Churched Practical Atheists

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  June 18, 2013

In the clergy group that I’m a part of it was recently stated that there’s a growing population of “practical atheists.” Let me define what a practical atheist is.

There is the atheist who does not believe in a higher power. I know, I know…that is not really new news for most of us.

A “practical atheist” is someone who believes in Christ but lives as if he doesn’t exist.

How is that possible, you might ask?

Easy! Unless a person has been crucified with Christ he thinks it’s still all about him. He is the center of his universe. There may be verbal buy-in to Paul’s words “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21), but not belief buy-in. Belief buy-in is being so committed to a belief that I am willing to order my life around that belief. It becomes my life priority.

I’m afraid that I seem to be hearing more and more horror stories from pastors across denominations and across the country that minister in churches where people can’t get over themselves. They say they believe and yet the message their lives convey communicates a lack of belief.

It’s not just absence from worship. People can be as regular in worship on Sunday as “left-overs” night was a Tuesday dinner ritual for us when we were growing up. (Friday was Chef Boyardee Pizza! Domino’s didn’t deliver…because Domino’s didn’t exist!)

It isn’t the absence of good intentions. Good intentions abound. There are multitudes of people who have good intentions about praying for a person they know, but they just don’t get around to it.

It isn’t that practical atheists aren’t nice either. Most of them are super people who you’d feel comfortable eating pasta bowls at Noodles with.

It isn’t for a lack of Bible knowledge either. There are throngs of practical atheists who can turn right to the passage that the pastor is about to preach about. They know the Word. Give them a subject and many of them can immediately share a passage of scripture that speaks to it.

It’s just that…they don’t believe in a way that changes everything…that changes their view. It hasn’t gripped their lives, it’s just become another subject in their curriculum.

Practical atheists are like people who haven’t shown a bit of interest in their college basketball team  until it reaches the Final Four, and then they buy tickets and buy school jerseys to wear to the game. These practical atheists believe in a Gospel that their lives are not rooted in.

There isn’t a detection machine that identifies them, like the metal detectors at the airport. Only God knows who these people are, even though we know they exist!

The difficulty is that the corporate church is hampered by practical atheists. We become comfortable in systems that don’t change much, and associate God tugging on their hearts as acid reflux from that morning’s free cup of coffee before worship. They believe that this too shall pass!

As I said at the beginning, however, the number of people who believe in Christ but live like he doesn’t exist is growing. And, this, untimately affects the effectiveness of the church.

 

Explore posts in the same categories: Christianity, Community, Faith, Freedom, Jesus, Pastor, Prayer, Story, The Church, Uncategorized

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2 Comments on “Churched Practical Atheists”

  1. Kimberly Henry Says:

    Here’s the problem I have with a “practical atheist”… I may be wrong in my thinking, but I don’t believe that you can ” believe” and not live it. First John 2:3-4 says that “we know we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says I know him but doesn’t do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” That seems pretty straight forward to me. I am not sure as a church what we can “do” for these people other than be sure we are not one of them.


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