Counterfeit Grace and the Problem of License


The Wonderful Promise of Atheism and Agnosticism

Richard Dawkins sponsored an ad campaign a while back that said, “There’s Probably No God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Isn’t this interesting? Belief in God is seen to be a source of worry and an impediment to the enjoyment of life. Of course, without the gospel of Christ and Him crucified as our atonement for the demands of justice, this is absolutely true. When churches give anemic lip service to the power of Jesus’ blood and continue to press religious performancism and the coercion and threat of the law’s punishment, it does produce worry and impede the enjoyment of life. People are correct to reject the subtle (or in many cases not-so-subtle) legalism of many evangelical churches.

Atheism is therefore, at heart, not so much a rational weighing of evidence, but a grasp after a worry-free enjoyment of life. In effect it offers a counterfeit grace; it stands as what Timothy Keller might call a “functional savior.” If you wonder at an atheist’s irrational dismissal of clear evidence cited against naturalism, you should understand that you are not threatening their basis of reason – you are threatening their freedom and fun. In fact, if weak-grace quasi-legalistic Christianity were the real thing, I think they would be right to resist. As I’ve said elsewhere, most “evangelism” is really just an attempt to move someone from a less restricted moralism to a more restrictive moralism with some vague notions of God and Jesus thrown in to dress it up properly. Honestly, what sane person would want that?

Atheism / Agnosticism is No Escape

The freedom loving atheist/agnostic is still left with their “well-reasoned” system of morals. You really are not ever going to find an atheist who says, “Oh, that’s true! There is no right and wrong. Since I’m an atheist I can murder and rape and steal and none of it matters! I’m free!” We are all the slave of right and wrong, however we slice it and whatever we believe. We all feel the watchful eye of some kind of judge. Obviously one way to deal with the fear of judgment is to kill the judge, but even so, the inner voice of that judge seems to keep resurrecting and accusing us all over again. Agnostics take this even further, by dispensing with the need to even believe that there is or isn’t a God; by simply avoiding the judge instead of killing him, they find an even easier freedom. However, the inner voice of the accuser is quite persistent and can’t easily be avoided.

The Atheist Version of Romans 6

The fascinating thing to note is that these counterfeit forms of grace produce their own “Romans 6” question – if there is no worry about consequence, what prevents people from doing all kinds of evil simply because they want to? They all end up with the same bad human answer: “I know I promised you enjoyment and worry-free lives, but you still have to be good.” There may be talk about how we cherry pick religious ideas about morality in light of a more reasonable secular morality, but no offer of an overarching and persistent grace is made. The atheist/agnostic may think they have easier morals or more reasonable morals, but they do not think they have actually made a true transition into the realm of grace. Coercion and threat, the sting of the law, are still needed. The atheist may have darwinist explanations for morals, but they don’t really think they have escaped the need for law. Most apologists fail in these discussions because they have not made the transition themselves; they are quibbling with their opponents as to where and why to draw moral lines, not how to escape the curse altogether.

The Gospel is the Only Solution to Our Main Problem

In effect, freedom and the problem of evil and license are the central human problem. It is astonishing that this is the great problem that the gospel most directly addresses. We do not need to be given easier or harder or more reasonable or more solid rules to live by — we can rest assured we will most assuredly transgress them no matter what they are. We need forgiveness and grace, and an escape from threat and judgment and coercion to the universe where we choose the virtuous simply because it is beautiful in itself. We need our propensity for evil to be killed and a new propensity for virtue to be created. We need to be refashioned from the ground up, while somehow still maintaining our core identity. This is the amazing promise of the Christian faith.

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