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Tag: The Gospel Coalition

Inerrancy Means “Without Error” Until it Doesn’t 

inerrancy

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

Several years ago, The Gospel Coalition (TGC) posted an interview of Dr. D.A. Carson. Carson is the president of The Gospel Coalition and a research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity SchoolIvan Mesa, an editor for TGC, conducted the interview. Mesa begins the interview by defining what he believes has been the historic Christian belief on inerrancy. Mesa writes (link no longer active):

“Scripture cannot be broken,” our Lord Jesus said without qualification (John 10:35).  Throughout history his followers have believed the Bible, as a divinely given book, is fully trustworthy and contains no error. To use a more specific term, it’s inerrant.

Carson repeats this well-worn Evangelical belief:

The word “inerrancy” simply means without error; the doctrine of inerrancy is nothing more than the affirmation that the Bible always tells the truth.

Based on what Mesa and Carson have stated, it is easy to conclude that Evangelicals believe that the Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, is without error. This article of faith is the foundation of Evangelical belief, and the vast majority of church members believe that the Bible they hold in their hands is without mistakes. On Sundays, countless Evangelical pastors will remind parishioners that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Evangelicals will leave church on Sunday believing their precious KJV/NIV/NASB/ESV Bible is without error, mistake, or contradiction.

Yet, these very same preachers will go to a pastor’s meetings on Tuesday and participate in discussions over lunch about the errors and contradictions in the Biblical text. These men of God KNOW that there is no such thing as an inerrant translation, yet they deliberately deceive church members about the nature and history of the Bible. These preachers know that doubting the Word of God is the first step out the door of the church. Better to cross one’s fingers behind one’s back when saying the Bible is the inerrant Word of God than have church members doubting the infallibility, perspicuity, and veracity of the Bible

While both Mesa and Carson unapologetically claim to believe in inerrancy, they are less than honest about what they REALLY mean when they say the Bible is inerrant. Mesa asked Carson, “If the word ’inerrancy’ requires so much careful definition and discussion, is it still the best word to use today?”  Why does the word “inerrancy” require “much careful definition and discussion”? If the Bible is “inerrant,” what further explanation is needed?

Carson goes on to state:

a) Inerrancy is not to be confused with precisionism. We expect more precise statements only where the context demands them. “It took him three hours to walk home” may be a true statement, even if it took him two and three-quarters hours, provided the context leads the reader to expect rounded-off figures.

(b) Inerrancy does not refer to grammatical irregularities. To think otherwise is to misunderstand how language works: usage drives change, and in every culture the degree of conformity between usage and a somewhat artificial grammar-book ideal varies with different strata.

(c) The Bible includes countless passages where its “truthfulness” is not the controlling issue. Consider, for example, the anguished laments of Scripture—for example, Jesus’s anguished lament “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is true, of course, that Jesus said this, but as for the words themselves, the focus of interest is less on their truthfulness than on their meaning. By contrast, the assertion that Ehud was left-handed (Judges 3:15) makes a factual claim that is either true or untrue. This is one of the reasons why inerrancy is a useful expression. It is potentially misleading to say “all Scripture tells the truth” if we thereby convey the impression that “Scripture is nothing more than factual expressions.” But to say “all Scripture is inerrant” is to affirm that it is without error, and this negation of untruthfulness covers all of the Bible indiscriminately.

These and similar discussions of inerrancy may seem like nitpicking to some conservatives, while many liberals infer from such discussions that the term itself is useless if it requires so much “careful definition and discussion,” as your question puts it. But the obvious riposte is that once a word or concept is challenged, there is no important term that does not require “careful definition and discussion.” God? Love? Justification? Truth? Spiritual? Trinity? Messiah? Inerrancy is no different. Like the other words, and countless more like them, it can serve as a useful one-word summary, even while it needs unpacking with care and with great attention to what Scripture says.

In other words, Carson’s “inerrant” Bible is not without error after all. And what neither Carson or Mesas state in the interview is that, for Evangelicals, inerrancy applies only to the original manuscripts — the original texts that no one has ever seen. There are no original manuscripts so, strictly speaking, inerrancy is a myth. It is a derivative belief based on the notion that since God is perfect in all his ways, somewhere in the process of giving his Words to man, there must have been perfect texts.

