A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why Evangelism is the Death of the Church

I did it again.  I searched through all of the gospels for references to evangelism (evangelism meaning sharing one's beliefs with others in order to convert them.).  There are a handful of verses which could possibly be interpreted this way.  But, mostly it comes down to two: Mark 16:15 and Matthew 28:19.  Mostly we hear about the Great Commission in Matthew, possibly because the one in Mark is immediately followed by talk of snake handling.  Enough said. 

So, despite the infrequency with which Jesus talks about anything which could possibly be interpreted as evangelism, the vast majority of Christian denominations and non-denominations hold evangelism as the heart of the church.  And it is killing us.

Why do I say it is killing us?  This is just a theory on my part.  I am not an expert.  I cannot site statistics to support my claim.  But let’s just pretend we live in a world where people are not entirely stupid.  Some may doubt this claim but just pretend for now.  The  fundamentalist evangelical churches out there are making their message known loud and clear: “unless you believe like us and act like us you are going to hell.”  The media seems to think this is a fun message to spread around being somewhat divisive and controversial.  So, even if the fundamentalist churches fell down on their job, the media would make sure this message got out.  It seems many people find this message offensive and perhaps even nutty.  One would think such folks could turn to more mainline liberal congregations.  But while they might find a less harsh message of judgment, more liberal ideas, maybe even some whispers of social justice, underneath it all is still a core of evangelism.  And if we indeed live in a world where people are not entirely stupid, they would then realize the heart of the church is about manipulation (how can we get people to come hear our message), conformity (how can we get them to believe the “good news” which we believe), and judgment (because we are trying to save them from hell). 

It seems at least plausible people outside of the church might find a god who only cares about what you think about him/her, a god who cares whether you spend an hour in church each week being bored out of your mind, incomprehensible.  So, an evangelical church of any stripe would seem irrelevant, anti-intellectual, manipulative and generally uninviting.  

Let me make clear I don’t care about this because then people won’t come to our churches and the church might die.  That would be self-contradictory.  I care about this because I believe we are called to be loving.  Projecting the message of the above described god is not a very loving thing to do.  Being unwelcoming is not loving.  Expecting people to check their brains at the door is not loving.  And most importantly being distracted from the call to fight for peace, justice and mercy for all people is not loving.  

Evangelism is killing us.  I don’t care.  Evangelism is distracting us from working for social justice.  That makes me fighting mad.

by Sheri Ellwood


Anonymous said...

There are numerous verses supporting what Jesus wants us to do about telling others about Him. It is our duty as Christians to go out into the world and share the gospel. Pastors, Sunday School teachers, etc. are constantly "evangelizing" to others. What is written in the Bible is true. We tend to bend the scriptures to fit the social realm especially what is popular at the time. We tip toe around issues for fear of making people mad or afraid of not being liked. If liberal minded people don't care for the evangelistic ways, there are other churches out there. Not all churches are the same. I support missionaries and individuals who spread the gospel to those who have never heard. Just saying.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Anonymous, thanks for taking the time to comment. A few thoughts in response: We ALL interpret scriptures through our own way of thinking. No exceptions. I did not say there were not verses about telling people about Jesus. I said there is little in the Gospels about trying to convert people. One would think if this was THE MAIN purpose of church Jesus might have mentioned it more than once. I think it is a common misperception in evangelical circles that mainline churches don't care about evangelism. My own denomination put "evangelical" in its name. Not so easy to find churches who don't think evangelism is the ultimate goal.

Anonymous said...

A neighbor... I have read your post and the post that responded to you. I am not understanding the whole issue/concept. Is there a way the point could be made in more of a lay-mans terms.

Unbeknown to most people I am a very spiritual person, and well versed, but I am not getting the jest of what you are trying to say.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Neighbor, thanks for your question. I am not sure where the confusion is but I will guess it is regarding the difference between telling people about Jesus and evangelism. Evangelism is telling people your beliefs for the purpose of converting them. There are many other reasons someone might tell the story of Jesus but evangelism has as its purpose converting the other person to believe as you believe and often this boils down to getting him or her to attend your church or say a particular prayer. I guess I could put it this way: As long as we are more concerned with saving the church than loving people, I think we are missing the point. Jesus has more to say about feeding people and welcoming the outcast than converting people.

If that does not answer your question please let me know more specifically what you want to know. I do appreciate your question and I feel a bit sheepish for how judgmental I may have come across in this blog. Being judgmental of people who are judgmental is often a hazard for us liberal types:)

Anonymous said...

I personally feel everyone needs to find the "church" that meets their beliefs if that is their desire. But I understand what you are saying that some churches feel it's their way or no way. To me "religion" is not what is important, it is your personal relationship with God. I don't push my church or religion on others. I share my experiences and what is in my heart to help others to know Christ; witnessing daily in my job and any chance I have. Yes, I attend church weekly to learn and to fellowship with other Christians. Some churches you "outgrow" because they no longer meet your spiritual growth.

Anonymous said...

Sheri, I am so glad to read this post. I am in the middle of an evangelism jungle. I believe we should tell folks about Jesus, but I am so tired of hearing that it is their way or not at all. When I speak up, I feel like everyone is thinking, " Well that person is sure not a Christian.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Thanks for the comment! When a certain set of beliefs is thought to be all that separates us from being destined for hell it sure tends to shut down conversation, doesn't it? Your not alone in feeling this way. Thanks for joining the conversation!

Anonymous said...

Sheri, I have to ask this. I haven't read all of your posts but I have read several. I have to ask...is there anything that you do like about "the church"?
In my opinion (and that is all that it is...my opinion...your opinion...eveyone's opinion on a blog...kind of like Wikki in a way), I wonder how much damage is being done by all of this negativity? Jesus came to earth, he taught us how to live, he showed us by his own life what is required and then he died for us. If we aren't supposed to talk about that then I think that you are actually the one missing the point. Not everyone is going to heaven...if we read the Bible at all and believe it to be God's word that is the truth. That is why we have it, so we can learn from it, follow it and live by it. Homeosexuality (as one example) is clearly not acceptable to God, it doesn't mean he doesn't love them anyway but it is clearly not acceptable. If you are saying that it doesn't matter what we do, doesn't matter what we believe, doesn't matter what if you believe the Bible then you are a false teacher...the ones that we are warned about in Bible. On this blog you are able to influence people...for better or worse.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the energy it takes to write such thoughts. I think there is an underlying difference of opinion about what it means to talk about Jesus, evangelize, proclaim, so on. I am planning on addressing this difference in my blog tomorrow so check back in if you are interested. It takes some explaining so I won't try in this space.
Of course there are things I love about the church. That is why I am still talking about it. Otherwise I would just walk away. It seems unhelpful to me to dismiss those with whom we disagree as "false teachers" "negative" or complainers. How can we ever grow if we do not listen to those who disagree with us? How can the church change for the better if anyone who complains is dismissed? Perhaps if more listening was happening I wouldn't feel it necessary to be so negative.
Surely there are many things about which you and I disagree. Having a discussion about such things would take more space than seems practical in one comment. If it seems of value to you to have such discussions, I would welcome conversation with you in further comments.

Charlene said...

"Shall each pretend to reach the skies
Yet doom his brother to expire
Whose soul a different hope supplies
Or doctrines less severe inspire?"

(from The Prayer of Nature)

Anonymous said...

I understand what you are saying, I really truely do...about Evangelism anyway. However...I read between the lines in the above statements that it really is of no use to you to continue a conversation with me...however if I find it prudent then you will lower yourself to do so...this makes me smile...as in this sentence and in the above paragraph you have contridicted what you claim we all need to be doing...accepting difference. The only comments I have read that you really have welcomed are those who have dismissed the church as a whole and have all of these "validated" reasons to do so. So...though I am sure it will go in one eye and out the other I will type out why I belive what I believe...I believe the Bible, the Christian Bible,not the Lutheron Bible or Catholic Bible or any other Bible that have had things put in it or taken out of it. I believe the Bible is God's inspired word, becasue it says that it is. I belive the 4 gospels give us 4 different men's experience with God on earth and therefore we should follow it with truth seeking hearts and minds. I believe Jesus showed us how we should live and gave us many examples of things that God expects of us and things that are unexceptable to Him. "Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the Kindom of Heaven, but only those that have done the will of thy Father that is in Heaven." I believe in God, God that created the earth, sent His son to die for it and a God that is comimg back for his human creations because he loves us that much. I believe that because there is no way anyone will ever convience me that all of the order of the earth and it's species evolved from one thing...takes more faith to believe that than it does that there is a creator that is for sure.

Anonymous said...

