Archive for the ‘Culture Wars’ Category

We have now reached Bruce Gerencser’s 10th post in his My Journey series, Why Are We Who We Are? A Personal Reflection, which explores fundamentalism in the nature versus nurture context. Basically, he asks whether it is our environment or our biological makeup that makes us who we are. Sociologists have debated this question ever since we conceived of it. The general consensus is that we are a product of both, though some favor one over the other.

My problem with the whole nature versus nurture question is that it precludes the possibility of God’s intervention in a person’s life. It also marginalizes free will, pretending that our decisions regarding religion, politics, ethics, et cetera are largely the product of either genetic predisposition or cultural conditioning.

Folks with this mindset of nurture versus nature often make the argument on the side of nurture that Christians would be Muslims if they had been born in a different country. This ignores the fact that people convert to Christianity in Muslim countries despite the peril to their lives and families this personal decision entails. Likewise, if we were largely a product of either biology or sociology, folks like Bruce should never leave the fold. For that matter neither should’ve I or any of the other churched youth who leave the church each year. Furthermore, the nature versus nurture approach presents a false dilemma that is ultimately self-defeating, for we are then forced to ask the proponent of such an approach whether his decision to accept the nature versus nurture approach is the product of either nature or nurture: if it is the product of nature, how can we be sure he is biologically hard-wired in such a way that he can trust this opinion is true, and, likewise, if his position is the product of nurture, how can he be sure his society has stumbled upon the correct philosophy?

Clearly there is more to our decisions than nature versus nurture. There is an element of free will.

Now Bruce charges fundamentalists with erroneously seeking simple answers to complex questions. This is a misrepresentation. Fundamentalists seek out absolute answers, because we believe the truth can be known and has been revealed in God’s Word. Of course, some fundamentalists [and I do believe this is the stripe Bruce is referring to] want their world ordered down to the last detail. They forget that without faith it is impossible to please God, so that while the truth is absolute and can be known, we are not exactly omniscient.

Our lack of omniscience, especially coupled with the fact that we have free will, leads to a problem: we do not always recognize or accept the truth; furthermore, we often come to the truth by degrees or in stages, so that Paul warned that grace and longsuffering toward our brethren is absolutely necessary.

The stripe of fundamentalism Bruce encountered is one I’m unfortunately well acquainted with. Their rule-mongering reminds us of the Legalists of Ancient China. The Period of Warring States was, as the name suggests, a time of upheaval and civil war. In order to maintain order and control, a philosophy arose called Legalism, which drew up extensive and detailed lists of crimes and assigned exacting punishments for each one. This code was so detailed that a Legalist judge’s job was not to determine the punishment for a crime, but merely to define the crime itself – for the punishment was already prescribed for any crime he eventually decided upon. Like the Legalists of Ancient China, legalist fundamentalists want their world completely ordered in strict categories of black and white. Therefore, they decree [implicitly or expressly] dress codes, speech codes, forbidden places, music codes, entertainment restrictions, and a whole host of similar nitpickery. Some of these legalists were so legalistic that they denied that they were actually legalistic based on an exacting and legalistic definition of legalism!

I have even heard legalists argue over the “correct method” of evangelism. While I attended Appalachian Bible College*, there was a church who regularly handed out soda to folks stuck in gridlocked traffic near the church. These sodas had a little verse affixed to them inviting the thirsty to learn more of Christ and an invitation to their church. They did similar things with handing out gum, snacks and various other things. This church was also big on what they called “friendship evangelism” and what I simply call authentic discipleship. Unfortunately, there were certain professors within the cult of pseudo-spiritual legalism at ABC who objected to these evangelistic methods for various reasons, insisting instead students use tracts, the Romans Road and more traditional evangelistic approaches. They had the perfect right to express a preference or even to point out any weaknesses they saw in novel approaches to evangelism – I would go so far as to say that they had a duty to do so – but they went further by condemning these novel evangelistic methods as incorrect and even unBiblical. Paul, they argued, would never have handed out cans of soda with Bible verses on them. Peter preached; you would never have caught him encouraging “friendship evangelism.” We need to stick with the methods revealed in the Bible! Of course, the counter-argument is that Jesus so utilized friendship evangelism that he was derisively named a friend of sinners. The Bible reports that he regularly ate with sinners, tax collectors, and even self-righteous religious folk. Likewise, in addition to traditional teaching and preaching, Jesus utilized parables [clever teaching stories] and regularly utilized statements we might term thought-provoking hooks. For example, He called Himself the Bread of Life and the Living Water, and called his disciples to be Fishers of Men. In fact, it was one of Jesus’ hooks that He spoke to the Samaritan Woman at the Well that this church was affixing to their soda cans in their allegedly unbiblical and incorrect evangelism methods!

The irony of the legalist fundamentalist’s position is that when Paul addressed their plight, he called them weaker brethren and advised the rest of us to humor them and show them long-suffering. In fact, he recognized that their faith relied upon the crutch of legalism and so Paul advised brethren who’d grown beyond the need for that crutch to voluntarily limit their liberty lest their weaker brethren stumble and transform liberty into license. Of course, they were expected to grow up at some point…

Now let’s compare this Biblical revelation to Bruce Gerencser’s conclusions concerning legalist fundamentalists, especially preachers:

“My upbringing helped to shape me into what I became. From the age of 5 all I ever wanted to be was a preacher. I never had the struggle many men have about what they want to be when they grow up. My heart was set on being a preacher and from the age of 14 to the age of 50 that is exactly what I was.

