Interviewed by John Hendryx
I want to warmly welcome Robert Bernecker who is the author of the new book, "Who's Your Father?: Returning to the Love of the Biblical God". Robert, your book made for such interesting and compelling reading that I thought our readers really needed to know about you. I have posted a sample chapter so our readers can have a better idea about where you is coming from theologically. Something I really appreciate about your approach is that you has written it in such a manner that you took great care NOT to identify any specific theology by name, and avoided all denominational buzzwords that tend to turn off those unfamiliar with these great biblical truths. This appears to have produced very good results. Evangelicals who have read the book have uniformly reported that the book has changed (revolutionized) the way they view God. Exposed to sound biblical theology without realizing it and liked what they read. What a novel thing. Thank you for agreeing to the interview.
1) Mr. Bernecker, please tell us a little about yourself: your background and passions.
First and foremost, I am simply a layman who loves God and desires to follow His ways in all I do. Raised in the church, I have been kept by God’s grace, and an incredible benefit of getting older is that I can now look back and see how God’s hand has always been at work in fulfilling His purpose in my life. I have served in nearly every lay capacity in the church—teaching classes and Bible studies, chairing boards and committees, mission trips, and even a stint as a youth group leader. I realize now that in those earlier years, I had either been taught or developed on my own what I call a “contractual view” of God. He did His part and I did mine, and the contractual result might be most simply stated as an arrangement whereby He would save me and bless me in return for my obedience and belief. As a businessman, I suppose this seemed to me to be a win-win type of arrangement. In more recent years, I am blessed to report that God corrected my theology in a mighty way. He used a combination of circumstances and study to show me that grace is not a contract, I contributed nothing to the arrangement, and adoption is a far cry from employment.
For nearly thirty years, God blessed me as the CEO of a multi-million dollar business. During that period of time, it was impossible not to see the hand of God at work. There were times when my Father specifically delivered the company from problems that put other similar companies out of business. God also gave us success during economic conditions that caused other similar companies to struggle greatly. At times, He gave us our own struggles and used those too for His purpose. Apparent tragedy was used by God for great gain on more than one occasion. There were times that God gave us the blessing of being used to minister to many people. Looking back, during this entire time, God was maturing me and bringing me towards the place where He had known all along He would take me. When it was time to move on from being a CEO, God brought about a remarkable confluence of circumstances and individuals that allowed for the business and to be sold quickly while the employees were still cared for. The transition was incredibly swift and clean, nothing short of miraculous; it would not have been humanly possible to produce such a result. God had given me a faith for such a day, but when faith became sight and I witnessed God’s hand working in His own, perfect timing, it produced in me a greater appreciation and understanding of His perfect providence than could have ever been acquired by reading about it in a theology textbook.
It may seem an odd combination, but I have also been passionate about audio and video systems for churches since a young age. God gave me an engineer’s mind, and I enjoy designing and tuning these systems using the latest technical tools (software and instruments) available. God has blessed, guided, and used this second business as well. I also love to train God’s people to better operate these technical systems, and as I look back, I realize that God has used this interaction with people from a broad variety of denominations and beliefs to bless me and to give me much of the knowledge and insight that would eventually be used in writing Who’s Your Father?
On a more personal note, I thank my Father for my lovely wife Kim. She calls me a renaissance man, claiming that I can do or fix anything. I know better, but that doesn’t mean we have to tell her otherwise! Kim is the doctor of the family, having earned her doctorate in higher education leadership. I enjoy reading, photography, electronics, jogging, and tennis, but I must confess that it has been a few years since I picked up a racquet.
2) What prompted you to write this Scripture-saturated book, "Who's Your Father?: Returning to the Love of the Biblical God?"
2 Kings 7 gives us the account of four men with leprosy who came upon a great bounty in the camp of the Syrians whom the Lord had sovereignly caused to flee during the night (it might be noted that the Syrians chose to flee because their choice was driven by an irrational fear placed in their hearts by our sovereign, interfering God). The four lepers feasted and gathered much treasure, but then God caused them to realize that the people of the city of Samaria were still living in unnecessary suffering and fear instead of reveling in the blessing and deliverance that their Father had provided for them. The people in the city saw the problem, but they had not been shown the solution. These four lepers came to understand that they would be hugely guilty if they kept their great discovery to themselves. They said, “Today is a day of good news,” and they rushed to share the treasure that God had brought to them with the people of the city.
