Making Room for Atheism
Our church exists “to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” That is our mission. “All things” means business, industry, education, media, sports, arts, leisure, government, and all the details of our lives.
Ideally this means God should be recognized and trusted as supreme by every person he has made. But the Bible teaches plainly that there will never be a time before Jesus comes back when all people will honor him as supreme (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
So how do we express a passion for God’s supremacy in a pluralistic world where most people do not recognize God as an important part of their lives, let alone an important part of government or education or business or industry or art or recreation or entertainment?
Answer: We express a passion for the supremacy of God...
1) by maintaining a conviction at all times that God is ever-present and gives all things their most important meaning. He is the Creator, Sustainer, and Governor of all things. We must keep in our minds the truth that all things exist to reveal something of God’s infinite perfections. The full meaning of everything, from shoestrings to space shuttles, is the way they relate to God.
2) by trusting God in every circumstance to use his creative, sustaining, governing wisdom and power to work all things together for the good of all who love him. This is faith in the future grace of all that God promises to be for us in Jesus.
3) by making life choices that reveal the supreme worth of God above what the world values supremely. “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). So we will choose to die rather than lose sweet fellowship with God. This will show his supremacy over all that life offers.
4) by speaking to people of God’s supreme worth in creative and persuasive ways, and by telling people how they can be reconciled to God through Christ, so that they can enjoy God’s supremacy as protection and help, rather than fear it as judgment.
5) by making clear that God himself is the foundation for our commitment to a pluralistic democratic order — not because pluralism is his ultimate ideal, but because in a fallen world, legal coercion will not produce the kingdom of God. Christians agree to make room for non-Christian faiths (including naturalistic, materialistic faiths), not because commitment to God’s supremacy is unimportant, but because it must be voluntary, or it is worthless. We have a God-centered ground for making room for atheism. “If my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight” (John 18:36). The fact that God establishes his kingdom through the supernatural miracle of faith, not firearms, means that Christians in this age will not endorse coercive governments — Christian or secular.
This is why we resist the coercive secularization implied in some laws that repress Christian activity in public places. It is not that we want to establish Christianity as the law of the land. That is intrinsically impossible, because of the spiritual nature of the kingdom. It is rather because repression of free exercise of religion and persuasion is as wrong against Christians as it is against secularists.
We believe this tolerance is rooted in the very nature of the gospel of Christ. In one sense, tolerance is pragmatic: freedom and democracy seem to be the best political order humans have conceived.
But for Christians it is not purely pragmatic: the spiritual, relational nature of God’s kingdom is the ground of our endorsement of pluralism, until Christ comes with rights and authority that we do not have.
By John Piper
Originally published in A Godward Life (Multnomah, 1997)