Christian Atheism

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.

[1489 words]

15 Replies to “Christian Atheism”

  1. 1. I’ve thought of Christian Atheism for a long time. In the past I was an atheist and disgusted with most of the other atheists for smuggling God through the backdoor–their philosophy of life required God to exist. So the opposite was obvious to me.

    2. 1 Tim 5:8 is often used almost in the opposite sense of what it should be. Note that though a man died without providing for his family, Paul didn’t say anything about that.

    3. I do not work to make money, but let God use work to build my character as I seek His Kingdom first. He gives me money through my paycheck, which usually is higher than the average because of what He has done in my life. (I have a new job, though, so that hasn’t entered in yet.)

    4. Mainly, though, I agree.

    David Smith

  2. Nice, it does look like a decent book judging by all the other reviews and quotes from it online.
    I have just been reading 1 John, and it starts out by saying that if we say we are in the light, then our lives will not be in darkness still. It then expands on that concept, even saying we are liars if we say we can do both.
    Let us “walk in the light, as He is in the light.”
    Thanks for another great article, Bill.
    Daniel Shepherd, Victor Harbor

  3. I always appreciate your well-written long-initiated messages.
    Rolf Ostlund

  4. I tend to agree with you. I think the the church gets into all these things to entertain, to attract, yet they ignore the Matthew 28:18-20 challenge/command of making disciples and the 2 Timothy 2:2 (and large sections of the book of Acts) type of spiritual multiplication, which in the long run would build people and plant more churches than is currently happening. One just has to observe the burgeoning growth of the church in China to see the value of this.
    Harvey Bishop

  5. G’day Bill,

    Francis Schaeffer raised this issue in his (should be more well known) illustration of the two chairs. There’s a naturalistic chair (needs a better name) where the atheist sits. No God. Only what you can see, taste, touch, hear and smell.

    And there’s the supernaturalistic chair, where Christians sit who believe that there is God out there, and God who is not silent, who acts and intervenes in time and space.

    Then Schaeffer said, Christians should sit in the supernaturalistic chair, but many sit in the naturalistic chair. He talked about two kinds of people who sit in the naturalistic chair. Yes, unbelievers who give God no place in His universe; but also many people who claim to be Christians. They look like, live like, people who give God no place. Their beliefs are more words than actions. Their values are little different. They’re no more contented, peaceful, or joyful, than anyone else. Their marriages are no happier, their relationships no better; their work practices no more honest.

    Schaeffer talked about unbelief (the atheist) and unfaith (some Christians) who sit in the naturalistic chair. Effectively atheists, though they’d hate to be described that way.

    God bless your ministry, Bill

    Andrew Campbell

  6. Thanks Andrew for reminding us about Schaeffer’s take on this. He was quite right in making this point, so thanks for bringing it back to the foreground.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  7. Bill – I think there is a strong relationship between this article and your previous one – the Reigning Kingdom of Self. While atheism is the belief there is no God, maybe Christian atheism could be described as the belief that the God as described in the Bible does not exist. The benefit of believing in a small “god” is that there is room for both on the throne of our lives, so Self can continue to rule.
    Peter Baade

  8. This is great Bill! This is coming straight from my generation, previous experiences and I can see how God has fallen away and how there is a lot of talk the talk, but there is no Christian walk, and kids stray from it. Luckily God intervened and my life and told me to go to Ywam in Australia or I would be down the same road, saying yeah, God is good, but not really knowing it in, or seeing it in my life. Sometimes we have to risk our comforts in order to see Him… 🙂 I pray that more people would, because God is such a amazing and faithful father.
    Sara Freeman

  9. Another great article Bill
    Have been to Korea this year – as a nation, they are one of the biggest providers of missionaries worldwide. One church has a prayer centre (which is the engine room of this the largest single congregation in the world) on a mountain on the border with North Korea – they have people of all age groups praying day and night – praying mostly in line with prayer banners which call for revival (for a fresh move of the Holy Spirit), and North Korea people to come to Christ etc. The church leaders pray many hours a day. I have also seen some of the Korean young people in action when praying through the night – very transforming. Young people in Australia need exposure more and more to dynamic prayer, fasting, preaching, discipleship, and encounters with the Holy Spirit – they only lack the opportunity. Let us pray they have a greater opportunity.
    Stephen Lewin

  10. Thanks guys

    Here, in part, is what Schaeffer had to say about this:

    “Christianity is not just a mental assent that certain doctrines are true – not even that the right doctrines are true. This is only the beginning. This would be rather like a starving man sitting in front of great heaps of food and saying, ‘I believe the food exists; I believe it is real,’ and yet never eating it. It is not enough merely to say, ‘I am a Christian,’ and then in practice to live as if present contact with the supernatural were something far off and strange. Many Christians I know seem to act as though they come in contact with the supernatural just twice – once when they are justified and become a Christian and once when they die. The rest of the time they act as though they were sitting in the materialist’s chair.” (Death in the City. IVP, 1969, p. 134)

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  11. Thanks again for your words Bill, they do truly reflect so much of what I see “Christian Life” replicating these days.
    I am 35 and have been a Christian for about 9 years of which God has certainly brought me through many trials and continues to show me the areas, attitudes and opinions that must be dealt with for me to grow spiritually.
    But in every one of these “mirror moments” as I like to call them, I have a choice to repent or dismiss the correction God provides.
    I find it is at these times that complacency, pride and other forms of “self” will rise and attempt to sway me from obedience.
    These situations I am sure we all find ourselves in at times at which point we bare witness to the world of who really is the Lord of our life.

    Keep it up Bill
    Simon Rossic

  12. Until Jesus is truly given the position of Lord in our lives, can it be said that we are indeed Christian? No, I’m not talking about being perfect in that, but the issue of whether we make God in our image or whether we’re willing to let Him make us in His image. Surely that’s what most churches are doing, making a pleasing, palatable & plausible God for the populace. But, until we get back to the fear of God, church will be just another club.

    “Have we actually ever been in a position where God had to come through, otherwise all was lost?” This is the place where we find God, where we begin to live *only* for Him. The rest before was the lead up…
    Job 42:5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.

    Garth Penglase

  13. But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 2 Tim 3:1-7

    One scripture to perfectly describe the times I believe.

    Mario Del Giudice

  14. Hi Bill, I’m a first time commenter and a recent subscriber to your blog. I really enjoyed the article and you make some very valid points. I agree just about completely with what you’ve written. The only problem I had was that as you made some very valid statements about how the church has sold out to relativist and seeker-friendly culture, I was thinking, “Why does he keep apologizing for stating the truth?”
    Bill Vorhees

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