For seven years I was college chaplain at Worchester College, Oxford. Each year I used to see the first-year undergraduates individually for a few minutes, to welcome them to the college and make a first acquaintance. Most were happy to meet me, but many commented, often with slight embarrassment, “You won’t be seeing much of me; you see, I don’t believe in God.”
I developed a stock response: “Oh, that’s interesting. Which god is it you don’t believe in?” This used to surprise them; they mostly regarded the word *God* as univocal, always meaning the same thing. So they would stumble out a few phrases about the god they didn’t believe in: a being who lived up in the sky, looking down disapprovingly at the world, occasionally intervening to do miracles, sending bad people to hell while allowing good people to share his heaven. Again, I had a stock response for this very common “spy-in-the-sky” theology: “Well, I’m not surprised you don’t believe in that god. I don’t believe in that god either.”
At this point the undergraduate would look startled. Then, perhaps, a faint look of recognition; it was sometimes rumored that half the college chaplains at Oxford were atheists. “No,” I would say, “I believe in the god I see revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.” What most people mean by *god* in late-modern Western culture simply isn’t the mainstream Christian meaning.