Preterism : Christianity Debunked by Christianity


Preterism : Critiqued by Three Conservative Christians

The term preterism comes from the Latin praeter, denoting that something is “past,” signifying that either all or a majority of Bible prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70.

According to preterism:

The “tribulation” only affected the Jewish people rather than all mankind, and it occurred in 70 AD when the Roman army conquered Jerusalem and demolished the Temple. They say that what “really happened” was that God was replacing Israel with the Christian Church and demonstrating to the world that all the biblical promises to Israel now belong to the Church. Though leaving such a “divine” explanation aside, one could also say that what really happened was that the culture of Judaism with its expectation that their God must always at some point intervene to save them from remaining a merely conquered nation because He had promised them that they were “chosen” and at some point (after miracles or battle) God would rule the world supernaturally imposing order upon it with the city of Jerusalem being its most important focal point for His rule via a Jewish king or messiah who is placed in charge there, per a prophecy in Daniel [SEE NOTE BELOW]—and such expectation of divine assistance and destiny led the Jews to engage in not just one but two major revolts against Rome, one around 70 AD and again around 130 AD, and they failed both times, thus leading to the rise of two religious offshoots once the Temple and Jerusalem had been destroyed, and Jerusalem was remade into a Roman city and renamed with a Roman name. The two religious offshoots were rabbinical Judaism, and Christianity, the latter of which arose out of the apocalyptic mania of the time. But thatʼs apparently not a “divine” enough explanation for Christians, especially preterists.

So, sticking with the “divine explanation” for the destruction of Jerusalem preterists believe that in Godʼs eyes Judaism is kaput. Preterists also believe the Jews deserved everything they got, even going so far as to interpret the “fall of Babylon” in the book of Revelation as “the destruction of Jerusalem,” rather than a prophecy against Rome and judgment for what Rome was doing to Christians. And they add that Jesus “returned invisibly in the clouds” to witness the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army. They round out their view by claiming that Satan has been bound in the abyss ever since Jesusʼ day and cannot hinder the increasing spread of the Gospel. Yup, they say that both Satan and the Jews have been kaput in Godʼs eyes since around 70 AD—so God has a cunning plan that cannot fail now that those two have been sidelined!

Preterists also donʼt think that the founding of the nation of Israel is anything but a self-fulfilling prophecy performed by men, notably by some Christian men and also Zionists who simply wanted the Jews to get out of Europe and go back to the same land written about in their holy book, i.e., look up the Balfour Declaration in which a Bible-reading British statesman in the 1920s authorized passage to Palestine for any Jews who wished to go. Neither are preterists expecting a Jewish Temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem or that such an act matters any longer. I tend to agree with the preterists that the return of Jews to Israel was nothing but a self-fulfilling prophecy, the result of Christian statesmen and Jews who saw so many references to Israel in their Bible they just felt that the Jews had to get there somehow. But once more and more Jews began arriving friction started between them and the Muslims who already occupied Palestine, and the British ordered a cessation of all new Jewish immigrants to Palestine and the immigrants refused to stop coming, even bombing British embassies over there, and from there things continued to escalate until by the 1940s Israel claimed nationhood.

But what about this cunning plan of God that preterists believe was accomplished when God disowned the Jews and locked Satan in hell in the first century? Well, when you look back at how Godʼs cunning plans in the past worked out you begin to notice that …

  1. God had to toss His first two children out of a really nice garden and curse the ground, then …

  2. …had to drown all their children but eight to cleanse the earth from sin (and we know how well that cleansing from sin turned out, why even back then Sodom and Gomorrah were built soon after the great act that was supposed to cleanse the world from sin),

  3. had his people enslaved, then freed them only to commanded them to commit mass slaughter so that He could present them with a land flowing with dried blood and parched soil. Then…

  4. …He sent his chosen people plagues and famines, had them deported to Babylon, then allowed them to return only in order to be conquered by Greeks and then Romans who finally knocked them senseless after two major Jewish rebellions failed, and then God supposedly started over again with The Church, and of course this time Godʼs cunning plan cannot fail. God has finally got it right. So, based on past experience what could possibly go wrong? Preterists expect the world to last for an untold number of years with Satan in prison and the Jews no longer receiving divine mercy since everyoneʼs only choice today is convert, so preterists believe Christianity must triumph over the hearts and minds of everyone on earth, increasingly so as each year passes.

However, all is not completely rosy for preterists. There are different franchises, and they are not fond of one anotherʼs “heretical” views. Partial preterists believe the Tribulation is past, while full preterists believe both the Tribulation and the Rapture are past (viz., Christians were taken up into the sky to meet their Lord in the first century).

There are also Christians who reject preterism, who reject that Jesus came invisibly in judgment against the Jews and their city in 70 AD, or who reject theonomy (who find it improbable that Christians will be ruling the earth under theonomic/Bible-based laws when Jesus returns). Those Christians have other ways of interpreting the books of Daniel and Revelation. I wonʼt get into their various schools of thought or rival interpretations within each school (Amillennialism, Millennialism, Dispensationalism, Historicism, et al) except to say that they all involve the premise that there are no significant errors in the Bible nor its prophecies, so they play at re-arranging the Bibleʼs eschatological passages like a grand puzzle game, each in their own way, stretching meanings here, ignoring implications or inconsistencies elsewhere, all the while blaming each other for putting together the puzzle the “wrong” way, or being too “creative” in doing so.

Lastly, there are even some Christians of a moderate to liberal bend who donʼt try to fit together the puzzle pieces such that all the Bibleʼs prophecies must be true, but they admit that Jesus and other New Testament writings might contain prophecies that have not proven true, including false prophesies concerning when “the Son of Man/the Lord” would return. I have collected passages from throughout the NT that illustrate this last point of view in my essay, The Lowdown on Godʼs Showdown.

I just want to add before sharing the following pieces that if nothing else they illustrate that Christians more so than anyone else, deserve the description, “debunkers of the Bible,” since they have been debunking each otherʼs interpretations for centuries, from Genesis right through to Revelation. Note the interesting questions posed to preterists in the three pieces below by some fellow conservative Christians. (The first piece is pretty involved if you have never read or studied the book of Revelation, nor Roman history, nor know anything about preterism, in which case my Lowdown on Godʼs Showdown essay might be more up your alley, or my little piece, “Two Difficulties for Preterism” that follows the three Christian pieces.)

Note To Go With the Second Paragraph Above:

First century Jews were grumbling and agitating against Roman rule before Jesus was born. Anti-Roman incidents and minor revolts meant that the Romans had to keep garrisons in Palestine. The Jews had previously survived the destruction of their first temple by the Babylonians and returned to Palestine to renew their kingdom, but then the Greek generals of Alexander took over Palestine and attempted to force the Jews to Hellenize themselves and desecrated the Jewish Temple, so the Jews revolted and after much blood was shed and hundreds of Jews crucified they won back their kingdom after a revolt led by the Maccabees, and so Jewish rulers (the Hasmoneans) ruled Palestine for a while Then the Romans arrived and the barracks of their soldiers were visible beside the Temple. The Jews were looking once again for how they might regain their kingdom, and the already mentioned incidents and revolts began to occur. “There were a variety of underlying causes that helped spark [the 70 CE] revolt; social tensions, bad Roman procurators, the divisions amongst the ruling class, the rise of banditry and poor harvests, but perhaps the most significant feature of all was the apocalyptic storm brewing over first-century Palestine.”

“Of all the messianic movements one in particular drew the most attention; the Essene sect, the community that [allegedly] wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, based their calculations on the ʽend of daysʼ on a prophecy from the book of Daniel. Josephus says that the major impetus inspiring the Jewish revolt of 70 CE against Roman rule was an ʽoracle found in the sacred scriptures.ʼ This oracle effectively said when the time came ʽone from their own country would become ruler of the world.ʼ The writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls calculated that the year 26/27 CE would usher in the messianic age. There was never a time previously quite like it, and there has never been one since; two messiahs, one king one priest would rule over Palestine. The fervor with which many fought against the greatest power of the ancient world could only have come from such beliefs; that the end of days was nigh.” [to quote Susan Sorekʼs introduction to The Jews Against Rome: War in Palestine AD 66-73, Continuum, 2008]

Some anti-Roman Jewish extremists equated the Evil Kingdom of Danielʼs prophecy with Rome and the end of days (“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever” Dan 2:44, NIV) (p. 40 of The Jews Against Rome) The book of Daniel is also a work that nobody seems to have known a thing about until the era of the Maccabean revolt against Greek rulers of Palestine, and the book itself claims it had been “sealed until the time of the end” (“He replied, ʽGo your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end.ʼ” Dan 12:9, NIV) That implies that the book of Daniel was “unsealed” during the era of the Maccabean revolt and continued to attract increasing interest from the era of the Maccabean revolt up till the first century growing agitations against Rome.

First Article by a Christian Debunking Preterism

Theonomy & the Dating of Revelation

by Robert L. Thomas, Professor of New Testament

In 1989, a well-known spokesman for the theonomist camp, Kenneth L. Gentry, published a work devoted to proving that John the Apostle wrote Revelation during the sixties of the first century A.D. Basing his position heavily on Rev 17:9-11 and 11:1-13, he used internal evidence within the book as his principal argument for the early date. His clever methods of persuasion partially shield his basic motive for his interpretive conclusions, which is a desire for an undiluted rationale to support Christian social and political involvement leading to long-term Christian cultural progress and dominion. If the prophecies of Revelation are yet to be fulfilled, no such progress will develop-a prospect the author cannot accept. Inconsistency marks Gentryʼs hermeneutical pattern. Predisposition keeps him from seeing the bookʼs theme verse as a reference to Christʼs second coming. His explanation of Rev 17:9-11 is fraught with weaknesses, as is his discussion of 11:1-2. Two major flaws mar Gentryʼs discussion of Johnʼs temporal expectation in writing the book. Besides these problems, five major questions regarding Gentryʼs position remain unanswered.

