I got a Google Alert this morning for the term “presuppositionalism.” Of course, as is usually the case, it was an atheist using the term. In this case, however, it was actually irrelevant to the entire post, as far as the author, Bruce Gerencser, is concerned. The only reference to it was a wikipedia link. I’m actually fairly sure he isn’t especially familiar with it, and that itself is unimportant. What interested me was his resume, and his testimonial. You see, the author is a pastor, and a former Calvinist pastor, to boot. Of course, he was a former IFB pastor before that, and went through the typical spectrum of doctrinal changes subsequent to his departure from Calvinism until eventually ending up in atheism. As we all know, of course, this is nothing special, or even uncommon. Those of us who have been in the church for any length of time can give a great many examples of practically the same story. For the younger, newer or more sheltered of our readers, this might cause a mild shock. A Calvinist pastor? Apostasizing? The horror! Let me counsel you somewhat, brothers. Get used to it. There are goats and wolves in every flock. There are also goatherders who think they are shepherds – and even last a long while herding the usual mix of goats and sheep around sometimes. It is in our confessions, if you recall. “The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error.” It isn’t as if this is some issue we don’t teach clearly, or that isn’t taught clearly in Scripture. I have no doubt that he taught it as such when he was a Calvinist – or at least that he has read it. Again; “Although temporary believers, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favour of God and state of salvation, which hope of theirs shall perish.” This isn’t something we hide under a bushel. I also sincerely doubt that he’d disagree that this is what Reformed theology teaches. However, while many Christians aren’t interested in hearing what he has to say, I would posit that folks like me see what he has to say – and recognize when someone is picking and choosing.
Of course, he’s very concerned with folks not rewriting his story, and with all of us agreeing with him that he was, yessirreebob, a Christian, indeedy, and how! Except, recall – he used to be a Calvinist pastor, right? He goes to considerable lengths in attempting to establish his credentials as a Calvinist, in various posts. Yet, not unpredictably, he seems to be surprised that Calvinists are being consistent with their own doctrine. Curious, no? So, fine – his story, whatever. I have no doubt he thought he was a Christian. I have no doubt that he still thinks he was one. On the other hand, that can’t be a holdover from Calvinism, can it? So, it comes from either his IFB days, or from the succession of beliefs that he kicked around between until landing where is today. See, on the one hand, he uses his ex-Calvinist credentials to impress upon us that he was all about the doctrine. Interestingly, though, he doesn’t appeal to that same standard when it comes to whether or not he was saved, or a Christian. I invite you – read through his site. Here’s a direct link to his home page. I scattered quite a few links through this post already – and contrary to his assumptions, I’m not in the slightest bit concerned about the state of my faith, or that of any of our readers, due to the “shocking” nature of a pastor’s apostasy. I’m actually more interested in what I have spoken of quite a few times. Resume inflation.
See, Bruce doesn’t need to inflate his resume. Not really. What I pointed out above is, perhaps, a subtle form of it – but that was mostly just something I thought might be helpful to note. What is interesting to me is not psychoanalyzing his real reasons for apostatizing, or pointing out that he wasn’t a Christian (although I had to do so to make the previous point), or even to evangelize him. I don’t have any concern with rewriting his story, and I actually don’t much care whether he reads this or not. I’m not writing this post for him. I’m writing it for you, our readers. While he does have the good observation, on occasion, they are, as a rule, the same observations that pastors around the country make in sermon illustrations. He’s just recycling them to a different audience, and making a different point with them. That’s not my goal either, though. All of these things may be true – but they are merely notable because they are almost programmatic of something called “convert syndrome.”
Look, I feel for the guy. He’s had some tough breaks. If you do as I suggested, you’ll see what I mean. You will also see, however, that he doesn’t want you to even talk to him. He has heard it all, and he isn’t interested. He’s also demanding, for those who want to talk to him, that to do so, you have to give up what you believe in order to even have an audience. This is also typical. This is what I actually want to talk about. See, what the garden-variety unbeliever of any stripe wants, is for you to acknowledge the equivalent value of their own viewpoint. Simultaneously, however, they believe in, and usually want to convince you of the superiority of their own viewpoint.
The letter(s) that Bruce responded to are from a pastor named David Leach. His website, etc. is here. Just a couple beefs. David seems to be an older gent. I’m cool with that. However, he seems to suffer from the same thing that cage stager presuppers do. The inability to go more than a sentence or two without going full Calvin on someone. If you’ve read Calvin, you know what I mean. Basically, they can’t go very long without making sure to call someone a fool. There seems to be bonus points if you do it as many times as you can, too. Look, the Bible uses the word “fool.” Yes, we are perfectly aware of that. Yes, they do act foolishly, they are, in fact, the ontological epitome of a fool. Great. You just answered them according to their folly, and became like them. It is going to come up. Say it once. Then spend your time explaining what it means, why it applies, and why it is true. Don’t just keep repeating it. It is needlessly offensive, and if coupled with repeated “I am so sorry for yous” and other assorted passive aggressive insults, it does nothing, absolutely nothing, but get their dander up for no good reason. I’m not saying not to say it. I’m also not saying to avoid it. For heaven’s sake, though, tact! Winsomeness! Some modicum of politesse in personal interaction? Even a little? It reminds me of the infamous southernism – “bless your heart.” Look. We all know that our message is not going to be especially popular, right? Seriously, though – at least try not to go out of your way to give them every negative epithet you can manage to pack in? Do a bit of systematic and work out the proper balance between Matthew 5 and Proverbs 26? A little bit? Also, don’t psychoanalyze. Rant off.
