11 March 2010

Redneck atheism: Biblical ignorance

by Dan Phillips

OK, I'll take the in-vite. Actually, a couple of them appeal to me, but let's start with the low-hanging fruit. In this challenge, I take the "you" as "you Christians," not "you, DJP."

  1. You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history - but still call yourself a Christian.

Agreed! Next? 

Okay, not really, not entirely. If the point of the criticism is that a staggering amount of so-called Christians (A) have very little direct knowledge about the Bible, and, far worse (B) don't care a lick about it... how could I disagree? Don't every one of us here lament that very fact, week after week? Isn't that why the professing church is overrun with nonsense and tomfoolery in the name of Christ? Isn't that why "churches" with no Biblical definition nor mission are filled to squeaking, to say nothing of the piles of claptrap that pockmark "Christian" bookstores?

So: guilty.

Though I'd not be as quick to grant the point about how much Bible "many" atheists and agnostics actually know. In my experience, the tally there isn't always much better.

I recall my first trembling encounter, as a young Christian, with an apostate neighbor. He was a much older man, well-educated, a former Christian. Myself very new in the faith, but wanting to speak with him of Christ, I asked him why he wasn't a Christian. I trembled inwardly as I anticipated the shattering blow he was sure to deal to my newborn faith.

"Those preposterous miracles," he said.

I blinked. "Oh?" I asked innocently. "Like... which ones?"

His answer: nothing. Blank. Not one example. So — as with most if not all atheists and agnostics — the presenting story was not the real story.

But let's grant for the sake of argument that 99% of professing Christians are dirt-ignorant of the Bible, and 99% of atheists and agnostics are experts.

So? What is that supposed to prove?

You see, for that to have any evidentiary force against Biblical faith,  you would have to find me a verse that says, "Everyone who names My name will be an expert in My words." Is there such a verse? There is not.

Now, there are verses like John 8:31-32, which reads:
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
So here, Jesus does say that it is a mark of genuine Christian faith that one will continue in His word, know the truth, and be set free.

Now, turn that on its head. It would mean that —
  • if one has not been set free, he has not known the truth
  • if he has not known the truth, he has not continued in Jesus' word; and
  • if he has not continued in Jesus' word, he is not truly His disciple.
So all we learn, granting the 99% figure, is that 99% of those who say they are Christians are not really Christians.

Which has zero evidentiary force against Biblical faith.

In fact, quite the contrary, from two perspectives:
  1. The Bible itself is quite clear that many will claim to know Christ, but the claims will be false (Matthew 7:21-23). Calling Him "Lord" is meaningless, if the call is not adorned by obedience (Luke 6:46; John 14:15: 15:14). Yet many will do so, and will ultimately apostatize (Matthew 24:10-12). So actually, a high number of false professors confirms what the Bible says... sadly so, but undeniably so. But what's more....
  2. This admission from the "skeptic" will come in quite handy later. Because, if he's true to form, pretty soon he'll fall to ad hominems. He'll want to talk about his loony Aunt Betty, and his hypocritical dad; and then maybe it will be the Crusades, or Benny Hinn, or some such. 
And when he tries this, well, we'll be all set, won't we? We'll just remind him that, as he himself said, a whole lot of people who say they are Christians really aren't.
See, then we can get back to talking about Christ. Because Christ is the issue. Our aim isn't to preach Christians. Our friend's greatest need isn't to believe in Christians, or accept Christians. We want and need to preach Christ, because it is Christ who our friend needs. Everything else is a fruitless, pointless dodge.


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Wes Walker said...

Low hanging, indeed.

Straw Man distraction is dispatched and removed from the field. Well-played.

One question, though --

Where oh where did you get the photo of the bull turning a cartwheel?

Janice said...

Slam-dunk, Dan! Love it!

When you mentioned your apostate neighbor, I thought about the non-believers who often say, "I can't believe the Bible because it's full of contradictions." Then you say, "What contradictions?" And they can't name one!

So much for their expertise about the Bible.

Matt said...


Great work - true to form, Dan.

FX Turk said...

DJP's anecdote there is common -- someone who has "read the Bible" but cannot even name the book in which his objections occur. If I said, "well, Hemmingway was actually a vicious homophobe if you read him right," and then someone asked me, "really? Where'd you get that?" I'd be rightly a laughingstock when I couldn't even name the book from which I draw my assertion.

The solution, btw, is also the solution Dan prescribes: you should read your Bible. The rest is cake.

Fred Butler said...

I have had a smarty pants atheist or two throw this sort of comment to me on occasion. What I soon discover when I ask for an example of the "hundreds" of supposed "contradictions" they claim are in the Bible, is that their response is derived from a childish, flannel graph theology. Like the person got as far as junior church before he turned atheist.

I have challenge them to show me that one ultimate error in the Bible and ask 'If I can provide you an answer, will you repent and turn to Christ?' I have yet to have any serious takers.

DJP said...

Also a very good response, Fred. Keep THE issue the issue.

olan strickland said...

Great cow-listhenics Dan! You ought to teach a class on how to turn bull on its head :)

The church is in great need of being able to do what you guys do here. Not just with atheists of course but especially with those who rise up among us to pervert the truth!

donsands said...

I know an atheist who is well studied in the Bible, better than a lot of Christians.

As we have debated the texts of the Scriptures I have learned that he does stumble when I bring him back to the Gospel: Christ died and rose on the third day.

Excellent post. Good thoughts for us to keep. Gracias.

