I often have opportunities to interact with Atheists as I share our MarketFaith materials on the web. Usually in response to a video or an article, these Atheists will contact me via e-mail or the YouTube channel and come after me for what I have posted.
Actually, I don’t mind this interaction at all. It is an opportunity for me to sharpen my skills as I go back and forth. But, even more importantly, it is a chance to share a witness.
Certainly I am under no illusion that many of the people who contact me will actually come to Christ based on this interaction. Usually people who would attack me in this forum are pretty hard core. That said, you never know how or when God might use what I do to crack open their defenses, or even touch the life of someone else who is reading the posts.
Perhaps you have had the opportunity to interact with people like this. Maybe it was a friend or even a family member. Perhaps this person is a colleague at work. Regardless of who they are, there are some common issues that you are bound to face if you are willing to engage this discussion. Typically, these issues relate to a lack of knowledge, or a total misunderstanding, of the Christian faith. Usually the attacks are based on pure emotion with very little actual understanding of what Christians really believe. This article looks at some of these issues and discuss how to deal with them.
Remember, a worldview is a set of assumptions which are generally unconscious. It is the set of beliefs which underlie one’s conscious beliefs and allows a person to make sense of what they say they say they believe. Hopefully, by now, you have personally become aware of your own worldview foundation. But, for the most part, the Atheists you interact with will not be aware of theirs. As such, you will have to help them recognize their faith assumptions before you will ever be able to break through in a way which allows you to share your Christian faith.
To help you with this process, I have identified six common issues you will likely to have to deal with. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it does represent some of the more common topics. Because of their worldview assumptions (their built in prejudices), Atheists typically assume certain things about what Christians believe and about what the Bible teaches. One of the things you will have to do is break down their misunderstanding in these areas. Let’s look now at what often happens when you engage this discussion.
They Think Christians are Anti-science
Most Atheists have a belief that Christians are anti-science. In their minds, they have created a dichotomy between faith and science. This is a totally false belief.
The real problem is that most Atheists have never made the distinction between Naturalism and science. They believe they are one and the same. In truth, though, they are entirely different. Naturalism is a worldview (a set of beliefs), while science is a methodology whereby people do research about the natural world using observation and experimentation.
Naturalism (the worldview foundation of Atheism) is the belief that the material universe is all that exists – that there is no supernatural reality. Atheists generally assert that this belief is based on science. It is not! There is no science which is able to demonstrate the absence of a transcendent reality. In fact, naturalism can’t even account for the existence of the material universe. It cannot demonstrate how the universe, life, the variety of life forms or human consciousness came into existence. It asserts that all of these came about by natural means, but cannot show it using science. They confuse their BELIEF that science can back them up with the actual science itself.
In fact, no Christian should ever have any problem with true science. When we observe and do actual experiments related to the physical world and see the results, we are seeing what actually exists and what God created. While Christians certainly do believe that there is a part of reality which cannot be accessed by science, we also believe that true science is able to give us insight into the world God created.
They Think Christians Are Brainwashed
One of the criticisms I hear most about my belief in Christ, is that I have been brainwashed. Atheists assert this because my belief is by faith. Their reasoning is that this belief goes against science, so it is not rational. There are two issues at play here.
First, faith in Christ does not go against science. The truth of this statement goes back to the first criticism above. Atheists truly believe their naturalistic presuppositions – that nothing exists outside of the material universe. The truth is, their belief is, itself, a faith system. That said, experimental science does not even deal with whether or not God exists. It only deals with trying to understand the part of reality which exists in the natural universe.
Secondly, Atheist’s belief in Naturalism is subject to the same criticism they are leveling at Christians. Naturalism is a faith system. So where did they get the idea that the natural universe is all that exists? They get it from other Naturalists who have led them to believe that God does not exist. There is no science able to demonstrate that belief. We can just as easily say they have been brainwashed.
They Think Christians Believe in Fairytales
Another criticism Atheists often throw out is that my belief in the Bible is a belief in fairytales. Obviously, this one is related to the criticism above, but it goes in a different direction.
This critique begins with the assumption that what is taught in the Bible is not, even cannot be, true. The belief is that since the Bible describes things which require supernatural activity, it cannot be true. And why can’t it be true? Because they believe that there is no such thing as a supernatural reality. In other words, it goes straight back to their worldview beliefs – their faith.
