The Tremendous Challenge of Atheism
[The following originally appeared in Gospel Advocate April 30, 1980.]
There can be little doubt that the truly "big" issue which faces the church now and for many years to come is that of skepticism. By "skepticism" I mean to include such diverse viewpoints as atheism, agnosticism, positivism, and all sorts of religions which reject the existence of the true God and the inspiration of the Bible. However, in this article emphasis will be on atheism in particular. I plan to divide this article into three main parts: (1) Part I — The Growth and Power of Atheism, (2) Part II — What Must We Do About It? and (3) A Conclusion.
Before considering atheism in particular, it seems necessary to distinguish it from (at least) agnosticism, positivism, and theism. In regard to the proposition "God does exist," the atheist holds that the proposition (1) is a meaningful one, (2) can be conceived to be either true or false, and (3) is one which he (the atheist) knows to be false.
In response to the same proposition, the agnostic holds that the proposition (1) is a meaningful one, (2) can be conceived to be either true or false and (3) is one for which the available evidence is not sufficient for anyone to know whether it is true or false.
In response to the same proposition ("God does exist") , the logical positivist holds that the proposition (1) is not a meaningful one, (2) can not sensibly be conceived to be either true nor false, but (3) is merely "nonsensical" (i.e., is an "emotive" statement, one which states merely the feelings of the affirmant).
In response to the same proposition ("God does exist"), the (Biblical) theist holds that the proposition is: (1) a meaningful one, (2) one which can be conceived to be either true or false, and (3) one which he (the theist) knows to be true!
PART I— THE GROWTH AND POWER OF ATHEISM
I. The Growth of atheism.
Centuries ago, when skeptical philosophers propounded their views in which they argued that they knew that God did not exist, it was very difficult for their ungodly teachings to reach and influence the masses of common (non-academic) men. This was the case for a number of reasons. Among these reasons were the following: (1) They wrote in the technical language of professional philosophers, and the ordinary man did not understand what they had written. (2) The means of communication were so poor (there were no televisions, newspapers, radios, magazines, movies, etc.) that only a relative handful of people even saw (or perhaps even heard) their works. (3) It required so much time for an idea to spread from one nation to another.
Now, of course, it is different. Television enables men to learn what has happened on the other side of the world within just a few moments of time. The tremendous power of radio, newspapers, magazines, books, etc. are means by which ideas are communicated to almost everyone in the world within weeks—or, perhaps, even days or hours. [How much more would Dr. Warren's spirit be stirred within him today concerning the swiftness of the communication of information given the coming of the digital world with such things as the personal computer, the internet, social media, and the smart phone! — WCAC]
Thus, it seems clear that, whereas in days gone by atheism was basically a topic for mere theoretic discussion of a very small number of scholars, atheism is finding its way (with increasing force and power) to every level of public education around the world. Further, it is finding its way into every phase and facet of human activities outside of formal educational ones.
Still further, the official atheism of Marxist philosophy (the very core of which is the dialectical materialism which emphatically claims to know that God does not exist) has not only the very efficient means of communicating that message (of atheism) on a world-wide basis by means of modern technology but it also has a very powerful military arm to force its way where it would not otherwise be able to go.
No building can stand after its foundation has been destroyed. No religion can stand after the people have been convinced that its foundation has been destroyed. This fact points up (1) the great power of present-day atheism and (2) the great danger to the Lord's church and its mission which atheism constitutes. Christianity is the religion of biblical authority. But this can be truly meaningful only if the Bible is the inspired word of the one true God. But, if God does not exist, then the Bible cannot be His word. Thus, if the atheists can convince people that non-living matter (rocks and dirt) is the "creator" of all living things (including man), then the great masses of humanity will regard Christianity as a joke. If there is no God, then there is no absolute truth in regard to religion and/or morals, then any and every thing is permitted (nothing would be wrong!) and all life is meaningless.
As things now stand—and it seems likely they will become worse before they get better—our work in preaching the Gospel will be largely thwarted unless and until we meet this monumental challenge of atheism. Already atheism has swept approximately one-half of the world's population into its fold, including Russia, China, Southeast Asia, North Korea, Eastern Europe, et. al. Also, it seems clear that the number of traditionally "religious" nations are on the brink of espousing the atheistic philosophy of Communism. If and when this happens, many doors which are now open to the preaching of the Gospel will be closed. It is conceivable that the world may face a century or more of darkness as more and more men reject the view that they can know that God exists and that the Bible is His word.
PART II—WHAT MUST WE DO ABOUT ATHEISM?
I. We must have a deep, abiding faith in Christ and the power of His word.
1. The church will be triumphant. The basic message of the last book of the Bible is: Christ and His church will be ultimately triumphant over Satan and all the forces of evil. In spite of the bleak appearance of the present situation, we must never lose sight of the fact that our Savior (who loves us enough to have died for us, John 10) has promised to be with us (in the carrying out the Great Commission) until the end of the world (Matthew 28:18-20).
2. We must not falter. Knowing this, we must never falter nor fail. We must not grow weary in well-doing (Galatians 6:7-9). We must, as good soldiers of Christ (2 Timothy 2:3); "fight the good fight of the faith" (1 Timothy 6:12). We must (to paraphrase Winston Churchill) fight on the beaches, in the fields, in the streets, from house-to-house—we must never quit! We must never surrender! We must be "faithful unto death" (Revelation 2:10).
II. We must be willing to make any sacrifice which seems advantageous to the advancement of the cause of Christ.
1. We must be willing to “pay the price.” Paul said that he was ready to go to prison or to die for the cause of Christ (Acts 21:13). Jesus taught that we must be willing to die rather than to be unfaithful (Revelation 2:10; Luke 14:26-33).
2. We must overcome lethargy. It is clear that many in the church have been lethargic in regard to skepticism for many, many years. It behooves all such to repent of this and to fill their hearts with determination to really meet the forces of skepticism "head-on" — yet in a spirit of love and mercy, with the sincere prayer that men be saved, not lost.
III. Some specific actions In which we might be involved.
1. We must quit “babying” our sons and daughters in the Bible classes of local churches. Most churches do not have classes which really meet the issues of the day. But churches must plan classes and prepare literature which truly meets "head-on" the issues which our sons and daughters meet day-by-day in the world in which they live.
2. We must confront false teachers (in the church) who espouse and teach various brands of skepticism. We must not be afraid to carry the battle to the best men the skeptical world has to offer. Neither they nor any one else can defend atheism or agnosticism against a Christian who has properly prepared himself to meet him. We must prepare young men to meet them.
Let it be carefully noted that: (1) Christians can undermine (refute) the case for atheism, (2) Christians can demonstrate (prove) the case for Christianity (including, of course, the fact that God exists), and (3) atheists cannot undermine (refute) the case for Christian theism.
Let us arise and be about the task of meeting the greatest enemy — now and in the future — unbelief in God and in the Bible as His word! God wants us to do it, and so, if we want to do it, we can!