Much like these four lepers, I came to realize that I needed to share the truth of the feast and treasure that God had set before me in the revelation of His true nature. Because I came from the city (figuratively), I know what the inhabitants of the city are missing. I believe that God gave me the burden to write Who’s Your Father? in order that it might be an instrument in His hand to reach believers with the magnificent truth that is revealed about God in Scripture but is somehow undiscovered by a huge percentage of Christians today. As I mentioned in the book, being correct merely for the sake of correctness is of little value, but, in this case, when we truly come to grasp (as best we can within the limits of our finite understanding) the truth about our loving, sovereign Father, this correct perception will inevitably produce a life-altering transformation in our daily lives and our walk with our preeminent Father.
Many books have been written about God’s sovereignty, and many books have been written about God’s love. I came to realize that few have been written that focus on the inseparable connection between these two. God’s sovereignty is often expressed as an abstraction, an intellectual assent that God rules the world. God’s love is often presented as a generic affection for mankind in general, an affinity which we may procure for ourselves by making the correct choices. Both of these views fall well short of providing the “regular person in the pew” a foundation of true confidence in the indomitable and eminently personal, choosing love of the Father that is revealed to us in the Bible. When this foundation is missing, we live lives characterized by striving, worry, and struggle. We may well love God with all our hearts, but we don’t have the foundation from which true faith and genuine confidence can spring forth. It is my prayer that God will use this book to open Christians’ eyes and to build this foundational understanding of the crucial link between our God’s unlimited sovereignty and His specific, intimate, and indomitable love for His chosen people.
Because of my background, I know well what buzzwords, labels, and terminology can instantly switch off the receptiveness and attention of many Christians. I saw an overwhelming need for a basic, introductory text that would invite all Christians to feast at the banquet of God’s grace—a book that would cross boundaries by carefully avoiding denominational or doctrinal labels and steering clear of known theological pejoratives. Instead of focusing on these labels and divisions which humans have created over the years, I felt that Christians could be shown the truth about our Father by using Scripture— lots of it. Where outside quotations were added, I was careful to use authors who are generally accepted by most within the expected audience of the book, and I was equally careful to avoid other authors who, if quoted, would undoubtedly cause certain readers to put the book down and walk away. This, once again, is an area where I can see how God was preparing me over the years for the purpose that He had for me in writing this book.
Additionally, I felt that there was a need for a book that would get serious Christians to carefully examine some serious misconceptions that they may have believed all of their Christian lives. I have nothing but incredible respect for biblical scholars and theologians, many of who have been incredibly helpful to me with their writings. However, in my judgment, there was a need for these misconceptions to be challenged in a manner that would not be perceived or received by many Christians as merely the abstract or preachy writings of some inaccessible doctor of theology. Instead, Who’s Your Father? would use an approach that would invite the reader to “come let us reason together” with a fellow layperson about the plain words found in sections of our Bibles that many have never considered. That may sound strange, but my life experience has shown me that it is quite possible to sit in many of today’s churches for a lifetime and never hear a sermon about certain vital subjects or an exposition of certain crucial passages. It is almost as if these passages don’t exist. Furthermore, if a Christian is not making an effort to read the entire Bible (and the majority are not), then they will never be exposed to these Scriptures or even be brought to seriously consider them. It was my sad observation that if these Christians are handed a fantastic, well-written, highly-accurate book on the intricate details of some very good theology, that book will rarely be studied or read. As such, I perceived the need for a book that was written from the reasoned but non-threatening perspective of a layman that would engage the reader and lead them to consider truths they may have never examined before. Such a book need not explore or even explain finer points of theology such as supralapsarianism vs. infralapsarianism, since such discussions are often a turn-off for a Christian who has not yet reached that point in their journey. As an alternative, Who’s Your Father? is meant to be a reasoned and readable book written by a common man to invite Christians who are not theologians to examine their beliefs and embark on a journey of discovery, the roadmap for which will always be large helpings of relevant Scripture.
