The Haberdashery of Bruce Gerencser
I have been watching, with interest, the stream of attempted rebuttal flowing from Bruce’s virtual pen today. We began the day with the assertion that yesterday’s post was a “deconstruction” of Bruce’s story. I found that odd, myself. Especially since I am the author of the post, after all. When you intentionally include such sentences as “See, Bruce doesn’t need to inflate his resume” or, ” I don’t have any concern with rewriting his story”, or even ” What is actually relevant is whether your resume has any bearing on what you actually have to say.” Now, I understand that reading comprehension is actually a big social problem, and all. Isn’t Bruce a bit old for that to be an issue, though? I specifically said that I believe his story. I also said “I will freely admit he was a pastor.” I believe he related his personal history accurately. What I am calling into question is 1) The relevance of his personal history to the things he says now and 2) The merit of his formal training and experience in relation to the things about which he is currently engaged in opining upon.
See, I trust the regular readers of this blog know what I am referring to, in the previous post. There is a greater context to it – the substance of which Bruce is quite obviously unaware. I have frequently referred to those who exaggerate their resumes – claim to have been more skilled, more experienced, more knowledgeable than they really are. I am pointing out something else entirely about Bruce. I am pointing out two things. First, that whatever he may have believed before, he obviously does not consider it important to accurately represent what the people he rubbed shoulders with still believe today. I know he is inaccurate, because I am a confessional Reformed Baptist, who spends the majority of his free time discussing theology and apologetics with Reformed believers of all stripes. I am faulted for many things by the brethren, but quite infrequently am I faulted for my accuracy in theological matters. That is where my avocation lies, and I have a deep and abiding love for the subject. Secondly, while I’m sure he is quite an experienced IFB pastor – was he trained formally to pastor a Reformed church? From his own story, with no need for deconstruction whatsoever, he essentially came at the doctrines of Calvinism on his own, started reforming one church, crashed and burned at the next, then spiraled downward slowly into unbelief through the spectrum of liberalism. I don’t doubt that he went to the Bible College he went to, I don’t care whether it is accredited, nor do I doubt that he learned what they taught there. What I do doubt is the relevance of what they taught to the vast majority of the subjects about which we disagree. It’s a KJVO, soul-winning school – the same one Kent Hovind went to. IFB churches are not known for the depth and richness of their doctrine, are they? Bruce’s posts are filled with rueful acknowledgements of how ignorant he was as an IFB pastor. The “big change” was his introduction to Calvinism, no? Yet, again, going by his own story, he wasn’t a Calvinist for very long. I’m not deconstructing anything. I don’t need to. I’m going by his story. Within less than a decade after encountering Calvinism for the first time, he is no longer a Calvinist. 4 years later, he is no longer a pastor, and shortly after, doesn’t claim to be a Christian. That’s his story. I don’t need to deconstruct it. The curious insistence that many have on making my words fit their own story about what every “fundamentalist” is like, is quite fascinating – especially from those who so loudly bemoan being misrepresented themselves. Which I also don’t doubt, incidentally. I spend easily as much time critiquing other professing Christians as unbelievers, and they return the favor. What I’m pointing out is that while he has changed belief systems, he hasn’t changed methodologies.
It is always a fascinating phenomenon to watch. When you challenge the factuality of an someone’s objections, it is well-nigh inevitable that they defend those assertions to the death. It doesn’t matter how far they have to redefine words to justify their claims, how poorly they define what you believe, or how badly they misrepresent your statements – apparently, in their eyes at least, the truth has been presented. Nevermind that they are almost unanimously offended by your own claims to stating objective truth, and their constant refrain is for us to just lay those dogmatic burdens down. What’s good for the gander is seemingly not good for the goose. Convenient, I know, but there it is. I’ve said more than merely a few times in these pages that I have yet to find a cogent objection from an unbeliever. They quite simply cannot manage, for whatever reason, to define what we believe accurately. It doesn’t seem to matter how much information you provide, what resources you point them to, or what they themselves demand of you concerning their stated views. It appears that when it comes to their own dealings with us, it isn’t necessary to be accurate. It is merely necessary to insist, quite firmly, and with much gusto, that such people cannot, possibly, have anything genuinely worthwhile to criticize them over. So much the better from the self-professed heirs to the Enlightenment, no?