He makes evidence derived from exegetical data within the Apocalypse his major focus in building a case for dating the book prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.2 Though acknowledging that other advocates of either a Neronic (i.e., in the 60ʼs) and Domitianic date (i.e., in the 90ʼs) for Revelationʼs composition find no such direct evidence within the book, he proceeds to find “inherently suggestive and positively compelling historical time-frame indicators in Revelation.” 3 He uses the contemporary reign of the sixth king in 17:9-11 and the integrity of the temple and Jerusalem in 11:1-13 to exemplify arguments that are “virtually certain” proof of a date sometime in the sixties.4

Hermeneutical Pattern

As Gentry weaves his case for Revelationʼs early date, the absence of a consistent set of hermeneutical principles is evident. It is most conspicuous in a number of inconsistencies that emerge in different parts of the treatment. He does not interpret the same passage in the same way from place to place, or within the same discussion differing principles take him in different directions regarding his mode of interpretation.

For instance, he accepts the principle of the symbolic use of numbers, but only for large, rounded numbers such as 1,000, 144,000, and 200,000,000. Smaller numbers, such as seven, are quite literal.12

Again, he rejects the equation of “kings = kingdoms” in 17:10,13 but in a later discussion of the Nero Redivivus myth in 17:11, he identifies one of the kings or heads of the beast in 17:10 as the Roman Empire revived under Vespasian.14 The latter is part of his strained attempt to explain the healing of the beastʼs death-wound.

When discussing the 144,000, Gentry is uncertain at one point whether they represent the saved of Jewish lineage or the church as a whole.15 Yet just ten pages later they are definitely Christians of Jewish extraction, because he needs evidence to tie the fulfillment of Revelation to the land of Judea.16 This provides another example of his lack of objective hermeneutical principles to guide interpretation.

The forty-two months of 11:2 is the period of the Roman siege of Jerusalem from early spring 67 till September 70, according to Gentry.17 A bit earlier he finds John, even while he is writing the book, already enmeshed in the great tribulation (1:9; 2:22), a period of equal length and apparently simultaneous with the Roman siege.18 In a discussion of 13:5-7, however, he separates the Neronic persecution of Christians which constituted “the great tribulation” (13:5-7) from the Roman siege of Jerusalem in both time and place, dating it from 64 to 68 and locating it in the Roman province of Asia.19 So which is it? Is John writing during “the great tribulation” of 64`68 or the one of 67`70?

Later still, he assigns 65 or early 66 as the date of writing,20 so John predicted a forty-two month period of persecution (13:5) that was already partially past when he wrote. This is indeed a puzzling picture.

Another puzzling discussion concerns the raising of the beast from his death-wound. At one point Gentry identifies Galba as the seventh king of 17:10, in strict compliance with the consecutive reigns of

Roman emperors.21 But suddenly he skips Otho and Vitellius to get to Vespasian who is the eighth and shifts from counting kings with his identification of the healing of the beastʼs death-wound as Romeʼs survival from its civil war in the late sixties.22 This is enough to dash in pieces any effort to decipher a consistent pattern of hermeneutics, because such is nonexistent.

So much for preliminaries and generalities. The attention of the remainder of this essay will be on individual passages.

Individual Passages

The Theme Verse

All, including Gentry and Chilton,23 agree that the theme verse of Revelation is Rev 1:7: “Behold, He comes with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all the families of the earth will mourn over Him.” But these two theonomists do not refer this to the second coming of Christ. Rather they see it as referring to the coming of Christ in judgment upon Israel, so as to make the church the new kingdom.24 To reach this conclusion, they must implement special proposals regarding “ those who pierced Him,” “the tribes of the earth,” and “the land.”

“Those who pierced Him.”

Blame for the piercing of Jesus falls squarely and solely on the shoulders of the Jews, according to Gentry.25 He cites a number of passages in the gospels, Acts, and Paul to prove this responsibility, but conspicuously omits from his list John 19:31 and Acts 4:27 which involve the Romans and Gentiles in this horrible act.26 This determines for him that the bookʼs theme is the coming of Godʼs wrath against the Jews.27

By limiting the blame for Christʼs crucifixion to the Jews, Gentry excludes from the scope of the theme verse any reference to the Romans whom he elsewhere acknowledges to be the chief persecutors of Christians.28 He also includes the Romans elsewhere as objects of this “cloud coming” of Christ,29 and yet does not give the Romans a place in the theme verse of the book.

“The tribes of the earth.”

Without evaluating any other possibility, Gentry assigns fyl (phyl) the meaning of “tribe” and sees in it a reference to the tribes of Israel.30 This interpretation has merit because that is the meaning of the term in the source passage, Zech 12:10 ff., and in a parallel NT passage, John 19:37.31 The problem with the way Gentry construes it, however, is that if this refers to Israel, it is a mourning of repentance, as in Zechariah, not a mourning of despair as he makes it.

For this to be a mourning of despair as the context of Revelation requires (cf. 9:20-21; 16:9, 11, 21), phyl must be taken in the sense of “family” and must refer to peoples of all nations as it does so often in the Apocalypse (cf. 5:9; 7:9; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6).32 This is the only way to do justice to the worldwide scope of the book as required by such verses as 3:10, which even Gentry admits refers to the whole Roman world.33 The sense of a mourning of despair throughout the whole earth is the sense Jesus attaches to the words in His use of the Zech 12:10 ff. passage in Matt 24:30.34

“The land.”

The reconstructionists actually take “the tribes of the earth” to be “the tribes of the land,” i.e., the land of Palestine.35 It is true that g (g) can carry such a restricted meaning, but special support in its context of usage is necessary for it to mean this. The acknowledged worldwide scope of Revelation already cited rules out this localized meaning of the term in 1:7.

So Gentry strikes out on the three pitches which he himself has chosen in the theme verse of Revelation. He also leaves other unanswered questions regarding this alleged “cloud coming” in the sixties. He identifies the cloud coming against the Jews as the judgment against Judea in 67`70.36 Against the church that coming was the persecution by the Romans from 64 to 68.37 The cloud coming for Rome was her internal strife in 68`69.38 But nowhere does he tell what the promised deliverance of the church is (e.g., 3:11). It appears to be a question without a clear-cut answer as to how this “cloud coming” could be a promise of imminent deliverance for Godʼs people. All he can see in it is judgment against them and the “privilege” of being clearly distinguished from Judaism forever. He finds covenantal and redemptive import for Christianity in the collapse of the Jewish order,39 but this falls short of a personal appearance of Christ to take the faithful away from their persecution.

The Sixth King

As mentioned above, one of the two internal indicators that make the early date “virtually certain” is the identity of the sixth king in 17:9-11.40 Gentry first uses the “seven hills” of 17:9 to indicate that Rome or the Roman Empire is in view.41 Then he concludes that the seven kings of 17:9 (Greek text; 17:10 in English) are seven consecutive Roman emperors.42 He lists ten kings, beginning with Julius Caesar 49`44 B.C.) and continuing with Augustus (31 B.C.`A.D. 14), Tiberius (14`37), Gaius or Caligula (37`41), Claudius (41`54), Nero (54`68), Galba (68`69), Otho (69), Vitelius (69), Vespasian (69`79).43 The sixth in this series is Nero, so because 17:10 says “one is,” he concludes that John must have written the book during Neroʼs reign.44

Strangest of all, though, is Gentryʼs unfulfilled obligation to explain what a reference to Rome is doing in the midst of a chapter dealing with Babylon, which he takes to represent Jerusalem.50 The best he can do is theorize that the harlotʼs riding on the beast is an alliance between Jerusalem and Rome against Christianity.51 To support the existence of such an alleged alliance, he cites Matt 23:37 ff.; John 19:16-16 [sic]; Acts 17:7, none of which support his theory.52 Romeʼs prolonged siege and destruction of Jerusalem from the late 60ʼs to 70 hardly gives the impression of any alliance. The harlot sits upon or beside the seven mountains (17:9), just as she sits upon or beside “many waters” (17:1). Since the “many waters” are a symbol explained in 17:15, analogy would dictate that the seven mountains are also symbolic and not literal hills.53 The very next clause in 17:9 explains the symbolism of the seven mountains:

This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction. [Rev. 17:9-11]

As noted above, Gentry as part of his answer to the fourth objection to the Neronian identification rejects the equating of kings with the kingdoms they rule, but later he incorporates such an equation into his explanation of the identity of the eighth head.54

Besides the tenuous nature of Gentryʼs use of the seven hills, his conclusion that Nero is the sixth or “the one [who] is” also faces serious obstacles. The greatest obstacle is his need to begin counting “kings” with Julius Caesar. He tries to defend this by citing several ancient sources,55 but the fact is that Rome was a Republic, ruled by the First Triumvirate, in the days of Julius Caesar and became a Principate under Augustus and the emperors that followed him.56 Neither does Gentry attempt to explain the thirteen-year gap between Julius Caesarʼs death and the beginning of Augustusʼ reign. They were not consecutive rulers as he makes them out to be. The exclusion of Julius Caesar makes Nero the fifth instead of the sixth “king.” This scheme is fraught with hermeneutical difficulties.

