Practical Atheism

Benjamin Warfield and Parker Palmer agree on this!

Many years ago, in his essay, Leading From Within, Parker Palmer talked about "functional atheism." By this, Palmer meant the Christian leader who speaks about God, but who lives, acts and leads in a way that believes if anything good is going to happen, it is pretty much up to the leader to make it happen.

Functional Atheism!
That phrase got my attention, because it described my journey. I believed in God, but there was very little prayerful dependence on God. For all intents and purposes, the way I led indicated I believed exactly what Parker Palmer described. It was up to my hard work to make good things happen!

Evangelical Deist!
Later I borrowed the idea of deism - the theology that believes God exists, but He is not involved in the day to day affairs of life. He wound up the universe, set its principles and laws in motion, and then removed himself. Follow the laws, obey the principles and things will generally work out. That seemed to me to describe exactly how so many evangelicals seemed to operate. God gave us the laws, principles, rules, TRUTH we need in the Bible. Follow it and things will work out pretty well for you. So we have lots of principles, but not much intimate relationship. We are an evangelical version of deism, with great truth but little encounter with God.

Practical Atheism!
Then I recently came across this phrase from a great Reformed-Calvinist theologian/apologist, Benjamin Warfield. Here is his quote below. With this idea, Warfield is talking about the same serious problem Palmer described. We believe there is a God, but the way we live shows we mainly believe in ourselves. God is relegated to the periphery. He does not occupy the Center. We are forgetful of the great things that are True of our God.

Benjamin Warfield quote practical atheism


We live in a time when powerful, robust, courageous, faithful, and intimate BELIEF and TRUST in GOD are vital. Ours is an age weak in belief, shallow in understanding and therefore, self-centered in orientation.

It is not a new problems. It has been around for a long time. Here is the corrective God gives us through the prophet Jeremiah.

This is what the Lord says,
Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight, declares the Lord
Jeremiah 9:23-24


Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International