(had to make this two separate posts)...I belive the rainbow after a rain is the sign sent by God that he will never again flood the earth, the Bible tells me so. There are somethings I don't completely comperhend but that is because I am human. The Church is full of imperfect people including me. You are correct in many of your criticisim's I suppose but mostly that is because humans are fallable. I believe that most people are basically good, most people want to do what is right yet most people do not study scripture, they leave it up to others and then they argue someone else's opinion rather than actual facts. Example's of facts: Jesus walked on water, Jesus healed a blind man, Jesus fed 5,000 people, Jesus was baptised by emersion in the Jordyn river, Jesus says that marriage is for a man and a woman & and he teaches us how to care for that relationship as it is a union blessed by God. Jesus absolutly wanted us to care for the sick, the hurting, the suffering and treat them as he would have treated them. He wants us to give up our lives and follow not just be a bystander. I know all of this becasue I read and continue to study the Bible. God calls us to love...the most "improtant commandment is to Love", but love doesn't always mean accept. I do not accept people telling me that Gay marriage is okay, I do not accept that adult baptism is not what God expects, why was Jesus baptised then? I do not accept the new wave of thinking "you don't have to go to Church to go to Heaven", that statement is all together pridful...you might as well say, "I don't have to do what God says". I do not accept that no matter what denomination or brand of Christian you are doesn't matter...Jesus did not come down here to create denominations. You tell people that Churchs are filled with people that want you to check your brains at the door...I believe that is far from the truth. I have always been taught "do not take my("my" being my preacher) word for it...read it ("it" being the Bible)for your self no one gets to heaven on borrowed faith." Jesus wants people who are truth seeking,not just law abiding (man made laws). I realize you dissagree...I am far from a self proclaimed feminist, I don't find that in the Bible, I am not a Libreal...don't find that in the Bible either. I am simply a truth seeker. I realize that this is your blog and you are certainly entitled to belive whatever you want and write about whatever you want. I probably shouldn't be chiming in on here...I know that too but I feel that even though I do agree with you that the church should be more active in it's roll in getting off our duff's and breaking a sweat I felt compelled today to share a different point of view on the rest of what I see as important factors . I certainly don't want to hurt your feelings or anyone else's for that matter...I simply dissagree.

Anonymous said...

...yes it' s me one last time. On the subject of Evangelism I understand that we should not go out and "convert" people to a certain Church. I see it in the same way I see baptism...we should be converting people to Chirst and his teachings the same way when I was baptised I became a Christian...I didn't become a methodist, baptist, lutheron ect...I believe that it is essential that we evangelize in one way or another, God wants everyone to come home too him, why else would we all still be here? He doesn't just want a select few, he wants no one to be lost. It is our job as Christians to tell as many people as we can what we know so that they have the opportunity to come to God on His terms.

Sheri Ellwood said...

You are indeed reading between the lines...things that are not there. I was not implying I would have to lower myself at all and did not intend to imply I didn't want a conversation. Quite the opposite. However, I do not find much opening for conversation in your above response. We disagree on much and I doubt it would be fruitful for me to fire back a list of all those things. Can you narrow it down for me? Is there something you would like to hear my opinion on? I appreciate your sharing your beliefs but not sure how to proceed.

Anonymous said...

I want to sincerly apologize about the tone of what I wrote yesterday and the personal accusations. I should not have said some of those things.
I truely believe that there is only one way and that is God's way but I realize that ranting and carrying on is not usually the best way to approach such things. I just believe the Bible...that is all. I feel that as a nation we are falling farther and farther away from God everyday, I hear so many things that are simply not truth...I think that is why we have the bible to be able to determine truth from untuth yet we fall further and further away and it becomes easier to take on someone elses beliefs wrong or not than it does to form our own and study scripture. As a people we let other people become God for us and then we blame God and think he must not be who the Bible claims him to be because a "Christian" did or said something to offend us...somehow we blame God when a person dies or loose our job or we get cancer...instead of just blaming sin. Sin in the world. Please...though I know you may not know where to start...go ahead and explain to me what it is that you dissagree with when you have the time...I promise not to backlash at you. Why do you belive what you believe?

Sheri Ellwood said...

Thank you so much for the apology. Over the years I have been accused of all sorts of things in discussions like these but I think your apology is a first. I am humbled by it. I do understand these are very emotional topics we are discussing. Which is why I come across as sounding so negative. I am a liberal person in a very conservative area and it gets very frustrating and very lonely.
I think one of the main differences between us is the way we view scripture. I take the bible very seriously however I think everyone comes to scripture with their own point of view and can read the same passage quite differently. We all interpret scripture. There is no avoiding that. For me I believe God is love and I interpret all of scripture through that lens and most especially by the loving character of Jesus. I also believe historical context is important. So, for example, on the issue of homosexuality, it is my understanding there was no concept, in biblical times, of a committed loving relationship between two same gender adults. Therefore, it seems to me, scripture cannot be addressing that topic quite so clearly as we might like to think.
I am sure there is much for you to disagree with in just that little bit of writing so I will stop. As I was researching for yesterday's blog I came across a video by N. T. Wright. He is generally too conservative for me but I found it interesting how he could come at things from a more conservative perspective and still his conclusions were somewhat similar to more liberal scholars. Our differences aren't always as great as we think. You might find it interesting and it may stretch your thinking without being so far out in left field as I am. Here is the address: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4w0qix1OGTs&feature=player_embedded
I really do appreciate this conversation with you. It stretches and challenges me and helps me to understand more about my own beliefs as well.

Anonymous said...

I have not yet watched the video but I will do so. I would like for you to explain to me then when in Leviticus 18 under the heading "Forbidden Sex" (CEV),from 1-30. That none of that really means what it says? So it's okay for me to sleep with someone elses husband? It's okay for me to have sex with a horse? It's okay for me to have sex with my uncle? In verse 22 of that chapter it says, " It is disgusting for a man to have sex with another man." So that is not what it really means?? How about Leviticus 20:13? "It's disgusting for men to have sex with one another, and those who do will be put to death, just as they deserve." (CEV) What about Sodom & Gomorrahh Genesis
19:1-11? Then we'll move to a new testament example, how about Romans (written by Paul, one of Jesus' diciples...the very one who before Jesus came used to be on a crusade to kill Christians) Roman's 1:18-32. Verse 26: "God let them follow their own evil desires. Women no longer wanted to have sex in a natural way, and they did things with each other that were not natural. 27) Men behaved in the same way. They stopped wanting to have sex with women and had strong desires for sex with other men. They did shameful things with each other, and what has happened to them is punishment for their foolish deeds. (What happened to them??? Disease and sickness, leading to death.) In these other verses 18-32 of Romans 1 it talks about other things as well in fact the title of it in the CEV is "Everyone is Guilty". We all do things...that are not pleasing to God...what I wrote to you earlier in the week was one of them and I have asked for his forgivnes as well as yours. That is where I believe people have a hard time...I have a hard time comphrenending it all sometimes but sin is sin to God...he doesn't see homosexuality any differently than what I did to you. However, I have corrected myself...I am not trying to actively live my life that way, I repent ask for forgivness and try to do better. We all fight things, some of us have natural tendancy's to be abusive to our children and others around us, some of us have tendency's towards alcoholism...we are human...not little Gods. You said that you see a Loving God through your lens...I absoluty see that as well but what I fail to see is that He just accepts everything we do that is counter to what the Bible teaches and there will be no consequences for it. Before Jesus came God destroyed entire city's and nations of people because of sin, he flooded the entire earth because of sin. He sent his son to be put to death because of sin. Though he does not see any one sin greater than the other he still hates sin and though he would love to bring us all home he knows that some will be lost, because of free will, because they refused to follow, they refused that there are any rules of which to abide by and continue to actively live in sin...not matter what it is. If we as a people just except that then that is what I believe is false teaching..teaching others that God is just fine with it...when He is not. You mentined history...have you ever watched the Ray Vanderland series "Faith Lessons"? That is an amazing historical video sereis, I think you would find it interesting.

Sheri Ellwood said...

There are many things in Leviticus we do not follow: animal sacrifice, year of jubilee, and so on. Jesus himself condemns divorce and remarriage. If these other topics are open to some interpretation and some historical context or the like , then why not homosexuality? To imply Sodom and Gomorrah is about homosexuality is to imply sexual relations between a man and wife are the same as gang rape. There are others who do a more thorough job of addressing scriptural issues than I can do such as this website: http://www.soulforce.org/resources/what-the-bible-says-and-doesnt-say-about-homosexuality/

I don’t expect to change your mind but perhaps you could pause for a moment to consider my perspective: this would be one of those times it feels like the church expects me to check my brain, and this time even my heart, at the door. Scientists, psychologists, and physicians tend to agree homosexuality is not a choice. Logic tells me homosexuality is not a choice. My interaction with homosexual people confirms this to be true and breaks my heart for them. I do not believe I am called to ignore this head and heart knowledge. So, I balance the scriptures you mention with others about loving people, being concerned with our own sin rather than that of others, I consider historical context and so on. Like I said, I don’t expect to change your mind but if you can understand that good people, who are trying just as hard to be faithful as you are, can have a different opinion than your own on such issues then this conversation will be much more fruitful than the majority of those I have had in the past. Thanks for taking the time to try to understand.

