Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Questions to ask about a youth group.

What sort of questions?

Not 'Hi, let's be cute together' questions, such as one article seems to want, but customer questions, tyre kicker questions, performance questions.

After all, you are the customer for a service to assist the spiritual formation, Christian and natural maturity of your child, and their spiritual resilience as they step into Uni or a job and start to socialize outside Christian circles.

Questions I have for the youth ministry team:
  1. what do you do to guide and foster the young person's (YP) spiritual formation?
  2. how do you encourage leadership participation and development for YP?
  3. what personal development for YP through volunteering in the community or church does the youth work support or promote?
  4. what are your targets for the YP for biblical and theological knowledge, and gospel conversation after 1, 2 and 3 years in the youth group, or to have by the end of year 12 at high school -- that is, prep for Uni or work?
  5. what development opportunities do you give YP on committees, working groups, in conducting Bible study discussions, giving short talks, engaging in debates, etc?
  6. what development opportunities do you give YP in assisting organise and conduct youth ministry activities, or wider church activities?
  7. what church contribution do you train and coach YP for, e.g. music group, Bible reading, prayer, congregational committees, mission groups, etc?
  8. what do you do to give YP a robust 'structure' of Christian faith?
  9. do you have special interest groups for, e.g. Bible software, theology, church history, apologetics, Christian books?
  10. how do you introduce YP to apologetics, conversations with their non-Christian peers and conversations with older people (e.g. university lecturers), including developing answers to questions such as 'why are you a Christian', 'why do you read the Bible', 'why do you go to church'?
  11. how do you equip YP to handle common trip-ups for Christian faith, such as the theory of Evolution, New-Age movement, Social-gospel (that influenced by Critical Theory), the 'Problem of Evil', the exclusivity of Christ, and the sexualisation of modern culture?
  12. what do you do to promote leadership in outside community groups (as a way of extending Christian influence in the community), or in structured para-church organisations?
Let me know, and this will guide my decision to send my YP along to your group.

Monday, March 30, 2020



I tuned into a youtube channel seeking a church service to watch (given we're pretending to shut down society at the moment)
"..we just want to welcome you..."
is how it started; so I commented:
I don't understand why evangelical Christians use the word 'just' so much. It sounds timid, timorous, hesitant, disingenuous and...well...creepy, like there's some other agenda; or it's a diminutive: we are only going to welcome you, nothing else.
How about a full-blown 'Welcome to our gathering in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit' like you are Christians, or a short sentence of scripture from a psalm, as though the Bible is important to your gathering...or is it 'just' a social club?
Apart from that, it seemed an OK service.

BTW, the overuse of 'just' in prayers was drawn to my attention by a friend, about 35 years ago. She's a paid Christian now, and good for her. A fabulous use of her talent.

The little church on the hill

I grew up in a Christian setting. The setting I've always known always felt part of, and the one that dominated my life....the one I was blessed by.

This is the building that was my first memory of church. We lived in a small historic hamlet on the outskirts of Australia's biggest city, since swallowed by suburbia. The old hall where my brother and I went to Sunday School was to the left of the chapel, it was demolished a few decades ago, replaced by the larger building behind it.

 The building was erected in the late 1800s, then later became a Presbyterian church. For much of my childhood, this was our church. Most of the people in our circle attended, at least at Easter and Christmas.

Christmas was very special: Christmas eve supper at one family's home, Christmas morning here, at church, then to another family's home for morning tea. A couple of weeks prior to Christmas this family (the local butcher) hosted a kids 'street' party for about half a dozen families - about 20 kids. T'was wonderful.

Saturday, March 28, 2020


No, not the minimalism of the art world. The minimalism of biblical scholarship.

Gary Habermas gives an illuminating talk on it at Biola, and his website has plenty of goodies as well.

Get into them.

Media ball-drop

Odd title, seeing I disparage sports analogies.

But I dropped the ball.

Given our collective Covid19 panic (and how the media loves a good panic), our church is compiling video services. Not streamed, which I would prefer, I think, but compiled.

I was scheduled to do Bible readings tomorrow: John 19:5-6 and Hebrews 2:6-9.

But I wasn't given a deadline, so toddling around this morning, doing test shoots...got it all right: sound, lighting, setting, framing, checked the production workflow (editing, etc).

