Learn from Atheists

I hope that this notion is not controversial.

Open-Eared Theologians and Plugged-Eared Evangelicals

John Calvin said that a failure to appreciate and apply the wisdom and insight of people who are not sealed for salvation by the Holy Spirit is actually an insult to the Holy Spirit.

Martin Luther said that when it comes to heads of state, it’s better to have a wise Turk (i.e., Muslim) in power than a foolish Christian.

Richard Mouw has written about this uncomfortable spiritual reality in his exquisite, provocative book He Shines in All that’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace


One of the laziest things evangelicals do is assume that if some principle or practice is gleaned from the business world, it must automatically be anathema to find its analogous application in ecclesial practice. Ironically, these are often the same evangelicals who would take a bullet for BIG BUSINESS.

Revelation and Non-Christian Neighbors

Last evening we had our neighbor over for dinner. She is wise. Does she lack the One in whom are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge? Is all of her wisdom, therefore, at the most important and fundamental level, essentially misunderstanding? Do many of her particular assumptions about the world go against the grain of Orthodox Christianity? The Scriptures indicate that yes, all of this is the case.

But phooey on me if I don’t zip my mouth and open my ears and listen closely for what wisdom the Sovereign Jesus might be imparting to me through the wisdom she regularly imparts to me—wisdom that the very next day is often directly applied to my work as a church planter, pastor, and evangelist.

Be Radical: Opt In

In our subcultural rush to OPT OUT of everything that isn’t branded with our brand, we often plug our ears to the general revelation around us in the form of our atheist neighbors. In our anxiety about the instability of our own Christian identity, we often close our eyes to the wisdom that calls to us through the common grace insights, offered in kindness, by our non-Chrisitan friends.

If you want your church plant to be known as a bunch of cranky Opter-Outers, then by all means, go ahead and assume your neighbors are idiots because they haven’t embraced the gospel. If, however, you want your church plant to be known as a community that is ‘all ears’ whenever wisdom is available for the furtherance of the kingdom and the flourishing of the community, learn from atheists.

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3 thoughts on “Learn from Atheists

  1. The rub comes in when instead of learning from unbelievers we lean on unbelievers. We err when instead of adopting insights we adopt isms. It is one thing to be instructed by the worldly wise and another to be imbibing the wisdom of this world. It is good to have an open ear only when what we hear is being processed through a discerning mind.

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