completely, and without reservation to God. Christians are commanded to give themselves as living sacrifices to God. In the Old Testament, God’s people are reminded that Jehovah’s thoughts are not their thoughts and his ways are not their ways. In other words, Christians might think that a certain action is right, when in fact it is not; that God has a higher purpose, plan, and agenda that cannot be understood by mere humans. Instead of trying to understand why this or that is happening in their lives, followers of Jesus are commanded to blindly believe that their God is working out everything in their lives according to his purpose or plan. No matter what happens, believers are told, God only wants what’s best for you. A church not far from my home has emblazoned on his building the words, God is good all the time. For these believers, God’s actions must never be questioned. Romans 8:28 says: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

How do Evangelicals know what the will of God is? Generally, the sources for determining God’s will are thus:

  • The Bible
  • The leadership of the Holy Spirit who lives inside of every believer
  • The counsel of mature followers of Jesus
  • The alignment of circumstances that are such that there is no doubt that God is behind what is happening

I was a part of the Christian church for fifty years, and I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five of those years. I know a good bit about submitting oneself to the will of God, and I watched countless Evangelicals suss out God’s will for their lives. I found that in almost every circumstance, God’s will coincided with what people wanted to do. Christians love to gussy up their decisions with spiritual sounding statements such as; yielding to Christ, following in his footsteps, etc., but no matter how the picture is painted, one fact remains: God’s will and human desire are one and the same. As a pastor, I made numerous decisions that I believed were the result of God’s leadership. I stood before church congregations and told them that I believed this or that — buying property, starting a new program, stopping an old program, buying a copier, purchasing a bus, starting the school, to name a few — was the will of God. How did I know that these things were the will of God? Because it seemed the right thing to do at the time; or it was something that I wanted to do.

I wish Evangelicals would be honest about their decision-making process. It’s evident to anyone who is paying attention that Evangelicals make decisions just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world do. Whatever the factors might be that affect and influence our decisions, the fact remains that we do what we want to do. Think of this post as a sermon. Thousands of Evangelical pastors will stand behind pulpits on Sunday and preach what they believe God has laid upon their hearts. Some of them might even tell parishioners that they wanted to preach a different sermon, but God commanded them to preach this sermon. These preachers will lead congregants to believe that their sermons come from God, and that they are preaching their sermons because God’s will demands it. Thus, any objections to what these preachers are saying are viewed as challenges to God’s will. All of us have had social media experiences with Bible thumpers who dump a bunch of Bible verses on our wall. When we object to their proof texting, they respond, your problem is with God, not me. God said it, I didn’t. As an atheist, I delivered this sermon (post) because I wanted to and I thought it might be helpful to people with questions and doubts about Evangelical Christianity. When Evangelical preachers deliver their sermons, the small print says: I, God, approve of this message. When Bruce the atheist preacher delivers his sermon, there is no small print. The words I write and speak our mine, and mine alone. While certainly my writing is influenced by my past and present experiences, I claim no higher authority than self. I write, say, and do what I want. And so it is with Evangelical Christians, whether or not they are willing to admit it. The reason I know this to be true is that the Christian God is a mythical being, and so talk of God’s will or God leading is — how do the British put it? — poppycock. The only voice whispering in the ears of Evangelicals is their own. No God, no Holy Spirit, no Satan.

I’m sure more than a few Evangelical readers will be outraged over what I’ve written here. For those upset over this post, I ask you: how do you know that it is God leading or speaking to you? What evidence do you have for your claim that you are following the will of God? What evidence do you have for the voice your head being anything other than your own wants, needs, and desires? And if everything happens to God’s purpose and plan, does that include me writing this post? If God really is the sovereign of the universe, does he control what I say and do?

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Why I Became a Calvinist — Part Five

sovereignty-of-god

In the previous posts in this series, I have talked a lot about the doctrines of grace, also known as the five points of Calvinism. Today, I want to talk about the sovereignty of God — the singular, overarching belief that binds Calvinistic theology together. What do Calvinists mean when they speak of the sovereignty of God? If there’s one book that every newly minted Calvinist has likely read — no, it’s not the Bible — it would be A.W. Pink’s classic, The Sovereignty of God. Since this book is widely accepted as the definitive Calvinistic statement on the sovereignty of God, I thought I would let Pink define the doctrine:

The Sovereignty of God. What do we mean by this expression? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the godhood of God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.

….

The Sovereignty of the God of Scripture is absolute, irresistible, infinite. When we say that God is Sovereign we affirm His right to govern the universe which He has made for His own glory, just as He pleases. We affirm that His right is the right of the Potter over the clay, i. e., that He may mold that clay into whatsoever form He chooses, fashioning out of the same lump one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor. We affirm that He is under no rule or law outside of His own will and nature, that God is a law unto Himself, and that He is under no obligation to give an account of His matters to any.

Sovereignty characterizes the whole Being of God. He is Sovereign in all His attributes. He is Sovereign in the exercise of His power. His power is exercised as He wills, when He wills, where He wills. This fact is evidenced on every page of Scripture.

Simply put, saying God is sovereign means that He alone is responsible for and controls EVERYTHING! Of course, such a statement quickly leads to the critics of Calvinism saying, so God is culpable for sin? Calvinists have all sorts of arguments they use to get around this logical conclusion, including answering in the affirmative — Yes, God is responsible for sin. If God is sovereign and he decrees all that happens without exception, then the only conclusion one can come to is that God is responsible for sin. So what? some Calvinists say. God is God and he can do whatever he wants to do. Whatever God does is right because it is God who is doing it.  When objections are raised, Calvinists reply, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways. In other words, he is God, the creator and we are the created. He is the potter, as the book of Romans says, and we are the clay. God can and does do whatever he wants, and as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 9, those who object to God’s sovereignty need to shut the hell up (okay, he didn’t say it like that word for word, but you get my point). As finite beings, mankind has no right to criticize or condemn God’s works.

When I first came to know and understand the sovereignty of God, I was relieved. For the longest time, I carried the burden of building a church congregation on my shoulders. While God was certainly there right along beside me, I knew it was up to me to get things done. As a Calvinist, I no longer felt pressured to get this or that done; that if God wanted me to do something he would bring it to pass; that if God didn’t want something done there was absolutely nothing I could do. Now, in retrospect, I know that only way anything gets done is if I do it. I suspect that’s how it works for you in your life too. And Calvinism aside, a case can be made for taking this approach to life; that praying and “waiting” on God often become camouflage for laziness and indifference.

As the sovereignty of God permeated every aspect of my ministerial and personal life, how I approached things began to change. The first thing I did away with was giving altar calls — a manipulative tool popularized by nineteenth century evangelist Charles Finney. The second thing I did was turn my attention away from aggressive evangelistic efforts. Instead, I focused more of my time on my studies; on preparing my sermons; on preparing lessons for Sunday school and, later, an elders’ class. As I mentioned in a previous post, I set my sights on un-saving congregants who had been saved during my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) days. I believed that I had been preaching a truncated, bastardized version of the Christians gospel, so it was my solemn duty to preach the Calvinistic gospel. I learned, after six years of such efforts at one church, that it is much harder to get people un-saved than it is to get them saved. The third thing I did was breatheGod is in control, I told myself. No need to stress out over winning the lost. If God wanted them saved, well he would save them. My job was to preach the gospel.

