Should We Listen To Atheists?

Can an atheist tell us how we can “do” and/or “be” the church better than we currently are? Can an atheist provide solid insights as to how we can be more effective in our ministry efforts? Can an atheist tell us how we can represent Jesus to our world better? Could an atheist have a better grasp of Jesus’ personality and humanity than most Christians?

I will not answer these questions. They are loaded. I can only imagine what some will think. Some may answer with a resounding NO!! Some may actually entertain these questions with an open mind. So why in the world would I ask such hair-splitting questions?

I had the opportunity to meet an atheist. No, he certainly was not the first atheist I have ever met. I have known several, but I don’t think I will ever see an atheist quite the same again after hearing this guy talk. I met Matt Casper (the friendly atheist, as he so endearingly refers to himself) at the CMA Conference in California. He is the co-author of “Jim and Casper Go To Church” , along with Jim Henderson a veteran pastor and critical thinker and innovator within Christianity. I was able to have an interesting conversation with Casper after he and Jason Evans, who is featured in the book as a house church pastor and close friend of Casper’s, gave and interview/group discussion talk about their journeys. It wasn’t a long conversation, and it certainly wasn’t intimate or anything, but we just both happened to be standing next to one another, and struck up a conversation.

Anyway, I bought and read the book. I don’t think it unlocks the key to successful churches or anything, but this book will challenge you rethink your conversations with those who don’t believe as you do. I have committed to no longer try to debate, convert, or enlist someone as a “project for Jesus”. Instead, I want to have open conversations. Dialogue. I want to get to know people. I want to really understand where they are and why they believe what they believe. I want to accept people and be friends with those who don’t necessarily agree with me.

This book will challenge you to think about why we do what we do as Christians. I certainly don’t agree with every thought conveyed in this book. That is not the point. The point of this book for me is that we NEED open and free conversation about the things we do. We need safe places to talk about important issues with Christians and with non-Christians. These “spaces”, as Jim Henderson refers to them, need to be “defended” from arguments, debates, cliches, and easy “churchy” answers. We need to step out of our “Christianese” little worlds and into the world where people are hurting and dying and longing for something that is real. People need a safe place to investigate the claims of Jesus. If we don’t provide those places, who will?

Read the book, offer feed back. I’ll have more to come later…

Thanx!

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14 Responses

  1. You get to meet all the coolest and famous people. I’m jealous.

    So…. how many books have you got since the conference? What are they? It’s that time again – time for a list of your “Currently Reading” list, lol.

  2. Jeff, it was a pleasure meeting you at the CMA Conference.

    Thanks for reading and writing about our book. You can dialog any time at all on http://www.churchrater.com. Don’t know how often Jason shows up, but Jim and I are on there frequently.

    Thanks again for the shout out!

    Matt

  3. Disband your church. Form a secular version that does similar social services, but without a membership in a belief system requirement. Become a place where people come for comfort from their friends, work together with complete strangers and make the country a better place.

    Basically what you do now, but week long and without the God BS. Also open to everyone. Hey, that was easy! Maybe you should get a more experienced person to give you step by step instructions- obviously you’d have to redo part of the church (at the very least the pews- having them all face foward seems… authoritarian. Seriously, it is just like what they have in schools. No easier way to silence people than to convince them the person in front has the answers.).

  4. Samuel,

    Thanx for the interesting comment. i am not sure if you will become a regular reader of my blog, but if you’re still there, I’d like to ask some questions.

    Why disband my church?

    In your opinion, what would qualify as a place where we could hang out with friends?

    What kind of “work” could we do together?

    What kind of things could we do that would make this country a better place?

    BTW, I love the “week long” idea.

    Why without the “God BS”?

    Also, we don’t have pews, pulpits, or even professionally paid pastors.

    What is your impression of that?

    What would you think about everything you said happening at my house, only with an open-to-everyone discussion about God, the Bible, and Jesus, without anything being crammed in your face?

    Oh, and having a great meal with everyone would be added to that.

    Would this be more to your taste?

    I’d really like to hear from you…

    Thanx!

  5. Hey Matt,

    Thanx for the shout out. I hear through the grape vine you guys may be in my neck-of-the-woods later this year. If so, I’d love to get together. Maybe show you around Memphis or something.

    Thanx!

  6. You asked how to make your ministry more effective. Since I believe god doesn’t exist, I’d focus more on the functional aspects of your church- community and social service.

    The talk about God is a philosophy club- churches are places of worship.