Gentryʼs further use of 666 to prove that the first beast of chap. 13 is Nero, he admits, is only corroborative and cannot stand alone. [“Fanciful” is the best description of some of Gentryʼs hermeneutical methodology to prove that 666 refers to Nero. He concludes that the beast who is Nero, like Satan himself, is a serpent because in English and in Greek (xjs [chxs]) pronunciation of the number “sounds hauntingly like a serpentʼs chilling hiss” (215). He adds that the middle number-letter even has the appearance of a writhing serpent: j (x) (ibid.). Another means of identifying Nero as the beast is his red beard that matches the color of the beast (17:3) (217).]57.

So the efficient course is to turn now to his second major item of internal evidence to prove an early date of writing.

The Contemporary Integrity of the Temple

Gentry finds indisputable evidence in Rev 11:1-2 that the temple was still standing and that the destruction of Jerusalem was still future when John wrote the book.58 He goes to great lengths to prove that it was the Herodian temple of Jesusʼ day by locating it in Jerusalem.

He is quite defensive of his hermeneutical methodology in handling these two verses, a method that involves a mixture of figurative-symbolic and literal-historical.60 He takes the measuring to represent the preservation of the innermost aspects, including the naw (naos, “temple”), altar, and worshipers, and the “casting out” (kbale [ekbale]) as indicative of the destruction of the external court of the temple complex. The former or inner spiritual idea speaks of the preservation of Godʼs new temple, the church, while the latter or material temple of the old covenant era will come to destruction. In other words, v. 1 is figurative and v. 2 literal. In yet other terms, the tn nan to ueo (ton naon tou theou, “the temple of God”) and tuysiastrion (to thysiastrion, “the altar”) are symbolic and tn aln tn jvuen to nao (tn auln tn exthen tou naou, “the court outside the temple”) is literal. Gentry justifies the radical switch in hermeneutical approaches by appealing to Walvoord and Mounce, whom he says combine literal and figurative in this passage also.61 He cites Walvoordʼs silence regarding Johnʼs literally climbing the walls of the temple to get his measurements and Mounceʼs reference to the necessity of a symbolic mixture in interpreting the passage. What Gentry does is drastically different from these two, however. He wants a figurative and literal meaning for essentially the same terminology. For example, he assigns the term naos both a literal and a symbolic meaning in consecutive verses. In fact, he refers the temple and the altar to literal structures earlier62 and to the spiritual temple of the church a few pages later.63 This compares to changing the rules in the middle of the game. Any interpretation can win that way.

His response to objections to his interpretation of 11:1-2 includes an assigning of a pre-70 date to Clement of Romeʼs epistle to the Corinthians, though its accepted dating is in the 90ʼs. He does this because Clement speaks as though the temple were still standing. Then Gentry has a lengthy discussion of the silence of the rest of the NT regarding the destruction of Jerusalem,64 during which he apparently accepts dates prior to 70 for all four gospels, including the Gospel of John, and the rest of the NT canon.65 This theory creates further problems for his case, with which he does not deal and so this discussion will not either.

Gentry does not venture an explanation of how John, isolated on the Island of Patmos so many miles from Jerusalem, can visit the literal city to carry out his symbolical task of measuring the temple. He seems oblivious to Johnʼs being in a prophetic trance (4:2) to receive this and other revelations in this visional portion of the book. His task in 11:1-2 is the first of his assigned duties to perform following his recommissioning at the end of chap. 10 (10:11). So he is not to transport himself physically across the Mediterranean Sea to Judea, but “in spirit” he is already there.

One cannot quarrel with the conclusion that Johnʼs visional responsibility of measuring points in its fulfillment to a literal temple, but it is not the Herodian temple of Jesusʼ day. His idea that the temple and the altar of v. 1 represent the church leaves no room to identify the worshipers in the same verse. His approach to symbolism is inconsistent and self-contradictory. This aspect of the description as well as v. 2 shows that the entire description is on Jewish ground and is not part Jewish and part Christian.66

Temporal Expectation of the Author

One other temporal feature that Gentry magnifies is the emphasis of Revelation on the nearness of Christʼs coming (Rev 1:1, 3, 19; 22:6, 7, 12, 20). He faults those who refer this to Christʼs second advent, noting that the “shortly” or “soon” that characterizes the coming is hardly a suitable way to speak of the already 1900-year interval that separates that coming from the writing of Revelation.68 His solution is to refer the book to the imminence of the events to come upon the Jews, the church, and the Roman Empire during the decade of the sixties, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.69

A General Overview of the Issue

Gentryʼs book itemizes a number of other supposed supports for the early date, but admits in most cases that these are only corroborative of his main proofs and have no independent value.74

Throughout most of the work he gives the impression that he uses two criteria of independent value in dating the book, Nero as the sixth king of 17:10 and the existence of the temple and Jerusalem contemporary to the writing of the book. Yet when he arrives near the end he speaks of the “wealth of internal considerations for an early date.”75 His wealth of considerations consists of only two, both of which are useless in demonstrating his case, as pointed out above. This discussion of internal criteria for dating the book of Revelation would not be complete without posing some questions that Gentry does not answer satisfactorily in his book.

  1. How is it that the “cloud-coming” of A.D. 70 involves no personal coming of Christ (Matt 24:30; 26:64; Rev 1:7; 2:5, 16, 25; 3:3, 11, 20; 16:15; 22:7, 12, 20), but the “cloud-coming” at the end of history does (Acts 1:11; 1 Thess 4:13 ff.)?76 Where did Christ distinguish between two such comings, and where did He say that He would personally appear at one and not at the other? The answer to both questions is “nowhere.”

  2. How could John dwell on the prosperity of the church in Laodicea when the city had been completely destroyed by an earthquake only five years earlier? Gentry responds to this problem by suggesting that Laodiceaʼs wealth was spiritual and not material, by supposing the possibility of a quick rebuilding, and by theorizing that the earthquake did not impact the sector of the city where the Christians were.77 A careful exegesis of 3:17, however, shows that Christians in the city thought their material prosperity was equivalent to spiritual prosperity, not that they were spiritually rich while materially poor. The possibility of a quick rebuilding contradicts the facts. The rebuilding effort was still in progress as late as 79 when a gymnasium that was part of the rebuilding effort was completed.78 Also an abrupt numismatic poverty marks this period in all the cities of the Lycus district of which Laodicea was a part. This too illustrates the prolonged effect of the destructive earthquake.79 As for Gentryʼs theory that part of the city was spared the devastation that affected the whole district, this is pure speculation that belies the available facts.

  3. Did the ministry of John overlap that of Paul in the churches of Asia? Gentryʼs reconstruction of the chronology of the period would require this. If John wrote in 65 or early 66, he must have been in Asia for at least five years prior to that to have unseated Paul as the authoritative apostle for the region and to have gained the respect of Christians throughout the whole province. It would have been necessary for him to have been there long enough to become a problem for Nero too, resulting in his exile to Patmos sometime after 64. Paul visited Ephesus at least once after this (A.D. 65), following his release from his first Roman imprisonment (1 Tim 1:3). Yet after leaving the city, he left Timothy in charge of the church and made no reference to the presence of John the Apostle and his influence on the church. If John had been there and had taken charge, why would Paul return to Asia? The answer is that he would not have, but he did, so John had not yet arrived in Asia.

  4. When did John arrive in Asia? According to the best tradition, John was part of a migration of Christians from Palestine to the province of Asia just before the outbreak of the Jewish rebellion in A.D. 66, so he did not arrive there before the late sixties.80 A Neronic dating of the book would hardly have allowed time for him to settle in Asia, replace Paul as the respected leader of the Asian churches, and be exiled to Patmos before Neroʼs death in 68. Gentry does not respond to this problem, but his dating of the book in 65 or 66 renders its apostolic authorship impossible.

  5. What was the condition of the churches of Asia during the sixties, that portrayed in Paulʼs epistles to Ephesians (A.D. 61), Colossians (A.D. 61), and Timothy (A.D. 65 and 67) or that in Johnʼs seven messages of Revelation 2-3? Recognizing true apostles and prophets had become a problem in the latter (e.g., 2:2, 20), but the former epistles give no inkling of this kind of a problem. In Paulʼs epistles to this area, false teaching regarding the person of Christ was a crucial issue (e.g., Col 1:13-20), but not so in Johnʼs seven messages. A need in Paulʼs epistles was strong emphasis on Christian family roles (e.g., Eph 5:22`6:9; Col 3:18,4:1; 1 Tim 6:1-2), but Johnʼs messages do not touch this subject at all. A prominent danger in Johnʼs messages is the Nicolaitan heresy (2:6, 15), but Paulʼs epistles say nothing about it. Differences of this type are almost limitless, the simple reason being that Paulʼs four epistles and Johnʼs seven messages belong to decades separated by twenty years. Gentry responds to this problem only superficially,81 and therefore ineffectively.

A Final Review

It has been impossible to deal with all the peculiar interpretations of dominion theology in the Apocalypse, because the proposed topic has been the internal evidence for dating the book. Probably when Gentry completes his forthcoming commentary, The Divorce of Israel: A Commentary on Revelation,82 further works of refutation will have to deal with Babylon a symbolic title for Jerusalem,83 why the seven last plagues are not final,84 why 19:11-16 is not the second coming of Christ to earth,85 why the state pictured in 21:9`22:5 is the church age and not the future eternal state,86 and the like.