During my early years as a Calvinist, I read John MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus. In this book, MacArthur demolished my IFB soteriology. MacArthur believed: “The gospel call to faith presupposes that sinners must repent of their sin and yield to Christ’s authority.” IFB pastors generally believed that a person could be saved, yet not make Jesus Lord of their lives. The crux of the argument was whether sinners had to repent of their sins to be saved. Many IFB preachers believed in what Calvinists called decisional regeneration; the belief that by praying a simple prayer a sinner was saved. Requiring sinners to repent of their sins was, in the eyes of many IFB preachers, works salvation. MacArthur would not have any of that, saying that the lordship of Christ was not optional; that if a person was not willing to forsake his sin and totally follow Jesus there would be no salvation for him. (See One, Two, Three, Repeat After me; Salvation, Bob Gray Style.)

One story that stands out from this time is a written interaction I had with Curtis Hutson, editor of the Sword of the Lord — an IFB newspaper. Previous to Hutson, John R. Rice was the editor of the Sword. Rice had written in a tract titled What Must I Do to Be Saved? that sinners had to repent of their sins to be saved. No repentance, no salvation. Hutson, after taking over the Sword, decided to rewrite the part in the tract that talked about repentance. Hutson, like many of the big name IFB preachers of the day, believed that repentance was a mere change of mind: I was against Jesus and now I am for him; I was headed east and now I am headed west; I was a sinner and now I believe in Jesus. Men such as Jack Hyles and Bob Gray, Sr. turned this intellectual assent into an art form. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people prayed the sinner’s prayer, believing that by doing so they became Christians. No mention of repenting of sin was mentioned. To do so was to preach works salvation. And that’s exactly what Curtis Hutson told me when I wrote him. I called him out on his secretive change of Rice’s tract. I told Hutson that he materially changed what Rice believed; that Rice’s gospel and his gospel were not the same. Hutson responded by telling me that I was preaching works salvation, a gospel that did not save.

Rice was no Calvinist, but he did believe that repentance was essential to salvation. If a person was not willing to forsake his sin and follow after Jesus, there would be no salvation for him. Back in my college days, I went door to door attempting to evangelize sinners. My goal was to share with them the simple plan of salvation (The Roman’s Road) and ask them if they wanted to be saved. If so, I asked them to pray the sinner’s prayer. (See The Top Five Reasons People Say the Sinner’s Prayer.) Once they prayed the prayer, I declared them to be a newly-minted Christian. One day, I happened upon a woman I thought might need saving. As I started to go into my spiel, she — realizing I was one of those terrorist preacher boys from Midwestern Baptist College — stopped me and said, there’s no need for you to continue. I already did that. I asked her where she went to church and she replied, nowhere. I am saved now. Why do I need to go to church? Men such as Hyles, Gray, Sr, Dennis Corle, Hutson, Steven Anderson, and countless other IFB preachers believe that this woman, if she “sincerely” prayed the sinner’s prayer, was saved, a new-born child of God. Rice, MacArthur, and the now Calvinistic Bruce Gerencser believed the woman was still dead in trespasses and sins, and headed for hell unless she repented of her sins and followed after the Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

As a Calvinist, I believed that sinners were spiritually dead, unable to believe without God giving them the ability to do so. Man was bound by sin, and unable to do anything about it unless God intervened. This intervention was called regeneration; the giving of life to dead sinners. For most (not all) Calvinists, regeneration preceded faith. Since unregenerate humans had no free will and were spiritually dead, it was impossible for them to believe on their own. As an IFB preacher, I believed faith preceded regeneration; that spiritual life came when a sinner, by faith, asked Jesus to save them. As a Calvinist, my response to this notion was this: how can a dead man do anything?

My goal, then, as a Calvinistic preacher, was to preach the gospel in the hope that what I preached would find fertile ground in the hearts given life by the Holy Spirit. As an IFB preacher, so much of how people were saved depended on me: the right sermon, the right illustrations, the right delivery, the right invitation song. As a Calvinist, my objective was to simply preach the gospel; to declare the whole counsel of God. If sinners were going to be saved it was up to God, not me.

Numerically speaking, hundreds and hundreds of people were saved through my ministry and preaching as an IFB preacher. As a Calvinist, I saw a few people saved. As an IFB preacher, I expected people to be saved weekly. As a Calvinist, I found that months and months could pass without anyone saying that God had saved them. This, by the way, is typical. IFB churches tend to rack up large numbers of converts, whereas in Calvinistic churches conversions are few. IFB churches tend to focus on quantity, and Calvinistic churches on quality. Which is better? It all depends on what matters to a preacher. Does he want big attendance numbers, or does he value the intellectual growth of congregants?

Let me illustrate this difference with what is commonly called The Great Commission:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19,20)

IFB churches tend to focus on verse 19: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The goal is to preach the gospel to the whole world. Calvinistic churches, on the other hand, tend to focus on verse 20: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. The goal is to teach followers of Christ his commandments. Rare is the church that fulfills both parts of the Great Commission.

As I survey my years in the ministry, I have to say that my Calvinistic years were far more rewarding personally and intellectually. I enjoyed the hard work required for crafting good sermons. I enjoyed spending hours upon hours reading books and studying the Bible.  As an IFB preacher, my life was consumed with the ministry, with winning souls, with building a growing church. As a Calvinist, I was content to be the resident intellectual; a man paid to study the Bible and read awesome books. I still cared about the souls of attendees and church members, but I no longer felt pressed to perform. Above all, as a Calvinist, I found that I had more time to spend with my wife and children.

In Part Six, I plan to write about how Calvinism affected my marriage and my relationship with my children. In particular, I plan to talk about birth control and family size. There’s a reason Polly and I have six children and why there’s six years between child number three and child number four and why we stopped having children after our youngest son was born. Stay tuned.

Note

For you who are interested in the difference between Rice’s version of the tract What Must I Do to Be Saved? and Curtis Hutson’s:

John R Rice wrote:

Does not the Bible say that we must repent? Yes, the Bible plainly says that “God … commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30), and again, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5).

This was the preaching of John the Baptist, of Jesus, of Peter and of Paul, that men should repent. And certainly repentance is in God’s plan of salvation. The trouble here, however, is that men misunderstand what repentance means, and there has grown up an idea that repentance means a period of weeping and mourning over sin, or sorrow for sins. This idea comes from the Douay Version of the Bible which instead of “repent” says “do penance.”

So the place of inquiry, where people should be taught the plan of salvation from the Bible, in revival meetings, became “the mourner’s bench” and thousands of people have been taught that God would not hear their prayer nor forgive their sins until they went through a process of sorrow and mourning over their sins!

Do not misunderstand me. God is anxious for you to have a penitent, broken heart over your sins. You have gone away from God. You have trampled under foot the blood of Jesus Christ, wasted years of your life which you can never live over again. You have served your father, the Devil.

There is plenty for you to weep over, and I am not surprised if you feel deep shame and sorrow in your heart that you have so mistreated the God who made you and the Saviour who died for you. I am not surprised if you cannot keep back the tears! But what I want you to know is that tears or no tears, however much sorrow you may have in your heart, or not have, those things do not save you.

You ought to be sorry for your sins and ashamed of them. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance” (II Cor. 7:10)—the right kind of sorrow leads to immediate repentance, but mourning is not itself repentance.

“Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no respite know,
These for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.”