    You don’t have the structure? You’re only talking about spreading the word? If you really want to do that see what people do for politics and other ideologies and copy that. It may leave you feeling a little… manipulative though.

  7. Samuel,

    Thanx for the thoughts.

    You said, “The talk about God is a philophy club – churches are places of worship.”

    You are correct for the most part, and that is what I see is wrong with most churches. Many have turned into some kind of social club that actually takes from the community rather than giving to the community. By the time people volunteer all of their time, energy, and resources to church stuff, they have no time to give anything to their communities at large. This is a serious problem in my opinion, and usually has nothing at all to do with following the Way of Jesus. Church activities are often more about money, authority, moral superiority, self-glorification, or growing bigger organizations, rather than making a tangible difference in people’s lives. I am sorry for this, and am hopefully repenting of this type of focus. BTW, not all churches are guilty of this. This is a generalized comment.

    I, of course, believe in God, Jesus, and Scripture. Because of my belief that God loves this world and wants to see it better than it is, and because Jesus lived here for 33 and half years working to make it better, and then died so that He could bring life to those who would believe, then I should also want it to be a better place. That means God cares about the homeless and so should I, He cares about the poor and so should I, He cares about the hungry and so should I, He cares about those who no one else really cares about and so should I.

    My belief in God and Jesus moves me to be concerned about peoples lives in eternity for sure (i.e. the salvation of their souls); however, most Christians and churches tend to stop right there, and don’t consider the people who need clothes, food, housing, counceling, a listening ear, a friend to depend upon, or just someone who will actually care about them. I think this is a travesty, and hasoften done damage rather than help.

    This is why I am seriously looking for ways to authentically connect with people in my community in order to help them in tangible ways. I don’t mean political action or even social activism. I certainly don’t want to be manipulative. There is plenty of that around, inside and outside of the church.

    So, what can we do? Where do we start? What are some real ways we can make the world a better place?

    Thanx!

  8. Hey Sam,

    I as a Christian can kinda empathize with you. When I look at a lot of churches, I can see why you and many others don’t believe in God. Many Christians give simplistic answers and explanations of their beliefs, and quite frankly, really don’t know what they believe or are talking about. Additionally, a lot of them only focus on a ticket to heaven. They forget about all the things that need addressed here and now:

    How can we end global poverty? How can we stop the spread of disease? How can we protect our environment? In what ways can justice be brought to the oppressed?

    These are things that Christians should be about, but regrettably are not about, on a general scale. However, there is a movement in Christianity (Emerging movement) that is addressing this.

    Ultimately, I want Christianity to be a way of life rather than an event we go to three times a week. I want Christianity to be about relationships with others and about helping others in any way possible.

    Hopefully if Christians like me and Jeff R. can find ways to bring the message of Jesus to life (instead of just in our heads), then maybe we can show you and others that maybe there is more to Jesus than just a simple carpenter that lived 2000 years ago. And then again, maybe we won’t be able to. Nevertheless, different beliefs shouldn’t keep Christians and non-Christians from having meaningful relationships and living their lives together.

    Jeff Turpin

  9. I wasn’t turned of Christianity- I was never indoctrinated.

    I don’t see what Christianity has with being moral- if god is going to fix everything upon your death, doesn’t that make all your work pointless?

    Making the world a better place is technology, public service and politics. What does your faith have to do with it?

    If god cared about people why is there suffering? Why do you believe in God- why do you think faith is okay?

    Unfortunately Christianity, like other religious beliefs has a bad record of coexisting with nonbelievers. The problem is people actually take the Bible literally and think out the implications… bad for the rest of us.

  10. Samuel,

    I appreciate your candid comments. Christians certainly aren’t perfect people. That’s not an excuse to do stupid things, but it is true. Also, God never said for them to be moral police, that is just a role that many Christians have taken upon themselves.

    What is the point of morals at all? What is wrong with killing, lying, cheating, stealing, etc.? These are rhetorical questions of course, and I also acknowledge, people don’t have to be Christian to hold to these morals, so I won’t even go there.

    I can see where technology has helped the world and hurt the world. I can’t for the life of me see where politics has ever helped the world. Public service, I like, but what kind really makes a difference? This is the issue I have been racking my brain over.

    You said, “Unfortunately Christianity, like other religious beliefs has a bad record of coexisting with nonbelievers.” You are, unfortuanately correct to a degree. Christianity, as a religion, has done some aweful things. But you see, I don’t believe Jesus intended on starting a “religion”. That is just what people have done to what He started.