I looked up to the pastors of our Church. They taught me how a preacher is supposed to live his life. Every pastor I ever had was an ambitious, judgmental, controlling person. The College I went to was populated with teachers that were former and current pastors and they reinforced what the pastors of my youth taught me. The pastor of the Church I attended while in College was a control-freak. He was the boss of all bosses. He was the potentate of the Church. He was a Moses on Mt Sinai. As a 19 yr old boy I revered this man. He was everything I wanted to be.

I pastored my first Church when I was 22 years old. I was arrogant, controlling and full of myself and the Holy Ghost..                         I was taught leaders are meant to lead. A good pastor was an in-charge pastor. A good pastor was a decision-maker. A good pastor would not let anyone deter him from doing whatever God led him to do. (and God talked to me personally through the Holy Spirit and the Bible)

Every pastor I knew was just like me. After all, birds of a feather flock together. Every pastor I knew was controlling and authoritarian. Pastoral authority is a big topic of discussion in fundamentalist Baptist churches.

Time and circumstance tempered me. Towards the end of my years in the ministry I came to realize how wrong I had been about the ministry and how a pastor should conduct himself. I was very sincere and honest as a pastor, but I came to see that I actually hurt people by being a controlling, authoritarian pastor.

I met some evil people during my time as a pastor. I met pastors who preyed on the people they pastored. They manipulated and controlled people in order to gain financial, material, or sexual favor. Lynn is quite right when she said:

I think nasty, authoritarian people are drawn to fundamentalism.

Most fundamentalist churches are pastored by, and controlled by, one man. He is the man of God. He is the one person in the Church that has God’s ear and God,in return, has his.

I would add that fundamentalism also attracts church members who are authoritarian and controlling. Fundamentalist churches are rife with conflict and it is quite common for people to leave the church over conflicts with the pastor or other power brokers in the church. Most fundamentalist Baptist churches have experienced a split at one time or another. It is not uncommon for a group of people to leave the church and go off on their own and start another church. (always led by the Holy Spirit of course)”

How much of what he says here resonates with your journey? In my case, I can honestly say that I empathize with his general impression of the fundamentalist movement as legalistic, grace-less and controlling. I can also tell you with certainty that this generalization is not always fair. Not everyone in the fundamentalist movement is authoritarian and controlling. Many join the fundamentalist movement because they affirm the core doctrines of the church and, despite their warts and dress codes, the fundamentalists generally stand for those doctrines without dissemblance. I know lots of people like me within the fundamentalist movement who aren’t part of the legalist element. In fact, I am ordained through the Association of Fundamental Ministers and Churches, so you could call me a card-carrying fundamentalist; yet I tell you the truth, our local AFMC meetings [which consist largely of ministers and Gospel workers] are some of the best times I’ve ever had. I can’t think of a more graceful, joyful, friendly bunch and I am richer for my fellowship with them. And I will tell you unequivocally that, fundamentalist they may be, but they are not the sort of fundamentalists Bruce describes.

Which brings me to my ultimate point concerning nurture versus nature: I think that the entire reason why ex-Christians like to put their experience in terms of nature versus nurture is to minimize their personal responsibility for being the type of Christians which they now despise. Surely they were just a product of their environment or their biology! Surely they were simply being swept along by the forces of society or genetics until the moment they woke up! You see, being that type of legalistic Christian comes with a fair measure of guilt, which can never be absolved in an atheist paradigm except by denying their own free will and responsibility at that stage of their lives [while arbitrarily suggesting that they are free of such overruling forces now so as to freely exercise their will, right?]. On the other hand, the Christian may admit their accountability, repent of their legalism and seek to make amends, and strive to be more Christ-like instead.

We will discuss legalism a bit more in the next post.

God Bless You,

Tony Breeden

*This post should not be taken as a blanket condemnation of Appalachian Bible College. Nor do I contend that everyone at ABC, then or now, is legalistic. In fact, I support my alma mater’s stance on the authority of the Word of God and its mission to train up servants for Christ, though I caution anyone within fundamentalism that grace AND truth came by Jesus Christ.

There really isn’t much to comment upon in Bruce Gerencser’s 9th post in his My Journey series. This post is entitled I Can’t Believe Bruce Doesn’t Believe.  The following statement caught my attention:

“When it comes to Christianity the less you know the better. Just believe. Don’t question anything. Just have faith. Don’t doubt. Doubt is Satan’s way of leading people astray.”

I disagree.

Oh, I agree that doubt is Satan’s way of leading people astray. That goes without saying. One of the very first sentences he utters in the Scriptures is “Did God really say?” He followed that up by denying God’s Word entirely and casting God as the villain. So, yeah, I’d say that he uses doubt to lead people away from the faith.