It is time for Mesa, Carson, and Evangelical pastors to admit to their congregations that the Bibles they hold in their hands (or read on their iPads) are not inerrant. They need to frankly confess that there are no original documents, and all that Christians have are cobbled-together Bibles littered with errors, contradictions, and internal inconsistencies. The so-called “inerrant” Bible is an Evangelical urban legend, believed only by those lacking training in theology and the Biblical texts. The man shouting THUS SAITH THE LORD, on Sunday? He doesn’t really believe what he is saying. At best, all he can say is this: THUS SAITH THE LORD, MAYBE.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Beware of Evangelicals Who Ask You Questions About Your Tattoos

cant we be friends
Cartoon by Paco

I have written numerous times about how Evangelicals use fake friendships to evangelize non-Christians:

My Evangelical critics might argue that I have it out for Evangelicals; that I can’t see the “good” Evangelicals do; that Evangelicals sincerely care about people. Believe what you will, but one thing I know for sure: Evangelical zealots are notorious for using disingenuous methods and subterfuge to achieve their God-ordained goal: winning lost souls to Jesus. No other group of Christians — Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses excepted — is willing to use fake friendships to achieve a religious objective. I am friends with several mainline Christian pastors. Not one time have these men and women attempted to evangelize me. We are friends for friendship’s sake.

I am convinced that Evangelicals have a pathological need to make other people to be just like them; to seek, force, and demand conformity to their peculiar religious beliefs. Evangelical zealots see every non-Christian as an evangelization target, a prospect for Heaven, a prospective (tithing) church member. The goal remains what it has always been: to recruit new club members.

Lest readers think that I have developed this opinion post-Jesus, people who were following me back in 2007 know that I was quite vocal about Evangelicals and their nefarious evangelism methods. Readers from that time likely remember my interaction with an emergent church pastor named Iggy. Iggy was bragging about what he and his church were doing for the local community. If I remember right, they were handing out free flower pots to people. I asked if the pots had the church’s name on them and if locals were given church advertising brochures along with the pots. After Iggy admitted that yes, the pots had the church’s name on them, and yes, people were given church advertising brochures, he attempted to defend his actions by saying they were genuinely trying to make friends with people in their community.

Then, as now, I objected to what I considered less-the-honest methods to evangelize people; that the goal wasn’t friendship, but saving the lost and gaining new church members. This led to Iggy and me having an epic war of words, one in which I had a profanity-laced meltdown (for which I later apologized).

I share this story to emphasize the fact that I objected to Evangelicals using fake friendships to evangelize then, and I still object today. Whether I was a Christian or an atheist, it matters not. I despise people who attempt to befriend others for ulterior reasons. All I ask is that Evangelicals be upfront about why they are doing what they are doing. In other words, stop the Trojan horse evangelism practices. Have the “soldiers” get out of the wooden horse and declare themselves: we are here to ravage you in the name of the one true Lord and King, Jesus.

This brings me to the latest Gospel Coalition post about yet another way to evangelize non-Christians. Written by Erin Wheeler, wife of Brad Wheeler, the pastor of University Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Wheeler writes:

“I like your ink,” I say casually as I walk past the woman in my exercise class. “Thanks,” she mumbles, eyeing me with that look.

It’s the look people give when someone notices their tattoo. They wonder if the person really means the compliment, or if they just happened to notice their purposely and permanently pigmented skin.

At the gym, our conversation continues for a bit. She tells me her tattoo reminds her of a family member she lost a few years ago. I tell her I got my tattoo to remember how God saved my marriage at a time when I thought we might not make it. I have interactions like these frequently: at the gym, at the coffee shop, at the community pool. As a Christian, I’m hoping these tattoo conversations might lead to a more important conversation. A conversation about the gospel.  

As we go through our days, looking to speak to others about Christ, maybe it’s time we considered how asking about someone’s tattoo could be intentionally evangelistic

….

Tattoos present a marvelous gospel opportunity for us. As my coworker, a former tattoo artist, said, “99 percent of people get a tattoo for a reason. There’s a story behind the artwork.” And that, my Christian friend, is an open door! Why not walk through it?

….

