Christian Atheists?

Atheists of course don’t believe in God. That is to be expected. But the question is, why don’t Christians believe God anymore? Why do they profess to be followers of Christ when by their very actions and their very refusal to obey the clear teachings of Scripture they demonstrate that they are none of his?

We find this happening all the time, and it is utterly shocking. We have crystal clear teachings in Scripture which are being outright ignored or rejected or disobeyed. We have people who claim to be great Christians who have no intention whatsoever of obeying some of the clear commands of Scripture.

We seem to be so inured to what we find just in the four gospels that we glide right over them without batting an eyelash. The truths found there are just not registering. We have become far too familiar with Scripture, and its ability to impact us deeply and radically seems to be lost.

We all need to get back to our first love, and we all need to read the Bible as if for the very first time. I have recently written on this issue: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/10/20/the-traditions-of-men-and-being-anesthetised/

Sometimes I think that with so much biblical illiteracy out there – even among Christians – that I should just produce articles with nothing but Scripture in them. And maybe I will one day. But here I will take a large slab of Scripture and pray that it speaks to all of us the way it was intended to speak.

discipleship 2I refer to Luke 14 where Jesus speaks much about gaining disciples and real discipleship. For example, in Luke 14:15-24 we have the Parable of the Great Banquet. You know the story: When the invited guests did not show up, the man holding the banquet says ‘go out to the roads and country lanes’ and bring them in.

Then in Luke 14:25-35 Jesus speaks about the cost of discipleship. Let me offer this whole portion:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Three times here we read that those who do not do certain things cannot be a disciple of Jesus. The first has to do with family ties. Now in a culture where family was so very important, these were incredibly radical words indeed. Of course, other Scriptures make it clear that we are to love members of our own family, and love others as well.

But if family relationships get in the way of following Christ, then a choice has to be made. If serving one’s family means one cannot serve Christ, then a decision about loyalties is called for. And as some have said, our love for Christ should be so great, so supreme, that in comparison, all other loyalties may seem like hate in comparison.

So the point is not to hate our families as such, but to love God even more than anyone or anything on earth. He is always to be our first loyalty and priority. The second clear teaching about discipleship is pretty clear – but also largely neglected and ignored.

We must carry our cross if we are to be a true disciple of Jesus. Anyone back then hearing these words knew exactly what Jesus meant. The condemned man sentenced to die a cruel death on a cross was forced to carry the cross piece to his own execution. Just as Jesus carried it, so too any condemned man had to do this.

He was heading for certain death, and his life was now forfeited. It is the same with Christian discipleship: we are no longer our own, we are bought with a price, and the life we now live, we live for Christ and him alone. The Christian has no more claims to anything, and has no more rights.

He has died to self and now lives for God. That is basic Christianity 101, yet it is shocking how very few Christians even think in these terms. They think they can do what they want, call the shots, and live for self. They are even told by mega-pastors that they can have their ‘best life now’.

Well, Jesus said nothing about such selfish foolishness. He demanded the complete surrender of self and crucifixion of all desires; otherwise we cannot claim to be his follower. The third demand makes the same claims. If we are not going to give up everything for him, then we cannot be his disciple.

It is that simple. And again, this is not so much about just dumping every material good that you have. The rest of Scripture makes it clear that we are to provide for others, and especially for those of our own household. Material possessions can and should be used for Christ and his Kingdom.

But what Jesus is demanding here is the complete surrender of all that we have, including all our desires, our wants and our rights. We must be willing to give up everything. And this is far more than just stuff. It can also be our selfish desires. Indeed, some of these desires can be good in themselves, but we may be clinging on to them too tightly.

So getting back to his first demand, we may have to let go of our desire to have a family, or to get married, or to have children. We may have to abandon our desire to live somewhere, or have a certain job, or use a certain talent or gifting.

We will have to be willing to give up anything and everything for him. That is because anything we cling to and desire too greatly becomes an idol which stands between us and God. These are the conditions of being his disciple. It is radical stuff, but discipleship is a radical calling.

Yet we read a passage like this – perhaps for the hundredth time – and it comes in one ear and out the other. It has lost its radical effect on us. We read the chapter, close our Bibles, and go on living just as we always have, with all our possessions, material goods, greed, consumerism, selfishness, and focus on Number One.

We all need to let these words hit us afresh. What is it that we are clinging to that is preventing us from really following Jesus? What are the gods and idols in our life which are separating us from Jesus? What are our desires and wants which keep us from being all we are meant to be in Christ?