Then the local Foley guy started a chain saw effect...using a chain saw. Rang the producer (one of our paid Christians) to check the deadline. I was too late!

He apologized for not giving me a deadline, but heck. I've worked in media; it was ME! I should have asked for a deadline.

Another sporting analogy: now I'm kicking myself.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Be a leader??!?!!

 My comment on Ron Edmonson's blog.

1. If you are lonely in your role, you are not a leader.

2. Like in business,  but even more so: a 'leader' is one who exercises social influence, provides information, provides resources, and coaches their team. But, biggest of all, a leader equips people to get things done. The best leadership is to have a group of peers. In my leadership roles, I've treated my group of direct reports nor just as my management committee (essential) but as a sounding board, as coaches and even mentor for myself.

Don't confuse real-world leadership with the mythical leadership of movies, the pulp business press or imaginary figures in history.

3. To be a good leader you have to be firstly a good manager (leadership is the human component of management; don't let the booksellers tell you otherwise), and in parallel a person who seeks others to succeed and grow, then secondly, a humble and godly person, remembering Philippians 2:3,4.

But, of course, in ministry we don't 'lead' we serve.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Heroes of the faith

Who springs to mind when you read "heroes of the faith"?

Lots of big names, I'm sure.

My parents supported a church plant (as we call them nowadays) in a low-income area of our city. We all attended. I got quite involved in children's and youth ministry, committee membership and participating in services. I made some good friends there, but there were too few as peers and I did feel rather like a fish out of water.

Nevertheless, this was our church and that was it.

People who stick in my mind:

Dolores T. Her husband had been injured in an accident on army maneuvers. Had a debilitating brain injury (an artillery shell fell during loading onto a truck and hit his head). DT was ever polite and cheerful, raising with her husband I think three or four children. I remember the two oldest: girls and their younger brother. All polite, calm and self-effacing, and with a resilient quiet cheerfulness. My mother admired and helped Dolores as friend to friend.

Norm F. He and his wife were disability pensioners. Norm had a chronic neurological condition that gave him almost continuous severe headaches, sometimes keeping him in bed for a couple of days at a time. He and his teenage daughter came to church most Sundays. His wife, also disabled by illness, rarely. He was ever faithful, quiet and humble. Always approachable, even if sometimes beset by squalls of illness.

Christine H. She was a committed, resilient and wise woman married to a dope. She had three sons. The eldest, a very quiet but intelligent electrical apprentice, was a friend. His younger brother died in mid-teens. My friend eventually got a job overseas in factory automation but died in his 50s of a lung condition (I think).

Horst S. and his wife. Horst had been in the German army in WWII. His wife English! They had a tribe of kids: well, five, that I can remember: four boys, of whom two were twins, and I think, a daughter. They had a border: a disabled older man with a chronic illness. Horst was a wonderful man. He was killed by a truck running into his bicycle. He died a few weeks after the crash. Two of his sons became ministers.

Robert V. S. Our minister. He came as a young man: he was old to me at 14, but now as an older bloke, he was incredibly young for such a challenging ministry. He was very smart, personable, wise and insightful. Could have ministered in a big city church and grown it easily. But he stayed in our small low-income church full of pensioners, the ill, and those of simple tastes. He was a huge influence on me and great encouragement.

There you have it.  From the worldly point of view, no one remarkable; no one dressed fashionably, no one drove a new car, no one had a large house, no one had a university degree, no one was known outside our circle. But for me, heroes of faith.

Barron on Genesis

In his video on Misreading Genesis, Bishop Barron limps through the old tale of 'genre' to avoid offending the materialists and the now defunct documentary fantasists.

My comment:

Let's clarify a few things.

> Genesis 1, etc. has the genre of 'history'. The grammatical constructions and vocabulary are congruent with other Hebrew history. It has the form of a list of events, similar to other lists in Numbers 7 and 29:12-25.

> If God is all-powerful there is no problem with a one-day creation of animals. If you disagree, tell me the problem. It is not about the creation of species of organisms, but 'kinds'. Species is a modern invention in a broader taxonomic system. The genesian kinds are possibly at the genus or family level, if not order for some microscopic forms. Behe's recent book (Darwin Devolved) clarifies the way this works out at the species level. You might also look at Sanford's "Genetic Entropy" and "Evolution's Achilles Heels" ed Carter, R.

