God’s Secret Handshake

July 3, 2007 at 5:55 pm 46 comments

HandshakeSalvation, as preached from Christian Pulpits seems very simple to the faithful. Most Christians insist that there is but one Name by which we all must be saved. Pastors generally have it down pat – and it makes sense if you follow the logic of Christian Evangelists and not think too hard about it. The laity trusts the authority of the Church. But if we put away our Four Spiritual Laws pamphlets and Chick Tracts and see what the Bible actually says about Salvation, it gets hairy. It is no wonder theologians have struggled with these issues for centuries.

Here are a few passages that come off the top of my head. Mind you, there are plenty more:

  • John 3:16 says if we believe in him (the only begotten Son) we will have eternal life. Simple enough.
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 says we are saved by God’s grace and not by works. Cool.
  • Matthew 19:16-22 has Jesus telling a young rich man that he will attain eternal life by following the commandments (presumably the Mosaic Law), selling all his possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor. No mention of grace, or God’s favor. OK, now it is getting confusing. Are we saved by God’s grace or not?
  • Romans 6:3-5 says that we will be united with Christ Jesus in the resurrection if we are baptized into Christ Jesus. This is said in the context of dying to sin. No selling of your possessions here. Again, what does baptism mean in this context?
  • Romans 10:9 requires only two things for salvation – that we believe in our hearts that Jesus was raised from the dead, and confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus. Paul, do we need baptism or not?
  • Titus 3:4-8 says that we are saved by the mercy of God through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. God gives his mercy when we trust in him. Do we trust in God that he will save us? That he is merciful? Trusting that God raised Jesus from the dead?
  • 1 Corinthians 15 defines the Gospel (The News) by which we are saved. Hold firmly or believe on this word: That Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day and that he appeared to Peter, the Twelve, more to 500 people simultaneously, James, all the apostles, then lastly to Paul. So we simply believe these things – no word of giving to the poor or baptism for our salvation. Which is it?
  • Romans 4:3 says that Abraham had righteousness counted to him on account of his faith. James 2:21 says that Abraham was justified by works. So do we attain salvation by faith or works via faith? Remember that not even Martin Luther, of all people, could reconcile those two passages.

These instructions are difficult to harmonize, but it gets worse. For instance, when baptism is mentioned, what does baptism even mean? Is baptism necessary for salvation or isn’t it? Different biblical authors have different opinions. If so, is it by Immersion? Sprinkling? As an infant? As a cognizant believer? As repentance? As witness? Is it a physical act or a metaphor for spiritual death and rebirth?

It gets even worse than that! It is not enough to believe in Jesus, we have to make sure it is the right Jesus. Is Jesus the sole atonement for our sins? If baptism is a requirement for salvation did Jesus die for all sins up until the time of baptism or also after? Do we have to believe that Jesus was God Incarnate? Or is it enough to believe that Jesus was the only the Son of God? Am I wrong to believe that Jesus is a god outside of the Father? No, that is clearly heresy. Or is it? OK, then can I believe that Jesus is another personality of The Father, like a schizophrenic God? No? Is Jesus a separate entity from the Father all together to form a united GodHead, much like a father and son form a single united family? That is heresy too? But what else is Three Persons in One Godhead supposed to mean? Then is Jesus the same as the Father but in a different form, like liquid and ice are both forms of water? Is that the Jesus we are to believe? Is modalism a heresy or isn’t it? I don’t know, you tell me. Are we to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, or does that not matter? What if I believe that Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane was enough to atone for our sins, as the Mormons do? What if I believe the Word became, not just God, but a god the way Jehovah’s Witnesses do? Is that the right or the wrong Jesus? Are we to believe in Jesus as Savior? Or are we to believe in Jesus as Savior and LORD?

All this may seem over the top, but it is really not. Over the years, brilliant theologians wrestled with all these issues and countless more to ensure that they understood God’s Plan of Salvation. And they are still arguing. How many denominations are we up to now?This is just a smattering of the issues concerning Salvation that comes off the top of my head. Most Christians attempt to harmonize all these Salvation passages into a coherent unit, like putting together a Divine jigsaw puzzle. But there are yet more passages which mention works, baptism, repentance, the old Mosaic Law, etc, etc.

As a doubting Christian, I looked at all these Biblical passages and how various churches interpreted them. I realized that I could probably justify each of these positions Biblically, given enough study time and creativity. I got so confused that I could not even figure out what Salvation even meant anymore.

Here is an example to consider: Mark 16:16, says that we have to believe the Gospel and be baptized to be saved. Period. What is this Gospel that we are to believe? The resurrection? The crucifixion? That Jesus is the Son of God? Do we believe a person? An event? A teaching? Almost as troublesome – How are you baptized? With water? With the spirit? Both? When are you baptized? As an infant? On the deathbed? As a literal confession of sins? As a symbolic witness? Not to mention that I know of NO Christian who shows the signs of belief as described in Mark 16:17ff (casting out demons, drinking deadly things, etc), so what are these signs that nobody exhibits witnesses of? There is no mention of these thorny issues in this passage of Mark. It is left open for us mere mortals to interpret for ourselves. The fact is that the typical Christian believes whatever their denomination, or doctrinal statement, or church creed says they are to believe. From there, all Scripture is harmonized by the believer to fit those church-feed creeds.

