I was browsing on the Tweets the other day when I came across this guy named Tim Sledge who spent some 40 or 50 years in ministry as a southern baptist before realizing that he didn't believe in God anymore.
He left the ministry, left the faith, and wrote a book called "Goodbye Jesus", and, as I discovered on Twitter, this little gem:
The full title of the book is "Four Disturbing Questions with One Simple Answer - Breaking the spell of Christian belief."
Sledge claims in the intro to the book that he is going to "raise four challenging questions for Christian believers", and he even intimated on twitter that these questions were just unworkable and unanswerable within Christianity, and that reading this book pretty much promised to strip you of your faith.
Naturally, I was intrigued. Christianity has been around for 2,000 years. It rose up among some of the most critical and thinking men to have ever lived: Ancient Philosophers. The areas in which Christianity sprang up during the Ancient Roman Empire were areas soaked in classical Greek philosophic thought. St. Luke even mentions Paul arguing with the stoics and epicureans (Acts 17:18).
Within all of these two thousand years no one has come upon the four faith shattering questions that Mr. Sledge happened upon, or so it seemed. Clearly, a book that can shipwreck a faith must have some unanswerable, probing questions.
Suffice it say: There have been far more intelligent men than Mr. Sledge to ask far more probing questions of the faith to far better men than myself.
None the less, we will trudge on and I will review this book in detail, across a few posts. In this review series I will answer each of Mr. Sledge's questions, criticize and rebut several of the claims of his book, point out some fallacies and flaws in his reasoning, and even go so far as to offer questions he should have asked, questions that are far more difficult to answer than anything he brought up.
So without and further rambling, let's get started with the first part of this review, covering his first question.
Why does faith in the resurrected, empowering Jesus generate such inconsistent results?
Mr. Sledge breaks into his small treatment of the Christian Religion with this first criticism: Why isn't everyone a radical devotee of Christ? His reasoning is that if Jesus is really God, and people are doing the right things to have the Living God transform their lives, then why aren't their lives transformed? Is God, perhaps, too weak?
This question is actually one I posed to some Mormon missionaries at my door one day. They asked if they could share with me the Gospel, and I gladly asked them to, and they turned in their Book of Mormon (and I in mine, I keep a copy on hand) to 2 Nephi 25:23, which reads thus:
For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
I pointed out to them that we haven't done all we can do, so why would God save us? They hemmed and hawed for a bit before one of them said, "God will enable us to do all we can do so that he can save us."
To which I said, "We still haven't done all we can do, though. If you're god is too weak to empower me to meet his requirements, why would he be strong enough to save me?"
I bring this up because Tim Sledge's shoddy southern baptist theology sounds a lot more like Mormonism than it does Christianity. In fact, throughout his book you can see that his unanswerable questions are based more on his misunderstanding of Christianity than his own wondrous and heretofore undiscovered insights into the truth of the religion.
Mr. Sledge, like the Mormons, believes that we have to be persuaded into the faith, and from there we must work to improve. Men like Mr. Sledge don't understand the Gospel and all they know how to do is preach the law. In his view, God can only do so much and from there it is up to us to work.
This is the same message preached by every false religion in the world. It's preached by the Mormons, by the Mohammedans, by the Hindus and Jains, and by the Devil and his farting ass The Pope. It is also, it would seem, preached by the Southern Baptists - who are our brothers in Christ, if barely just.
It's a religion of works, not grace.
Mr. Sledge himself says, "I understood that a commitment to Jesus was just the beginning of a life long growth process that requires multiple disciplines including Bible study, prayer, worship, ministry to others and financial giving."
He refers to this, a few pages later, as "climbing the spiritual ladder". Boy is that a lot of the Law Mr. Sledge believed! No wonder he fell away from the faith. To paraphrase Pr. Wolfmueller from his book, "Has American Christianity Failed?": This law based approach to Christianity results in either pride or despair.
Mr. Sledge believes that Christianity isn't something that God does for His people, but rather something people must work at in order to please some distant God.
Adding to this burden of the Law, Mr. Sledge heaped upon himself more responsibilities as a pastor than the Lord requires, saying, "One of the most startling and disappointing facts of life for me as a pastor was discovering how hard it is to motivate a church to grow."
The problem with the thinking here is that the pastor who thinks this way wrongly assumes that the church, either specifically his congregation or as a whole, is his to grow. It isn't. The church does not belong to the pastor, but rather she is the Bride of Christ, who said that 'all the Father gives me shall come to me' (John 6:37). It is not the pastor's job to grow the church, it is the Lord's. This is because it is not the pastor's church, but rather it is The Lord's.
Further into this chapter, Mr. Sledge ponders if people are truly hearing from the Lord. He mentions how "a large aspect of prayer is 'seeking answers from the Lord.'" and that people who are born again claim to be able to 'sense the Lord guiding them'. Yet all of these people claiming to hear from the Lord are hearing different things. Wouldn't true converts all hear the same things?
Despite his education and claim to so many decades in Christian Ministry, Mr. Sledge again misunderstands fundamental Christian truths (misunderstanding and poor argumentation, will be recurring themes in his book).
First, let me address hearing the Lord: If you want to know what God says or thinks then you need to read your Bible. We know for a fact that God isn't going to speak to you in an audible voice or through a nudging in your heart, or whatever. We know this because it is written, "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe." (Hbr. 1:1-2).
Secondly, the purpose of prayer is not to seek answers from the Lord, rather it is to bring your petitions to Him, and then subjugate yourself to His Will. Period.
As the Lord taught us, we should pray, saying, "Our Father in Heaven, thy will be done." We don't pray for our will, or for guidance, or for answers, we pray The Lord's Will be done. We pray that we may be subject to that will, and not to our own desires.
Mr. Sledge rounds this chapter out by circling back to his original question: Why do all of these people who've prayed the "sinner's prayer" have such varied and inconsistent results? Allow me to quote Mr. Sledge again, from the second to last page in this first chapter:
True faith begins when you - at one specific point in time in your life - believe, repent of your sins, and fully commit yourself to Jesus. This is what it means to be a Christian, and its how you begin a personal relationship with God. And when your decision to follow Jesus is genuine, your faith will persevere no matter what it faces.
What a humdinger of bad theology that is! Does the Bible say literally any of that, at all? Ephesians 2:8-9 says that it is by faith we are saved through grace, and these things (grace and faith) are not our own, but are gifts of God.
Earlier I quoted John 6, and if you read on from the verse I quoted you'll see Jesus say, "No one can come to me unless the father enables him."
The Christian faith is not one of synergy, where you must do your part to be saved, or make your decision. Rather, the faith delivered once for all is monergistic. God does all of the work. God gives you the faith, he gives you the belief, and he gives you salvation.
He also here proclaims "once saved, always saved" which is literally a heresy. The book of Hebrews, specifically, contains many warnings against falling away from the faith. And Paul, in his discourse to the church in Rome, warns of giving in to sin and being given over to sin, exhorting the young church to remain steadfast in the faith.
Mr. Sledge thinks he's clever by asking "why does the Gospel produce such inconsistent results?" and then answering it by saying, "GoD iSn'T rEaL lOl"
The real answer to his question is that he spent the better part of his life preaching a false gospel. It produced inconsistent results because people weren't actually converting. Of course you didn't see the fruits of repentance, Mr. Sledge: You didn't actually preach the Gospel.
You told people that they needed to make a decision for Christ (which we are incapable of doing), and then after that decision they needed to obey the law.
What you didn't do is tell them that they themselves are responsible for Christ's death, but that Christ, though he died, was resurrected and now lives, and by Him we can pass through death into life.