To repent literally means to have a change of mind or spirit toward God and toward sin. It means to turn from your sins, earnestly, with all your heart, and trust in Jesus Christ to save you. You can see, then, how the man who believes in Christ repents and the man who repents believes in Christ. The jailer repented when he turned from sin to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Curtis Hutson changed the tract to this:

Does not the Bible say that we must repent? Yes, the Bible plainly says that “God … commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30), and again, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). This was the preaching of John the Baptist, of Jesus, of Peter and of Paul, that men should repent. And certainly repentance is God’s plan of salvation. The trouble here, however, is that men misunderstand what repentance means, and there has grown up an idea that repentance means a period of weeping and mourning over sin, or sorrow for sins. This idea comes from the Douay Version of the Bible which instead of “repent” says “do penance.” So the place of inquiry, where people should be taught the plan of salvation from the Bible, in revival meetings, became “the mourner’s bench” and thousands of people have been taught that God would not hear their prayer nor forgive their sins until they went through a process of sorrow and mourning over their sins! The right kind of sorrow leads to immediate repentance, but mourning is not itself repentance.

Other posts on the Sovereignty of God

Is God Sovereign and Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

Luck, Fate, or Providence?

Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

About Bruce Gerencser

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

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

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

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

Man Faces Harsh Reality of Calvinism

I found the following post on a public Calvinistic discussion forum. Many of us who used to be Evangelicals/Calvinists understand the psychological angst this man is going through as he takes Christianity/Calvinism to its logical conclusion. If God is sovereign, the first cause, the creator of every everything, and nothing happens apart from his purpose and plan, then it is reasonable to conclude that the Christian God created sin, created hell, and created billions of people he intended to torture in the Lake of Fire for eternity. Apologists for Calvinism go to great lengths to explain these conclusions, but I find their explanations to be little more than the ass-covering Sarah Huckabee Sanders gives Donald Trump — empty lies. If God is who and what Calvinists say he is, then Calvinists most own the aforementioned conclusions. Either that or write a 666-page book defending the Big Kahunah’s honor.

did god create hell

If God is so Powerful, Why Can’t He Stop Christians From Committing Heinous Crimes?

Evangelicals believe that their God is all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful. He is the sovereign of the universe, and nothing happens apart from his purpose, decree, and plan. God sets up kingdoms and takes them down; thus Donald Trump is the president of the United States because God wanted him to be. It’s God, not humans, who ultimately elects people to office. He is the divine ballot box stuffer. This same God is the giver and taker of life. No one dies before the time God has appointed for his or her death. Wherever man roams, the Christian God is found. According to Evangelicals, humans cannot escape God. He is e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.

If these things are true, I’d love for a Christian to explain to me why it is that God can’t stop his followers from committing heinous crimes? Appealing to free will or sin won’t work. Why? God is in control of everything. If he is in control of everything, then that includes sin. If he is the sovereign over the universe, and nothing happens apart from his purpose, decree, and plan, what does that say about the notion of free will?  If humans truly have free will and can choose as they please, this means that God is not in control; that God’s plans can be frustrated by human volition. (Let the theological wrangling and justifications begin.) Well Bruce, you have to understand ____________. Actually, I don’t. All I am doing here is taking what Christians say at face value. If God is whom Evangelicals say he is, and has the power they say he does, this means that God is culpable for what happens day after day on this dying planet of ours.

Let me ask again, why can’t God stop his followers from committing heinous crimes? If, as Evangelicals assert, God, the Holy Spirit, lives in all believers and is their teacher and guide, why do Christians commit vile, horrendous crimes? Take Matthew Phelps, who stabbed his Christian wife over a hundred times. Explain how a Bible college-trained preacher could commit such a crime. Explain how it is that the news daily reports stories about Evangelical “men of God” committing adultery, stealing church funds, raping teenagers, and sexually molesting children. Why doesn’t Jehovah stop these God-called, Spirit-filled, Bible-reading, praying servants of his from committing these crimes (and others that aren’t reported). Is it that God can’t; that he is powerless to do so? Is it that humans do what humans do, and there is nothing God can do to keep them from doing so? It seems to me, based on an ever-increasing mountain of evidence, that if there is a God who created everything, he is an idle bystander, unwilling or unable to lift a finger to keep his followers from sodomizing boys, sexually assaulting little girls, and preying on adult women.

There was a time when Evangelicals could argue that criminals such as David Hyles or Bob Gray (Jacksonville, Florida) were outliers; that pastors, evangelists, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, deacons, and bus workers who commit crimes are as rare as a dodo bird sighting. Thanks to the internet and the willingness of victims to publicly share their stories, we now know the Evangelicals have just as big of a crime problem as the Catholic church does. And even before the internet, there was gossip about this or that preacher being arrested or run out of his church. Solomon was right when said there is nothing new under the sun.

Evangelical church leaders love to rail against the world and its “sins,” yet these same behaviors are found among the fraternity. Does anyone really believe that Ted Haggard and Jack Hyles are the exceptions to the rule; that yes, preachers can and do commit crimes, but such behavior is rarely found in Evangelical houses of God? I remember a day when Evangelicals thundered against the sins of the world — fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and divorce. Look at our strong, lifelong marriages, pastors would say. Look at our moral purity. We owe it all to JESUS!  Now we know better. Evangelical pastors and their congregants sin just as much as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. We know that pastors are not the pillars of virtue they claim to be: that they have sex with women to whom they are not married, and surf porn sites just like their counterparts in the world. (Please read Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?)

It seems, then, that Evangelicals aren’t any different from the rest of us; that all their talk about being new creations in Christ Jesus is just that, talk. Now, this doesn’t mean that Christianity is worthless. People find purpose, meaning, and community through religion. That said, I do wonder if pastors stood before their congregations and said, God is not who and what we claim he is and we are just as fucked up as the rest of the world, what would happen? If the notion of a personal, caring God is destroyed, what’s left for Christians besides Grandma Mary’s cherry pie? If there is no difference morally between the saved and the lost, where does that leave Christianity?

Of course — thanks to cognitive dissonance — my words will be loudly and roundly rejected. There is machinery to maintain and gears to grease. There are offerings to collect and souls to save. Evangelicals dare not let reality get in the way of perpetuating the myth — that Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

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.

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

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

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

“God is With You,” says Sioux Center Christian School Principal Josh Bowar to Students Molested by Curtis Van Dam

god the child molester

Note: As you will soon see, I was very angry when I wrote this post — the eighth post today dealing with sexual/financial misconduct by clergy and church leaders. Day after day, these kind of stories show up in my email in-box. I often feel dirty, disgusted, and depressed after reading them. Is there no end to the predatory behavior of Christian clergy? That’s a rhetorical question. The answer, of course, is no. What makes these stories worse is the fact they are often covered up, explained away, or coated with Grade A religious bullshit. I started the Black Collar Crime series in March. Since then, I have posted almost 250 stories. These reports are but the tip of the iceberg. Most sexual abuse goes unreported. As we are learning with Hollywood’s sexual harassment/abuse/rape scandal, men (and it is almost always men) with power and authority over children and women can and will use that power to satisfy their perverse desires. What makes Evangelical and Catholic scandals worse is the fact that pastors, priests, and other church leaders are naively viewed as pillars of morality and virtue. People, especially children, implicitly trust clerics and church leaders, and these degenerates take that trust and use it harm their charges. 