Here is another example to consider: God spent the better part of 20 chapters in Exodus giving Moses and the Israelites very detailed instructions on how to communicate with him by means of a portable structure: The Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was to be where the Glory of God lived, where the High Priest would atone for the sins of the people, and where God would meet with his people. God went through great effort to give Moses unambiguous direction on how the Tabernacle was to be built. He gave specific size dimensions. He gave encampment instructions for the twelve tribes. He gave the materials to be used in the Tabernacle. He described the rooms, the Outer Court, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place. He gave great detail to the implements and ornaments to be used in the Tabernacle. The colors, the metals, the types of skins, the curtains, the braids, the hooks, the pins were all specified. The shewbread, the laver, the branched lampstand, and the alter were all detailed. In the Holy of Holies was the very focus of the Tabernacle – The Ark of the Covenant, the construction of which was detailed in every way. The lid was actually a separate item, the Mercy Seat. The materials were specified, along with the cherubim engraved on top, which protected the Holiness of God in his meeting place. The uniforms or vestments of the priests were also detailed. The aprons, the breastplates, the helmets, the robes, the tunics, the …

You get the idea. I have not even commented on the ceremonial feasts, cleansings or offering instructions as given by God. If God gave Moses this much detail on his Tabernacle to Moses, written like a bulleted list that even a caveman could understand, then why are we, the Saints of the Church Age given such ambiguity as to our eternal salvation? If Jesus’ atonement by crucifixion and subsequent resurrection is the culmination God’s Plan for the Justification of humanity, the event the Old Testament prophets dreamt and wrote of, the event where Christ humbled himself to obedience to death and God exalted him to the highest place, the absolute Apex of the History of the Universe, if all that were true you think God would at least give us Clear, Consistent, Unambiguous, Non-Contradictory instructions on how to take advantage of that Plan of Salvation.

But it is not simple. It is very difficult. God’s plan for Salvation is not a clear list like he made for Moses when the Tabernacle was built. God took that effort for the ancient Israelites, but not for modern Christians. I have to wonder why God never made that effort for those whom he loves so much. Unfortunately, we have no clear instructions and that is why we have countless Christian denominations, which all interpret the Bible, and in many cases, God’s plan of Salvation very differently. He lets us put together a jigsaw puzzle of seemingly random passages by different authors who say very different things about salvation. And if you are a follower of Jesus, you better make that puzzle fit and interpret these salvation passages correctly. But which interpretation shall you select?

Your eternity depends on if you have selected the correct decoder ring to decipher these passages. Salvation is nothing more than knowing God’s Secret Handshake.

**sigh** Hand me that simple Four Spiritual Laws pamphlet, will you?


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Don’t Ask Me to Read Your Holy Book You do not need religion to be moral

46 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Thinking Ape  |  July 3, 2007 at 6:19 pm

    Holy Smokes HIS, that was incredible. I think you just summed up the last 7 years of my line of thought into one *short* article.

    “Salvation is nothing more than knowing God’s Secret Handshake.”

    I’ve been muddling something around in my head for the last year or so. Using strict terminology, would you agree that almost all Christians, and certainly all fundamentalist Christians are “Gnosis” or even “Gnostic” Christians? I don’t mean this in the way that we understand Gnostic Christianity or other gnosticisms, but do Christians not declare to have some “knowledge” about the way the universe is unfolding. Would this not be antithetical to faith?

    Maybe it all goes back to that earlier discussion about how we believe what we believe. In the latter stages of my “liberal Christian” period, I understood that we could not “know” God or “know” Jesus or “know” what God was really like. Sure, the Bible gave us clues, but it was really just man’s versions about what he believed God was up to. I really didn’t believe that God did everything that the Israelites/Hebrews said he did. But the writers of the Bible, at least most of them, do profess “knowledge” of God. Is this possible?

    Maybe I’m stepping over the bounds you were writing about, since you were concerned with salvation. But still, one must “know” the mind of God, or at least a part of the mind of God, in order to understand how to rock out with him in heaven. Or Paradise.

  • 2. bretmavrich  |  July 3, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    What makes salvation “tricky” is that you’re looking for a METHOD and salvation is a PERSON. Throughout the ages, those that have preached Christ have found the limitations of language to adequately describe the glorious event that took place on the Cross. But at the end of the day, salvation is not a WHAT, but a WHO.

    When we’re dealing with the infinite nuances of a person (much less God) the idiosyncrisies of that person could sometimes seem contradictory: but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. And this is precisely the body language of the New Testament: struggling to paint a two dimentional picture of a three dimentional work…but really of a person. While most denominational theologies quibble over nuance, the framework is the same: Christ.

  • 3. Slapdash  |  July 3, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    Oh, bravo. This is just excellent.