Endnotes (Scroll Past Endnotes For Two More Pieces Plus a Piece of My Own at the End

  1. Theonomy-also known as “dominion theology” and “Christian reconstructionism”-is a worldview that foresees a progressive domination of world government and society by Christianity until Godʼs kingdom on earth becomes a reality. Its eschatology is essentially that of the postmillennialism so popular around the beginning of the twentieth century.
  2. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell, Dating the Book of Revelation (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989) 113, 116.
  3. Ibid., 119
  4. Ibid., 118-19.
  5. e.g., ibid., 153-54.
  6. e.g., ibid., 30-38, 168, 200, 296 n. 50. Many citations in these lists are not from primary sources.
  7. e.g., ibid., 203-12.
  8. e.g., Craig A. Blaising, “Dispensationalism: The Search for Definition,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, ed. by Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992) 30.
  9. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell 5 n. 12, 336-37.
  10. Ibid., 5 n. 12.
  11. Ibid., 336-37.
  12. Ibid., 162-63.
  13. Ibid., 163-64.
  14. Ibid., 310-16.
  15. Ibid., 223-24.
  16. Ibid., 233.
  17. Ibid., 250-53.
  18. Ibid., 234.
  19. Ibid., 254-55.
  20. Ibid., 336.
  21. Ibid., 158, 208.
  22. Ibid., 310-16.
  23. Ibid., 121-23; David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Fort Worth, TX: Dominion, 1987) 64.
  24. Chilton, Days of Vengeance 64; Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell 131-32.
  25. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell 123-27.
  26. Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7, An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1992) 77-78. Even Chilton allows a reference to Gentiles here (Days of Vengeance 66).
  27. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell 127.
  28. Ibid., 144.
  29. Ibid., 143, 144.
  30. Ibid., 127-28.
  31. William Lee, “The Revelation of St. John,” in The Holy Bible, ed. by F. C. Cook (London: John Murray, 1881) 4:502; J. P. M. Sweet, Revelation (Philadelphia: Westminster, Pelican, 1979) 67; G. V. Caird, A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine, HNTC (New York: Harper and Row, 1966) 18; James Moffatt, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in The Expositorʼs Greek Testament, ed. by W. Robertson Nicoll (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.) 5:339-40; J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1961) 44.
  32. Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in EBC, ed. by Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981) 12:423.
  33. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell 143 n. 27.
  34. For a fuller discussion of this issue, see Thomas, Revelation 1-7 78-79.
  35. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell 128-29; Chilton, Days of Vengeance 66.
  36. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell 143.
  37. Ibid., 144.
  38. Ibid., 144-45.
  39. Ibid., 144.
  40. Ibid., 146.
  41. Ibid., 149-51.
  42. Ibid., 151-52.
  43. Ibid., 152-59.
  44. Ibid., 158.
  45. Ibid., 159-64.
  46. Lee, “Revelation” 4:744; Johnson, “Revelation” 12:558.
  47. George E. Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972) 227.
  48. Martin Kiddle, The Revelation of St. John (New York: Harper, 1940) 349.
  49. Ladd, Revelation 228.
  50. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell 240-41 n. 26.
  51. Ibid.
  52. Ibid.
  53. Lee, “Revelation” 4:744.
  54. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell 163-64, 310-16.
  55. Ibid., 154-58.
  56. Collierʼs Encyclopedia 20:180, 190.
  57. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell 198.
  58. Ibid., 165-69.
  59. Ibid., 169-74.
  60. Ibid., 174-75.
  61. Ibid.
  62. Ibid., 169-70.
  63. Ibid., 174.
  64. Ibid., 181-92.
  65. Ibid., 182-83.
  66. J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse, 3 vols. (New York: Charles C. Cook, 1909) 2:159; Ladd, Revelation 152.
  67. Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, 4 vols. (London: Longmans, Green, 1903) 4:657.
  68. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell 133-37.
  69. Ibid., 142-43.
  70. Ibid., 144.
  71. Ibid., 336.
  72. Contra ibid., 131.
  73. Cf. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 54-56.
  74. e.g., Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell 220-21, 246 n. 44.
  75. Ibid., 329.
  76. Cf. ibid., 122-23.
  77. Ibid., 319-22.
  78. Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, JSNT Sup 11 (Sheffield: U. of Sheffield, 1986) 194.
  79. Ibid.
  80. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 22.
  81. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell 327-29.
  82. Cf. ibid., 241 n. 26.
  83. Cf. Joseph R. Balyeat, Babylon, The Great City of Revelation (Sevierville, TN: Onward, 1991) 49-142.
  84. Cf. Chilton, Days of Vengeance 383-84
  85. Cf. ibid., 481-89.
  86. Cf. ibid., 535-73.

Source: The Masters Seminary Journal 5/2 (Fall 1994) pp.185-202

Another Conservative Christian Critique of Preterism

The Judgment of Matthew 25

  • 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.
  • 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats… .
  • 46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

The separation of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 would seem to mitigate against the preterist view because the judgment passage comes immediately after Jesusʼ return and appears to refer to the Final Judgment. Preterists attempt to interpret this separation as not relating to the Final Judgment, but instead as a recapitulation in history of the curses and blessings described in Deuteronomy 27.26

The preterist believes that the judgment of the sheep and the goats refers to the fall of Jerusalem in fulfillment of the curses of Deuteronomy 27. But the punishments and rewards are eternal: punishment with weeping and gnashing of teeth, on the one hand, and eternal life on the other.

Indeed, if the preterist scenario were true, then the judgment was against Israel alone; no other nation was judged and no one seems to have been rewarded. Although Jews often persecuted Christians during this period, the Romans did as well. Why should Israel as a nation have been judged more severely than Rome?

By A.D. 70 Rome under Nero had persecuted Christians, killing many. Using the criteria of judgment found in Matthew 25 Rome herself should have been judged, yet history shows that she was the instrument of judgment on Israel and survived for many centuries. The preterist interpretation does not seem to measure up to the language of the passage.

Source: Answering Preterism: Did Jesus Return in A.D. 70? By Stephen Pegler

Yet Another Conservative Christian Critique of Preterism

Preterists reinterpret clear statements in Matthew 24-25 (found also in Mark and Luke) that declare Jesus will be seen. Noe [a preterist apologist] would probably say the destruction of the temple, the abomination of desolation (Mt. 24:15) in 70 AD, was certainly seen (“when you see the abomination…“), but he would then argue that Christʼs coming as the Son of Man was not actually seen but simply a spiritual coming not observed with the physical eye. But surely heʼs merely playing at stretching the meaning of words in ways that attempt to make them fit his preteristic view and has not given himself the credit for his own ingenuity in drawing such distinctions, distinctions not so visible in the text itself:

  • “When you see” (horao) the Abomination…” (Mt. 24:15).

  • “All tribes … they will themselves see (horao) the Son of Man coming on the clouds” (Mt. 24:31).

  • “They will see the Son of Man coming in clouds” (Mk. 13:26).

  • “If anyone says to you, ‘Behold (eipon, Aor. Imper. of horao), or look, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is…’” (v. 23), do not go with them, for “Just as the lightning comes … and flashes … so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (v. 27). Important from the Greek text: “Just as” is hosper garwith “so” meaning “just as, precisely as” (The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, EDNT) (v. 27). “For just as the lightning comes from the east … so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (v. 27).

  • As judgment came on the day of Noah and when fire rained down on Sodom, the same will happen “on the day that the Son of Man is revealed” (Lu.17:26,30). “Is revealed” is apokalupto. On this word, as used in this verse, the EDNT says, “The still concealed Son of Man will be revealed by God, i.e., presented publicly.” Was Jesus publicly revealed in 70 AD?

  • Matthew 25:31 says “when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered together before Him” (Mt. 25:32). “Together” is emprosthen in Greek and means “to place before oneʼs face, in front of, in the presence of.” (EDNT) “With an emphasis on visibility, is significant.” (EDNT)

  • Even afterthe time of the New Testament writings the earliest Church Fathers continued to view the “coming of the Lord” as a plainly visible event, and one connected not with the destruction of Jerusalem but with the worldʼs final judgment.

The Epistle of Clement (95 AD) says,

Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, ‘Speedily will He come, and will not tarry;’ and ‘The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom ye look.’

In the Second Epistle of Clement we read,

Let us then wait for the kingdom of God, from hour to hour, … seeing that we know not the day of the appearing of God.

Eusebius quotes Papias as saying,

that there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on earth.

Justin Martyr wrote

For He shall come on the clouds as the Son of Man, so Daniel foretold, and His angels shall come with Him… . I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.

Irenaeus stated,

The millennial kingdom would begin with the Second Coming of Christ. The millennium would last 1000 years, the millennial Sabbath. The new Jerusalem would come after the millennial kingdom.

The Fatal Mistakes of Preterism Dr. Mal Couch, President Tyndale Seminary

Two Difficulties for Preterism

by Ed Babinski

Is the Destruction of Jerusalem to be Equated with “The Coming of the Son of Man?” Or Do the Gospel Authors Mention the Coming as a Separate Event After the Destruction of Jerusalem and For a Different Reason?

Peterists want to identify or connect the tribulation and destruction of Jerusalem with the “coming of the Son of Man” in Mark 13 (and in the parallel passages in Matthew 24). They say that Jesus came “in judgment” or to view the judgment on Jerusalem. But the “coming of the Son of Man” is a separate event in the Gospels and the Son of Man comes for a completely different reason that the one that preterists say he does.

