Q & R: Christian atheist?

Here’s the Q:
My wife and I used to go to Cedar Ridge when you were pastor there.  As I’m sure you’ve heard many times, we badly needed what we found there.  Since then, we’ve moved … And again we’re in a place where there seems to be no church community whose core objectives don’t involve a hardening of us/them boundary demarcations.  This leaves us adrift – we’d rather not go to church at all then raise our kids like that.
I’m writing because we drove out to hear you speak a while back when you were in our general area.  It was great to hear your words again and to remember what Christianity could mean.  But during the question and answer time, I did have a few questions I wished I could have asked one-on-one.
The main question relates to the prodigal son discussion and the issue of belief in God. There seemed to be an assumption that when a Christian faces a crisis, if a community of believers comes around that person in their doubt, that eventually they’ll some back – different from where they started, but still believing in God.  My question is whether there’s room in your vision for an atheist Christian — as much as I would like to believe in a Knower who knows me, is there room for someone who believes in emergence and negentropy and gestalt but not in a Person/Creator outside of the system.  What if it’s more Atman than Jehovah?
I guess you’re probably way past engaging with questions of the head and instead focusing on the heart.  And I get that.  But it would be a comfort to feel a part of the migration again, and not an oxbow lake.
I hope your home survived Irma.  God bless you and your family.
Here’s the R:
Thanks for your note. With so few churches changing … and the few who are, with most changing so very slowly … many people are in the same bind as you … thank God for places like CRCC (and a growing number of other congregations) who provide a safe place …
As an aside – one reason I wrote We Make the Road by Walking was for families, small groups, and circles of friends who are church refugees to use it as a curriculum for a year of gatherings. Maybe it would be helpful?
As to your question … Can there be an atheist Christian?
I want to answer in two ways. First, a less helpful, somewhat grouchy way.
As we see with the Trump/Moore/Evangelicalism saga unwinding, the whole “Christian” label is so discredited. So I don’t see any great advantage in someone who is an atheist keeping the Christian label, not because of the atheism, but because of the Christianity. When “Christian” increasingly means “right wing tribal republican/white supremacist/Christian nationalist” … why keep the label?
OK – for a more helpful response. If we let Jesus define Christianity rather than Trump/Moore/Graham/Falwell et al … Jesus welcomed doubters, skeptics, and questioners. He didn’t turn them away. Neither should we. If Christian faith is (as I try to argue in Great Spiritual Migration) a way of life rather than merely a system of beliefs, then the key question is whether someone wants to live in the way of life Jesus taught and embodied. It becomes less a matter of what one believes and more a matter of how one believes … and lives, and loves.
That’s especially true now, when inherited notions of God – big old white guy on a throne with a beard, cosmic dictator obsessed with his own glory, external-separated-from-creation-occasional-intervener, etc. – are failing. God with us … God suffering with us … God inherent in all creation … God expressed in creation … that understanding is only beginning to become more graspable, and I’m sure that God understands and accepts people who are struggling to find an honest and credible way of having genuine faith.
Tennyson’s lines still stand:
You say, but with no touch of scorn,
         Sweet-hearted, you, whose light-blue eyes
         Are tender over drowning flies,
You tell me, doubt is Devil-born.
I know not: one indeed I knew
         In many a subtle question versed,
         Who touch’d a jarring lyre at first,
But ever strove to make it true:
Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,
         At last he beat his music out.
         There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.