    ***God took that effort for the ancient Israelites, but not for modern Christians.***

    In a similar vein, I have sometimes wondered why God had so much more direct contact with his people in the OT, and sent Jesus to 1st century Jews in the flesh…but in the 20 centuries since then, nada. Zilch. No more tangible, physical divine presence. Instead we get a book, with confusing instructions, at that. How is this a good divine plan? What has God been doing since Jesus’s ascension?

  • 4. Slapdash  |  July 3, 2007 at 6:54 pm

    Hi Bret,

    Might you be able to comment on when in church history the notion of a “relationship” with Jesus became the Big Idea? Is the quality of my relationship to Jesus the criteria for salvation? When did that become so? I wrote a blog post about this topic recently, if you’re interested – I pose a few other questions over there:


    I have to think more about your “body language of the New Testament” idea. While I think there might be some merit in it, I also think you are dismissing some very real differences with your “quibble over nuance” comment. This stuff is much more than nuance.

  • 5. Lyndon Marcotte  |  July 3, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    Do you get the idea that Jesus was sitting in a little cafe in Jersey with his inner circle discussing what they’d have for dinner, picking out a song on the tabletop jukebox, while looking around at some ominous looking figures when all of the sudden… nothing happens. The blogosphere goes freakin nuts. Everybody’s in a rage. What the hell happened? It couldn’t end like this. There are so many damn questions. Is there going to be a sequel or a movie to straighten all this out or what? (The Mormons love sequels, you know.) Then there was all that foreshadowing a few seasons back when Jesus and John the Baptist were sitting on the patio, and John said you never know when it’s you’re time to go.

    So the story evolves for the next 2,000 years with theologians and skeptics weighing in on the outcome and the finality of what happened to Jesus and what happens to us. Maybe they’re good intentioned. Maybe they have an agenda. Maybe they’re just as confused as we still are. Who knows?

  • 6. syd1953  |  July 3, 2007 at 7:52 pm


    You ask what God has been doing since Jesus’ ascension. It has only been two thousand years, perhaps a short time for God. If you believe in Him then you will know that He has the entire universe to look after. And maybe he is biding his time, watching us, seeing how we handle ourselves since He sent His Son for our salvation. Maybe we have disappointed him. Personally, if I were Him I wouldn’t even be bothered with us. We’re not exactly doing a bang up job here on earth, are we?

  • 7. societyvs  |  July 3, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    The salviific path is muddied if anything by the allotment of books and letters to various regions – but for me the idea makes easy sense – follow Jesus (I use a Matthew model). I don’t think we should get hung up on ‘what we believe’ but on ‘how we believe’ (ie: our actions with our knowledge).

    I could believe Jesus is the son of G-d or not believe it (is that going to make me a nicer person?) – but how does this impact his actual teachings (which seemed important enough for 4 gospel books and Paul and Luke’s writings)? I think the essence of the faith is in the teachings and how they play out in reality (from their context to ours). That, for me anyways, is the key to the books and letters. But again, I am willing to challenge my own faith on it’s ideals for a more beneficial solution to community issues (so as much as someone wants to call religion on it’s ‘evils’ – they also need to call it on it’s ‘good’ – which gets lost in a lot of this talk).

    But I enjoy the talk because it gets me thinking about my faith and how narrow it once was – how I never considered a lot of other opinions outside my faith – and I was narrow minded in that sense. I think HIS is calling what he see’s and I don’t see much wrong with that – he is entitled to that opinion and sometimes it enlightens us (well gets me thinking and I like that). So kudos on the blog – keep it up – we need to be pushed and prodded sometimes – we need to re-analyze our faith system and what we teach about it – this is 100% fair.

  • 8. Jacqueline  |  July 3, 2007 at 11:19 pm

    Awesome awesome post!

    You’re right; salvation isn’t an easy thing to decode. But if it were simple and so easy to attain, would it really be salvation? Would it be “worth it”?

    For example, if everyone could play basketball like Michael Jordan, what would be so special about it?

    The writings in the Bible aren’t really “affirmed”. By that I mean, they were probably wrestling with salvation as much as you or me.

    I don’t think that baptism is really a qualification. Here’s why: if you are not raised in a Christian family, Christianity is a really difficult concept to grasp (heck, just this ONE ISSUE has us scrambling). One isn’t going to have a revelation all of a sudden one day and go get baptized. Just not gonna happen. But this does not mean that this person has not been kind, caring, and compassionate toward others. Could the god that I believe in really condemn a person to hell for not having water poured over his or hear head???

    I believe that God’s grace does, in a way, save us all. We all have the gift of free will which helps us attain salvation when we choose to follow the path on which God takes us.

    But yeah…complex stuff.