    You said, “The problem is people actually take the Bible literally and think out the implications… bad for the rest of us.” Actually, I think a lot of people who claim to be Christians don’t read the Bible at all. If they did, I think their actions would be quite different.

    You said, “If god cared about people why is there suffering? Why do you believe in God- why do you think faith is okay?” Do you ask these questions because you are interested, or because you are trying to make a point? Just wondering, not meaning to infer anything here. It is difficult to “hear” what you’re saying, because we are typing.

    Thanx agian for the conversation…

  11. No most Chrisians don’t read the bible. If they did I would either be surrounded by atheists or dead.

    Politics… um you know infrastructure, disease elimination, urban planning, etc. Politics gets a bad rap, but it isn’t a force for evil like conservatives think- it is a tool.

    The reason I’m interested in morality is I’m a good person and interested in being better at it.

    Rhetorical and serious- if I get a good reason I’d convert- don’t think it will be possible- I have heard virtually every varient and arguement. Well, maybe not yet.

  12. Samuel,

    Thanks for continuing the discussion. I thought you got bored or something.

    You said, “No most Chrisians don’t read the bible. If they did I would either be surrounded by atheists or dead.”

    I assume by that comment you have read the entire Bible. What do you mean by “I would be surrounded by atheists or dead”? Do you think Christians would want to kill you for not believing? Do you think if people really read the Bible they would be convinced it wasn’t what Christians claim it to be? I am really interested in understanding your point of view on this. Maybe there is something I am missing here.

    As far as politics goes, I think we may be talking about two different things. I think you are talking about goverment, not the political agendas that tend to drive it. Government is not bad. In fact, I believe, it was established by God. Jesus even told His followers to pray for government officials. The politics I was refering to is the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” kind of stuff. You know the “game” of politics.

    Although, I don’t see where government has ever eliminated diseases. Also, I live in Memphis and I can tell you that the infrastructure and urban planning in this city sucks. The elected officials here are more concerned about their agendas and pocket books than the good of the people. Which is exactly what churches are not supposed to be about, but many have reduced themselves to. That is what I have a problem with, and that is why I am looking for genuine ways to make a difference.

    I don’t doubt you are a good person. I have known several atheists that were “good” people. I only wish I had gotten to know them better when I had the chance. I am quite sure you want a better world with better opportunties for your family and those you care about. I don’t think bad about atheists. I just obviously have a different perspective and purpose, at least at the moment.

    I am certainly not trying to get you to “convert”. In fact, I am done trying to get people to “convert”. Jesus never told His followers to go out and convert people. He said His Kingdom was close. In fact, He said it was within those who believed and followed His Way. He taught us that by being concerned with our neighbors lives and offering ourselves in their service was how to bring His Kingdom into reality on the earth. Yes, I believe He will personally come again, and set up this as a physical Kingdom on the earth. He said He would. But that is what I believe is to come. I am more interested in what is going on today, and I am convinced that He is too.

    Being a Christian IS NOT about following rules and regulations. Religion is about what you can’t do, but Jesus is all about what you can do. He gave feet to what He taught. I am sure you have heard about His death, burial, and resurrection. You have heard that you need to repent of your sins against God, and accept Jesus as your savior, because He paid your sin-debt on the cross. I believe that, but that’s not all. It’s not about what you get. It’s about who you follow. It’s not about getting your “get-out-of-Hell-free” card. It is about learning from Jesus and immulating His life and thereby making the world a better place. Unfortunately, many Christians miss this part. They just think about “getting the hell out of Dodge”. They just go to “church”, and think they are doing God some great service by showing up. They ignore the needs of people who are hurting around them. Oh, they may give a few bucks to some charity or a guy on the corner in order to make themselves feel superior or better, but they don’t engage the problem.

    I will say that there are alot of Christians realizing how shallow and ineffective this is. They are looking for ways to help. That is where I am. I really want to understand how my faith in Jesus and desire to follow His Way, can propel me to make a difference in people’s lives. Government isn’t cutting it. Science doesn’t have all the answers. Technology, knowledge, and military superiority doesn’t stop hunger, clothe the naked, and end famines. And I will admit that Christianity has done a bad job of seeing through with what Jesus began, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change.

    Wow. I said way more than I intended. I hope this isn’t redundant or confusing.

  13. I disappered for this reason-http://xkcd.com/386/
    And it was hard to find my way back- I lost track of one sight and I still haven’t found it yet! It is going to be a long search through history.