Why not ask the barista you order coffee from each morning (whose name I hope you know by now), “Hey Sam, I’ve noticed that tattoo on your arm and have been thinking about it. What is it exactly?” Depending on how he responds, follow up with, “What made you decide on that design?”  

Or how about a coworker or neighbor you’ve gotten to know a bit? Why not take the risk of possibly sounding nosy or weirdly curious: “Hey Laura, I’ve seen those words on your wrist. What made you choose those? I’m curious.” And then shut your mouth and listen. There’s a story behind that tattoo. 

Even if they don’t share their story with you right then and there, it might be the thing God uses to open a door and give you an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s amazing what you can learn about somebody with that simple prompt. 

In response to my questions, I’ve heard people’s whole life stories. I’ve had a man tell me about his tattoo in memoriam for the infant daughter he tragically lost. Others have shared their love of nature—or “Mother Earth” as they called it. I even had a fellow nurse explain her love for Dr. Who because of how he cared for others, particularly the innocent. According to her, that’s what led her into nursing. Even if someone doesn’t remember getting their tattoo, that drunken night or wild weekend is part of their story. 

We can respond to each of these stories with gospel truth. Jesus, the ultimate caregiver, has made a way for the dead to come to life through his own death and resurrection. He knows what suffering is like. He can identify with the broken. He’s the Creator and Sustainer of this amazing world. All we see, he has made. He’s the master storyteller, and he’s at the center of it all. 

Why not use a tattoo story as a bridge to invite others to become a part of God’s larger story?

Do you have tattoos? If you do, remember this post the next time an Evangelical strikes up a conversation with you about your body art. (Especially if it is Jerry Falwell, Jr. asking about your tats that aren’t visible.) Evangelical zealots want to evangelize you so they can put another notch of the handle of their gospel six-shooter. Yet another sinner slain for Jesus. Perhaps unbelievers need to get tattoos that say “Fuck Off” or “No, I am Not Interested in What You Are Selling” or Born-Again Atheist.” Or maybe just wear garlic around your neck to ward off the Evangelical vampires who want to drain the life out of you.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Jesus is the Only One That Matters

all about jesus

Repost from 2015. Extensively edited, rewritten, and corrected.

In a Gospel Coalition article titled Please Don’t Make My Funeral All About Me, Nancy Guthrie had this to say:

…We were an hour and fifteen minutes in to today’s funeral before anyone read from the scriptures, and further in until there was a prayer. Resurrection wasn’t mentioned until the benediction. There were too many funny stories to tell about the deceased, too many recollections, too many good things to say about the things he accomplished to speak of what Christ has accomplished on his behalf.

But then this wasn’t a funeral. It was a “Celebration of Life.” In fact there was really little mention of death or of the ugly way sickness slowly robbed our friend of everything. Christ and his saving benefits could not be made much of because death and its cruelties were largely ignored…

Guthrie, like many Evangelical Christians, believes that the only thing/person that matters in life is Jesus. He is the end all, the first and the last, the sum of our existence. Even in the most personal of moments, a funeral, Guthrie wants everything to be about Jesus. The person in the coffin is of no consequence. The life they lived mattered little, because without Jesus they had no life. Without Jesus, their life had no meaning or purpose.

Guthrie wallows in her depravity. She sees herself as a loathsome, vile worm, a putrid corpse of sin and defilement. That is, until Jesus regenerated her and gave her new life. From that moment forward, her life was not about her, but about Jesus. From the moment of her new birth to the moment she dies, she is a nobody. Only Jesus matters.

In Guthrie’s mind, the best funeral is one where the minister says, Joe Smith lived, knew Jesus, and died. Now let me tell you about Jesus, his death and resurrection, and the ugliness of sin and death. In other words, Guthrie wants the funeral to be like a church service, a passive event where Jesus is praised and everyone and everything else doesn’t matter.

This approach is dehumanizing and it robs the dead people of all that made them who and what they are. If they lived a full life, then they left behind countless memories and stories that certainly ought to be told. Why not celebrate the dead person’s life? Why not, one last time, remember them for what they said and did? Is this present life really that meaningless without Jesus? Is the Son of God such a Trumpian narcissist that he can’t bear to hear anyone’s name mentioned but his own?

