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Two Kinds of Atheists, One of them Christian

Groeschel.jpgIt is common to say an atheist is someone who believes there is no god, or someone who doesn’t believe in God (the latter might suggest there is a God but the person doesn’t believe in that God). The true atheists believes there is no god.

But some who say they are Christians live as if there is no God, and Craig Groeschel, in his brand new book, takes aim at this problem and probes and prods each of us to make our belief in God real and robust. His book is called: The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living As If He Doesn’t Exist
. In essence, if we say we believe in God, and say things like we believe God can change us, then we need to make that more visible. What evidence is there about us that makes it clear we believe in God?
What are the marks of a “Christian atheist”? Where is it hardest to make belief in God manifest or operative in our lives? What can we do about this?
He probes this from the angle of topics that are profoundly Christian but which are not present enough in our lives: knowing God personally, ashamed of your past and unwilling to let God heal you, afraid to let God love you, not praying, don’t think God’s fair, unwilling to forgive others, don’t believe you can change, worry all the time, pursue happiness at any cost, trust more in money than God, don’t share your faith and don’t believe in God’s Church.
Groeschel isn’t harsh; he’s not out to make you feel guilty; he’s instead concerned that you make God really God in your life. 
This book is simply exceptional; fun and probing at the same time; full of stories but right on target when it comes to real issues about how much we really believe in God and let that belief permeate our lives and heart and soul and body. Groeschel tells much of his own journey, enough for all of us to say “he knows this topic from the inside out.”
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Ted M. Gossard

posted April 6, 2010 at 6:34 am

This actually reminds me of Tremper Longman’s take on Qoheleth in his NICOT on Ecclesiastes. Yes indeed. Sounds like another great read.

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posted April 6, 2010 at 10:12 am

knowing God personally, ashamed of your past and unwilling to let God heal you, afraid to let God love you, not praying, don’t think God’s fair, unwilling to forgive others, don’t believe you can change, worry all the time, pursue happiness at any cost, trust more in money than God, don’t share your faith and don’t believe in God’s Church.
This sounds more like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism than real Christianity. Nothing about living a consumerist lifestyle, nothing about helping others, nothing about advancing the Kingdom.

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posted April 6, 2010 at 10:16 am

Can’t believe I clicked through on your fb link for life church TV dude! I thought you were going to talk about Rollins’ a/theism.

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posted April 6, 2010 at 10:33 am

Theme wise, seems to be very similar to Francis Chan’s book “Crazy Love,” which I would also say is exceptional.

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posted April 6, 2010 at 11:12 am

And of course, from an Atheist standpoint, keep up the good non-work! Don’t be advancing your kingdom in our mutual workplace, public schools, etc. On the other hand, don’t be afraid of your convictions, rather, reflect on how others don’t share them, and the years of reasoning it may have taken them to reach that point.

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Joe James

posted April 6, 2010 at 11:29 am

Stanley Hauerwas reminds us in “Resident Aliens” (and elsewhere) that when we suppose that we are the ones with the power to “rid the world of evil” or that we have the right to drop atom bombs or when we wage war on the premise that “this will be the war to end all wars” that we have slipped into “practical atheism” (living as though God does not exist). This is exactly what the Babel narrative is. “Let’s build a society/kingdom where we don’t need God. We’re in control of our own destiny and the world’s future depends on our ability to manage it.”
Same sort of thing happens with regards to Darwinism. Neo-Conservative (or as Yoder names them – neo-neo-cons) Christians have made it a priority to use logic and reason to defeat the “Evolution” theory of how the world came. Creation vs. Evolution. YHWH vs. Darwin. Yet they fail to see that Darwin’s conclusion was that SINCE there is no God, it is “survival of the fittest”. Neo-conservative fundamentalism fights Darwinism tooth and nail at the point of how the world came into being, but then colludes with Social-Darwinism in “Survival of the fittest” ethic for how we are suppose to get along in the world. Neo-conservative Christians are social-Darwinists. (This maybe a bit of a caricature. I can see where Extreme Liberalism could be accused of the same.)

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posted April 6, 2010 at 11:48 am

While the book may be helpful along certain individual themes, I don’t think it digs deep enough. (I also acknowledge that a deeper book is not what he was after) I agree with some of the sentiments above. I’d also add that Alan Hirsch makes some wonderful points along the lines of the above when he says we are “theological monotheists but practical polytheists.”
Alan’s comments in the Forgotten Ways regarding differences in paradigms between what he calls the Hebraic and the Hellenistic (dualistic) could help not only help us heal the rift between God and ourselves but also the rift between ourselves and our world.
I think it would be far more helpful to explore that than to look at some of the more surface ways in which we fail to ‘let God be God.”
But good as far as it goes….

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kyle rowe

posted April 6, 2010 at 11:54 am

To build on this permise, one could go further to say we behave in the likeness of who we serve. Do you serve God or do you server darkness.

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posted April 6, 2010 at 12:04 pm

JESUS died for me; so that I may be forgiven.
GOD knew that humans were going be HUMAN so he sent JESUS. How do we get away from being human (imperfect)? We still do our best to further His kingdom which is what God wants. Do we continue to obsess over doing good deeds all our lives to save a spot for us in Heaven, NO. We are going to mess up (over and over until we are blue in the face) that’s why God sent His son–to show us an example. To show us the love He has for us, the GRACE, and how inconceivable He is. Jesus is the example we should be following. Not an action, but a lifestyle. There isn’t a good deed that could make up for the fact that we are still Human and we mess up. Maybe we are all Christian Athiests then? There is not a bone in my body that is perfect…MY BRAIN is what keeps me from being as close to God as I would like. We all want to be close with God but it is sin that keeps us from that goal. ….idk? the book seems interesting…although it stirs me up, i’d like to see where the author is going with this whole subject.