Recently, a reviewer on Amazon—whom I had neither met nor communicated with—praised Who’s Your Father? with these incisive words: “Bernecker faces some tough questions and doesn't attempt to defend God. He declares and reveals God. He points readers to the truth, and he uses God's own word to do it.” The glory goes to God, but these are words of high praise because they indeed capture the heart of the book.
By this point, you will have undoubtedly noticed that I am avoiding using denominational and doctrinal labels even in this interview, just as I did in the book. It is my sincere belief that the purpose of Who’s Your Father? is to invite people to form a correct perception of the Father’s sovereignty and His love. When this truth takes root, I have no doubt that our Father will sort out the correct labels for these recently discovered beliefs in the hearts of the readers. Of course, there are plenty of other wonderful, comprehensive works available that can and will take these newly curious believers deeper into their journey of truth, and our God will certainly direct His people to the appropriate resources, just as He did for me.
3) What are the most influential books, apart from Scripture, that God has used tremendously in your growth as a Christian and in influencing your writing this book?
As I look back, it is easy to see how God gently brought me around to where I belonged. In large part, He did this through guiding my reading patterns. I have no doubt I will leave out some works as I attempt to remember a long journey, but I recall that initially several of C.S. Lewis’ lesser-known works (Perelandra, Till We Have Faces) were used by God to teach me how human perception is often severely flawed. God showed me that we easily form misconceptions about what is “good” or “bad” as well as what we judge may or may not be from the hand of God. Next, God used authors such as Tozer with The Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, and the The Pursuit of Man to begin the change in my perceptions, this by getting me to start to think seriously about the very real and unavoidable ramifications of God’s many perfections. While our God is certainly capable of a full-on frontal assault, you may notice that He did not use that method with me. He instead used a maturing process that provided valuable insight and experience at each point, even when those points were certainly not the destination to which He knew He was taking me.
During this period, I had been reading through the entire Bible multiple times in multiple translations. At one point I read the whole Bible again, and, as I read, I wrote down every verse that would point me towards God’s sovereignty (to use a general term). I also wrote down every verse that I came across that might imply man’s so-called free will. It is important to note that I was not then writing a book, debating a point with a friend or associate, teaching a class, or otherwise in search of a proof text of any sort. It was just me and God, at a point in time where He had given me the time, opportunity, and desire to seek hard after him. I was doing a lot of traveling, and God used that time to change me. After I finished that particular trip through the Bible, I realized that my heart and my mind had been changed doctrinally; I was seeing God from a completely different perspective, and previously difficult doctrines simply fell right into place. The whole of the Bible “just worked.” A few years later, it was quite gratifying to discover that George Mueller testified to a nearly identical experience in his life, one which also changed his doctrinal perspective and provided him with a high view of our great God.
At that point, the feast had begun. It was now on to Sproul, Spurgeon, Augustine, Pink, Boice, Luther, Charnock, and many others. It would be neglectful not to mention the Monergism.com resources here, because they too were a ready source of information and inspiration. I am certainly preaching to the choir when I say this to you, but it is vital to note that I realize that it was God who revealed Himself to me. I can claim no credit for carefully researching just the right books or eagerly seeking in just the right places. God knew that I would have put down even an introductory book such as Sproul’s Chosen By God just as fast as I picked it up—until He changed and prepared my heart for this truth. As John the Baptist and Paul both said, we can receive nothing but what is given us from heaven (John 3:27, 1 Cor. 4:7).
4) Who are those that have had a profound influence on your life (both living and deceased)? and why?
My parents are both strong Christians, and by God’s grace they raised me in a Christian home and consistently instilled firm beliefs and convictions that remain to this day. This is a blessing from the hand of God, one for which I often thank Him. Along the way, God has also used various mentors and preachers to steer me along the path He designed for me.