> It is not unscientific for light to be created before the sun. The sun is an 'accidental' body that produces light. If light did not exist, the sun would not be able to produce it. But light is merely the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. For light to be created, the whole spectrum would have been created. 'Light' is then a metonym for the energy field essential for the rest of the creation to occur. It represents the creation of the entire cosmic energy infrastructure essential for the material existence. No energy, no nuthin' else!

> That God created in a few consecutive days has nothing to do with 'science' which is a retrospective examination of the results of God's creation. Because the creation is rationally accessible (being created by a rationally coherent mind) we can do science, and by the 'Genesis mandate' to care for the creation, we must, should, and love to do so.

> And, for those for whom 'day' is pummeled into something other than a day, the author went to great lengths to ensure that we understood a standard day of ordinary experience as an interval of time (not of lighting conditions which came on day 3 to mark that passage of time): they are calibrated as 'evening and morning' type days, and are numbered as a day list: Numbers 7 and 29 again are similar.

> The point of God creating in a rhythm related to our existential bound shows God in a fellowship space of our ordinary experience and demonstrates the world in our ordinary experience as the place of fellowship: not in imagination, not in 'transformed consciousness', or by smoking funny cigarettes, but in our ordinary life. God is thus existentially patent and engaged in a 'commutative' relationship with we, creatures in his image.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The hedonists guilt?

Catch this article by Nick Kastelein. Good analysis of a world without God turned in upon its own self-serving morality.

Monday, March 23, 2020

'Don't worry, God is in control'

This somewhat correct, but misunderstanding platitude needs rebuttal.

Here's one of mine:

We must remember that God's love and goodness are not always aligned with our tendency to 'moralistic, therapeutic deism'. God's goodness and love have other ends than our occasional comforts. They are concerned with our holiness and his kingdom proximately, and our relationship with him in the new creation, teleologically. When we nurture our personal comfort with platitudes in these times of mild testing, I think of the suffering of the saints during the English civil war (both Catholic and Reformed), or the trials of Christians in communist regimes, let alone the church in times prior to Constantine.

We still have it easy. Time to toughen up and consider our Lord, rather than our toilet paper.

More on MTD and why does it fail,  the new American religion, and how it worships.

Do you have Christian beliefs?


I have Christian knowledge!

No, you, Mr/Ms atheist, prove to me why I couldn't have this knowledge.

I believe in God....? No, I know God...

The triune God and his action in history is the best and comprehensive basis for understanding the world, its origin, humanity and its discontents and the nature and grandeur of humans.

OTOH, the atheist world view can't even explain the origin of dirt.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Christian development in schools

Through school Christian groups and voluntary 'religions education,' I would like to see a general program to equip the Christian young people to have a firm grasp of the basic flow of biblical history, the basic divisions of the Bible (e.g. history, poetry, wisdom, prophets, gospels, etc.), their literary and historical background in terms of the Bible (I know that there are many dating systems influenced by extra-biblical considerations. These might be mentioned as contrast, but the Bible should be regarded in its own terms.)

I would also hope that the very distinctive world view of the Bible is taught, in outline, at least and the contrasting world views of naturalism, post-modern/critical theory relativism, and its lesser cousin, impersonal spirituality.
The students should have a grasp of the critical differences and how to discuss them, along with the Bible’s framework of the reality of God, man, Christ, crucifixion and (general) resurrection, with the events against each of creation, corruption, incarnation, completion, and consummation.
Pivotal historical and theological events and biblical figures should be introduced and contextualized.

Basic apologetic lines should also be covered, such as how to have conversations about faith, about the knowledge we have of God and his salvation. The YouTube videos of Greg Koukl,  J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig are great examples of the type of content that could be used.

Some church history and information about major Christian figures would also be worthwhile. 

I would like to hope that at the end of year 10 students would have a clear grasp of these matters, with a basic understanding of the key elements of Christian theology and apologetics, with those at the end of year 12 understanding the basic world-view contests and the critique we would make of non-Christian world-views, including an understanding of criticisms often made of Christian theism and the Bible and ability to if not rebut, then deflect them.

