Tag Archive: Substitutionary Atonement

If Jesus Paid Our Sin Debt On the Cross, Why Do We Still Owe Him?

blood of jesus

Imagine that you owed First City Bank $1,000,000 and had no way to pay the debt. Imagine that I went to the bank and paid your debt in full. Awesome guy, right? But what if the bank refused to accept my payment on your behalf unless you stripped naked, ran through the streets of your city, and told everyone that you were a low-life, dirty, piece of shit who doesn’t pay his bills? Only after you humiliated yourself before your family, friends, and community would the $1,000,000 payment be credited to your account. Would you do this?

According to Evangelicals, Jesus Christ is the Son of God — the second being in the triune Godhead. Two thousand years ago, Jesus — born of a virgin who was inseminated by the third being in the Godhead, the Holy Spirit — came to earth from Heaven to die on a Roman cross for human sin. For three years, Jesus wandered Palestine, working miracles and preaching that the Kingdom of God was coming soon. And then, at the age of thirty-three, Jesus was condemned by the Jews and the Roman government and crucified. Three days later, Jesus resurrected from the dead. Or so, the story goes, anyway.

Christians have a variety of beliefs when it comes to Jesus’ death (atonement). According to Wikipedia, there is at least nine atonement theories:

Classical paradigm, the traditional understandings of the early Church Fathers:

  • Ransom theory of atonement, which teaches that the death of Christ was a ransom sacrifice, usually said to have been paid to Satan or to death itself, in some views paid to God the Father, in satisfaction for the bondage and debt on the souls of humanity as a result of inherited sin. Gustaf Aulèn reinterpreted the ransom theory, calling it the Christus Victor doctrine, arguing that Christ’s death was not a payment to the Devil, but defeated the powers of evil, which had held humankind in their dominion.
  • Recapitulation theory, which says that Christ succeeded where Adam failed. Theosis (“divinasation”) is a “corollary” of the recapitualtion.

Objective paradigm:

  • Satisfaction theory of atonement, developed by Anselm of Canterbury (1033/4–1109), which teaches that Jesus Christ suffered crucifixion as a substitute for human sin, satisfying God’s just wrath against humankind’s transgression due to Christ’s infinite merit.
  • Penal substitution, also called “forensic theory” and “vicarious punishment,” which was a development by the Reformers of Anselm’s satisfaction theory. Instead of considering sin as an affront to God’s honour, it sees sin as the breaking of God’s moral law. Penal substitution sees sinful man as being subject to God’s wrath, with the essence of Jesus’ saving work being his substitution in the sinner’s place, bearing the curse in the place of man.
  • Moral government theory, “which views God as both the loving creator and moral Governor of the universe.”
  • Subjective paradigm:Moral influence theory of atonement, developed, or most notably propagated, by Abelard (1079-1142), who argued that “Jesus died as the demonstration of God’s love,” a demonstration which can change the hearts and minds of the sinners, turning back to God.
  • Moral example theory, developed by Faustus Socinus (1539-1604) in his work De Jesu Christo servatore (1578), who rejected the idea of “vicarious satisfaction.” According to Socinus, Jesus’ death offers us a perfect example of self-sacrificial dedication to God.”

Other theories

  • Embracement theory
  • Shared atonement theory

Most Evangelicals, believe in penal substitution, also called the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. According to this theory, all humans are sinners, subject to the eternal wrath of God. More than 2,000 years ago, God, the Father sent Jesus, his Son, to earth to horrifically die on a Roman cross. Why? Human sin had to be atoned for. There was a sin debt that had to be paid. Without atonement, all humans would be eternally punished by God for their sins. So, according to a plan cooked up by God from before the foundation of the world, Jesus — who had supernatural powers — voluntarily allowed himself to be crucified on a wooden cross between two thieves. As Jesus hung on the cross, his Father poured upon him his wrath; wrath meant for sinful humans. Jesus, in effect, was atoning not for his own sin, but the sins of the human race. Much like a person standing at the front of a line in someone else’s stead, Jesus suffered the wrath of his Father and died on the cross in our place. The resurrected Jesus — now in Heaven — acts as a mediator between God and humankind. Without his atonement and mediation, humans would still face the eternal wrath of God. Or so the story goes, anyway.

According to Evangelicals, Jesus died for every human sin — past, present, and future. Jesus’ blood atonement covers every sin that could possibly be committed, including murder, rape, sexual assault, and farting in a crowded elevator. Humans owed a sin debt, and Jesus Christ stamped the debt PAID IN FULL.

