How does an atheist differ from a ‘secular anti-theist’? Also, how should we train nominal Christians?

Hi Gerson, the above raises some questions in my mind may I bounce them off you please?

  1. How does an atheist differ from a ‘secular anti-theist’?
  2. Can you expand on how to train nominal Christians?

Hello @billbrander ! Thank you for your questions.

Any time someone asks me about how is Christianity or even religion in general doing in Spain, I find myself almost lacking the words to express how strange the situation is. Spain is, traditionally, a Catholic country, and this tradition is still deeply present in many ways (names of people, names of streets, holidays, etc.) At the same time, Spain is a country with a history of repression and the fresh memories of a dictator that lived not so long ago. My generation was raised by parents who suffered this repression and dictatorship and many associate the church with that.
So you find a country with a strong religious tradition and yet with an equally strong aversion for a serious commitment to any church.

You find many people that just ignore anything to do with organized religion [Interestingly enough, eastern new spirituality can be very trendy here. I believe it’s because of the vacuum that the Catholic church left in the last decades, but that would be stuff for another conversation :wink: ]. But you also find people who actively want to fight any notion of religious belief (although usually they would be harder against Christianity) and who want to push the most extreme secularism.
Hence the use of the word anti-theist. The word atheist, disputed as it is, refers to someone who believes there isn’t a God. I, and many others, would use the word anti-theist to refer to someone who, it isn’t so much that they don’t believe in God because they have rationally come to that conclusion: They don’t want there to be a God, and they will actively fight any such talk. I suppose many atheists would also be anti-theists, although is a word that isn’t used that much (I try not to using much either in public settings anyway, at least not in any setting, as it can come up as aggressive).

And then, you have, it appears to be, a silent mass of people that would say they believe in God, but whose lives do not line up in any way, not even going to church. The great majority of this nominal christianity you would find in the Catholic Church (because of the tradition) but it can also be found in evangelical churches.

I think when it comes to speaking with and to nominal christians, there would be two approaches:

  • Emphasizing the necessity of an active and real relationship with God. Some could call this approach a negative approach. Not because it’s bad but because it focuses on the negative aspects of not truly knowing Jesus. I like to think of it as well as “all that they are missing out, and the fact that they really are missing out”. The Bible is clearly against lukewarm christianity, or even fake christianity, and this approach can also include referring to the bits in the Bible that clearly speak about that (see Mark 8:34-38 for instance). I wouldn’t emphasize this approach so much in a secular context, but more if I am speaking to people who I know do say they know God and the Bible but maybe they are not fully living that.
    Michael Green, a great english evangelist, often speaks of “electrifying the fence”. It means that, speak in such a way, that if there are people just sitting on the fence, they have to take a decision. They can’t just live on the fence. For instance, sometimes I will mention how “to not respond to an invitation, is already a form of response”; they can’t live sitting on the fence forever.

  • The other approach may come as the positive counterpart, and I believe both approaches are complementary: preach the gospel. It sounds obvious but I cannot emphasize it enough. Sometimes we think we should only preach the gospel in secular settings with non-christians present, but I totally think we all need the gospel, every day, every week. And churches should preach the gospel all the time.

I was once reading the parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Value (Matthew 13:44-46), and I realized they include both approaches!
What Jesus offers is the best treasure (if I was having a conversation or speaking in public, here’s the bit where to fully expand on the riches of the gospel). It really is like the most valuable pearl. But notice that the people in the parable, in realizing how much they should want this, “he went and sold all the he had”.
There is a cost to it, but is most definitely worth it.

I hope this helps!