Often times when atheists (or just garden-variety non-believers) reject Christianity, it’s not really Christianity they’re rejecting, but some made-up caricature of Christianity. Misinformation, bad experiences, and the relentless bombardment of negative portrayals in the media (Hi, Phil Robertson!) combine to lead people to believe that Christianity is, at best, the belief system of the dad from Footloose, and at worst, a bloodthirsty voodoo cult.
A post at Because It’s True points out the need for believers to recognize that situation and respond appropriately:
…what they are typically rejecting is something else altogether–a pseudo-Christianity that frustrates me just as much as it does them. That is actually a great jumping off point for a conversation.
You see, true Christian apologetics is not about defending any old religion that has Jesus for its mascot. It is about defending the truth of the historic Christian faith. And while there is definitely a place for advancing polemics against other philosophies, we cannot let our own views be hijacked. That often requires us to help people cross the chasm that exists between what Christians believe and what historic Christianity teaches.
The atheists are right–right to reject imposter forms of Christianity. And that is where it is important for defenders of the faith to know more than just how to poke holes in other people’s views. If we are knowledgeable of what historical Christianity teaches, we will be able to say, “I agree with you” and “That bugs me too,” when someone is pointing out problems which run contrary to the truth. Believe it or not, people love to be right! I haven’t looked into the psychological literature, but I would be willing to bet that people are much more receptive to a conversation that begins with the other person saying, “I agree with you.”