For the past month I’ve had the unexpected privilege of corresponding with an atheist. He first emailed me because he took issue with my post “I’m Falling in Love with an Atheist.” I responded, and we’ve been writing back and forth ever since.
When I was your age, I would’ve freaked at the idea of dialoguing with an atheist. I’m not an apologist (someone skilled in the defense or proof of Christianity), and I’ve never aspired to be one. A fair amount of the time I feel simple and not-so-smart.
God’s Word is clear that the Holy Spirit must open our blind eyes and unstop our deaf ears in order for any of us to believe in Him.
But God brought this man across my path. Plus, I have the Word of God and the Spirit of God to help me. I might as well learn a thing or two about how to use them, huh?
You probably don’t feel like an expert either. But I want to encourage you to respectfully and kindly engage with that atheist rather than running in fear the next time you cross paths. Here are ten tips to help you as you do:
1. Don’t wait ’til you have all the answers.
You’ll never have all the answers or be able to fully wrap your mind around God. He’s way too big for that! Besides, how do you think you’ll learn? (With uncomfortable situations like this that will drive you to God’s Word for answers, that’s how!) What a great opportunity for you to stretch your brain—and your faith—muscles.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
2. Don’t freak out when your atheist friend seems to make God sound like a fool.
If their arguments appear convincing, if they sound like they know more about God’s Word than you do, that doesn’t mean God’s Word is broken. Go study the passages they mentioned in context (atheists and Christians can both be bad at taking verses out of context). Remember, God’s Word is perfect. Also, as Ray Comfort suggests, move from their intellect to their conscience by getting them to the Law, which will show their need of a Savior.
The word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him (Ps. 18:30).
3. Don’t feel like you have to offer an answer right away.
It’s okay to tell them, “I’m not sure. Let me get back to you,” and then spend time thinking, praying, and researching before responding. Some people are just “quicker on their feet,” and that’s okay.
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things (Prov. 15:28).
4. Expect a whole lot of objections.
These will range from “the Bible is full of contradictions” to “the Bible has so many translations from so many different languages” to “the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament” to a whole lot more. (None of these objections “hold,” by the way, if you do your homework.) If you stick with your atheist friend long enough, these aren’t usually the main reason they don’t believe in God. Listen for their main objection. It might take several conversations to get there.
The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out (Prov. 20:5).
5. Be winsome in how you share truth.
When Jesus shared truth, it was “with grace.” (That is, except for the times He talked with the religious snobs who claimed to know God but trusted in their own “good” works.) Jessie Minassian writes about sharing truth in love. Here’s just a taste:
To paraphrase Paul’s famous love chapter (1 Cor. 13), if I can quote apologists, argue with atheists, and verbally spar with the biggest skeptics but don’t love them to pieces, then all my clever words amount to exactly nothing.
Your atheist friend is not your enemy. They’re held captive by your shared enemy: “The god of this world [notice the “little g” god—this is referring to Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).
6. Continue to share truth from the Bible with your friend, even if they don’t believe in the Bible.
How can they believe if they do not hear the truth? If you ever offend your atheist friend, may it be with God’s words and not your own.
Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).
If your friend hears God’s Word but never believes it, the fault did not lie with God’s Word, but with the condition of his or her heart (see Matt. 13:1–23).
7. Know that answering their questions and providing “evidence” will never be enough to change their minds.
God’s Word is clear that the Holy Spirit must open our blind eyes and unstop our deaf ears in order for any of us to believe in Him. Pray, pray, pray that God will do just that.
A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul (Acts 16:14, emphasis added).
My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is that they may be saved (Rom. 10:1).
8. Remember that it’s not about you.
Don’t let your hopes be dashed if your atheist friend doesn’t change his or her mind. Don’t think you’re the bomb-dot-com if he or she does. It has not been a waste if they don’t become a believer through your conversation(s). Who knows what God has done in their heart through their interaction with you. But even if their heart has only grown more hard, if you have studied God’s Word with a vengeance; if your faith has grown, it has been worth it.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:6–7).
Keep sharing the gospel with them every chance you get.
Even as you’re seeking to answer their questions, don’t forget to point them to Jesus every chance you get.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16–17).
10. Ask a wise Jesus-follower for help.
We’re a “Body” for a reason. You don’t have all the answers (or gifts), and neither do I. Ask your church elders for help. Check out books like The Reason for God by Tim Keller, The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, and 77 FAQs about God and the Bible by Josh & Sean McDowell.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them (Rom. 12:4–6).
I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever lovingly challenged an atheist’s beliefs? How did it go? Do you have any other tips to add to this list?