Why I Use the Term “Unbeliever” Instead of “Atheist”

May 26, 2017 | Apologetics, Article, Christian Living

When I first started getting interested in Apologetics, I found a recurring theme.

It seemed like every apologist and writer out there was using the term “Atheist” to describe those who were opposed to the idea of Christianity. As a result, I quickly found myself doing the very same thing!

After a while, I decided that I needed to start changing my tune a bit.

Today’s post will not be long, but I feel that this is an important issue. In the marketplace of religious ideas, there are many out there who are opposed to Christianity. Some believe in no God, some believe in a different God, and others believe in a “god-like” figure that possesses no attributes of deity, but rather gives insight as to how life should be lived to the fullest on earth.

It is for this reason that I began to ask questions like, “Who is an Atheist, anyway?” “Does our response to them matter?” “How did Jesus respond?”

I think the easiet way to lay this out would simply be to answer those questions.

Is an Unbeliever an “Atheist?”


A quick Google search returns this result for the word Atheist: “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.” While I think this qualification is true, it appears that when we use the word Atheist in Apologetic circles, we are usually referring to the militant “New Atheism.”

This is the form of Atheism that has the most religious qualities ingrained within it. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens–these are all figureheads in the New Atheist movement and probably the most influential.

These groups are known not for disbelieving in God, per se, but almost for hating a God that they claim does not exist! They perform “unbaptizing” services and literally make their living just being Atheists.

I think that, when referring to someone as an Atheist today, they almost need to be in this camp in order to use such a term. There are many who are offended at being called an Atheist because they do not want to be associated with these militant groups.

If we’re honest, we can all have some empathy.

As Christians, most of us would not be pleased with being thought of as the “TCT-watching Jim Bakker crowd.” In some ways, using such vague and non-specific language just hinders the conversation.

Therefore, I tend to refer to unbelievers as exactly that–unbelievers. This helps to ensure a dialogue that does not begin with my making potentially hurtful accusations as to the type of person I am talking to.

Does our Response Matter?


Yes! 1 Peter 3:15 calls us to be ready to give an answer, but we often overlook the last portion of the verse: “with meekness and fear.”

I like Wiersbe’s definition of meekness–“power under control.” The Word of God gives us power.

But power is no good without control. To illustrate, consider Energy. In order for Energy to be useful, there must be a mechanism in place to harness or control it.

The energy of the sun beating down on the roof of your home, for example, will destroy your roof over a period of time. But place solar panels on your roof, and you can now harness the power of that Energy and make it useful.

So then, the character of our response definitely matters. We can exercise meekness and fear (respect) in our Apologetic, and that alone will help clear the way to a gospel presentation.

When your response is not coated with the arrogance and bigotry that we Christians are often falsely accused of displaying, you have probably already debunked 2/3 of the person’s opposition to your faith.

How Did Jesus Respond to Opposition?


Remember, as Christians, we are literally “Christ ones.” Therefore, in all situations, we must figure out what Jesus would have done. Fortunately, the Bible accurately records what He DID DO!

I think that we can learn much from Jesus in this area. Consider when He was hanging on the cross.

He had just endured the worst beating you can possibly imagine, His face had been spit upon and defiled, His head broken with a crown of HUGE thorns, and railroad-spike sized nails had been driven into his wrists and feet.

What He did NOT do was cry: “God curse you, God-hating Atheists! Father, send them all to Hell for what they have done!” Sadly, there are many brethren who would probably have that reaction today.

Jesus said, “Forgive them, Father. For they know. not. what. they. do.”

Powerful words from Jesus. 

There is a lesson to be learned here, and it goes much further than just how we refer to people who oppose us.

We Christians must be lights in the darkness of this world, and seasoned with salt when we share the gospel with others.

How we address someone might just be the first step in the long road ahead of presenting and sharing the gospel with those we come into contact with.

My prayer for you today is that you will take that to heart, and learn how to season ALL of your interactions with salt.

Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!

Meet Steve

Meet Steve

Hi, I’m Steve, an author, speaker, and Bible teacher with a heart for exploring God’s Word and God’s world.

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