Anonymous said...

I want you to know that the tone in my head is in no way malicious towards you...please read it that way, if anything I am sad. I believe you to be a very intelligent person, I can read it in your writting and I believe that you have the best intentions at heart. Here is something that I have considered...I have no facts to back it up only thoughts,observations ect. What if it is no different than autusim? What if because of sin in the world...sexual sin; fathers impregnating their daughters, or even when it happens in any form of close family relatives..what if some of this is the result of that. Not an outward deformity but a chemical one. I look at the special needs children in our school system today and I wonder...what has happened to our children? It could also be due in part to enviornmental sin...drugs (even prescription drugs) during pregnancy. I wonder what is happening to our children. I just can't seem to wrap my brian around what you are asking of me but this does cross my mind and I wonder...
I don't believe that God would create a person to be this way and then condem it...but I do believe that sin is why it is here among us one way or another, and we do have to deal with it. I don't consider myself to be a homophobe...I do know people who are of this nature and I have a few that I love that practcie this nature. Though I would never treat them badly or tell them they are not welcome in our congregation I can not (in my opinion) lie to them and tell them that I think it's okay or that God says it's okay.
If I believe what I said about about homosexuality coming from the sexual or enviromental sin in our world the question for me is what can be done about it? I have no idea really. As far as scripture goes I am aware that Leviticus is written under the Law of Moses and we are under the new law but Roman's really doesn't say it much different. I believe that as far as divorce and remarriage goes, factors such as adultry have to be taken in to consideration, but I do think that getting a divorce simply because you can't get along is not acceptable to God because God see's us as married when we sleep with our boyfriends at 15,it's not the ceremony or document that he is concerned with...and I agree with you that our own sin should be first and foremost on our prayer list everyday. Issue's like this however are being taught in our schools...our kids in my opinion are being brain washed at at very early age that it's okay...we must accept everything and everyone. Does that mean I think we should act as if we are somehow better than someone else? No. Does it mean we are more favorable to God? No, becasue everyone sins daily. I just have to shake my head when I hear these 20 somethings that have really grown up with this idea say on facebook or where ever else..."Get over it people it's 2013!" "We live in a new age now". Really what we are saying is I know that is what the Bible says but...we'll just take our chances because this is what we want to do. It's like the 70's all over again. I am trying to be understanding of you, and I am not asking that you check your brain anywhere. The fact that Dr.'s,Psychologists and the like agree on such issues really do nothing for me, Doctors are wrong all the time. Scientist think we all evolved from some kind of organism, so I am not prepared to take thier word on my salvation. So I ask you...what if you are wrong?

Sheri Ellwood said...

What I am asking of you is to realize people, who spend their lives studying scriptures and care deeply about issues of faith, can come to different conclusions than yours. They don't arrive at these conclusions because they say “oh well, I don’t care what God thinks.” They arrive at these conclusions because their study and prayer and so on leads them to different conclusions about what God thinks. If that made any sense.

You must be listening to different young people than I am. I don’t hear young people saying “Get over it people, it’s 2013.!” I hear young people saying “Homosexual people are my friends. I love my friends and I want you to stop hurting them.”

If I am wrong, then I feel I have erred on the side of love. If God would condemn me for erring on the side of love then I figure I am probably out of luck anyway.

I do very much appreciate you seem to be coming at all of this with a good heart. Thank you for that.

Anonymous said...

I saw a post just last week by a young woman that said just exactly that...as if the fact that it is 2013 somehow is supposed to be factor in this.
I appreciate you and your blog and I appreciate that you spend much time studying scripture and faith. I think the bible was written though for your average everyday Joe. I don't think there are hidden meanings in scripture I think it is very straight forward. I think a person who has never touched a bible, has no background knowledge, could pick it up read it and understand what God expects of them. I think that sometimes we can over think things to death and end up making them something that they are not.
You keep saying that I am not really open to listen..at least that is what I am getting out of this...that I am opposed to anything that is not of my own opinion.
Usually that is not true, I am a person that is very open to ideas and thoughts that are not my own, there are times when my mind has been change by conversations like these. I hear you,that I should do further reasearch, and I will. Sometimes we fear change in our lives...lot's of times we fear change. This is not that for me. What I fear when it comes to this is God himself, the continuing fall of our country because we fall further away from God, what our children learn about themselves and what is acceptable. I fear that this has become so political that "Gay Marriage" is an everyday household term and I just see more of satan's handy work and how he works and succeeds at deceiving people, good people, loving people, people who want nothing but the best for everyone. Our country as a whole is deceived by many lies...no others that I will get in to on here. I don't at all dismiss your opinion or your hard work and research that you do for your writings. I know Love is the greatest commandment and I believe it to be true and not to be repetative but,love does not always imply acceptance.

Charlene said...

Anonymous, I was raised believing much the same as you do. I think the difficulty I have with it now is this: it directly contradicts my lived experience. The things I've done that hurt people (myself and others), I did out of a desire to love and please and obey God, because I was told those things were what God wanted of me. But my "sins" (things your version of Christianity would probably be horrified by, not your run-of-the-mill "hurt somebody's feelings")...my "sins" did not in fact hurt anybody. I did my best to be mindful about them, and I have found them incredibly healing for myself, and neutral to enjoyable for anyone else involved. How can that be?

For years, for a decade or more, I thought it was just me. I thought I was the only one who was hurt by the church and healed by "the world". Now there's a whole blogosphere of people out there who have had similar experiences and I'm thinking...the church has a problem.

The problem is, either I believe in my own existence and my own experiences, or I believe in your God. I can't do both at once. And frankly, my life is better if I believe I exist rather than the opposite.

I don't think my experience is universal by any means, and I'm not looking to tell you you're wrong for having a different one, but please take into account, in your worldview, that people like me exist.

Anonymous said...

Charlene, I would like to respond to this but first I would like to verify if I am the anonymous that you are actually talking to...the one who has almost written a book under this title or one of the others?

Anonymous said...

Charlene...okay I reread your post for the 4th time and obiviously I am the one you are talking to. I am sorry for what you feel the church has done to you. Could you maybe elaborate a little more on what you mean by that? Are you at a place in your life now that you no longer believe in God?
What do you mean the things that you did that hurt people? I would like to talk with you more but I guess I am not sure how to respond at this point.

Charlene said...

Well, I was raised in an evangelical family and evangelical churches. We didn't talk a lot about theology (which, I think now, helps maintain the illusion that all Christians agree on "the basics"), but the wikipedia article on Arminianism (specifically classical Arminianism) looks like what I grew up believing.

I'm sure you can tell me just where they went wrong; most Christians can. The trouble is, I have yet to find anyone who can tell me why it was wrong without using the same reasoning they use to say they're right. Or doing like Sheri and starting from the premise that God is Love, and all the unloving Biblical stuff was added in by men. I no longer believe the God of the Bible (as interpreted by anyone who takes a "straight", "literal", or grammatical/historical reading of it) is loving. I'm also pretty sure he doesn't exist.

The teachings that did me the most damage were those about sexual purity, original sin (or "total depravity" if you prefer that framing), and a literal heaven and hell. There might be others but original sin covers a lot of ground. I grew up believing that I was inherently worthless and that anything I wanted or loved or cared about, other than God, was therefore evil. I believed in my bones that who I was was evil, that I deserved nothing good but every bad thing that ever happened wasn't enough.

I now know that's an induced psychosis. I handled it various ways, mostly by playing victim and by identifying with my oppressor (God, in this case). At the most extreme, I stopped speaking to my non-Christian friends except to try and convert them, and didn't return letters to my "not Christian enough" friends either. Because I was trying so hard to be a "good enough" Christian, to give everything to God, to not love anybody or anything more than Him. I know that hurt people. Worse, I know it most hurt the people who loved me the best.

And it was my unbelieving friends who taught me what unconditional love really is. A God who will send me to hell for eternity, for whatever reason, is not loving unconditionally. There's a condition there, you see. "Do this, or believe this, or suffer eternal torment." It took me a long time to notice that. I was confused for a long time about the nature of love, because of the teachings of the evangelical church. But when I'd followed God as far as I could, and found only an abusive relationship at the end of the line, my non-believing friends welcomed me back with open arms and no judgment. The biblical God and the church never gave me that, and I don't think they ever could. I don't think your God could give me that, Anon. Am I wrong?

(...to be continued...)

Charlene said...


