Bad behaviors left unattended becomes bad habits that are hard to break. In fact, we’ve often become so accustomed to our bad habits that we might not even consider them to be all that bad anymore. They just “are.” For example, habits like worry, anger, hate, revenge, gossip, jealousy, etc. Or habits like being late all the time, or overeating, smoking, drinking too much, drugs, and manipulating others for our own benefit. We can add lust, greed, power hungry, and showing disrespect to others–especially those we don’t like for whatever reason–to the list. However, the #1 bad habit infecting all of us is (drum roll, please)… lying. We don’t even think twice about lying anymore. It’s become as natural as breathing to many of us (see December 2016 article in The Washington Post titled, “An epidemic of lies: Our country’s cultural plague just keeps getting worse”).
Well, you get the idea about bad habits. We all have them, and often we just excuse them off. So let’s consider this quote:
“The more I looked, the more I found Christian Atheists everywhere.”
Do you know who said it? It’s the topic of a 2010 book titled, “The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn’t Exist,” by Craig Groeschel, founder and senior pastor of Life.Church which started back in 1996 in a two-car garage by him and a handful of others. It is now “the largest church [as of September 2016] in the United States with twenty six locations in eight states” (quote source here). He is also a New York Times bestselling author and has written several books.
“The more I looked, the more I found Christian Atheists everywhere.” Former Christian Atheist Craig Groeschel knows his subject all too well. After over a decade of successful ministry, he had to make a painful self admission: although he believed in God, he was leading his church like God didn’t exist. To Christians and non-Christians alike, to the churched and the unchurched, the journey leading up to Groeschel’s admission and the journey that follows—from his family and his upbringing to the lackluster and even diametrically opposed expressions of faith he encountered—will look and sound like the story of their own lives. Now the founding and senior pastor of the multi-campus, pace-setting LiveChurch.tv [Life.Church], Groeschel’s personal journey toward a more authentic God-honoring life is more relevant than ever. Christians and Christian Atheists everywhere will be nodding their heads as they are challenged to take their own honest moment and ask the question: am I putting my whole faith in God but still living as if everything was up to me? (Quote source here.)
The following endorsements for the book should pique the interest of any Christian who is coasting along without serious thought for how they are living their everyday lives. These endorsements are found on the opening two pages of the book:
“The thing I’ve always appreciated about Craig is his willingness to be honest when his life doesn’t match up with the Scriptures. Too Many people are quick to make excuses for themselves and others who call themselves “Christian.” Craig challenges us to think deeply, honestly, and fearfully about how our lives may be contradicting our message.” ~Francis Chan, pastor and author
“In ‘The Christian Atheist,’ Craig leverages transparency to force the rest of us to take an honest look at the contrast between how we live and what we claim to believe. Craig’s vulnerability coupled with his fresh insights, will move you to begin realigning behavior with beliefs.” ~Andy Stanley, senior pastor, North Pointe Community Church
“Craig Groeschel is a brilliant communicator and a gift to the church worldwide. He has a way of saying the things we are all thinking with an approachable authority that resonates with the ups and downs of our daily walk with God. Craig’s genuine heart to see your life’s journey flourish, and his honest perspective on personal experiences, will quietly convict your heart and encourage your soul.” ~Brian Houston, senior pastor, Hillsong Church
“Church people always talk about Christians and non-Christians, but nobody ever talks about the people in-between. Most of the men and women I talk to everyday fall into that middle ground, the group that believes in God but lives like he’s not there, doesn’t care, or doesn’t matter. In ‘The Christian Atheist,’ Pastor Craig Groeschel hits this audience head-on, opening up about his own doubts and fears, while setting the table for hundreds of life-changing discussions about who God is and how he operates.” ~Dave Ramsey, host of The Dave Ramsey Show, Ramsey Solutions
“There are too many Christian Atheists in the church today, and through this book, Craig Groeschel challenges the genuineness of faith in the life of the self-proclaimed believer. ‘The Christian Atheist’ will cause you to move from head knowledge to heart knowledge. This is a must-read for every Christian.” ~Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor, Free Chapel
“Craig’s insights and candor combine to make this book a true gift to ‘atheists’ of all kinds!” ~Bill Hybels, senior pastor, Willow Creek Community Church, and chairman of the board, Willow Creek Association
“‘The Christian Atheist’ will challenge you, push you, and disturb you. It will redefine your sense of purpose and focus as a Christian. Every Christian today need to read this book. Craig’s gut-level honesty is refreshing and will help move you toward a life that is fully devoted to Christ. Too many of us live lives that don’t truly reflect who we are as followers of Christ. But the good news is we can change. True Christianity awaits us. And Craig provides a practical prescription for how to get there.” ~Brad Lomenick, president, Catalyst
That should whet your appetite for reading “The Christian Atheist.” Groeschel opens the book with a sobering verse from Titus 1:16: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” In his “A Letter to the Reader” found on pp.11-15, he describes a conversation he had with a 23-year-old female grad student named Michelle who sat next to him on a flight and who he describes as a Christian Atheist. Here is what he writes on pp. 13-15:
Christian Atheists are everywhere. They attend Catholic churches, Baptist churches, Pentecostal churches, nondenominational churches, and even churches where the pastor says, “GAW-duh!” when he’s preaching. They attend big seminaries, Big Ten universities, and every college in between. They are every age and race and occupation–and some even read their Bibles everyday.
