How did Mainsail Ministries get its name?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: How did Mainsail Ministries get its name? Are you a sea-faring man?

Answer: Thanks for asking — and no — I’m a landlubber... but I’m also a New Englander, and New England has well-known connections to the sea ( — as many a postcard will attest!) As it turns out, the name Mainsail comes from the Bible. However, I’m not going to just give you the citation; it won’t have any meaning without its backstory, so indulge me.

I came to Christ just as I was starting my adult life. So, in addition to starting my life as a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17), I was also starting a family and a career. To say those days were a blur would be an understatement. But whatever else was going on, I was pretty faithful with my Bible study. I wanted to know what other people knew — but more importantly — I wanted to “own” the material. If I couldn’t explain complex doctrines to myself, I thought, how could I explain them to others?

The problem is that I grew up Roman Catholic. We had a Bible in the house — but nobody read it or cared about it. This means that on the day I was saved, a six-year-old from an evangelical family knew more about the Bible than me. I quickly caught up, but I had no training in epistemology, hermeneutics or textual criticism. As a result, I swallowed, owned and taught what I was fed — and I’ll be eternally grateful for that knowledge, those people and that process.

Fast-forward to today and you find a man who has spent over fifty years studying God’s word. It should come as no surprise that I’ve grown in that time... I mean... if I hadn’t... that would be a sign that I was doing something wrong! But not only did I grow morally — as is appropriate for a child of God — I grew as a reader, as an exegete and as a home-baked scholar... but because of the latter, I was starting to have reservations about Scripture.

Now, I’ve always had a sense that God existed and that he was “with me” — even before I was saved. So I wasn’t someone who was going to toss God aside when the going got tough. But it wasn’t God I was concerned with: it was the Bible. I was beginning to doubt that we could know what God was saying... and if that were the case, why bother with the Bible?

So, what was it that drove me — an earnest Christian man — to the place where I considered tossing the Bible away? For years I felt a tension between the hermeneutical templates I was given at the beginning of my studies and what the Bible seemed to say on a plain reading. That tension grew rather than resolved — and one day it broke. I lost my confidence in Scripture.

I sweat drops of blood over this! But eventually, the problem came into focus: either God set up Scripture with arbitrary language rules, or my beloved teachers — and many high-profile Christian preachers and teachers — were wrong on some of the secondary issues that Christians simply fawn over.

I sided with the latter... the idea that God’s written word followed rules that were not arbitrary... and that all these people — my spiritual and academic superiors by any measure — were simply wrong on these issues. Some call this arrogance. I call it honesty... and I’m willing to let history decide.

This decision to depart from mainstream evangelical thought when warranted was expensive — but it was worth it. The name Mainsail evokes that moment of courage — the moment I decided to do my own thinking about God, the Bible and the Christian culture... which was also the moment I decided to make that process transparent.

At the time of this writing, I’ve been “officially” working in apologetics for over ten years. I’ve published 700 articles containing 761,000 words. People from every country visit my site regularly, and they have viewed millions of pages over the years. That’s at least moderate success. So let that success be my CV... and let me walk you through the issue that gave me my voice.

I assume that God made humankind with a capacity for language so he could reveal himself in writing. This would augment his general revelation — the things he revealed through the physical creation. It would also augment his moral revelation — the things he’s revealed through our soulish natures and our human consciences. These three revelations form the revelatory whole... and I have two assumptions concerning these revelations.

First, a revelation given through any one source cannot contradict the revelation given through any other source. Second, all of God’s revelations go out from him and directly into each individual, so there is no need for intermediaries — like priests, scholars or shamans. This is why he used the common diction of common people to write his Bible. If the standard rules of language apply, then every literate person may read and understand God’s word. There’s nothing to decode except the language.

Therefore, if God were to require anything in a reader beyond the ability to use the rules of language — like requiring him to know the future, requiring him to use some secret, specialized or non-standard rules of reading and writing — like allegorical interpretation methods, a code or a template — that would constitute a bait-and-switch on God’s part... which would constitute a fraud on God’s part!

Furthermore, if we assume that the purpose of a Bible is for God to communicate with humankind using the facility for language that he demonstrably gave us — and if a plain reading is not what’s required of a reader — then the Bible’s very purpose would be thwarted... and if God is a being who confounds his purposes, then we have bigger problems than the reliability of the Bible. He’s not even logical.

When I got to that part of my thinking, I made a deal with God. I would accept the idea that all truth is God’s truth, and I would hereafter read and interpret the Bible as directly and plainly as possible. Agreeing to those two conditions saved my Bible from the scrap heap! But in the bargain, it gave me a decidedly robust Christian worldview... although some of its line items make evangelicals nervous.

As to the name, remember: we’re talking about a dichotomy here, and we have two ideas about Scripture that can’t coexist: it is either as readable as any other book — or — God requires that we have special knowledge to understand what he wants us to understand by the words he placed in the Bible. But note this well: it can’t be both — so something has to go! ... and the Bible wasn’t making the same sense it did when I was a new believer.

But I desperately wanted to keep my Bible. So before I chucked it, I decided to be a little more critical and see if something eisegetical was causing the problem. I’m glad I did — because it wasn’t the Bible. It was my commitment to rapture theology and dispensationalism that was gumming up the works. So I tossed those away — I kept my Bible! ... and I haven’t had a problem since.

The Apostle Paul had to make a decision just like mine. He was sailing along — living his life! ... but a storm came up and threatened the ship. Paul too faced a dichotomy: if he stayed with the ship, he and his companions would probably perish. But sacrificing the ship was such a desperate act! Nevertheless, he made that tough decision... and the command came down to abandon the ship.

“And when it was day, they knew not the land: but they discovered a certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship. And when they had taken up the anchors, they committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the rudder bands, and hoised up the mainsail to the wind, and made toward shore.” (Acts 27:39–40, AV)

Abandoning that ship is one of the most powerful pictures of commitment in the Bible. The crew hoisted the mainsail to harness the wind that would drive it aground. By figure, this is the Spirit of God fueling the ship’s destruction! Unbeknownst to anyone at that time, Paul had work to do on that island — and to redirect him so he could do that work, God brought in a storm.

So, make no mistake: it was God who put them in a place where they had to choose whether or not to wreck a serviceable craft — a craft that had carried them through part of their journey — but one in which it became apparent that it could no longer support their mission.

Welcome to Mainsail Ministries — and abandon ship! ... all ye who enter here.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20200810 How Mainsail Ministries got its name).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)