So, as obedience had served me (and those I loved) so poorly, I started looking into alternative ways of being in the world. I won't go into details (as I'm commenting under my real name on a blog read by people I know in real life), but "unapproved" (by God) consensual sex and "partying" didn't hurt me at all. In fact, they were very, very good for me. How then can these things be, as you claim, inherently harmful? It seems to me that the teaching that they are harmful may be more damaging than the acts themselves.

Or rather, that harm is done not by disobedience to "God's laws", but by a lack of mindfulness. When I obeyed, I did so blindly, and caused harm. When I disobeyed, I did so with eyes wide open, and reaped the benefits. It's certainly possible to do the opposite, and conclude that God's laws are therefore "good", but I'd argue based on my experience that it's the mindfulness that's good. "God's laws" seem pretty irrelevant to the picture.

I've heard the story of the prodigal son, and I've heard it said that God would welcome me back with open arms, just like my friends did. But would I have to first "repent" of many of the best things ("sins") I've done in my life? Because God or the church believes them to be wrong, based on the writings of desert patriarchs thousands of years ago? Would I have to give up who I am, who I have become, what I have made of myself? Would I have to become a mindless and powerless victim again? Would I have to stop believing in my own story and experiences, my own existence?

I've written in first person, my own specific story, but as I said above, I've recently come to realize that I'm not the only one. In fact, there's a newly-named "Religious Trauma Syndrome" that describes my symptoms (and evidently those of many others, or it would never have been named) neatly. Insofar as the church is unwilling to let go of authoritarian structures and teachings about the inherent worthlessness of human beings (which are, I think, necessary to evangelism and conversion and "salvation"), it definitely has a problem.

Thank you for being willing to listen to me, Anonymous. I really do appreciate it. That's...not adequate to express what I feel...but it's the best I can do in words at the moment. I hope that my story isn't inherently offensive to you (and fear it may be)...but it is my story. I hope my existence isn't inherently offensive to you, and fear it may be.

Sheri Ellwood said...

I just wanted to say: Charlene, you are awesome! And to Anonymous, I didn't want you to think I had ignored your comment to me earlier. My talk of openness was not addressed to you in particular so much as to the tone these conversations can take and often have in my experience. Often the openness is not there and judgement is which can be very hurtful as Charlene's comments illustrate well.

Anonymous said...

Hi Charlene, Thank you for sharing that with me. You have read what I have witten here on this page. One thing about writing is it is hard to deliver tone of voice...good writers can do that well and I'll just admit right up front that I am not a good writer and often things that I say seem to be taken opposite of the way I meant them...just wanted to preface with that. I really don't know if you really want me to respond more than you simply want to be heard, my heart is saying that you really just wanted to be heard, I will maybe just answer with a story of my own.
When I was 5 years old I was molested by a cousin 5 years older than I. That molestation went on for several years. My parents never suspected anything, my Mom was very loving but my Dad though he loved me was very rough around the edges. I have heard my dad tell me that he loves me maybe twice...he has softened as I have gotten older, he is different with my kids but that was my relationship with him as a child and into middle adulthood. I grew up in a nondenominatioal church small church, I was the only kid in the youth group.
In the 6th grade a popular girl I had been friends with decided somehow that I was a threat to her (those are my adult words...as I have rationalized it down to that fact...she was jealous of something, to this day I don't know what)she turned all of my other "friends" against me, I had no one. In those days we didn't use the term "bullying" but I guess if we need to label it that is what it was. That year I developed an ulcer in my stomach as a 12 year old, I was physically sick to my stomach every Monday morning just thinking about having to go back to school. 7th grade was much the same but by the time
8th grade came a long things were different. I had started to develop physically, the molsetation had stopped by that point however having no real girl friends, having no church group having parents that really were completely uninvolved in my life I realized that I could get attention from the boys. I started hanging around the new girl in town, I started sneaking out of my house as a freshman (14)and having sex with a couple of boys from the neighboring town. The thing of it was, I hated it, I just wanted it to be done...I had done all the stuff, shaved everything, put on the pretty underware, and snuck right past my trusting parents and out into the night but I hated every minute of it once I got there.
I had been baptised when I was 12, I knew what it meant I had read it, I memorized lots of bible verses, I could say all the books of the Bible, I went to other church's youth activities though my parents never understood that I always was an outsider, but I can honestly say that I never had been taught that God wants a relationship with me.
At the age of 15 I met a man that I believe was sent from God. After my freshman year my reputation was to say the least tarnished in our community though my parents knew nothing. I had little self respect but I knew how to use my body to get attention. I flirted with him mercilessly. He asked me out on my first real date,he was 18. He opend my car door, he asked me what I would like to do for the evening. That night changed my whole life. I had never been treated like that by a man before. He gave me back my self respect, he didn't need my body he just wanted to be with me. That was such a new feeling for me that I didn't know what to do with it. Anyway, we dated on and off through my high school days and his college, and sometime later when I was in college we lost contact. Though I was in love and would have married him straight out of high school if he would have asked we had never been exclusive we had dated other people now and then but he remained a constant in my life and helped me to see a lot of things about myself.

Anonymous said...

Still me...I mentioned that we dated other people, one of the men I dated during this time was killed in an accident and this really did a number on me mentally,I had grown up with him he was a friend not just a boyfriend. At this time in my life I had been in college for 3 years, didn't want to be there,didn't know what I wanted to do, didn't care about much of anything. I did a lot of drinking and hanging out with people who accepted me just as I was, didn't ask a lot of questions just happy to have another person to dance on the pool table with. Probably for the first time in my life I felt I had real friends (beside the boyfriend), friends that really loved me. My phone was always ringing for the next party, I had a lot of premarital sex with several different people at that point in my life, I even had made up my own drink that I brought to every party. When I look back on those days now, you might think I would be horrified with how far I was away from God at that point in my life. I was well into my 20's perfectly aware that what I was doing was not acceptable to anyone in my family let alone God which caused me to lie another sin to add to the list.
The thing that I know for sure is that God will allow you to think whatever you want to think, do whatever you want to do, he doesn't want puppets,which is why he gave us free will. I belive the book of Job is included in the Bible to teach us about spiritual warfare. Satan is always there trying to get to us. I believe 100percent that he works on Christians and Christians alone..why would he have to work on those that are already lost? He already has them. Occasionally God will though through out a line even though we pay Him no attention as we are floating through life without Him...whether I grabbed it or not was up to me. Several times he threw the line and I was so consumed with me, my life and what I wanted that I didn't take a hold of it.
My God loves me, I know this because he sent Jesus to die for me. It is still hard for me to fully wrap my mind around the trinity. It is so hard to explain how God sent His son but yet they really are 1 in the same...just 3 different parts including the spirit. So HE himself actually came to die for me because he loves me that much.
Now me being me, I like to be in charge of things. I like to organize things, tell people when and what to do ect. however,I believe in authority. I teach my kids to respect athority, be it from me as thier parent, a police officer,thier elders, thier teachers and especially God. Have you ever seen children whose parents have just let them do and say whatever thier little heart desires? I see that as our relationship with God, we are His children, he has guidlines that he has put in place for our safety. There have been times in my life and I shudder to even say this but there have been times when I have thought..."that's pretty arrogant of God". I thought those things because I like to feel that I am in control of me..but my heart knows better. I could try to prove to you all day long that God is alive and here today...I could try to show you proof after proof of Him. I am sorry for what you have gone through in your life.

Anonymous said...

I do however stand behind all of the things that I have said in everything on this page. Yes I believe God does have "rules" for our lives that he expects us to follow, I belive that all truly loving parents have "rules" for thier children for their own benefit. I believe that God is who and what He claims to be and I belive the 12 apostles that were with Him for 40 days after he rose from death were just everyday average men...cowards really who before they saw what they saw would never have done what they did to try to tell eveyone they could about Him and die as they died and even at death would not give up what they believed, through torture, stoning, inprisionment ect. He told them if you follow me you will have trouble, that is still true today, we all have our fair share of trouble...some people get more than thier share. I belive though we will all have to stand before God one day and give an account for our lives and my only hope is that He will say to me "enter, my child". Because the other side to that is "I never knew you, away from me." I would rather live my life here with boundries and spend the rest of it with God with no more tears, sorrow or pain and if I can help others along the way enjoy the freedom of knowing that this life is temporary then I know he will guide me in the right direction. I hope you will come back to him someday, repentacne is a private thing in my opinion, God knows your heart. You are God's creation of couse you exist and He has a plan for you.

Charlene said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for doing your best to hear my story. That means a lot to me. Thank you also for sharing yours, and I am sorry for all the trouble you have seen in your life. I am glad that God is a comfort for you, that you can see him as loving.

I really have a hard time seeing God as loving. I mean, I've tried a great deal and haven't really managed it so far. So I'm probably SOL as far as "salvation" goes, at least by your theology. Because if I must choose between my life now and an eternity in heaven, I'll take what I have now. I'll take my "sins". It's worth it. And the cynical Calvinist in me says that if God does have a plan for me, most likely it's his pleasure to send me to hell anyhow (given the evidence of my life). But according to Calvin I can't do anything about it, so I may as well live as best I can here and now.

