A Review of The Christian Atheist. By Craig Groeschel.

Zondervan, 2010. (Available in Australia at Koorong Books)

God’s prophets have always had to remind God’s people that God expects his people to live a life which corresponds to their beliefs. That is, God expects his people’s walk to match their talk. Simply saying that you believe, while living quite differently, just does not cut it.

The Old Testament prophets had to point this out, as did the New Testament disciples. And throughout church history we have been reminded of this as well, by people such as Francis of Assisi or AW Tozer. Pastor Craig Groeschel picks up this theme and shows us how in very ordinary and unassuming ways, we are talking like Christians but living like atheists.

Unlike the hard-hitting works of a Ravenhill or a Tozer, this volume is different. It comes from a pastor’s heart, but it also comes from one who has also been a Christian atheist. Groeschel says he has come a long way in overcoming this dichotomy, but he still has work to do.

Image of The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living As If He Doesn't Exist
The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living As If He Doesn't Exist by Groeschel, Craig (Author) Amazon logo

This would basically be true of all of us. Some of us have a much wider gap between our walk and our talk. Using stories from his own life and many others, he uses practical and quite down to earth measurements to help us see where we are falling short in all this.

For example, all believers claim that God is our provider, and will meet all our needs, but how many of us actually live this way? How many actually put God to the test in this regard, and really trust him in the difficult times? We tend to like to help God out here, with all of our bank accounts and nest eggs.

We seldom in fact do need to trust God because we arrange circumstances so that we are self-sufficient, and don’t really need to trust God and see if he will come through. While the phrase “In God we trust” is found on US currency, most believers in fact live as if it is “In money we trust”.

Or what about those believers who rightly think evangelism is a big priority in the Christian life, but never share their faith? We all talk as if letting others know about the gospel is our main task, but so very few believers actually do it. Why is that?

And consider the issue of church attendance. Scripture is clear that we should not forsake fellowship with one another, but how many believers make one excuse after another about why they don’t need to go to church? We mouth off the importance of church life, but we live like pagans in this regard.

Groeschel, who describes himself as a recovering Christian atheist, lists plenty more such discrepancies between our profession of faith and our actual conduct. How many rejoice in the fact that in Christ our sins are forgiven, yet still live as if God is still angry with us, or still counting our sins?

How many of us say that prayer is one of our most important duties as a believer, but so seldom actually do it? How many Christians believe that loving God and others is the greatest commandment, yet we live simply to please ourselves and maximise our own happiness?

How many believers know that God is in the business of transforming lives, yet still live lives that show no change or transformation at all? And how many Christians talk about the vital importance of actually knowing God, yet they in fact hardly know him at all?

The truth is, we all fail so often in these and other areas. And Groeschel is the first to put up his hand here and confess his failures. But he has learned that in Christ the great divide between our talk and our walk can be substantially closed, if we allow God to fully work in our lives.

The first step is to be honest with ourselves – and with God – about our struggles, and to admit that our Christian double standards are not only very real, but are a genuine setback to Christian growth and our witness to the world. Confessing our need of change is the beginning of this journey of recovery.

If we say that a life-transforming God exists, then it is time that we start living that way. We have all settled for too long to mouth Christian platitudes and clichés, without allowing God to radically come into our lives and transform us.

This book is a gentle yet sober warning that this is what real Christian discipleship is all about: not just talking the talk but walking the walk. And with God’s help it is more than possible to abandon our Christian atheism and start living like real Christians.

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27 Replies to “A Review of The Christian Atheist. By Craig Groeschel.”

  1. Hi Bill,
    You know I generally agree with you (which means of course that you must be right :-)) and I agree with the gist of what you have written here. One small point. Going to and attending a religious building is not what the writer of Hebrews was addressing in his comment about not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. In fact he was highlighting the error of those who were abandoning true believers to return to the religious staus quo. With all due respect( and plenty is due) to advise people to go to a church without any further clarification is spiritually dangerous in the current ecclesiastical climate. Other than that, “Amen” to what you have written.
    Glenn Christopherson

  2. Thanks Glenn

    Yes I agree with you and probably Groeschel would too. It is not just a building but actual biblical fellowship. But the problem is there are still too many lone wolf Christians who do not really have any fellowship in any form, thinking they can somehow wing it on their own. That is impossible, since we are created for community, and God works through the Body of Christ, not independently of it.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. Agree with Glenn wholeheartedly there. It’s not just new believers that have the problem of finding a church that actually reflects Christ teachings, is focused on repentance, holiness and evangelism, and actually teaches truth, where church isn’t just some club we attend every week. I come across more and more followers of Christ who find themselves in this predicament. There’s a serious disquiet in myself in this regard as well.
    Garth Penglase

