[“Approaching Atheists” is a series of posts on understanding atheists and atheism, and learning how to talk to atheists in your life. For more on the motivation behind these posts, see my intro here. You can find all the posts by clicking the “Approaching Atheists” tag.- j]
Earlier, Jen (of ConversionDiary.com) and I put together a list of “don’ts” — our recommendations for things to keep in mind when you’re engaging the atheists in your life. Now, as promised, here’s the flip side of that post, where we recommend some do’s.
When talking to atheists, do…
— Know the Bible. The Bible is not a book of magical incantations; there are reasons why it says the things it says. Don’t just cough up Bible verses. Know the reasons behind them and be prepared to explain them.
— Explain the big picture. Familiarize yourself with the historical case for Christianity, and offer a high-level explanation of what makes this religion’s claims compelling, e.g. that Jesus’ life and death fulfilled ancient scriptures that all historians agree existed before his time; that almost all the apostles were martyred for their faith; that Christianity spread like wildfire despite horrendous persecution, etc. Study the writings of the earliest Christians, who were defending Christianity in a pagan world that was largely hostile to their beliefs (sound familiar?).
— Be patient. Don’t immediately drop into a defensive crouch. Just because someone is questioning doesn’t mean he’s attacking. Take some time to feel out the situation. The person you’re talking to may be more receptive than you think.
— Put yourself in your atheist friends’ position. What if, for example, Christianity was false and Greek mythology was actually true. What would it take to convince you of that?
— Be logical. It’s true there is a space between us and God that we can’t bridge with logic or science, only with faith. But that doesn’t mean that God is the enemy of reason. All the rules that govern the physical universe were laid out by Him, which makes Him seem eminently reasonable to me. There is a great, learned history of rational arguments for Christianity, and if you can use them, you’ll be speaking in terms that your atheist friend can understand. Get to know some of the great Christian philosophers and apologists. If you haven’t read Mere Christianity, what are you waiting for?
— Be confident in your beliefs. If you go in fearing that your own knowledge is lacking, then any opposition can knock you over. Be prayerfully confident that God can use any situation for His glory.
— Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. When these kinds of conversations come up, pause for a moment to say a quick prayer to ask that the Holy Spirit will guide you in this situation.
— Realize that your only goal is to plant a seed. I know from personal experience that in these discussions we can sometimes get so focused on the details that we lose sight of the big picture. It’s extremely unlikely that the person you’re talking to is going to be completely convinced of the truth of Christianity in one conversation. Just defend Christianity the best you can, and remember that conversion is ultimately God’s job, not yours.
— Pray for this person frequently. You might be surprised at the effectiveness of this technique. It’ll probably be good for you too.
So that’s what we came up with. If you have any other recommendations, or experience from your own talks with atheists, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.