I don't know. I really don't. A quote often attributed to Epicurus (though it's not much like him) says: Live a good life. If there are gods, and they are just, you will be rewarded. If there are gods, and they are unjust, you should not wish to serve them anyway. If there are no gods, at least you will have lived a good life. That's about where I am right now. That "good" for me might involve breaking a biblical injunction or two...oh well. Is God just? Does he judge "good" and "bad" by actual benefit or harm done? Or is he arbitrary in his laws?

Anonymous said...

Hi Charlene. You asked "is God just"? Yes, I believe God is just. I don't really know what you mean by "does he judge by good and bad done?" I will assume you are talking about works of the flesh? For example: If we rob a bank on Monday but on Tuesday we give the money to the United Way does it make up for the crime we committed or something like that? Or, if we spend much of our time looking up pornography online but we also spend much time in service to the homeless, do we make up for sins committed?
God does not judge us based on works. Do we need to do good things and help others? Yes, but out of service to God not becasue we are trying to make up for the bad things we have done...we can never do enough good to make up for the sins we have committed, we have sinned everyday one way or another. This is yet another thing that is hard to fully explain well but this is the very reason Jesus came because of our sin, he died for all of it. I have never understood the "Hail Mary's" and confession to a priest (who is just a man/woman) to make up for sin. The Bible says that all we have to do is pray to God, ask forgivness and the answer is that He has already forgiven us. God wants us to choose Him, he knows that we are going to sin, but he also knows what our heart is. He knows the difference if we are actively trying to live for him but yet stumble, he also knows if our hearts are far removed from Him.
Nothing is left to chance, Heaven is intentional, no one will get there by accident, we are either living for God or we are not.
For me, with all of the evil that exists in this world, I can not even comperhend a world where there are not bombings at the Boston Marathon, a place where childern are not kidnapped and raped and held for years, people don't come into a school and randomly shoot our precious children, where BTK's, Jeffery Dohomer's and the likes do not exist. A place where there is no cancer, M.S.,or any other horrible disease that can rob us of our health but God says this place exists and God ALWAYS keeps his promises. That is what I live for not this life but the next, where the faithful family members that I have are waiting for me & you, the place where there is no more heartache or pain and I want you Charlene to come with me too. Jesus defeated our ultimate enemy, death and he says that we can defeat it too...I will obey my Lord becasue the reward is living with Him in Heaven. What a beautiful place it will be!

Anonymous said...

*I will add, I have heard that Jeffery Dohmer was counseled in prison and became a Christian before he was killed. So I should have not said there will be no Jeffery Dohmer's in Heaven...it was the act it's self (serial killers) that I was refering to, not the person.
Also I will add that when I stated that I was molested by a cousin beginning at the age of 5 which means he was around 10 when that started...a child yet himself. Studies tend to show that children who are molested show and demonstrate that behavior themselves with other children. I have no way of knowing if that was the case with him. I just know the effect that it has had on my life...and that is all that I was refering to...I have forgiven him for the act and it has helped shape me into the person I am today though I would not wish it on anyone.

Charlene said...

Well, Anon, I guess I have different definitions of "justice" and "good" than you are working with.

If someone robs a bank, there is always harm done, to the people who were stolen from...no matter what happens to the money after. Though there is a good argument to be made in some circumstances that Robin Hood has the moral right anyway. Porn, though...if the people who made the video are all consenting adults (and hopefully well-compensated for their time, energy, and expense)...what harm comes of looking at it? Unless you're pirating something that's supposed to be behind a pay wall, but that's about theft, not about the content of what is being stolen. Unless it's keeping you from doing the work that needs to be done in your life, whatever that is...but again, the problem isn't the porn so much as the failure to fulfill one's committments. Similarly, if two unpartnered, or partnered-to-each-other, adults agree to have sex with each other, what harm can be done to anyone else, even if they happen to be the same gender? How would anyone else even know what went on in the bedroom? And if it's not hurting anybody, and is making a couple of people very happy, why would God want to stop it?

I guess you believe in some form of original sin, or something close to it, if you can claim that everyone has sinned. But which were my sins? The things that hurt others, or the things that God (or at least the church) would condemn? Do I even need God's forgiveness for loving and obeying him to the best of my ability?

And, as I mentioned in the comments on a previous post, I don't want forgiveness for the choices I've made in my life. I want those choices to be respected. An offer to "forgive" all the tough choices I've made in my life just feels condescending at this point. I am not a child. I'll live with the consequences of my decisions. If that means I land in hell, so be it. It's worth it, to be living the best life I can manage while I have the chance. And I mean that.

(If hell is mere separation from God, I think that will be a mutually agreeable arrangement. Heaven often sounds as safe as a padded room to me. Not very appealing.)

Anonymous said...

Hello Charlene, I just wanted you to know that I had read your last post and thought at first I thought it would be better for me to just not respond at all. But it seems that I keep thinking about this so... God created people because he wanted loving realationships with people,however he also gave the the people a free will...to choose Him or not choose Him. I don't think it would matter what examples I would have used as I think you would have picked them apart and made them seem like something other than a simple example which is what they were. Christian's try to immulate Christ, I try to immulate that character to others however I probably rarely get it right I do my best and I keep working at it as do most other Christians...no one is perfect and we will never be.
If you and I worked side by side at a job everyday I would guess you to be the kind of personality that knit picks everything to it's death, I would guess that you find fault with nearly everything and turn it into something more than opposite of what it started out to be. I would also guess that you are a boderline extremeist, that can express itself in all catagories. It could be weight loss or gain, it could be extreme extereme type A personality or the opposite...either way you want to look at it is fine with me. I have nothing more to say on this issue, I can respect difference but I cannont respect self induced ignorance.

Charlene said...


I too have considered not responding to your final post, as it seems to me that you have neatly illustrated Sheri's point for her. But each of your posts brings up further questions for me, and I find I want to ask those questions even if they go unanswered. Even if there aren't any good answers.

You've said repeatedly that God gives us free will, to choose a relationship with him or not. I've laid out, I think, the terms on which I'd be willing to accept a relationship with him (in my own mind, anyway, if not very well in this conversation). If I choose to go my own way, for my considered reasons, will God respect that choice? Will his church respect that choice? Or will God behave like a stalker, forever following me around telling me how wrong I am for rejecting that particular relationship, not hearing my reasons, casting aspersions on my personality and mental ability? This is, as any formerly love-obsessed teenager can tell you, not a very good way to win someone's heart.

While it was not my intention to "pick apart" your examples, it certainly was my intention to engage with the ideas you presented. I wanted to present an alternate view of the situations you proposed, a view toward "actual harm done", to illustrate what seemed to confuse you when I mentioned the concept in the abstract. Does God not want us to engage with ideas and consider alternative viewpoints? Is he somehow offended if we take a hard look at what we've been taught and its effect in the real world? Does God not want us to pay attention to the ways in which our moral stances effect real people in the world? Would he prefer we simply toe the party line of what our particular church tells us? Does he want us to ignore any information that comes to us from a source other than the church? It seems to me that you think he does not, in fact, want us to have an informed and thoughtful system of ethics, but simply to follow "the rules."

Well, you do not know me. You may think what you like of my personality. I'm certainly not perfect either. However, I hope my questions and arguments can stand on their own merits.

Anonymous said...

It is funny how God works in peoples lives, I heard something today that allows me to think that I heard it just to be able to respond to this.
I really don't understand your thinking at all...at first you say there is no God and if there is then you don't want any part of Him anyway. Then you left the door open a little bit...or at least that is how I read it. The only possible way for me to answer your question is that it is impossible for me to believe that you ever even once truly understood how much God loves you, because if you did you would never walk away and ask the things that you ask and belive the things that you believe. That doesn't mean I think you are stupid or anything else for that matter it's just simply the truth. I also realize that me sitting here exsaperated, having shed tears over some of this as I cannont see how anyone could possibly belive the things that you have written on here I realize that I will not be able to reach you, the things that you have clouded your mind with don't allow you to see God's light. I also realize that in my exasperation that I probably come across judegemntal and whatever else you want to label it...the truth remains that people who are cynical, scarcastic, always trying to find the wrong in something I belive are doing nothing but Satans handy work and all I have left is I love you Chalene, I love you because God say's love your enemy's. I tell you with all my heart I have Godly love for you and I hope that someday someone will be able to help you truly see God.
As for Sheri and her points, I don't understand how a person who is a "Pastor", for God, say's to people such as you who wrote what you wrote on here..."you are awesome". What in the world could possibly be awesome about the fact that you would rather live your way and end up in Hell? I don't get that. I don't see how that is doing anyone any favors...but obivioulsy there are a lot of things I don't get. This will truly be my last post, it only makes Christians look worse in your eyes for me to be saying these things. I think that is true to an extent, but I also believe that we have sat still too long and stayed to quiet and we let people like you bully us out of what is allowed to be taught in our school, we allowed people like you to take out the pledge of alligence...Christians have been quiet and have been run over for far too long and have allowed your way of thinking to contaminate impressionable people, becasue if we speak up then we are of course j"udemental,critical not truely God's people". God says seek and you will find, the door will be open. He doesn't say that we can't question but what type of heart are you doing it with...one that is searching for love or one that is searching to hear what they want to hear to enable them to live the lifestyle they want to live with no consequences and in the end of course they don't blame themselves because they are obcessed with themselves and pride and what THEY want, they blame God, Christians and whatever else. I will not be blamed for your life because I am a Christian. You don't want God fine...thank goodness he is a loving God, one that never gives up, see's your life from beginning to end and already knew the "hard choices" you would make before you made them but only he also knows the end result and what is yet to come in ourlives and the choices we will yet have to face.