Curtis Van Dam, a fifth-grade teacher at Sioux Center Christian School in Sioux Center, Iowa, was arrested and charged with sexually molesting numerous students. The Globe Gazette reports:

An elementary teacher at Sioux Center Christian School arrested last month for committing a lascivious act with a student at the school has been charged with an additional 84 counts of sexual abuse involving “numerous” children, police said Wednesday.

Curtis Van Dam, 35, of Sioux Center, was arrested Oct. 23 after a complaint was lodged against him five days earlier for inappropriate conduct with a student.

The latest charges are tied to incidents that occurred over a four-year period, between August 2013 and last month. Van Dam now faces 101 felonies and 39 misdemeanors.

The felonies include 72 counts of second-degree abuse, 12 counts of third-degree sexual abuse, 14 counts of sexual exploitation by a teacher, and three counts of lascivious acts with a child.

The alleged acts took place at various locations, including the private school, the release said.Police Chief Paul Adkins said the investigation is continuing, and additional charges are possible. Adkins declined to identify the number of alleged victims or their ages.

Van Dam, a fifth-grade teacher at the school, was fired following his arrest last month.

Police searched Van Dam’s residence on Oct. 21, two days before his arrest. He is booked into the Sioux County Jail.

Van Dam started teaching at the school after he graduated from Dordt College in 2004.

Sioux Center Christian School was founded in 1905. According to the school’s website, the school has 509 students in grades K-8 for the 2017-18 school year.
In a statement, the school said it removed Van Dam from the school immediately after hearing the initial complaint and terminated him on Oct. 19. The case, the school said, is now “in the hands of our criminal justice system and we trust that justice will be served.

….

Evidently, no one, not even God, knew that Van Dam was preying on school children for FOUR FUCKING YEARS. Josh  Bowar, the principal at Sioux Center Christian had this to say to the children abused by Van Dam:

Kids, we want you to know that we consider you brave for telling your parents, the police, and the interviewers what happened to you.  We praise God that your testimony has brought to light a dark secret that none of us adults knew was there. Please know that thousands are lifting you before the throne of your Father in heaven…. Trust Him to restore you completely.

Sioux Center Christian is a Reformed institution. These institutions’ philosophy is such that they believe that Van Dam’s heinous behavior was decreed (or permitted) by the sovereign, all-knowing God of John Calvin (and yes, I know all the arguments Calvinists use to escape the logical conclusion of their deterministic theology). A statement put out by Bowar states:

We have been told from the beginning that additional charges for a former teacher at Sioux Center Christian would be coming. Today, Mr. Curt Van Dam, was charged with 101 felonies and 39 misdemeanors. We have been informed that he was arrested this afternoon. On Oct 18, within hours of hearing a complaint, school officials removed Mr. Van Dam from the school and immediately contacted authorities. His employment was terminated on Oct 19 and we have been in full cooperation with civil authorities since. This case is in the hands of our criminal justice system and we trust that justice will be served.

Though the number of charges do not necessarily reflect the number of students, we are grieved again as we hear the extent of the charges. We’ve wept, now it’s time to weep again. We’ve prayed, now we need to continue praying. We’ve brought our anger and fears to the Lord, and now we need to lay those feelings again at His feet. We need to remember that though the charges are many, it also means that many students are no longer carrying secrets. Kids, we want you to know that we consider you brave for telling your parents, the police, and the interviewers what happened to you. We praise God that your testimony has brought to light a dark secret that none of us adults knew was there. You have played an important role in keeping others safe. Please know that thousands are lifting you before the throne of your Father in heaven… trust Him to restore you completely.

Our focus at Sioux Center Christian continues to be the Christ-centered education of our students, while also providing daily support and guidance to students as needed through their teachers and professional counselors. Tonight, there is a parent group session with All Things New Therapy Services. It is at 6:30pm in our gym for parents. Next Wednesday, Nov. 15, we will have a parent/5th – 8th grade student opportunity with Pastor Aaron & Nicole Baart at 6:30pm in our gym.
We are planning additional specialized support for our students in the months ahead and for as long as it takes. If this news especially hurts because you have suffered or are suffering abuse, we encourage you to bring it out of the realm of secrecy, so that it loses its powerful grip on you. We encourage you to talk to a professional Christian counselor.

We know hearing these new charges is incredibly painful and heartbreaking, but we need to be reminded again that we are walking this road of pain, so that another child need not. In the midst of this hurt, we proclaim hope. Hope in our sovereign God, who is so very trustworthy and true in His promises of life and healing. He gave His only Son, who lived as one of us, died on the cross, rose again, and reigns on high, so that we could enjoy eternal life in Christ’s unfolding Kingdom. As a community of people bound together by our love and care for kids, let us persevere through the trials that lay before us. This will be an enduring process but we rest in our Living Hope, Jesus Christ. Let’s continue to pray and encourage one another. We have been overwhelmed by the love and support shown by our entire community and beyond …you have done more for us than words can define. Be assured that God is good and He is at work mightily in this school. Thank you for your continued prayers and support.

Below was not part of our public statement, but we want to share this with those who read the statement. We have all experienced comfort and assurance through Scripture and in songs of faith during this trying time. Here is one Bible verse that has been especially encouraging to us:

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:6-9

This is, of course, a horrible story. I find it hard to believe that NO ONE had any suspicions about Van Dam’s predatory behavior. Not one person questioned Van Dam’s behavior? Not one child complained? Not one parent wondered if Van Dam’s was up to no good?

Bowar offered the abused children thoughts, prayers, and Christian counseling. The thoughts and prayers are worthless, little more than empty religious platitudes meant to make adults feel better about allowing a sexual predator to run wild at Sioux Christian. And the Christian counseling? This allows the school to keep the matter in-house. Students will be counseled according to Biblical principles, with, I suspect, a healthy dose of Calvinistic thinking. Will these counselors tell the children the truth; that their abuse at the hands of their teacher was all part of God’s plan for their lives; that God was “with” them through every disgusting, vile act perpetrated by Van Dam.

I wonder if anyone will dare to ask the question,WHERE WAS GOD when Van Dam was violating these children? And while you are at it, explain to these precious children why an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing God stood by and watched — doing nothing — while their innocence was ripped away. Shouldn’t God be held accountable for his indifference?

Of course, God didn’t intervene because he couldn’t — he doesn’t exist. Religion might provide a temporary salve to soothe these wounded children, but there is coming a day, perhaps years from now when they are adults, that those abused by Van Dam will have to wrestle with the things done to them by their Christian school teacher. Perhaps then, far away from the empty words of Josh Bowar, they will find healing. I hope they will seek out competent counselors who put them, and not God, first.

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.

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

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

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

Sutherland Springs Massacre: God Answered the Victims Prayers by Allowing Them to be Murdered

hans fiene

Hans Fiene, pastor of River of Life Lutheran Church in Channahon, Illinois (affiliated with the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, a Fundamentalist sect) believes that the twenty-six Baptists murdered at a Sutherland Springs, Texas church service were killed because God was answering their prayers to be “delivered from evil.”  Writing for the website The FederalistFiene stated:

It’s also an act of profound ignorance [to say that prayer doesn’t work]. For those with little understanding of and less regard for the Christian faith, there may be no greater image of prayer’s futility than Christians being gunned down mid-supplication. But for those familiar with the Bible’s promises concerning prayer and violence, nothing could be further from the truth. When those saints of First Baptist Church were murdered yesterday, God wasn’t ignoring their prayers. He was answering them.