  4. This is the constant battle isn’t it Bill – really a battle between the flesh and the Spirit. The dichotomy; the compartmentalisation of most believers, probably especially in the West. The struggle to TRUST GOD, when we have so many other options – a battle that will rage until death! But thank God that He is always faithful, when we are not! We need to choose to walk in the Spirit and not after the flesh.
    Neil Innes, NT

  5. Hi Bill, I just wanted to say “Thank You” for introducing me to A. W. Tozer. You’ve mentioned him so often on your blog that I became curious and sought out his books at our local Borders. I picked up a recently published book of his sermons on the Gospel of John and it’s phenomenal! That dear saint may be long with our Savior, but his words sound like they could be preached from the pulpit today.

    Again, my thanks! 🙂

    M.E. Huffmaster

  6. Thanks Bill
    I do believe in a building where God is honored and people gather together to praise Him.

    Don’t we visit our parents in their home, or friends, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles?

    So why not God? Why not give Him a proper home?

    We are spiritual people but also physical and some times to understand things better we need the physical.

    In my opinion build the best and the most beautiful temple for Him like they used to do in the old days. Some of the Churches took generations to build, mainly by donations from ordinary people.

    If we can build the best for ourselves, why not for Him and visit Him often.

    Thanks for your article Bill, I agree with every word.

    Anne Van Tilburg

  7. Anne, I do so agree with you. When people stopped building beautiful cathedrals, everything seemed to slip backwards. We hardly ever hear the word ‘inspiration’ any more.

    Peter Murnane, Sydney

  8. Thanks Bill, I too am going to investigate AW Tozer who sounds like a must-read.

    The only thing I am not sure about is the assertion that God will provide, as I had come to the conclusion that God doesn’t intervene in our lives. I remember a news report about a coachload of evangelical Christians involved in a road traffic accident – they were nearly all killed and their bibles scattered all over the road. I concluded God helps those who help themselves and we have to make our own kind of music in life and cope with adversity in the strength of our belief.

    I know Jesus gave his “consider the lilies of the field” parable where the lilies do not have to worry about their appearance, God provides for them and how much more will He provide for us, and I believe that sincerely.

    What I think is quite wrong is where you hear of people praying for a sunny day so that they can go fishing, or something as trivial as that. However praying for someone to get well I believe is all to the good and can work.

    I do believe a gathering of people praying of one mind to God can make things happen in a mysterious, telepathic way. Telekinesis is also an interesting phenomenom. So I am open to persuasion on that point.

    Rachel Smith, UK

  9. Thanks Rachel

    But your position seems to be closer to what is known as deism, than to biblical Christianity. Christians believe that God is actively involved in our lives, and does hear our prayers. Of course he may choose to answer our prayers differently from what we want. Even Jesus could pray that the cup of his suffering might pass, but then he went on to say, ‘but not my will, but Thy will be done’. And all this has nothing to do with mind over matter or telekinesis.

    But you raise the mega questions about pain and suffering. You might try C.S. Lewis on this (e.g., The Problem of Pain). And Tozer will only make sense in terms of a biblical world view, not a deistic one. But I am happy to keep discussing such issues!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  10. Thanks again Bill for pointing out the concept of deism which I had not heard of before – I’ve just read a bit about it. I certainly don’t want to be a deist as I accept the bible is the infallible Word of God and believe Jesus was the Son of God on earth. I believe in revelations, visions, signs, miracles and prophecies and definitely don’t want to be “on a stepping stone to atheism” in fact I couldn’t live without my Christian belief and prayer. Maybe I should look more closely at the bible, which is something I have been meaning to do for some time! So far my only sharing of the faith is on this site and it is good and rare to communicate with people who are Christians.
    Rachel Smith, UK

  11. Thanks Rachel

    Yes I think it would be a great idea if you spent time in the Word – on a daily basis even. It is our main means of staying in close contact with Christ and his will for us. So let me encourage you to get back into it. On almost every page you will see how God is intimately involved in the affairs of men. He is moved by our plight and acts on our behalf on a regular basis. As I said, he may not always do things the way we think he should, but he is always involved in our lives for the best.

    So keep reading each day. Reading the Bible will strengthen your faith and make you a more effective witness for Christ and his Kingdom. Blessings.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  12. Thanks Peter

    I love all the old Cathedrals. Many of the churches that are built today remind me of picture theatres or basket ball stadiums.

