On Atheistic Pastors

ConfusionAs a general rule, I don’t like to write us vs. them type stuff about those under the general umbrella of the Christian faith. I’m an evangelical. I embrace that broad stream of Christianity that includes those of every denomination (and non-denomination) who hold to the gospel (evangel) of Jesus Christ as taught in the scriptures as the way of salvation. Evangelicals disagree on many things, but those disagreements pale before the gospel that unites us.

But…I’ve gotta take a swing at folks who call themselves Christians (yea, verily, Christian pastors) but renounce belief in God. Is this overly sectarian on my part? I think not. It would seem to me that in order to be a Christian you need to believe quite a number of things – that Christ died for your sins according to the scriptures, that he was raised bodily on the third day, etc. (1 Cor 15:1-11). And…you must believe in God! In fact, if you don’t believe in God it is impossible to please him (this one is true both biblically (Heb 11:6) and logically).

So it is more than a little disconcerting to hear about pastors who don’t believe in God. Are there people like that, you ask? How could that be? That would be like being:

  • A ship’s captain who disbelieves in the existence of the sea.
  • An astronaut who denies the existence of jet propulsion technology.
  • A law enforcement officer who is a convinced anarchist.
  • A pacifistic Navy Seal.

Sheer nonsense, no? And yet there are such things as atheistic pastors. One such is John Shuck, a pastor in good standing in the Presbyterian Church (USA). This was Mt. Pleasant’s denomination before a few years ago when we went through the difficult and expensive process of realigning to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (a context into which we fit quite nicely). Why did we leave the PCUSA? Because of a degenerate cultural ethos so divorced from the scriptures that someone of John Shuck’s ilk is allowed to serve as a pastor in good standing without facing discipline (or so much as a challenge).

“Come, come, fella. What’s so bad about this Shuck character?” Well, listen to his own words:

… I believe that:
• Religion is a human construct
• The symbols of faith are products of human cultural evolution
• Jesus may have been an historical figure, but most of what we know about him is in the form of legend
• God is a symbol of myth-making and not credible as a supernatural being or force
• The Bible is a human product as opposed to special revelation from a divine being
• Human consciousness is the result of natural selection, so there’s no afterlife
In short, I regard the symbols of Christianity from a non-supernatural point of view.
And yet, even though I hold those beliefs, I am still a proud minister. But I don’t appreciate being told that I’m not truly a Christian.

I would love to engage a quotation like this and give it the proper smackdown it deserves. To do so would certainly try the reader’s patience. Said smackdown would be far too long for this blog! This quotation is chalk full of all sorts of really dumb and inaccurate assumptions, astonishing logical non-sequiturs, arrogant bravado masquerading as pious humility, and some phony hooey about being so hurt that anyone could possibly be judgmental enough not to regard someone holding this disaster of a worldview as a Christian!  Besides, you can’t engage in a reasoned debate with someone who is essentially a shock jock.  Could you debate Howard Stern?  Not really.  His words aren’t meant to persuade, but to provoke.

I know that when I talk to my people about this bizarre form of pseudo-Christianity they are puzzled. How can any Christian be so mixed up? The Bible is so clear. Sure it is! But John Shuck and his comrades aren’t trying to understand the Bible’s teaching, or to be true to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. He is simply a social agitator using a Christian denominational institution as a vessel to advance his own activist agenda. What is that agenda? Gay rights, environmental extremism, Marxist economics, etc.

“You’re exaggerating, Rich!” Oh, am I? Consider this call for a belief-less faith:

I believe one of the newer religious paths could be a “belief-less” Christianity. In this “sect,” one is not required to believe things. One learns and draws upon practices and products of our cultural tradition to create meaning in the present. The last two congregations I have served have huge commitments to equality for LGTBQ people and eco-justice, among other things. They draw from the well of our Christian cultural tradition (and other religious traditions) for encouragement in these efforts. I think a belief-less Christianity can be a positive good for society.

What does any of that have to do with Jesus, the teachings of scripture, the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind? Not a thing. It is another gospel, which is really no gospel at all (Gal 1:6-7). What Shuck doesn’t even begin to recognize is the absolutely groundless nature of an ethical assertion for his pet issues without a God who serves as the basis for all ethics.

We don’t need belief-less Christianity. We need the good old-fashioned earnest kind where pastors actually teach and folks actually believe the Christian faith. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6)