“Deliver us from evil.” Millions of Christians throughout the world pray these words every Sunday morning. While it doesn’t appear that the Lord’s Prayer is formally a part of the worship services at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, I have no doubt that members of that congregation have prayed these words countless times in their lives.

When we pray these words, we are certainly praying that God would deliver us from evil temporally—that is, in this earthly life. Through these words, we are asking God to send his holy angels to guard us from those who would seek to destroy us with knives and bombs and bullets. It may seem, on the surface, that God was refusing to give such protection to his Texan children. But we are also praying that God would deliver us from evil eternally. Through these same words, we are asking God to deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.

We also pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God’s will be done. Sometimes, his will is done by allowing temporal evil to be the means through which he delivers us from eternal evil. Despite the best (or, more accurately, the worst) intentions of the wicked against his children, God hoists them on their own petard by using their wickedness to give those children his victory, even as the wicked often mock the prayers of their prey.

….

Because of Christ’s saving death and resurrection, death no longer has any power over those who belong to him through faith. So the enemies of the gospel can pour out their murderous rage upon Christians, but all they can truly accomplish is placing us into the arms of our savior.

….

Despite the horror that madman made the saints of First Baptist endure, those who endured it with faith in Christ have received his victory. Although the murderer filled their eyes with terror, God has now filled them with his glory. Although he persecuted them with violence, God seized that violence and has now used it to deliver his faithful into a kingdom of peace. Although this madman brought death to so many, God has used that death to give them the eternal life won for them in the blood of Jesus.

Those who persecute the church and those who mock Christians for trusting in Almighty God rather than Almighty Government may believe that the bloodshed in Texas proves the futility of prayer. But we believers see the shooting in Texas as proof of something far different—proof that Christ has counted us worthy to suffer dishonor for his name and proof that no amount of dishonor, persecution, or violence can stop him from answering our prayer to deliver us from evil.

Fiene takes umbrage at people suggesting that these deaths are a poignant reminder of the fact that God does not answer prayer. I have no doubt that those who had time to pray before the gunman mowed them down prayed. I am sure they prayed for the Almighty to protect them and keep them from harm. From a rational perspective, it is clear that the Christian God did not hear their prayers, or he did hear them and chose to do nothing. Either way, twenty-six people died. Fiene, providing yet another example of how irrational Christians can be, rejects the obvious and says that the people killed in Sutherland Springs died because God WAS answering their prayers — deliver us from evil. That’s right, God let or commanded the murders to happen because he decided to answer prayers in a way that only a bat-shit crazy preacher could think up. Instead of admitting that God, once again, failed to come through for his children, Fiene cooked up an explanation that I am sure even some Christians will think is crazy. (Please read The Indifference of God )

Lurking under Fiene’s argument is the belief that the God is sovereign over his creation; that everything that happens is according to the will of God; that nothing happens that is not decreed by God; that everything that happens is controlled, orchestrated, and managed by God. The gunman, then, was just a tool used by God to execute his will at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The people who died? Their numbers were up. The Bible states that everyone has an appointed time of death; that God is in control of whether we live or die; that there is nothing we can do lengthen or lessen our time among the living. If the living want to blame someone for the gunman’s murderous rampage, the blame solely rests on the shoulders of Hans Fiene’s God. (Please read Is God Sovereign and Does Everything Happen for a Reason?)

While Christian apologists have all sorts of arguments they use to get around the implications of believing God is sovereign, the fact remains that if God is the first cause, the creator, the ruler of all things, then he is culpable for what happens on planet earth. I give Fiene credit for at least admitting as much.

As atheists, we know that God doesn’t answer prayer. He can’t because he doesn’t exist. Most of the Sutherland Springs victims likely prayed before succumbing to a hail of bullets. Their prayers for deliverance and safety did not help them. God was blind, deaf, and indifferent, as are all the Gods created by human hands. Perhaps the God of Christianity is very much like Baal, spoken of by Elijah in 1 Kings 18:27:

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he [Baal] is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting that their God’s inaction was due to him being busy talking to someone, taking a shit, being on vacation, or sleeping. This passage equally applies to the Christian God, who for the past two thousand years has been AWOL. Billions of prayers to God are uttered each day, yet they go unanswered — save God helping Granny find her keys or helping a Christian NFL quarterback score the game-winning touchdown. While twenty-six Baptists being murdered is no small thing, their deaths pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of people who die each day because of war, gun violence, starvation, and disease. Where God is needed most, he is nowhere to be found. Only in the alternate universe inhabited by the Hans Fiens of the world can it be said that God is hearing and answering prayers.

What is needed now is sympathy for the victims and families whose lives were shredded and destroyed. Fuck the clergy with their empty clichés and religious platitudes. Let them live with their delusions while rational, thoughtful Americans band together to tackle the immoral gun lobby and gun violence. How much more blood must be spilled before we realize that GUNS GUNS GUNS GUNS are the problem, and the ONLY solution is strict, enforceable Federal gun control laws. How much more blood must be spilled before we do something to fix our broken mental health system. When will we realize that the U.S. military trains men and women to kill; that some soldiers can’t turn off the violence once they return home; that PTSD among veterans is an ignored and increasing epidemic.

There is much we could do to put an end to gun violence IF we will but do so. Or, we could just keep on doing nothing — you know, praying.

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.

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

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

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

Rick Stedman Gives God All the Credit for Hurricane Harvey Relief Effort

rick stedman

Rick Stedman, an Evangelical pastor, recently wrote an article for Fox News that asked the question, Where is God in the Terrible Tragedy in Houston? I tackled the same question last week in a post titled, Hurricane Harvey: Where is God When the Flood Waters Rise? I concluded that not only did God — if the Bible is indeed true — send Hurricane Harvey, he is directly and completely responsible for all the death and destruction. If God is, as the Bible says he is, the divine weatherman, then he alone is responsible for what we humans call “acts of mother nature” or “acts of God.” In the aftermath of Harvey, humanity at its best was on its display as strangers helped and rescued strangers. Over the coming months, humans will continue to help Houston and coastal Texas recover from the devastating rains and flooding.

Stedman sees “God” in the rescue and recovery activities. Since we are all created in the image of the Christian God, Stedman theologically theorizes, this means it is God doing all the rescue and recovery work we see currently going on in Texas. Stedman writes:

When hurricanes like Harvey devastate so many lives, where is God?

That’s a really good question—one which I’ve heard whenever a hurricane, tornado, or tsunami wreaks havoc—and it deserves an honest, though maybe surprising answer.

It’s been said that tragedies bring out the best in people, and that certainly is the case in Houston. In addition—and here is my answer to the question posed above—tragedies bring out the imago in people, the biblical claim that humans are created in the image of God.

We’ve all seen the stirring TV images of people helping others in Houston. What some fail to see is the reflections of God’s own character in these moving images.

Compassionate volunteers helped nursing home patients flee before the rising waters inundated their residences. Did the volunteers always act this compassionately in the past? Or did the enormity of the crisis bring their true design, based on God’s love, to the surface?

In moments of crisis, Stedman asserts, God bubbles up to the top of our lives, leading us to act compassionately towards those who are suffering. Stedman, of course, has no evidence for his claim other than he believes it and the Bible says so.

