Effectively Dialogue With Skeptics: Part 1

skeptics “Prove Your God Exists!”

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.

Friends, let us collectively exhale a long, calming breath. Relax our clenched fists and jaws. And open our hearts. Now is not the time to be filled with righteous anger; to act as if a challenge to our faith demands that we charge into battle for Christ with a “take no prisoners” mindset.

Rather, let’s view a skeptic’s challenge with this perspective: that we’re simply stepping into a God-ordained opportunity to demonstrate to this person the grace and love of Christ.

We’re not answering a question, but a questioner, suggests Ravi Zacharias, a world-famous apologist known for the disarming, respectful manner in which he dialogues with skeptics. What should come through loud and clear, he stresses, is our love for people and God (which, incidentally, Jesus designated as the greatest commandment). Adds Zacharias, “A word in season can bring to fruit that which only God can nurture and nourish.”

Skeptics, he reminds us, won’t be open to hearing the Good News, if they don’t also see it in action.

In this post, let’s talk about why our attitude is critical when we’re interacting with critics. In next week’s post, Part 2, we’ll identify some of the questions skeptics tend to ask — which you, dear Christian, should learn how to answer. 🙂 And we’ll look at two sample conversations between a Christian and a skeptic, so you can rate the Christian’s effectiveness.

~ When Skeptics Come Knocking ~

It’s important to recognize which category of skeptic is challenging us. There are only two: the skeptics who are honestly seeking to know what we believe, and why; and the skeptics whose minds are cemented closed against God — and are simply looking to derail, if not extinguish, our faith.

Some, like well-known atheist Richard Dawkins, have made it their life mission to rid the globe of the lunacy that God exists. Other skeptics hold less anger. Some simply choose to champion a life without God because they find it the most logical or scientific option. For some, a worldview without God affirms their personal “truth” or life choices. 

I heard one pastor, for example, share that a young man told him that he refused to follow God if it required him to stop sleeping with his girlfriend. “If that damns me to hell,” said the young man, “so be it.” #yowza

It’s sad that Christians can be so easily persuaded to forsake Christianity without much effort from skeptics. Talk about shallow roots! I am reminded of a friend who told me that he decided Christianity was a load of garbage 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 away from God.

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 ChristianMomThoughts blog, “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 was chagrined to realize that while she was well acquainted with stories in the Bible, she knew zip about the Bible itself. 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.”

I’m not kidding when I tell you that one skeptic told me that he finds it “satisfying” to watch a Christian’s beliefs crumble. In part, because it justifies his own position. But also because he enjoys the game of mental manipulation. Not every “fact” he tells these Christians is true — but they don’t know that. Like Crain, these Christians simply haven’t grounded their beliefs in the evidence that overwhelmingly supports the validity of the Bible and Jesus as a historical person.

“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, by the way, I learned that this guy despises God because of the legalistic church he was forced to attend growing up. His beef wasn’t really with God, but humans.

So when skeptics tell us to “Prove God exists,” we have to remember that sometimes their reasons for being anti-God are based on their personal experiences and interactions with people who claimed to authentically follow Jesus. The Church isn’t perfect; it’s full of messy people in various stages of becoming like Jesus. Sometimes we hurt others by accident, and sometimes we do it on purpose. In either case, the injury might linger, if not harden into hate, in the person we’ve hurt.

I’ve often found it to be true that the more hurt exists inside a skeptic, the harder they reject God.

Many Christians, by the way, also struggle with fully accepting God’s love. That’s one reason their personal Christian walk lacks consistency and power.

~ Commit to Staying Respectful with Skeptics ~

What typically causes conversations between Christians and skeptics to go wrong?

Well, beyond our possible defensiveness or derision (no need for that, people!), it’s that we do a lot of jabbering before we learn what — and why — the skeptic believes as he does. So let us be quick to dive into research mode, 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 that 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. Unfortunately, not all churches teach sound biblical principles. Some incorporate unwise practices, such as dancing with poisonous snakes to prove their faith. And some churches have strayed so far from traditional biblical teaching that they are more correctly labeled as cults. These misled people may authentically and diligently pursue their faith, believing it to be true, so it’s important that we offer them grace. Simply put, we need to be loving and patient like Christ, or just keep our yaps closed.

Just as we should learn why non-believing skeptics hold their beliefs, it’s not a bad idea to also ask the “Christians” we meet to tell us what they believe. “We’re taught” …. “We believe” … “My pastor says” are red flags to me. Not because they might be wrong, but because they’re not clear indicators of what — and how deeply — that person him- or herself actually believes.

Lastly, we need to respect another person’s stated boundaries. Our actions often speak louder than our words, anyway, right?

We all hide when we see “that” Christian coming, right? You know, the one who inserts God into every conversation, just to “take advantage of every opportunity to win a soul for Christ.” Can I just say how annoying that is? And it feels manufactured, not real. If any person — skeptic or believer — tells you they don’t want to talk about God at that moment, wisely shut your mouth!

One of my sweetest friends follows Buddhism. When she first learned that I was a Christian, she held me at arm’s length. It was only after she recognized that I respected her right to her religious beliefs, that she allowed me to be her friend. She invites me to Buddhist events, I talk to her about my amazing God. We can do so freely, without the need to feel we have to be on guard, because we trust each other’s heart and intent. I pray, of course, that she sees Jesus in me, and that what she sees is attractive. But my friendship with her is not based on my desire to convert her.

As we talk to anyone about Jesus, let us not be thinking of “winning,” but of being productively used by Him to nudge their hearts and minds a bit more open to His existence and love for them!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this discussion in our blog post next week!


Evidence book cover Apologists

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?.


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