In recent years, I would have to say that C. H. Spurgeon has had the most profound influence on my life. His sermons and writings are both sound and deep, but they are presented in digestible and understandable terms. As far as I know, his personal life was above reproach and his marriage to Susannah an enviable one, this despite significant hardships. Moreover, although I have not attempted to research the matter, I think the case could perhaps be made that his was the first “mega-church,” or at least one of the first. It seems to me that the mega-churches of our day could learn much by studying how Spurgeon fed and grew his flock. Should the Lord tarry, it seems unlikely that 150 years from now multitudes of Christians will still be feasting on sermons coming from the pulpits of many of today’s mega-churches. And yet, 150 years later, God is still using the words of Spurgeon to feed untold thousands of His sheep.
We live in an age filled with technological wonders. Twenty five years ago, it would have been impossible to say, maybe even to predict, that a website like Monergism.com could have a profound influence on the individual lives of Christians and on the overall direction of the church. Today, that apparently impossible vision is a reality from the hand of our God. I know that Monergism.com is being used to profoundly influence God’s people because He used it to profoundly influence my own.
5) Given the current trends of the evangelical movement, what do you see for the future?
I confess that I sometimes wonder why God has allowed the evangelical movement to drift and fracture as it has. At some level, this might be more puzzling than the so-called problem of evil. But, bad doctrine is of course nothing new. Paul’s epistles (Galatians comes quickly to mind) demonstrate that quite well.
It seems to me that we see a lot of what I would call “mixture” in the church today. While the church is called to live in the world, it seems that this has instead been interpreted by many as a call for the world to live in the church. Biblical truths are ignored or watered down in an apparent attempt to make church more comfortable, and the distinction between believers and non-believers is blurred. James 4:4 seems to be willingly ripped from our Bibles. As many have pointed out, it seems that what was wrong is now right, and what was right is now wrong—this even within the church.
I believe that as we move closer to the end of the age, God will see to it that the distinction between light and darkness will become more sharply defined. I believe that God is bringing about a resurgence of good doctrine in the hearts of His people, and that He is doing this in our day. It seems to me that an increasing number of God’s chosen are realizing that God is calling them to more than the watered-down mixture that they are experiencing in their churches, some of which may well appear “successful” by external measures. For those people, the ability to find good information in our technological age provides opportunities that didn’t exist previously. A hungry Christian can be reading Charnock within a few seconds at a cost of essentially zero. This couldn’t have happened until recently. To use Monergism.com as an example yet again, this is a site that provides a ready library of sound and nourishing teaching and information, a library of which few lay people could have conceived easily accessing even a few years ago. As Paul said, where sin abounds, grace abounds more.
There is also a substantial movement which is sometimes referred to as the “Father’s Love Movement.” Ministries and publications from this movement are focused on restoring Christians’ awareness and dependence on God’s love for them. The Prodigal God by Kelly, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Houwen, Experiencing Father’s Embrace by Frost, or The Homecoming by Winter are all examples of this emphasis. I sincerely believe that the root cause of the gushing wound that these ministries are attempting to bandage is bad doctrine. When we exalt the will of the created above the will of the Creator, when we place the choice of the creature above the choice of the Creator, such a hole cannot but exist. Sadly, these ministries are trying to patch the hole by emphasizing the Father’s love without returning to the high view of God help by the Reformers. I hope that we will see God move to bring this awareness to those within this movement.
6) What do you think is the doctrine that is most crucial but forgotten among Christians today? Do you believe that modern evangelicals have lost their grip on the biblical gospel? What is the most prominent misconception commonly found in the church of our day?
Given the thrust of my writing, it probably isn’t surprising that it seems to me that we have forgotten the sovereignty and perfection of our high and holy God, but it is difficult for me to say what may be the “most crucial” forgotten doctrine. However, a few things certainly spring to mind in the form of book titles. James Boice wrote powerfully of Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace?, and a great compilation of many of the crucial, forgotten pieces of the gospel can be found in Whatever Happened to the Reformation? This excellent work contains insightful contributions from Bruce Ware, Gary Johnson, Douglas Wilson, John MacArthur and others.
