January 24, 2017

Why Talking With Atheists Isn’t as Scary as You Think

by Jordan Standridge

A couple weeks ago, my kids saw a man and his son out in the park, so they quickly asked if they could go outside. It was a great chance for my kids to play with someone and for me to get to know a neighbor. It turned out to be a great Gospel opportunity.

He was a guy who grew up in Peru, currently working for an airline company. He gets to fly all over the world for free, and he told me that he can’t wait to make it to Italy one day, specifically Rome.  When I informed him that I grew up in Rome, we were practically best friends. Then he asked me what I do. When I informed him that I worked at a church, he played it cool like he was ok with it. He had already told me that he grew up with Catholic grandparents, as well as a Jewish grandpa, all practicing in their respective religions. He never mentioned anything negative about them, nor about religion at all. And then he told me that he was an atheist. As we continued our conversation, it was very pleasant. He couldn’t understand why there are so many religions, so I explained to him the differences between what I believe and most other religions. He had many questions about the Bible’s reliability which I did my best to answer, and then I got the chance to encourage him to read his Bible. He confessed to a fear of death, as well as some doubts about atheism. Right before we went home, we took out our phones and became Facebook friends. All in all, a wonderful conversation, and one which I was very thankful for.

And then I looked at his Facebook.

IMG_6642He was a particular fan of a Facebook page that was entitled, “WE –CURSEWORD- LOVE ATHEISM.” And not too long before our conversation, he had shared a cartoon of a man getting kicked out of a car for changing the music station to Christian music. At first, I was a little shocked and a little discouraged, feeling a little weird about our conversation, but that feeling went away pretty quickly. I started becoming thankful and encouraged by our conversation. I thought about how cool it was that our conversation went so well. Perhaps he acted more with a mob mentality when he was with a group of online friends than he did in person. Of course, I don’t want to minimize his hatred for God or his sinfulness, but it was a reminder of the fact that we don’t need to be afraid to share the Gospel with anyone despite their outward appearance or of what we know about their beliefs. Many Christians can be very intimidated when talking to atheists, but if we trust in God’s Sovereignty and His Word, we don’t need to fear anyone. Here are five confidence-inducing reasons why you don’t need to fear to share the Gospel with an atheist.

They do believe in God

Perhaps the scariest part of talking with an atheist is the fact that they say that they don’t believe God exists. And Christians can have a hard time, or better yet, an impossible time proving that He does. So often, Christians forget what the Bible says about those who deny God. The Bible is clear that many people do deny God, but Romans 1 gives us the reason why. Paul says in Romans 1:18,

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.”

The Bible clearly says that men know that God exists, but that they suppress that knowledge with unrighteousness. In other words, they love their sin so much that they choose to suppress the knowledge of God. This doesn’t mean that we won’t find people who genuinely think that God doesn’t exist, but we know, ultimately, that this suppression comes as a result of loving sin. Therefore, in our evangelism, we must do our best to help them see their sin and understand how it blinds them from the Truth.

They don’t need evidence

Another common thing I hear from folks who are afraid to talk to atheists, in particular, is the fact that they don’t think that they can answer all of the atheist’s difficult questions. Christians feel that they must have the perfect “case for Christ” in order to convince an atheist to believe in God. While we can be thankful for evidential apologists and how God has used them over the years, ultimately, we know that no evidence will bring an unbeliever to believe. In fact, Abraham tells the rich man in Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:31 that not even a resurrected man will convince them. The reason that presenting evidence is problematic is that if you are presenting evidence to the atheist, then he becomes the judge; you are telling him that he is on the throne and he gets to determine whether God exists or not. You are the lawyer, and the one who is on trial is God Himself. But God doesn’t need to be on trial. Romans 1 tells us that He has given us enough evidence already, so much so that man is without excuse.

We can rest easy knowing that we don’t need to have the Answers in Genesis website memorized, nor do we have to be as skilled or as knowledgeable in debate tactics as James White and Sye Ten Bruggencate. We can be thankful for how the Lord has blessed them, but we can be confident in the fact that atheists do know God exists, and we simply need to share Scripture with them.

They need faith first, then they’ll see the truth

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (II Timothy 2:24-26).