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If what I have written above is true — and Evangelicals say it is — why do we humans owe Jesus (God) anything?  He paid our debt, end of story, right? That’s how it should be, but that’s not quite how things work if you really want your sins washed clean by the miraculous blood of Jesus. You see, the Bank of the Third Heaven® refuses to stamp your sin loan paid-in-full until you strip naked, run through the streets of your city, and tell everyone that you are a low-life, dirty, piece of shit sinner who doesn’t deserve what Jesus did on your behalf. You will have to repeat this every day of your life, up until the moment you die. Only then, after you have daily humiliated yourself for months and years, and died with praises of Jesus on your lips, will your account be zeroed out.

Evangelicals believe that Heaven awaits them after death. But even in the sweet-by-and-by, Evangelicals are required to daily, hour upon hour, prostrate themselves before God’s throne and praise him for saving them from sin. And those of us who are forever burning in the Lake of Fire — fitted by God with bodies that will endure eternal torture? We will forever wish that we too had humiliated ourselves before the world. Or so the story goes, anyway.

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.

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The Bible Says No One Does Good — No Not One

no one is good

I recently posted an excerpt from an article written by Michelle Lesley detailing her view of the human condition. According to Lesley, humans — Christian and unbeliever alike — are:

You’re a dirty, stinking, rotten, rebellious sinner. You yell at your kids. You don’t submit to your husband. You act out of selfishness. You lie. You gossip. You covet. You bow down to your idols instead of to Christ. You sin against a holy and righteous God in a thousand ways every day in thought, word, and deed. Just like I do. Let’s put on our big girl panties and just admit it. (1 John 1:8,10)

Commenters rightly objected to Lesley’s trashing of human self-esteem and her debasement of human goodness. The question I want to answer today is whether Lesley’s theological beliefs have a Biblical basis. Liberal and Progressive Christians are angered and offended by Lesley’s words — and rightly so. That said, Liberals and Progressives have developed unique and, at times, intellectually incomprehensible ways to hold on to what the Bible says about the love, kindness, and mercy of God while, at the same time, pretending all the verses that support Lesley’s beliefs either don’t exist or mean something other than Evangelicals say they mean.

Both sides of the theological divide make things up as they go, shaping God and Jesus into a deity in their own image. No two Christians worship the same God. Personal beliefs and experiences shape and mold God into a being acceptable to each Christian. This is especially true in Evangelicalism where the priesthood of the believer — every Christian has direct access to God — turns each Christian into his own final authority. As a pastor, I had countless Christians take issue with something I said during one of my sermons. Sometimes, people would get so angry with me over what they believed was heresy that they would leave the church. More than a few congregants told me after confronting me and hearing my response, “well, pastor, we are just going to have to agree to disagree.” And so it goes, with every Evangelical thinking he or she is infallibly right. Armed with an inerrant, infallible Bible, written and given to them by a supernatural, infallible God, Evangelicals, with great certitude, believe they are absolutely R-I-G-H-T. When challenged to “prove” their contentions, they say, the Bible says _________________.

Lesley, if required, can easily find Biblical justification for her abhorrent, anti-human beliefs. The Bible can be used to prove almost anything. Asking ten Christians a theological question will elicit twelve opinions. The Bible says that there is ONE Lord, ONE faith, and ONE baptism, yet, as any unbiased observer of Christianity can attest, modern Christianity has MANY Lords, MANY faiths, and MANY baptisms. The Bible says that Jesus’ followers will be known by their unity and love for each other. Yet, Christianity is rife with internecine warfare, bitter debates, and sectarian division.

Lesley believes, as do most Evangelicals, that Jesus, the virgin-born, sinless son of God, died on the cross for human sin. Jesus took upon himself our sin and suffered indignation, torture, and death that should have been ours. As our substitute, Jesus suffered the wrath of God that we deserved. His blood atonement on the cross appeased God, the father, and satisfied our sin debt. Through the death of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead three days later, humans can find redemption/salvation/deliverance. The only way anyone makes it to Heaven after death is by and through Jesus Christ. (I speak broadly here, knowing that there is broad diversity within Christianity concerning Christ’s atonement. Arminians will view matters differently from Calvinists and Pelagians.)

Why do humans need salvation? Why was it necessary for Jesus to die on the cross? One word: SIN. According to the Bible, sin is transgression of the law of God. Evangelicals believe the Bible is God’s standard of objective morality. The definition of “sin” is determined not by human opinion, but by the Bible. God said__________, end of story. Evangelicals trace the human sin nature all the way back to Adam and Eve and the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve were created by God without sin, yet thanks to a talking, upright-walking snake (Satan) tempting them, Adam and Eve sinned against God and were cast out of the Garden of Eden. From that moment forward — five to six thousand years ago — all humans are born sinners.