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posted April 6, 2010 at 12:14 pm

to add to my comment…it is Jesus that was sent for the very purpose to bridge the gap between humans and God. Because we are imperfect; God sent someone to be an example to us. Someone that we ourselves can look at and live after.

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posted April 6, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Scot – Thanks for drawing attention to this book. It will certainly go on my reading list for books to read in the near future. I have at times thought about and wrestled with functional atheism, particularly as that is seen in the discrete but often interrelated areas identified by Groeschel. I particularly express atheism when it comes to believing that I can change in significant ways, and as I have thought about this in the recent past I have seen that this is effectively a denial of the resurrection: a denial of the power of God by which the forces of sin, death, and the devil have been overcome. What complicates this, however, is that I have also seen that my desire for change is a kind of idol, a want for an ideal self, more than a want for intimacy with God.
Kyrie eleison

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posted April 6, 2010 at 1:27 pm

“The true atheists believes there is no god.”
Wrong. The true definition of “a-theist” is one without (“a-“) any god-belief (“theist”). Period. This is a wide-ranging, inclusive grouping.
Someone who “believes there is no god” holds a belief. This is a subset of atheists.

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Your Name

posted April 6, 2010 at 4:28 pm

The more focused I am on understanding my faith, the LESS certain I become in some of the same areas where Groeschel says I should be MORE certain.
Isn’t he the video mega pastor? Like Ed Young? Scot, anyone who idealizes community gathering as passively staring at giant video screens is probably not someone I would trust as a spiritual guide. Then again, he probably thinks the same about me gathering in a private home.
I think Larry (#2) might have it right.

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Scot McKnight

posted April 6, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Your Name #13: Do you know that is how Groeschel defines “community”?

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posted April 6, 2010 at 6:48 pm

I’m not sure that I like Groeschel’s use of the term “atheist” because it can carry a variety of nuanced meanings depending on who you ask–he’s not referring to a radical “death of God” theology nor a Christian belief that God (the father) is, contra Plato, not a being.
Judging by the cover, the theme of his book follows my own thoughts lately, and I think it’s an important message. In many ways I grew up in the church as what he calls a Christian atheist. Too often in my life I’ve been presented Christianity as a set of mere beliefs, and what inevitably followed was endless searching for a way to prove, at least to myself, that God exists in order to hold the beliefs together. Meanwhile I couldn’t really _live_ my faith because I only had a jumble of “half-beliefs.” But beliefs that remain only beliefs have no real meaning until they effect change in the world.
Now I would say that “striving to live as if God exists” is central to what it means for a Christian to “have faith,” and for me living that way is a decision not based on some rigorously formulated God-belief (i.e., theism) but simply on the Christian _hope_ for redemption as revealed in Jesus.

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Your Name

posted April 6, 2010 at 9:04 pm

“Do you know that is how Groeschel defines “community”?”
Well, Scot, if it’s not, why would someone spend their time building and sustaining such a “community?” Wouldn’t that be the pinnacle of hypocrisy?

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posted April 7, 2010 at 12:06 am

A real atheist doesn’t believe in gods. Any gods. Any of the 2,850+ gods dreamed up by humanity. We don’t believe in the Christian god. But we also don’t believe in Ra, Uranus, Thor, Zeus, or any of the rest of them.
One of the most egotistical mistakes believers (Christians, mostly) make is to assume that we lack belief specifically in “God”, the Christian god. It’s worse when they presume we believe in him but are just being petulant teenagers and rebelling against him.
There is no such thing as a “Christian Atheist”. If you believe in god–any god–you are not an atheist. You may be a very bad Christian, a very bad theist, etc, but you are not an atheist. Ridiculous nonsense like that is just one more way to smear atheists, who have done nothing to deserve the animosity and demonization they face. If a person is failing to live up to the dogma and tenets of their faith then call them on it. But don’t make up biased, bigoted nonsense that only smears innocent people.

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posted April 7, 2010 at 2:32 am

Kira – “Christian Atheist” is an intentionally provocative designation, that is primarily directed toward a Christian audience. Through such a juxtaposition of terms the author is trying to rouse Christians and give them a new lens by which to examine and understand the disjunction that commonly exists between belief and practice.
As far as the demonization of atheists is concerned, I don’t think this book is contributing to this matter. In this instance, the negativity of the term “atheist” is relative to the context of those who claim to believe in God. If an atheist makes decisions about how to live based upon the conviction that the only forces that need to be considered are natural forces, then that atheist is consistent, and there is no dissonance. However, if a Christian effectively lives as if the only forces to be considered are natural forces, there is dissonance, and that is a problem.
Finally, I’m with you on the whole “It’s worse when they presume we believe in him but are just being petulant teenagers and rebelling against him” thing. I mean, that is almost as bad as when people think faith is merely the psychological crutch for weak specimens of humanity whose cognitive capacities have thereby become impaired.

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posted April 7, 2010 at 11:24 am

You might want to consider listening to the rest of the message. What Groeschel is saying is very much in line with what Rollins has been saying for years…actions speak louder than beliefs.

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chad m

posted April 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm

it’s more like “functional atheism” and it’s alive and active in the church. we could ignore it, but i’m glad Groeschel is attempting to address the problem…

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Lenny Lin

posted April 20, 2010 at 2:18 pm

I was reading Acts 3 today in which Paul healed a lame man. After the healing, he made comments on the people’s response on verse 12, ‘why do you marvel at this?.. as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk’ (NKJV) Although the people went to the temple for prayer, they did not know who God was, they did not have faith to the God (Heb 4:2) from generations to generations. Is it similar to what Christian Atheist believes in and lives out?

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