Christian Atheists look a lot like Christians, but they live a lot like Travis [e.g., a middle-aged father of two heading home from an unsuccessful business trip that Groschel sat next to on a previous flight–that conversation is on pp. 11-13, but in Travis’ case he denies the existence of God altogether and states that he thinks Christians are the weakest people alive].
Before our plane took off, Michelle struck up a conversation. Somewhat nervous about flying, she seemed eager to talk, as if our chat might make the flight pass more quickly. After describing her difficulties with balancing her checkbook and handling her divorced parents and her live-in boyfriend–who’s scared to death of marriage–she asked me about my life.
Creating a diversion from my “I’m a pastor” answer, I explained that I’m married and have six children. “Six kids?! Don’t you know what causes kids?” she joked.
After some more small talk, Michelle asked me what I do for a living. No longer able to dodge the inevitable, I answered, “Well, as a matter of fact, I’m the pastor of a church.”
This revelation gave Michelle permission to unleash a stream of Christian words and stories. Dropping the occasional “God told me” and “God is good,” she smiled softly as she described how she “gave her life to Jesus” at the age of fifteen at a Christian youth camp. After praying sincerely, she was eager to get back to school to share her faith and live a life of purity and spiritual integrity. Michelle held on to her new belief in God but soon slipped back into her old way of life.
As if in a confessional, Michelle continued pouring out her life’s darker details. She looked down as she admitted that she was doing things with her live-in boyfriend that she knew she shouldn’t. She told me she wanted to go to church but was simply too busy working and studying. She did pray many nights–mostly that her boyfriend would become a Christian like she was. “If only he believed in Jesus, then he might want to marry me,” she said, wiping her tears.
At last, Michelle expressed one final confession: “I know my life doesn’t look like a Christian’s life should look, but I do believe in God.”
Welcome to Christian Atheism, where people believe in God but live as if he doesn’t exist. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I see this kind of atheism in myself. People might assume that a pastor wouldn’t struggle with any form of atheism, but I certainly do. Sadly, Christian Atheism is everywhere. There has to be a better way to live.
This book is for anyone courageous enough to admit to their hypocrisy. I hope it pushes you, challenges you, and disturbs you. And if you’re honest before God–as I am trying to be–perhaps together we can shed some of our hypocrisy and live a life that truly brings glory to Christ. (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 13-15).
I’ll give you the chapter titles but if you want more, you’ll need to get a copy of the book. The twelve chapter titles are revealing:
Introduction: A Recovering Christian Atheist (Groeschel’s own story)
Chapter 1: When You Believe in God but Don’t Really Know Him
Chapter 2: When You Believe in God but Are Ashamed of Your Past
Chapter 3: When You Believe in God but Aren’t Sure He Loves You
Chapter 4: When You Believe in God but Not in Prayer
Chapter 5: When You Believe in God but Don’t Think He’s Fair
Chapter 6: When You Believe in God but Won’t Forgive
Chapter 7: When You Believe in God but Don’t Think You Can Change
Chapter 8: When You Believe in God but Still Worry All the Time
Chapter 9: When You Believe in God but Pursue Happiness at Any Cost
Chapter 10: When You Believe in God but Trust More in Money
Chapter 11: When You Believe in God but Don’t Share Your Faith
Chapter 12: When You Believe in God but Not in His Church
Afterword: Third Line of Faith
Each chapter is filled with deeply personal stories that will move us to reflect on our own life as a Christian and what it means to be a Christian, and in the course of reading it, we’ll find that there really isn’t any “middle ground” that one can afford to stagnate on. In the “Afterword,” Groeschel writes about three “lines of faith” and how the third line of faith is the most crucial . . . and without it, nothing else matters. Groeschel states:
Several years ago [do remember that this book was published in 2010], I increasingly recognized inconsistencies between what I claimed to believe and the way I actually lived. I preached that people without Christ go to hell, but my life showed I wasn’t equally passionate to reach those people. Though I believed God wanted my life to be different, I found comparing myself to others easier than measuring my life against Christ’s. I preached that prayer is critical, But my prayer life was virtually nonexistent. God’s Word said my treasure shouldn’t be in this world, yet material things continued to grab my attention. Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow.” But worry came as naturally to me as breathing. If I truly belonged to Christ, I should surrender my whole life to him. I just gave him parts instead, and took them back whenever he didn’t do what I wanted. I called myself a Christian, but I lived like an Atheist.
