A Humanist Chaplain At Harvard
Recently, as you may have heard, Harvard’s chaplains installed a new president of the group. I don’t make a practice of writing about ivy league schools and their chaplain selections. Yet, this time is another story because the individual elected is Greg Epstein, who is a humanist atheist.1 An article in The Guardian captured this well when they posted a student’s thoughts who said:
“Greg’s leadership isn’t about theology,” Charlotte Nickerson, a 20-year-old electrical engineering student, told the New York Times. “It’s about cooperation between people of different faiths and bringing together people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves religious,” she added.2
That first statement is indeed true, the leadership selection is most certainly not about holding to excellent theology! Yet, this brings us back to another even more fundamental question, and it is what is our source of unity? There is much that can be said about this issue, but I want to lock in on that foundational question regarding unity. Some professing Christian individuals are seeking to defend their vote for the atheist.3 The entire promoted purpose of the Harvard chaplaincy is about differing religions coming together to support humanity. That is the concept I want to explore in this article.
Unity Driven By What?
First of all, let us readily admit that all humans have a shared source of unity in the sense that we are all made in God’s image. We all come from the same parents, Adam & Eve. We all descended from Noah after the flood. Human beings share these attributes in common. Certainly, we should treat each other with dignity and respect. Christians can agree with unbelievers on certain issues. For example, I think that an atheistic individual like James Lindsay has said much that is beneficial about Critical Theory. All of those things being said, I would not vote for James Lindsay to be a chaplain! The source of unity for Christians is theology. It is the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word. We are united by the Gospel message, and our entire purpose is to go out teaching that Gospel, proclaiming the entire counsel of God, and live it out faithfully (Matthew 28:18-20).
However, institutions like Harvard seem to want to attempt to promote unity without any unifying force. My focus is not to target Harvard so much as it is to discuss a concern that I see amongst evangelicals at large which is to downplay the importance of theology. Many churches lack the robust confessional statements of days gone by because they want to neglect doctrine as the source of unity. Those holding up doctrinal teaching are labeled as divisive instead of heralded for their clarity. Most assuredly, we should not expect new Christians to be able to state every point of systematic theology before joining a church. However, there should still be unity around the main points. Churches should confess doctrine together. Ours is an age where men value unity without truth, diversity without tolerance, and inclusion without doctrine. We have become so focused on promoting unity that we have forgotten what we are united around.
Principles To Consider
Let me now begin to lay out a couple of points about unity and dealing with unbelievers for your pondering. First of all, we should be able to discuss issues of disagreement with others because we are made in God’s image. Just because I say the truth of Christ is our source of unity as Christians does not mean I am saying we should treat unbelievers with arrogance, pride, or disdain. Christ was willing to eat with sinners and call them to Himself (Mark 2:13-17). However, He took this action because they were spiritually sick and in need of healing (Mark 2:17). Jesus did not seek to leave sinners where they were, His desire was to save them and transform them. We should have the ability to talk with unbelievers and love them, to that end, we must strive to see them saved by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Secondly, if an unbeliever is correct about an issue, there is nothing wrong in telling them so. You should not be ashamed to rightly point out when an unbeliever recognizes truth. We as Christians should continue to challenge their worldview and show them how they are borrowing from Christianity to recognize truth. More on that point here (https://thechristianmanifesto.org/363/the-basic-thrust-of-presuppositional-apologetics/). However, just because you say an unbeliever is right about something does not mean you are legitimizing their worldview or are agreeing with them on every other point. Take the time to tell them where you agree and disagree, this gives you the chance to share the Gospel!
Third, we must not partner with unbelievers in ways that compromise the Gospel message. 2 Corinthians 6:14 says:
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”
Now, we need to use our theological minds here for a second. Does working in the same grocery store as unbelievers compromise the Gospel and validate their viewpoints? No, no one would say that is a joining of hands together in a way that is unequally yoked. However, if you were to take part in an interfaith march that proclaims all religions are equally valid would that be an example of unequal yoking up? Most definitely! Use sanctified common sense applying Scripture to make sure you do not partner with unbelievers in ways that compromise Christianity. Just because a Christian appears on a podcast hosted by an unbeliever does not mean that Christian is partnering with darkness so long as they speak truth and do not validate the errors of the unbeliever. Walk with wisdom, and strive to hold firm to the truth of Jesus by not compromising it at all.
Lastly, remember our foundation for unity is the work of Christ and the Scripture. Therefore, as a pastor, I would not partner with an atheist “chaplain” in the ministry. Nor, would I undertake ministry endeavors with a female “pastor” because there is no such thing (1 Timothy 2:12). Truth is the source of our unity, and so we must hold fast to it when partnering in ministerial endeavors. Do not hold hands with unbelievers in the work of Jesus. Do not welcome them into the membership of the local church. Make certain your foundation for unity is Christ and biblical doctrine. Let us learn from the example of the atheist chaplain at Harvard and march forward holding to the truth of Christ!