I came across something not too long ago that really struck me. It involved Christopher Hitchens, one of the most well known atheists in the world up until his death last year and a Unitarian minister named Marilyn Sewell. The following exchange took place near the start of their interview:
Sewell: The religion you cite in your book (God is not Great) is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the Scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?
Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.
Sewell wanted no part of that discussion so her next words were, “Let me go someplace else.”
Hitchens absolutely nailed it – you can call yourself anything you like, but if you don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins and then rose from the dead, you are not “in any meaningful sense” a Christian. In one of the sad ironies of our time, an outspoken atheist grasps the central tenet of Christianity better than many professing Christians do.