Sheri Ellwood said...

I wanted to address why I think Charlene's comment is awesome, in case there are others who are wondering about this. I think Charlene's commenting is awesome because hers is a voice the church needs to hear. Few who have had the experiences she has and have come to believe as she does would take the time to explain such things. Most either want to get as far away from church as possible, don't want to hear hurtful and judgmental comments which are almost inevitable, or just don't care enough to make the effort. To have an articulate person like Charlene share her experiences is awesome to me.

Charlene said...

I never said, "there is no God". I will say I'm pretty skeptical, though I realize a lot depends on how you define "God". Which is to say, I'm open to new evidence for he/she/it but I haven't seen any yet.

Besides, the deity that most evangelical Christians seem to worship (the one it seems you believe in, Anonymous) does not look at all loving to me, even if he does exist. Attempting to live by his laws brought me no end of trouble, and rejecting them worked wonders in my life. As I've said before, I'm sure that's not a universal experience, but if you are claiming to have the Only Right Way, even one counter-example serves to discredit it. However, if it works for you, more power to ya. Please realize it doesn't work for everyone.

Unfortunately, it seems that so long as I come to a conclusion different from yours, I'll never have a pure enough heart searching for God, I'll never be truly seeking him, according to you. So long as my experience is different from yours, I'll never have been a "true" believer. This is disheartening but not surprising to me (it's not a new dilemma for former believers, including myself). And I know how scary it is to have the foundations of one's world challenged. I just really wish you could hear yourself, from this angle.

Because I used to be you, you know. I used to believe and argue for every thing you have written here. The evidence of my own experience was enough for me to walk away; now I'm looking back, looking around me. Is there any compelling evidence to convince me I was wrong in that? If there is, I have not seen it yet. But I have seen a great deal of evidence that my experience is far from unique, which in fact is a compelling argument of its own, but not for your position.

I'm sorry you feel you have been wronged by "people like me", who really just want the freedom to live our lives as best we see fit, who want the freedom to follow our own consciences rather than yours. I don't understand why you feel this is an infringement on your right to believe and act as you believe is best, that you can't impose your views on someone who thinks otherwise. The world is a big, big place. Is there not room enough for disagreement? Can you not worship your particular deity without seeking to impose him on everyone else?

Sheri, thank you for letting me share my thoughts here. I don't have it all worked out, that's for sure. I'm grateful for the chance to be heard, even if it's only you who can hear me.

Anonymous said...

``Don't be judgemental'' -- what do people really mean by this?
Some people, when criticised, will tell you ``Don't be judgemental!'' in fact, being judgmental means putting a value judgment onto something, whether good or bad. It seems relatively rare for somebody to say that if you say something good about them, but that is still being judgmental.

I get the impression that what they really mean is ``Don't criticise me! I'm prepared to use emotional blackmail to stop you criticising me!'' of course, the irony escapes them that they are judging that you are being judgmental.

One example of somebody being fair this way is Jesus saying ``Why do you call me good?''

Charlene said...

Anonymous, I wish I had time to really give this the thought it deserves; unfortunately I am headed into the busiest week of my year, work-wise. But I'll give you a couple of thoughts off the top of my head by way of explanation or conversation-starter, and see where it goes.

First off, if I really minded your criticism per se, I would not be here talking to you in the first place. I don't expect you to like what I do, or want to do it yourself. But the original post was about how evangelism is killing the church and keeping Christians from acting in a loving manner. And in fact, if you (and everyone else who thinks like you; you're certainly not alone in anything you've said) insist on criticizing me, my experience, and my conclusions (especially without addressing my reasons), I'm not inclined to find reason to set foot in a church again. Because I can't see that it has anything to offer me, least of all love. This is probably significantly less of a problem for me than it is for you (I rather like sleeping in on Sunday mornings). Or maybe it's not really a problem for you either; I have no way of really knowing until you tell me.

I also want to parse the difference between a value judgment and being judgmental, but I don't have the time this morning to give that the thought it deserves. Off the top of my head, I'll propose that it's the difference between saying, "this action is wrong because it is hurting somebody" and "this person is wrong, because of who they are". There's definitely room for confusion and conflation there, though, which I'd like to try and clear up when I have more time. And of course the confusion is exacerbated by the evangelical claim that people do wrong because they inherently are wrong. I strongly disagree with this claim, but I don't have time this morning to expound on exactly why or what I now think with regards to it, except to point you to Non-Violent Communication (you can google it to learn more), which was a real eye-opener for me.

michelle said...

It's hard to know if jumping into this conversation at this point is a good idea, but i think i would like to share a few things.
i connected very strongly to much of what has been said here in response to sheri's post, as well as sheri's post itself.
i grew up in an evangelical christian home, my dad was a pastor for much of my life, i went to church and christian school from kindergarten to college. i was WELL immersed in the christian evangelical world, and i have had to do a lot of healing and reclaiming of my spirituality and ideas about god as a result. to put it very simply, my whole experience of christianity and god growing up was one of fear and guilt. this caused problems for me emotionally, physically, relationally, and spiritually. i tried VERY hard to be good, to do all the things a good christian is supposed to do, and it was all done out of fear and guilt, never out of love. it definitely was not love that motivated me to "witness" to my non-christian friends and tell them that they were going to hell, and it was not love that made me worried about the souls of my non-christian family members. it was fear and guilt. fear that they were going to hell, and guilt because as a christian it was my job to make sure they were going to heaven. that's it. when it comes down to heaven and hell, fear and guilt are the ultimate lens through which the world is viewed.
the healing a reclamation didn't begin for me until i was able to give up the concept of hell, and it was incredibly freeing when i did. since then, i have met many, many people who don't believe in hell, some of whom, even still call themselves christians! what a wonder.
it has been a long journey, a journey that continues in my search for truth. i welcome the growth and change, and i feel that i am more attuned to it because of the freedom i experience through grace and love. it is difficult and unnerving to have one's whole worldview challenged and flipped upside down as mine was, but the two concepts i was able to hold onto, and build around, are grace and love, and those are the lenses through which i choose to look at the world. i believe the church would do well to look at the world through the same lens, and that is one reason that i connected so strongly with this post from sheri.

Sheri Ellwood said...

Michelle, thanks so much for your comment. Yours is another voice the church would do well to hear. Love and grace are surely a great foundation to build upon!

Anonymous said...

Charlene, Sheri, Michelle;

I attend a, Bible based church, it is funny to me that I at times am seen as "Liberal" in my congregation as compared to the way that I am viewed here. I whole-heartedly agree that the church and all of it's rules are not what church is supposed to be about but when I say that, I am talking more about if we take communion before or after worship services, wether or not we use musical instruments, wether or not we stand or sit for the invitation song, the thinking that we are the only ones that have 'it" right...those are the things in which I feel get us lost in our direction and purpose. If we are all about the ceremony of a church service and not about a relationship with God then I think we are doing a disservice to eveyrone involved.
The stuff that we have been talking about however is far removed from those things, and though you, Charlene, only gave a few examples on sex and partying, I belive those things to be clearly addressed in scripture. So then we are back to Scripture...either we belive that the Bible is God's inspired word or you don't and if you don't then I don't see how continuing this discussion could be...to borrow one of Sheri's words..."fruitful". The bible teaches about Hell and the Satan that rules it, it teaches about Heaven and a God that created everything, and will come again one day to bring the faithful home. (By they way,Michelle, how did you come to the conclusion that there is no Hell? )
I doubt we have any idea how many times the Bible has tried to be destroyed or abolished but I do know that it has been a lot. Why would that be? Why would people try to destroy it if it was just a meaningless book of ficiton?
I work in the health care field, I see people all the time that fall in to about 4 catagory's...1. They try to eat right, exercise, they read and stay informed about thier body's and are proactive in caring for it. 2. They know they should do better, they know all the research, but yet can't quit seem to make it off the couch to go for a walk or eat fast food 5 days a week for lunch. 3. They really haven't taken the time to research anything, they do not understand anything that you say to them and they literally have no idea that anything they are doing could possibly be harmful to them and no matter how many times or ways you try to explain it to them they still don't understand it. 4. They flat don't care, they have had a headache for 2 months buying excederin in bulk because they are about ready to stroke out and they just go on with their daily activity's because they think Dr.'s are quacks and they know better than they do.
I am telling you I can smell a diabetic that doesn't take care of themselves a mile a way. They eat whatever they want and then just use more insulin...uncontroled blood sugar can really do a number on people and thier mental stability (I am sure this is being judgemental) and they simply have a look about them...I have never been wrong yet.
I see this in much the same light, there are those that choose to accept God's gift on His terms, there are people who prefer to stay luke warm they say sure I believe there is a God, but that doesn't mean it has to change my life or how I live, there are those that think as agnostics and then we have atheists.
So you (Charlene) said I didn't give much thought to the reasons of why you came to think as you do...it is very hard for me to do that when it seems that we don't have much if any common ground as far as our thinking is concerned. Am I wrong in thinking that?

