Militant Atheism. Those calling themselves by this title not only refuse, but also openly attack religion – specifically Christianity. However, when we examine the arguments they use to reject submission to God and vilify Christianity we find their understanding about the God they seek to refute is a straw man. The atheist understanding of God is contrary to Scripture and this makes their opposition to Christianity fallacious. It is prudent for Christians to be aware of these theological shortcomings in order to be able to proclaim a God-exalting gospel when we have discussions with these people.
To examine and understand these shortcomings, it is useful to compare some of the common arguments used by atheists with a theological understanding of what the Bible says and what thinking Christians actually believe. When we understand the greatness of God and the reductionist view of God that characterizes the atheist understanding of Him, we can see that in evangelism the primary goal is to present the greatness of God in a coherent way.
John Loftus, an atheist author, recently asked two questions of Christian believers regarding God and earthquakes. The first is “could God have averted the [earthquakes] in the past and continue doing so in the future?” (Loftus). He intends to elicit an obvious “yes.” He follows this by requesting that we “also agree that the more power a person has then the more he is morally obliged to help avert suffering.” This statement is one that we might be able to agree with if we were discussing human beings who have moral obligations to “love their neighbour as themselves,” but when it is applied to God, it must be balanced with the roles the Bible attributes to Him.Loftus puts these aside, however, and assumes that man can judge God by the same standards as a human. However, the God of the Bible is beyond human judgment
The Bible presents God as the creator and judge. It is critical to ask why God allows things like earthquakes to happen in context of all of the attributes and roles God holds. Regarding God as subject to human judgment is to ignore the Biblical view of God and build a straw man.
The Bible reveals that God created the world and mankind for His glory and mankind rebelled against this purpose. So, if God were a good God (as atheists tend to argue) then would it be right for Him to overlook this rebellion? If God is creator, He has the right to create for His purpose. The greater rights must overrule the lesser rights – the rights of the creator are greater than the rights of the creation to rebel – if indeed, the creation has any right to rebel. The Bible strongly affirms God’s rights to create for His own purposes (Rom 9:21).
God is also the judge. That is to say, He determines what He will do with his creation – particularly with those who rebel. Scripture states that God stores judgment for individuals until after their earthly lives are over (Heb 9:27). However, God has also declared judgments in the form of curses, including immediately after Adam and Eve committed the first sin. These judgments are experienced today and reveal the wrath of God upon mankind, taking the lives of these rebellious creations seemingly indiscriminately through natural causes including earthquakes. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) – and therefore these general judgments affect all mankind as a consequence mans introduction of sin into God’s creation.
Regarding God as we would a human – even a super human (Loftus) – is wrong. For an atheist to use this flawed concept of God is to reject a God that the Bible doesn’t say exists. In contrast, the Biblical God is man’s creator and judge and therefore possesses rights and motives for His actions that human beings do not. By these rights and motives, earthquakes and other natural disasters remind us of our sin as nations and as a race and should drive us to repentance.
Another assertion used by atheists against God that reveals a similar problem is rejection of God because of genocide. The assertion normally states, “I cannot follow a God who tells people to commit genocide.” It is simply wrong to annihilate men, women, and children, the atheist will state.Furthermore, modern rules of war inform us that targeting civilians by military personnel is an offense. The rules of war regard civilians as innocent bystanders who are unarmed and neutral in the conflict. For God to contravene these rules demonstrates that His morality is less than the common sense morality of an average man.
Most people will agree that for a human to commit genocide is wrong, but as we have already seen, God is not a human, but is creator and judge and has rights over His creation to do with it as He desires. We have also seen that God institutes judgment upon earth as a result of the presence of sin on which came about because of man’s rebellion against his creator.
When Isaiah saw a vision of God, the most obvious thing about what he saw was that God was holy. The holiness of God “means that He is separated from sin and devoted to seeking His own honor” (Grudem, p201). This one feature of God in Isaiah’s vision gripped him, shaking him to his core. When Isaiah saw this vision of the perfectly holy God, he didn’t gaze in wonder, or stop to ask questions or accuse God of injustice, rather he instantly declared his own comprehensive ruin and condemnation by crying “Woe is me, for I am ruined!”
The holiness of God revealed to Isaiah showed Isaiah that his standing before God was as one who had devoted himself to that which God considered detestable and had lived among others who had loved that which was detestable to God. From this there was no escape, and only one suitable punishment – all this became shatteringly clear to Isaiah in the instant he saw God as He is – holy and perfect.
Isaiah’s understanding of God’s holiness helps us put the command to wipe out entire nations into context – each person of those nations had done exactly the same as Isaiah, they too had lived their lives devoted to that which God held to be detestable. They did this to express their rebellion against God. Their death and subsequent punishment is therefore justified
To declare God unjust because he incited Israel to commit genocide is to grossly misunderstand the character of God in addition to the rights and motives of God, and to miscalculate the evil of man’s sin and how this affects the relationship between God and man.
Unfortunately, this growing breed of atheist resists argumentation as though gripped by a religious fervour. For this reason, it is pointless to refute their scientific and philosophical arguments. However, we should directly attack the straw man that they reject, and by doing so help them to see the greatness of the God who created them and who will judge them.
When we present a high view of God, we portray Him more accurately and introduce other concerns into the mind of the hearer such as their own moral culpability and redemptive need.
This provides us with an opportunity to declare to them the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, His suffering and punishment and the purpose of God to bring many, including atheists into the kingdom of his Father through the redemption available in Christ.
Grudem, Wayne and John Hughes. Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Inter-Varsity Press, 2004. Electronic Edition