    The bible has this thing about nonbelievers- it doesn’t like them. Alot.

    Game politics is basically people working for the benefit of the parts instead of the whole- it is only a problem when it becomes for said parts to the exclusion of the whole.

    Smallpox and polio were eliminated by a worldwide program. I believe in was run by the WHO with the aid of various national governements. On a more local level malaria and yellow fever in the South were eliminated by government programs (I think- they haven’t had any cases in a century). Hookworm in the US was eradicated by a private philandroper. Don’t take my word for it- you can look these up. As for infrastructure the interstate jighway system is a terrific example- it was all built by the federal government.

    Corruption and disunity- that is what you don’t like. It occurs anywhere there is power, because what is power but the ability to get things to happen? The easiest way to deal with it would be to have more transparency (so people can get caught) and accountability ( people who are caught are fired or imprisioned). Unfortunately the government tends not to be interested in doing this- either due to corruption or the fact they don’t like creating more work for themselves. So it depends on outside sources, like the civil service reform movement.

    Unity is tougher. You’ll need shared values, an external threat, civil service ethic or a rallying point. Also trust- either implict or explicit.

    If you want to fix this become a politican to alter it from the inside or an activist to change it from the outside.

    Techically I’m a decent person- I usually do the right thing, but I could do more. Plus I’m a bit of an asshole.

    Why not? If you are right and I am wrong I want to know- this isn’t something like fashion choice or cuisine choice- this is like politics, science theories or morality- you want to be sure you have the right answer.

    There is a simple reason for that- Mainstream Christianity doesn’t teach that. Hasn’t ever since Paganism went from being “The Man” to Christianity. And a religion that stress self sacrifice… well it just doesn’t fill the coffers. Or the pews. Maytardom fills in quite nicely for that need.

    What you are talking about is self sacrifice- but why are you religious? You could do better as an atheist- after all you want to minister to people’s needs not their souls.

    I take exception to your condemnation of government and technology being “end hunger, cloth the naked and end famines”. The fact is we only have clothes made of cotton because of the industrial revolution and the mechanical loom. Although hunger hasn’t been completely ended the fear of a global famine has, thanks mostly to one man- Norman Borlaug. (http://www.whybiotech.com/index.asp?id=4075) This man triggered the Green Revolution, a huge breakthough. Over a billion people owe their lives to him! That is how many people his engineered cereal crops feed. This man could be the most influential in all of human history (well maybe Keynes gets that award)! If you seek to help others I can think of no way to help so many so quickly. As for famines, yes governments do end them. Where there are democratic governments with a free press (and not a colony) famines end. For example the worlds worst food disaster happened in India in 1943, due partily to a short fall of food, but heavily due to hoarding, speculation and the governments actions. 4 million people died. More recent Indian shortfalls haven’t resulted in such death tolls because the Republic of India undertakes measures whenever there is a shortfall. Governments can and have acted to prevent food shortfalls from turning into famine. Or they have used it as a tool to earn cash and crush resistance. It depends on the government.

  14. I am glad you found me again. I hope you stick around and continue to leave comments. I like thoughts from a different point of view. It makes me think.

    You said, “The bible has this thing about nonbelievers- it doesn’t like them. Alot.” Where do you get this impression? This thought interests me. I have certainly heard this before, but I have actually never understood where this thought comes from. I, personally, think I have a very high regard for those outside of Christianity. I may not agree with them, but I don’t hate them or think less of them. In fact, I am motivated to help them understand my perspective and be friends with them whether they ever agree with me or not. After all, I believe that God allows us the freedom to choose, why should I seek to take that freedom away?

    You said, “Corruption and disunity- that is what you don’t like.” Yes, that is correct. I think most people don’t appreciate those things, regardless of their particular beliefs or non-beliefs in God, etc.

    You know, as I read back through what you have written, it seems that we would probably agree on more issues than we would disagree on. I would agree that government has helped many people in many diverse situations. I want to make myself clear that I am not “anti-government”.

    I have also considered going into politics, at least at a very local level. I work in the Long Term Care industry helping people buy, sell, and lease Nursing Homes and other LTC businesses. We also help companies expand their portfolios through obtaining CONs, and building or rebuilding Nursing Homes, etc.. I have a vested interested the funding of Long Term Care. This is an issue directly related to Medicaid and Medicare, and thus state and federal government. I realize that this is “self-interest”, but that is just one issue I have a concern with. So entering politics is certainly a possibility for me. Seems ironic after some of the comments I have made, right?