If we read this passage clearly, we will notice a few things. First, it is God who “grants repentance.”  It is not through the eloquence of our words, or through how well we present the evidence for the existence of God, but rather it is through the Holy Spirit doing the work of regeneration in the heart of man. Second, Paul encourages us to be kind, able to teach and gentle, while avoiding being quarrelsome and resentful while talking. This will come easily when we recognize the fact that they are captive to the devil and that we are powerless to help them escape. It is simply not up to us or even them, it is only up to the mercy of God, so, it is silly to be anything but kind and gentle. Third, and most importantly for this post, notice what the verse says, “First comes repentance, and then comes knowledge of the truth.” Sometimes, we act like it’s the other way around. That, perhaps, if we can just show them that evolution is a lie, or that Jonah could have been swallowed by a fish and survived, they will be convinced. Their obstacle to belief is not a hard-to-believe miracle or a literal 6-day Creation, it is the fact that they are trapped by Satan. I think that this truth will ease the burden from our shoulders and cause us to just focus on the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone (Rom1:16), even the atheist.

They fear death

“…and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:15).

This passage in Hebrews is so encouraging. Jesus, through His death, has defeated Satan’s stronghold over death, and now we can live without fearing it. The writer of Hebrews says that the fear of death is the slave owner of every unredeemed heart. Sadly, that includes all of those around us who don’t know the Lord. While atheists seem so confident in their beliefs, the Bible tells us that inside they are slaves to fear. This knowledge should not drive us to mock them or to look down on them, but rather it should drive us to have compassion for them. As we talk to those around us, we must remember that, despite their confidence, when they put their head on the pillow at night, they doubt their faith as much if not more than any other human being. This belief should give us confidence as we speak to them because we can be certain that we have eternal life and we no longer need to fear death.

They are the fools

Atheists love to act as if the Bible has been disproven. They love to mock Christians. They feel bad for our children and even question whether they should be taken away from us. In other words, they believe with all their heart that anyone who believes the Bible and in its inerrancy is an intellectual fool. The Bible though flips the script on them. It calls anyone who doesn’t believe in God a fool. Psalm 14:1 says,

“The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good.”

The difference, though, is that the Bible’s verdict is not an intellectual one, but rather a moral one. God says that when you deny Him, you are choosing fleeting sin over an eternity of joy. Thomas Watson famously said, “What fools are they who, for a drop of pleasure, drink a sea of wrath.” 

We must remember as we gently explain the Gospel to an atheist that we must not feel intellectually inadequate to speak with them; rather, we can be confident that we have the Truth and that it is the only Truth that can save them.

I’m thankful for my conversation with my new atheist friend. Despite the fact that, typically, he was pretty hostile to the Gospel, when we were face to face, it was as if he were a different person. No longer hiding behind his computer, or in the presence of his friends, he opened up to his insecurities, his fear of death, and his frustration over being a single dad. If we believe that the Bible is true, then we have no reason to be afraid to speak to anyone. So next time someone tells you they’re an atheist I hope that these five reminders will give you the confidence to share the truth with them without any fear.

Jordan Standridge

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Jordan is a pastoral associate at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA, where he leads the college ministry. He is the founder of The Foundry Bible Immersion.
  • Lynn B.

    Thanks for this Jordan. I just had to end a two-week long Twitter conversation with a group of atheists. It was cordial even with two or three participants but in the end, it was a massive group attack.

    Someone years ago taught me to ask questions and I found that effective. The conversation began with my asking them why they are hostile to Christianity in the public domain such as a prayer/invocation. I answered a number of their questions but I avoided their oft repeated “prove there is a god,” and each time I answered I tried to include a question back to them. In time, they fell into the inevitable trap in the inconsistencies of their belief system. They claim to believe only what science can prove but believe the “theory” of evolution.

    I was grieved for how false religions who take the name of Christianity have harmed the name of Christ and how possible believers with very bad theology have done the same. Thankfully, I had already explained that to them when they thought they had trapped me by asking about millionaires in the White House and children dying in poverty. After I responded with a few verses about wealth and poverty, they came back with a quote from Joel Osteen and a picture of a starving child near death. I was quick to say he was a heretic and did not represent biblical Christianity but they would hear no such thing. To them the true Bride of Christ is guilty of the sins of every false teacher. I further explained the meaning of Matthew 19:21 which they had cited but they refused to believe it is not a command for all Christians to sell all they have and give to the poor. Throughout the conversation over many days, they consistently misused scripture.

    At that point, it had become a small riot of sorts with numerous people chiming in but I had already had opportunity to share a number of biblical truths. It’s interesting that they are out there just waiting to “pick a fight” with a Christian and that they are working so diligently to stamp out the voice of Christians in the public domain. They are using fear of Sharia Law as an argument against freedom of religion and I wonder if in fact that will end our most basic and cherished American freedom.

