Making Atheists

In a post last week1, Russell Moore2 talks a bit about the recent Gallup poll that shows, for the first time ever, less than half those surveyed belong to a church. But he spends more time talking about the ways the Church is responsible for the decline.

We now see young evangelicals walking away from evangelicalism not because they do not believe what the church teaches, but because they believe the church itself does not believe what the church teaches.

This thought is not new. I’ve quoted Brennan Manning a thousand times, including here, from the intro to dc Talk’s “What If I Stumble” that came out a little over twenty-five years ago.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

It turns out some of the believing world finds that unbelievable, too.

Moore also talks briefly about the “culture war” that evangelicals have been talking about for the last forty years or more. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately; I’ve heard all of my adult life that the “culture” and/or government is at war with Jesus, but my observation has been that the culture isn’t at war with Jesus, it’s at war with bad Christians.

This isn’t new, either. Jesus had his own culture war, but it wasn’t with the government. The Romans didn’t care about Jesus one way or the other, except some of the ones who actually encountered Him; you know, the Roman centurion whose faith was “greater than anyone in Israel,” or the one who exclaimed “Truly this was the son of God” at His crucifixion.

No, it was the religious leaders of the day who were at war with Jesus. They had corrupted God’s word, made a big deal out of how they followed that corruption, and loved the attention of all the “sinners” who couldn’t quite live up to their supposed standard. Jesus had the temerity to actually point people to God’s word and say, “No, this is what God wants, and it’s most definitely not that,” while pointing at the religious leaders. Here’s how stupid that war got—when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, their conclusion was that Lazarus needed to die too, because it turns out raising someone from the dead makes people follow you!

The apostle Paul experienced the same thing. Again, the Romans didn’t give a whit about Paul, except when riots broke out around him. And who was rioting? The “religious” people of the day, who were apoplectic that Paul was proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah, and, again, pointing them to God’s word. They weren’t interested, because what God’s word said didn’t agree with their political position (stop me if this sounds familiar), and so they opened a war on Paul.

The war I see is within the Church, not without. I know multiple people afraid to speak up about the degradation of the Joker because of the hostility from others in their church. I’ve watched a war on common sense for the last year as people in the church politicize a virus that will be glad to kill them regardless of who they voted for. I’ve watched pastors attack other pastors (and members and anyone else, really) having the audacity to point to God’s word regarding justice.

The “culture war” is inside the church, not outside. Are we going to follow God’s word, or are we going to protect our territory? Are we going to live for Jesus, or for ourselves? Are we going to love our enemy, or declare all the Democrats the Antichrist? Are we going to call sin sin, even when it’s “our side”?

In Joshua 5, Joshua is out walking in the fields right before the “battle” of Jericho. Joshua has followed Moses, which is slightly worse than following Carson. He’s about to lead the people in his first fight in the Promised Land, and God has told him to … walk around the city and be quiet. Reading between the lines, I conclude he’s a little nervous. (God has told him a half-dozen times to “Be strong and courageous.” You only repeat that to someone who needs to hear it.)

While he’s out wandering around, he comes across a man with a sword. Joshua immediately goes into war mode—“Hey, you, are you with us or are you with them?”

No.

Not just “No,” but “No, but I am the commander of YHWH’s army.” And Joshua prostrated himself and worshipped him.

The war isn’t us versus them. It isn’t about our side verses their side. What Joshua learned that day was there was no “our side”. There is only God’s side, and are we on it or not? That’s the war, and it’s a war too many of us are losing. And that war, like all wars, has innocent casualties, including those who flee the battlefield because they don’t like the side we’ve chosen.

Joshua never forgot what he learned out walking that day. Right before he died, he brought all Israel to Shechem, and all the elders to himself. He told them to choose sides—not our side or their side, but God’s side or not God’s side. “You can choose God or something else,” Joshua said, “but as for me and my house, we will serve YHWH.” A few verses later, it says that for all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, Israel served YHWH. Joshua chose to live for YHWH, and he made disciples who also chose to live for YHWH.

Let’s quit making atheists and make some disciples instead.


  1. With that title, I’m disappointed he didn’t work in a callout to R.E.M.
  2. President of the Ethics & Religion Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was nearly fired during the last administration for having the gall to call a liar a liar, because the SBC cares deeply about ethics and religious liberty as long as you have the same political views they do.

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