For the last few months, I have had the privilege of dialoguing with an atheist. Actually, he is a self-described “aggressive” atheist and after three months of consistent discourse, I would agree with that label.
Furthermore, I will admit that there have been moments of exasperation and fatigue, since we seem to be two warriors of equal skill, searching for a submission hold (to employ an MMA term) and yet always finding a way to regain our upright position in the octagon of debate.
Here are some things to remember:
Pray during and daily
Talking with my atheist friend reminds me of the words of J.I. Packer,
“In evangelism, as we saw, we are impotent; we depend wholly upon God to make our witness effective; only because He is able to give men new hearts can we hope that through our preaching of the gospel sinners will be born again. These facts ought to drive us to prayer.”
How humbling to know that no matter how intelligent or how cogent my argument is, God is the One who drops the scales and allows men to see the light of Jesus Christ. Why would I ever be so arrogant to trust solely in my own powers of persuasion?
Get to know their story.
Every human has a story, because every human lives out their own story. Their story has value because every human has value. Jesus listened to the stories of sinners and then communicated the good news: He is the One they were searching for! He is their food and their water (John 6:35). He is the center of their story.
Chuck Colson states,
“We must enter into the stories of the surrounding culture, which takes real listening. We connect with the literature, music, theater, arts, and issues that express the existing culture’s hopes, dreams, and fears. This builds a bridge by which we can show how the Gospel can enter and transform those stories.”
All atheists have a worldview or a philosophy that they live by. The best way to find this out is to ask questions. Undeniably, this task is often confusing and complex, because most individuals are pluralistic (i.e. the acceptance of multiple worldviews). Still, questions like, “Where did we come from?”, “What is basis of morality?” or “Is there an afterlife” will peel off the layers of their belief system. Of course, this approach takes time and patience, but genuine love for your neighbor assumes these actions.
Read their literature
Just today, I received from my atheist friend an article titled, Why God won’t heal amputees? I plan on reading this article and responding at my earliest convenience. The benefit of this interaction is finding “common ground” or a “talking point”, which is helpful when emotions rage or stalemates occur. Again, this involves time and mental energy, but is not the souls of the lost worth it?
Avoid ad hominem arguments
What is an ad hominem argument? It is when you attack an opponent’s motives or character rather than the policy or position they maintain. This tactic is not only “bad form” in the classic art of debate, but it rejects Jesus’ command to ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matt. 5:44).
Present the gospel.
Supernaturalism is rejected by atheism because their obvious denial of a personal (or impersonal) Creator. Yet we must believe the words of Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” In other words, the Christian is called to ‘sow the seed’ and let God work.
Will they mock us? Will they say that we are ignorant, foolish, and asinine? Sure, but we already know this will occur.
1 Corinthians 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.