The more honest I became, the more I hated living faithlessly, and the more I craved intimacy with God. “Whatever it takes” became my heart’s cry. Whatever it takes to know him. Whatever it takes to live like I truly love God. Whatever it takes to love eternity more than this world. Even if I have to fight, scrape, and crawl away from my Christian Atheism into a genuine, crucified life of faith and radical obedience to Christ, I’ll do whatever it takes. (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 234-235.)
Groeschel then explains a life changing experience that changed his direction:
One day I was at home working out on my elliptical machine, listening to a sermon on my iPod. Suddenly I just had to stop. Surrounded by God’s presence, I knelt down on the floor and started crying out to God. If you had seen me, you would have thought I was falling apart. But God was putting me back together.
I cried for all of God, and his presence became immediately real. Although I’d unquestionably been spiritually reborn a decade and a half ago, it was like I was being born again–again.
I’ve always believed in spiritual visions; I’d just never had one. Not anymore. I saw a picture as clear as the words on this page. I stood before three lines in the sand. Somehow I knew what each line represented. (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” p. 235).
At this point, he states the three lines of faith:
Line 1: I believe in God and the gospel of Christ enough to benefit from it. Like so many others, crossing that first line was easy. Sadly, many who call themselves Christians live here. If there is a God, I want to be on his good side. I want to go to heaven. I want him to bless me with good health, good relationships, and a happy life. Like the nine ungrateful lepers in Luke 17, once God has helped me, I forgot about him.
Most wouldn’t admit that this is all the faith they can manage. We want God’s benefits without changing how we live. We want his best, without our sacrifices. At the first line, we don’t fear God or share our faith. We still love this world. We’ll pursue happiness at any cost. The list goes on and on. We first-line believers get what we can get from God without giving much, if anything back . . . .
Line 2: I believe in God and Christ’s gospel enough to contribute comfortably. Past the first line are people who believe in God not only enough to benefit but also enough to give back–as long as it doesn’t cost too much. Many first-line Christians eventually cross the second line. “If I don’t have to change too much, I’ll do some of what God asks. If it doesn’t hurt too much, I’ll get more serious about God. But everyone has their limits, right?” Like the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, I was willing to go along with the religious rules as long as it didn’t hurt too much. . . .
Line 3: I believe in God and Christ’s gospel enough to give my life to it. Although most people I knew were line-one and line-two believers, suddenly anything less than line three didn’t seem like real Christianity to me. Could I give my whole life to Christ? Not only in words but in my daily life?
Verses I’d read dozens of times suddenly flooded to mind:
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26). Am I willing to lose my life?
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). Could I sacrifice my desires, my hopes, my dreams?
“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24). What would it take to make my life nothing to me, existing only to do what Christ wants me to do?
“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8). Could I truly count all my earthly possessions a loss, making Christ my greatest treasure? (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 235-238.)
I knew in the deepest part of myself: I have to be a third-line believer. With unquenchable thirst, I pursued living water above all substitutes. I started praying like never before. I started pursuing God in the morning and continued throughout the day. Jesus was on my mind when I fell asleep and when I awoke. Scripture started becoming my bread of life, nourishing my soul.
I surrendered one thing after another, until just one major hurdle stood between where I was and where God wanted me. I can’t tell you what that thing was. It’s simply too personal. Only two people in the world know it.
My battle to cross the third line lasted almost two years. I prayed about it daily. I quoted Scripture. Though spiritually exhausted, I wouldn’t give up. Spiritual warfare raged around me. Finally, on one very normal Saturday afternoon, by faith, I gave this last part of my life totally to God. I sacrificed a fear that had held me hostage since I was a child and made a promise to God that I’d never take it back.
I crossed the third line.
I believe in God and Christ’s gospel so much that I’m wiling to give my whole life to his cause. Nothing in this world is more important to me than my treasure in heaven. No fear in my heart is greater than my fear of God. Tears are filling my eyes as I type this. I cannot put into words what God has done in my heart.
I am a different person.
You can be, too. . . . (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 238-239.)
As we can see from the above brief quotes from “The Christian Atheist,” and as stated on the back cover of the book, “Goeschel’s frank and raw conversation about our Christian Atheist tendencies and habits is a convicting and life-changing read.” If we want to go beyond the surface and the “What’s in it for me?” mentality, read this book. And perhaps, as Goeschel stated at the end of his book, we, too, will be able to state . . . .
I’ve crossed the third line . . .
I’m a different person . . .
You can be, too . . . .
YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa: