Critique of Deconversion Sound Bites of Dave Gass

Critique of Deconversion Sound Bites of Dave Gass May 2, 2019

Dave Gass was an evangelical pastor for some forty years. He took to Twitter recently [but he has now restricted access] — starting on 4-30-19 — in order to proclaim that he had forsaken Christianity. I make replies to his claims below. His words will be in blue. I have no beef with him saying he’s sorry to his former congregants, etc., and so I will not critique those sorts of statements; only reasons he gives for his decision.

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For those of you who want to yell at me, that’s fine. I know that many will call me an apostate, say I was never really saved, that I was a wolf in sheeps clothing, and that a hotter hell awaits me. And to you I say I love you. My heart is tender toward you.

No one can definitively know those things. Even John Calvin taught that no one knows for sure who is among the elect. We know from the Bible (i.e., those of us who accept its inspiration and status as a revelation) that there is such a thing as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We can’t know for sure if Dave is or was that. He is an apostate, which means, former Christian or one who has rejected Christianity. That’s uncontroversial.

Most Christians throughout history have believed that one can fall from grace or salvation; can lose salvation. I believed that as an evangelical, and I do now as a Catholic. So I need not deny that Dave was ever a Christian. I assume that he truly was one. There is also a real hell that awaits those who know that God exists and that Christianity is true, and who reject both. We can’t know for sure that Dave is headed for this hell. He may be; he may not be (he could return to faith again, for all we know).

Nor do I have to “yell” at him.  My job as a Christian apologist is (for others’ sake) to demonstrate how nothing he says refutes Christianity or provides sufficient warrant for him to forsake the faith, and (for his sake) to charitably try to persuade him of his errors, if he is willing to listen.

Eventually I pulled the lever and dropped the bomb. Career, marriage, family, social standing, network, reputation, all gone in an instant. And honestly I didn’t intend to fully walk away, but the way the church turned on me forced me to leave permanently.

Well, I would have to know more about the details of how “the church turned on” Dave, to make an informed comment.

I was a part of a system that enslaves people, and I was both a slave and a slave driver. We called chains freedom, and misery happiness. We had impossible standards that we could not meet so we turned the attention on others so the spotlight wasn’t on our own inadequacies.

That’s an extraordinary accusation to make, and it does not describe true Christianity or the best that can be found in Christianity. It’s ridiculously broad and thus has little meaning. For those who don’t like God’s laws and moral precepts, I suppose it would feel a bit like being a slave. But the question then becomes: why don’t they like them? What is it about God’s revelation and Christian teaching that is so terrible, so as to feel oppressive rather than freeing? A simple broad statement like this has little content to examine.

I agree that Christian standards are impossible to meet: under our own power. This is precisely why we have grace and the Holy Spirit to give us the power and ability to abide by Christian teachings. All Christians agree on that. But if those are spurned (which are the result of sin and rebellion, or false premises leading to an intellectual rejection), then this would be a serious problem, and we wouldn’t be able to live out the faith. Dave wants to blame God and the Christian system for that shortcoming. I would tend to suspect that the root of the problem lies somewhere in him.

I learned that love is real. That acceptance is possible. That life is vibrant and full. But the church burdens people with fear, shame, and guilt, all for the purpose of maintaining control. I now see the church as a system perfectly curated to control people and culture.

Again, such super-broad statements are difficult to critique, or for Dave to prove. On the surface, they appear to me to be over-emotional and irrational. The last sentence seems to come right out of standard anti-theist-type atheist talking points. “We are what we eat.” If Dave started reading anti-theist polemics, then he would start to change his thinking, until one day everything just snapped, and he felt that atheism was more plausible than Christianity.

There are millions of us who have found an inner peace and joy and fulfillment in Christianity that we have fond nowhere else. We’re happy. We have no reason to leave. Quite the contrary. Our experience is not Dave’s. I was a practical atheist / non-practicing Christian / occult enthusiast for ten years. I certainly was nowhere near as happy and personally fulfilled as I have been since committing my life to Jesus. Dave has his experience; we have ours.

During this time I also found something amazing: I found a handful of people who were more Christian than any Christian I had ever met – and they weren’t Christian. I found love in places where love wasn’t supposed to exist. I found acceptance among people who were godless.

One can find good people in any belief-system. I suppose this would also entail defining what Dave thinks is “Christian” and “love.”

Eventually I could not maintain the facade anymore, I started to have mental and emotional breaks.

And how is that all God’s fault, or Christianity’s fault? It’s not specific enough. It just sounds like atheist talking points and saying what his new “choir”: the atheists –, love to hear.