  • 9. readscott  |  July 4, 2007 at 1:54 am

    i don’t know how to say this other than dropping a somewhat obscure word. so, here goes nothing.
    look up dispensationalism. i don’t mean to sound condescending when i say that, but rather serious.
    dispensationalism is really just a way of describing one way to read the Bible that makes a lot of sense out the verses you quoted in your mini-thesis above.
    allot some time to your research because just skimming the info will not suffice.
    of course, there’s always that whole thing about the wisdom of men being foolishness to God. if that’s true, then we’re all out of luck.
    maybe we have to leave our manly wisdom behind and go back and look for the faith of a child.
    warm regards,

  • 10. pointminister  |  July 4, 2007 at 2:33 am

    HIS, you really hit the nail on the head. You’re well-informed.
    It’s the doctrines, the churches that really messed this up for a lot of people. Godhead three in one, that’s just god-talk (theology) meant to explain in human terms something beyond human understanding. We never seem satisfied to just take Jesus at his word.
    BTW, did you look up Acts 2:38? It nicely ties together most of the issues you brought up.
    As for the rich young man, could Jesus have been showing him how hard it is to earn your own salvation?
    It’s OK to be frustrated with the salvation issue/process. Just a reminder, it’s not a one-time “I’ve got a ticket to heaven” thing like the televangelists say. It’s the start of a new life.
    Jesus of Nazareth did not start a religion, he started a way of life.

  • 11. PressPosts / User / unpunctured / Submitted  |  July 4, 2007 at 4:30 am


    Submited post on PressPosts.com – “God?s Secret Handshake”

  • 12. mahud » mythology and mysticism  |  July 4, 2007 at 5:46 am

    It seems, that in order to be a full on Bible believing Christian, knowledge has to take precedence over faith, and that has been a problem for me for quite a while now.

    It could be argued that God gives us special insight into the inner workings of our salvation through his Spirit (or “the mind of Christ”) but even if this were true, how could we honestly know, that we are not deceiving ourselves, that the Christian way is the true way, or emphatically the only way.

    Salvation Knowledge is foundationally problematic for Christianity. From the beginning it has caused strife that the church leaders could only curtail by monopolizing scriptural interpretation, forcing followers to sacrifice, to a large extent, the natural use of their own minds. If Christianity is the Way, then surely, this isn’t God’s way?

    I like the tale of the Rabbi who taught the Torah standing on one foot: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go and learn it.”

    If the Bible is to have any place in our lives, then it should be supplemental and a commentary to faith, allowing believers to think for themselves, giving emphasis to the universal practice of love, regardless of what we claim to know.

    If we have the power to love one another, that (to me) is evidence enough of our “salvation.” Why complicate things?

  • 13. bretmavrich  |  July 4, 2007 at 6:51 am


    You missed what I said. The biggest image was “going from two dimmensions to three.” Salvation is a Person– simple relationship with Jesus is too weak an idea. He IS THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE, he does not merely mete it out. Salvation comes by dying with him ACTUALLY. and being resurrected ACTUALLY.

    Get inside the Christ– these posts are so dull because they’re not even starting from the right place. Christ everyone. Look at Him.

  • 14. bovanne  |  July 4, 2007 at 8:23 am

    Your attitude resembles that of those christians that you despise for being firey and for preaching their faith in public without knowing much. One word for this article: [ actually two ] straw-man. It’s a logical fallacy to take sentences out of the context and judge them as stand-alones.

  • 15. pastorofdisaster  |  July 4, 2007 at 8:33 am


    Happy 4th! I hope that you are enjoying the day. It really reminded me of how frustrating it was in the days when i was trying to synthesis all that I had read in the Bible.

    I went to a dispensational Bible college (5 point not 7). I felt that “system” dealt with contradictory passages in a intellectually dishonest way. If we had a problem with a passage it was relegated to a different age. Oh that is not for us that was for Jesus’ time, or that is for the end times. I actually sat in a Bible study where they read out of Schafer’s book telling us that the Beatitudes were not actually for us today. I guess that is why it is so hard to keep them. When I quit believing in some crazy Biblical system put together by evangelists and popularized by Charles Ryrie I became so much happier. I have never felt the need to replace that system with another unifying system. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. You have pointed out the beguiling nature of that pursuit. I always appreciate this being pointed out!


  • 16. Brendan  |  July 4, 2007 at 9:52 am

    All doctrines and dogmas are idolatry.

    The only elect are those understand that there is no “elect,” and there never has been.

  • 17. pj  |  July 4, 2007 at 10:02 am

    Excellent post, this is my first time here.

    To those who say the most important part of Christianity is simply to have a relationship with Jesus, the big stumbling block is the concept of faith. Without faith you can’t really have this relationship. I don’t need faith to have a relationship with anyone else, just invisible friends. The word “faith” means believing in something you can’t prove. Why do we need faith? Well perhaps it’s because you can’t depend on God to do what he promised to do (of course, there are a thousand theological reasons why all those promises in the Bible can’t be taken at face value). If I promise my children that they can always depend on me to help them, what will be my response when they come to me? Certainly there will be times when they need to work things out on their own, but if they are in serious pain and I have the ability to physically and immediately help them, why would I think they should love me more if I remain silent. No, wait, I could tell them I know more than they do and in the long run they will be better off if they love me more when I don’t actually help them. The correct response to this is that God works in mysterious ways we don’t understand. So, if you pray for something and God says “Yes”, this proves God loves you. If you pray for something and God says “No”, this proves God loves you. If you pray for something and nothing happens at all, this proves God loves you because he wants your faith to grow, you just need to have faith that he really did do something.

