My Recent Post on Atheism & Willow Creek

Friends,

I’m grateful that people are reading what I have to say even if others are saying similar things and even if there are people disagreeing with my thoughts. I’d like to make a point or two about my conern with an atheist visiting the Willow Creek Church at the invitation of one of their pastors.

First, I am not, I repeat, not, advocating that Christians never have conversations with atheists, homosexuals, or the Beelzebub himself. No that’s not it at all. I’m a big fan of conversation, I’m a big fan of dialogue, I’m a big fan of debate. In fact, I think more Christians ought to talk with folks like that than talk with each other. Frankly, I’d rather sit and talk with an atheist than with a Christian sometimes. There might be fruit from the one that will not be from the other. One of my favorite conversations right now involves some rather difficult Christians who think other Christians should avoid Harry Potter like the plague or like atheists. I don’t like talking with such closed minded people; they are boring and only have one argument. But an atheist or a Darwinist, oh, that would be pure delight!

Second, I am not, I repeat, not, an advocate of allowing just any person who writes a book and has a blog to come into the church and speak to church folks. What I mean is this, just because a person has a point of view, their name on a dust jacket, and a rather loyal following at wordpress or blogspot doesn’t mean they are automatically credentialed (sp) to stand behind a pulpit or in front of a church and judge that church or tell that church what they think about the church (even Willow Creek), even an informal gathering of Willow Creek. It is beyond silly and downright inept. I don’t respect the pastor for being so open-minded, so relevant, so cutting edge, so wise and learned. I think he is a fool for inviting someone who necessarily disagrees with him to stand in the pulpit and preach a Gospel other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Paul said something about this in Galatians). What right does an unbeliever have to stand behind a pulpit or a lecturn and teach the people of God anything? Seriously, that is my real issue here and it should raise a lot of red, green, purple, and yellow flags for others too.

Third, what can an Atheist teach the church about the church that the church can’t learn by reading what God said about the church? If I am a business man about to start a business why would I solicit an opinion from someone who a) doesn’t believe in my business, b) has no vested interest in my business (doesn’t care if it succeeds or fails) and c) is not an integral part of my business? Really, that’s like God asking me what I think of the way He conducts the universe or the multiverse. It’s like an ant shaking his head at me when I accidentally wreck his mound. Frankly, the opinions of people who are not members of the church matter not a bit. The Church is not a country club where we are attempting to make everyone comfortable. The Church is the Body of Christ. Do you think Jesus sits around twiddling his thumbs all day while he waits to learn what the next important atheist says about his body? Do you think the Sovereign Lord is really concerned about what unbelievers think of his people when his people use words like ‘repent’, ‘sin’, ‘lost’, ‘hell’, and ‘judgment’? But if the church in fact took time to read Scripture, the Church wouldn’t need to solicit the opinion of an unbeliever. It’s kind of like a bridge engineer asking for the opinion of a cupcake maker: It’s irrelevant. Oh, and it won’t help make the bridge any better–unless Betty Crocker has a new recipe involving Gorilla Glue or something like that.

Fourth, that is the difference between a church and coffee shop. If that church wants to have this conversation at a coffee shop, more power to them. If they want to pay him to recite his blather, friendly or not, super. But not in the church. The church should be more interested in what God has to say about the Church (Read Revelation 2-3 for a pretty good, insightful analysis of the church). So, if an atheist is upset because the church calls unbelievers ‘lost’ (I saw that in a review of the friendlyatheists book at amazon.com), well what of it? Should I tell the atheist, in order to make him feel better, that he is found? Well, then I would be quite the liar wouldn’t I? Instead, I should call Bible things by Bible names: And the Bible says that those who refuse Christ are lost. It matters little if such language offends people; it is the truth.

Fifth, the bottom line to the friendlyatheist is this: he’s in the business of selling his book (after all, his gig at Willow Creek evidently included a book signing). Someday, if he ends up saved, then his conversation and point of view might be relevant to a church: And what a testimony it would be! In the meantime, to invite him in, give him time to promote his views, is ridiculous, and perhaps blasphemous. (Maybe the next time I say something about evolution to my congregation I’ll see if I can’t get Richard Dawkins to come in, and, just to be fair, give the opposing point of view. After all, he matters, or so he has told us. It must suck to be an atheist and have to constantly be going around the world, and publishing books, and giving speeches, in an effort to convince people that they matter and are relevant.)

