Responding to Atheism with Strength . . . or Weakness?

Rick Mattson Uncategorized 6 Comments


The Portable Atheist features an essay by Emma Goldman, a Russian-born “anarchist” who was deported from the US in 1919.

She writes,

The God idea express[es] a sort of spiritualistic stimulus to satisfy the fads and fancies of every shade of human weakness.

Atheists often paint belief in God as weakness:

Weakness of heart in that we lack the courage to face the harsh realities of the natural world.

Weakness of mind in that we cannot think for ourselves but must invent a deity to worship who then spoon-feeds us the answers to life.

A proper response for evangelicals?

One approach is to demonstrate the strength of evangelical fortitude and intellect. Challenge atheist assumptions, find chinks in their armor, stand strong.

The other is to admit our faults, agree that we are weak, and demonstrate that broken people can find healing and serve productively in society with the help of Jesus.

The first approach is modernist and is likely to feel natural to Christian baby boomers and older, like myself.

The second approach is more postmodern and would be adopted easily by young people (and others young of heart).

My suggestion is simple: Be who you are.

Generally, atheists are modernistic and tend to respect clear thinking and firm foundations. If you can articulate your case against atheism and for theism, go for it. Sure, be respectful. But be steadfast and “rock-solid.”

But if you are not philosophically inclined, just be yourself. Be your authentic, loving, praying, funny, forgiven, somewhat-together self.

OR, do I dare write this. Yes, why not:

Do both
. Be strong and weak.

Be linear, clear, incisive, logical (if you can).

But also be vulnerable. Show your weakness, for that is where power is perfected.

When you are both weak and strong you’ll have summarized in yourself the life and ministry of Jesus, who was limited to flesh and bones, murdered by mere mortals, but resurrected in kingly dominion.

Comments 6

  1. I like this advice. I tend to not want to get into philosophical talks with anyone. It seems to me that the conversations tend to get tangled & meanings misconstrued. I am perfectly comfortable in admitting my weakness and my need for God to enter into my life to bring healing & strength. I am weathering a storm right now that has left me raw & hurting. I have made the choice to believe that the God of the Bible is true and very capable of healing my heart & guiding my life into something worthwhile. If I did not believe this there would be no point of continuing this existence. I praise God for the strength He gives and the purpose He instills in my heart!

  2. Hey Laurie, nicely stated. Some of us are geared toward philosophical things, others not so much. For the latter, the “apologetic” of care-giving and community can be powerful in the lives of our atheist friends.

  3. First, I'm not bothered by the angry atheists out there. Let them wail and beat their chests. But I am bothered by the “apathetics” — those who could care less about either side of the debate. I see apathy more often than outright atheism.

    Given that, the response I would choose as an evangelical is behind Door #2: “…admit our faults, agree that we are weak, and demonstrate that broken people can find healing and serve productively in society with the help of Jesus.”

    This approach has worked in my counseling in the addictions field. Admitting to addicts and their families that I once was powerless to stop using drugs and alcohol offers credibility and assurance, when they learn my last drink was 15 years, 4 months ago — thanks to the power of Christ whom I asked to help me in my struggles. Christ came to share our suffering, temptations and pain, which gave him credibility.

    A personal testimony of former brokenness combined with a current ministry of Spirit-led power, who can deny?

  4. John, good stuff. Identifying with people's struggles is, indeed, powerful. I also find that college students, whether atheist, theist or otherwise, have a lot of intellectual questions and misconceptions about the Bible and faith. When these are cleared away it can make a huge difference. I don't know how many times a student or former student has approached me and said, “You remember that time you talked about (name the topic) at my campus? You don't know how much that meant to me. I was way off in my thinking. . . “

  5. Great blog. I enjoyed reading it. I'l going to share it with our UC Merced Students this next week (we are proxe-ing all week as a part of our NSO). I think this could be encouraging and exciting to hear that we can be weak and strong in our responce to people (because this allows us at the same time to be ourselves and to let the Spirirt speak through us).

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