    Unfortunately, the concept of “faith” puts the burden on the Christian. No matter what happens when you pray, it’s supposed to increase your faith, and if your faith doesn’t increase when God apparently does nothing, the problem is obviously your lack of faith. When God does nothing, that’s something, and he’s doing it because he promised he would do something. Get it? The Bible says faith is a gift from God. Apparently he doesn’t like atheists because he won’t give us any faith.

    The Emperor has no clothes.

  • 18. Bill  |  July 4, 2007 at 10:08 am

    Very nice post. I have considered the idea of a “secret handshake” many times, but ultimately came up with a slightly different concept, thanks to a quote I saw attributed to Jules Pfieffer. “If Jesus died for all of our sins, who am I to deny His sacrifice by not comitting them?”

    Basically when some over the top “Christian” “friend” of mine is going on about how I have to learn his or her “secret handshake” I simply ask, “Did Jesus die for ALL of our sins or not?” The question creates a nice logical dilemma, I think for most evengelical types.

    If they smile and say, “Yes, of course.” I can then say something like, “Well, then he has already sacrificed himself for my sin of unbelief (or wrong action or whatever secret handshake they are pushing.)

    If they say “No” originally or backtrack at this point, I ask something like, “How can you be so sure he died for ALL of YOUR sins then?”

    It is actually kind of sad to expose the smugness that says something like, “I KNOW MY sins are forgiven and YOURS are not.” Which is the bottom line for most pamphleteers. That is true Christian love for you!

    It is one of the many reasons I left the church behind.

    Thanks for the great blog.

  • 19. Slapdash  |  July 4, 2007 at 10:38 am


    I didn’t miss what you said at all. But you did a great job of ducking my question, and just reiterating what you already said. Did Luther or Calvin or any other historical theologist talk about having a “personal relationship” with Jesus? Why not? Why does that phrase appear nowhere in the Bible?

    It is a rather modern, and western, idea. Or so I will maintain until someone shows me otherwise. As such, I am unclear how you can claim that YOU have a lock on the truth and that everybody else is merely “quibbling” over details.

  • 20. Brendan  |  July 4, 2007 at 11:14 am

    Jesus of the Bible is a mythological character. As mythology, “his” references are internal, psychological (i.e. “spiritual”). To have a “personal relationship” with a mythological archetype is to miss the pointer. The “Mystery” of Christ is “Christ in you.” If that summons up images of ghostly possession or a relationship to anything other than the way you think about yourself in relation to others and the universe, then the Mystery is not manifested, and you are worshiping a creation of human imagination as a thing in itself.

  • 21. pj  |  July 4, 2007 at 11:30 am

    Good point Brendan. I’ll just have “faith” in myself, I move in mysterious ways sometimes too.

  • 22. Brendan  |  July 4, 2007 at 11:33 am

    “Good point Brendan. I’ll just have “faith” in myself, I move in mysterious ways sometimes too.”

    We all do. Physics and psychology reveal a universe far more astounding than any “believer” could imagine.

  • 23. rlh2000  |  July 4, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    I think that theologians have always made one valid point about the bible: It was not written by pahological lyers but rather quite sincere people. Archeological evidence supports it. However that is about all they ever proved. I think that the authors in the bible were sincere. However, they were sincerely wrong. The so called angels who said God said this or that were not angels but evil beings who lied too much. Yes, I did read all of the bible and once was a devout christian.

  • 24. lostgirlfound  |  July 4, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    Let’s add the argument that we are saved “from” what??? Sin? Death? Our selves? Or, what I believe is it isn’t saved “from” but “to”. Like, stuff we’re suppose to do — but then, am I just back to “works of salvation?” I think the fact that “the structure” (aka organized religion) has tried to dumb it down so much that most people become literal sheep and just stop thinking period.

  • 25. Stephen  |  July 4, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    Is this post supposed to debunk Christianity, or debunk fundamentalism?

    I think I could ask the same question about every post on this blog. The blog is supposed to lead people to de-convert from Christianity, but it doesn’t achieve anything like that. It merely shows the problems with fundamentalism.

    The means of salvation is perfectly clear to anyone who reads the New Testament with an open mind.

    Both the Old Testament and the New Testament proclaim a salvation that is rooted in historical events. In the Old Testament, every author points back to the Exodus events: God miraculously delivering the descendants of Abraham from Egypt, and giving them the Law on Mount Sinai. Salvation is given to people who live in a covenant relationship with that God.

    In the New Testament, the saving events are everywhere identified as the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those historical events constitute the new Exodus, or the new Passover; Jesus is the new Moses, etc. What we call “Christianity” is a new covenant, rooted in grace instead of law-keeping, and extended to all the peoples of the earth, not just the physical descendants of Abraham.

    The problem lies in fundamentalism: “You aren’t saved because you weren’t baptized the right way”; “You aren’t saved because you don’t speak in tongues”; “You aren’t saved because you think works contribute to your salvation” etc., etc., ad nauseum.