So, finally, my criticism is of the Willow Creek Church, not the friendly atheist. If I were him, I’d do the same thing. I’d be there in a heartbeat. (I’ll bet he got paid to be there too, but I don’t know for certain. I can’t imagine his time is free, but if I’m wrong, accept my apology.) But the funny thing about the Scripture is this. Jesus went to sinners. Paul went to the synogogue, or the Hall of Tyrranus, or to Caesar, or to wherever. Jesus told us to go and make disciples. But I have yet to read anywhere in the New Testament where it says that the Church should invite in those who don’t believe just so the church can be told what the church is doing wrong or so that the church can get some insight and have some dialogue. I think if the church would read Scripture, we would hear plenty from the Lord Jesus himself about what we are doing wrong and how to fix it. As far as I can tell, the opinion of atheists is irrelevant, meaningless, and, to be sure, might not even really exist.

Thanks to all who have read and responded. Please do so some more.

jerry

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  1. You logic is ultimately flawed. But that’s ok, since the ultimate basis for your argument is based on faith – something no-one can reasonably argue against. Not even me 🙂

    Let’s follow your argument to its logical conclusion.

    And what is the argument? The crux of your post seems to boil down to this statement:

    “What right does an unbeliever have to stand behind a pulpit or a lecturn and teach the people of God anything?”

    Well, it would appear that it is the right of those who run the church to invite who they want to discuss their perspective on God, or the lack of their of. You believe there is no latitude in this respect. This kind of disagreement is precisely the kind of disagreement that leads to new factions of factions. Example:
    Fred: “I believe that the Pope is the dude”. Brian: “I don’t.”
    God: “Oh dear, here we go again”.

    So you say this is wrong. You attempt to explain why:

    “If that church wants to have this conversation at a coffee shop, more power to them.”

    So let’s take this argument and apply to other contexts. Let’s say…the coffee shop.

    What if…everyone who does not “buy in” to your particular religious sect’s perspective has an equal right NOT to hear your point of view relating to your religious stance in places that they deem “not the church” (i.e. a coffee shop)? If the coffee shop owner said: “You can discuss anything you like here, but not your religion”? You’d probably say, fine, I’ll go elsewhere. But what if all the other coffee shops did the same? What if all other all other privately owned establishments felt that theirs was not the place to have a religious discussion that did not line up with their own religious beliefs? Would that be fine? If not, why not?

    It sounds like you want your cake and eat it – keep the heathens out of your church and let them discuss their point of view with your congregation (“Heathen defined as anyone that doesn’t share your particular doctrine – Jew, Muslim, Scientologist, Spaghetti Monterist), but yet for you to have the right to regurgitate your brainwashed point of view to anyone you like outside of your church. What if you were banned of the right to discuss your religious point of view outside of the church? If you got upset, could the argument you have used be invoked against you?

    In a strange way, the atheist is the best friend you have. Without the atheist’s view that you must keep a separation between church and state (as per the intent Constitution and Declaration of Independence), the chances that you would not even be allowed to run a church that was not in line with the “Official and Absolutely Correct and Solely State Sanctioned Church” (OACSSSC) – whichever that may turn out to be, take your pick, would increase. And the chances are that it would be your Church is…well, how many denominations in the US?

    Another point here – what if the majority of the congregation’s only real social gathering opportunity is a visit to the local Church once a week? Many people are just too busy to socialize during the week and have very limited contact with “the outside world”. Isn’t it the duty of the church to broaden one’s life experience and help their followers understand points of views of different to their own? Shouldn’t hearing an atheist’s perspective bolden a believers view, not shake it? If not, why not?

    (p.s. I haven’t had the chance to proof this comment thoroughly before submitting – so I forgive you if you find grammatical or typo errors).

  2. Dear Fake,

    I’m intrigued by your reply, but mostly because you begin by stating that my logic is flawed. That’s ironic!

    The main problem with your post is that you clearly have no concept of what a ‘church’ is. I shall attempt to explain it briefly.

    First, a church is not a building. In some pathetic ‘we need the approval of the world’ kind of way, many do build elaborate buildings. But a building is not a church.