Furthermore, statistical research suggests that doubt is at the root of the reason why many our churched youth quit church. Summarized in the book, Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church & What You Can Do To Stop It, this research reveals that while 95% of our kids attended church regularly during their elementary and middle school years, only 55% were still attending during high school. This means that about 40% of the kids in our churches are already gone before high school. Their decision to abandon the faith correlates with the educational level at which they first began to doubt the history of the Bible. In fact, of those who no longer believe that all of the accounts and stories in the Bible are true, 39.8% first had doubts in middle school, an additional 43.7% first had their doubts in high school, while a mere 10.6% had their first doubts during college. About 90% of those kids went to public school. And guess what they start teaching hot and heavy in middle school? Evolution and millions of years – the latter being the key issue here. After being presented with an uncritical, one-sided account of the all-natural origins of the universe [and, in many cases, being told that this all-natural origins account of millions of years of microbes-to-man evolution is compatible with the biblical account of supernatural creation], these kids began to doubt the authority and veracity of the Bible.

So to state the painfully obvious, doubt leads to apostasy. This is pretty much a no-brainer, but what kind of doubt? Almost all Christians have moments of doubt, but this does not guarantee they will leave the faith. So what kind of doubt leads to apostasy?

Unanswered doubt, the kind of doubt that cannot seem to find a satisfactory answer.

Which is why I disagree with the notion that when it comes to Christianity, the less you know the better. I personally think that Christianity can stand up to anyone’s questions. Once I began subjecting it to scrutiny after my long absence from the church scene, after I had shed the credulous husk of my youth and begun to truly think for myself, I could find no objection that did not have a reasonable answer. Ours has always been a reasonable faith supported by weight of argument and evidence. In my experience, those who have little knowledge of apologetics or how to defend their faith are most prone to leave over doubts. There are also those who suppose that the Bible will always provide absolute, unassailable answers. Yet if we are to approach God by faith, not pure deduction, we might expect reasonable answers but not always definitive answers – else the requirement of faith would be made moot by the surety of knowledge.

This is not to say we should not expect reasonable answers. There are always reasonable answers, if we are willing to give Christianity the benefit of the doubt. For example, later in his post, Bruce laments:

“In my previous life I thought I had reached the end of the journey. I was waiting for the big payday in the sky. Now life is an unscripted, yet to be written journey. It remains to be seen where I’ll end up.

Bruce, aren’t you afraid of hell? No, I am not. I think the only hell there is is on this earth. Hell is caused by the machinations of wicked human beings and not devils, demons, or gods.

I see no evidence for a “He has a wonderful plan for your life” God. I refuse to embrace a god who thinks a wonderful plan includes suffering, devastation, pain, and death. I much prefer the “sh*t happens” approach to life. I can embrace and live with such a view of life. Life happens whether I am ready for it or not. There is no god pulling the divine strings of my life.”

I must first note that I disagree entirely with his assessment. If he supposed he had reached the end of his journey as a Christian and was simply waiting for his pie-in-the-sky, he missed a crucial element of authentic Christianity. You see, Jesus declared that He came to give us abundant life. This life we live isn’t meant to be cloistered. It’s meant to be shared. We are meant to love and disciple others and the journey is a great adventure all its own. If he supposed that he had somehow arrived, what did he make of Paul’s declaration that he never counted himself to have arrived, but rather, forgetting the past [including past achievements and failures], he pressed on for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus?

Yet this false sense of having arrived, simply because one has made a declaration of faith, been baptized and begun attending church is pervasive through church culture. We are called to make disciples of the world, yet according to Barna Research, the majority of Christians go throughout their entire lives without ever having led even one person to Christ! Do we suppose there is a section in heaven for the Scorched Yet Scarcely Saved? Have we not read the parable of the talents and the warning regarding the fellow who came to his Lord empty handed? What unprofitable servants we have become! And these same Christians look to churchified motivational speakers like Joel Osteen in search of the abundant life that only comes in fulfilling your calling to be a disciple and to make disciples!

I digress.

Note that Bruce laments he cannot bring himself to “embrace a god who thinks a wonderful plan includes suffering, devastation, pain, and death.” The question of a loving, omnipotent God and the existence of suffering has often been considered. Skeptics consider it a pretty good objection to the existence of the Biblical God. Theologians have offered varying answers, many of which I agree with, some of which I do not. The average guy in the pew supposes that we’ll discover the answer to this apparent paradox when we get to heaven.

I submit that the most reasonable answer has already been provided in the very first book of the Bible. We’ve already alluded to it. The Bible says that God created everything in six normal calendar days and then when He finished He declared His creation “very good.”

Of course, a lot of Christians have abandoned the history of Genesis, supposing that the all-natural origins story of millions of years of microbes-to-man evolution must be true instead. As Christians, they still cannot get over the undeniable fact that the Bible teaches that God is the Creator of all things, but if they suppose that God used evolution – a process of death, suffering, mutation and, according to uniformitarian geology, several mass extinctions – they are essentially painting God out to be an ogre, for what sort of God calls such a world of death and suffering “very good?”

The Bible paints a different picture of the Creator. While God’s original creation was very good, man rebelled against Him in the Garden. Since man had been given dominion over all creation, as a kingdom suffers for the bad decisions of its king, all creation fell under the curse, the punishment for his sin. The Bible teaches that death, suffering and thorns entered the world by Adam’s sin. The world was very good, but now there’s something wrong with the world. As a result of Adam’s sin, thorns, predation, natural disasters, death, suffering and all manner of evils entered the world.