My internal stress started to show in physical symptoms. Being a pastor – a professional Christian – was killing me.

There are many possible reasons for that: none of which necessarily stem from God or Christianity, rightly understood. He could have gotten a raw deal from certain Christians, who sinned and mistreated him. Maybe he was in the wrong profession in the first place, which would be highly stressful. We don’t have enough information. But a certain number of Christian sinners don’t disprove Christianity at all, just as the atheists (at least the ones politically to the left) always tell us that Stalin and Mao and Marxist atheism doesn’t mean that all atheists or Marxism / Communism are that way. 

This massive cognitive dissonance – my beliefs not matching with reality – created a separation between my head and my heart. I was gaslighting myself to stay in the faith.

Once again it’s too vague to be able to critique. He has to offer objective and not just subjective reasons at some point.

I spent my entire life serving, loving, and trying to help people in my congregations. And the lies, betrayal, and slander I have received at the hands of church people left wounds that may never heal.

What happened? But even if terrible things did happen and he was wronged, this is no disproof of Christianity or God. It’s proof that Christians are sinners like everyone else and capable of great sin: which is what Christianity taught all along.

And the entire system is rife with abuse. And not just from the top down, sure there are abusive church leaders, but church leaders are abused by their congregants as well.

And there is nary a ray of light or hope anywhere in the whole system? He expects us to believe that this is true of the entirety of a billion Christians? If it were truly that bad he would have never devoted 40 years of his life to the pastorate. That would only have proven that he was virtually self-deluded and acting irrationally the whole time: if we accept his report of universal sin and drudgery and bondage and cruelty, etc.

All the while, the experience I had within the church was that a lot (granted, not all) people use the church for power and influence. Many involved people in churches use it as their small kingdom for personal control and ego.

This is better: finally a qualification. Some Christians do indeed fall into those sins, and others don’t do this. Of course it’s patently obvious that any large social group will have good- and bad-behaving people in it. All this amounts to saying, then, is “there are good and bad people on the earth, and I’ve personally run across a lot of bad ones.” We already knew that. So his claim is that other huge social groups are exponentially better than Christian ones? I don’t think so. That’s just not reality or the real world.

An inescapable reality that I came to was that the people who benefited the most from organized religion were the fringe attenders who didn’t take it too seriously. The people who were devout were the most miserable, but just kept trying harder.

That’s the exact opposite of my experience and that of millions of other Christians, and also the opposite of many secular social studies showing that the most devout, observant Christians are happier and more fulfilled: even including their sexual and marital happiness. That ain’t just Christians saying it (what we would expect): it’s social science.

I traveled on speaking teams, preached to thousands of teenagers at a time, wrote blogs, was published, formed curriculum, taught workshops, was an up-and-comer reforming my denomination. The whole time hoping at some point it would click, and become true for me.

So he did all this for forty years, not believing it was true? That would be deceptive. It sounds like he was trying to coast along on his own power, and this is precisely what Christianity itself teaches is impossible (that would be the heresy of Pelagianism, or salvation by our own self-generated works, apart from the grace that alone can enable good works and salvation). Something’s gotta give there. But he was responsible for actually believing what he was teaching others, instead of playing some game of going through the motions (and getting paid by his congregants). If that’s the sort of “dual life” that he has been leading all these years, I can certainly see how he could grow tired of it.

But the blame lies on him, not God, or the Christian system. He wants to blame God. No one forced him at gunpoint to be a pastor or to do all this stuff. I do what I do as an apologist (in some form for 38 years now) because I absolutely love it and  believe 100% in what I am doing, and believe with every fiber of my being that God called me to it. I don’t have to pretend that I am something I am not.

I pastored mega churches & tiny churches. I did college ministry, camp ministry, youth ministry, music ministry, preaching ministry, church planting – everything in the church except work in the nursery. And what I saw was people desperate for the system to work for them.

Yeah, he did a lot of stuff. Jesus said there were people who did all kinds of things and called Him “Lord, Lord” yet were never among His flock to begin with. We don’t know if Dave is in that category, but it’s not an impossibility. All those ostensibly good works and sacrificial service don’t necessarily prove anything. And was it truly out of love? St. Paul observed:

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. [3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

My devoutly christian parents were abusive,

Was that God and Christianity’s fault, or theirs?

my marriage was a sham,

Was that God and Christianity’s fault, or his and/or his wife’s?

prayer was never answered, miracles were never performed. People died, children rebelled, marriages failed, addictions occurred – all at the same rate as non believers. The system just doesn’t work.

That was his experience. It is not that of many millions of Christians. Just in my own family,  my wife and I and our oldest son Paul have all experienced healing. 