    Anyway, my point is that I don’t perceive government as a threat, but as one tool in the bag to bringing about social justice. However, from my limited understanding of current events and history, government cannot of itself make the world a better place. In fact, the more trust we place in government, the bigger it gets, the more money it takes, and the more control it takes from the people and assumes for itself. This is an issue, as you said, in any place that has “power” or “authority” given to or assumed by people. My question, therefore, is, what guides the principles that inform the government?.

    Science is fantastic. I love and appreciate the various fields of science that have discovered ways to make our lives better and more comfortable. In fact, if you look at the origins of modern scientific methods, you find many Christians at the forefront. But again science is just a tool. What guides its principles?

    The list could go on and get more specific: medicine, economics, sociology, psychology, ecology, and many others, are great fields of study that make our lives better and are discovering more ways all the time. But again, they are tools. What exists to drive their principles?

    This is where I believe God and His Word are vital. The Bible offers the foundation of understanding our world. Christianity, without all of the excesses of religion, moralism, structures, systems, etc., offers a framework for understanding all of reality. In fact, Solomon wrote, “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7) The word fear here simply means a reverential respect, not being “afraid” of God.

    If a person begins with God, and begins to acknowledge and view reality through that lens (called a world-view) obscure things and issues begin to make sense in an entirely different way. Science comes to life. The study of social dynamics, psychological issues, ecological stewardship, and economic resolutions begin to surface and answers to complex problems begin to make their way out of the haze.

    I am not saying that Christianity offers a “quick fix” to all of earth’s problems. Our problems are far more complex than that. What I am saying is that Christianity offers a new pair of glasses to view the world and it’s complexity. If Jesus is correct, and we begin following His Way, our view of the world should soften. Compassion, love, grace, and mercy should take root in our very souls and motivate us to seek answers to life’s most difficult issues, thereby replacing greed, deceit, self-centeredness, hate, bigotry, closed-mindedness, hypocricy, and the like.

    You said, “What you are talking about is self sacrifice- but why are you religious? You could do better as an atheist- after all you want to minister to people’s needs not their souls.” The truth is, ultimately, I do want to minister to people’s souls. But frankly, often their current “spiritual” needs are over-powered by their “physical” needs. And yes, I am talking about self-sacrifice. That is exactly what Jesus taught in the Gospels. He taught about a Kingdom that was not structured by a top-down, hierarchical structure, but rather a grassroots bottom-up, sacrificial serving community that would infiltrate the darkest of situations and bring light, healing, wisdom, love, grace, and mercy.

    I will admit and openly apologize on behalf of mainstream Christianity and much of historical Christianity, just as many others have and are doing, that we have dropped the ball on this. We have often been way more concerned about filling our coffers and pews with money and butts, and forgetting about what Jesus taught and did, all while using His name to justify our misdeeds. Christians have been guilty of racism, bigotry, hate, genocide, manipulation, greed, authoritarian abuses, hypocricy, deceit, murder, selfishness, and many other atrocities throughout history and into this very day. Their is no excuse for this. However, it is not too late for change, and these actions, though often “justified” by a misuse of Scripture, are not an accurate application of what the Bible teaches.

    On the contrary, I do believe the message of Jesus offers the greatest and only legitimate hope for mankind in this life and afterward. Even if archeologists “proved” Jesus was not God as He claimed to be, I still believe His message and life offer a pattern for how we should live and treat others. I just happen to believe all of what the Guy claimed. I do believe He is God. I believe He offered Himself as a sacrifice for us all while giving us a pattern for how our lives should be lived out and offering us open access to God’s forgiveness.

    Maybe I cling to a false hope. Maybe I and millions of others have been wrong for 2000 years and before, but at least for now, I am inclined to follow on, convinced that I am screwed up, and He is right. Some claim this to be weakness, insecurity, and narrow-mindedness. I am not sure what to say to that. I just believe. My beliefs motivate me, give me purpose, and offer me direction for how to make our world a better place for my children and their children and so on.

    So with that, I search for tangible ways to make my community a better place to live. I want to find ways to help people understand that they matter. I want to find realistic ways to take my convictions about Jesus, the Bible, and God into a world that is hurting and bring healing, grace, and mercy to the people that God loves so much He would sent His only Son into their world to die for them so that all those who would believe in Him would not perish, but have eternal life and in return extend that life to others with the same love that it was extended to them.

    Hope that helps you understand my perspective. Don’t mean to be “preachy” or anything. Just letting you know where I am coming from.

    Thanx!

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