Mark 13 says,

Those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again. “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time. But in those days, FOLLOWING THAT DISTRESS, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And He Will Send His Angels And Gather This Elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

Matthew 24 says,

IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE DISTRESS OF THOSE DAYS [including AFTER the conquering of Jerusalem, just as in Mark above] the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. AND HE WILL SEND HIS ANGLES WITH A LOUD TRUMPET CALL, AND THEY WILL GATHER HIS ELECT from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

Instead of the preterist interpretation one can see that the Son of Man comes AFTERWARDS, after the Tribulation, after the destruction of Jerusalem, and FOR A DIFFERENT REASON, namely to “send forth his angels to gather his elect.”

Earlier, Matthew had made clear the meaning of the “sending forth of his angels” and “gathering of his elect”:

The harvest is the end of the age…at the end of the age…the Son of Man will send forth his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. [Matthew 13:40-41]

Matthew is clearly echoing Daniel 12 which is NOT about the destruction of Jerusalem but about separating the lawless from the righteous in the final judgment of humanity, or as it says in Daniel 12:

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens.

Hence neither Mark nor Matthew are speaking about the coming of the Son of Man as equaling the destruction of Jerusalem, the “coming” is always something that takes place afterwards and for a different reason, and that reason is the final judgment. So preterism has to try and squeeze these puzzle piece together extra hard and ignore such obvious questions.

Luke 21 changes the story a bit, adding in a “times of the Gentiles” to extend the time further between the Tribulation and the coming of the Son of Man:

This is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

But then Luke continues just as the earlier two synoptic Gospels did… depicting the coming of the Son of Man in final judgment as a separate event that follows the Tribulation:

There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.

For more on the changes Luke made see The Lowdown on Godʼs Showdown.

A Second Difficulty for Preterism, Will Jesusʼ “Return” Really Be “Invisible?”

A second difficulty for preterism, especially partial preterism is how to fit the puzzle piece of Acts 1 into place along with the preterist interpretation that Jesus returned “invisibly.” Itʼs difficult to do because Acts 1 predicts that Jesus would return “in the same way you have seen him go into heaven,” which is not in an “invisible” fashion at all. Here are the relevant parts of the text:

I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven … He appeared to them over a period of forty days … They asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority”… After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

So it wonʼt be an “invisible” return after all! At least the author of that passage doesnʼt appear to have imagined it that way.

Anthony LeDonne asks, “Did Martin Luther Do More Harm than Good?”

Did Martin Luther Do More Harm than Good?

LeDonneʼs question concerning Luther is here, on his nifty Jesus Blog. He ask whether the world is better off or not after Luther? He likes that Luther secured the right for clergy to marry, and made being fat cool. And adds that “One could argue that modern book culture was a product of sola scriptura.”


Sola Scriptura may have boosted the book industry in Protestant countries, but I believe Gutenbergʼs first money making enterprise was to print indulgences for the Catholic Church, and a Bible for Catholics, and other Catholic literature, possibly a Caholicon Dictionary. While Lutheran presses printed up a heck of a lot of religious picture tracts like cartoon Chick Tracts with parodied images of Catholics but without words. Eventually booksellers found money in printing up whatever book was on the index of forbidden books in either Catholic or Protestant countries.


The trouble with judging the state of the world is that the people who died because of the decisions of various leaders canʼt speak up. In Lutherʼs case thereʼs the dead from the Peasant revolt, and from anti-Semitic massacres, and from his and Melanchthonʼs seeking the death penalty for unrepentant Anabaptists or for anyone who dared to deny articles of the Apostleʼs Creed, and then after Lutherʼs day but sparked by the Reformation he helped found there was a little thing called the Thirty Years War, not to mention witch hunts and heresy hunts. Luther said of heretics, “Why should we treat them any better in this life than God is going to treat them in the next?”

“Even though the Anabaptists do not advocate anything seditious or openly blasphemous” it was, in Lutherʼs opinion, “the duty of the authorities to put them [unrepentant Anabaptist preachers who dared to preach in Saxony] to death.” At the end of 1530, Melanchthon drafted a memorandum in which he defended a regular system of coercion by the sword (i.e., death for Anabaptists). Luther signed it with the words, “It pleases me,” and added: “Though it may appear cruel to punish them by the sword, yet it is even more cruel of them…not to teach any certain doctrine—to persecute the true doctrine.”

Luther was like the Christian leaders before him and like Calvin after him, in agreeing that a king and people should all voice the same creed and study the same catechism because there can be only one true Church of Christ, not a body split into endless denominations. In fact as Protestantism continued to splinter what held them together was their common enemy, Catholicism, not some great Protestant love for one another. Lutherans were infuriated when they lost members to Calvinism. There were citywide riots between both parties in Germany. And Calvinists were infuriated when some of their members joined the Arminian splinter group, while Catholics were infuriated that the church of Christ was splintering continually under Protestantism right up till this day.

My view is that the first amendment and its freedom of speech and freedom of religious belief is superior to the first commandment of Moses with its threat of death, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” And that people who live in a society with such amendments do not know how good they have it when compared with the good days when whole nations asserted they had the one true faith, the only way or the most assured way to eternal bliss, and that everyone in their nation ought to learn a particular creed and catechism, in Lutherʼs case, his of course.

And letʼs not fool ourselves with the excuse that Luther was a man of his day and age. He was, but what does that say about all the prayerful study of the Bible he accomplished throughout his lifetime and how little his prayers for wisdom were answered when the age he lived in held such sway upon him? And when his fears that a nation without a particular religion would offend God and be doomed, and that to allow heretics and anti-Christʼs to speak freely was also to doom mankind, and that humans were like children and/or animals that needed to be leashed and/or chastened by a state guided by one true faith?

In Lutherʼs commentary on the Sermon on the Mount he treated the “love your enemy” passage by saying, Sure, love your enemy, so long as oneʼs enemy was an enemy of yourself alone, love him. But if your enemy speaks a word against God or the Bible, you should let him die or starve, and you should oppose him, lest by helping him survive or by showing him mercy you are being an accomplice to heresy and blasphemy and damning people eternally, for what are the terrors of this life compared with the eternal terrors of the next? Luther even cited Acts, “You must serve God and not man.”

Or Lutherʼs defense of predestination such that after the Fall “freewill” was merely a word.

Of course, this seems to give the greatest offense to common sense or natural reason, that God, who is proclaimed as being so full of mercy and goodness, should of His own mere will abandon, harden, and damn men, as though delighted in the sins and the great eternal torments of the miserable. It seems iniquitous, cruel, intolerable to think thus of God. It has given offense to so many and many great men down the ages. And who would not be offended? I myself have been offended at it more than once, even unto the deepest abyss of despair, so far that I wished I had never been made a man. That was before I knew how health-giving that despair was and how near it was to grace.
—Luther and Erasmus, “Discourse on Free Will,” page 131 (1961); Lutherʼs work is “The Enslaved Will”

Yes, God gave Luther the grace to demand the death penalty for “heretics,” and to write his own catechism and have the king issue it to all his people. And not only could Luther “not be moved,” but Lutheranism lead to deaths galore, with the cries of Lutheran martyrs mixed with the cries of those whom Lutherans themselves were exiling, persecuting, martyring or fighting.

Serpent-Handling Christians [an anthology of quotations]

Serpent-Handling Christians

“They Shall Take Up Serpents”

And he [Jesus] said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing [poison], it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
- Mark 16:15-20 (KJV)

[Scholars doubt the authenticity of the above verses since they are not found in the earliest known manuscripts of Mark. Indeed, three different added endings to Mark have been found in later manuscripts, so perhaps early Christians were trying to make up for the lack of a proper ending in the original. But none of these textual questions discourage serpent-handling Christians who believe that their faith and practice demonstrates the authenticity of Mark 16:15-20 and the miraculous foundations of their particular faith and church.]

Excerpts From the Serpent-Handlers: Three Families & Their Faith

[In His Own Words, Joe Robert Elkins] “Lot of people think all we do is handle serpents. We pray for the sick. Theyʼs some sick people thatʼs healed here. We drink the strychnine [poison]. We donʼt deny none of the five Signs. We do our best to put all five in action, because He said “these” Signs. We donʼt just pick out praying for the sick or speaking in tongues, but all five Signs is going to be made manifest in Godʼs church. You are either a believer or an unbeliever, and the unbeliever is going to hell. I believe they are going to burn…

The Bible says to pray without ceasing. See, you go with a prayer in your mind all the time, lest you enter in the temptations. Prayer is what keeps the temptation away. When you are approached by the devil, you pray. God moves that thing. He said to resist the devil, and he would flee from you… God talks to people, if they would just slow down and listen. God talks. I hear Him. He speaks to you through the heart. It is a small, still voice. It is real quiet. It speaks within you. You hear it… But it ainʼt every spirit that talks to you that is God… People think we are crazy, but it is a wise man who fears the Lord and keeps His Commandments.”

[Introduction to the book, The serpent handlers practice their religion daily in though, word, and deed. When they fail, they suffer, pray, and try harder the next day. Their religion demands a price too high for most of us to pay. Imagine having enough faith to pick up a deadly reptile to confirm Godʼs Word, knowing that a bite could be crippling or even fatal. What about the miracles? How can they be explained? We have seen people hold flame in their hands and dance on fire without being burned. We have witnessed believers drinking strychnine with no ill effects and handling poisonous snakes without being bitten. Other miracles are related in this book—healings, casting out devils, baptism by an unseen spirit. Even these stories seem plausible because we believe in the veracity of the people who witnessed such events firsthand.]