Guthrie sees funerals as an opportunity to be reminded of our worthlessness and the awesomeness of Jesus. Any talk of the good works or the good life of the deceased is too humanistic, too worldly for her. Rather than making much of the deceased, she desires a service where the dead person is just a pretext to talk about the man of the hour: Jesus.

If the funeral service is really all about Jesus, perhaps it is proper to ask exactly what Jesus did for Guthrie’s friend whose ugly sickness slowly robbed them of everything? Did Jesus physically comfort and aid her friend?  Did he have the power to heal her friend? Did Jesus do so? Of course not — her friend died.

Suppose a friend of yours died in a car accident. Your friend could have been saved by a doctor who stopped to gawk at the accident. The doctor offered no aid and made no attempt to save your friend from death. He had to hurry home to help his wife find her car keys. Everyone in your town knows the doctor could have saved your friend’s life, yet he did nothing. Does anyone think that the doctor should be the guest of honor at your friend’s funeral? Of course not. How is this any different from praising a deity who sat idly by while Guthrie’s friend suffered and died? This deity had “all power” yet did nothing.

Guthrie betrays the fact that she is really just like us unwashed, uncircumcised, celebration-of-life, Philistines of the world when she writes “In fact there was really little mention of death or of the ugly way sickness slowly robbed our friend of everything.” Robbed her friend of everything? Wait a minute, I thought JESUS was E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G? Isn’t everything else about their life, even their suffering, just the minutia of life? Why bother to even mention the deceased? Are they not just a prop used to preach the gospel to those who came to the service thinking they were attending so-and-so’s celebration of life?

I was once like Guthrie. I saw funerals as an opportunity to preach the gospel, to witness to people who would not likely darken the doors of the church I pastored. While I did spend some time reflecting on the life of the deceased — that is if they were a Christian — my main focus was on preaching the gospel to the sinners seated before me. In one church, a dear, close friend of mine, a devoted follower of Jesus, died at the age of 40. His funeral was held at the church and for 40 minutes I hammered his Catholic and Methodist family with the Calvinistic gospel. I even told them that the deceased had specifically asked me to preach at his funeral, knowing that it likely would be the last time they would ever hear the gospel.

What did I accomplish? Nothing. I thoroughly offended my friend’s family, and from that day forward I was, to many of them, Pastor Son-of-a-bitch. In Guthrie’s eyes, I did the right thing. I exalted Jesus. I made the funeral about sin, death, and resurrection; about Jesus. But in the eyes of my friend’s family, I made their loved one’s life of little to no importance. The life their brother/uncle/father/friend lived, his good works, his commitment to his family and his job, none of these things really mattered. According to the Bible, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” Any good this man did was because of Jesus, and any bad he did was due to his sinful, carnal nature.

Simply put, Jesus ALWAYS gets top billing.  This is why I have, for the most part, stopped going to Evangelical funerals. Since the deceased is of no consequence, why should I subject myself to the prattle of a preacher as he tries to use guilt (sin) and fear (death) to coerce people, at a time when they are emotionally vulnerable, to become a Christian?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Beware of Evangelicals Coming in the Name of “Friendship”

lets be friends

I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible for many Evangelicals to befriend people just for the sake of friendship. Much like Amway or Herbalife peddlers, zealous Evangelicals always have an ulterior motive when talking to and interacting with the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. The good news for us heathens is that many Evangelicals aren’t good Christians. They are content to let us go to Hell in peace. That said, there are plenty of Evangelicals who believe they are duty-bound to irritate, bug, and harass non-Christians, all in the name of evangelizing the lost.

Take Larry Dixon, professor of theology at Columbia International University Seminary and School of Missions in Columbia, South Carolina. Dixon is “convinced that there is a major element missing in many Christian’s lives.” That element, you ask? Befriending sinners as Jesus did. Dixon implores his fellow Evangelicals to leave the Christian Ghetto® and “develop meaningful relationships with those who are still outside of Christ!”