    In sum: this is not a brilliant post, as your acolytes (above) seem to think. It is an act of obfuscation: of taking something that is perfectly clear and trying to render it obscure.

    Fundamentalists make a different sort of error: they think that salvation hinges on all sorts of minutiae, then they either (a) worry incessantly that they’ll get it wrong or (b) look down on everyone else who doesn’t subscribe to their system of peccadilloes.

    But one can be a Christian without succumbing to fundamentalism.

  • 26. pj  |  July 4, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Stephen, if you find Christianity to be clear and simple then I’m thinking your Bible is probably a lot shorter than the one I always read. You very quickly dismiss the whole article by saying it’s all about fundamentalism, not real Christianity. You state that “The means of salvation is perfectly clear to anyone who reads the New Testament with an open mind”, yet you conveniently ignore the multiple examples given as to how salvation achieved. Maybe you could tell us which one is the real one.

    Since you also state that “every author points back to the Exodus events”, try finding anywhere (other than your local Christian bookstore) some actual historical evidence that Egypt once held the Jews as their slaves. If, as it says in the Bible, several million slaves just packed up and left overnight, the political, social, and economic ramifications would have been incredible, not just for Egypt but for that whole part of the world. Yet, the history of Egypt, and the surrounding civilizations, records no such event. Don’t take my word for it, try a public or university library. There have been hundreds of scholarly books written about the history of Egypt, see if you can find any that mention this amazing event. The Egyptians kept meticulous records of everything. They recorded the wars they lost, they recorded assassinations, they recorded crop failures, they recorded civil wars and revolutions, yet somehow they missed out on this one even though there were apparently more slaves leaving the country than the total number of Egyptians alive at the time.

    This is only one small example of the historical inaccuracy of the Bible, yet you tell us that Exodus is foundational to Christianity.

    You can take any major religious or philosophical work, boil it down to one or two sentences and proclaim it to be clear and simple, but that’s a little like the proverbial ostrich.

  • 27. bretmavrich  |  July 4, 2007 at 4:19 pm


    I’m not relying up “Personal Relationship” language at all. You’re putting words in my mouth.

    I’m coming from the language of prepositional phrases. Go read Ephesians 1 and highlight all the places “a mouse can run.”

    It’s Christ. He Himself is the Way– he doesn’t merely show a way. He himself is Resurrection– he doesn’t merely raise from the dead. He himself is Truth– he does not merely disclose the secrets of the Father.

  • 28. Brendan  |  July 4, 2007 at 8:27 pm

    “He himself is Truth”

    Ummmm . . . I’m pretty sure that’s a metaphor. Otherwise, it’s as meaningful as “Holden Caulfield is the Tasty.”

  • 29. Stephen  |  July 4, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    You conveniently ignore the multiple examples given as to how salvation achieved. Maybe you could tell us which one is the real one.

    I did tell you which is the real one. Bretmavrich is telling you, too, but you’re pretending it isn’t clear.

    Salvation is found in the person, Jesus of Nazareth; specifically, in the saving events of his crucifixion and resurrection.

    What about baptism? Baptism is burial with Christ and resurrection with Christ. What about faith? We believe into Christ. What about a profession of faith? We profess that God raised Christ from the dead. There is no contradiction or even tension in any of these elements of Christianity.

    The only issue where you have a point is the question of faith vs. works. The early Church was much divided on what role the Law of Moses should play in the life of a Christian. But, again, this is not a threat to Christianity per se, but to a fundamentalism that must have last every wrinkle smoothed over.

    The New Testament witness to Jesus as the locus of salvation is universal. Pretend that the message isn’t clear if you want, but mere assertions don’t make it so. The Gospel is clear; your post is bogus.

  • 30. Briggitte  |  July 5, 2007 at 2:48 am

    While I may not agree completey with you, I do applaud you and the lucid way in which you present yourself. Many have commented about salvation not being a thing but a person and with this I do agree. I also agree that the answers everyone is seeking is in reading the New Testament with an OPEN MIND and not a pre-determined position. Please remember that the OLD Testament documents events prior to Jesus and His crucifixion and details what the Jewish people (God’s chosen) needed to do in order to atone for their sins and to know God. The NEW Testament tells us about Jesus and the events that led up to His crucifixion, how Jesus became the ultimate Lamb and atonement for our sins and how we can achieve salvation through Him. If you just take bits and pieces from the bible and try to make sense of them, you never will. It’s much like comparing apples to oranges at times and can as you say be very confusing. Reading and studying and reading and studying and reading some more and studying some more will still never get you all the answers you want. Perhaps God wants it that way, perhaps we have to take some things on FAITH and not try to have a perfect, scientific equation to figure it out. If there were a set list of things you must do then how would free will figure into it? Does it have to be all or nothing? I don’t think so. What I can say is this, I have lived life without knowing Jesus, and I have lived life with Him as my personal savior. I like the latter much much better. I know that there are tons of references and websites that try to break it all down, but I like this one and thought I would list it just in case someone wanted to check it out. http://www.bible-knowledge.com May God Bless you and keep you in His care. (i really mean it too!)

