Practical Atheism

In reading Graeme Goldsworthy's introductory work on Biblical theology, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible, I ran across a fascinating concept which I had not previously considered, the notion of "practical atheism". Let me quote from chapter 3, p. 38:

Describing secular humanism, Goldsworthy explains:
"We assume that, given enough time and given access to all parts of of the universe, we would be capable of knowing all there is to be known. We may broadly describe this position as atheistic humanism. It is atheistic because it either asserts or assumes that there is no God who in any way can relate to our real world. God is simply ruled out as impossible or as irrelevant. There are those who claim belief in God but who succeed in keeping him completely out of their reckoning and their living. They are practical atheists because they think and act as if God were not there."

Provocative words, aren't they?! But enlightening, I would say. Is the true atheist merely the person who insists verbally that there is no God, or would those who, despite their lip service, deny his existence by their utter apathy toward him also qualify as atheists?

One statement that struck me particularly sharply was the idea that some view God as unable to "relate to our real world", i.e. "irrelevant". What jolted me is that I have heard (so-called) Christians speak this way (and have entertained, and possibly even uttered, such thoughts at one point or another in my Christian journey) about God. "It's not that I don't believe there is a God 'out there'. It's just that he hasn't clearly communicated himself 'in here' to me in a way that I can comprehend." When asking, "What about the Bible?" I have received the response, "If the Bible is God's word, then he must be awfully cruel, because the Bible is largely indiscernable and what is understandable is wrought with contradictions."

So what do we make of this? Do you find the idea of "practical atheism" helpful? Why or why not? Do you ever find yourself slipping into practical atheism? If so, how has God shown himself to be true and trustworthy despite your struggles?
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Graeme Goldsworthy. According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation Of God In The Bible. Leicester, England/Homebush West, Australia: Intervarsity/Lancer, 1991. 320 pages, pbk.

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