In 40 years I never witnessed a single event that was supernatural. Not one. Time and again I watched people die of cancer. I did funerals for 47 people from the age of 4 to 96. I prayed in faith with hundreds of people for healing to no avail. god didn’t answer prayers.

So what does this prove? People die; therefore, Christianity isn’t true? How much longer was the 96-year-old supposed to live, in order for Dave to believe that it wasn’t God’s fault that he or she died? It becomes absurd . . . Miracles are always very rare by nature. But they do exist. And there is plenty of documentation for them: some of which I have written about.

The more I read and studied the scriptures the more questions I had. Literally from the first chapter to the last, so many problems. And the more I learned about how the scriptures were canonized, the less I could believe in the “inerrancy” model that I had to espouse.

At last he finally provides some objective reason for his apostasy. The atheists can provide hundreds of supposed biblical contradictions. I’ve dealt with dozens of them, and they are uniformly unimpressive. But if one keeps reading their stuff along those lines, one will tend to start believing it. Loss of faith has to be coddled and cultivated. It’s a long process.

I’ve written about canonization, and see nothing in that process that would be a knockout punch against biblical inspiration or Christianity.

I devoured all the “christian apologetics” books that came out, and none of them answered my questions regarding the nature of god and the problems I found within the Scriptures. I found these books to be trite, dismissive, and full of pseudo science and evidence.

None of them helped in the slightest. They were complete bunk, and anti-science to boot. This is becoming ludicrous and ridiculous. It’s the refuge of the person who has few effective arguments, to make absurd generalizations of this sort.

I was fully devoted to studying the scriptures. I think I missed maybe 12 Sundays in 40 years. I had completely memorized 18 books of the bible and was reading through the bible for the 24th time when I walked away.

Yeah, we know . . . already answered.

As an adult my marriage was a sham and a constant source of pain for me. I did everything I was supposed to – marriage workshops, counseling, bible reading together, date nights every week, marriage books – but my marriage never became what I was promised it would be.

But that wasn’t Dave’s fault at all. After all, he did all he could! Much easier to blame God and one’s faith community, isn’t it?

I was raised in a hyper-fundamentalist family, and it felt good to be in a system that promised all the answer and solutions to life. The problem is, the system didn’t work. The promises were empty. The answers were lies.

Ah, now we may finally have gotten to the real root of the problem. I have long noted how so many atheist deconverts were from a fundamentalist background. They then equate fundamentalism with all of Christianity. In fact it is an anti-intellectual, stunted fringe offshoot of one portion (evangelicals) of a minority (Protestantism) of all Christianity (which also includes Catholicism and Orthodoxy). It ain’t the whole ball of wax. And I get sick and tired of folks who leave this system, pretending that it represents Christianity as a whole. It does not.

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While I was writing this — almost finished –, Dave restricted access to his Twitter account to followers only. I saw that he had mentioned that he read Greek philosophy early on and that the seeds of doubt planted “never went away.” This was exactly my point. He never fully believed in Christianity, yet he was willing to be in that system as a pastor, supported financially by those who did believe. So maybe they found out at length this two-faced, intellectually dishonest existence he had been leading, and were not pleased, and some (being flawed human beings, as we all are) acted sinfully, and maybe others simply rebuked him; but he took all of it as sinful, traitorous treatment.

And so he rejects the Christian community as a whole. It sure sounds like sour grapes: he wants to blame them and God and the Bible (and fundamentalism) for many things which were in fact his fault. I’m just going by his own report and making conclusions: admittedly speculative, but not, I don’t think, beyond possibility or plausibility.

But once again, we see nothing compelling whatsoever here to lead anyone else to believe that Christianity must be false, and that God doesn’t exist. I see a lot of griping, grumbling, blame-shifting, broad-brushing, straw men, and rationalizing self-justification. He never believed in it the entire time; hence, he wrote:The whole time hoping at some point it would click, and become true for me.”

So now he offers up atheist talking points and preaching to the atheist choir (who predictably respond with their droning, clone-like “rah-rahs”). He will get plenty of praise and adulation there, and if this is what he seeks, then he’ll be happy as a pig in mud. We all love to be admired and acclaimed, don’t we? But it’s not the lasting, inner peace and joy and fulfillment that true, full-bodied Christianity offers: Christianity that he never seems to have either understood or experienced, because he was within mere fundamentalism, and tried to do things on his own power, minus the Holy Spirit and grace, which is how God always intended it to be.

May he yet discover true Christianity and the true God by God’s grace.

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Photo credit: [Max PixelCreative Commons Zero – CC0 license]

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