Are You a Practical Atheist?

“If a time-traveler from the early Church secretly followed you from Monday till Saturday evening, would they be able to tell you’re a Christian?”

This question raised by John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris from caught my attention early yesterday morning.

In a post entitled “Practical Atheists: Living as if God is Irrelevant,” they suggest that for many professing Christianity the answer isn’t really clear.
This is a not a new question or novel topic, but one I haven’t thought about in quite a while.

“Practical atheism,” wrote Rubel Shelly is “holding an intellectual commitment to belief in God but thinking, feeling, and behaving as if there were no God.”

Craig Gay in his book, “The Way of the Modern World,” said the problem isn’t atheism. The problem, he said, is “practical atheism.”

“It’s not that people do not believe in God, it’s that they live as if God is largely irrelevant,” observed Stonestreet and Morris. “That’s what secularism does to us. It doesn’t disprove our faith, it dismisses it. It makes faith an issue of personal, private belief, disconnected from the outside world.”

“The most dangerous type of atheism is not theoretical atheism, but practical atheism — that’s the most dangerous type. And the world, even the church is filled up with people who pay lip service to God and not life service,” opined Martin Luther King, Jr. in a 1950’s sermon.

“There is always a danger,” King said, “that we will make it appear externally that we believe in God when internally we don’t. We say with our mouths that we believe in him, but we live with our lives like he never existed. That is the ever-present danger confronting religion. That’s a dangerous type of atheism.”

Consider these five comparisons.

1. Atheists don’t pray because they don’t believe in God. Practical atheists believe in God but often have a weak or non-existent prayer life.

2. Atheists don’t read, study and meditate on Scripture because they believe the Bible is a fictitious book, a hoax, and a sham. Practical atheists believe the Bible is the Word of God but rarely read or study it.

3. Atheists boast they don’t need God and get along every day without Him in their lives. Practical atheists occasionally acknowledge God on the Sundays they attend church but seem to live without Him the rest of the week.

4. Atheists don’t have family devotions because they see no need. Practical atheists don’t have family devotions because they don’t have time.

5. Atheists live for today, focus on this life, and lay up their treasures on earth. Ironically, practical atheists do the same thing.

Christians are not exempt from the influence of secularism that has invaded and immersed our culture in a philosophy seeks to exclude religious considerations from social and civic affairs, as well as education and business.

“Still worst of all,” wrote Stonestreet and Morris, “practical atheists are always subject to idolatry. As John Calvin said, humans are incurably religious creatures, and our secular age offers all kinds of God-replacements: sex, self, stuff, state, science. Ironically, a secular age is still filled with faith—just in all the wrong gods. These gods mark us in their images in profoundly dehumanizing ways.”

More than ever we need to slow down and take time to think about God. To see His power and glory in creation. To relate to others as beings created by God with an eternal soul. To reflect on our purpose for living. To remember that all we possess is on loan from God and we are entrusted as good stewards of His resources. And to look for opportunities to do good that glorify God.

Get back to basics. Pray daily. Read the Bible regularly. Worship weekly with other Christians. Share your faith. And examine yourself.

Finally, this personal, probing and penetrating thought from John Piper: “Doing things in secret that you are ashamed for others to know is practical atheism. God’s knowing doesn’t count?”

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman


Filed under Christian Living

3 responses to “Are You a Practical Atheist?

  1. Hi Ken, it’s interesting but it’s impossible to generalize . I’m not sure the word atheist fits! The Lord does the growing, and he will answer those who seek Him in truth. Before I was saved I was a lost sheep…the Lord pursued me with His amazing love…


    • I self identify as an atheist and agnostic (with respect to the existence of gods, as well as a million other things that I simply don’t know, hence a-gnosticism, profession of lack of knowledge). I agree with nickyab that Wellever is completely mischaracterizing atheists and our lack of beliefs. A belief is not something to boast about, one way or the other. Our beliefs presumably derive from our consideration of the evidence provided for a given truth claim “Yahweh exists and created the Universe”, “Scarlett Johannson wants to marry me”, “Tofu is not a dessert.” We don’t choose what we believe or don’t, and, being beyond our direct control (beyond further study and consideration of the evidence or lack thereof for a given truth claim), can never be the subject of a boast. By contrast, someone might boast of something that they know, or can do: “I memorized the first chapter of Ecclesiastes!”, “I climbed Mt Everest!”. But how could ever one boast of atheism, which is simply a lack of belief? WTF is the writer trying to do in misrepresenting what atheists do? Lying for Jesus. Stop it. It’s not a good look for you.


  2. Pingback: Are You a Practical Atheist? | A disciple's study

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