I cringe when I hear appeals to “give Christ a chance” or to “try Jesus.” When we proclaim the Gospel as an experiment of sorts, we have drifted far from the true Gospel that Paul preached, and that is a dangerous place in which to be (Galatians 1:8). In too many places, the Gospel is presented as a program that can help one to live better, easier, or more comfortably. Perhaps it is suggested that Jesus can help one to be a better person. It seems that modern evangelicals rarely establish man’s hopeless condition and desperate need for redemption, but instead peddle a doctrine more closely resembling self-help psychology than the true Gospel.
I also cringe when I hear Christians being exhorted to rescue God from the seemingly impossible situation into which His grace has apparently backed Him. Tozer wrote of this in The Knowledge of the Holy, saying, “We commonly represent Him as a busy, eager, somewhat frustrated Father hurrying about seeking help to carry out His benevolent plan to bring peace and salvation to the world.” Tozer continued by asserting correctly that too many appeals to Christians are based on this “fancied frustration of the Almighty God,” and he pointed out the misconception that we must somehow “help deliver God from the embarrassing situation His love has gotten Him into and His limited abilities seem unable to get Him out of.” To this astute observation, I can only add that what Tozer observed in his day seems to have only gotten worse in our own.
Christians are further exhorted to strive diligently to avoid missing God’s purpose for their lives, and they are taught that they may well have to accept God’s “second best” if they fail in their attempts to earnestly discern God’s “best” will for their lives. Such teaching denies our God’s power to accomplish His singular, perfect purpose for our lives, and it creates the lives of worry, doubt, and striving that I mentioned earlier. How can we worship as perfect a God who we claim to believe loves us infinitely but who may well allow us to miss out on His perfect purpose because our striving wasn’t quite earnest enough? How can believers rest confidently in their Father’s love when the love is so characterized?
In many circles, we also seem to spend a great deal of time and effort trying to change the mind of the very God whom we claim to be worshipping for His perfections, this rather than submitting to His divine wisdom and workings. The incoherence of this mixed message may very well never rise to the conscious level for many who sit in our modern congregations, but it seems to me that the subconscious conflict created by such disjointedness within common beliefs and practices is a serious impediment to the vital ability to audaciously trust our loving Father, knowing that He truly will work all things together for our good.
Our God’s purpose will not be thwarted by human failings. We can thank God that many churches do still preach Christ, and Him crucified. Such churches and preachers are not afraid to declare solid, biblical doctrine, and they feel no need to defend God—only to proclaim Him. As Spurgeon said in an 1861 sermon on the glorious Gospel of grace, election, and adoption found in the first chapter of Ephesians, “He that does not agree with that, agreeth not with Scripture. I have not to prove it -- I have only to preach it; he that quarrelleth with that, quarrelleth with God -- let him fight his quarrel out himself.”
7) What do the main thing that you hope will be accomplished as people read your book?
The best way I can imagine to answer this question is to share from an email I received from a stranger a few weeks ago. This lady was reading Who’s Your Father?, and she wrote to tell me, in her own words, “I wanted to let you know your book and its premise are revolutionizing my life.” Of course, it is really God’s Word that is revolutionizing her life, and the rest of her message revealed that she clearly understood that. Nevertheless, her words also demonstrate that God is already using this book to transform and revolutionize His people’s beliefs and their relationship with Him.
I want to see all of God’s people share in the great feast and incredible treasure that inevitably comes from a return to the scriptural truth and historic confessions that might be generally categorized as a high view of God. I would pray that the Scripture-laden message of the book will lodge in the hearts of the readers, causing them to examine and discard the common misconceptions that are confronted in the book. I hope that readers of the book develop an unwavering confidence as they learn how we may revel in our Father’s great love for us, a love that is backed up by His unlimited power and propelled by His unbounded zeal to accomplish His own perfect purpose for each of our lives. This is simply not the message that is being declared by most of the church of our day. Finally, it would be my prayer that readers of this book will have a hunger for truth created in their hearts that will inevitably lead them to more and deeper truths, they will eagerly search out such resources as Monergism.com and others, and they will continue to grow in maturity as God leads them along.
