Four (Ineffective) Ways to Witness to Atheists

This is a response to an article by David Robertson taken from the website: desiringgod.org. The original title of the article is Four Ways to Witness to Atheists.

“ I want to encourage all Christian brothers and sisters not to see their atheist neighbors as threats to their faith, but as reachable people who need the good news of Jesus Christ.”

The article is consisted of the following four points. I will include quotations from the original text.

The intention, from the beginning of the church, for Christians was to convert people into the faith. It makes sense if you think about it from their perspective. What is the ultimate goal of life?

“ Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, . . . always, to the very end of the age” (Mat. 28:19–20).

Every day. Every hour. This is the ultimate goal. Every breath you are wasting as a Christian if you are not spending it making disciples of all nations. With this in mind, let us look at the following four points of David Robertson’s article:

1. Treat them (Atheists) with dignity and listen carefully.

This point makes me think of how culturally appropriate Christians are trying to be. It is no longer biblical. It has become something else. Dignity and listening is not something that many have done throughout Christian history.

Think about it in terms of getting something for something. No one wants to have a relationship in which you are always expecting something in return. Same as with this point you don’t start off with expecting someone to be attracted by Christianity by treating him with respect and dignity.

2. Be willing to address their “defeater beliefs.”

“ And if we really love our neighbors, we will listen to them, care about how they think, and do our best to help remove their “defeater beliefs” — the beliefs that prevent them from even considering Christ.”

My response would be so what should it be? To defend the gospel is to know your arguments, correct. So what is the point of language in the end? If it is — only — God who saves, then how can we assume that he does not have the capability to save where no one has any access to academics? Is it true also in this setting that he wouldn’t save?

3. Recognize that atheists are believers.

“ An atheist is someone who believes there is no God. Furthermore, they believe they have the ability to absolutely determine whether or not evidence is objective. In other words, many of them don’t recognize that they too have faith — they have faith that they don’t have faith! They have faith in the reliability of their rational powers and in the belief that they should only believe things they can prove.”

To continue with the rest of the statement:

“Atheism is based upon a series of beliefs, most of which are unverifiable. For example, every atheist I’ve ever met believes in naturalism. It’s not that they have verifiable evidence that everything is material; they believe that everything is material.

They also believe there is no (and can be no) evidence for God’s existence. A simple way to respond to this is asking what evidence they would actually accept.”

Well I will answer. Evidence for God’s existence is his transparent existence. Visible existence. Something that does not need faith. That is something that is actually real. Something that does not require the softening of the heart.

I believe in gravity, because I understand it’s impact on us. I believe in humans, I believe in things I can see, I believe in language, I believe in all these things because I understand them, somewhat. I do not believe in God because he is not understandable. And we would be foolish to assume that we can understand him. Anyone that would suggest this would be foolish.

So the question is, how do you defend someone’s existence, with whom you have nothing to share, on an intellectual level? You do not even have a place to start from.

4. Pursue their hearts through their heads

“While we shouldn’t be arrogant or belligerent, it isn’t loving to concede rational superiority to atheism — because it isn’t true. The atheist position is intellectually vacuous. Atheism is not an intellectual problem, but a heart problem. But Jesus and the apostles showed that the path to the heart usually passes through the head.”

And further on he suggests: “ Our goal is not to defeat atheists in a debate, but to show them the glory and beauty of Christ in the hopes that some may be saved. We argue with atheists not to win the argument, but to have Christ win them.”

So ultimately, ladies and gentlemen, our conclusion is the following: only Christ can save the atheist. There is no point in doing anything in life. Talk about being vacuous.

If I were to summarize my arguments, I would put them in the following four points:

  1. Don’t be nice to an Atheist if you want to convert him.

The act of conversion is a miraculous event. How would you expect to be able to convert someone by being nice to them? This is not my understanding of what it is to be biblical. Yes there is a place for being nice. But that surely was not Paul’s tactic. Or Peter’s in Acts 2. What should we make of that?

2. Don’t Assume that you have even the remote ability to persuade someone of Christianity.

Once again, all over the Bible we can see that it is not the case.

3. Recognize that Atheists either do not care or refuse to care about beliefs.

I would argue the opposite from Robertson. Many atheists I know do not care about anything so called believers have to say. They do not need love from God, they do not need prayer, etc. These things are vacuous, because they do not lead anywhere.

4. Recognize that the head can not be persuaded because of external circumstances in life that can not be changed.

All of us have a past that is hard to change. We are naturally biased towards certain positions that can not change. So what is the point of trying to persuade someone?

This could be said about everything. The only difference between an atheist and a Christian in their attempt to persuade is that the atheist attempts to persuade for the sake of happiness, the Christian persuades in the attempt to provide salvation. Happiness is not the end goal in Christianity, it is the bonus.

Many Christians will disagree with this article. I understand. It is just the tip of the iceberg on the debate between law and grace. And how much should the Christian attempt to save and how much Christ actually expects from the Christian in his attempts to save.

I hope to blog about law and grace in subsequent blogs.

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