Let’s start with the merrily burning straw man of a picture to go with this post. What possible connection does that have to me? Not only is that an idiotic prayer, but it would fit far better on the lips of the denizens of his comment section, from what I have read. There is nobody quite as ignorant as a group of atheists patting each other’s backs over how much more reasoned they are than those superstitious fools over there. Except, of course, groups of Muslims, Mormons, Evangelicals, Calvinists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, Romanists… you get the picture. James White, who Bruce claims to be acquainted with, calls comment sections of every stripe “Internet Ignorance Aggregators.” I agree wholeheartedly. For the commenter in his peanut gallery who opines that I “should take a lesson in educational techniques, where he will find that teachers, proper ones that is, welcome interaction with their audience, indeed thrive on it” – I have! Auditing classes is fun. It’s amazing how many classes you can audit for free, if you are not concerned about credits. I’m also married to a teacher, and I have taught for years in various settings. Here’s the first hint. You weren’t the audience. I even said you weren’t the audience. You do all of the psychoanalyzing that Bruce decries over, and over, and over, when directed at him. I am supposedly “afraid.” You don’t know what you’re talking about, and I will reiterate this clearly for you. Nothing I have seen on that site, or any other site, even objects to what I believe. If they can’t even manage to get the subject of their objections right, why on God’s green earth would I possibly be “afraid” of such things? Here’s another hint. Not all teaching is interactive. Most lectures aren’t interactive. You don’t get to choose the format of my posts. I don’t get to choose the format of Bruce’s. Here’s another point for you to consider, too. Bruce’s posts aren’t interactive, either. You just say stuff after he’s had his say. It’s the worst form of “interaction” there is. Dueling monologue. I don’t bother with the fig leaf. I just have my say. If someone wants to reply, that’s what trackbacks are for. I’ll even quote Bruce: “If my unwillingness to allow you to foul the comment section offends you, I encourage you to start your own blog.” Here’s the third hint. Format, format, format. This is not even remotely suitable to “interactive” teaching. We have a chat channel for that. We use Skype for that. Those are actually… interactive. Comboxes are quite possibly the worst format imaginable for meaningful exchange – and ask anyone who has known me for any length of time – I hate comboxes as a result. I use them, holding my nose, on occasion – but those same teaching courses will give you a resounding NAY on the benefits of such time-delayed “interaction.” So, to sum things up – comboxes are one of my most despised internet “features.” To pick the subject back up – does Bruce think that such laughable misrepresentation of his subject will be beneficial to him? Or, even worse, does he simply assume such things, because he grew up in the belly button lint of the Bible Belt, theologically? I don’t want to accuse him of deliberate misrepresentation, so I am leaving that off the table. I much prefer to assume mistake, rather than malice. Now, he might claim to be referring to someone else in that picture – but that seems a bit of a non-sequitur, if so.