Dixon is so excited about annoying unbelievers that he wants to send pastors a free copy of his book “Unlike Jesus.” Dixon hopes his book will spur pastors to invite him to their churches to give a seminar on “friendship evangelism.” Dixon knows that the vast majority of Evangelical church members never share their faith with anyone — all praise be to Loki for this small favor. He’s hoping to guilt more Evangelicals into feeling contrite over their indifference to the plight of the “lost.” I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches. I browbeat congregants in my sermons over their lack of evangelistic zeal, and when that didn’t work, I taught evangelism classes or had special speakers come in to teach church members the best ways to “reach” their family, friends, and neighbors with the Evangelical gospel. Despite all of this, most church members kept their faith to themselves. Outside of leaving tracts at restaurants or in bathroom stalls, most of them were content to go to their graves keeping the “good news” to themselves. Sure, I made them feel guilty over their indifference towards the plight of the lost, but the fact remained, most of them were unwilling to make fake friendships with people they didn’t know.

Then there is Katy Morgan, a writer for The Gospel Coalition. Morgan believes in an especially pernicious form of friendship evangelism. In an article titled Three Reasons to Visit an Elderly Person Soon, Morgan gives several reasons why Evangelical zealots should prey on old people.

  • They’re probably lonely
  • They’re probably wiser than you are
  • They definitely need Jesus

There it is, the “real” reason for Morgan and her ilk to “befriend” the aged: they definitely need J-E-S-U-S.

Morgan writes:

After years of faithful but seemingly fruitless witnessing, my mother saw both of her parents become Christians in their 90s. From my perspective, it seems two aspects of old age were among the things the Spirit used to bring them to faith in Christ. 

First, age had stripped them of all their old routines and ways of doing things. Becoming dependent on others gives people a chance to rethink what’s important. The stereotype is that elderly people are deeply entrenched in their ways. But age also forces many people to relinquish what they once valued most. And, like my grandparents, they may come to reconsider faith. 

Second, they were coming face-to-face with death. They were confronted with the question of what would happen when illness became terminal. They began to number their days (Ps. 90:12) and asked the Lord for his compassion (v. 13). He had mercy on them.

I pray he’ll have mercy on increasing numbers of seniors. Recently, I saw some cards designed to help start conversations about Jesus with elderly people. Each one had a picture, a Bible verse, and a prayer. I’m hoping I can take these as a gift for my elderly friend around the corner. “What do you think about Jesus?” I’ll ask. “What do you think of these verses?” We’ve spoken a little about God before, and I know she’ll be willing to talk. And what a hopeful opportunity it will be!

There’s a mission field in our own streets: in lonely apartments and quiet care facilities. These men and women have not been forgotten by God. Let’s be his hands and his feet to them: visiting, befriending, learning, and proclaiming.

I am all for genuinely befriending and helping people, be they young or old. However, I despise Evangelicals who come bearing gifts of friendship when what they really want to do is “save” people from the wrath and judgment of their mythical God. Old people, in particular, are in the sunset years of life. Yes, we “feel” our mortality. We sense the specter of death lurking in the shadows. We know that someday, sooner than later, it will be our names on the obituary pages of our local newspapers. We don’t need fake friends reminding us of our frailty. My wife and I have lived in the same rural Ohio town for thirteen years. There are six Evangelical churches within five miles of our home. Want to know how many times the pastors of these churches have knocked on our door to introduce themselves, invite us to church, or share with us that wonderful salvation they prattle on and on about on Sundays? Zero. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, now there’s a Christian sect that takes the Great Commission seriously. Evangelicals? Why, they are too busy worshiping and getting (metaphorically and literally) fat to bother with the temporal or eternal needs of their neighbors.

Evangelicals love to talk about evangelism, reaching the “lost,” and all the other metaphors they use to describe those God will torture for eternity in the Lake of Fire if they don’t repent and believe the gospel. But the fact remains, most of them, including pastors, deacons, and Sunday school teachers, seem to have no interest in evangelizing unregenerate sinners. Why is that? I suspect that they really don’t like bugging people. Who among us loves having door-to-door salespeople knocking on their doors? None of us. And isn’t that exactly what Dixon, Morgan, and their fellow zealots do: without invitation, inject themselves into the lives of others? Believing that they have a mandate from headquarters to go into the highways and hedges and compel sinners to come to Jesus, evangelizers will the bug the hell out of family, friends, and strangers. Never content just to be decent, thoughtful, genuine human beings, Dixon, Morgan, and company scour the countryside looking for “opportunities” to become fake friends with young and old alike.

