Greg Stier, who fancies himself something of an expert on proselytizing, has a column in Charisma News explaining to his fellow Christians how to witness to atheists. He uses a conversation he had with an atheist on a plane and gets some things rather annoying wrong. Like this:
2. Listen deeply for the real “why.” Often atheists have a reason (other than “reason”) for becoming atheists. Listen for it. Sometimes it’s anger over losing a loved one. Other times it’s that they were hurt by the church in some way. But often there’s a “why” behind the lie they are embracing.
In John 4, Jesus masterfully attacked the why behind the lie the woman at the well was embracing. She was not an atheist but a hedonist who thought that satisfaction could be found if she finally found the right guy. But Jesus offers her living water to satisfy her deepest needs and, finally, her thirst was fully quenched.
James shared with me about his upbringing in England and his regular attendance at the Church of England. He told me about how his wife had left him and how he could only see his kids every other weekend. James shared how he reads at least a book a week and how he loses himself in novels.
As he shared, I couldn’t quite nail down why he was an atheist, but I could sense that he was a lonely man. My heart went out to him, and I think he could sense my sympathy.
More likely he sensed your condescension and presumptuousness. This notion that all atheists are wounded or broken or had some terrible experience that explains why they’re really not a believer is incredibly annoying and offensive. Yes, there are some who have had experiences that helped push them away from the church. But a whole lot of us just decided, after a great deal of study and reflection, that it wasn’t true. And the more you dig and presume that we must have some secret tragedy that explains why we don’t believe what you do, the angrier I am likely to get at you.
4. Assume that, down deep inside, they do believe in God. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who genuinely rejects the existence of God. Sure, I’ve met many who have claimed God’s existence to be a lie, but I’m convinced that, down deep inside, they really do believe there’s a God.
Why do I believe that? Because Scripture makes it clear in Romans 1:18-21 that there are no real atheists:
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
They may try to suppress their belief in God, but sooner or later in the discussion, atheists say something like, “Well, if God is so good, then why does He allow … ?” This is the point in the conversation where they have “forgotten” their atheism and revealed some of their challenges with not the reality of God but the nature of God.
No, you dolt. That’s called a hypothetical question. It’s testing the logic of your position, not an admission that deep down in our “heart of hearts” (or whatever annoying bullshit phrase you use) we really do believe in God. And there are few things that will get me angry faster than trying to tell me what I really believe. Presumption is not cognition.