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Not Super, Just Natural

By Tim Sledge ~

The Christian faith is supposed to be supernatural.
Experiencing a new birth through Jesus is supernatural.
Being made a new person by having Jesus and the Holy Spirit living inside you is supernatural.
Talking to the creator of the universe and believing he hears, answers, guides, and changes things is supernatural.
Accepting the Bible’s teaching that we are surrounded by an unseen spiritual world involved in a spiritual battle is supernatural.
Having faith that God will show you the special plan he has for your life is supernatural.
Believing that everything happens for a reason is supernatural.
After living and leading in the church for decades, I saw no consistent evidence of an ongoing supernatural presence—and I wanted to see that evidence with all that was in me.
I found a rather simple test for the presence of supernatural power in church congregations. One of the predominant characteristics of any non-supernatural volunteer organization is expressed by the 80/20 Rule. The 80/20 Rule holds that roughly 20% of the people will accomplish about 80% of the work. As it turns out, this 80/20 estimate works well for any Christian congregation. Ask any minister from any denomination.
A faithful few do most of the work and give most of the money. If the church were truly a supernatural organization, shouldn’t we expect a different standard—a dramatically higher percentage of hard-working and involved members than the norm for any other volunteer organization, religious or not? Otherwise, churches are not super, just natural.
Observing the behavior of church members led me to stop believing that Christians are supernaturally changed by a new birth experience when they pray the commitment prayer to Jesus.
An oft memorized verse from the New Testament states, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (1 Corinthians 5:17, King James Version). Conversion is a point-in-time rebirth that, by its very nature, is supposed to instigate dramatic, supernatural change. Otherwise, what does “new creature” mean?
Another hint that nothing supernatural is happening can be seen in the consistent failures of congregations to agree on how God is leading them. Born-again believers can talk to God and sense his leadership. A large aspect of prayer is “seeking an answer from the Lord.”
Now take a group of these born-again, new creatures in Christ—to whom God is giving directions and guidance for day-to-day life—put them in a small church and wait. Eventually, they will get into a disagreement about something. Sometimes, they will work it out, but often, no matter how much prayer has taken place, one group will get angry and leave to start another congregation. Wait a little longer, and the process will repeat—over and over and over—that’s why there are thousands of Christian denominations.
How can individuals who are supposedly connected to the same God—changed by him, talking and listening to him, and using the same book he has provided for guidance—be so at odds with each other so often?
Ironically, over time, as a pastor, I became most uncomfortable with church members who were absolutely certain that God was speaking directly to them—people who believed God regularly guided them to an open parking space at the mall or occasionally heard God whisper some snippet of special insight they were supposed to share with me so I could act on it. Too often these individuals seemed to be a little off-kilter, while those who didn’t take the concept of God speaking to them quite so seriously—and who typically practiced faith with a measure of moderation—seemed more normal, sane, and safe. Faith was supposed to function in direct proportion to how much of it you exercised, but too much “faith” could backfire and cause someone to seem “a little off.”
It was in noting patterns like these that I ceased believing that Jesus and the Holy Spirit inhabit Christians as a supernatural source of spiritual power. And, I wasn’t just looking at the lives of the people I served, I was also looking at myself—painfully aware of my own failures.
What I saw in churches over the years required no supernatural explanation. Yes, good things happened. Yes, a healthy church is an excellent place to find people who are working hard to be good, to do good, and to help others. But you don’t need anything supernatural to explain it.
I had to admit to myself that most of the Christians I knew, like everyone else, were shaped by genes, childhood experiences and training, education, mental health issues, and cultural norms more than by praying to receive Jesus as lord and savior. In addition, if I appraised the church without the supernatural component, everything fell into place more easily and made more sense than it did when I had—repeatedly—worked to view it as something driven by supernatural power from God.
I had spent more than five decades trying to impose a primitive, oversimplified view of existence on a very complicated world. Ironically, life became simpler when I let go of my faith-driven perspective, and with a rational mindset, embraced life’s complexity.
I now understood that sometimes movements and organizations work, but not for the stated reasons. In the church, positive acts and positive feelings are powered by the energy and mutual support of the church’s human members, not by a supernatural force.


-- Tim Sledge in
Goodbye Jesus: An Evangelical Preacher's Journey Beyond Faithir?source=bk&t=exchrisnetenc-20&bm-id=de Copyright © 2018 by Tim Sledge. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.


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