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Responding to the New Atheism

Laura at Pursuing Holiness has a good post on a Christian response to the New Atheism. I agree largely with Laura, though I would comment on a couple of details.

First, a common objection I hear to the new atheists is that they are too vocal and forceful. I think this criticism is not well directed. There is no reason to expect atheists to be quiet about what they believe. As Christians we do not want to be muzzled. What purpose is there in trying to do the same to others.

Second, my Christian friends, there are real atheists out there. There are some people who call themselves athesists who really are just backslidden Christians or often people have been so offended by other Christians that they can’t stand Christianity as a religion. But there are others who are philosophically convinced that there is no god of any variety.

Neither of these points is actually in response to Laura, but rather to comments made to me or read elsewhere.

The Jesus Paradigm

Christian apologetics is important, but its role is different than many people seem to think. Few people are argued into the kingdom, if any. What apologetics (done right) can accomplish is to clear the ground, deal with particular objections, and help Christians better understand their own theology and its impact on other areas of their lives.

In the substance of her post I think Laura is right on. The best defense we can possibly give to Christianity is to be Christian disciples. I don’t know where some of the commenters on Laura’s post go to church, but what I hear about social justice in church is not soft or easy. There is a view of social justice which calls for Christians to automatically support government programs that claim to help the poor because that is social justice. Biblical social justice calls on me to give of myself. It’s not a political manifesto; it’s a call to me personally and as part of a church community to carry out sacrificial ministry.

I am perfectly comfortable with having Christians arguing from all portions of the political spectrum as to what government’s role should be. A Christian’s duty is not fulfilled by advocacy for government action, nor are Christians derelict in their duty if they believe such social action is not an appropriate sphere of government action.

Christian Archy

But both groups (and folks like me in the middle) are derelict in their Christian duty if they are not serving others by giving of themselves.

The church has, in fact, failed in its duty to challenge the culture and to be God’s kingdom in the world. Our first loyalty has to be to the Kingdom of God and not the nations of the world. We need to get our primary loyalty straightened out so that people can tell we’re Christians and that this makes a difference.

And while we are about this type of social justice we need to remember that the core of any social justice we pursue must be the gospel message. My impression based on our actions is that we do not generally believe, on the left or the right, that the gospel message really can change lives. If we believed it our answer to many issues would be simple: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is not, as Laura put it, merely a form of fire insurance. It is a message that is transforming and demanding, two characteristics missing from too many of our churches. (Of course it is God who transforms, but he has chosen to do so through the proclamation of the gospel.)

I’d like to commend two books that I publish on this topic, and a third that is forthcoming. Christian Archy (David Alan Black) talks about our first loyalty to God’s kingdom. We will be releasing another volume, The Politics of Witness (Allan R. Bevere) in the same series that discusses why the church cannot speak truth to power today. On the matter of Christian discipleship we have The Jesus Paradigm (David Alan Black).

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