I propose we put Stedman’s assertion to the test, say later this week when Hurricane Irma blows through Florida. Instead of humans opening up their checkbooks and making donations, gathering needed supplies, or traveling to Florida to aid rescue efforts, we should do nothing. Let’s let go and Let God. Let’s allow the Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Sovereign ruler of All, and the Savior of humankind, take care of Florida. Instead of opening up our hearts to Florida, let’s stay home and busy ourselves with watching college and professional football. Surely God, who balances the universe on his index finger and knows how many hairs are on seven billion heads, can alleviate the suffering and meet the needs of Floridians. You Go, God, I say. Does anyone doubt that Floridians would suffer greatly if everyone who could help didn’t and stayed home?

I don’t doubt for a moment that many of the people who help in time of human need, do so out of religious motivations. That said, their doing so doesn’t mean that the Christian God exists. Humans are capable of doing all sorts of things out of motivations that are untrue. I readily admit that millions of Americans find great value, help, and hope through believing in the existence of God. The same could be said of most of the world’s religions. However, this in no way proves the existence of God. Surely, Bruce, you don’t believe millions upon millions of people act benevolently out of belief in a lie? Yes, I do. History is replete with examples of humans being motivated to do good (and bad) things because of their commitments to religious, political, and secular ideologies. The Mormon Church, for example, is considered by most Evangelicals to be a cult. Yet, fifteen million Mormons worship a God that Evangelicals say is a fiction. Evangelicals say the same the about all other Gods but theirs. This means that non-Evangelicals who act benevolently in times of need and crisis are doing so out devotion to false Gods.

Stedman spends a few moments taking a cheap shot at atheists. Stedman writes:

Think about it: if atheistic materialism is true, don’t you think we would have become used to death in 3+ billion years of life on planet Earth? Wouldn’t we have settled the case that human deaths are par for the course and shouldn’t trouble us more than the death of a plant or pet?

Stedman is evidently ignorant of the fact that thinking, reasoning homo sapiens have been around for less than 500,000 years. As far as getting used to death, while most atheists may be quite stoic and matter-of-fact about the natural process called death, we certainly haven’t gotten used to it, and neither have Christians. No one likes facing the prospect of death, of losing people they dearly love. Christians try to placate their feelings by believing in the afterlife and heaven — a time and place when God’s faithful will be rewarded with an eternity of prostrating themselves in worship before God. Christians deal with death by resting on the promise of Heaven. Jesus — putting his carpenter skills to use while waiting for his Father to tell him it is time for the rapture — is busy building rooms in the Trump Tower of Heaven® for every person who has the right beliefs. While death causes sadness for Evangelicals, they know — or so they think, anyway — that in the not too distant future their room will be ready and they will be reunited with Christian loved ones who have gone on to Heaven before them. (This thinking, by the way, is a gross distortion of orthodox/historic Christian theology concerning death and resurrection.) Death, then, becomes somethings that must be endured, with a divine payoff awaiting beyond the veil.

hurricane harvey

Atheists, of course, do not believe such nonsense. Ever the realists, atheists know, based on the evidence at hand, that humans only get one stab at this thing called life. There is no afterlife, no second chances, no heaven or hell. When death comes knocking at our doors, that is the end for us. All that matters, then, is this present life. Unlike many Christians who devalue the present in hope of finding great reward beyond the grave, atheists embrace life with gusto, knowing that dead people — Jesus included — don’t come back to live. Every homo sapien who has ever walked upon the face of planet of earth has died, or will die in the future. Cemeteries are poignant reminders of the permanence of death. Living in denial of these facts doesn’t change them. Death will, one day, likely sooner than later, come calling for each and every one of us. Knowing this, how then should we live? If we care about our parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, extended family, friends, and neighbors, how should we respond when the Hurricane Harveys of life come our/their way causing heartache and destruction? Why, we act and do what we can help others. Why? Because we love them and desire a better life for those who are important to us. We can extend this farther to people we don’t know. Surely, atheists and Christians alike want to see suffering alleviated and wrecked neighborhoods returned to wholeness. Must we believe in God to care?

Stedman admits that it “appears” that God is nowhere to be found as we survey the havoc wreaked on Texas by Hurricane Harvey. However, according to Stedman, appearances can be deceiving:

God is not absent but is very, very subtle. He hides himself in plain sight, but can be found when we learn how to decipher the clues that point toward his presence. And the clues are abundant right now in Houston.

In other words, God is playing a game of hide and seek. We can’t find him, but, Stedman assures us, God is here, there, and everywhere. Stedman sounds like man who is tripping on LSD. He is seeing pink elephants where there are none. Stedman needs to see God lest his absence invalidates his theological beliefs and renders moot his assertion that God is alive and present in our day-to-day lives.

As an atheist, I believe in giving credit to whom credit is due. When God shows up and does the work, I will gladly give him the credit. Until then, I plan to continue to praising and thanking my fellow human beings for the good they do. They alone deserve my praise and thanks.

The next time Stedman talks with his God, perhaps he can ask him WHY he sent Hurricane Harvey to start with? Explain to inquiring minds, Pastor, why your God caused so much suffering, devastation, and death. Did he do what he did so Christians would look good or have something to do besides watching football? If the Christian God is the compassionate, caring deity Stedman says he is, why doesn’t the Big Man Upstairs make sure the weather everywhere is as sunny and delightful as San Diego? From my seat in the atheist pew, it is hard for me to see a loving, caring, compassionate God at work in his creation. If I were God, I certainly wouldn’t have sent a Hurricane Harvey to Texas just so I could give them a test. In my mind, those who could alleviate suffering and don’t are the worst of people (and gods). The good news is that most Christians are far better people than their God. And hand in hand with atheists, agnostics, and people who worship other deities, Christians can help to make the world better for all who will come after us.

1998: The Theological Beliefs of Pastor Bruce Gerencser

bruce polly gerencser our fathers house west unity

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Circa 2000

Excerpt from Our Father’s House website, circa 1998.

Often I am asked “what does your Church believe about__________?”  This is not an easy question to answer because our Church is a body made up of individuals, and even in a smaller Church like Our Father’s House, there are “differing” views on what the Bible says about some things. We do not set any particular creed or statement of faith as a requirement for membership in the Church. Rather, if a person has repented of their sins, and by faith trusted Christ for Salvation , AND has a desire to be taught the Word of God , we encourage them to become a part of our assembly. We accept the Apostle’s Creed as a summary statement of belief. Please see our Church constitution for further information.

So, when asked “what does your Church believe about__________?”   it is better for me to say what “I” believe and to share the viewpoint that “I” teach from.

I am an a expositional preacher. The primary Bible version I use is the KJV. Some Church members use the NKJV.  Usually I preach on random passages of Scripture, and at times will preach through books of the Bible. I believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God. It does not just contain the words of God, it IS the Words of God, every jot and every tittle.