    All the glass stained windows with their beautiful stories have all but gone.

    Yet people are building bigger and more beautiful mansions for themselves.

    I am not saying that if they work honestly for this it is wrong, I am just saying that why not put God first. After all all we have are gifts from God. He is generous to us, and the least we can do is give Him somewhere to lay His head.

    Anne Van Tilburg

  13. Some very good thoughts Bill, I think a part of the challenge here is the Christian’s ability to lay down as a foundation the trust in God to provide, then live our lives accordingly. As an example, prudence with money, God gifted us with the ability to earn a living and provide for our loved ones so when we use our money to achieve these honourable ends then I believe we are working in sync with God’s provision for us and making good use of it. I think the quote “Pray as if everything depends on God and act as though everything depends on us” is a pretty good illustration of our faith working together with our actions. It is something we need to be vigilant about on a daily basis.
    Stephen Davis

  14. Hi Glenn
    I agree with you that horrible things have happened.
    But they have happened in homes as well, not to mention child abuse.

    This does not stop us from building homes though!

    Anne Van Tilburg

  15. Thanks guys

    The issue of cathedrals is of course somewhat off topic here. But a few comments if I may. Yes, one can appreciate – and miss – great and inspiring religious art and architecture. There certainly was a sense of reverence and wonder about the majesty, beauty and greatness of God, as reflected in these stupendous religious artworks of the past and the great cathedrals.

    Sure, one can get carried away with magnificent structures and miss out on a personal relationship with God. But simply walking into these grand buildings helped the ordinary layman to get a sense of God’s overwhelming transcendence, majesty and grandeur.

    So yes, meeting in converted storefronts, with no sense of difference whatsoever can be a real letdown. The same with how we dress no differently today when we go to worship almighty God. The whole sense of reverence and holiness of God seems to have been lost in our modern churches and worship services.

    But on the other hand one can have magnificent grand structures, yet the people inside can be spiritually quite dead. But all this is probably worth a whole article sometime. There would be pros and cons to this discussion it seems to me.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  16. Apologies for my part in leading this thread off-topic, Bill. But may I just say that I would defy any atheist in this land to go and stand in, say, Sacred Heart Cathedral in Bendigo, Victoria, without feeling that ‘sense of God’s overwhelming transcendence, majesty and grandeur’, to quote your words.

    By the way, you are a very good and evocative writer.

    Peter Murnane, Sydney

  17. I have experienced both and I agree with both points of view. I love churches with stained glass windows and rich, red carpeting, etc. – but having said that, my most memorable years of worship took place in a house church when I was newly converted. The love and sharing, the joyous singing, the opportunities to contribute, have not really been found since, for me.
    Debbie Ryan

  18. 2 Corinthians 6
    1 And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain–
    2 for He says,
    Behold, now is “THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION”–

    3 giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited,

    4 but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses,

    5 in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger,

    6 in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love,

    7 in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left,

    8 by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true;

    9 as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death,

    10 as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.

    11 Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide.

    12 You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained in your own affections.

    This is what the Apostle Paul and other believers went through (just a taste!) – can we in the Western Church do the same? In Churches in China, Africa, Indonesia and South America the believers are. This is the contradiction and paradox – but the real beauty & hope is that it is OF the Holy Spirit energising power that we go through; always was and always will be!
    Neil Innes, NT

  19. I have an interesting personal story here.

    A while ago I found myself – partly through my own actions and partly through placing unwise trust in business partners – I found myself in quite dire financial straits.

    I trusted God and found that I always had sufficient cash available to meet my commitments. One day I spent a small sum of money unwisely and, lo-and-behold, this was almost exactly the amount I was short when the next month’s bill came around, and I had to go cap in hand for a loan.

    So I certainly believe God meets our needs. However, we are also admonished not to put God to unnecessary tests. So it would likely be foolish to squander our resources unwisely just to see if God will give us a handout, so to speak. I certainly don’t see anything wrong with “arrange[ing] circumstances so that we are self-sufficient”, this means we are less of a burden on others around us and is sensible stewardship of resources, surely.

    As your article rightly points out, there are many things a Christian should do, and I fall short on many of them I admit. But I think the most important thing a Christian should do is to be the embodiment of Christ to others.

    Better to have Christ in your heart than merely Jesus on your lips.

