Functional atheism. What an interesting phrase. It is the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me. Thus, it is not so much atheism in theological terms, but atheism in practical, functional terms. Which makes it very subtle and hard to spot. In fact, most functional atheists would probably not consider themselves atheists at all, they just live like they are. The telltale signs of functional atheism are self-sufficiency, productivity, and performance—three things that are highly valued by the culture around us. But three things that can also leave us spiritually dead and impoverished.
Just look at the letter Jesus wrote to the church at Laodicea, for example. (Rev. 3:14-22) These were folks who professed that they both knew Jesus and sought to follow him, and yet the way they lived their lives said something much different. In fact, Jesus described their love for him as tepid and lukewarm, which made him want to vomit. There was no passion or zeal for God, only a falsely satisfied sense of self-sufficiency: “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” So much so that they had left him out of their daily lives. Jesus was on the outside looking in; knocking continually on the door of their hearts, longing for deep, vibrant, intimate relationship with them, and yet they left him outside. Thus, the “believers” at the church of Laodicea were functional atheists. They said they loved God, but they lived like he didn’t exist.
The admonition Jesus gave them was to stop relying on themselves and their own resources to manage life, to realize their poverty and their helplessness, and to turn to him to give them what they could not possibly provide for themselves: to be rich in spiritual treasure, to be clothed in his holiness and righteousness, and to be healed and made whole. Only Jesus could give them those things, if only they would be willing to open the door. The very life of their souls depended on it.