Yet the worst evil in the world dwelt in man’s heart. The world’s first murder was committed within the first generation. To use Bruce’s turn of phrase, the evil machinations of man’s heart made a hell of earth. Seeing that the intent of man’s heart was only continually evil, God sent a worldwide flood to destroy all that drew breath on land, assuring the destruction of every man, except Noah and his family who found grace in God’s sight. Noah and those aboard the Ark were spared, but the flood destroyed everything else.

Biblical Creationists believe that the fossil record is largely a record of the judgment of God on a fallen world. While the world contains much beauty and evidences the power, glory and existence of God, what remains is a fallen world scarred by the effects of the Genesis Flood.

Those who compromise the clear teachings of God’s Word regarding Creation, the Fall and the Flood mean well; they simply want to remove any impediments to acceptance of the Gospel in a scientific age. Yet the imposition of the ideas of millions of years of microbes-to-man evolution have some undeniable conclusions for our theology: God has used death, mutation, pain and suffering to bring about His Will; the unexplainable existence of pain and suffering makes Him a somewhat detached, possibly ogrish deity; He cares more about the Big Picture than the little details or the process in that He created man via microbes-to-man evolution. This is where Bruce gets the idea that God does not concern Himself with our personal day-to-day lives; that there is no plan for our lives. Yet most Christians would object to these observations by appealing to supernatural revelation over natural revelation. We would note that God originally created the world perfect but that death, pain and suffering entered the world by man’s sin and that Nature reveals the glory, power and existence of God but it no longer reveals His nature and character as the original state [and promised future state] of creation does; that God is good and a rewarder them that diligently seek Him; and that He cares enough about the small details of creation to note the number of our hairs and when each sparrow falls. In doing this, we appeal to the superior [ultimate] revelation of Scripture over any philosophy or idea of fallible man, which is what those who compromised Genesis with millions of years and/or evolution should have done instead. You see, only in a literal historical Genesis do we have an answer for death and suffering in this world, much less hope for an ultimate remedy to this problem. Only in a literal historical Genesis do we have reason to expect the loving God who rewards them that diligently seek Him as painted elsewhere in the Bible. And the picture the Bible paints does provide a reasonable answer for the existence of both a loving, omniscient God and a world filled with suffering, violence and death; just as it promises that creation will one day be restored to its original “very good” state.

Be ready at all times to give an apologia [reasoned defense] for the hope that is in you,

Tony Breeden

 

During a bit of research into something else entirely, I stumbled across a September 28, 2011 article from Barna.org called Six Reasons Why Young Christians Leave Church. The article was obviously a teaser for their book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church, why I intend to review sometime this year. Barna.org states that a “five-year project headed by Barna Group president David Kinnaman… was comprised of eight national studies” which focused on young adults who were “regular churchgoers Christian church during their teen years and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15.”

The study revealed that there was no single reason why our kids decide to quit church. So much for a magic bullet! Instead, their research “uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.”

The given reasons, in the order they were presented in the article, were:

  1. Churches seem overprotective
  2. Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic towards science
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

That’s a pretty interesting list. This post will concentrate on their first reason, with posts on the remaining reasons to follow.

Barna.org claims that young Christians leave our churches in part because churches seem overprotective. The article elaborates that:

“A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).”

It is true that this generation has an unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews, thanks in large part to the Internet and new portable, interactive technologies. Kids today carry around stuff we only saw in sci-fi movies back in the 80s. It’s awesome, but there’s a bit of danger to any new technology. Even without the technology, there’s a danger to unguided access to non-Biblical worldviews… which is what makes this generation’s “prodigious consumption of popular culture” so troubling to many Christians. Popular culture is not worldview neutral. Granted, most movies and TV shows aren’t as overt in their worldview as the Wachowski Brothers’ Matrix trilogy or the Joss Whedon’s Firefly series [both of which I enjoyed immensely, by the way; I wish Christian films were as adept at conveying our worldview!], but that’s precisely what makes them so pernicious. You aren’t even aware in many cases how cultural saturation is gradually changing your worldview. Of course, the reason that teenagers can’t be President is because wisdom comes from experience. As you get older, you begin to notice these things. The reason that 18% [almost in 5] of our churched youth don’t see what the big fuss is over movies, music and games is that to them it’s just movies, music and games. It’s just entertainment. They’ve no idea of how the messages they consume, consciously and unconsciously, eventually affect their worldview. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that most of what we consume from the media is antagonistic towards a Biblical Christianity.

But does the Church demonize everything outside the church, as ¼ of the churched youth surveyed believe? I was considering this question thoughtfully when I ran across a new post by none other than Bruce Gerencser [the fellow who inspired me to begin researching why folks leave the church]. Bruce’s post was on the subject of culottes, a sort of ill-thought-out cross between pants and a dress. There’s simply no way to put the “cool” into culottes. They’re just that bad. There’s an Old Testament law against cross-dressing and, back in the day, some fundamentalists decided that a woman wearing pants was a violation of this particular Thou-shalt-not. I’ve also heard arguments for modesty made on behalf of wearing these silly-looking things. Oddly enough, Bruce’s post reveals that he had an occasion to see more than he bargained for despite Baptist endorsements of a modesty factor second only to the burqa. The post was both amusing and painful.