It is from this understanding of the Bible that Lesley wrote what she did about her fellow humans. The Bible says that babies come forth from the womb speaking lies, that none of us has the capacity to do good, no not one. We are sheep who have gone astray. We, by nature, hate God and are at variance with him. These things, according to Lesley, can be said of atheist and Christian alike. The only difference is that the Christian has prostrated himself before God, confessed his sins, and asked Jesus to save and forgive him. Because the Christian has done so, Jesus stands between the sinner and God — who still hates sin and those who do it. When God looks at the saved sinner, all he sees is Jesus. Praise the Lord, right?

When the Michelle Lesleys of the world denigrate people, emphatically saying that humans are vile, awful people, they do so because that is how the Bible describes the human race. This provides yet another reminder that the Bible is an anti-human text best suited for the dustbin of human history. Perhaps it is time for Christians to band together and write a new Bible, one that better reflects our 21st century understanding of the world. Doing so would be an admission that the Bible is a human, not divine book, but everyone except Evangelicals and other conservative Christians already know this. The Bible, in its present form, represents the thinking of Bronze-age and first-century people. Despite what Evangelicals say, the Bible is not an unchangeable, timeless book. The Bible is not an inexhaustible text that gives readers something new every time they read it. Imagine how much better our world would be if a new Bible was written, especially if the text was based on modern sensibilities and knowledge.

Bruce, the Bible says Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. How dare you suggest a new Bible be written! What’s next, a new Jesus? Well, now that you mention it…No need. Christians have been manufacturing new Jesuses for two thousand years. Lesley and her Evangelical friends think their version of Jesus is identical to First-Century Jesus/Bible Jesus, but an honest reading of the Bible reveals that whatever Christianity is today, it has very little, if anything, to do with an itinerant Jewish carpenter who walked the land of Palestine 2,000 years ago. That Jesus was swallowed up by the Apostle Paul’s Jesus, never to be seen again.

Lesley’s view of humanity has real world implications. Such thinking destroys self-esteem, often leading to psychological trauma. Countless former Evangelicals are in therapy due to the teachings mentioned in this post. This is why such beliefs must be exposed and repudiated. For people who still believe in God, there are better expressions of faith than that which is peddled by Lesley and her fellow Evangelicals. You don’t need to spend one more moment in a church where your sense of self-worth is pummeled with a Bible club, with the goal being the destruction of who you really are.

Did you grow up in a family/church that believed as Lesley does? How did these beliefs affect you psychologically? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Jesus Did All of This For YOU!

jesus did all of this for you

Warning! Lots of snark ahead. Easily offended Christians have been warned! 

From the Isaiah 53:5 Project blog. My comments are indented and in italics.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
– Isaiah 53:5

Jesus Christ left Heaven for YOU.

Jesus is God, right? So, when Jesus exited Heaven, it was left without a God? No, God the Father was still there. Wait a minute. I thought Christianity is a monotheistic religion. If there is a God on earth — Jesus — and a God in Heaven — the Father — doesn’t this mean that Christianity is actually a polytheistic religion?

How do you know Jesus left Heaven for me? Calvinists say that Jesus came to earth to only die for the elect — those predestined to salvation by God from before the foundation of the world. And doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus actually came to earth to die just for the Jews and that only after they rejected him did Jesus (God) decide to die for Gentiles?

Matthew 1:21 says: And she [Mary] shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people [Jews] from their sins.

John 1:10-12 says: He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own [Jews], and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

He left Heaven and entered a world He knew would hate Him, for YOU.

Jesus, God number two, came to earth because his Father, God number one, decided before he created the heavens and earth that he would send God number two to earth to earth to be hated, physically assaulted, and killed. What kind of father sends his one and only son (well God, according to the Mormons, has many sons)  to a hostile environment, knowing that he will be viciously killed? Here in the 21st century, such a father would lose custody of his son and likely face criminal prosecution.

He endured beatings for YOU.

Actually, Jesus endured beatings because he pissed off his fellow Jews. Much like Fred Phelps and Steven Anderson, Jesus verbally attacked the Jewish religion and even went so far as going into the Temple to physically assault people and destroy their property. In other words, Jesus is to blame for his ass-whooping, not me.

He was unimaginably tortured for YOU.

See previous paragraph. Yes, Jesus was tortured, but was it really as big of a deal as Evangelicals make it out to be?  The United States government tortures people they deem terrorists for weeks, months, and years. Jesus suffered torture for about twenty-four or so hours. I know of people who have suffered with unrelenting pain and agony for decades. Oh, how they wish they could suffer as Jesus did and then be done with it.

He suffered for YOU.

See previous two paragraphs. Since Jesus, according to orthodox Christian theology, was fully God and fully man, does this mean God can suffer; that a perfect, sinless being can experience physical pain? I thought, as John 4:24 states, that God is a spirit. How, exactly, does a spirit suffer?