So, no, that post isn’t an attempt to deconstruct your life. I have far better things to do. Like pointing out, for my readers, where inconsistencies lie in the objections people make. Did you miss the several times in the post where I said the point was not your resume? It was the difference between what you say now that “we” said – while simultaneously insisting on your former orthodoxy. That is one manifestation of convert syndrome. The other is exaggeration, or false stories about yourself. The latter is not the issue. The former is. The point is not that you were “lying” about being an IFB pastor, a Calvinist, or the like. The point is that, like many converts, now that you aren’t _insert here_ anymore, you can’t seem to represent your former position accurately to save your life. There’s a few possibilities, among many, at this point. 1) You genuinely thought that what you now say we teach is what we actually teach – and that was what you taught 2) You are so wrapped up in your new belief system that you are now reinterpreting your former beliefs through a grid which renders you incapable of expressing them accurately 3) You are deliberately misrepresenting them. Your frequent name-dropping of people you know, since I have no reason to doubt your story, militates against 1. If you were truly that ignorant about what we teach at the time, you must have spent a lot of time being corrected. I know many of the same people, you see. I have no reason to assume 3. As I said, I prefer to consider you mistaken, even after the fact, rather than malicious. The exposition of 2 is somewhat of a stalking horse of mine. Our normal readers know what I am referring to, but I will explain for the benefit of Bruce’s readers, since he is courteous enough to send them my way, despite his misunderstanding of my response. Romans 1 teaches that all men know God. It also teaches that they suppress this knowledge and operate as if they didn’t know it as such. Bahnsen has a fairly comprehensive study on the topic of self-deception, which can be easily accessed should anyone care to do so. The simplistic “No they don’t, yes they do” of Bruce’s post simply shows that he hasn’t addressed the issue to any significant degree. It is the first objection everyone makes to the doctrine, and Bruce’s reductionism in that initial comment, and subsequent “explanation”, is precisely the typical response given by, well, everyone. Fundamentalist atheists and Christians alike. This is a rather important doctrinal consideration in the particular specialty of this site, (you do know that this site focuses on one particular thing, right? You also know that this particular thing is what you’re objecting to – very inexpertly?) so if I may make a suggestion to you, Bruce? I’ll grant you your expertise in the particulars of King James Onlyism if you grant me mine in the exegesis of Romans 1 and its implications on the universal knowledge of God. You did read my paper on the subject before opining on this, right? In the meantime, you have been swapping hats out like crazy all day. That, obviously, was my original problem.
You go on to say that you “ask evangelical zealots to read several of Bart Ehrman’s books before engaging me on the Bible”. Bruce, I have actually read the majority of Ehrman’s works. I’ve listened to a great many of his lectures, and debates. While you seem to think Ehrman is hot stuff – why didn’t you learn about the things he talks about in bible college? Further, why didn’t you read up on them afterward, if you didn’t, in all those years? I have audited classes from Westminster and RTS on the same subjects, and many others. They discuss all of the same issues he does. There’s nothing shocking, or amazing about his comments. It’s the same thing the Germans were saying 200 years ago, in modern English, in most respects. He isn’t anything particularly special, as far as the textual criticism field goes. He doesn’t have anything new to say. As for the “standard atheist fare” – I have most of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and many of the old classic writers like Hume and Diderot – who, incidentally, tower over the former as dogs over their fleas. Modern atheism is interminably boring in that regard. They have nothing new to say, but all of the popular authors think they are inventing the wheel. It’s stultifying. Paragraphs like the one at the end of the post I just referenced are why folks like myself tend to consider folks like you, Loftus and Dan Barker as just exchanging types of fundamentalism. You used to toe one party line, now you toe another. I can read virtually the same arguments, objections, ideas, and opinions of Christianity that you have expressed on almost every atheist blog I can think of. If your long years of experience don’t give you any more insight than that, then doesn’t that just prove the point I made in my post, Bruce? Whatever you used to believe, it’s irrelevant to what you have to say today. You can give a superficial overview of what we believe, but then as soon as you have to expand on it, you fall into the same pattern of straw manning that everyone else does. If I had to guess, Bruce, I’d say that it is easy to recall the general patterns of a thing, even when you are away from it. Once you spend enough time out of it, though, your new beliefs begin to color those memories and perceptions. Eventually, what you remember believing doesn’t really have much bearing on what you’re thinking – so you think of those same things in terms of your newer beliefs. The problem with that is, it is very easy to begin to confuse what you believed with what you believe. I don’t doubt you were a pastor, a Calvinist, and whatever else. What I am casting into question is your ability to accurately object to what I believe.
I read all of your posts today, Bruce. I can say with certainty that you pretty much whiffed on the meaning and intent of that post practically every single place you interacted with it. Why? Because I wrote it. So, let me let loose another shocker. I was wrong to say that you would probably respond with a string of profanities. I know, I know, Evangelicals can’t say they were wrong. Then again, I’m not an Evangelical, really. You do tend to curse, and it does annoy me – but you usually don’t in your posts. You do so far more often in comments. So, I apologize. I was wrong.