So anyway, that nonsense aside – he got one thing right. The author, in order for you to be, in his words, a “decent, thoughtful human being,” demands that you deny what you believe concerning the truth or falsity of your respective beliefs. He demands 1) That you acknowledge that he was “saved” (although it should be fairly obvious to him that this is directly antithetical to our beliefs). 2) That you acknowledge that you might be wrong concerning this whole Christianity deal (even though he would never have granted that demand during his own tenure, pre-liberalism) 3) Acknowledge his “expertise”, despite glaring examples like 1) and 2).
Look, I will freely admit he was a pastor. However, lots of people are pastors, and don’t know jack – as he will freely admit elsewhere on his blog. He does look to know a bit more than most evangelicals do. However, keep something in mind. His doctrinal declamations regarding Calvinism are based on his experience as a post-IFB Calvinist and subsequently during his slide into liberalism and downward, where he would have rejected Calvinism, necessarily. His training to be a pastor was not Calvinistic, nor did he have an especially long time in service as a Calvinist pastor. The span, according to his own timeline, starts from 1989, and less than ten years later, he is “quite ecumenical,” in the late 90s. So, while it looks really good to say “I was a pastor for 25 years”, and “in church for 50 years,” the level of doctrinal acumen in IFB and liberal progressive churches isn’t especially high, is it?
He can demand #1 all that he wants. It isn’t going to happen. Apostates, definitionally, went out from us so that it may be shown that they all are not of us. I John 2:19, anyone? As for #2 – yeah, sure. That’ll happen right about when Hell freezes over. Maybe his loosey-goosey libbie friends would agree to that. He doesn’t think much of them, either, by the by. Knowing what Van Til thinks of “evangelicals” makes a lot of the author’s assumptions fairly wide of the mark, too, where we are concerned. I’m really not all that concerned with whether he reads this. The comments will be off, anyway, like they are on most of my teaching posts. If he wants to respond, fine, but from what I have read, I won’t be expecting much, except a string of profanities, insults, complaints about x, y, and z, then an altar call for atheism, because they treat people so much better. Yeah. I’m buying that. Just as soon as you buy this oceanfront property in Arizona. Here’s the kicker.
His entire identity is wrapped up in a denial of what he was. This isn’t psychoanalysis – this is simple logic. Apostasy presupposes standing. See, the word “apostasy” is essentially equivalent to “desertion.” To be an apostate, there has to be something that you “stand away” from. There has to be a post to leave. To justify desertion, you have to establish delinquency of orders or some other issue that gives you due cause. His justifications, however, (and contrary to his confident assertions, I read a good two dozen of his posts entire, and skimmed a good many others in RSS) are typically shallow. His history in the IFB militates against him having any meaningful apologetic training, and his arguments show little or no evidence of exposure to it since. The litany of intellectual issues he has with Christianity are essentially the stale popular level objections found on reddit or the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. Take a quick read through his treatment of fundamentalism. Note something missing? More than a few things? There is a vast difference between the IFB’s brand of fundamentalism and Westminster’s, for one. My point is, he makes a great deal of hay about his not being a “normal” apostate – but then proceeds to say all the normal things that normal apostates say – with slightly more knowledge than the average Joe atheist, but not much. However, there is one difference – he has far less excuse for doing so.
Convert syndrome manifests itself lots of different ways. I have to watch myself when I talk about things I used to believe – because we’re all prone to it. What happens, though, when your creative outlet, or means of therapy, or whatever you want to call it, depends on your identity as ex-_____? Honestly, it’s the same old story we always hear. The difference is, as much as they claim to have “heard it all,” they still seem not to have listened. So, converts, you can tell me you’ve heard it all. When you still consistently misrepresent your former beliefs, I’m not convinced you were listening that well. I don’t need to contact you. I don’t need to tell you you’re wrong. You already know. You also don’t care. If you get offended at that – take Bruce’s advice. Read more than one post here.
Like the title says – your resume can say whatever it wants. The testimonial works just fine, thanks. What is actually relevant is whether your resume has any bearing on what you actually have to say. If it doesn’t, it becomes more than a little pointless to keep bringing it up, doesn’t it? Here’s a bit of free advice for atheist bloggers, too. Address the strongest position, and do so accurately. You might get taken more seriously if you do.
- WCF XXV:3, LBCF XXVI: 5↩
- LBCF XVIII, 1↩
- Bruce makes a big deal out of people quoting Scriptures to him. He then proceeds to make a hash out of exegeting them, so that’s sort of a two-edged sword. Can I complain about atheists quoting scripture verses and mangling them terribly since he can claim “expertise” as the reason we shouldn’t do it to him? It would seem to be consistent…↩