Charlene said...

Again, I apologize for the hurried nature of this response, as I'm getting ready to be away from home for four or five days (working).

Anonymous, it's true we don't have much "common ground" as a starting point, because I don't believe the Bible is true, nor particularly inspired. I can expound the reasons for why and how I came to think this way when I get back home, if you're interested. I used to believe as you do, before I looked into it further.

I'm not asking you to agree with me and my conclusions, though I would appreciate it if you were willing to attempt to "walk a mile in my shoes", and see how some of the teachings of evangelical Christianity have been harmful to me, besides being apparently contradictory to how the world actually works. If you can't do that, I hope you can at least see that I have not been thoughtless in coming to the conclusions that I have come to, that I have at least given consideration to as many sides of this as I have been able to see and am willing to consider any new information that you or anyone else can offer. That it is possible to be intellectually rigorous, to do one's research, and to conclude that maybe the evangelical interpretation of reality via the Bible isn't particularly accurate, and to change one's lifestyle accordingly.

Michelle, I really appreciated your comment. "Reclaiming my spirituality" really resonated with me. And for me as well, the healing and reclamation began with, if not entirely ditching the concept of hell, at least the realization that (according to the Arminian views I believed at the time) I was beyond the possibility of changing my eternal destination whatever it turns out to be, so I might as well stop worrying about it and get on with living my life as best I can here and now.

Anonymous said...

How Can We Trust The Bible As True?

Introduction: How do we know truth? God breaks through Kant's wall by revelation!

"Revelation refers to both God's activity in making Himself known, and the truth that God makes known as a result of this activity." Dr. David Jones

Why do we trust the Bible as true?

I. It Was Written True

A. The Bible claims to be inspired by God (1Tim 3:16) but recognizes that God used men in the process (2Pet 1:20-21.) Furthermore, the Bible claims to be infallible, which means without error (Ps 119, Ps 12:6) Notice that Christ recognized this (see John 10:34 where Jesus bases an argument upon a single word in Ps 82.) Jesus never quoted scripture to start an argument, He quoted scripture to settle arguments -- it was absolute authority for Him! The NT refers to itself as scripture (2Pet 3:16, and see 1Tim 5:18 which quotes Lk 10:17 as scripture. Also important to notice is the way that the Bible equates "scripture says" with "God says" because in the Bible's view, they are two ways of saying the same thing. (see Rom 9:17 & Ex 9:13, 16, and also Gal 3:8 & Gen 22:18 -- check out also Acts 28:25, Acts 4:24-25.)

Does the fact that humans were involved mean that the Bible can't be without error? This is an assumption many have made but one which denies that God can be sovereign over men and women. If God can create by His mere Word surely He can keep His Bible free from error. There is no philosophical reason why the Bible can't be true and have had humans involved in its production.

B. We don't believe the Bible is true because we have verified every statement! There are many statements which we couldn't possibly verify (like what the snake said in the Garden to Eve), although the statements that can be verified do check out. We believe the Bible because God says it is true and Christians are those who believe what God says. God is the God who speaks. While there are many good reasons to believe that the Bible is God's Word and thus without error, ultimately this is something we believe because the Spirit makes the good evidences convincing to us.

This means that discussions and arguments with non-believers are really spiritual battles and until the Spirit opens someone's eyes, they can't even receive spiritual things (1Cor 2:14) -- so we must pray not just argue with people! Don't just be on the defensive, challenge unbelievers on what basis they have for rejecting God's Word -- who are they to sit in judgment upon God's Word?!

C. We must model the authority of scripture in our own lives. When was the last time you changed a course of action simply because the Bible said so? Do you let the scriptures change your preconceived ideas or do you simply look for verses that back up what you already believe?

Anonymous said...

II. Some ways that this doctrine is attacked

A. Rationalism says reason must determine what is true. Thus whatever seems impossible for modern man to believe should be cut out of scripture (Thomas Jefferson did this literally, taking his scissors to the Bible and cutting out everything that referred to supernaturalism.) This view assumes rather arrogantly that people in older times were stupid (but even people in Jesus' day knew that virgins didn't get pregnant, that people didn't walk on water, and that dead men didn't rise from the dead!) The Bible is frankly and unashamedly, supernatural. Reason is a good tool for receiving revelation but it wasn't designed to sit in judgment upon the Infinite God's ways or words! How tragic is it when people reduce God to what they can comprehend -- who would want to worship a God like that?

Often the critics of scripture are driven by presuppositions which are unproven are flat out wrong! For example, many 19th century critics assumed that Christianity evolved from a Jewish flavor into a more Pauline flavor and thus anything that seems Pauline must be dated later than when Paul actually lived (because the critics say that this evolution took some time.) But there is no basis for this reconstruction at all! They use a reconstruction that is based on nothing at all to throw out what the church has always believed about who wrote which NT books and when! If you ever here someone say "all scholars agree" you know they are either ignorant or they are trying to bully you because there is virtually nothing that all scholars agree upon!

Liberalism is the view that scripture is a mixture of God's Word and man's word and thus we need to use our reason to separate the husk from the kernel. As you might expect every scholar who takes this approach differs in what he/she thinks is God's Word. It is a position that is doomed to drive you to despair because human reason is inadequate for this task!

B. Existentialism (often called the neo-orthodox view) says the ideas are inspired but not the words. Thus they would say the Bible is divine but it is not inerrant. Furthermore they say that the Bible becomes authority as we hear God speaking in it, otherwise it is a dead book. It may surprise you to know that this is CS Lewis' view (which you will discover if you read his book "God In The Dock") and that "Experiencing God" has ties with this view as well. Many evangelicals are basically existential in their view of scripture without realizing it. They only pay attention to the parts that "hit them" or speak to them. They only give the scripture authority if they feel like it, which means that in effect, their subjective feelings carry more weight than the Bible.

Anonymous said...

C. Limited Inerrancy says that the Bible is true only about matters of faith. But when it speaks of history, science etc. it makes mistakes. This view is popular among evangelicals but really misses the importance the scripture places upon rooting itself in real history. If the facts are wrong, then the doctrines can't be true! This is what Paul argues about the resurrection in 1 Cor 15:14-15! Similarly, if Adam isn't a real historical person then Paul's argument in Romans 5 about justification falls apart! You can't separate faith and facts in the Bible, if it's true, it is true in everything it speaks to.

D. Deconstructionism says that words can't convey truth and that we must be set free from the author trying to tyrannize the reader by imposing his/her authorial intent upon the reader. This obviously raises huge questions for how the Bible (a book) can be said to be true. But this view is self-refuting because the people who argue for it use words to do so! Don't be fooled by silly philosophical games about language -- words have meaning because the God who is, is a God who speaks! Language is not a human creation! While it is true that we bring certain presuppositions to any text we read (and thus can distort our reading of it), the Bible as a living Word can cut through our wrong presuppositions (Heb 4:12) -- remember, reading the Bible is a spiritual activity in which the Holy Spirit is active. While we read it like we read ordinary books, it is far from ordinary and promises to bring life to those who read. (Ps 119)

Anonymous said...

III. God's Word Has Been Faithfully Transmitted

A. The text is essentially what was originally written. Did you know that the text of the OT was preserved by a radically strict set of rules (which you would expect if God had spoken!) For example a scribe could only use certain types of animal skins, had to speak every word out loud when copying, had to get a child to read it to make sure his copying was clear, and if he made too many mistakes (even if he corrected them) he had to burn the whole scroll! The scribes were also fanatical counters of everything to make sure that there copies were perfect. For instance they knew that there we 97,856 words in the 1st five books of the OT, and that Lev 11:42 had the middle letter of the 1st five books. Until 1929, we used a Hebrew manuscript from the 1500s for our basic text, then we switched to one that was 500 years older.