You see, culottes could be something of a poster child for the idea that the church demonizes everything outside the world. In this case, pants on women. As a matter of historical irony, the word culottes originally denoted knee-breeches for MEN. During the Victorian era, culottes came to denote a long, split riding skirt that allowed women to ride a horse like a normal human being rather than side-saddle. From there, culottes [also known as skorts] were developed for a wide variety of purposes including gardening, bike riding, house cleaning, and attendance of religious schools, with the faintest appearance [dare I say, hint] of wearing a skirt. No, I’m not a fan. Yes, I speak sarcasm.

The problem with culottes is that they help engender a Christian ghetto of sorts. It’s life in a religious bubble. We read Christian books, buy Christian movies, and yes we even have a Christian dress code. I hear we even have Christian breath mints! We seem to be trying to be neither in the world nor of it. Because we’ve demonized the world, we are forced to create a Christianized version of it as a safe haven. Yet our Lord commanded us to go out into the world and make disciples. Certainly, He who was called the Friend of Sinners would not condone or approve of the strategy of the separationists. Separationists aren’t interested in adding to the church, but simply preserving it against loss. They had best look to the fate of that fellow in the Parable of the talents who thought as they do!

Do not get me wrong here. This is not a blanket condemnation of fundamentalists or even people who wear culottes. I’m a card-carrying fundamentalist. I believe in modest. I don’t believe in cross dressing or that culottes are the answer. I mean, where did we get the idea that modesty means frumpy? Yet I often joke that I’m trying to put the fun back into fundamentalist, because – let’s face it – the duh and the mental are pretty much covered. We forget that we are supposed to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, not merely conformed to a code of dress and conduct. This transformation is what separates us from the moralizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Moonies and Muslims. I would submit that this fundamentalist preoccupation with rule-mongering is actually detrimental to the Church in two ways:

  1. It most often comes across as judgmental and grace-less, and
  2. It makes it difficult to determine the truly transformed from the cleverly conformed to the point where we often give folks false assurances of salvation based on how well they can follow the dress/speech/conduct code.

And here I must make a critical observation: the reason these churched youth are able to complain about the way Christians seem focused on what media they consume or that they seem to demonize everything outside the church is because Christians are not leading transformed lives. Transformation is difficult and requires dedication, commitment and submission to God’s will for us. There may be an ugly period while your caterpillar faith transforms into a creature capable of flight. The horridness of your transformation will be naked for the whole world to see. Conformation is a varnish, a touch of make-up, a suit that can be put on or cast off with relative ease. You’re still you in the end. Like a chameleon, you change your colors but not your essence. Nothing internal, nothing of substance has changed. You can hide what’s beneath under a shiny veneer. No one has to see what’s really there. The chameleon Christian is what I run into more often than not. A truly transformed Christian, even a Christian in the messy process of transformation is painfully rare; but it is the difference between Christ in you, the hope of glory and Church on you, the pale reflection of glory. No wonder they complain about what we warn against, rather than asking us a reason for the hope within us!

In my next post, we’ll discuss further why the church seems so disconnected from the world it is called to reach for Christ.

God bless you, especially you who strive for true transformation,

Rev Tony Breeden

I grew up in church. Church is not God ~ and thank God for that!

Like a lot of kids who grew up in church, I “got saved” many times. I believe I was sincere each & every time. I also think that it was a mark of my own insecurity & the awareness of growing up that led me to seek salvation anew; after all, I was just a kid last year; I was much more mature this year, right?

I got baptized even more than that. I’ve been dunked forwards, backwards – I’ven even been double dunked. Most of these immersions, admittedly, had something to do with the possibility of relief from the summer heat and with the attention gained by such dunkings, but a few were serious. I recall one particular incident in the winter that was either very serious or just not well thought out. In any case, wise to our possible intentions, those adults administering the baptisms took to a habit of justifying our deed by holding us down until we REALLY repented!

While all of these events tend to muddle together into one distorted childhood memory, I do clearly recall the last time I got saved as a child. My family lived in a trailer somewhere in WV. I couldn’t sleep that night, because I just kept thinking, “If I die before I wake… Is that a joke?!?” Every time I closed my eyes, an implacable force both pressed down upon me and made me wieghtless all at once. It felt as if I were being dragged off into the void of Deep space, while someone tried to crush me out of existence. I was afraid that if I died that very night that this would be my fate! My mother assured me that this was only a nightmare, for there were only two possible post-mortem destinations: Heaven (which sounded pleasant enough) and Hell. Yes, Hell. Not a metaphor. Not a bad acid trip. A real place of torment and agony, full of flames and sinners, where you never, ever wake up! Given the options, I chose the less painful one. (Fire insurance anyone?)

At the age of 16, I began going to a Christian school. My father had felt the call to preach that year and had decided that his children should receive better Christian instruction than we’d received previously. We’d always been VERY active in church. I’d been singing in church since I was four. We’d helped with tent revivals and the like. My extended family is jam-packed with gospel singers and preachers. I digress. Yet Dad didn’t feel a Christian education by proxy was adequate. He also wanted us brought up with a Biblical rather than Darwinian worldview. My public school science teachers had openly mocked my parents’ Biblicist views on Genesis when I brought it up in class [so much for a student's rights to voice his religious views and for scientific freedom of inquiry!].