After I divorced Jesus in 2008, I lost all of my Evangelical friends and colleagues in the ministry, save one man and his wife. I have been friends with this man since third grade — fifty plus years. I just saw him at a basketball game last night. We chatted as I photographed the game. Both he and his wife attend a Nazarene church. Why did my relationship with this couple survive my deconversion? We agreed that we had many things in common, and instead of focusing on our disagreements over politics, God, and religion, we decided to focus on things such as family, grandchildren, enjoying good food, and taking road trips. My friends are willing to let me go to hell in peace. Sure, my loss of faith bothers them, and they wish I were still a club member. I was, after all, their pastor at one time. They have heard me preach countless times. We have shared numerous spiritual experiences together. However, they also know that I am not lacking in knowledge when it comes to the claims of Christianity. What could they possibly say to me that I haven’t heard or said myself? Instead of focusing on things we will never agree on, we choose, instead, to focus on the love and history we have with one another. None of us is in very good shape, health-wise. I suspect that death is going to claim one or more of us sooner, and not later. When that time comes, I have no doubt that one couple or the other will be at the bedside of their dying friend, offering the comfort that only true friendship provides. Perhaps stories of yesteryear will be shared, as the last breath is drawn. Sure, tears will flow. How could it be otherwise?

I know what true friendship looks like. In a 2017 post titled Why Our Christians Friends Leave Us When We Deconvert, I wrote:

As a teenager, I had lots of friends, male and female. Most of my friends were fellow church members, though I did have a few friends in the “world.” I always found it easy to meet new people and make friendships. I had no qualms about talking to complete strangers, a gift that suited me well as a pastor. As a nineteen-year-old boy, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I quickly made a lot of new friends, including one who sleeps beside me to this day. I lived in a dorm room with three other men. Virtually every waking hour of my life was spent with fellow students — at church, school, and social events. As anyone who has ever lived in a college dormitory will tell you, dorm life is busy and full of activity. Practical jokes were an everyday occurrence, and, as an expert joker, I found great satisfaction in pulling one over on my fellow students. I lived on a dormitory wing that was labeled the “party” wing. The other dormitory wing was called the “spiritual” wing. My fellow party-wing residents loved Jesus, but they loved having a good time too. The spiritual wing? They loved Jesus too, but frowned on doing anything that might be perceived as bawdy or mischievous.

One day, a pastor by the name of A.V. Henderson preached at chapel (students were required to attend chapel five days a week). I have preached and heard thousands of sermons in my lifetime. I remember very few of them. I do, however, vividly remember Henderson’s sermon, even forty years later. Henderson was the pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Detroit. Temple was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) megachurch founded by Baptist luminary J. Frank Norris and later pastored by G.B. Vick. The 1970s were the zenith of the IFB church movement. Most of the largest churches in the United States were IFB churches. Churches such as Temple Baptist were pastored by men who were great orators and pulpiteers. Henderson was no exception. Henderson’s chapel sermon was from the book of Job. It was, by all counts, a thrilling, rousing sermon. However, Henderson said something during his sermon that I didn’t, at the time, understand. He said, with that distinct Texas drawl of his, that people will go through life with very few true friendships; that most people were fortunate to have two or three lifelong friends. I thought at the time, what’s he talking about? I have lots of friends! Forty years later, I now know that A.V. Henderson was right; that true friends are rare indeed; that if you have two or three such friends, you should consider yourself fortunate.