He hung on a cross for YOU.

See previous paragraphs. I think the record is stuck. Please bump the needle.

He shed his blood for YOU.

Christianity is a blood sacrifice cult, as is Islam, Judaism, and a host of other human religions. What’s with all the bloodshed? Couldn’t God have designed a better way of redeeming man from their sin? Why require the bloody sacrifice of innocents? Centuries ago, some religions sacrificed humans. Christians say these other religions are cults. Why is one human sacrifice right and another wrong? The Bible condemns the worshipers of Molech for offering their children as sacrifices, yet offering Jesus as a sacrifice or eating his body and drinking his blood every Sunday during communion are acts worthy of veneration and worship. Seems hypocritical to me.

Christians are divided as to for whom Jesus shed his blood. Did Jesus shed his blood for everyone, as Arminians claim; or did Jesus shed his blood only for the John Calvin’s elect? Or perhaps the Christians sects who believe that Jesus’ blood atonement was sufficient to save everyone, but only efficient to save the elect are right (Amyraldism). Or maybe the Universalists are right — that Jesus’ blood sacrifice provides salvation for everyone regardless of belief.

So much blood, so many confusing, contradictory beliefs about Jesus’ shed blood. Why didn’t the writer of the Bible — God — make it clear exactly who it is that is covered by Jesus’ blood sacrifice.

He died for YOU.

I think I have snarkily established that Christian sects are divided over for whom Jesus died. From a historical perspective, Jesus didn’t die for anyone. He was executed at the behest of the Jews by the Roman government because he was viewed as a threat to the established order. At best, Jesus was executed because his political beliefs were causing social unrest — that is, if the secondhand reports recorded in the Bible are true.  If, as Evangelicals claim, Jesus was/is a world-changing figure, why is there virtually no mention of him outside of the Bible?

I didn’t ask Jesus to die for me, nor did anyone else. God created us, gave us the capacity to sin, and then, when we act of the nature given to us by him, he requires that blood sacrifices be made to satiate his anger; anger I might add that should be directed at himself. If I create a car, fill it with gas, start it, and put the car in gear, only to have it go driverless down the road careening into bystanders, who is to blame? Not the bystanders. We humans are mere bystanders in the Christian God’s sordid morality play. God could have chosen a different path, but he didn’t. This is the best humans, uh I mean God, could come up with?

Amazing, isn’t it?

No, actually it is not. There’s nothing amazing about the blood sacrifice of Jesus. There’s nothing amazing about his suffering. There’s nothing amazing about his death. Jesus’ story is one of failure, that of a man who went against the political and religious powers of his day and lost. His story is repeated daily in countless places as people stand against oppression, only to end up imprisoned or killed. Instead of wallowing in the blood of Jesus, the world would be better served if Christians focused on reducing suffering and eliminating the bloody slaughter caused by war.  You know, quit talking and start doing.

I have never asked anyone to die for me, nor would I. I recognize that police officers and soldiers might be called on to keep me safe. These are jobs that they have chosen to do. I would never ask anyone to die on my behalf. When someone says that American soldiers are fighting in the Middle East so I can enjoy life in the land of the free and home of the brave, I say, not for me! I would never ask such a thing. Bring all the soldiers home, today. Of course, the troops will not be brought home, betraying the fact that the real reasons for their deaths are imperialistic American ambitions and corporate profits.

There are certainly times when human death for others is worthy of praise and remembrance. Dying to protect and save others is certainly noble, and I honor those have given their lives for others. Such people are heroes —  hero being a word robbed of its significance by its shallow, frequent use. The death of Jesus is not worthy of such a designation. Think about it for a moment. Ponder the whole God/creation/Adam-and-Eve/Satan/original-sin/blood-sacrifice/Jesus/redemption/salvation/death/heaven-or-hell story line. Does any of it make any sense to you?  When viewed with eyes that have not been colored by religious indoctrination, this story sounds like some sort of Stephen King novel — soon to be adapted into a feature film for the SyFy channel.

Why is that Christians never ask God WHY? Why this sordid story of animal and human sacrifices? Why the creating of Satan just so he could tempt humans to sin? Why create humans with a capacity to sin? If all of this was just a coder’s work gone awry I would understand. But, according to Christians, their God is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. THIS was the best the Christian God could come up with? According to a Ken Ham-reading of the Bible, four thousand years ago, God killed every human, save eight, by drowning them in a worldwide flood. Millions of people died. Here was God’s chance to start over with just eight supposedly God-fearing humans. And what did these humans do? Got drunk and had incestuous sex. Why didn’t God kill Noah and his family and start over? Why didn’t God put an end to Satan and demons? Why did God kill millions of people because they committed execution-worthy sins, only to reboot the world without changing anything?