The call to discipleship is really all about priorities. Just what are the real priorities in our life? What do we spend most of our time on? What do we think about the most? Desire the most? Crave the most? Talk about the most? If you honestly answer these questions, you will quickly discover what your real priorities are, and if you really are a disciple of Jesus Christ.

[1385 words]

18 Replies to “Christian Atheists?”

  1. Bill,

    I commend you for this excellent article that exposes the lack of wholehearted discipleship in many evangelical Christian churches.

    I consider that as great a problem is that many who call themselves evangelical (the liberals are not interested in this message) do not have an absolute trust in the authority of Scripture. They say they believe the Gospel, but when push comes to shove, they waiver on accepting the Bible as the God-breathed Word of God.

    Some young people tell me that they lose some of their vibrant faith when university lecturers challenge their faith and poo-poo the Bible. A uni lecturer attends my church and he told me that it’s easy to become an atheist as a lecturer and student in uni.

    Therefore, in my sermon tomorrow night, my title is, ‘Deceivers’ Anonymous’, based on James 1:21-24. Those who hear the word and do not DO IT are deceiving themselves.

    In Christ, Spencer

  2. Can some one forward this to Dr Piper of so called christian hedonism and several prosperity motivators……

  3. Thanks Nirmal. But you are mistaken to confuse the two, and you seem not to know what John Piper is writing about. What he teaches has absolutely nothing to do with the prosperity gospel, and he is a big critic of it. What Piper means when he talks about Christian hedonism is that we find pleasure in God when we love and glorify him. He simply is popularising the work of the important theologian Jonathan Edwards who taught this. As Edwards said, “God made man to be happy in the beholding of God’s own excellency.”

  4. Bill Shorten’s speech at the ACL conference is a perfect example of your comment:

    ‘Why do they profess to be followers of Christ when by their very actions and their very refusal to obey the clear teachings of Scripture they demonstrate that they are none of his?’

    I couldn’t be more disgusted. What were the ACL thinking? Where were the equivalent of “The brave German woman” to shout down his heresy? Why was an ungodly man given a platform in the first place? Where were the prophets to speak against him on the day? If the footage running all over the TV is accurate, no-one stopped him. Where were the courageous men of God?

    God have mercy! We need to repent of being gutless wonders.

  5. It is important to rightly divide the word of God. Sayings such as ‘take up your cross’ and ‘deny yourself’ are said by Jesus prior to the Cross. They are a word of wrath to the old Adam….’You must die’!…The same sayings said by the Crucified one who took up my cross can be a word of life: ”You are dead!” – that is, crucified with Christ.
    Luther’s ”Freedom of the christian” is to the point: “The promises of God give what the commandments of God demand and fulfill what the law prescribes…He alone command, He alone fulfills”

  6. Thanks Jeremy, but no not quite. To suggest that the words of Christ before the cross have no bearing for believers is patently wrong (if that is what you are suggesting) and is a type of hyper dispensationalism. And you do injustice to Luther as well here. He would be aghast at the idea that the believer has zilch to do for sanctification, and just sits by passively. Yes we are saved by grace through faith (justification), but we live the Christian life fully in cooperation with God. The New Testament teaching on the Christian life is summed up in the two Greek verb moods, the indicative and imperative. Simply put, because of the finished work of Christ, we have an exalted perfect position in Christ, but there still are hundreds of commands which we are to obey as we work out this position. Christ makes it possible, and we should reckon it to be so, but then, by God’s help, we are to live it out in daily obedience and progressive sanctification. But read this article where I explain this all in much more detail:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/02/08/the-indicativeimperative-and-the-christian-life/

  7. You hit the mark, Sharon, with another major issue. We have to define what is a Christian today. I’m in the final stages of my dissertation on John Dominic Crossan’s presuppositions of the resurrection. Throughout his publications he says, ‘I am a Christian’, but states that the post-resurrection appearances were apparitions and that Jesus was not buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb but in a shallow grave to be eaten by scavenging dogs.

    But he wants to be known as a Christian, as did Bill Shorten in the footage I saw last night on ABC TV news.

    Lord have mercy on us for not being prophetic in a world of compromise. However, could there have been method in madness in the ACL’s asking Shorten to speak? Were they wanting to get ammo for the fight? If that were the case, the ammo was more like gelignite.