[In Her Own Words, Cynthia Church] “This religion is not David Copperfield. Itʼs not smoke and mirrors and magic. … It makes me angry when people think serpent handlers are ignorant rednecks from Appalachia. The way people talk here is cultural. Just because some of them are uneducated doesnʼt mean they are ignorant, but that is the way they are portrayed by most of the press… Mamaw had the gift of fire. She would pour kerosene on a little white handkerchief—you know, the kind ladies used to carry—and she would set it on fire and burn it in her hand. The hankie would burn with fire and smoke, and Mamaw held that fire in her hand for about fifteen minutes while she danced [in the spirit]. Finally, she closed her other hand down over it and put the fire out, and her hand was not even burned, and the handkerchief was not even burned or scorched.”

[In Her Own Words, Linda Turner Coots] “They were handling serpents. My brother-in-law was handling fire. And Joyce leaps up shouting, speaking in tongues, and Gregʼs dad, he held up his hand and wanted everybody to listen. And he said, ‘Thereʼs something that just donʼt sound right.’ Joyce was speaking in tongues, but it wasnʼt God. And when he pointed a finger at her, she just fell on the floor. And then he begin to pray for her, and that devil was talking, and it was saying that Jesus was the devil. And he cast the devil off her. Joyce repented of her sins, but somewhere, that devil took over, and she didnʼt know how to resist him…Hayden, Gregʼs dad, prayed for him one night at my momʼs and cast the devil out of him. He told the devil to go into the dog that was outside. And when he done that, the dog howled, made the awfulest, pitiful sound. It went mad a few days after that, and my uncle had to kill it. He had to destroy the dog…Yeah, I been to a lot of baptizings. Iʼve seen the Lord baptize Gregʼs dad one Sunday: They was about fifteen people being baptized that Sunday, and he baptized every one of ʻem, and then he was just standing in the water after everybody else walked out, and it was just like something just laid him down in the water and brought him back up.It was beautiful. He never said anything [about that experience]. We watched it. It was amazing…I just know that the Word of God is the truth. They say that speaking in tongues is evidence of the Holy Ghost, but I believe the real gift of God is eternal life. I wish everybody could see heaven, but they canʼt. Itʼs not for everybody. Itʼs only for a chosen few. Everybodyʼs not going to see Him. I have friends who say theyʼre Christians, but the way I feel about it, they donʼt believe in the full Gospel, and theyʼre not gonna make it. Theyʼre not gonna go where Jesus is… I just want to make it [to heaven]. Love. Thatʼs the most important thing, to have that love.”

[In His Own Words, Charles Church] “Miracles are performed every day in the church. Ceilʼs mother, Barbara, had the gift of fire. She had a great anointing to handle it. She used to dip her hands into a coal stove and carry out hot coals with her hands, and she was never burned. Ceil has that gift too. She says the fire feels cool. Barbara would actually pour kerosene on the floor and set it on fire and dance barefooted in the fire and never be burned. Once, I saw her hold out a sinner manʼs tie and put that torch under it, keep it there for five minutes, and it didnʼt ever burn… And when Brother Raford Dunn was bitten in Brother Carl Porterʼs church, we took him downstairs, and he was laying on a bed. Lydia was sitting next to him and praying for him, and she said she could actually feel his heart beating. And then she felt it quit beating. We prayed for him down there, and he came back to life.”

[In His Own Words, Dewey Chafin, born 1933] “The first time I ever handled a serpent, the anointing felt just like it does now. It starts in my stomach, the feeling does. It works different in different people, but I get a little feeling right here [in the pit of my stomach], and it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger, and from there on up through my chest and my shoulders. It is a good feeling, a warm feeling. You can feel it… Over the years I have been bitten 133 times… Some people donʼt understand our religion, but it determines everything I do in life. I donʼt drink coffee. I donʼt chew gum. I donʼt smoke cigarettes, argue, fight, cuss. If you start an argument with me, just start, and Iʼll be out of your way in less than a minute. Cussing is definitely a no-no. People take cussing being just one thing, like using Godʼs name in vain. But cussing is a lot more than that. There are a lot of ways you can cuss without using Godʼs name in vain.”

The rules of the church hang above the pulpit, their supporting Bible verses listed in parentheses. They read, “Women are not allowed to wear short sleeves, jewelry and makeup (I C 3; I Tim. 2:9); No gossiping (James 1:26); No tale-bearing (Prov. 18:8); No lying (Col. 3:9, Rev. 21:8); no backbiting (Rom. 1:30); No bad language (Col. 3:8); No tobacco users (II Cor. 7:1, I Cor. 3:17). Men are not allowed to have long hair, mustaches or beards (I Cor. 11:14); Men are not allowed to wear short sleeves; Women not allowed to cut hair (I Cor. 11:15); and wear dresses above the knees (Tim. 2:9).” At the bottom of the sign, in parentheses, it says, “Members only,” meaning that visitors are excluded from adhering to these mandates…

Since his evangelist brother, Punkin, died from snakebite in 1998, Mark Brown is the lone surviving child of one of the best known serpent-handling families in the Southeast. Now Mark is more wary, but not afraid… He believes that he has a personal mandate from God, told through a prophecy related to him by family friend Cameron Short. “The Lord told me that my hands would do the work of the Signs.”

Fred Brown and Jeanne McDonald, “The Serpent Handlers: Three Families and Their Faith” (Winston-Salem, North Carolina: John E. Blair Publisher, 2000)

The Church of the Lord Jesus, Jolo, West Virginia

The Church of the Lord Jesus, a Pentecostal serpent-handling, or “signs-following” church deep in the coal fields of southern West Virginia, is one of the most eminent churches of its kind…

Almost all of the men and some of the women in the church of the Lord Jesus, exhibit some sort of deformity on their hands and fingers from a past serpent bite. An atrophied finger, the loss of movement in part of a hand, or simple scars from a serpentʼs fangs, are proudly exhibited by these church members when they are asked about their “battle scars.” According to Brother Bob, Pastor of the church, the serpents “are the visible sign of the devil,” and when one has power over these serpents through the anointing of the Holy Spirit, he or she is, in effect, exerting control over the devil. None of the church members seeks medical attention when bitten by a poisonous snake; in fact, Brother Bobʼs stepdaughter was killed by a serpent bite in the 60s.

Brother Ray was eighty-two years old and had been with the church almost since its beginning in the late 40s…Rayʼs right hand was bitten over twenty years ago by a diamondback rattlesnake and became extremely atrophied. His index and middle fingers were completely unusable, and both of his hands had a swollen appearance. Ray had been bitten 89 times throughout the almost fifty years that he had been with the church. During that Sunday morning, while holding a handful of copperheads, Ray was bitten five more times on both of his hands…At the end of the service, Rayʼs hands had swollen a great deal, but he wasnʼt feeling sick, nor did he exhibit any effects other than being a little “itchy.” He stood up to testify and said, Iʼd like to praise God for being here… thank Him for the Spirit. Iʼd like to thank him for the bites I got today, all five of them. I praise Him for it because theyʼre not hurtinʼ—theyʼre itchinʼ, but theyʼre not hurtin.ʼ Theyʼre swellinʼ…” Ray felt that there was a reason for what, to an outsider, would appear to be a “breakdown” in the power of the Spirit. His getting bitten was not a breakdown at all but was Godʼs way of showing Ray that He would still take care of him, even though Ray was an “old man.” According to the members of the Church of the Lord Jesus, God has a reason for everything that He does, and they as His children must simply trust that will, even if they do not understand it.

Brother Dewey came out from behind the pulpit and took three serpents and began to preach, asserting that the Bible “didnʼt say these snakes wouldnʼt bite you or wouldnʼt hurt you.” He continued, “[The Lord] said, ‘these signs shall follow them that believe.’ These are the signs nobody wants to follow.” In other words, because the Word says those who believe in the Lord “shall follow” the signs in Mark, the Jolo church members feel that it is a command that they handle serpents. In an interview with Brother Bob, he added to this point: “If weʼre led by the Spirit and it [the serpent] bites us, then it was Godʼs will.” Furthermore, if it bites you and youʼre under the anointing, and you die, youʼve just done Godʼs will. That was your way to go. That was just your way to go. Because thereʼs going to be something that takes everybody out of this world. To me, itʼs fulfillment of the Word… the Bible says, “happy are you if you die in the Lord.” What better way would you find to die than doing what God said to do?

Shannon Bell, “Brother Rayʼs Serpent Bites” & “A Changing Approach,” copyright, 2000

Rattler-handling Rev. Dwayne Long of Rose Hill, Va., died in mid-April, 2004, after being bitten by a snake during an Easter Pentecostal church service and refusing medical treatment.

Linda Long, 48, of London was bitten by a snake during a church service at the East London Holiness Church she attended. Neighbors of the church told the newspaper the church practices serpent handling. Handling reptiles as part of religious services is illegal in Kentucky. Snake handling is a misdemeanor and punishable by a $50 to $100 fine. Police said they had not received any prior reports about snake handling at the church. Lt. Ed Sizemore of the Laurel County Sheriffʼs Office said friends went with Ms. Long to the University of Kentucky Medical Center. She died about four hours after the bite was reported, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. Church officials could not be reached for comment. The funeral was scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Arthurʼs Chapel Church in Rosehill, Va., according to the Rosehill Funeral Home.

