We are not meeting this week, but for next week please read Chapter 5 “Christian Atheism” and Chapter 6 “The Shape of the One-Storey Universe” of Fr. Stephen Freeman’s book Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe. In chapter 5, Fr. Freeman writes of the practical atheism in the modern church.
Christian Atheism develops when God is pushed out of this storey and upstairs into the realm of mere ideas. In the last chapter, Fr. Freeman discusses the God who is not there. God becomes this vague general notion of the divine which has little immediacy in our everyday lives. In Christian Atheism, the Christian life is no longer about transformation into a new creation in Christ, but becomes reduced to the ideological.
God is no longer him who is working within you and transforming you into his image, rather God is an idea that can be spoken of, debated, or shelved when convenient. Salvation becomes not about being with God and becoming like God but about believing the right things and behaving the right way. A person can intellectually assent to the Nicene Creed, the Westminster Confession, or the XXXIV Articles, and be completely untransformed by this assent. As Fr. Freeman says, “God as an idea or an argument is no God at all.” (p.48). Having the right belief is not unimportant, but it is not of the highest importance. There is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God.
We see Christian Atheism at work, not only in our lives (where God is only spoken of on Sunday morning or in times of trouble) but in our churches as well. As Fr. Freeman points out, the sacraments become emptied of their meaning and application. The Eucharist is no longer a place of participation in and communion with God, but simply a means of extending hospitality. Pastors are employed not to bring their congregations into a deeper transformative relationship with God, but to manage an organization competing in the marketplace. The atheist president of a company becomes indiscernible from a priest managing his parish.
The question that Fr. Freeman gives to us is whether our “Christian faith” truly makes a difference in us. If you stepped away from the Church and your faith would you be the same person? Is God truly present in your life?
Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.2 Corinthians 5:17