  • 31. Brendan  |  July 5, 2007 at 7:01 am

    “Salvation is found in the person, Jesus of Nazareth; specifically, in the saving events of his crucifixion and resurrection.”

    That’s purely a thought construct. If you “believe” it is real for you, then it is real. But trying to pressure other people into conforming their thoughts to your imagination with empty assertions that your particular sequence of guttural noises is the one and only Truth, is the height of egotism and silliness.

  • 32. pj  |  July 5, 2007 at 9:58 am

    “…your post is bogus.”

    Honestly, is that what Jesus would say? You non-fundamentalist Christians are so sensitive.

    Now let’s see, the above article points out scriptures that say salvation can be obtained by: believing in Jesus, by grace, by following the commandments, by being baptized, by God’s mercy, or by believing Jesus came back to life and then saying it out loud. OK, I’m just “pretending” that’s not perfectly clear. The one you picked out is obviously the right one. All those other denominations and fundamentalists who regularly pray, study the scripture, fast, and seek God’s will are just “pretending” they don’t agree with you too. The Holy Spirit is messing with them.

    I notice you didn’t say anything about the biggest part of my post where I point out that Egypt didn’t seem to notice when over half the country just walked out one day. While we’re on the topic of Egypt, let’s take a quick look at the new testament. Remember the “slaughter of the infants”, hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent children killed by the order of Herod? It was the terrible event that drove Mary & Joseph to Egypt. Funny how the Roman historians who were writing down all the actions of Pilate and Herod didn’t seem to notice that one. They wrote down all the other nasty stuff those two did. Funnier still, none of the Jewish historians seem to have noticed it either. Darn those historians and darn those old Egyptians. It’s not hard to see why “faith” is so important to Christianity.

    Thanks for giving me credit for having a valid point about faith vs works. Unfortunately, I didn’t say anything about that. You wouldn’t be putting words in people’s mouths so you could say wise and profound things would you? That would be bogus.

  • 33. Brad  |  July 5, 2007 at 10:28 am


    OK, so I’d rather not spend all day tackling the issues raised in the comments, so for the most part I will try to handle the issue brought up by the original post.

    Faith or Works?

    Check out Jonathan Edwards. He noticed that scripture can largely be divided up into Indicatives (statements of fact, reality, etc.) and Imperatives (commands, exhortations, etc.). The way in which scripture presents them, is that Indicatives empower the imperatives. For example, “God has saved us from sin, thus we are called to clean up our act.” Why do we clean up our act? NOT to save ourselves (not works based faith), but because we are already saved, out of gratitude (grace based faith).

    And Luther could not rationalize James and Romans because he was soooo badly burned by the works based faith of the Catholic church. It was understandably hard for him to see any good, and he very much recognized and acknowledged that in his teaching. However, if we view James’ statement that “faith without works is dead” in light of Jonathan Edwards’ indicatives empowering the imperatives, we see that it nicely coincides as the FRUIT or natural outflow of the transformation that the reality of our faith creates.

    Make sense? It is not an either/or, but a both/and.

  • 34. Slapdash  |  July 5, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    Pre-canonization Christians did not have the benefit of comparing all the different books of the New Testament. So were they screwed if they only had access to James, then, with its focus on works? Or what about the Corinthians – if they focused on I Cor 15 which talks about right belief, but nothing about works…well, were THEY screwed?

  • 35. Brad  |  July 5, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    Not necessarily. The gospel, as has already been pointed out, was first proclaimed orally “among the nations” before it was written down. Many people were given the same message at the same time and could help keep each other accountable. The Hebrew oral tradition, in particular, helped with this, as most Jews regular memorized scripture (OT), and were practiced in recalling the exact words of evangelists like Paul.

    Also, as with I Corinthians, many of Paul’s letters were “open letters” that were sent to multiple locations for their benefit as well. There were many sources from which to draw on during that time. The beauty of this is that if you read I or II Corinthians, Romans, and/or any of the synoptic Gospels, you will find very similar themes and messages that, while worded differently, do not conflict with one another.

    James, was KIND OF an exception, only in that he was writing to a group of people already VERY familiar with the doctrines of Grace. He was simply trying to reinforce an area that may have been neglected (the fruit of their faith).

    Make sense?

  • 36. HeIsSailing  |  July 5, 2007 at 6:44 pm

    Brad sez:
    “James, was KIND OF an exception, only in that he was writing to a group of people already VERY familiar with the doctrines of Grace.”

    James addresses his letter to ‘the twelve trives which are scattered abroad’. I’m not sure which Diaspora James is referring to here, but it seems clear to me that he is writing to Jews, or at the very least Judaized Christians. How familiar they were with the doctrine of grace is anyone’s guess.

  • 37. Brad  |  July 5, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    Well, considering that the disciples ministered in Jerusalem first, and that their “scriptures” that pointed to the coming of the Messiah was actually the Old Testament, I’d say they were VERY familiar with it. That is kind of the point. Paul didn’t have a monopoly on it. 🙂

    Also, is widely accepted and agreed upon that James was writing to the church in Jerusalem, where he was the pastor (or elder of you want to be exact).