I am an Evangelical. I willingly embrace all those who claim the name of Christ and walk in His truth.  I believe the denominational fragmentation that is seen today is a dishonor to the God of Heaven. The world will know we are Christians by the love we have for one another. One of my desires is to promote love and unity among God’s people. Lest someone think I am an ecumenist, I oppose the Evangelical and Catholics Together statement. While I readily grant that there are many Roman Catholics who are Christians (and I embrace them as such), the official doctrine of the Roman Church is salvation (justification) by works.  In the name of Christ, I embrace God’s people wherever they may be found, but I strongly oppose the false gospel of works taught in many Churches . A sinner is saved (justified) apart from the works of the law. (or any other work like baptism, joining the Church, being confirmed) Sinners are not saved by works but UNTO good works. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

I am a Non-Cessationist. I believe that the spiritual gifts are for today and that they are in operation today. While I would not call myself a charismatic, I do find a common bond with men such as John Piper and Martyn Lloyd Jones and ministries such as People of Destiny. I do not believe that many of the so-called charismatic gifts exercised in many Charismatic/Pentecostal Churches are of God. Such Churches preach a gospel according to the Holy Spirit not a gospel that finds as its foundation Jesus Christ. Any gospel that requires a person to speak in tongues, evidence the fullness of the spirit, etc. is a false gospel. I also stand opposed to the modern prosperity gospel preached by men such as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Freddy Price, etal. The modern charismatic movement is an admixture of truth and error and is best described like a mixture of the Corinthian and Laodicean  Church. I also stand opposed to most of the teaching regarding demons, territorial spirits, and demon/spirit possession. There is a real devil who can and does possess his children (John 8:44) and our battle is with him, but much of the spiritual warfare teaching is according to the philosophies of men and not of God.

I believe in the validity of the law of God. God’s law  is pure, holy, and true, and man is enjoined by God to obey. I emphasize that the believer is to progress in sanctification and holiness. Saved people LIVE like saved people. I find much in common with the good men and women. of the Chalcedon Foundation. They are a small voice in a large wilderness declaring the validity of the law of God.

I am a Calvinist. I believe in the Sovereignty of God and that salvation is of the Lord. No man can save himself. I do not believe man has an innate ability to believe. Unless the Father, by the power of His Spirit, draws a man to salvation, that man will never be saved.  I believe in the perseverance (preservation) of the saints. God keeps His own until the day of salvation. I consider the doctrine of eternal security preached in many Churches to be a perversion of the truth because it denies a connection between the saviorship and lordship of Christ in a man’s life.  There is a direct connection between a man who is saved and how he lives. The same God who saves a man has also ordained that that same man would live a life of good works. No holiness, no heaven! While I consider myself a Calvinist, I stand against hyper Calvinism and its denial of the free offer of the gospel. I also reject double predestination as a doctrine rooted in the philosophies of men and not the Word of God.  As a minister of the gospel, my desire is not to convert Arminians to Calvinists, nor is it to promote a system.  I preach Christ. Calvinism is the best description of how and why God saves a sinner.  I, without hesitation, affirm the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith as an accurate statement of that which I most surely believe.

I am post tribulational, and a-millennial. I believe the Church will go through the tribulation and that there yet awaits a day when Jesus Christ will come again and judge the world.

I believe in the Lordship of Christ. We do not make Him Lord, HE IS LORD. Because He is Lord, we are called on to live holy, separated lives. The standard for such living is the Word of God. I reject all man made standards of living, for God has given us everything we need pertaining to life and godliness. Legalistic standards of touch not ,taste not are rejected as the philosophies of men.

My favorite theologians and authors are JC Ryle, Wayne Grudem, Donald Bloesch, Charles Spurgeon, Thomas Watson, Gardiner Spring, John MacArthur and most anything written during the Puritan era. Truly a minister is known by the books he reads.  My favorite bookstore is the Cumberland Valley Bible and Book Service. They are an excellent source of sound doctrinal books and of course they carry a large supply of Puritan books

So there you have it……….this is not all I believe…………but I have given you enough so that you can decide what kind of preacher you think I am. After you decide……..if you are still interested, please do stop and visit. We will be delighted to have you as our guest. If you have a question please e mail me and I will promptly reply.

Pastor Bruce Gerencser

Is God Sovereign and Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

sovereignty-of-god

The first verse in the first book of the Christian Bible says, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The verses that follow go on to explain all that God created. His crowning achievement was the creation of Adam and Eve — humans created in the image of God. Adam and Eve would later eat fruit from a tree that God said was off-limits. Their love of fruit brought sin and death into the world. From this point forward, humans broke forth from their mothers’ wombs at variance with God. According to the Bible, newborns come into the world speaking lies. Humans are, by nature, enemies of God. Wanting to repair the fractured relationship between the Creator and his creation, God cooked up a scheme through which sins could be forgiven. In the Old Testament, the Bible says God required blood sacrifices for expiation of sin. Animals were ritually slaughtered and their blood placed upon altars to provide atonement for national and personal sins. In the New Testament, the Bible says that God sent himself to earth in the form of a God-man by the name of Jesus. This Jesus was one hundred percent man and one hundred percent God. After traversing through Palestine for thirty-three years, working miracles and preaching sermons, this Jesus was accused of heresy by the Jews, arrested by the Roman government, and executed. Three days later, this Jesus miraculously came back to life, spent forty days appearing to his followers, after which he ascended to heaven. According to Christians, for the past 2,000 year Jesus has been hanging out in heaven doing God things: building rooms (mansions) for Christians to live in, helping Tim Tebow score touchdowns, helping grandmas find their car keys, and controlling presidential elections. While Jesus, at least according to those who speak on his behalf, is intimately involved in the minutest details of the lives of his followers, it seems he can’t be bothered with important issues such as war, starvation, global climate change, human trafficking, and the Cincinnati Bengals winning the Super Bowl. Why is it that Jesus never seems to be around when you really, really need him?

Most Christian sects can be plotted along the line between Arminianism and Calvinism. While these two systematic theologies are poles apart from one another, both agree that the Christian God is the absolute, authoritative ruler of the universe. While Arminians and Calvinists argue amongst themselves about free will and the order of salvation, both agree that God is sovereign, that he has the whole world in the palm of his hands. This God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. The Bible says that none of us can escape the presence of  this God. He is everywhere — the ultimate voyeur.

If everything is created by God, owned by God, known by God, and nothing escapes his ever-seeing eye, isn’t it logical to say that God is responsible for sin? Isn’t it logical to hold God responsible for everything that happens? If humans are not ultimately in control of their lives or their destiny, how then can they be held responsible? If God alone — either through predestination and election or prevenient grace — saves sinners and gives them keys to their Jesus-built mansions in the sky, how then can any of us be held accountable for not becoming Christians? If it is God, through the Holy Spirit, that gives life to dead sinners so they can believe, how then can any un-quickened sinners be held accountable for their depravity? Billions of people, past and present, live in places where Christianity has no influence. People can go through their entire lives without hearing the Christian gospel, yet when they die God will hold them accountable for not hearing that which they had no opportunity to hear. Does this sound just and fair?

Does any of this make sense to you? Wouldn’t it have been better for the Gods — Yahweh, Jesus, Holy Spirit — to cut out all the bullshit and create a universe not tainted by sin and depravity? Surely it was in God’s power  to create an Adam and Eve incapable of sinning. It’s a fair question, then, to ask why God did what he did. If God controls the universe and nothing escapes his sovereign grasp, why all the war, violence, rape, starvation, and terrible contemporary Christian music?

Start asking Christian pastors and laypeople these questions, and you’ll quickly conclude that they really don’t have any answers. Oh, they will spin some sort of elaborate theological answer that will leave you neck deep in quicksand, but don’t expect them to give direct, succinct answers. Most often, apologists for the Christian God will give contradictory or incoherent answers, and when their nonsense is pointed out they will swiftly run to the house of faith, slamming the door while they scream, GOD’S WAYS ARE NOT OUR WAYS! GOD’S THOUGHTS ARE NOT OUR THOUGHTS! HOW DARE YOU CHALLENGE THE CREATOR! HE CAN DO WHAT HE WANTS! This screaming is the equivalent of la-la-la-la, I can’t hear you, now fuck off.