“Friends” such as Dixon, Morgan, and their fellow evangelizers, will come and go in our lives. When they don’t get what they want from us — our salvation — they move on to other marks. A common cliché found over the mission board in Baptist churches says, “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?” Rebuff their attempts at friendship and Evangelical soulwinners will leave you in your “need” and seek out other needy sinners. And that’s fine with me. I am quite happy to be left alone in my debauchery and apostasy. I just wish the purveyors of friendship evangelism would leave others alone too. Want to truly help the elderly? Meet their temporal needs. Stop by their homes and volunteer to rake their leaves, paint their houses, or shovel their drives. Make them meals, and sit down and break bread with them. Ask them about their children and grandchildren. Ask them to share stories with you. Genuinely enter into their lives, not as Evangelical carpetbaggers looking at “selling” them Jesus, but as human beings who genuinely love others. Want to make friends with your neighbors? Try being like Wilson or Tim Taylor on the TV show Home Improvement. Wilson and Taylor spent countless hours and years talking to one another over a fence. That’s what friends do. Invite your neighbors over for a cookout. When you see they have a need, try and meet that need. We have a plethora of opportunities to befriend others. We share a common humanity, regardless of our political or religious beliefs. If you are a Christian and a neighbor asks about your beliefs/faith, by all means share them. However, attempting to befriend people as a means to an end — salvation — is repugnant. None of us like being used, and that is exactly what Evangelicals do when they target people for evangelization.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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The Bait and Switch Evangelistic Methods of Evangelicals

bait and switch

Originally published in 2015. Updated, corrected, and expanded.

On a previous iteration of this blog, a fundamentalist Christian by the name of Harold commented on The Jonathan Nichols Story: Growing up Gay in the IFB Church post. That post is an excerpt from Jonathan’s story about being raised in the Newark Baptist Temple, the church pastored for forty-six years by my wife’s uncle Jim Dennis, and how the church and its pastor responded to him when he said he was gay. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis.) Harold left this comment:

Jonathan, I am a Baptist who views on homosexuality being sin have never changed. I can say however that my views of homosexuals have changed from judgmental condemnation to compassion. You can Google C.S. Lewis views on homosexuals which are compassionate. I think anyone can be delivered from homosexual sin (pornography, masturbation, the actual sex act) and same sex attraction can be overcome but I think for many it is a battle and perhaps a life long battle although I’m not sure about it being life long. For a compassionate view of homosexuality I would recommend to anyone: Christian, gay, family of one who is gay, a book titled” Love Into Light” by Peter Hubbard. Also for anyone wanting free from homosexuality I recommend http://www.settingcaptivesfree.com

Harold wanted to present himself as a compassionate, loving Christian, but I wasn’t going to let him get by with his subterfuge, so I left this comment:

I know you mean well, but cut the bullshit. Bottom line, no homosexual will inherit the kingdom of God, right? Unless they repent of their sodomy they will be tortured by God in the lake of fire for all eternity, right? Quit hiding behind claims of love and compassion. Jonathan is fine how he is. He is free to love who he wants, and have consensual sex with who he wants. Why should you have these freedoms but not Jonathan? Answer, the Bible says…right?

Subterfuge. This word accurately describes the evangelistic methods used by many Evangelicals. Subterfuge is defined as: Something intended to misrepresent the true nature of an activity.

Evangelicals rarely tell non-Christians what their true motives are. They come bearing gifts, speaking of love and compassion, but their real goal is to convert sinners, baptize them, and make them tithing members of whatever Evangelical church they represent. I’ve come to the conclusion that most Evangelicals are incapable of loving for love’s sake and having compassion for others without having an unstated agenda.

A few years ago, an Evangelical wrote a post about his church going from door to door handing out flower pots. He said they just wanted to show the community that they loved them. I asked, did the flowerpots have the name of the church on them, and did you give them literature from the church? Of course they did. The goal, then, wasn’t showing the community they loved them; it was advertising their church in hopes that people would come to it.

Evangelicals are experts at subterfuge, and it is important to force them to declare their true intentions. In my comment to Harold, I also wrote

Harold, what is your end game here? Put in a good word for Jesus? Evangelize? Preach the truth?

When Evangelicals want to befriend you, help you, or to get all cozy with you, you need to consider what their real motive is for doing so. In an article on The Gospel Coalition website, Jeff Cavanaugh wrote:

Yet churches still have a tremendous evangelistic opportunity in the people who live near the church building. After all, these neighbors walk and drive past the church building every day. They may wonder about what goes on when the church gathers. For non-Christians who don’t know any believers personally, the church down the street may be the biggest reminder of Christianity they see on a regular basis.