As was explained before, this is a rather hypocritical point of view. The truth is, they, themselves, cannot even back up their most basic beliefs using the scientific method. They assert, for instance, that the Theory of Evolution is scientific fact, when the truth is it is a theory wholly dependant on the faith assumptions of Naturalism. They just believe that their “fairytales” trump the accounts of God’s work in the Bible.
They Think the Bible Contradicts Itself
A fourth criticism that I often hear is that the Bible cannot be true because it contradicts itself. This one is oft repeated, but the people asserting it generally have no personal understanding of the Bible at all. They are simply repeating what they have heard others say or are asserting the unsupported beliefs which they find consistent with their naturalistic faith.
Those who would make this criticism do so because they simply do not understand the Bible. And, by the way, many Christians cave on this point because they don’t know enough about the Bible to share the real truth.
Those who raise this point generally don’t understand even the most basic principles of biblical hermeneutics (biblical interpretation). As such, they try to pit various parts of the Bible against other parts, or they twist history. First, the Bible is not a single book. It is, literally, a library of 66 separate books written by about 40 different authors over a 1500 year period in different languages, cultures and circumstances. The different books also represent many genres of literature. While the Bible can, literally, be understood by anyone who wants to receive from its riches, it can also be easily misinterpreted by those who wish to do so. When people accuse the Bible of contradicting itself, they are, literally, abusing proper hermeneutics. Almost without exception, those who make this criticism have no clue as to how to do legitimate Bible study and have never even attempted it.
They Think the Bible Approves of Slavery, and Other Immoral Acts
This criticism falls into the same category as the previous one but goes in a slightly different direction. Generally, when you hear this critique, the person will pull a quote from some Old Testament book and quote it out of context. It must be noted that the context of every quote is the entirety of God’s revelation, not just the two or three verses surrounding the quote.
People who do this simply do not understand: 1) the full revelation of God, 2) the nature of God, 3) the nature of sin, 4) the judgment of God, 5) how to distinguish between acceptance and observation, and many other things. In other words, as before, they have not made the effort to understand and apply genuine biblical hermeneutics.
They Think God Is a Horrible Person
Finally, I often hear the criticism that God is a horrible person and not even worthy to be followed. This is rather ironic coming from people who, literally, have no way of considering any kind of objective morality. The criticism is that God must be horrible if he did such things as to command that people be killed, tell Abraham to sacrifice his son, and forgave people who did horrible acts.
The question is, “What basis do Atheists even have to say that God’s morality is horrible?” The truth is, those who make this criticism do have a moral sense because God built it into human beings when he created them. And the moral principles they use to trash God’s morality are usually those found in the Bible. Still, their criticism begins with the faith presuppositions of Naturalism. It has nothing to do with any kind of objective evaluation.
How Can We Get Them to Understand?
So the question becomes: How can I get my Atheist friends to understand why I believe in God? The truth is, an understanding of God requires conversion. Since Atheists have worldview beliefs which do not allow for even the existence of God, they can never understand, much less accept, the teachings of the Bible unless and until they come to accept his existence.
There is not merely a single answer to how you get an Atheist to consider the Christian faith. There are numerous facets to this diamond and different individuals may require different approaches. That said, ultimately, it is not up to us to cause people to receive Christ. All we can ever be is the messenger. God must first do his work in their hearts, then the individual must make the personal decision to accept him. But there are a couple of things we can do to become more effective messengers.
First, we must get our knowledge base up to speed. We need to know how to answer the criticisms, such as the ones dealt with above. We must also become familiar with how to effectively share the gospel message. We do not get this knowledge by merely going and sitting in church. It requires that we make extra effort to learn how to deal with the matters which are barriers to the beliefs of Atheists.
Secondly, we must walk the walk. No one is going to take a hypocrite seriously. If your life does not reflect the character and values of the God you are trying to share, all you will do is reinforce the prejudices that your Atheist friends already have.
In the end, all we can do is pray for them and be a great messenger. When you do this, God will not only use your life to further the work of his kingdom, he will bless you beyond what you could ever have imagined.
© 2013 Freddy Davis