On the other hand, you do realize that multiple times you made some rather egregious errors of fact, right? Item the first: “I don’t expect anyone to deny their beliefs.” Drop two paragraphs. “[i]f one is willing to abandon their theological presuppositions.” Now, the intervening words give a bit of context, but I think that actually argues in my favor. The content of the context, after all, is the issue. Item the second: “To believe you are saved or a Christian does not require the existence of a God to be true.” Actually, yes it does. Since the term “saved”, in the context of “Christian,” necessarily means that you were atoned for by the substitutionary death of Christ, in propitiation for your sins, which satisfied the wrath of God, purchased your pardon, united you to Christ, regenerated your heart, gave you new life, a new mind, and a new love for the Scriptures, and for the things of God. All of which you deny. So, in order to say you were saved, we have to redefine “saved” – right? Well, then, I suppose I’m a dog, Bruce. For values of dog. If you have to redefine the term to say you’re included under it, you might want to consider how very different you are from the local Mormon who wants to insist that his infinitely polytheistic omnimaterialism is “Christian.” All we’re lacking is Matthew Vines and a Oneness Pentecostal to complete the whole “I’m a Christian, or you’re a bigot” set, I guess. What’s next, insisting that any 3 gods in any pantheon also be named “trinitarian”? That Constantine’s given name was really James, so the KJV is good enough for me? That Luther and Leo were really best buds, and we got that whole Reformation thing wrong? Arius was a martyr? Marcion was a Judaizer? That Nebuchadnezzar’s statue was “humble”? ? C’mon, Bruce.
Now, can you honestly tell me that when you list the things that you will, or will not have discussed, that you aren’t intentionally excluding those who, per their beliefs, must talk about such things? I’m not your friend, Bruce. You aren’t my friend, either. I don’t have any intention of inviting you out to dinner so I can evangelize you, because you don’t care. You think you know it all, that you’ve heard it all before. Well, that works both ways. You haven’t said a single thing I haven’t heard before, either. I don’t need to cry about you “attacking” Christianity – because what you have to say is actually an argument for it. If all you can offer your readers as an atheist is misrepresentation and simplistic caricatures of Christianity – you can just keep on objecting. It saves me a whole lot of time. You ask in one post whether we think “25 years of experience went out the window.” From what you’re offering us, either your 25 years of experience wasn’t especially deep, your new beliefs are coloring your past experiences sufficiently that you no longer recognize how badly you are misrepresenting your former beliefs, or, finally, you’re simply dishonest.
Finally, the train wreck that is your second post. Have you heard of RSS feeds, Bruce? When I saw your post in my google alerts, I set my tablet to download your full RSS feed. It’s tethered to my phone. Since I don’t always have internet access when I stop, I find that’s an efficient way to get the “library” of a poster I’m thinking of responding to. When I write a post, it’s on my computer. What else the tablet does for me, is give me text-to-speech capability with the added benefit of years of voice command tweaking via bluetooth on Android. I drive for a living, so I have a lot of time to listen, if not as much to read. Well-trained voice commands can navigate you through that saved rss feed, read you the posts, follow hyperlinks, and even bookmark pages to Pocket for later perusal. When I stopped for the night, I had my tablet open, started with my Pocket bookmarks, and started opening tabs, as I customarily do. Currently, I have all the tabs I had open on the laptop from your site, along with a good 15 more. All of the links you listed were, in fact, open as tabs. Tabbed browsing is really neat. However, I had already had my tablet read every post to me with the terms “apologetics” and “Calvinism” – along with the post “My Journey” (and everything linked from it) and the Publican/Heathen series. As an experienced webmaster, I know RSS can be hard to keep good metrics on. Especially the way that off-kilter readers like the one I favor actually download the entire site’s text, then allow you to manipulate it as you see fit. So no, I wasn’t lying, and making such assumptions is incredibly hypocritical, considering all the noise that you make about how so many people lie about you. Did you stop to consider that perhaps I might be telling the truth, and what you saw on your browsing history was just me opening up the pages I was considering linking to, or referring to? What makes this whole thing worse is that if he’d googled my name, he would have found my personal website. On my personal website’s “About” page, I specifically discuss my reading speed, which Bruce (and his bevy of commenters) makes a great fuss over – and which I have brought up on my podcast multiple times, as well. I am a genuine speed reader, and have been since my teens. I can, if I am in a hurry, read at well over 2,000 wpm. I typically only do so when I am reading fiction. I can get a lot more read that way, and perfect comprehension really isn’t relevant there. My typical, everyday reading speed, however, is over 1,000 wpm on average, non-technical text, with almost 100% comprehension. Essentially, the entire second post was not only irrelevant, because I did the very thing that he “doubted” I did (for no good reason that I can see beyond bare prejudice), but even more, I do, in fact, read far faster than was necessary to have done as I claimed – even if his theory were true. Further, I actually read far more than two dozen. I just gave a “round” number, because I wasn’t really counting how many, specifically. I looked through the RSS “read” list once I stopped today – I stopped counting at 30.
