I recently stumbled across this phrase. The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn’t Exist. This is the title of a book written by Craig Groeschel. I saw the main title and was a bit taken aback. A Christian Atheist….what the heck is that? I then saw the rest of the title. Ouch. Needless to say, I bought a copy and have recently finished reading it. Now I know this space isn’t for a book report, and I don’t intend to give you one. There is so much that could be written about this book and from a variety of angles. The angle that I am choosing to address is the intersection between the content of this book and pastoral counseling.
The role of the pastoral counselor puts one is a position to walk with people through some of the most trying and difficult moments, experiences, and questions of their lives. It is in and through these moments that we can model the love, grace, and mercy shown to us by Jesus. And often, it is one or all of those exact things that the person in front of us is searching for. For all of us, most of our faith struggles come from a misunderstanding about who God is and the depth of His love and mercy for us. The same can be said in the counseling world. Many of the disorders that people struggle with are “born” out of situations where they were not shown appropriate love, mercy, and grace.
As I looked through the chapter titles, I was amazed to see many of the same questions or problems that my clients are asking or dealing with. Issues of change, forgiveness, shame, guilt, love, and happiness. Where and how do we see God amongst these issues? The answer to that question shapes us. the answer to that questions influences how we think, feel, and interact with those around us.
The beauty of this book, from this perspective, is that it calls for us as pastoral counselors to be very aware of our own internal beliefs of God and where He is in each of these situations. We can not even begin to effectively pastor or counsel people if we have not sought out clarity for ourselves. From there we can then begin to assist people as they wade through these issues for themselves.
I know that the title of this book is a bit sensational. It is meant to be. It is supposed to make us think about how it is that we live our lives and how that corresponds with our faith. The fact is that, regardless of the denomination, our churches are chocked full of these “Christian Atheists.” These are the people that show up to Mass or church, say what they are supposed to say, pray what they are supposed to pray, and their Christianity…at the door it will stay. I do not say this as a judgmental statement but rather as a reality statement. As a pastoral counselor, when we have the opportunity to meet with someone, we have a unique chance to bring God back into their everyday life and by doing so introduce them to a purely Christian life. One that is full of hope, joy, and love.
I know the burning question that must be on your mind right now. What is a pastoral counselor? The obvious answer is…wait for it…a pastor, who is a counselor. Right? Well, the answer is maybe! I myself, as a pastor, decided to pursue my graduate degree in Mental Health and Counseling. However, my intent was not so that I could be a pastoral counselor, but rather become a better pastor who has the ability to counsel.