Friday, March 30, 2007

Only an atheist can be a good Christian

Yesterday, I quoted Jurgen Moltmann as saying that only a Christian can be a good atheist. The full quotation, as it appears in Daniel L. Migliore's The Power of God (page 42), goes, "Only an atheist can be a good Christian; only a Christian can be a good atheist." As I mentioned, the second phrase makes a significant point in affirming the value that Christianity places on the human life (or at least, ought to). This is not to say that we affirm absolute value to the individual or deny the sinfulness of the individual and the race. I have little time for the "self-esteem" teaching that is so in vogue today. What I do believe is that a biblical view of humanity gives us a sound foundation for a proper understanding of human rights and religious freedom, in particular.

But let me address the first line of Moltmann's statement in this blog; "Only an atheist can be a good Christian." As Migliore points out, this is not as controversial statement as one might expect. There is a tradition of "atheism" in Christianity. The early Christians were frequently accused by the Roman authorities of being "atheists" and were brutally persecuted for it. The accusation rests in the exclusive claims of Christianity. When we claim to have faith in the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible and in Jesus Christ, we say "No" to the gods of this world and declare them all to be false gods. This includes the gods both formal and informal; the official gods of organized religions and the gods that we decide that we can live comfortably with. The God who has spoken to us and revealed Himself puts these gods to flight. You cannot live with them and with the true God. If you refuse to believe in the true God, it is because you cannot rid yourself of conceptions of God which are woefully inadequate. You cling to your idols and reject those who urge you to free yourself of them.

The atheist says, "Your God is false and dehumanizing." So does the Christian. This is why I am convinced that, for the most part, dialogue between religions is not only a waste of time but dishonoring to the true God. True biblical Christians will always continue to live under the accusation of being "atheists." This is part of our legacy of faithfulness to the living God.

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