Christopher said...

I think the best example of this argument being ridiculous is Satan himself, who is the Father of Lies. Satan knew enough Bible to arrogantly quote it back to Jesus...he knows enough Bible to twist it and conform it to his own desires in the hearts and minds of the unregenerate. Yet, he is going to be cast into the Lake of Fire.

Contrast that with brothers and sisters overseas who may only have the Gospel of John...and possibly only the pastor of the congregation has that...and they are obedient unto death.

Unknown said...

I continue to enjoy the post. Dealing with Mormons on a daily basis provides me with much to look at in the Scripture. After 30+ years since Christ found me, I still cannot get enough of His word or reading the thoughts of others about His word.
Great post.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for the excellent response. It seems in fact, from passages like John 5:45-47, that people with a lot of Bible "knowledge" totally missed the point (Christ himself) and were chastised (to put it mildly) by Christ. Knowledge of the Bible has never been the litmus test for genuine Christianity, but obedience to and love of the truth one knows, and growth in grace AND knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18) over the course of one's life.

Thank you for the blessing.

David Kyle said...

Dan... wow... just wow.

On a side note. My once atheist brother used to memorize Scripture so he could argue against it with me. After 11 years of this when his wife left him, God called to his mind "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

He saw his sin as God sees it, repented and trusted Christ. I thought that was well played on God's part.

DJP said...

That is a wonderful testimony, witness. Thanks for sharing it. Dormant seed, brought to life by the Spirit.

Hayden said...


I loved the last paragraph in particular. We are to point them t Christ and not just to Christians.


The best part is that when you point them to Christ everyone 'falls short'.

DJP said...

Hayden, one great grace was that the Lord saved me with a total focus on the person of Christ. A corollary was that it was all about Him, not about Christians. I don't ever remember needing to be told that they might fail me, but He would remain true.

That was a crucial, critical conviction; a life-saver.

Jugulum said...

Good response, with one smallish pseudo-problem.

"But let's grant for the sake of argument that 99% of professing Christians are dirt-ignorant of the Bible, and 99% of atheists and agnostics are experts.

So? What is that supposed to prove?"

Well... It proves that you're an unquestioning Christian, if you're in the 99%. And that's the only explicit point of the top-ten list.

On the other hand, every atheist who passes this list around as though it's an argument against Christianity needs to step back, think it through, and answer your question.

DJP said...

I think that's a distinction without a diff, Jug. The standard atheist conceit is that there are only two kinds of Christians:

** unquestioning


** ex-

Because, you know, no fully-informed and rational, thinking person would be a Christian.

Rachael Starke said...

Our friend's greatest need isn't to believe in Christians, or accept Christians. We want and need to preach Christ, because it is Christ who our friend needs. Everything else is a fruitless, pointless dodge.

Another winner for my fridge. :)

I've got a friend whose husband saw and experienced some truly atrocious behavior by "Christians" in churches growing up. Oh, and he's a cop, so his livelihood consists of dealing with the very worst of depravity every day. He wears his distrust of Christians, and pastors in particular, on his sleeve.

But that's still not an excuse to trust in Jesus.

donsands said...

"But that's still not an excuse to trust in Jesus." -Rachael


I hear it a lot that it is the Church's fault that Gandhi rejected the Gospel, because they wouldn't allow him in their church service.

Of course McLaren says Gandhi was a Jesus Hindu, or something like that.

King David said: "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!"

The church may well taste bad, but the Lord is good, and His goodness leads us to repentance.

Jmv7000 said...

Great post, do you think 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 apply too, especially 2:14?

Athiests may be able to quote the Bible, but they can never rightfully discern or understand it without the Spirit of God!

DJP said...

Yes, there's an eternity of difference between being acquainted with the facts of the Bible, and welcoming it, embracing it, and {waves at Piper} savoring it.

Though the former is a necessary precedent to the latter.

Jugulum said...


True enough, by and large. I've met one or two atheists with something approaching intellectual respect for those who disagree, but they're a rare breed.

And I wouldn't expect them to be passing around this list in the first place. "Redneck atheism" really is the right label.

Jugulum said...


Redneck atheism is a fantastic term. It's better than "fundamentalist atheist"--which sounds too much like a "Nuh-uh, you're a fundamentalist" response. Unoriginal.

"Redneck atheism" gets the point across without being derivative.

Stefan Ewing said...


There is a quote attributed to Gandhi that he liked Christ but not Christians...but his views on Christianity were quite a bit more complex than that—and ultimately man-centered, utterly rejecting virtually every element of Biblical theology. See here: A Critique of Gandhi on Christianity.

Stefan Ewing said...

Or this: the great missionary Samuel Zwemer delivered a series of Keswick lectures in 1937, on the state of evangelism and the health of the Church in general. The lectures were published as a book entitled The Solitary Throne. He deliberately chose the title to emphasize the supremacy of Christ, standing a quote of Gandhi's on its head: "I cannot place Christ on a solitary throne, because I believe God has been incarnate again and again."

More in this comment from two years ago.

donsands said...

Thanks for the link Stefan. That's some helpful info; especially the quotes right from the horse's own mouth as they say.

Stefan Ewing said...


You're welcome.

His views are kind of a mish-mash of what today would be a sort of New-Agey, pelagian form of pseudo-Christianity, taking the "nice" bits from the Bible and discarding the rest.

Anonymous said...

"But who do you say that I am?"

Resounds through the centuries as the ultimate question!

Solus Christus