What Is Practical Atheism?
The organized church is torn with strife and distrust. Ultimately, the battle is not so much between conservatives and liberals, evangelicals and activists, or fundamentalists and modernists. The issue now is between belief and unbelief: Is Christianity true or false, real or unreal?
What is deadly to the church is when the external forms of religion are maintained while their substance is discarded. This we call practical atheism. Practical atheism appears when we live as if there were no God. The externals continue, but man becomes the central thrust of devotion as the attention of religious concern shifts away from man’s devotion to God to man’s devotion to man, bypassing God. The “ethic” of Christ continues in a superficial way, having been ripped from its supernatural, transcendent, and divine foundation.
Practical atheism appears when we live as if there were no God.
Biblical Christianity knows nothing of a false dichotomy between devotion to God and concern for man. The Great Commandment incorporates both. It is because God is that human life matters so much. It is because of the reality of Christ that ethics are vital. It is because the cross was a real event that the sacraments can minister to us. It is because Christ really defeated death that the church offers hope. It is because of Jesus’ real act of atonement that our forgiveness is more than a feeling.
The church’s life and her creed may be distinguished but never separated. It is possible for the church to believe all the right things and do the wrong things. It is possible also to believe the wrong things and do the right things (but not for very long). We need right faith initiating right action. Honest faith—joined with honest action—bears witness to a real God and a real Christ.