There has been a spate of ornery and evangelistic atheists who have appeared lately, ripping into religion in general and Christianity in particular. I have written much seeking to counter their ferocious attacks, and shall continue to do so. But there is another problem with atheism, and that is the Christian variety.
Christian atheism? Yep. I refer to a book title I have just heard of. It is a new book by Pastor Craig Groeschel called The Christian Atheist. I have not purchased it yet, but I like his concept, and will likely go out and grab it. I believe his point is this: there are all sorts of people who are Christian in name, but not in reality.
Plenty of people talk the Christian talk, but the lives they are living are much more like that of your garden variety atheist. There is a major disconnect, in other words, between the Christian talk and the Christian walk. That at least seems to be what he is arguing in his book.
Since I cannot now procure a copy (it is too late at night for any local Christian bookstores to be open), let me write about what I think he has said, or maybe should have said. I like this concept: Christian atheism. It seems to pretty well describe so much of today’s church scene.
There would be plenty of examples of this. Consider the issue of trusting God for our every need. There are zillions of passages in Scripture speaking to this theme, and plenty of believers will rightly rejoice in the fact that our God is Jehovah Jirah, our provider.
We see so many examples of this not only in the narrative portions of Scripture, but throughout church history. Yet when it comes down to our everyday lives, do we actually really believe all this stuff? Do we actually live it? Have we actually ever been in a position where God had to come through, otherwise all was lost?
I suspect for most believers, we have things too nicely tied up in this regard. We have our regular salary, we have our little nest eggs, and we have our social security or superannuation. We have our stocks and bonds, and we can always mortgage the home if things get really tight.
Now don’t get me wrong. All this has its place. We are called to be good workers, to be good stewards of the wealth we have, and to not be irresponsible with our worldly goods. The Apostle Paul for example could warn us about those who do not look after the needs of their own household. Such a person “has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8).
So yes, perhaps most believers will be regular wage earners, will have their 40 hours of paid work each week, and will struggle with the usual cares of life: paying the bills, taking care of the mortgage, and just trying to stay afloat. But do we really take seriously passages such as Matt. 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”?
In verses 25-34 in this chapter, Jesus makes it quite clear that we should not be worried about such things as where our next meal will come from, or how we will be clothed. Yet how many of us take Jesus seriously here? I realise of course that there is a very fine line here between faith and presumption.
It is easy to carp on and on about living on faith, yet live a reckless and irresponsible lifestyle. Yet I think all of us can learn a few lessons here. Maybe it would be a good idea to let go of so many of our earthly security blankets, and in fact put God to the test, and see if he means what he says.
I am not saying we should all go out and quit our jobs and see what happens. Indeed, God will speak to each of us differently here. But perhaps you know of a friend who has a pressing financial need. Maybe what he needs is the same amount you now owe for this month’s bills.
Most believers would automatically assume they must hang on to the money to pay the bills, and simply pray for their needy friend. How many however will help the brother in need, and trust God to make up for the shortfall? We tend to have far too much security in our own schemes and plans, and have never really been forced to totally trust God for even our basic everyday necessities.
One other obvious example of Christian atheism would be in the way we do church. Today most churches are into Christian bling, big time. We have all the latest razzamatazz and gadgets. We have the strobe lights and smoke machines. We have all the high energy rock bands, the black stages, the disco look, etc.
We do all this to be trendy, to be relevant, to draw a crowd. Now there may well be a place for much of this. But have we ever thought that maybe the best drawcard we need to concentrate on is the Holy Spirit, and not all the gimmicks, marketing techniques, and showmanship? Maybe it is God we so desperately need, not all the entertainment.
Maybe it is the need of the hour for church leaders to get down on their faces before God, ask for his forgiveness, seek his face, and cry out for his mercy and his revival. That would do a whole lot more good than dreaming of new trendy techniques and campaigns to bring in a crowd and keep the masses happy.
And we have all the tricks to keep our young people entertained as well. We have the pizza nights and the volleyball games and the game playing and the video nights and the rock concerts and the adventure outings, and so on. We bend over backwards to keep our young people amused and interested.
Again, don’t get me wrong. I think the hardest job in the world is to be a youth leader. We do not just have a handful of kids who are hyper, impatient, and prone to ADHD. We have an entire generation of kids who are struggling with attention deficit disorder.
Thus it is a real job to keep their attention and interest. But maybe a fresh dose of the Holy Spirit is what we need, instead of more entertainment, more amusements, and more gimmicks. Indeed, can you imagine the early church looking at secular marketing techniques and sales strategies to bring in the crowds?
They didn’t need any of that. They had the one sure-fire drawcard: lives fully enveloped by the Holy Spirit. They were 100 per cent sold out for God, and they were on fire with the Holy Spirit. That was all they needed. They did not need to turn their church meetings into pale imitations of worldly entertainment centres.
While I do not mean to belittle what so many churches are seeking to do nowadays, I must say I have to side with people like A. W. Tozer and Leonard Ravenhill in all this. They seemed to have it right. Let me provide a quote from each. Tozer said,
“It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to attend a meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.”
And Ravenhill said, “Young people come to our churches and what are they seeing? I went to a church not long ago – they got thirty acres. So what are their plans with it? They want their own football field and tennis courts. Dear God, do children go to church to learn to play tennis? God help the preachers! Why can’t we get them spiritual so they want prayer and revelation and the Word of the Living God? The young people come inside the church but there’s no glory.”
As I say, I need to go and get a copy of Groeschel’s book, and see if it is as good as it sounds to be. If we are indeed on the same wavelength here, then I will need to give it a glowing review. But whatever he actually says, I think the point remains: those of us who talk the Christian talk had better start to walk the Christian walk. Otherwise we are doing more damage to the cause of Christ than a Richard Dawkins or a Christopher Hitchens ever could.