Being in a Christian school doesn’t automatically guarantee you’ll be a SUPER CHRISTIAN, even if it’s a fundamentalist Christian school. It doesn’t even mean that you’re a Christian. (Marilyn Manson went to a Christian school.) I was serious about Christianity, but many of my peers thought the whole thing was a joke.

I learned about such faith giants as DL Moody and George Meuller. I learned about Jim Elliot, and other missionaries and martyrs, who paid the ultimate price for their salvation. I memorized entire chunks of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. I discovered not only my Biblical roots, but also the rest of my spiritual and historical heritage. I felt a sense of pride to know that I was a Christian. This is my heritage! This is what I believe! This is why I believe it! While at Christian school, at the age of 16, I felt the call to preach God’s Word.

I’ve related all fo this to make a point. If I had remained a Christian from that day forth, an argument for belief due to social conditioning could potentially be made. I was deep into fundamental Bible-believing Christian culture. This is full disclosure.

So is the rest of the tale…

While part of my reasons for abandoning my faith had much to do with my disillusionment with the church (Sorry, that will have to wait for some later post), Darwinism was the wedge that eventually shattered that faith. After a couple years of formal Christian education, my parents relented to my younger brothers’ pleas to go back to public school. In high school, Darwinism pervaded nearly everything they taught us. It was clearly indoctrination. My problem is that I wanted to be thought of as smart. After my first few skirmishes with condescending pro-Darwin teachers, I kept my mouth shut. Then in the absence of an alternative or even a critical look at some of Darwinism’s flaws, I began to slowly but surely slide into a belief that perhaps God could have used evolution [since all of the authority figures in my life seemed so convinced of evolution as a fact].

I didn’t know it at the time, but the things I found so convincing back then were all mostly lies and propaganda. Pictures of peppered moths [glued] on tree bark. Haeckle’s famously fudged embryo drawings. The Tree of Life drawing which never once hinted about its notoroiusly missing links; why didn’t someone tell me it was mostly speculation? The geological age strata cutaway chart showing the ages ["a gazillion billion years ago"] and a neat march of macroevolution from microbes to man laid out in the fossil record. Colorful pictures illustrating the mythological evolutionary tree of life. That over-used Ascent of Man chart showing a monkey at one end, a human at the other and a bunch of ape-men which never existed in the middle. The now-disproven vestigial organs canard. I was told in no uncertain terms that Darwinism [macroevolution, though it was never termed as anything but evolution] was a fact [as proven by... microevolution!?? Wait a minute! That's a bait-and-switch!] of science and science was how we’d gotten technology like video games, microwave ovens and cable. This equivocation of macroevolution with microevolution [it was always just called "evolution"], [this amalgamated] evolution with science and science with progress and intelligence came with a not-so-subtle equivocation of the Genesis Record with myth or superstition. Science [and the amalgam evolution concept] was juxtaposed with religion [as pre-scientific and superstitious explanations of the world]. Of course, I didn’t realize I was being indoctrinated to buy this scientific evolution versus Biblical myth false dichotomy. But eventually it began to have an affect on my beliefs.

At first, I satisfied myself with some sort of uneasy compromise between the two origins worldviews. I didn’t bother asking deep questions.  What I hadn’t considered was that, like Adam and Eve, I was listening to Satan’s question, “Has God really said?” I’d decided that one part of the Bible wasn’t true based on the wisdom of men, most of whom were dead.  That led me to question whether other parts of the Bible were true. It led me to toss out much of Genesis, most of early Israel’s Biblical history and Jonah’s fish story. I carefully kept away from criticizing the Gospels, just in case. But I began equating the Bible and religion and even God as increasingly irrelevant to modern life [being pre-scientific explanations of the world], to my life. It didn’t help that I’d come out of fundamentalist subculture who’s increasing hostility to the culture, vividly undeniable hypocrisy [Baker, Swaggart, TBN in general], isolationism and crazy rule-mongering led me to see the church as increasingly irrelevant as well!

I should’ve kept my eyes on God. I realize now that all of this internal conflict was evidence that I had a commitment to a religion rather than a relationship with Christ. After all, if I had truly known Him, how could I have ever left Him? The busy-ness of church had blinded me to the fact that I was doing a lot for Christianity, doing everythinf in His Name, but that I simply didn’t know Him.

Instead, I dropped out. Unwilling to hurt my parents’ feelings, I continued to go to church for a while, to sing, and oh-so-rarely to preach, but the fire was gone. By the time I graduated high school, I had dropped out completely.

I gloried in my ability to “think for myself”, and couldn’t stomache the carbon copy cool conformity of Christian society. I also couldn’t stand my own hypocrisy when I was there, white-washed on the outside, but hollow and rotting on the inside.