I pray that God will use the book to bring His people to a biblical understanding of who He is and how He operates in the world today, and I indeed believe that God will use this book to reveal Himself to specific people. When these people come to better understand the love of the biblical God, God will sort out all the doctrinal labels in their heart in due time. I know He did for me.
8) What prompted you to use the term "free-will" in chapter 2 of the book when essentially the chapter (to me it seems) demonstrates from the Scripture that man does not have a free will?
This question could be an open door to an entire book full of discussion, but I will attempt to keep my response reasonably short. Perhaps it was not the best choice, but there are actually several reasons why the term free will was used in chapter 2 (and a few other places). First, I felt it important to engage the reader at a point where he or she is likely to be. The term free will is so ingrained in the majority of people today, Christians especially, that I do not at all doubt that it would be the guess of most that the Bible indeed teaches that humans have “free will” (presumably right next to the verse which says that God helps those who help themselves). The target audience of Who’s Your Father? is no doubt quite aware of the human will in action; for example, they get in their vehicle and make a decision as to where they will go to eat lunch that day. Because they make such a choice without any consideration of whether this was an autonomous choice or a choice based on a predilection, this is considered internal evidence of what they will call “free will.” By engaging with the term, the goal was to bring the reader to the point of seeing that what they may have called “free will” (and may even continue to call “free will”) is actually just will, and that this will is neither autonomous nor free. Rather, as Spurgeon said, the will is either led captive by sin or held in the blessed bonds of grace. The message of the book is intended to be consistent with the classic views of Edwards and Luther, in that while humans certainly have a will, this will is not at all an area out of which God has mysteriously chosen to fence himself. Instead, the goal was to strongly make the point that the will is not autonomous and that our choices are not uncaused—this without getting off the main focus of the book by engaging in a philosophical discussion of first causes vs. second causes or determinism vs. compatibilism. I judged such discussions would not serve to further the core purpose of the book and risked intimidating or boring causal readers at this comparatively early chapter of the book.
Secondly, perhaps the usage of the term would have been come across as less ambiguous had I not followed the advice of my editor. The editor was adamant that if I used a phrase such as “so-called free-will” (as I did in the very early pages of the chapter), then the words free will should not be in quotes to indicate that the term was being used advisedly with some reservations. His position was that the modifier so-called already provided the reader with that clue that I was using the term in a qualified manner, so the words free will should not be in quotes after the phrase so-called. Moreover, the editor also felt that when the term was used thereafter throughout the chapter, it would be an improper duplication to continue to put “free will” in quotes (again to indicate it was being used in a manner meant to actually imply “what many may today erringly refer to as free will”). He maintained that once this fact had been established by the first use of the “so-called free will” phrase, I had made my position as the author clear, and he said the context of the book would only reinforce that position. As a result, the quotation marks were removed from a huge number of places where I had initially placed the words free will in quotes. It is a decision I have to own, but it is also something that might be changed in a later edition if reader feedback indicates that the usage was actually confusing in the context of the overall message of the book.
Finally, there were several places in the book where I deliberately used the phrase “free will” in order to develop a striking juxtaposition to God’s eternal, unchanging free will. At the end of chapter 2, for example, in the illustration of the two Sauls, I deliberately used this juxtaposition of the human “free will” against divine free will (saying that Saul’s “free will” was clear, but God’s free will was also clear) in order to drive home the point that when what many call human “free will” meets divine purpose, it will be our great God’s truly free will that will always prevail. Having said all that, I hope your question doesn’t mean that I failed horribly in that effort!
John, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to share a bit from my heart. It is always a pleasure to brag about my Father, and this interview was no exception. I also think it appropriate to once again express my gratitude and appreciation for your labors at Monergism.com. God has used you to develop an incredible resource, a source of blessing for an amazing number of Christians. Take encouragement, and never be weary in well-doing.
Thank you again for taking the time to answer these questions. I hope and pray that the Lord greatly use your book to open the hearts of many to his glorious mercy and grace. You may pick up a copy of the book here: "Who's Your Father?: Returning to the Love of the Biblical God"