E.T.B. [rewritten but based on an AP news report dated Nov. 7, 2006, London, Kentucky]

I saw in McDowell County, (where the Jolo church is located) that the unemployment rate is 260.8% of the national average, and the 1990 Census reported a poverty rate at 287.5% of the national average…Though the Jolo people may not have as much money as a great deal of Americans, one of the women in the church pointed out to me, “There are no homeless people here.” This simple statement made me re-think my definition of poverty and oppression because it was true, I had not ever seen a homeless person anywhere in McDowell County. “You want to know why?” she asked me, “itʼs because we take care of each other. We make sure that everyone has a roof over their head.” From her comment, I kind of got the feeling that it was I that was the deprived one, living in a world of assumptions and stereotypes.

Shannon Bell, “A Changing Approach,” copyright, 2000

After I wrote news accounts of the serpent-handling churches, sociologists visited and studied the congregations. One administered a psychological test to the Scrabble Creek flock, and gave the same test to a nearby Methodist congregation as a control group. The serpent-handlers came out mentally healthier.

James A. Haught, “Adventures in the Bible Belt” (1997), adapted from a Gazette column, Dec. 7, 1993.

One of the authors of The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism, Williamson, is also a former minister in the Church of God (of Prophecy) from which the serpent-handling sects split; he conducted extensive interviews with 16 serpent handlers and commented on personal experiences with scores of others. One common thread through these interviews was the interpretation of snake bites during handling. Every instance of a bite was interpreted in one of three ways. First, it could be a sign to unbelievers that the serpent was indeed poisonous, proving that there were no tricks involved. Second, it could be divine retribution for disobedience and sin, as well as a reminder to keep your life in order because you never know when it will be your time to go. And finally, if neither of these interpretations seemed appropriate, the third interpretation was used, namely that the snake bite was simply the unknown will of God. This worldview leaves no room for the interpretation that maybe serpent handling is not a good idea.

In fact, serpent handlers are fully cognizant of the dangers of their practice, and they do not claim to have any special powers to ward off or survive snake bites. All the participants Williamson interviewed had witnessed a fatal snake bite, and eleven of them had been bitten themselves, some disfigured as a result. The interviewees were quick to point out that Mark 16:18 commanded them to handle serpents as a sign of true belief, but that it did not promise them no harm would come to them.

The advantage snake-handling Christians and other fundamentalist Christians have is that “They lay claim to absolute values with clear-cut answers to what others may find problematic” or questionable. (Though of course different fundamentalisms can and do propose different beliefs and clear-cut answers.)

David Ludden, “In the Beginning was the Word,” a book review of The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism by Ralph W. Hood, Jr., Peter C. Hill, and W. Paul Williamson (Guilford Press, 2005). (Final paragraph edited by E.T.B.)

Read Luke 10:19, “Behold I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions… and nothing shall… hurt you.” Funny, they donʼt seem too keen on treading on scorpions.

David Windhorst, “God May Kill You For Reading This… And Iʼm A Little Nervous Myself”

Evangelicalism: What Is One To Make of the Phenomenon?


The Evangelical Mind

We who are in pietistic, generically evangelical, Baptist, fundamentalist, Restorationist, holiness, “Bible church,” megachurch, or Pentecostal traditions face special difficulties when putting the mind to use. Taken together, American evangelicals display many virtues and do many things well, but built-in barriers to careful and constructive thinking remain substantial. These barriers include an immediatism that insists on action, decision, and even perfection right now, a populism that confuses winning supporters with mastering actually existing situations, an anti-traditionalism that privileges oneʼs own current judgments on biblical, theological, and ethical issues (however hastily formed) over insight from the past (however hard won and carefully stated), and a nearly gnostic dualism that rushes to spiritualize all manner of bodily, terrestrial, physical, and material realities (despite the origin and providential maintenance of these realities in God). In addition, we evangelicals as a rule still prefer to put our money into programs offering immediate results, whether evangelistic or humanitarian, instead of into institutions promoting intellectual development over the long term.

These evangelical habits continue to hamper evangelical thinking. We remain inordinately susceptible to enervating apocalyptic speculation, and we produce and consume oceans of bathetic End Times literature while sponsoring only a trickle of serious geopolitical analysis. We are consistently drawn to so-called “American Christianities”—occasionally of the left, more often of the right—that subordinate principled reasoning rooted in the gospel to partisanship in which opponents are demonized and deficiencies in our friends are excused… Capitulation to disembodied ideals of spirituality incapacitates our struggling band of novelists and poets. And far too many of us still make the intellectually suicidal mistake of thinking that promoting “creation science” is the best way to resist naturalistic philosophies of science. When it comes to the life of the mind, in other words, we evangelicals continue to have our problems…

Evangelical higher education in North America remains a fragmented enterprise, both nourished and impeded by the sectarian character of American religion…

Pentecostals, Southern Baptists, members of Holiness movements, seeker-sensitive churches, dispensationalists, Adventists, African-American congregations, radical Wesleyans, and lowest-common-denominator evangelicals have great spiritual energy, but they flounder in putting the mind to use for Christ. On the other side, Lutherans, Catholics, Anglo-Catholics, the Reformed, and the Eastern Orthodox enjoy incredibly rich traditions that include sterling examples of Christian thought, but they often display a comatose spirituality. This picture is, of course, a generalization…

—Mark Noll [Christian and Professor of History at Wheaton College—Billy Grahamʼs alma mater], “The Evangelical Mind Today,” First Things, No. 146, Oct. 2004

Jack Kelley, an Evangelical Christian and star reporter with USA Today, resigned in January after admitting he fabricated many of his sensational stories covering war and terrorism. His admission of guilt came after USA Todayʼs investigative team found major fabrications and plagiarisms in Kellyʼs stories. The same Jack Kelley told Christian Reader magazine recently: “God has told me to proclaim truth,” and, he teaches at the World Journalism Institute, whose mission is “presuppositional reporting” from an “unapologetic Christian point of view.”

—E.T.B., based on an article in Christianity Today

I believe part of the appeal of the evangelical religion is for offering certainty, not faith, certainty about what is doctrinally correct. I think one of the dangers of religion is to believe we have got God all buttoned down. I believe just the opposite. I believe in the freedom and mystery of God that doesnʼt allow us to be certain but allows us to be loving. To put it in street talk, I look more to how people live than what they say they believe.

Rev. Albert Pennybacker [Pastor in Lexington, Kentucky, and head of the Clergy Leadership Network, a cross-denominational group of liberal and moderate religious leaders seeking to counter the influence of the Religious Right and to mobilize voters to change leadership in Washington.]

Evangelical Christianity = Being made to feel sinful and guilty for not having felt sinful and guilty, in order that one might experience release from sin and guilt; Like donning lead boots and walking about in them until totally exhausted in order to have the exhilarating experience of taking them off again.

—Conrad Hyers, Once-Born, Twice-Born Zen [Hyers is a moderate Evangelical Christian and former Chair of Religion at Gustavus Adolphus College]

Is the Heart of Man Deceitful Above All Things & Desperately Wicked?

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus taught, “If you see a woman and lust after her, I say that you have already committed adultery in your heart.” In other words, even if you donʼt commit adultery “in the flesh,” youʼve committed it just by lusting after someone. Now suppose you see someone in need, who could use some cash or a kind word, and you yearn in your heart to give it to them (but for whatever reason are unable to give it to them). Does that mean you have “already committed charity in your heart?” Think about it. If a lust-filled yearning (not the act of sex, but just the yearning), is evidence of how bad the human heart is, then what about the yearnings people feel to help and support one another? Might they not be an indication of goodness in peopleʼs hearts?

Gandhi, the famous Hindu peace-activist, taught that people should seek out what was best in their own religions and hearts. Even Jesus put a positive spin on “the heart” when he taught that “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45 & Mat. 12:35), and when he taught that people ought to “Love God with all their heart,” (Mat. 22:37). How is that possible if the “heart” is “wicked and deceitful above all things?”

No doubt the “wickedness” of the “heart” as depicted in the book of Jeremiah, chapter 17, verse 9 (“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”) applies to some people at some times whenever they act deceitful and wicked, especially when they are at their lowest and weakest points. But to take the book of Jeremiahʼs exaggerated ancient Near Eastern way of speaking, and bake it in an oven until it becomes as dry and hard as a brick of dogma, and make that brick a cornerstone of your theology, well, to do that takes a “heart” relatively dry of compassion and fair appraisals of othersʼ beliefs and actions.


Christianity Can Magnify Harmless Actions into Deadly Offenses

One of Christianityʼs chief offenses is not that it has enlisted the services of bad men, but that it has misdirected the energies of good ones. The kindly, the sensitive, the thoughtful, those who are striving to do their best under its influence, are troubled, and consequently often develop a more or less morbid frame of mind. The biographies of the best men in Christian history offer many melancholy examples of the extent to which they have falsely accused themselves of sins during their “unconverted” state, and the manner in which harmless actions are magnified into deadly offenses.

—Chapman Cohen, Essays in Freethinking

On “Revivals”

In the days of my youth, ministers depended on revivals to save souls and reform the world. The emotional sermons, the sad singing, the hysterical “Amens,” the hope of heaven, the fear of hell, caused many to lose what little sense they had. In this condition they flocked to the “mournerʼs bench”—asked for prayers of the faithful—had strange feelings, prayed, and wept and thought they had been “born again.” Then they would tell their experiences—how wicked they had been, how evil had been their thoughts, their desires, and how good they had suddenly become.

They used to tell the story of an old woman who, in telling her experience, said, “Before I was converted, before I gave my heart to God, I used to lie and steal, but now, thanks to the grace and blood of Jesus Christ, I have quit ʻem both, in a great measure.”

