Counseling a Practical Atheist

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a practical atheist

The practical atheist. You know him. He’d the guy who says he’s a Christian but lives like God is dead. 

Perhaps he’s your counselee, a friend or a family member. The question is, how do you counsel a professing-Christian-practical-atheist? This guy who lists God’s attributes like a theologian–how do you counsel him?

You begin by recognizing his ways. Then you speak the gospel into his life.

3 Ways of a Practical Atheist

To discern the ways of the Christian who lives like a practical atheist: watch, hear, and

First, Watch the Walk

A practical atheist may talk about God’s omnipresence and even give Scriptural support:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?    Or where shall I flee from your presence?If I ascend to heaven, you are there!    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!If I take the wings of the morning    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,even there your hand shall lead me,    and your right hand shall hold me. Psalms 139:7-10, ESV

However, he makes foolish, impulsive life choices without considering God. The talk is pretty but he walks ugly. He makes and acts on sinful choices as if God cannot see him “enjoying” his sin.

Second, “Hear” the Thoughts

A practical atheist think thoughts that would make angels blush!

Shameful thoughts and “secret sins” are not hidden from the God Who Knows All Things.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12, ESV

Why do some professing Christians live as if they can hide sin from God? Just as an atheist denies God’s existence, the shame-faced Christian denies the conscious awareness that God knows all and then pretends all is well while trying to cover sin. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

Third, Learn What He Worships

Some professing Christians practice atheism by denying that the omnipotent Creator of life is impotent when it comes to dealing with everyday issues. How can we believe He made us and saved us yet not believe that He can sustain and direct us?

Ultimately it is because we worship the creature more than the Creator.

A Great Question to Ask a Practical Atheist

“What do you want?”

When you ask your counselee, friend, or family member this simple question, he often tells you straight out so listen:

  • I’m worried because we don’t have money to pay the bills.
  • My wife criticized me in front of my friends, and I feel disrespected.
  • When I shared information with my church buddies, I guess I wanted to be the one “in the know.”

In these statements, you hear desires for success, respect, and approval. Can you add another statement showing a desire for pleasure? or prestige? or significance?

Figuring out what a counselee wants is an easier task than interpreting his desires mean.

Says David Powlison, M.Div., Ph.D. and executive director of CCEF, in Seeing with New Eyes:

(God) sees our hearts as an embattled kingdom ruled either by one kind of desire or by another kind. On the one hand, what lusts of the flesh hijack your heart from God’s rule? On the other hand, what holy passions express your love for God? Our desires are not a given, but a fundamental choice ….

The human heart is an active verb. We do not ‘have needs’: we ‘do desires,’ just as we do love, fear, hope, trust, and all the rest.

Ultimately, all of us who believe God is Who He says he is His Word must acknowledge His wisdom to guide us into holy living. We must live life theologically and practically in the presence of God.

When you counsel a practical atheist, remind him or her of Jesus’ simple words: “You serve either God or mammon.” Read Matthew 6:24. These simple words cut to core of every human’s deepest wants.

Question for YOU

What is one of your deepest desires? In what ways does it align (or misalign) with God’s desire for you? 

photo credit: patdebaz via photopin cc

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