Look, Bruce. I know you’re convinced that Evangelicals are mostly ignorant dimbulbs, and we can all be contained in redditor memes. Here’s some free advice. A great deal of them are that ignorant, if not most. I don’t even consider myself an evangelical, and many Reformed folks these days don’t, either – because we believe it is a term that has lost any meaning, due to that selfsame ignorance. I am a fundamentalist, sure. If you take Machen’s fundamentalism as the definition. I think IFBs, on the other hand, are largely ignorant of a great many things – far more so than most evangellyfish. I live in the deep south, where missionary baptists are very numerous. They are the southern equivalent of the IFB movement. I go to a Southern Baptist church, in a denomination which is also largely made up of folks who aren’t especially informed, either. You’re not saying anything that I’m not aware of. I think you are aware, however, that Reformed folks, in general, tend to be significantly more well-informed in regard to systematic, church history, apologetics, and historic challenges to the faith, right? You said you know James White, at least somewhat. If you do, you know that he not only is sharp as a tack, but has debated Ehrman, Silverman, and Barker – and also debates Muslims, Mormons and a host of others. I don’t do the same things he does – but I consider him a friend and mentor.
Can you do one thing for me? Act like I’ve read at least as much as you’ve read – because I almost certainly have, despite being much younger. I have, because I read incredibly fast, constantly, and consistently. What I haven’t done is pastor a church, like you have. That’s fine, and I have never claimed experience in that area. What I do have experience with is intensive interaction with and study of a wide variety of religious and irreligious objectors and their objections. I don’t need to know what “makes you tick” to know that I could plug you and Dan Barker in fairly interchangeably. I know, because I I have read what Dan Barker writes, and I have read what you write. I could plug you and any number of youtube atheist “personalities” in fairly interchangeably, too. When you object, you often aren’t objecting from what you have experience with. That was the point I was making for our readers. You often do, when it comes to specifically IFB issues. I’m fairly familiar with the IFB due to several of our contributors here growing up in IFB churches. As I’ve already mentioned, Missionary Baptists are the equivalent where I live. My wife grew up in that milieu. When you’re addressing them, you’re typically far more accurate. When you stray further afield, your accuracy suffers. It suffers particularly in regard to Reformed theology. You’ve said yourself that your sour experiences in a particular church were what started you down your current path. I’ve also pointed out that despite your pastoring Calvinistic churches, you were basically self-taught, you learned it as you went, and you were a professed Calvinist for less than a decade. I know you don’t see your own position as demanding that others deny theirs. I would submit to you, however, that it is rather apparent that whether or not you were an orthodox Calvinist at one point, your depiction of their beliefs sticks out like a sore thumb. When you make statements that demand that we neglect or reject necessary elements of our faith in order to speak with you, then claim that you aren’t – what does that say about your competence with the doctrines I actually do hold, but you only used to hold to? I’m well aware that you _think_ you aren’t demanding that. From your perspective, these are only reasonable things to ask – if, of course, we agreed with you. The problem is, of course, that we don’t agree with you. So, if in order to have a discussion, you require that we agree with you first on what we consider to be non-negotiables, while insisting that this agreement on our part is a non-negotiable on your own part…isn’t this actually demonstrating what we are saying, concerning the importance of presuppositional commitments, and the antithesis which exists between our two positions? In most cases you’d completely agree that we are utterly opposed to you ideologically. This realization seems to take wings and fly, however, as soon as a charge of inconsistency arises. It is hard to champion tolerance of all viewpoints when some of them are mutually exclusive, isn’t it?