Well, while the cold winter lasted, while the snows fell, the revival went on, but when the winter was over, the boats moved in the harbor again, the wagons rolled, and business started again, most of the converts “backslid” and fell again into their old ways. But the next winter they were on hand again, read to be “born again.” They formed a kind of stock company, playing the same parts every winter and backsliding every spring.

I regard revivals as essentially barbaric. The fire that has to be blown all the time is a poor thing to get warm by. I think they do no good but much harm; they make innocent people think they are guilty, and very mean people think they are good.

—Robert Ingersoll, “Why I am An Agnostic”

I had what I consider a “spiritual epiphany” regarding “evangelicalism” in high school when a group of friends and I drove to an evangelistic rally and heard the preacher rail on and on against the evils of drinking, smoking, and other things. The evangelist was a spectacular showman and implored the audience to take heed, come forward, let go of any liquor bottles or packs of cigarettes in their possession, repent, and sin no more with Godʼs power. Each word of the evangelist blazed with the certainty that God would heal His peopleʼs sinful ways and a choir was singing with trumpets blaring and the audience grew very excited. My friends all deposited their packs of cigarettes on the growing pile in the center of the rally and prayed with the ushers and pleaded with me to do so as well for the good of my soul.

I refused.

No sooner had the emotion-filled rally ended, no sooner had we traveled a few blocks in our car, than my friends bummed cigarettes off me.

—Dr. C. Brewer, Prof of Psychology (as told to E.T.B. 7/18/06)

How Different Are Most “Converted” People?

Were it true that a converted man as such is of an entirely different kind from a natural man, there surely ought to be some distinctive radiance. But notoriously there is no such radiance. Converted men as a class are indistinguishable from normal men.

By the very intensity of his fidelity to the paltry ideals with which an inferior intellect may inspire him, a saint can be even more objectionable and damnable than a superficial “carnal” man would be in the same situation.

—William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience

How to Spot Christians

One Sunday afternoon my cousin and I were eating at a restaurant. He paused, and started pointing at people. “Heʼs a Christian… Heʼs a Christian… So is she, and she, and that other guy.”

I asked how he was so sure.

His reply? “I was a hard-core Evangelical Christian for a few years, remember? Itʼs not hard to see once you know what to look for. Look for someone who looks like theyʼre wearing clothes just a little bit nicer than theyʼre comfortable in, that have a smile on their face. It wonʼt look like a happy smile, itʼll look kind of contrived and forced, like theyʼre trying to convince themselves theyʼre happy and rich.”

—Justice McPherson

Many of the most cordial Christians either hum hymns or listen to contemporary Christian music, or repeat Scripture in their heads, and wonder what they can do next to make someone think that theyʼre a “good little Christian.”

I used to do the same thing, and now people wonder why I do not shower them with praise and gifts to make them think that I am a “good little Christian.” I used to go to peopleʼs houses and work and they would try to pay me, But No! I would not take a dime, because I wanted to emblazon on their brains the idea that I was a “good little Christian.” (The “people-pleasing-for-Christ” part of my life ended over 15 years ago.) Thatʼs what many Christians are, people pleasers, God pleasers, Jesus pleasers, preacher pleasers.

Jesus was a people pleaser, thatʼs why he was so willing to die, either to please God or his ignorant followers.

—Ben at [edited by E.T.B.]

Converted or Addicted?

Psychotherapists will tell you that in dealing with an addict, you have to understand that the personʼs primary relationship is with the drug. The drug has the ability to control the addictʼs thinking to a remarkable degree, and you must understand that any relationship you may feel with the addict is a distant second to the one they have with their drug. The most devout Evangelical Christians are open and unabashed about this. Their “relationship with Jesus” as they use the term, is the primary relationship in their lives. There is even a scripture that goes something like, “Not unless you hate your mother and father can you be my disciple,” and, “Who are my mother and father? But he who hears and words of God and does them.” Jesus even suggested to one disciple that he ought not return home to help bury a dead family member, instead he ought to “Let the dead bury the dead.” In other words, Evangelicals stress that oneʼs love for Jesus ought to be so strong that relatively speaking, oneʼs love for even close family members, must not compare. You may love your mother but you should love Jesus so much more that in comparison itʼs like you hate her. Doesnʼt this sound an awful lot like a drunkʼs love for the bottle?

It may be helpful when trying to have a relationship with a believer to remember that you and their relationship with you means very little to them compared to their need to continue in their thought addiction. In fact “true believers” may happily sacrifice a relationship with their own spouses or children should those family members refuse to convert, or become “unbelievers.” In such cases the “true believer” feels they are making the ultimate sacrifice in “serving God rather than man.”

Evangelical beliefs may promise you comfort, security and power just like the ads for alcohol link its consumption with sexiness, sports activities, and a rippinʼ good time, but the promises in both cases often grow sour as the addict grows more hardened and insistent.

Some people have an instant “conversion” to alcoholism. They take their first drink, or have their first good drunk and understand (in the words of a very young alcoholic client I once had) “This (drinking) is what I was put on this world to do.”

For some people their religion is an illness they are trying to recover from and the recovery process is more difficult than recovering from alcoholism.

—Saint Vilis at the Yahoo Group, ExitFundyism

Evangelical Ego-Games

An evangelical Christian once told me, “Only Jesus Christ can save man and restore him to his lost state of peace with God, himself and others.” Yeah, sure, and only new Pepsi can make you feel really happy, and only our brand is better than the competition, and only our country is the best country. It is truly amazing to me that people can utter such arrogant nonsense with no humor, no sense of how offensive they are to others, no doubt or trepidation, and no suspicion that they sound exactly like advertisers, con-men and other swindlers. It is really hard to understand such child-like prattling. If I were especially conceited about something (a state I try to avoid, but if I fell into it…), if for instance I decided I had the best garden or the handsomest face in Ireland, I would still retain enough common sense to suspect that I would sound like a conceited fool if I went around telling everybody those opinions. I would have enough tact left, I hope, to satisfy my conceit by dreaming that other people would notice on their own that my garden and/or my face were especially lovely. People who go around innocently and blithely announcing that they belong to the Master Race or the Best Country Club or have the One True Religion seem to have never gotten beyond the kindergarten level of ego-display. Do they have no modesty, no tact, no shame, no adult common sense at all? Do they have any suspicion how silly their conceit sounds to the majority of the nonwhite non-Christian men and women of the world? To me, they seem like little children wearing daddyʼs clothes and going around shouting, “Look how grown-up I am! Look at me, me, me!”

There are more amusing things than ego-games, conceit and one-upmanship. Really, there are. I suspect that people stay on that childish level because they have never discovered how interesting and exciting the adult world is.

If one must play ego-games, I still think it would be more polite, and more adult, to play them in the privacy of oneʼs head. In fact, despite my efforts to be a kind of Buddhist, I do relapse into such ego-games on occasion; but I have enough respect for human intelligence to keep such thoughts to myself. I donʼt go around announcing that I have painted the greatest painting of our time; I hope that people will notice that by themselves. Why do the people whose ego-games consist of day-dreaming about being part of the Master Race or the One True Religion not keep that precious secret to themselves, also, and wait for the rest of the human race to notice their blinding superiority?

—Robert Anton Wilson

Many Christians who canʼt even get members of their own family to agree with them on trifling matters are currently seeking to evangelize the world and tell everyone “whatʼs what.”


Your Own Personal Jesus

Many evangelical Christians boast that they have a “personal relationship” with Jesus. What makes it so “personal?” Well, they say, we have the words attributed to Jesus in the four Gospels. But there are so few of them, a couple thousand. You could fit all of Jesusʼs words into a small 16-page booklet. And they are subject to interpretation.

Well, they say, there are “answered prayers.” But again, that is a matter of interpretation, because no matter what happens, an evangelical Christian interprets it as “Jesusʼs will,” even when bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.

Whenever I have a “personal relationship” with someone it does not consist of a few thousand words spoken two thousand years ago, recorded accurately (or inaccurately) by someone else, and which require interpretation from third parties for me to “truly” understand them (especially when the third parties disagree concerning the meaning and intent of those words).

Neither should a “personal relationship” depend on me having to interpret the results of every prayer uttered. And the range of interpretations covers every conceivable outcome: “strongly positively answered,” “weakly positively answered,” “strongly negatively answered,” “weakly negatively answered,” or even, “try again later when you have more faith.”


Question: Whatʼs the difference between a trained psychologist and a born again Christian?

Answer: A trained psychologist can read a person like a book, but a born again Christian reads a book like itʼs a person.


Knock! Knock!

Two evangelical Christians at the door: May we come in and share some good news with you?

Me: Donʼt you mean, “May we blatantly disregard your privacy for a few minutes in order to further our own personal goals?” Tell me, which denomination do you belong to, and when was it founded? Thatʼs Protestant, isnʼt it? I bet the Pope has rings older than your denomination. I bet your denomination numbers a couple million at most. Catholics number far more. In fact, if you added up every member of every Protestant denomination on earth, the Catholics equal or exceed that number. You say thatʼs a logical fallacy, truth is not determined by sheer numbers? Thatʼs what all small denominations say. Heck, maybe youʼre knocking on doors because youʼre bored seeing the same faces in church or you fear your heaven wonʼt have enough folks in it to form a decent choir. I have a hot tip for you, youʼll be happier if you seek out people whom you admire—and things you enjoy—on an individual basis, rather than try to pour yourself and the whole world into a “one size fits all” religious Jello mold.


Evangelist = A bearer of good tidings, particularly (in a religious sense) such as assure us of our own salvation and the damnation of our neighbors.

—Ambrose Bierce, The Devilʼs Dictionary