Didn’t God learn anything from the Human 1.0 experiment? Evidently not. Two thousand years after Noah’s flood, God decided he had to do something about the Human 2.0 experiment. God became human (much like he did when he walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve), traveled to earth, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life for thirty-three years, only to commit suicide on a Roman cross. (Suicide? Therefore doth my Father love me, because I [Jesus] lay down my life, that I might take it again. John 10:17) And now, for two thousand years God is conducting the Human 3.0 experiment. And if the book of Revelation is to be believed, this experiment will also end in horrific violence and bloodshed.

It seems to me that God is having a hard time getting things right; that try as he might his multi-player action games are riddled with bugs — coding errors that often cause the games to either reboot or stop working. Perhaps it is time for another coder to try his hand at creation. Sorry God, you’ve been fired.

Christianity would be better served if the bronze-age blood sacrifices and cult worship found in the Bible were excised from its pages. Thomas Jefferson was on to something when he took a pair of scissors to the Bible. Instead of a God who became a man, we could have a sage who uttered sayings and teachings worthy of emulation. Few would argue with the value of such teachings. Human sacrifice? Blood sacrifice? These are relics best left in the dust bin of human history.

 

Why Evangelical Beliefs and Practices are Psychologically Harmful — Part One

born in sin

Cartoon by David Hayward

In light of a recent comment on the post Do Evangelical Beliefs Lead to Psychological Damage?, I thought I would give several reasons why I think Evangelical beliefs and practices are psychologically harmful.

Evangelical Christianity teaches that everyone is born with a sinful nature. People do not become sinners, they are, by nature, sinners. From the moment people come into this world they are sinners who are at variance with God. This is the lot of the human race. No one, except Jesus, is exempt.

What is sin? Sin is, according to Evangelicals, transgression of the law of God. God is Holy. He hates sin and those who do it.  All of us deserve to be eternally punished in the Lake of Fire for our sins. We deserve, because of Adam’s sin in the garden of Eden, to be tortured in the flame of Hell for eternity.

Jesus came to earth to redeem people from their sins. According to Evangelicals, God demands human sin be atoned for through a blood sacrifice. When Jesus was on the cross the wrath of God the Father was poured out on Him —wrath that Jesus did not deserve. Taking our sins and punishments upon himself, Jesus died on the cross to satisfy our sin debt.

Justification by faith is central to Evangelical soteriology. Simply put, the term means that God looks at a saved (born again) sinner “just as if they never sinned.” How is this possible? God hasn’t changed! He still hates sin and those who do it. He still throws people in the Lake of Fire to be tormented for eternity. God is God and this is what God does. It is only through the merit and work of Jesus that born-again sinners are saved from the fury of a wrathful God. Jesus stands between the saved sinner and God, taking on the violence that right rightfully belongs to saved and unsaved sinners alike. When God looks at saved sinners all he see is his son Jesus.

What I have written above is Evangelicalism 101. It is classic substitutionary-atonement, justified-by-faith, Protestant theology. Understanding this will be key to what follows.

How do Evangelicals view themselves?

  • I am a sinner. I sin daily in word, thought, and deed.
  • Even now, I deserve hell and punishment from God.
  • The only difference between me and the worst of sinners is that I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. The blood of Jesus covers my sin and I am, by faith, justified before God through the merit and work of Jesus.
  • No matter what suffering and pain comes in my life, I should be grateful that I am saved and that I have escaped eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire.

Most Evangelical pastors spend a significant amount of time preaching about sin. These men self-described men of God really can’t be faulted for doing this. As People of the Book, they must preach what the Bible says — and the Good Book certainly has a lot to say about sin, judgment, and chastisement.

In the Old Testament alone there are 635 laws. Then there is the New Testament with all the new laws added by Jesus, Paul, John, and Peter.  Add to these the personal interpretation of the laws, commands, and precepts by Evangelical preachers…well there’s plenty of sin to preach about.

Needless to say there is a lot of guilt and fear among Evangelical believers. For all their talk about grace, Evangelical preachers spent significant amounts of time preaching sermons meant to cause listeners to feel guilty and fearful. Despite being miraculously saved, Evangelicals still sin —often more so than the uncircumcised, degenerate Philistines of the world. No matter how often pastors preach about this or that sin, preachers and congregants alike continue to sin. Evangelicals commit sexual sins, divorce, commit felony crimes, and have abortions, all at levels similar to those who never darken the doors of Christian churches. And thanks to the internet, we now know that Evangelical pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, youth directors, and run-of-the-mill congregants abuse and sexually assault children and prey on vulnerable teenagers and adults.