One of the common themes I stress is the confusion between internal, and external critique. For whatever reason, it is difficult for some to differentiate between what they believe, and what others do. It is even harder for many to clearly distinguish the origin of their beliefs, or their presuppositional commitments, from that of their opponent. It is quite easy to confidently accuse another of blind adherence. It is even easier to see yourself as the steely-eyed paragon of reasoned discourse, leaving no fallacy unrefuted, and tolerating all and sundry in beatific harmony. Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult to recognize when we ourselves are blind adherents. It is nearly impossible to tally our own shortcomings, blind spots, and failings. You do so better than many do. You’re even willing to admit failings, in public, even! Here’s what I want to conclude with. You will, of course, take it as you will. It’s really easy to say I am everything you characterize Fundamentalists, or Evangelicals as. It even easier for your commenters to join in the me-too chorus afterwards. Think about something, though. I know, you’ve heard it before. Maybe you have. Maybe you haven’t. Perhaps you should consider that you yourself might be a bit old for doing pretty much exactly what you were so offended about David doing. I didn’t email you. I didn’t comment on your blog. The last post wasn’t even to you. It was about what you have said. You wrote three posts about me today, none of which are accurate, all of which misrepresented my statements, and one cast aspersions on my character – which, I will freely admit, I had a hearty laugh about when I read it. That wasn’t your best post. If, as you claim, your new worldview is superior – were you inconsistent with that worldview, or consistent with it when you did many of the things the post it was referring to was lambasting someone else for? If inconsistent, perhaps you might want to consider less jumping to hasty conclusions. You might want to consider reexamining your postconceptions of Reformed theology, and Reformed believers, to boot. Reconsider such statements as “their infallibility.” You know very well that no Reformed church teaches that men are infallible. Reconsider such misrepresentations as “Until they can consider the notion that they might be wrong.” You know very well that there is a significant difference between our belief on that point, and your claim concerning it. Further, since this site is one of a handful of the most prolific sources on the subject of presuppositionalism – not just my own contributions, but those of quite a few people – let me say this with all the authority I can muster. That entire post on “everybody believes God exists” demonstrates, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you don’t have the slightest clue what presuppositionalism is. The folks who say “everyone knows that God exists” are, almost exclusively, presuppositionalists. Your post then proceeded to attribute to this group a host of things no presuppositionalist would ever say, and great many things we explicitly reject. You should know that the quantity of theological reference for Reformed folks is significantly greater than most. Let me also posit that there is a consequent body of literature to be absorbed before you really understand the particulars we advance concerning apologetic as a head of systematic. I know that you likely didn’t have much of a systematic theology as an IFB. It takes a while to develop a working knowledge of systematic, once you become a Calvinist. I have found little in your writing to suggest that you were yet at that stage. If you want to persist in saying you’ve heard it all, be my guest. I can tell you that you haven’t, and you never will. I will also distinguish what I am saying from what you’ve said. I’m saying you haven’t said anything I haven’t heard. Whatever your experience as a pastor, you don’t have a whole lot of experience as an objector yet. You also aren’t translating your experience into your objections. Take that with a grain of whatever sort of salt you prefer. Thus far, you’ve essentially confirmed my observation about atheism. It’s adherents have nothing substantive to say, and we typically have far better uses for our time than dealing with their comments, aside from the occasional reminder. We’ve been reminded, unfortunately.