    David Williams

  20. I guess we all have different experiences of Church. I loved the Methodist church I grew up in. It was very evangelical and nurturing and simple in style – no stained glass windows or crosses. We had leather bucket theatre seats from a local theatre that had closed. These were later recovered in blue and with blue figured carpet and windows that let in the light there was a lightness and brightness that exemplified the love and new life that was found in the fellowship there. Only recently I was remembering how things were done there, and particularly remembered the wonderful communion services where after the rather formal but beautiful order of service remembering with thanksgiving and repentance what the Lord had done for us we would be ushered forward, several rows at a time, to kneel around the communion rail. There the minister served us first the bread and then the wine all the time exhorting us by the words of scripture and then praying extemporally over us before we rose and returned to our seats. On return people would sit quietly in prayer for others as they went forward. I have never found Communion to be as meaningful and hallowed as those services were. It was a church where people did come to know Christ, me and my whole family for instance! Many also went into the ministry or trained to be missionaries in that time. People were real in their faith. Every time the church met we had prayer whether we met for fun or worship: for a bible study or a games night, before the church service or at the SS Picnic, and every other meeting. We were all encouraged to pray and read the bible for ourselves. We pledged to do this at Christian Endeavour and to take part in every meeting when asked to do so. We had wonderful times of sharing and praying for each other as we were growing up in the Tarry Time group that met over tea before evening service. We actually ran an Open Air service in the shopping centre before the service. It was a great training ground for preaching and witnessing. Even as 15 year olds we could get interviewed on our experience of Christ, by the older ones. We went two by two handing out tracts round the milk bars, talking to people and inviting them to the service. People did come and some were wonderfully saved.

    It was not a perfect Church but there was a real move of the Holy Spirit in that time and I think the Church created the right ground for the Holy Spirit to work in. I have met the same fervour and sincerity in churches held in school buildings in recent years, but I have also found many churches today with the ‘form’ of church but no ‘life’ of Christ in the people. I don’t think it is the church building but the heart of the church that needs to change. We have to set our goals on that which is ‘not of this’ world while still living in this affluent country. Not easy, but Jesus is the only one that truly satisfies and we need to keep our eyes on Him. He has all the answers.

    Lesley Kadwell

  21. The business of trusting God is difficult. Many believe it means trusting that things will not go badly with you, because you trust Him (like, say, not taking out house structure insurance, believing that God will never let a plane crash into it, because you’re a believer). But is this the God we believe in, or the kind of divine action in the world that God promises and the Bible speaks of? No, nature/humans are free, we don’t believe “all is as God wills” – like, say, Muslims are said to believe. So, a burglar might break into my house tonight; despite the love God has for me, the burglar has freedom; maybe trusting Christians like me need insurance after all. To believe that if you trust God, bad things won’t happen to you, and only good things (lots of good things) will come to you is the root of the “prosperity gospel” Bill has (quite rightly) condemned in his articles, on this site, more than once.
    John Thomas, UK

  22. Thanks again, Bill.

    I read an item about trusting God on the Pyromaniacs blog recently and have to agree with the qualification given. When we are “Trusting God” or about to Trust Him in something we must ask two questions: 1. For What? and 2. On what biblical basis?

    We are on shaky ground if we think we can trust God for something that he has not told us to.

    Again, all the more reason for us to keep in His Word.

    Jeremy Peet

  23. Thanks Bill, Awesome Article!! How important is discipleship in the church (I love discipleship!!); and the body of Christ, with it’s apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers etc..

    I’m praying for a church that will give up their lives, ambition, and lust for the things of this world and turn back to God, His Word, His structure of Church, and come back into a real relationship with Him. His ways are higher than our ways!

    So many people have been hurt by churches, that are NOT doing the Word of God. And therefore give up on church – God’s way – and try to figure their faith our on their own, without any submission or accountability in their life. Therefore as you’ve said in this article aren’t living as they say they believe. It makes so much sense why the world has lost faith in Christ, since so many Christians are doing things their own way.

    Let’s get back to the Bible, moving in His Holy Spirit and get on with living as Jesus lived! And the world will begin to see again that Jesus is Alive and loves each one of us!!

    Elisha Scott

  24. I have noticed several people mentioning that they are struggling to find a good biblical fellowship. May I recommend that if you are in Melbourne’s South Eastern suburbs or on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland you check out:

    God bless
    Mario Del Giudice

  25. I think deism is what the author is talking about.

    I say that true Christianity is part God and part man done. Either extreme does not seem to be Biblical.

    It is really not worth going to church when the doctrine is different than that of the Bible. Social clubs in religion seem to be plentiful these days.

    Ronald Erickson

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