“God Doesn’t Exist!”
When we Christians hear that, most of us start sweating. As if the entire weight of proving the truth of Christianity rests on our puny shoulders! But we also start sweating because we feel our egos to be on the line. To be a Christian, we’re told by skeptics, is to be feeble-minded, if not stupid.
Let’s collectively exhale a long, calming breath and view a skeptic’s challenge with the right perspective: that we’re simply stepping into a God-ordained opportunity to demonstrate to this person the grace and love of Christ.
What should come through loud and clear is our love for people and God. As one Christian wisely noted, “A word in season can bring to fruit that which only God can nurture and nourish.”
In this post, let’s talk about why our attitude is critical as we interact with critics. In next week’s post, Part 2, we’ll identify some of the questions skeptics tend to ask, and how you can get up to speed on knowing the answers.
Know What and Why You Believe
It’s important to recognize which category of skeptic is challenging us. There are only two: skeptics who are honestly seeking to know what we believe, and why, and skeptics who are simply looking to derail a Christian’s faith.
Many Christians, sadly, are easily persuaded to forsake their Christian beliefs because they don’t have much depth to their faith. I am reminded of a friend who told me that he decided Christianity was bogus after reading the novel, The DaVinci Code. It blew my mind that he allowed a single work of FICTION, a novel containing very few correct facts about Christianity, to turn him from God. What the novel should have done is challenged him to dig into the historical FACTS that support Christianity.
But many Christians don’t read their Bible, much less spend time looking at the historical basis of their faith. Their relationship with Christ hasn’t set into a solid knowing of who He is — and who they are through His sacrifice on the cross.
Research shows that many kids who grow up in “Christian” homes easily lose their beliefs after a college professor mocks and challenges them. Christian blogger Natasha Crain shares how her own faith wobbled after encountering skeptics at college.
“After 18 years of going to church,” she writes on her blog, ChristianMomThoughts, “I left home with approximately the following understanding of the Bible: Jesus is the son of God and died for my sins, I need to believe in Him in order to be saved and spend eternity in heaven, God created the world, Moses parted the Red Sea, Daniel was saved from a lion’s den, and somewhere along the way Jonah was swallowed by a whale.”
Crain thought her faith solid, but quickly realized that while she was well acquainted with stories in the Bible, she knew zip about the Bible itself. And even less about Church history. So she couldn’t knowledgeably discuss either when pressed.
She needed solid, credible answers for questions like “Who wrote the books of the Bible?” … “Why believe what the New Testament writers said about Jesus?”… and “Has the Bible been reliable translated and thus credible?” Critical questions, she admits, that previously “never even crossed my mind.”
Say What, Skeptic?
One skeptic told me that he finds it “satisfying” to watch a Christian’s beliefs crumble. In part, because it justifies his beliefs, and entrenches his position.
But also because he simply enjoys the game of mental manipulation. Not every “fact” he tells Christians is true — but he throws them out like truth, waiting to see if they cause the Christian to falter. How many skeptics have told you something you took at face value?
“My job,” another atheist told me, “is to show you that your God is nothing more than a crutch. He doesn’t exist, and you’re stupid to believe in Him.”
Later I learned that this guy despised God because of the legalistic church he was forced to attend growing up. His beef wasn’t really with God, but Christians who failed to sound like Jesus. Oh, and later he became a Christian after personally encountering Jesus through a friend who did love like Him!
>>> Don’t assume that your chatting with skeptics isn’t having an effect. If you humbly allow God to speak through you, HIS POWER will show up. Evangelizing isn’t about your saying the right thing so much as providing the opportunity for God’s presence to touch a skeptic’s heart. That won’t happen if you’re yelling condemnation at them from a bullhorn!
Listen More Than You Talk
What typically causes conversations between Christians and skeptics to go wrong?
Well, beyond our possible defensiveness, it’s that we do a lot of jabbering before we learn what — and why — the skeptic believes as he does. Rather, we should be quick to listen, suggests Donald Johnson, author of How to Talk to a Skeptic: An Easy-to-Follow Guide for Natural Conversations and Effective Apologetics.
“Too many religious conversations,” says Johnson, “involve people talking past each other because they haven’t taken the time to find out what the other person actually believes. The result is that each side tries to knock down a straw-man version of the other’s position. The skeptic argues against a version of Christianity that the believer does not hold, and the Christian attacks an atheistic worldview that the unbeliever does not hold. Then they wonder why the conversation never gets anywhere.”
What are some of the “good, probing” questions Johnson suggests that we ask?
>>> “Do you have a background in Christianity or some other church or religion?”
>>> “Have you always been a skeptic? If not, how did you arrive at your position?”
>>> “I understand that you think that Christianity offers false answer to life’s biggest questions, but what do you think are the right answers?”
>>> “Could you share what you believe to be the Christian message?”
>>> “What is the story of the Bible, as you understand it?”
Asking questions also gives us the opportunity to discover if the skeptic holds incorrect Christian theology. Here we can gently point out where they are in error. Obviously, we have to know correct Christian teaching ourselves in order to be of help there.
But don’t be that “know-it-all” Christian that everyone avoids when they see you coming. We don’t need to fit God into every conversation, especially if we’re doing a great job at mirroring Jesus in our daily life.
Non-believers, Johnson reminds us, won’t be open to hearing the Good News, if they don’t see it in action in our lives. Perhaps the proof they’re really seeking is not facts, but the real power of seeing a life transformed.
As we talk to anyone about Jesus, let us not be thinking of “winning,” but of being used by Him to nudge open hearts and minds to His love and reconciliation. We all need Jesus.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this discussion in our blog post next week!
This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!
If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.