Despite knowing all of this, Evangelicals preachers — ignoring their own secret sins — continue to berate and badger congregants over their sinful behaviors. How DARE you sin!, Evangelicals preachers proclaim. Look at what Jesus did for you! The Bible says, how dare they, who have been freed from sin, continue any longer therein?

Evangelicals believe that the third person of the Trinity — the Holy Spirit — lives inside of them and is their teacher and guide. The Holy Spirit is a sin-o-meter of sorts. When temptation comes the sin meter starts saying, NO! NO! Don’t do this! Turn! Run! Leave! Stop!

Yet, even with Jesus saving them, the Holy Spirit living inside of them, the Bible as the Words of God, and thundering preachers reminding them of the dangers of sins, Evangelicals still sin like just like the rest of us. Try as they might, Evangelicals can’t kick their sin habit. This ever-present reality results in a lifetime of guilt and fear.

Evangelical church altars are routinely lined with people “getting right with God.” Churches hold revival services so congregants can wipe their sin slates clean and return to walking the straight and narrow way. Pastors weekly spend hours counseling church members who find themselves ensnared by Satan — caught up in temptation and sin. Preachers themselves are routinely caught up in this or that sin. If preacher can’t walk the talk, is it realistic to expect lesser Christians to do so?

For all their talk about forgiveness and deliverance, sin is still the number one problem Evangelicals daily face. No matter how much they pray, asking for forgiveness, sin keeps returning, spoiling their attempts to live a Godly life. A lifetime of this kind of living makes people emotional train wrecks. Over time, Evangelicals learn how to “hide” their sin. They learn the right things to say when asked about how things are in their lives. They learn how to play the “I am right with God” game. These bought-by-the-blood Evangelicals learn to erect a façade that masks the reality of their lives.

Sinning Evangelicals know they are frauds and hypocrites, yet they dare not admit this to anyone. Little do they know that EVERYONE, including the pastor, is just like they are. Some Evangelicals, after decades of being on the sin roller coaster, decide to get off. They crave an opportunity to live authentic lives, lives that are free from the emotional weight of guilt, fear, and condemnation.

Getting off the roller coaster is not easy. The emotional baggage weighs the people down. Isn’t their walking away the BIGGEST sin of them all? Doesn’t this prove that they never were real followers of Jesus? Their churches, pastors, and  Evangelical family will condemn them for throwing in the towel. Their defection will be viewed in light of what they Bible says about them: they went out from us because they were not of us. For if they were of us, they would have continued with us.” Leaving is PROOF that they never were the real deal. No matter how many years they faithfully walked the straight and narrow, the singular act of leaving undoes all the good they did in the name of Jesus.

Once free, an interesting thing happens: guilt and fear begins to recede. Psychological stress start to fade. For the first times in years, they experience peace. For them, it took leaving the Prince of Peace to experience inner peace.

Instead of live dominated by thoughts of their sinfulness, these former Evangelicals learn that many (most) of the actions the Bible, along with what their pastors and churches called sin, are not sin at all. As time goes on their “sin” list becomes smaller and smaller. Perhaps they learn that there isn’t really any such thing as sin. People do good and bad things and should be judged, not by a moral standard found in an antiquated book, but by a basic humanistic, common morality —  morality that respects the private acts of consenting adults; a morality that recognizes that many of the acts of other human beings are none of their business.

These former Evangelicals now have the freedom to live their lives on their own terms. Evangelical zealots from their past will warn them that they have made themselves their own God and that if they are not careful, they will become reprobates — those whom God has given over to the list of sins recorded in Romans 1 and 2. These type of threats no longer have the desired effect. Why? Because their minds having been freed from the chains of Evangelical Christianity. They now know what it is to have true freedom. Once free, having experienced the peace that passeth all Evangelicalism, they will never return to the garlic and leeks of Evangelical Christianity. To quote an old Southern Gospel song…They have gone too far to turn back now!

The Preacher and His TV

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In the 1960s, when I was a child, my Dad would drop my siblings and me off at the Bryan Theater so we could watch the 25-cent Saturday afternoon matinee. But somewhere in my primary school years, going to movies became unacceptable. From that point forward, outside of attending a drive-in movie one time at age 18, I didn’t go to a movie theater again until I was in my late 30s.  As a Christian, I believed that going to or renting movies was supporting Hollywood, an institution that I considered a den of iniquity.

In the late 1990s, having become more “liberal” in my thinking, I decided it was time for the Gerencser family to go to a movie. When I told Polly that we were all going to the drive-in to see a movie, she was appalled. She literally thought that God was going to strike us dead. Well here we are, all these years later, still among the living.  Evidently, God didn’t seem to care about us going to the drive-in. By the way, the first hardcore, violent, nudity laden movie we saw was George of the Jungle! The Second? Air Bud.