Do you know how many letters were different between these two texts? Only four! The Jews were fanatical about the accuracy of the text and thus we have the OT as it was written. The Dead Sea Scrolls
only served to increase our confidence of the accuracy of the OT text because they contain a scroll of Isaiah that is over 800 years older than any other copy of Isaiah, and yet it has no different words that the later texts of Isaiah!

The NT text is preserved in literally thousands (over 5,000 at last counting) of ancient manuscripts. We even have a piece of the Gospel of John written 20 years after the book was originally composed! Even liberal scholars agree that the text we have is true to what was originally written (only 1 out of 100 words is in any doubt and none of these affect any doctrines and there meaning can be determined from the context.) In addition to scripture texts we also have tons of scripture quotations in the Church Fathers, old lectionaries, and other early translations. (FF Bruce's "The NT Documents: Are They Reliable?" is an excellent book on this topic.)

B. But what about the canon? (i.e. How do we know we have the right books in the Bible?) It is important to know that the Bible is canonical because it is inspired. It was canonical when it was written, it didn't evolve into this status! Likewise, the church does not give authority to the canon (as the Catholic church believes) rather the scripture establishes the church! The OT establishes this pattern when God authenticates His spokesmen by signs and wonders and by their short-term prophecies coming true (see Deut 18:14-22.) His Words are to be kept and taught (Deut 6:1-9.) Jesus Himself used the same OT as we do (see Mt 23:35 where Jesus refers to "from Abel ... to Zechariah" Abel is found in Genesis and Zechariah is found at the end of 2Chronicles, the last OT book in the Hebrew arrangement. Thus Jesus gives His seal of approval to the OT canon the way it was understood in His day.) Both Pliny and Josephus (Jewish contemporaries of Jesus) list the exact same books as we use today as well, and the early Christians distinguished between the OT (which had authority) and the apocrypha (which did not.) As a matter of fact the Catholic church did not recognize the apocrypha as scripture until the Council of Trent in 1543 (over 20 years after the Reformation started) and the Greek Orthodox church didn't recognize the 4 of the 7 apocryphal books they receive as scripture until 1617! (The apocrypha is not scripture and doesn't claim this authority for itself!)

Anonymous said...

With regard to the NT, the books of scripture were recognized as having this authority from the beginning -- the church didn't give them this authority later on (see 1Thes 2:13 -- the oldest NT book by the way.) The NT letters were to be read and exchanged by the churches (1Thes 5:27, Col 4:16, 2Pet 3:16) The canon was not made up by some church council in the 4th century -- or by any church council! The first church council that sought to establish the canon was Trent in the 1540s! The canon was recognized by the church from the beginning, and there was no Pope bending everyone into conformity with his view (This is a characterization unbelievers have tried to make stick but it has no basis in fact!) Furthermore we have external evidence from AD 70-130 of people either quoting as scripture, or alluding to, every NT book except 2Jn, 3Jn, and Jude.

What about the "lost books" and the "Gospel of Thomas"? Well contrary to popular belief (and the view of churches trying to "restore" us to the good ol' New Testament days --- like the Church of Christ) the early church was not perfect. Even a casual reading of the NT reveals an abundance of heresies and false teachers. Many of these heretics wrote books to support their teachings (usually using the names of apostles to validate their heresy). The early church was in a better position that we are to evaluate the validity of the books. (Pseudepigragha: using pseudonyms to get their authority) It's no wonder that modern Gnostics (i.e.: New Agers) find support for their teachings in those early Gnostic books! If someone wants to add a book to the accepted canon of 1900 years, the burden of proof is on them. Usually these attempts are embarrassingly bad historically. Many of these books are Middle Ages forgeries extolling Mary and the power of relics, Don't waste your time with this stuff.

Anonymous said...

I. General Revelation (Ps 19:1-6, Rom 1:19-20)
This is the revelation of God in all of creation which is general in its availability (it comes to all people) and in its message (it is general and doesn't include the plan of redemption.) In Romans 1 Paul tells us that this general revelation is enough to make us accountable, but that sinful man suppresses the truth of it. But because of general revelation we have a point of contact with people who aren't Christians and we recognize that there is truth that isn't contained in the scriptures. However special revelation holds the key to the proper understanding of general revelation.

II. Special Revelation (Heb 1:1-2) There are 4 points to make from this text.
1. Special revelation is sovereign (i.e. God takes the initiative in revealing Himself, we don't discover Him by our wisdom.) God is the subject of all the verbs in this text!
2. It is historical. God has spoken in the past. Special revelation is not just some vague, abstract, a-historical religious ideas. This contrasts with much of modern theology's understanding of revelation which sees revelation as being a matter of man's religious experience rather than God's activity in which He reveals Himself.
3. It is verbal. God speaks!
4. It is progressive -- and the process culminates in Christ. --- Further we notice that God uses spokesmen and gives a sign to authenticate them (Deut 18:21-22, and Heb 2:3-4. For more examples of this see 1Kings 18:36-7 and Jeremiah 28.)

III. God Reveals Himself In Various Ways (Heb 1:1-2) Some of these are:
1. Verbal communication God speaking to people (1Sam 3, Gen 3:9-19)
2. Symbolic actions (like making clothes in Gen 3:21, cf. Gen 15:17-18)
3. Redemptive events (the big one in the OT is the exodus, see Ex 12-14)
4. The Incarnation of Christ (John 1:1, 14 also see John 14:9)
5. Scripture (2Pet 1:20-21, Luke 24:27)

V. Does revelation continue today? We believe that it does not. Although God still illumines His Word to us, He is not giving fresh revelation. We would point to the following considerations in proving this:

1. The process of revealing culminates in Christ according to Hebrews 1.
2. The apostles were appointed as His spokesmen (John 14:25-26)
3. The references to NT prophets only occur in the earliest NT letters but in the later ones, the emphasis shifts to teachers b/c the foundation has been laid (Eph 2:20.) A good example of this is 1Timothy. Paul tells Timothy to remember the prophecy (1Tim 1:18) not to continue to prophesy. Also elders are chosen not by prophetic utterance but by character qualities (1Tim 3.)
4. The 100% accuracy required standard of Deut 18 has not been revoked

1. What do we do with God's revelation, do we treat it as His Word? Robert Murray M'Cheyne once said "Few tremble at the Word of God. Few in reading it hear the voice of Jehovah, which is full of majesty."
2. Does the Word have authority in your life? When was the last time you changed a course of action b/c of what scripture said?
3. Do we believe all of it? Tozer "We must never edit God."
Augustine "If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don't like, it's not the gospel you believe, but yourself."

Anonymous said...

Charlene, Michelle...I didn't know how to give a condensed version of the article above, so I hope Sheri doesn't mind me taking up so much space with it. I will of course lisen to you Charlene, we are going on 2 weeks here, having to prove my faith has been very beneficial to me in my personal growth. I do want you to know that,the way in which I grew up, no one has ever tried to scare me into going to Church or plant fear in me to believe a certain way. I was brought to Church as a child and I come from a family of believers but for a time I didn't attend Chruch at all as an adult, I came to believe what I believe becasue of my own study, not because of what I may have been told. I have not been "brain washed". I believe I can see God more clearly than I ever have, in my life. No, I don't get up and actually SEE Him with my eyes but my eyes see what the Bible has told me is truth, I can see it all around me. I hope your work week was successful...maybe this will if nothing else provide you some reading on the return trip.

Charlene said...


Thanks for taking the time to post that pamphlet. It is, however, not tremendously convincing to someone who doesn't already think the Bible is particularly reliable or authoritative. So the Bible says it is a true and accurate revelation of God? Many other holy texts do the same (the Book of Mormon and the Q'aran, to name just a couple off the top of my head). Jesus thought the Torah authoritative? Muhammad did too, as did Joseph Smith.

In fact, the Bible cannot be inerrant, because it contradicts itself in many places. This poster is unfortunately too large to be legible on most computer screens, but it gives a good visual indication of just how much self-contradiction goes on. Some can certainly be explained away by dispensationalism, but not the majority. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2010/11/13/a-visual-representation-of-biblical-contradictions/

I do believe that your faith has been beneficial to you, and I'm actually glad for that. However, it doesn't follow that therefore the same faith is beneficial to everyone. It's not; my experience and Michelle's proves that. It also doesn't follow that what you believe is necessarily true, only that it's beneficial for you. And you know what? The same can also be said of many things I've believed and experienced also. They were beneficial for me, but not necessarily for everyone. And they may not indicate any universal truths, no matter how much it felt that way at the time. However, the fact that they worked for me means they're not universally detrimental either.