An atheist Christian minister. That sounds like an oxymoron of illogical cohesion. Could an atheist serve as a Christian minister? According to the United Church of Canada and the Reverend Gretta Vosper, the answer is, yes. Gretta Vosper came out of the closet at her church. She came out of the closet, not as a homosexual, but rather as an atheist! Instead of firing her, the church embraced her as their Christian atheist minister. Vosper recounts,
“My congregation belongs to The United Church of Canada, probably the most progressive Christian denomination in the world. It ordained women over seventy years ago and has been ordaining openly LGBTQ leaders for decades. But theologically it remains in the closet about the human construction of religion and all its trapping. I couldn’t stay in that closet.
I came out as an atheist in 2001. After I spontaneously preached a sermon in which I completely deconstructed the idea of a god named God, rather than fire me, the congregation chose to step out on an unmarked path. With them, I’ve laboured, lamented, lost, and loved. It’s hard road but a worthy one with no finish line in sight.”
How does this work? According to Vosper, she holds to the ethical standards of Christianity but dismisses the idea of a supernatural, intervening God. Thus, she holds that Christianity provides supreme ethical standards, but little things like God, heaven, hell, salvation, sin, human value in God’s eyes, the resurrection, miracles, and eternity are simply defined as “archaic ideas and the prejudices trapped within them [should be] traded for contemporary knowledge and understanding.” I hope you can see the sarcasm behind the previous statement. Such issues are not minor. Rather, they constitute the core fundamentals of the faith. Can one separate Christian ethics and Christian theology? I say, no. Christian theology formulates Christian ethics in at least three areas.
Christian ethics are formulated in divinely placed human value.
Why did Jesus place so much emphasis on right living in the Sermon on the Mount? It was because the Father had placed so much value on humanity. Human beings are made imagio dei (i.e., the image of God). From the opening moments of Scripture, human value is emphasized. Human value is shown to be placed in the divine value attributed to humans due to their being made in God’s image. God “created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
Thus, while Vosper is to be commended for placing high value on the lives of her fellow human beings, her value is void without God. Life holds no value without God. The so-called “archaic view of God” is actually the glue that holds together her presuppositions of human life. Therefore, without the Christian fundamentals, Vosper’s ethics fall apart.
Christian ethics are formulated in divinely placed human standards.
Why should a person desire to treat others ethically in the first place? If there is no God, then why does it matter how I treat another person? It may be nice to be nice. But sometimes I don’t feel so nice. I may have the tag “reverend” before my name, but I do not always feel so reverential. Why not run those Sunday drivers off the road when they are driving 20 miles under the speed limit? Why not plow through a gaggle of cyclists when they refuse to get out of the way? Why do we have to act nice?
The reason humans have standards is because of the knowledge of a supreme authority governing the universe. Atheism falls short. While atheists can be good moral people without God, their reasons for acting moral do not stand. In stark contrast, Christian theism demonstrates that there is a God who has provided a moral standard upon all humanity. This God has eyes that “are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). Let me illustrate this point further.
This past Thanksgiving, our family met together for a wonderful meal. My sister and two cousins all have young toddlers about the same age. My son is about 7-years older than his younger cousins. We watched as the toddlers interacted with one another for the first time. The kids would sometimes take a toy away from another. The moms and dads said, “No! You cannot do that. It is not polite.” For the toddlers, they were being taught the proper dos and don’ts of playtime etiquette. Why? It was because they had a higher authority governing them—that is, my sister, cousins, and their spouses. Likewise, ethics without a higher governing authority collapses. Thereby, Vosper’s atheistic Christianity flounders without the fundamentals of orthodox Christianity.
Christian ethics are formulated in divinely placed human eternity.
One of the great losses of Vosper’s atheist Christianity is the loss of hope found in eternity. How would she counsel someone who had lost a loved one? Would she say, “Well, they are not experiencing the great nothingness that comes from death. You don’t have to worry. You’ll never see them again.” What type of comfort is that, especially if they loved the person they lost?
Ethical standards carry over into eternity. God has given each person the opportunity to respond to the gospel message. A person’s decision to follow Christ or to deny Him follows through for all time. In a similar fashion, a person’s work on earth follows them also. But wait! Aren’t a person’s sins forgiven never to be remembered to any further extent? Yes and no. In one sense, a person’s sins are forgiven and washed away. Their sins will not keep them from God’s eternity. Nevertheless, the apostle Paul teaches in what is called the Judgment Seat of Christ. That is to say, every believer will be judged according to what they have done while in the body of Christ. Paul explains,
“Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
What will a person’s rewards mean in eternity? I don’t really know. They mean something as indicated by Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. Those without Christ will be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). The unbeliever’s work will be gauged as well. The difference is that they will not have anything to atone for their sinful behaviors.
Vosper’s ethical standards mean nothing without an eternal standard. Why should people treat others nicely? Vosper’s atheistic Christianity would claim, “Because it is the nice thing to do.” Classical Christianity would exclaim, “Because there is a higher standard than yourself and you will be held accountable for what you do.” Again, Vosper’s worldview collapses as the foundations that uphold her outlook have been removed.
On November 17th, 2016, I delivered a message entitled “Signs of a False Shepherd” from Zechariah chapters 10 and 11. While I considered leaving the topic for another one, I cannot seem to leave the discussion just yet due to the infiltration of so many false teachers in our time. Simon Peter noted, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1). Craig Keener, in his commentary on the text, quips, “In earlier Scripture, false prophets spoke from their own imaginations rather than from divine inspiration…they often comforted people in their sin rather than speaking God’s true warning of divine judgment.” Thus false prophets such as Gretta Vosper promote false doctrine in three ways.
- False prophets elevate opinions over truth.
- False prophets deny the existence of absolute truth.
- False prophets promote what’s popular over what’s true.
Much more could be said about this issue. Perhaps, we will address this issue in further detail here at BellatorChristi.com. Suffice to say for now, false prophets remove the foundations of the hope within them in order to be popular with society or to uphold one’s progressive stances. True prophets uphold the truth in order to be faithful to the God of all eternity.
© November 28, 2016. Brian Chilton.
 This list is certainly not exhaustive.
 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).
 Craig S. Keener, “2 Peter,” NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 2191.