I grew up in a home that always had a television. My Mom told me one time that American Bandstand was my babysitter. The first memory I have about television is watching the Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. I remember my Dad coming home with what I later in life called the “poor man’s color TV.” It was a colored, plastic sheet that Dad taped to the TV screen. The top of the sheet was blue and the bottom was green. Supposedly, the screen was meant to simulate sky and grass. Dad wasn’t impressed and we quickly went back to watching black and white TV. The Gerencser family didn’t own a color television until sometime in the 1970s.

My wife and I married in 1978. One of our first purchases was a used tube console color TV that we purchased from Marv Hartman TV in Bryan, Ohio. We paid $125. We continued to watch TV for a few years, until one day I decided that watching TV was a sin. This was in the mid-1980s. After swearing off watching TV, I decided that no one, if he were a good Christian anyway, should be watching television. One Sunday, as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, I preached a 90-minute sermon on the evils of watching television and going to the movies. I called on all true Christians to immediately get rid of their TVs and follow their preacher into the pure air of a Hollywood-free world.

To prove my point, I gathered the congregation out in front of the church for a physical demonstration of my commitment to following the TV-hating Jesus. I put our TV in the church yard and I hit it several times with a sledge-hammer, breaking the TV into pile of electronic rubble. Like the record burnings of the 1970s, my act was meant to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to be an on-fire, sold-out follower of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Just before I hit the TV with the sledge-hammer, a church member by the name of Gary said to me, Hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV I’ll take it.  How dare he ruin my sin-hating demonstration! I thought at the time. I gave Gary a scowling look and proceeded to knock the devil right out of the TV. I am happy to report that not one church member followed in my TV-hating footsteps.  What church members did do is make sure that their televisions were OFF when the man of God made an appearance at their home.

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In the early 1990s, I would, from time to time, rent a television from a local rent-to-own business. Two times come to mind: the World Series and the 1991 Gulf War. Outside of that, my oldest three children grew up in a television-free home. They were teenagers: 18, 16, and 13, before they watched TV (except for watching Saturday cartoons when they were little). Well, this isn’t entirely true. When they visited their grandparents, they were permitted to watch TV (even though I wasn’t happy about them doing so). Like Amish children, they were mesmerized by Disney movies and cartoons.

After our family attended their first movie, I decided I would buy a television, setting in motion seven years of what any competent psychologist would call bizarre behavior. While what I am about to share will sound hilarious to those who never spent any time in Christian Fundamentalism, at the time, there was nothing humorous about my actions.

From 1998 through 2005, I purchased and got rid of at least six television sets. I gave one TV to the local crisis pregnancy center. I also gave one set to my son. The rest I sold at a loss. Why all the televisions?, you might ask. Simple. After watching TV for a time, like a moth to a flame, I was drawn towards watching shows that I promised God I would never watch. Dear Lord, I promise I will only watch G or PG rated programming, and if there is any nudity, cursing, or gore I will immediately turn off the TV. No matter how much I wanted to be holy and righteous, I found that I loved watching programs that contained things that I considered sin.

My “sinning’ would go on for a few weeks until the guilt would become so great that I would say to God, you are right God. This is sin. I will get rid of the TV and I promise to never, never watch it again. Out the TV would go, but months later I would get the hankering to watch TV again and I would, unbeknownst to Polly, go buy a television.

It is clear now that my beliefs made me mentally and emotionally unstable. I so wanted to be right with God and live a life untainted by the world, yet I loved to watch TV. One time, after I came to the decision to get rid of yet another TV, Polly arrived home from work and found me sitting on the steps of the porch, crying and despondent. I hated myself. I hated that I was so easily led astray by Satan. I hated that I was such a bad testimony. Look at ALL that Jesus did for me! Couldn’t I, at the very least, go without watching TV for the sake of the kingdom of God?

I have written before about my perfectionist tendencies. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. God’s Word said to abstain from the very appearance of evil. Psalm 101:3 was a driving force in my life:

I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

Television was a wicked thing, I told myself, yet I continued to battle with my desire to watch sports and other programs on TV. Needless to say, the advent of internet, brought into our home a new way for me to be tempted to sin against the thrice holy God I pledged to serve, even unto death. I’m sure that my children will remember me putting a sign above our computer that quoted Psalm 101:3. This was meant as a reminder that we should NEVER view inappropriate, sinful things on the internet.