    • Ira Pistos

      I find that they’re becoming increasingly zealous in their proselytizing against Christianity.

      It is a source of grief, all those who teach falsehood under the guise of Christianity.
      Those and all false religions serve their intended purpose all to well.
      The lord of lies is a master of that craft after all.

      If it seems that the only Christian message reaching their ears is a false one, it isn’t the case. It’s just the only message they’re willing to absorb.

      I find that if they’re communicating with us on line, the purpose is not a quest for knowledge but rather attack.
      Their every assault can be defeated but they’ll rarely discuss the answers we provide them with, instead launching a new assault and ignoring those answers in succession.

      There are two certain instances in which I’ll walk away from a discussion, one is when they begin to recycle their arguments and the first is when they refuse to refer to our Lord in anything but a vile manner.

      I pray regularly that the Word will reach the heart of a militant atheist I’m sharing with and every once in a rare while that will happen. My extension of that prayer is that the witnesses reading the dialogue will see the often irrational and frequently vitriolic reactions of those who I’m sharing with.
      When they react in that manner they’re effectively preaching the veracity of the word they’re raging against.

      • Lynn B.

        The ultimate goal of this conversation was indeed attack, or at least “winning” the argument and discrediting Christianity and the Bible. But for many days it was cordial, no profanity or disrespect, and I insisted they answer my question before I answered any more of theirs. They interacted with a fair amount of truth before it ended and God’s Word does not return void so I assume it was time well invested. It was me who every day said I had no more time and then we continued again a day or two later. Given the preponderance of bad theology I encounter on the web, I’m guessing they’ve not often received good biblical answers to their questions. They repeatedly hit a dead-end because I gave a logical or biblical answer. It made me thankful for the spiritual foundation God has been gracious to give me over many decades.

      • Lynn B.
    • Truth Unites… and Divides

      Lynn B., thanks so much for sharing your encounters. Very, very helpful.

    • Kermos

      God bless you, Lynn B.

      You do not know on which long night the Lord Jesus may bring some Word that you mentioned to the atheists to the forefront of their self-pleasing mind – when they see the selfless act of Christ on the cross and His authority over all creation – including them.

      Peace to you,

  • You are Daft,”They do believe in god’,Atheism – disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.

    • Alex

      I don’t think Jordan is daft. I think that perhaps you are missing his point.

      Both the Bible and Jordan say that a person who claims to subscribe to atheism as a worldview are doing so by suppressing the evidence that is plainly evident to them and attested to by their own consciences.

      That second part is of critical importance to understanding Jordan’s argument. Very, very few atheists are willing to reject the existence of objective morality/good and evil. When pressed, most people, atheists included, still believe that it is objectively wrong to murder or rape. But the very existence of objective morality necessitates the existence of an objective moral standard. Logically speaking, that objective moral standard could only be God. Therefore, Jordan and Scripture argue, that unless an atheist is willing to disavow any semblance of morality, he subscribes (consciously or unconsciously) to the existence of God.

      That becomes the starting point for a discussion of who or what that God must look like.

      • The “Buybull”,a book,written 30 years after this Jesus fellas supposed death,if he ever lived at all,by 44 authors,on 3 continents,over a 1,500 year time span,where every chapter contradicts the next. So if you are basing that as “Evidence” and Atheists belive in “god’,you are missing the point,severely.

        • Truth Unites… and Divides

          What do you ultimately believe in Aaron?

          • Myself

          • Truth Unites… and Divides

            Thanks for the kindness of a reply.

            What do you think of people who place their ultimate trust and faith outside of themselves?

          • 4Commencefiring4

            What does that mean, exactly? You ultimately believe in “[your]self”? You believe in your own existence, and not that of anyone else? Or that you believe in your sole ability to meet your own needs, and are not dependent on anyone else, or…what? I’m having a tough time wrapping my head around your response.

            I ask because I think your answer, which sounds fine at first, doesn’t really mean anything concrete when you get right down to cases. So help me out here.

  • Ira Pistos

    Thank you Jordan, that really needed to be shared. These days it seems as though we’re being confronted with increasing regularity and it can be too easy to become intimidated in the face of it without encouragement.

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  • Kermos

    Jordan, may the Lord Jesus grant you another opportunity to continue witnessing of the eternal hope that is in Christ alone to that fellow.

    As we walk the highways and byways, there’s a ring from Mordecai’s reply to Esther, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). As it is written, “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

    I thank God for this article, Jordan.

    Rejoicing in God’s mercy,

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