I use the word atheist to be provocative. Agnostic might be a better word.

I have an acquaintance who is a closet agnostic, not wanting to disrupt his family and friends. He attends church, sings the hymns, takes communion, but is not at all sure that God exists. He has become settled in this state of mind and heart and only confides in a few individuals—including me, whom he came to know through my book, Walking Away from Faith.

If I know him, why haven’t I argued him back into faith, some would say. I talk about atheism and apologetics in my book and I touch on related issues in an article I wrote in the most recent issue of Mission Frontiers.

People come back to faith most often through their emotions, including music and personal relationships. When someone admits their unbelief, they are regarded as unbelievers—as objects of evangelism—which puts them outside the community of faith.

I defend my acquaintance because I believe he will discover his faith again inside the community of faith—more likely than he would on the outside, hanging out with the atheists.

Two comments come to mind. Madeleine L’Engle who said, With my naked intellect I cannot believe in God. She needed the emotions and community to believe in God. The other comment is from Kathleen Norris who had wandered in unbelief for 20 years: “I came to understand that God hadn’t lost me even if I had seemed for years to have misplaced God.”

So, I defend the closet atheist.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    1 Response to "Defending the Closet Atheist"

    • Fuller Ming

      What you say is painfully very true. People don’t make decisions to follow God or to reject faith based on reason, facts, or logic – it is primarily done based on relationships and feelings. I think this is terrible! We engineer automobiles and airplanes based on sound reasoning and logic, but when it comes to issues of faith, we humans ignore reason.

      This is not that hard – faith may not be provable, but you can make a decision based on the claims of the faith system – Jesus was born of a virgin, preached, healed people, performed real miracles, killed on a cross and rose from the dead…. this is the claim. We can and should believe these things as “facts” based on the scriptures, not based on your feelings or being hurt by some sinful ungodly church leader or church member who hurt your feelings or treated you poorly!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.