  8. @Spencer
    I do not support the ACL’s invitation of Bill Shorten at all (and I will inform the ACL of that and I will encourage everyone to do so). But in terms of ‘getting ammo’ it did seem to have angered one ‘gay-rights’ group:
    “But Equal Marriage Rights Australia said Mr Shorten’s attendance was hypocritical after Labor’s motion against Liberal politicians attending the “extremely anti-gay” World Families Congress in August.”
    http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/gay-marriage/bill-shorten-tells-the-australian-christian-lobby-he-believes-in-god-and-gay-marriage/story-fnizhakg-1227102032339

    Meanwhile here’s ACL’s statement (so far) on Bill Shorten. Reading it, I can’t help but get a feeling of obliviousness on the ACL’s side:
    http://www.acl.org.au/2014/10/acl-welcomes-bill-shorten-to-2014-national-conference/

  9. Sharon, Mark, Spencer and others, re Mr Shorten speaking at the ACL event:
    I am not sure that hearing from the Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Opposition is such a bad thing of itself. After all, he may be Prime Minister one day (not that we would would be happy about that!).

    I am only going so far on media reports which may be incomplete, but what most disappointed me was the uncritical acceptance of what he said by the audience.

    I note that the report said Lyle Shelton re-affirmed ACL’s opposition to Mr Shorten’s views, but I wonder how long that will last, if the audience did not challenge, question or rebut Mr Shorten’s stance.

  10. Last time I wrote a complaint to the ACL I received a return email thanking me for signing up to receive their emails! No mention of the issue. I have since decided it is pointless to email them my concerns, unless of course someone know how to do it effectively….

  11. Obviously the decision by the ACL to allow Mr Shorten to speak unchallenged was not a smart move as it has alienated much of their support base. However, as far as the managing director, Lyle Shelton, he is a man of integrity and faith. I have had a few dealings with him and I have seen him more than a few times take a battering on TV and other media for standing firm on Biblical matters. As far as I can see,he is standing up a lot more than most Christians.
    While I think the ACL made a wrong call this time, hopefully they will see that and not do it again…

    In the meantime, I think anyone who is prepared to take all the haters abuse, as Lyle does,(as does Bill too) deserves our support and prayers.

  12. Just sharing my outrage at Bill Shorten’s trashing comments supporting gay marriage at the ACL conference. At least we know that this man, calling himself a Christian, is no disciple of Christ. I pray that his words will carry no weight and will have no power to influence either the Christian or non-Christian community and that they will be the very words which will disqualify any future efforts he may make to support a lifestyle so anathema to Jesus’ teaching.

  13. I emailed Wendy Francis, ACL Qld director, to express my disgust for ACL giving Bill Shorten the platform to promote his anti-biblical, pro-homosexual marriage views. She gave me a sound response and said that ACL wanted to keep the conversation open with both sides of politics, hence their invitation for Shorten to address them. Since he is the alternate prime minister, ACL considers it important to connect with him.

    She said his speech was rebutted on the day of presentation. Lyle Shelton (ACL managing director) interviewed him shortly after the speech. This is available at:

    Then Shorten had morning tea with Christian leaders who addressed him. Roger Kiska from Alliance Defending Freedom, later in the day gave a strong rebuttal. Lyle Shelton will personally be addressing this issue in the next enews of ACL.

  14. Thanks Spencer. Yes I am aware of the ACL justification for all this, and I am still not buying it. Not only does it give the enemy of all we hold near and dear a clear platform to push their diabolical agenda – at a Christian conference no less – it also will deceive many more (how many folks gave Shorten a hearty applause when he finished), etc.

    I can just see Wilberforce holding meetings in which he invites the pro-slavery folks to speak because it is ‘important to connect with them’, and so on. Or Elijah invites the Baalists in for a bit of interfaith dialogue. Sorry, not buying this for a moment. It is all part of the long-standing ACL policy of ‘neutrality’ – which is simply not possible. We already know homosexual marriage and abortion on demand are official Labor policy so of course it will be promoted. No Christian organisation needs to give the other side a platform to do this, at least if it claims to be a Christian group. And even if it was just a secular family group, there still would be no need for this ‘let’s give all sides a hearing’ silliness.

  15. I am also concerned about ACL’s policy to connect with both sides of the argument, at a Christian Conference. I believe they did a lot of harm previously organising both sides of Parliament to address special broadcasts for Churches. It was just an opportunity to lie to Christians about their ‘faith’ and try and win votes. A very unwise move to give them free reign in churches where often, sadly, naive Christians, know little about politics.

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