I would also hope that the students would have development and leadership opportunities, such as speaking in the group, conducting studies or discussion groups and holding events, even if just of their members.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Evangelical? Not really!

I'll bet you think I'm going to say that I'm not evangelical. Not really.

No, I'm going to say that the evangelical church (Anglican, Baptists, mainstream, fringe) is not really evangelical; not really truly.

Apart from the lack of diligence in systematic teaching of the Bible and theology, there's widespread neglect of anything to do with apologetics, conversational evangelism, communicating the faith (rhetorical training), simulations (what people inaccurately call role-plays), training in 'contact evangelism', or training in what the 'others' believe (Mormons, JWs, village atheists, Big Four Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, New Agers, Muslims, etc.)

I would expect a truly evangelical church or a regional group of churches to have courses running continuously in Basic Bible (a one year course, say 15-20 meetings a year), Basic Theology (same), Talking the faith (conversational tactics and rhetorical strategies), How to believe (apologetics), and Varieties of Religious Experience (cults, and other religions).

Once a month there would be a training session on Faith Talk, and once a month a segment in the Sunday service related to dealing with questions of the faith: talks, simulations or prepared mini-debates, basic tactics for the Mormon or JW at the front door or in the street, the Muslim at work, etc.

Not doing this? Then, not evangelical.

We know the same thing

Christians know certain things. But atheists (espoused and practical) also know these things.

These are things about people that only make sense in the Christian understanding of the world and our experience in it.

Greg Koukl covers them in a blog and a podcast.

They are:

Humanity - 'man is different from non-man' (Schaeffer)

In a world without God. Humans are nothing but cogs in the celestial machine, cosmic junk, the ultimate unplanned pregnancy, left to build our lonely lives on the “firm foundation of unyielding despair,” as atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell put it. Nihilism—bleak “nothing-ism.”
Yet no one really believes this, not deep inside. Solomon said God has set eternity in our hearts.[6] There is a better answer—a more accurate answer—to the question “What does it mean to be human?” And we all know it.

 Two deaths: comparison of Mth Theresa and Diana, princess of Wales deaths

In a God-less universe where all meaning is of our own making, what could it possibly mean to say someone died an “untimely” death? It means that people know better. It means they know life has an ultimate purpose and deep significance that transcends private projects. In spite of their pontifications to the contrary, their mannishness gives them away.

It's broke

Here is another example—kin to the one above—of the “inside” truth-finding its way to the “outside.” Everyone knows something has gone terribly wrong with the world. We call it “the problem of evil,” and it prompts us to ask, “Why is there so much badness in the world?”
There is a wrinkle to this concern, though, another detail each of us also knows. The world is broken, true enough. But we are broken, too. Though humans have inherent dignity, we are also cruel. The evil is “out there,” as it were, but it is also “in here”—in us.

We all know guilt

There is something else, though. We are not left in despair, abandoned under the weight of blame we all share. “The answer to guilt is not denial,” I told them. “That’s relativism. The answer to guilt,” I said, “is forgiveness. And this is where Jesus comes in.”

Our restless souls

Two facts of the human condition lie at the heart of our inescapable sense of longing. One is that we are broken. We’ve already spoken of that. The second is this: It hasn’t always been this way. There remains a remnant of former beauty the brokenness cannot efface, yet something has gone missing that must be replaced. We feel a “sweet pain…a primal memory deep in our souls reminding us of the way the world started—good, wonderful, whole, complete.”

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Case for Christ

It's nice to have some mnemonics to keep in mind to be able to give a reason for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15).

You might remember the 5 Cs.

Here are the four (or five) Es, care of Lee Strobel, the author of The Case for Christ:

E - execution: Yeshua was dead as a result of the execution: there's virtually no dispute that he was dead after the crucifixion. For this, we have a large number of early contemporary accounts of this. Josephus, Tacitus, Serapian, Lucian, the Talmud

E - early: the earliest report we have access to is dated from probably 3 months after the resurrection in an early creed

E - empty: we have an empty tomb, recognized by Yeshua's enemies as resulting from grave robbery (the modern trope that crucifixion victims were not buried is false).

E - eyewitnesses: in more than a dozen instances to over 515 people in total recorded in over 9 ancient sources within and external to the New Testament*. Unlike mass hysteria events, the events were all different, and mostly in prosaic everyday circumstances.

