FORMS OF UNBELIEF
by Wayne S. Walker
The last several articles in this series have affirmed that there is one true God who is the Creator. This God has revealed Himself to mankind in His word, and we must have faith in Him. However, not everyone accepts the evidence for God’s existence. In our time, it is fashionable in many circles — especially scientific, educational, and sociological — not to believe in God. But a refusal to believe in God is not new. Around 1000 B.C. the Psalmist wrote, "The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt; they have done abominable works; there is none who does good." (Psalm 14:1). In this article, we want to look at some forms of unbelief.
The atheist denies the very existence of God. The word "atheist" literally means "not God," and in the original language is found in Ephesians 2:12 where Paul describes the unbelieving Gentiles of his day as being "without God in the world." A "theist" is a believer in God; hence, an "atheist" is an unbeliever in God. The Humanist Manifesto II says, "…Humanists still believe that traditional theism, especially faith in the prayer-hearing God, assumed to love and care for persons, to hear and understand their prayers, and to be able to do something about them, is an unproved and outmoded faith." (p.13).
The agnostic claims that it is impossible to know whether God exists or not. This term was coined in 1869 by Thomas Huxley as a play of the name "gnostic." The ancient Gnostics claimed special knowledge not available to the public. Huxley used "agnostic" to imply that with regard to the existence of God there is no knowledge to be had. Their claim is not merely that they do not know whether God exists or not, but that we cannot know because there is just not enough evidence to decide. Agnostics are like the chief priests and elders in Matthew 12:23-27. When asked about the existence of God, they say, "We do not know," to avoid the consequences of examining the evidence carefully and making a decision.
The deist acknowledges the existence of a supreme being but denies His revelation to man and His acting in history. Deists believe only in "natural theology," saying that God was the "original cause" and created the world as a man who winds up a machine but then just sits back and watches it go. He is not only distinct from the world but apart from it and its concerns. Reputedly, famous deists include Thomas Paine, Daniel Defoe, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire. Deists fail to recognize of God that "…in Him we live and move and have our being…" (Acts 17:28).
The infidels claim to believe in God and even in His revelation, but reject Jesus Christ as His divine Son. Jews (who do not accept Jesus as the Messiah), Unitarians (who believe that only the Father is God, not the Son), Spiritualists (who think of Jesus as merely another spirit being), and Jehovah’s Witnesses (who say that Jesus is just a "god") would all fall into this category. But in John 5:23, Jesus says, "That all men should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him." If one truly believes in God, He will believe in what God says about Christ.
Those who are modernists say that they believe in God, the Bible, and even the deity of Christ, at least to some degree, but they reject the Bible’s infallibility, denying the creation account, the story of the flood, the existence of miracles, the virgin birth of Jesus, and the resurrection from the dead. Also called "higher critics" or "classic liberals," they occupy places of authority in most theological seminaries and denominational organizations. Yet, if we accept Jesus as a truly good man, what can we do with the fact that He firmly believed in the creation account and the flood story (Matthew 19:4; 24:37-39)? Was He mistaken? Or did He intentionally deceive people? And if either is true, how could He have been a great teacher?
Some years ago theologian Thomas Althizer popularized the "Death of God" concept. He did not really believe that there ever was any God, but merely affirmed that when people lose their need for their "God" then that God dies. Regardless of the form which it may take, all those who do not believe in God as the Bible reveals Him are in a state of unbelief. And Revelation 21:8 tell us that all unbelievers will have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone. The whole world may lie in unbelief, but our "Faith is the victory that overcomes the world." (—taken from With All Boldness; Oct., 1992; Vol 2, No. 10; p. 7)