    Second, a church is a people. We are variously described as the Body of Christ, the Way, the Fellowship of the Saints, Disciples, children of God, or even Israel.

    Third, a church does not gather on Sundays merely for socializing. No. Our gatherings on Sundays are for worship. We are gathering together in the Name of God and the Presence of the Holy Spirit to Worship the Lord Jesus Christ. Fellowship is an integral part of our existence, but our fellowship transcends mere human contact and the consumption of aunt Betty’s meatloaf.

    Fourth, a church does not gather to be saved, but because we are saved. I don’t happen to think that Sunday worship (or Saturday worship or Wednesday or, you get the point) is primarily a time of evangelism. I happen to think evangelism takes place in the place where we spend the most of our time: work, school, ladies tea, little league, cub scouts, etc. Evangelism takes place where we are. Sometimes Sundays are evangelistic, but not always, and not primarily.

    Now as far as having cake and eating it to, I’m not sure I follow and here’s why.

    Fifth, the church is not a public meeting place for anyone who wishes. The Church is a private organism that is governed by our Head (Jesus Christ), that serves his Majesty, does His will. The Church welcomes all who come; by all means, worship the Lord! But please don’t live under the illusion that the general public has anything to do with the way the church operates, conducts its worship, ordains leaders, hires preachers, or spends its money. Frankly, if you don’t belong to Christ, it is none of your damn business what the church does.

    As to your invocation of the separation of church and state, well, my friend, allow me to instruct you: that perceived wall was not to protect the government from the church but rather the church from the government. You are sadly mistaken, my friend.

    One final point about whether or not an atheist or any unbeliever can stand and lecture or preach to the church I have described in five points (to be sure, there’s much more I should say about the nature of the church like it has been bought at a price, redeemed by God, belongs to him, he raises the church and lowers it, he makes it grow, etc., but for now, I’ll let my five points stand). In the letter of the apostle Paul to the Galatians, one of his main concerns was that some folks wanted salvation to be a matter of, follow me, Jesus and _________ (something else, in Paul’s case to the Galatian church, it was Jesus and circumcision). Paul argued vehemently against such a blasphemous idea.

    Well, I think we are seeing the same thing here. There are some who think that we still need Jesus and (something else). Perhaps, as some have said, we need Jesus and big buildings, or Jesus and homosexuality, or Jesus and atheism, or Jesus and good republican government, or whatever. Well, Paul had his critics, of course, so he wrote this short letter we call Galatians. In it he wrote, “Am I now trying to win human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (1:10, TNIV).

    It’s my opinion that the invitation for an atheist to speak at a church is an attempt to win a human’s approval. And this is why I say it doesn’t matter what a human says about a church because the church belongs to Christ. The only opinion that matters is that of Jesus (read Revelation 2-3 for his scathing opnion of the church!). The church does not operate to please humans, but God. We do not exist to win your approval of the way we do things or of the way in which we do our evangelism (We have decided, like Peter and John, that it is better to obey God than man; so we evangelize.). If I were trying to please an atheist, I would consult an atheist. But I’m not. The church, point six, does not exist to please men or women or children. It exists by God’s grace, by God’s will, and entirely for His pleasure.

    PS–If the friendlyatheist has all the answers as to the things the church is doing wrong in evangelism, why is he still an atheist? (It’s a book selling trick is all it is.)

    Well, I didn’t check all of your spelling, or my own! But I’ll forgive your errors in typing, if you’ll forgive mine. But my better hope is that eventually you will find forgiveness in Christ. He is your only hope, and mine.

    Thanks for writing and reading. Perhaps we shall meet again soon.

    jerry

  3. I don’t think you have to argue the point: You either do or do not approve of atheists appearing in churches, and you’re just as free as anyone else to hold, state, and act upon your preferences. Anything more than the flat assertion of your preference is explanatory rather than probative.

    I definitely approve that you restrict your preference to time and place and disclaim condemnation of dialog in general.

    I’m an atheist; I would be as disturbed as you are if a religious person were to give a sermon at an American Atheists meeting.

  4. Barefoot,

    I’m glad there is one atheist who has read what I said and understood it. Exactly! My point is not that conversations should not exist, but there is a time and place for such conversations. Thank you.

    jerry




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