(E) - experience: of the apostles post-resurrection: changed from a band of frightened demoralized failures to determined risk-takers who led difficult lives of deprivation and suffering to proclaim Yeshua's resurrection from the dead to their own deaths. They had encountered the resurrected Yeshua and were confident to put their lives on the line for their experience.

*Many non-scholars reject the NT as an ancient source. But remember, the NT is a collection of ancient texts. It was not composed as a propaganda piece, but represents a compilation of individual texts separately composed within about 60 years of the crucifixion for various readerships across the ancient world. Don't confuse a method of binding for an intentional composition.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Faith - not a leap.

The idea that Christian faith is a 'leap' is not Christian.

It's not even Biblical. Biblical faith is the assurance of things not seen (but reported by reliable witnesses, and understood by simple logic).

It comes from Soren Kierkegaard, regarded by many as a 'Christian' existentialist philosopher. As such, his theology is not up to much.

He had no secure ground for his faith (Christian faith being a response of confidence to evidence), so he had to 'leap'.

The only one who has to 'leap' for faith is the atheist, who is convinced there is no god (despite what they claim), or the Buddhist, the Hindu, Shinto, animist or astrologer.

Stand to reason has a helpful article on this.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The two big problems

Only 2?

Yes: the two big problems in the Church.

1. Biblical illiteracy, and

2. Theological illiteracy.

My solutions

1. Regular encouragement from the pulpit and in small groups to regular reading of the Bible, with various 'systems' given. Encouraged from youth groups up. Even from kids in Sunday School up.

In the edition of the Good News Bible that I have, there is a set of 'first 100 days' readings, and a system of readings for a year -- not the whole Bible in a year, just a year's worth of passage readings. Both of digestible length. Both of good theological scope.

Every Christian needs to do these.

After that others can follow: reading in slabs, quick reading, devotional reading, reading to study, reading different versions. It's all there.

2. Either in parishes or districts (i.e. regional groups of churches) having book clubs. There could be a number of them to cater for different levels of interest. To help people develop in this area, the clubs could also have members give book reviews.

My own 'quick reading plan' is reading the NT in advent, and the Octoteuch (Genesis to Ruth) from Epiphany to Easter. Thereafter I read at less speed portions of the remainder of the OT and small portions of the NT more thoughtfully.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Now, that was 'church'

I normally attend a Baptist church, but last week we caught up with friends at our family's old church: a formal Anglican church (Episcopal in the US).

The order of service:

Organ prelude
Processional hymn: Take up your cross
>Opening prayer (a set prayer recited by all)
>Collect (a prayer in response said by the precentor)
OT reading
Anthem by choir: Christ is the world's true light
Gospel reading
Nicene creed (recited by all)
NT reading
Hymn: Man of sorrows
>The Lord's Prayer (recited by all)
Communion (I'll skip all the detail here, but, more scripture, confession, and reassurance from the minister)
Hymn: Let us worship Christ
>Going out to serve (prayer by minister, response recited by all)
Recessional hymn: Christ triumphant ever reigning
Organ postlude (Fantasia in C minor by JS Bach).

Now, that was church, that was honouring of our gathering, our saviour and his word and the witness of our brethren who had gone before us (and composed the music, wrote the liturgy and committed the scriptures to writing).

See Beasley-Murray's article related to this.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Two dozen or so!

And you thought there were only five philosophical arguments for God:

Alvin Plantinga offers two dozen or so.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

What is "Street Epistemology"?

Street epistemology attempts to apply good philosophical debating approaches to ordinary conversations with people. Not a bad idea on the surface.

Where it comes unstuck is its definition of 'faith' when applied to Christians.

Their definition:
  • Faith: When given as a reason for belief, it can be understood as firm confidence in the claim in excess of what is warranted by evidence.
In Hebrews, faith is defined as: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (11:1)

Note, this is things not seen, not things for which there is no evidence. Christian faith is a response to evidence or the reasonableness of our belief. It is firstly confidence or trust in God through his word and the internal witness of his Spirit. Compare Hebrews 11:3.

This arises from our understanding of the Bible through textual criticism, biblical analysis, archeology, external historical records and the like. Our scholars bring us this information.