My three oldest children, now in their 30s, continue to rib me about my TV-crazed days. One of them will periodically ask if I am ready to get rid of our flat-screen TV. Their good-natured ribbing hails back to the day when their Dad acted like a psycho, buying and selling televisions. At the time, I am sure they thought I was crazy, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

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Where was Polly in all of this, you ask? She was the dutiful, submissive wife who believe her God-called, on-fire, sold-out Christian pastor of a husband knew best. Polly rarely watched TV, so having one didn’t matter to her. I was the one who “needed” to watch TV. As I now psychoanalyze this period of my life, I think watching TV was my way of being normal. Serving a sin-hating God and preaching to others a rigorous morality meant that I had to live a Christ-honoring, sin-free life. Again, in light of the atoning work of Jesus on my behalf, I thought that forsaking the pleasure of the “world” was but a small price to pay for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Yet, I wanted to be like everyone else, so I would come home after a long day of studying for my sermons and visiting church members, and leave God sitting on the front porch. Watching TV was my way of unwinding after work days which were often 12 hours long. While I still was selective about what I watched, my attempts to avoid “sinful” viewing rarely kept me from watching whatever I wanted to watch, especially after the children went to bed. Over time, my guilt levels would increase, ultimately leading to the behaviors outlined in this post.

In 2006, 18 months before I deconverted, I finally put an end to my battle with the television. I decided, God be damned, I was going to own a TV and watch whatever I wanted to watch. From that point forward, we have owned a TV. While I have continued to buy televisions, my purchases are driven by resolution, refresh rate, and screen size, and not the thought that God was doing to strike me dead for seeing a naked woman on TV. (We now own two televisions: a 43 inch and 32 inch LED Vizio TV.)

Several years ago, as we were watching an episode of True Blood, I turned to Polly and said, who would of thought that we would be sitting here watching bloody, naked vampires having sex?  We laughed together, both grateful that the preacher had finally been delivered from the demon of TV.

Note

List of article and videos about the sin of watching hellivision and going to the movies. This list was compiled by a devoted follower of the late Jack Hyles.

God Hates the Sin but Loves the Sinner

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A common cliché used by Christians when expressing their objection to a particular human behavior is I hate the sin but love the sinner.

The reason Christians use this cliché is that they want to be on God’s side and the sinner’s side at the same time. Most Christians want to be liked and respected, yet they know the Bible says some pretty harsh things about non-Christians and the sins they commit. What’s a believer to do? Why, come up with a catchy cliché that absolutely goes against the teachings of the Bible.

Here’s the problem with hate the sin but love the sinner thinking. According to the Bible, you know the book that Evangelicals swear by, God doesn’t think this way. Here’s what the Bible says about God and how he views sin and the sinner:

  • God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day. (Psalm 7:11)
  • The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth (Psalm 11:5)
  • Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows (Psalm 45:6,7)
  • Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken without remedy. These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,(Proverbs 6:15-17)
  • I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. (Amos 5:2)
  • And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD. (Zechariah 8:17)
  • I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. (Malachi 1:2,3)
  • As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. (Romans 9:13)
  • For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: (divorce) for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously. (Malachi 2:16)
  • Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. (Revelation 2:5,6)

The Bible seems quite clear. God not only hates sin, but he also hates those who do it. According to old-fashioned substitutionary atonement Evangelicalism, God would even hate the Christian if it weren’t for Jesus standing between God and the Christian. Look at what God did to Jesus on the cross. It is hard not to conclude that God really has a problem with anger. He beat his son to death, not for his own sin, but for the sins of others. Talk about taking the whole sin and sinner thing seriously.

Ponder the message of the book of Revelation. What’s the central theme of the book? The rapture? The second coming?  What does the writer of Revelation spend most of his time writing about? God’s wrath. God’s judgment. God does some pretty sick stuff to the humans who are alive when Jesus comes back to earth. And when God is all done opening books and seals and turning angry angels loose to afflict the human race, what does he do? He sends all the non-Christians to the Lake of Fire to be tormented day and night for all eternity. This sure makes me want to break out in song and sing, Our God is an Awesome God.

I used to explain God’s view of sin and sinner this way:

Imagine you are taking a walk in the woods and come upon a skunk. Before you can run, the skunk raises its tail and sprays you. Do you at that moment say, I love the skunk but hate his smell? Of course not. The skunk is directly connected to the smell. No skunk, no smell.

So it is with sinners and their sin. Sin is what sinners do. You can no more disconnect a sinner from their sin than you can a skunk from their smell.

I should note in passing that most of the God hates talk is found in the Old Testament. Christianity would be better served if it jettisoned the Old Testament and the book of Revelation. And getting rid of Paul’s writings might not be a bad idea either. As long as these books remain in the Bible, Christians will continue to have a hard time explaining to non-Christians that God really loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life.

God may be love, but he sure has a mean streak.