A perfect illustration of this can be found in a recent post on the Faith-It website by Christine Suhan. Titled, Dear Christians, Stop Saying ‘Everything Happens for a Reason’,Suhan shows how it is impossible for Christians to develop a coherent understanding of the world while at the same time trying to hold on to Evangelical beliefs. Here’s some of what she had to say:

Have you ever found yourself, in the midst of unimaginable grief, pain, heartache or despair, wondering how you are going to make it through another day? Wondering where your next breath is going to come from? Your world has crumbled beneath you and you are left feeling shattered, empty and hopeless.

And then a well meaning friend or family member comes along and drops the infamous “Everything happens for a reason” bomb. You smile kindly and nod—that’s all you can do to keep yourself from punching them in the face.

….

Sometimes bad things happen for no reason other than we are human beings having a human experience. Pain, heartache, grief, loss, disease and death are inevitable parts of the human experience.

We hear people say “Life dealt me a crappy hand” as if pain and hardships are not the norm. We assume that life is supposed to be easy and when things don’t go our way, we feel like we have been wronged. Human beings seem to have an innate sense of entitlement. We think that we are owed a pain-free existence.

But the truth is that human beings are not exempt from the human experience. And struggle is an innate part of the human experience. None of us are exceptions to this rule. We all struggle. We all suffer. We all experience pain, heartache and loss. And sometimes, there’s just no reason other than we are human and pain is a part of the process.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was struggling to find peace with “God’s plan” for her life including the recent death of a loved one.

“How could this possibly be God’s will?” she asked.

Here’s what I’ve come to know about God’s will:

God’s will is not the path we walk, but rather how we walk the path.

God’s plan is never for someone to have cancer. God’s will is not for an innocent child to be brutally murdered. God’s will is not for a teenage girl to be raped. God’s will is not chronic pain, illness, disability or death.

God’s will is not an event that happens to us, it’s how we respond to what happens.

God’s will for us is to walk with Him through the cancer. Through the abuse. Through the death. Through the illness. God’s will is for us to draw close to him in the midst of pain. God’s will is for us to use our painful life events to carry his message of hope, grace, forgiveness and mercy.

God’s plan was never for pain to be part of the human experience. His plan was for us to live in peace and harmony with Him. The human experience became painful when sin entered the world. Our own free will weaved threads of tragedy, loss, heartache and pain into the human experience.

God is not responsible for our pain. We are not responsible for our pain. What happened in the Garden of Eden is responsible for the human condition. And the human condition is hard wired for pain and suffering. God is not causing us to hurt. He is hurting with us. What we do with our hurt is what matters. How we handle tragedy is what brings purpose into our pain.

There’s hardly ever a justifiable reason for the bad things that happen in life. Tragic loss is not laced with inherent specs of good. I used to get so mad when people would say, “You can find good in every situation.” That’s just not true. There was nothing good about being raped. There is no good in murder or abuse.

Suhan takes the shit happens approach. Thanks to Adam and Eve and their progeny’s sin, nature, pain, suffering and death are part of the human (Westworld) experience. According to Suhan, there is no reason or purpose for these things to happen. The problem, however, is that Suhan’s worldview runs contrary to orthodox Christian doctrine. This often happens when Christians try to thoughtfully think about human existence. How can rape or murder be good or have some sort of higher purpose? If God is the sovereign of the universe, why does he permit, either passively or by decree, such things to happen? Surely, an all-powerful God can keep people from being raped or murdered. Why does he idly stand by and do nothing?

According to Suhan, God does do s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g. When a teenage girl is being ritually raped by her pastor or an altar boy is being repeatedly sodomized by his priest, Jesus is right there holding the victim’s hand. That’s right, the God who could stop sexual assault does little more than send victims a BFF text that says, I am with you in spirit. Love, Jesus. Millions of people will go to bed tonight hungry, and the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and sends sunshine and rain for crops to grow, will do nothing to feed them, choosing instead to smile and hold their empty plates. While the risk of nuclear war between the United States and Russia continues to increase, Jesus wants everyone to know that he will be right there with them if they are turned into an ash heap. Is this the best that God can do for us — hold our hand?

If God is the supreme ruler of the universe, the creator of all things, the giver of life and death, and he who sees and knows everything, it is impossible to absolve him of culpability for pain, suffering, violence, and death. God could intervene, but he does nothing. Try as they might, Christian apologists have no suitable answer for a sovereign God’s inaction. The best these defenders of the faith can come up with is that Adam and Eve ate an apple, pissed off God in the process, and for thousands of years now he is been standing by while the Richard Micks of the world rape church children, serial killers murder innocents, and warring nations rain death down on the heads of innocent civilians.

And if this isn’t bad enough, Christian pastors and theologians remind us that there is coming a day when God will end his hand-holding ways, resurrecting everyone from the dead so he can judge them and fit those who don’t measure up with some sort of supernatural body that will survive an eternity of torture in a lake filled with fire and brimstone. This God who couldn’t be bothered with stopping Hitler’s horrendous slaughter of six million Jews, will definitely be hands-on when the time comes to make his “chosen” people pay for their rejection and execution of Jesus Christ. Billions of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and wrong-flavor-of-ice-cream Christians will be awakened from their slumber, only to be cast into hell with the devil, his angels, Barack Obama , Hillary Clinton, and Bruce Gerencser.

Who in their right mind would want anything to do with Evangelical Christianity?

It is for these reasons (and others) that many people turn to atheism. The only way to understand what goes on in the world is to realize that we humans are responsible for what does and does not happen. Countless Christians are praying that God will make sure that Donald Trump becomes president. Their meaningless prayers will not affect the outcome of this election, votes will. It is up to humans, not fictional deities, to put an end to violence and suffering. We are the masters of our universe, and if we want things to be different, then it is up to us to change them. A humanistic view of the world requires us to acknowledge that randomness and luck often affect our lives. Sometimes, we are at the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time. Slight variations in decisions or movement can drastically change outcomes. It is highly unlikely that a jet flying overhead will crash into my home. It’s possible, but the probability is minuscule. And when that unlikely event happens to some unlucky individuals, we must accept it as just that – an unfortunate incident which took lives, but not an act of God. Instead of attempting to develop some elaborate and often contradictory religious explanation of the world that supposedly matches the dictates of ancient religious texts, it is far better for us to just live in the moment and do what we can to improve life for not only ourselves and our progeny, but also for animals and other humans. Interjecting God into the discussion just complicates things. We humanists hope that Suhan and her fellow Christians leave off holding hands with their fictional best friend, and instead join hands with us as we try to combat violence, pain, suffering, disease, climate change, starvation, inequality, and death. Surely God is not so jealous that he can’t put off the handholding until Christians make it to the other side.

Note

faith-it.com is owned and operated by Outreach, Inc., a large Evangelical media and marketing “ministry” located in Colorado Springs. Fundamentalists such as Kirk Cameron, Eric Metaxas, Lee Strobel, Sheila Walsh, Josh McDowell, Benham Brothers, Craig Gross, Ryan Dobson, Frank Turek, and a gaggle of Evangelical sports stars are represented by Outreach, Inc.

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