It next arises from the person and work of Jesus who rose from the dead (based on more good evidence in the texts, the church's foundational history, and biblical reasonableness based on Old Testament prophesy).

This then is founded in the action of God in history, and the explanation of our experience of reality that he comprehensively provides.

The classic arguments are those from Cosmology, Ontology, Teleology, Experience, Ethics.

If you want to get complicated, Alvin Plantinga has 24 or so grounds for faith.

Ask an atheist why his belief is reasonable (and, BTW, atheism is the belief that there is no god. It is not a personal "I don't believe in god, persuade me otherwise". It requires a positive ground for belief).

As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has it:
This definition has the added virtue of making atheism a direct answer to one of the most important metaphysical questions in philosophy of religion, namely, “Is there a God?” There are only two possible direct answers to this question: “yes”, which is theism, and “no”, which is atheism. Answers like “I don’t know”, “no one knows”, “I don’t care”, “an affirmative answer has never been established”, or “the question is meaningless” are not direct answers to this question.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

It'll all be OK

I guess you've heard of one of the consolations of faith being quoted as Romans 8:28 (God causes all things to work together for good).

But, maybe you're not aware of the full information on this. Paul writes (Roms 8:28-30): 
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
The end God has in mind is our eternal state with God in the new creation of free fellowship with him, living in his presence.

It is not about things working out on this Earth.

Nor is it about God manipulating events for us.

It is God weaving into his objective the contingent uncertainties of a fallen and distorted world (out of which he is saving us)  that operates according to the 'prince of the power of the air'. No matter how bad others want to make things, God will weave them into his cloth, not theirs. During which time, we persevere in prayer for courage, boldness, strength and wisdom as we await the 'eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17)

That old style religion

Today I visited a church we attended many years ago.

I was surprised by a couple of changes in the morning service: it was more formal than before. A good thing, in my view.

I don't care if others want a less formal service, but I don't. The formality is for me reminds me of the continuity of the worshipping community over time: big time! I find it peaceful, almost other-worldly. The hymns, set prayers, formality of communion (not to mention the real wine!), all takes me into 'worship-land'.

Love it. Here's the first page of the service sheet.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

5 part story and reprise

Earlier I posted on the five-point story of reality.

Now to reprise it, with detail

1. God (creator)
creates heaven and earth
2. Man (creature)
rejects God-relationshp and becomes anti-god
3. Christ
Christ, the creator, enters creation as a man, a creature
4. Crucifixion
Christ dies in our place  and defeats anti-god-ness (death)
5. Resurrection (consummation)
God makes all things new and brings us into life with him, forever.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Can we be good without God?

Bill Craig has a video of a lecture on this subject, but not quite. His lecture is on the notion of being good without God providing a standard of 'good'. Fair enough, but it's not about the question.

It get's the mealy-mouthed answer of 'yes' of course an atheist can be a good person. But this is 'good' without belief in God. Good without God is a different kettle of fish.

The answer?


And why?

Firstly, people broadly have a moral sense because God is. His nature defines what is 'good' (or God-like) and in the default, what is not good, or evil (or not-God-like). Without this, there is no definition outside personal convenience, accidental convention, and power. It comes down to taste or power. This is the 'earthworm reality'. Earthworms live on the basis of convenience and power and that's it.

So for a person to hold that they can be good, or that the concept of 'good' has any real meaning, without God they have to prove that there is no God and material, or impersonal force is all there is.

Craig does go into this, but for the ordinary conversation, the implication is that a person who doesn't believe in God can be good.

Of course they can, and that is only because God is (i.e. he exists). Otherwise good has no meaning. See above. We can do good and often aspire to be good (or delude ourselves that we are: that 'good' has some intrinsic value and non-material significant meaning) because we are made in the image of God. That is, we are morally meaningful and in the context of the reality that is God.

Naturally, the question that flows from this is how then is 'evil'. Or the antithesis of good? Evil is the absence of good. It is of 'not-God'. It is from the exercise of will in contradiction of God-like-ness. That is, of not-love. We can only do this because we are in God's image and are morally meaningful.

Why did God make us so...that we could act ungodly? Because having this capacity is the only way we could truly enjoy fellowship with God.