Finally, I turned my back on God. How could I trust the Bible if it was so full of holes? I accepted some sort of fuzzy notion about God and would readily identify that God as Jesus if pressed, but He wasn’t really MY God. I became a back-sliding stereotype. I began smoking, cussing, and drinking. I grew my hair out. I threw wild parties. I used God’s name as a swearword every chance I got. I experimented with the occult, particularly runes. I loved the works of H.P. Lovecraft & similar authors. I even perverted my God-given drawing & writing talents, creating morbidly occult fiction & often demonic artwork for band fliers and mere personal amusement. I was the meanest, most spiteful, most cynical person I’ve even known. Even though I was cocky & arrogant in public, I often suffered horrible depression & the aforementioned rage in private. I tried not to let any hint of my true emotions slip through my armor, but I was hurting horribly inside.

I was at my worst when I was the lead vocalist/songwriter for a hardcore/rapcore band called Midian, which I more or less founded. Certainly, it wouldn’t have survived without me, for I wrote almost all of the lyrics (we wrote nearly 100 songs in our brief year & a half of existence; less than 10 of these songs were not written by me), made all of the contacts, promoted the band via fliers, radio, and various publications, booked our concerts, and put together multi-band concerts. Midian was my choice for the band’s name, which is perhaps ironic, since this was my time “on the backside of the desert”. Later, we briefly changed the name to Hate, I Preach. We did covers of Marilyn Manson, Korn, Rage Against the Machine, & others of our genré, but 95% of our shows were comprised of originals, some of which made those cover tunes seem tame by comparison. Aside from the previously mentioned bands, our influences & idols also included Metallica, Iron Maiden, The Doors, Cypress Hill, The Misfits (later Danzig), Megadeth, Faith No More, & Type O Negative.

Anyway I simply wanted to give you a glimpse of who I was for a decade. Some claim that once you get saved, you’re always saved ~ that you can never lose your salvation no matter what you do. I seriously believe that had I died during that time, I would have went straight to Hell. Do not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $100. I know that now. I knew it then. In any case, I was definitely no longer a Creationist. Social conditioning via scholastic indoctrination had the intended effect. This, by the way, is why we need to teach the controversy in public schools.

It took a bit of old-fashioned EXTORTION to get me back into church. I was poor. I had no food. I hadn’t eaten in several days. Since I didn’t have a job, it didn’t look like there was gonna be any food in my future either. They say that sin is fun for a season. My season apparently was up. God had had enough of my running.

Mom made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. She said, “Son, you know the church I go to has a FOOD pantry. If you come to church, we’ll fix you up couple bags of groceries. But if you don’t… well, it’s your decision!” she finished cheerily. Talk about an incentive to change!

So I went to church.

But I didn’t make it easy on them. After all, I had made up my mind about how I felt about Church and Christianity.

Yet to my shock and surprise, they actually listened to my gripes and accusations about the Church & its Christians. No one judged me. No one wrote me off as hopeless or “too far gone”. They treated me like a person ~ not a no-good, dirty, rotten sinner. Nor did they treat me in that patronzing “I-told-you-so” manner that is usually reserved for backsliders. In fact, a few became good friends of mine before I started attending regularly. Needless to say, I’m now VERY big on “friendship evangelism.” Through half a year of conversations, i began to realize that I had somehow decided how I felt about Christianity and church culture without really evaluating how I felt about God. As they patiently answered my questions and objections, I stumbled upon the fact that I’d never really known the Jesus who was portrayed in the Bible. I knew a stained-glass Sunday school version of Him that we were all supposed to emulate, but the bold, out-spoken, controversial Christ of the Bible… This guy was amazing! How had the church managed to keep this scandalous God-man a secret?

A year after my first co-erced visit, I gave my life and my heart my life to God on March 23, 1997. The preacher talked about the “Blood Covenant” we make with God upon salvation, as if the Invitation on Heaven’s Door reads: “Whosoever Will may Come” but upon entering we find that the other side of the sign reads: “Foreordained from the Foundation of the World!” I somehow knew that this was my last chance. I’m not a fool. I went to the altar crying (something I hadn’t done in years) and got up preaching (I had to let it all out) and ultimately changed.

Now I had a problem. I had come back to Christendom based on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection and fulfilled prophecy, but I still had a fuzzy notion of Biblical authority. How could I trust it for salvation but not for what it said about why I needed to be saved in the first place, that we have all sinned in Adam? As Jesus asked Nicodemus, How could I trust him concerning heavenly things if I couldn’t hear him on what he said about earthly things?

So I began re-examining Genesis. Most of http://DefGen.org is a written exploration of my conclusions. The issue of origins isn’t one of faith versus reason, but rather which reasonable faith [Darwinism or Creationism] is ore reasonable given our shared pool of data and our common capacity from reason.

You see, I’m a thinker. At long last. I thought I knew how to think for myself when I reject the social conditioning of my religious childhood for Darwinism, but I really just fell prey to the more immersive [and therefor more comprehensive and conditionally compelling] social conditioning of scholastic indoctrination in public schools. I didn’t learn to think for myself by believing what they told me; I learned independent thought by daring to critique and question what I’d been told [an art never taught in public school] and making my own decisions. The Bible’s account simply better fits the facts of the observable world.

-Rev Tony Breeden

As noted in my last post, Bruce Gerencser’s second post in the My Journey series, My Testimony, dealt with, in part, how he came to the conclusion that the Bible was neither inerrant nor inspired and how that affected his other theological views.