So how can a church be faithful in evangelizing the neighborhood when the members don’t live there? Some evangelical traditions have made a practice of “visitation,” knocking on doors and trying to engage people in spiritual conversations. Sometimes this effort bears good gospel fruit, though cultural changes in recent decades have made this more difficult as many North Americans have become suspicious of strangers at the front door.

I serve my local church as deacon of community outreach, and our strategy for reaching the neighborhood around us is mainly one of long-term, patient faithfulness. Our goal is to build relationships with our neighbors that, over time, will make it easier for us to have spiritual conversations with them. These relationships also make our neighbors more willing to attend services and other events aimed specifically at engaging unbelievers with the gospel.

The basic principle behind this strategy is simple, and it’s one any church can follow: engage your neighbors by taking an interest in what they care about. Building common ground is easy when you participate side-by-side in community organizations, service projects, family events, block parties, yard sales, and the like. Common interests are one of the most powerful tools for building friendships that can enable spiritual conversations to take place.

My church is located in a historic urban neighborhood that has a well-defined identity, and many of our neighbors have common interests. Neighborhood associations are popular and prominent in the life of the community, and events like street fairs, art shows, music festivals, park cleanups, and community yard sales are common. We engage our neighbors by having church members volunteer for these events, host booths, and attend neighborhood association meetings. We also invite the community to a couple of evangelistic events at Christmas: a service of lessons and carols with a brief evangelistic sermon, and a sing-along production of Handel’s Messiah…

. . . If your church is in a lower-income area, your neighbors’ biggest concerns are likely to be some of their most basic needs: food, shelter, jobs, transportation, education. Your members might help meet some of these needs, and thereby gain neighbors’ trust and attention, through soup kitchens, clothes closets, literacy programs, and such..

My father pastors a church in Ohio in a middle-class suburb with a lot of families, and many of these neighbors’ lives revolve around their kids. So the church hosts some events throughout the year that provide activities for the kids and expose neighbors to the gospel. The church puts on a vacation Bible school every summer. They host a big Easter egg hunt for the kids of the neighborhood, and someone tells the resurrection story with a clear gospel presentation for the whole crowd…

Here’s the money quote:

The basic principle behind this strategy is simple, and it’s one any church can follow: engage your neighbors by taking an interest in what they care about. Building common ground is easy when you participate side-by-side in community organizations, service projects, family events, block parties, yard sales, and the like. Common interests are one of the most powerful tools for building friendships that can enable spiritual conversations to take place.

On one hand, there is nothing wrong with having common interests with your neighbors. But, as Cavanaugh makes clear, the REAL reason for Evangelicals to have these common interests is so they can witness to their neighbors. Again, this is subterfuge.

I know the neighbors who live on both sides of me. Several summers ago, I sat on my one neighbor’s porch and he and I talked for an hour. We talked about family, our gardens, our health, and psychology (he is a retired psychologist). In the summer, I often talked to my other neighbor, an elderly gent, about woodworking, fishing, and gardening. Every so often, he would let me know he saw his “educated” neighbor’s letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News — that’s me by the way — and we will talk about it for a few minutes. We’d laugh and say, see ya later. Sadly, he had a stroke and I haven’t seen him in over a year.

As a good neighbor, I have no agenda. I don’t want anything from my neighbors. I care about them, and I worry when I don’t see them for a while. Both of my neighbors are good people as they are. I have no desire to win them over to my cause or to convert them to atheism. They are part of my community, and I want to be friends with them. I have other neighbors in front and in back of our house. While I don’t know them as well, I try to be friendly and talk to them when I see them. Again, no agenda.

Evangelicals can’t do this. They see every person as a sinner in need of salvation. Every person they come in contact with is a prospect for heaven, a potential church member. Remember this the next time an Evangelical wants to be your friend or wants to be a part of your group. Perhaps, the first question to ask is this: what do you REALLY want or why are you REALLY here?

Remember, Evangelicals are also taught that the world is evil, and that they are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. (2 Corinthians 6:14) They are taught that they must stand apart from the world, its sins, its philosophies, and its inhabitants. They are like the neighbor who only comes into my backyard to steal my watermelons. He is not interested in me, he is only interested in watermelon. The watermelon in the Evangelical world is another sinner saved, baptized, and made a tithing member of a Bible-believing church.

Beware of watermelon thieves.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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