Pastor Craig Groeschel of Edmond, OK has coined the term “Christian Atheists”. He even claims he was one until he saw the light. Basically, what he means by the term is similar to what I’ve always thought of as “Sunday Christians”. That is, people who go through the motions of being Christian, but don’t really live their lives as if they were.
I think his basic premise is a good one. Simply attending church and throwing money in the collection plate won’t get you into heaven. As he says, “to the Christian Atheist, the holy God of the universe is quietly transformed into a cosmic soda machine. If we give enough money, or pray the right prayer, or live the right way, God must deliver and do what we ask.” But that’s not how it’s supposed to work.
Still, the pastor’s emphasis on the importance of fearing God is perhaps not warranted. I do think that while some require fear and trepidation and the threat of eternal damnation to contain their behavior, others respond just as well to incentives and the appeal of God’s love, heaven, and life everlasting. Yet I do think it’s easy to delude yourself into believing you deserve all the perks without having made any of the sacrifices.
I also have honest mixed feelings about the use of the term “Christian Atheists”. I do recognize the power of casting someone who identifies as a Christian with the atheist label. That label is anathema to most Christians, and since the pastor is trying to incite movement, it’s tactically useful to lay down a metric boat-load of stink where they’re sitting now. But this also perpetuates the stereotype of atheists as amoral hedonists, and as I’ve written at length before, that is an unfounded characterization.
In fact, I’d go so far as to wager that atheists on a whole are as moral as Groeschel’s true believers. That in fact, it is the Sunday Christians who, as a group, are more prone to rationalizing their desires rather than living within the boundaries of their personal philosophies and moral code—whether that code is imposed externally or internally. All of which may mean that the better term for these folks might be “Christian|Atheists,” where the imperative is to get them off the fence. Be one or the other. Make some well considered introspective choices about what they believe and why, and then live their lives accordingly.
At it’s core this isn’t so very far from what the pastor is advocating, although I’m sure he doesn’t see there is more than one good choice to be made.