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What Luther Says

There Are No Good, Moral Atheists

A friend and I were just talking the other night about how one of the things desperately needed in the Lutheran Church today (in the entire Christian Church today, actually) is a proper series of teachings on Apologetics, or how to contend for and defend our cherished faith as faithful believers in Christ Jesus.

It's no secret that a vast majority of Christians simply do not know why they believe what they believe. Worse, when confronted with common criticisms, objections, and questions from non-believers and skeptics, we tend to want to hide from such things by changing the subject or ignoring them outright.

Perhaps that's worth examining more closely another day. Today, let's take a look at one such apologetics resource that can help you Biblically and lovingly respond to an atheist.

Wes Moore is quickly becoming one of my favorite Christian Apologists (Jude 1:3). He wrote a piece awhile back that got me thinking how the Christian life is to be about Monergism and not morality. I'll explain.

"Monergism" describes the position in Christian theology of those who believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, works to bring about effectually the salvation of individuals through spiritual regeneration without cooperation from the individual.

This position is often presented in contrast to "Synergism" (where the idea of "free will" in regards to one's salvation comes from), or the belief that God and individuals cooperate for salvation.

Far too often you'll meet a person (perhaps you're one yourself) who believes that you can be a "good person" without being a Christian and without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Specifically, those who believe that Christianity is really nothing more than just living a "moral" life and that's it.

No Good Atheists

Sometimes in debates or discussions with atheists, the unbeliever uses the argument, “Well, you don’t have to believe in God to be moral.” In most cases, the Christian simply concedes the point and moves on.

I understand why we do this. I’ve even done it myself. However, I want to point out a flaw in our approach that can have serious consequences for the atheist we’re debating.

What’s the flaw? It comes down to this simple truth: There are actually no good atheists.

No Good Atheists

In the first place, I don’t buy the argument that atheists are good even when compared to the average lost person’s moral code. A person who denies the existence of a Creator has freed himself from any and all moral demands of a higher power. In their minds, they are free to do whatever they want, whenever they want.

If you could look into the secret places of many of their lives, I’m sure you would see a pattern of behavior that is far from moral.

As a former atheist, this was certainly the case in my life. Though I knew somewhere inside God was real, I rejected his (and, in fact, anyone else’s) authority over my life and allowed myself any form of sin I thought acceptable.

Moreover, it is difficult enough to try to do what is right when you believe in God and fear his judgment. How much more difficult when you couldn’t care less!

However, even if you grant the argument that an atheist can be as ‘moral’ as any other lost person, from a biblical perspective you must realize they are not good at all. In fact, quite to the contrary, they are patently evil.

Atheism Is Idolatry

Atheism is actually a form of idolatry. The idol in this case is man himself. In Romans 1:18-21, Paul says that mankind is without excuse for not knowing and worshipping the true God. Their rejection of what has been “made plain to them” leads them to create their own gods, which, in the end, are nothing more than an extension of themselves. In atheism, carved idols are not god, man is.

These people, far from being moral, are called “godless” and “wicked” (v. 18).
As an aside, based on this passage and others, I would argue that there is no such thing as an atheist. Atheists demonstrate the highest form of deception and hypocrisy, denying outwardly what they cannot avoid inwardly.

Years ago when I was an atheist, I thought about God all the time. I couldn’t get away from the overwhelming evidence, both inwardly and outwardly, that my Creator existed. It’s the same with all atheists.

But, back to the point—what the Bible says about atheists. The Bible calls those who reject the existence of God “fools”: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). Furthermore, the Bible declares that even the work done by an atheist (the wicked) is evil: “…the plowing of the wicked is sin” (Proverbs 21:4).

Think about it—what could be more immoral than denying the existence of the being who created you, gives you health and food and opportunity, and even the very breath you use to deny his existence?

The Harm of Allowing This

The problem with accepting this argument and not pointing out the biblical truth that atheists are not moral, is that it can leave the atheist with a sense of self-righteousness.

I know you don’t actually believe the atheist is righteous. And I know this isn’t what you’re actually saying when you concede this argument. But put yourself in the mind of the atheist. You, as the representative of the Bible and the true God, have just allowed for the possibility that he is, at least in some form, righteous.

How can conviction come in this case? What will the Spirit use to bring sorrow for sin?

In the end, our goal is not to win an intellectual argument (though the intellectual side of our faith is very important). Our goal is to lead lost souls in repentance to Jesus Christ for salvation. Sometimes we forget about that crucial goal when we’re engaged with an atheist.

We can’t afford to do that.

What Do You Recommend?

The next time an atheist says, “You don’t have to believe in God to be moral,” look at it as an open door to share the gospel. Tell him he can’t be moral at all and deny the existence of his Creator. Walk him through the arguments I’ve given in this article and the Bible passages I listed. And then tell him about the work of Jesus Christ on the cross on his behalf.

“But, they might get mad!” So what! “They might not listen.” How does that change anything? “They might accuse me of being intolerant.” What else is new?

We’re not here to win a popularity contest. The truth is not popular, especially among atheists, whose true, heart-level problem is not that they don’t know if God exists, but that they do, and simply hate him for it.

What could be more immoral than that?

However, at a deeper level, his ultimate purpose is not pleasure for humanity; it is his own glory demonstrated by allowing sin to exist in the world, and ultimately punishing some for that sin and having mercy on others.

I loved that. Don't you?

Please remember to use this approach the next time you're confronted with a similar argument.


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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