His third post in the series, A Letter To Family, Friends and Former Parishoners gives further insight into how he came to doubt the veracity and ultimate authority of the Word of God:

“I know some of you are sure to ask, what does your wife think of all of this? Quite surprisingly, she is in agreement with me on many of these things. Not all of them, but close enough that I can still see her standing here. Polly is no theologian, She is not trained in theology as I am. She loves to read fiction. I was able to get her to read Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus and she found the book to be quite an eye opener.”

The most obvious insight we gain from this quote is that Bruce is a fan of Bart Ehrman. Ehrman is another sad case of fundamentalist-turned-apostate. He’s written several books which attempt to destroy the credibility of the New Testament Scriptures. In a Washington Post article called The Book of Bart, we gain insight into how Ehrman studied at Moody, Wheaton and finally Princeton Theological Seminary. Princeton is of course a hotbed of liberal theology. One may as well get their theology from the local skeptics society. It is little wonder that while at Princeton that his doubts began, as his studies under liberal Bible haters began to reveal that “the Bible simply wasn’t error-free.” The article relates how Ehrman finally began to doubt the Bible was God’s inerrant, inspired Word:

“He wrote a tortured paper at Princeton that sought to explain how an episode in Mark might be true, despite clear evidence to the contrary. A professor wrote in the margin:

“Maybe Mark just made a mistake.”

As simple as it was, it struck him to the core.”

As a result of his liberal theological studies at Princeton, Ehrman ultimately lost his faith. [By the way, this is a FAIL for any institution claiming to teach theology]:

“Ehrman slowly came to a horrifying realization: There was no real historical record. It was, he felt, all incense and myth, told by illiterate men and not set down in writing for decades.”

Liberal theology is simply apostasy and hersey with a more polite label. Jesus spoke of such when He said:

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” Mathhew 23:15

Likewise, 2 Timothy 3:7 speaks of those who are ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of truth. Why would this be? Maybe because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge and these professors, making no difference between the holy and profane, treat the Bible like a human document rather than the Word of God. In other words, the go about criticizing the Bible as if it were a fallible Book which came about by the will of pre-scientific men and, shock and surprise, they confirm their own presuppositions.

And then they in turn convince others to abandon the faith and accompany them cheerfully on the road to hell. When Bruce exposes his wife to the false teaching of Ehrman,  I can’t help but point out that this Eve giving Adam the forbidden fruit in reverse.

How many times does the Bible warn us to beware of false teachers? Let us remember that just because someone has a title or a doctorate and appears outwardly like one of the flock of God doesn’t mean that this person isn’t a ravening wolf inside. We need to remember that respect of persons can blind us to the knowledge of God.

Likewise, the desire to appear knowledgeable can be a snare. Bruce certainly displays a bit of intellectual pride when he warns his friends, family and former parishioners:

“Here is what I don’t want from you:

• Attempts to show me the error of my way. Fact is I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?

In Bruce’s defense, he fell for the self-same temptation that tripped up Eve. Gensis 3:4-6 relates the following:

“And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”

Note that part of the temptation for Eve to disobey God’s command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was that she desired to be wise, but she did not begin with the fear of the Lord; rather, she began with accepting the denial of God’s Word.

God bless you,

Preacher

Bruce Gerencser’s second post in the My Journey series, My Testimony, dealt with, in part, how he came to the conclusion that the Bible was neither inerrant nor inspired and how that affected his other theological views.

His third post in the series, A Letter To Family, Friends and Former Parishoners treads over some of the same ground we’ve already covered, but it also includes this rather intriguing quote:

“A precursor to my religious views changing was a seismic shift in my political views. My political views were so entangled with Fundamentalist beliefs that when my political views began to shift, my Fundamentalist beliefs began to unravel.

I can better describe my political and social views than I can my religious ones. I am a committed progressive, liberal Democrat, with the emphasis being on the progressive and liberal. My evolving views on women, abortion, homosexuality, war, socialism, social justice, and the environment have led me to the progressive, liberal viewpoint.”

Of course, in order for his political views to begin to color his theological views he had to have already rejected, at least in part, the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture. As Christians, as Bruce pointed out in his last post, the Word of God is to be our thinking in every area:

“To be a Christian means you believe the Bible to be the word of God. To be a Christian means you embrace the beliefs and teachings of the Christian faith. Since I do not believe the Bible to be the Word of God, and I no longer embrace the beliefs and teachings of the Christian faith,I am no longer a Christian.

My deconversion came at the moment where I finally admitted to myself that I no longer believed the Bible to be the word of God. As I have often said, It really is all about the Bible.”

So rather than having our views influenced by politics or the culture, our views should be a reflection of the revelation of the Bible.

Too often we stub a dearly held opinion or political view on a verse of Scripture, but if the Bible is truly God’s Word we’ve no right to edit it or take it ala cart. It’s when we’re tempted to echo the doubt of the Edenic Serpent, asking “Did God really say that?” because we want to impose another meaning upon the Text that we begin abandoning the ultimate authority of the Bible – and begin down the slippery slope to further unbelief.

Sin is, after all, rebellion against God and His Word, an attempt to supplant His Will with our own.

In our next post, we’ll explore some further thoughts from Bruce’s Letter.

God bless you,

Preacher