  • 38. HeIsSailing  |  July 5, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    Stephen sez:
    “The means of salvation is perfectly clear to anyone who reads the New Testament with an open mind.”

    Paul speaks of grace – but let’s get the plan of Salvation from the words of Jesus. I am reading the words of Jesus with an open mind, and I gotta tell you, there is not much grace spoken of by Jesus in the Synoptics.

    In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says that many will be turned away – with Jesus proclaiming, “I never knew you, depart from me, ye worker of iniquity”. Iniquity is anomia – literally ‘lawlessness’. The NKJV and NASB go ahead and translate it that way. Jesus is saying that those who do not keep the Law, which I take to mean Torah, will be rejected by Jesus Christ.

    I have taken this simple example from Christ’s sermon on the mount, which is a saying attributed to Jesus without any context. There it is. It is opposed to any Pauline doctrine of Grace. I can think of many more examples from the Synoptic Gospels, especially Matthew.

    So who is right? Paul or Jesus? Tell me again just how simple it is to gain a plan of salvation by reading Scripture?

    “The only issue where you have a point is the question of faith vs. works. The early Church was much divided on what role the Law of Moses should play in the life of a Christian. But, again, this is not a threat to Christianity per se, but to a fundamentalism that must have last every wrinkle smoothed over.”

    No, it is a threat. Paul’s entire letter to the Galatians focuses on this threat to his Gospel, which apparently Peter was associated with. Consider Gal 1:8 – But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

    Based on this, these competing Gospels sound pretty serious to me. It seems even the earliest Christians could not agree on God’s Secret Handshake.

  • 39. Slapdash  |  July 5, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    ***Not necessarily. The gospel, as has already been pointed out, was first proclaimed orally “among the nations” before it was written down. Many people were given the same message at the same time and could help keep each other accountable. The Hebrew oral tradition, in particular, helped with this, as most Jews regular memorized scripture (OT), and were practiced in recalling the exact words of evangelists like Paul.***

    Could you please source this for me? I am curious about oral tradition and the role it played between the events of Jesus’s life and when it all got written down.

  • 40. Brad  |  July 5, 2007 at 9:18 pm

    I will have to find a specific citation for you (no time now, but remind me and I will), but it is a logical conclusion from the Hebrew tradition.

    1.) Before the OT was written, it was passed down and memorized word for word. This is why it is often lyrical and rythmic, it aids in memorization.

    2.) Even after it was written, the time and tediousness of making copies by hand meant that it was more practical to memorize rather than pay the high cost of having one made.

    3.) Since the first Christians were Jews, it just made sense that it would continue in this way. Today it is easy to see the distinction between the two (for many cultural reasons), but the lines barely existed back then.

    Again, I cannot remember off the top of my head, unfortunately, but I will try and get back to you for a specific source.

  • 41. Slapdash  |  July 5, 2007 at 11:58 pm

    Brad, I would appreciate specific references when you get the chance. I wrote a blog entry recently about oral tradition and the “malleability of memory”. UC-Irvine psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has done a lot of writing on the fallibility of our memory – she’s especially interested in legal applications and the (un)reliability of eye witness testimony. It made me wonder about how accurate the gospels are, if they hung out there in “oral tradition” space for decades before being committed to writing.

  • 42. Brad  |  July 6, 2007 at 10:55 am

    I know it is wikipedia, but here is a great start:

    The references at the bottom seem to be legit, and should provide a foundation for further specifics and research.

    I have a criminal justice background myself, so I am pretty familiar with Loftus’ work. The key difference, and why this may not be so applicable, is that there were multiple people (hundreds even) who memorized the same material at the same time. Having multiple people to link up to and be accountable to in remembering helped them keep it straight.

    This process started as early as 5, and at 10 the best of those children would go on to more challenging material. At 15, the process would be repeated, and the best of them would be accepted as Temple priests.

    That is a good start, but I will see about doing some more digging too. I have a jewish friend who has educated me on most of this, and he will know more than I.

  • […] Here it is right here: God’s Secret Handshake « de-conversion […]

  • 44. Thomas  |  August 20, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    If I would have just heard from people like you 50 years ago I would have blown my own brains out. You are without a doubt the most unqualified person to be making the statements that you do. You must love listening to your own words. I have been a Christian longer then you are old. I have found none of the problems that you seem to think are there. I bet you believe man descended from apes? That is the most stupid piece of drivel that has been ever foisted on man kind. Did not happen and could not have happened.

  • 45. Thomas  |  August 29, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    There is no salvation whatsoever outside of the catholic faith. This means if you deny the trinity you are not a believer. Read this post http://baptistsolascriptura.wordpress.com/tag/trinity/

  • 46. HeIsSailing  |  August 29, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    Thanks for the link Thomas! According to the London Baptist Confession of 1689, I am eternally doomed. Thanks for the information!!

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.



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