CHURCH & MINISTRY
How to Witness to Atheists
Part 2: Resources
By Maggie Peil
Continued from Part 1: Attitude
First Peter 3:15 says, "...but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect..." Last time we looked at the gentleness and respect we should have when witnessing to atheists. This time, we'll look at some tools that will help explain the reason for our hope.
1. RELAX. God will guide you and He is the one who converts people. Your listeners will never really understand until they turn to God, so there is no pressure on you to be profound or perfect. Show love in your words and manner—they will probably remember that more than anything you actually say.
2. TAKE HEART. My latest perusal of the cutting edge debates in philosophy at Oxford and Cambridge show that they are still arguing whether anything is real or not. No one has been able to prove that absolutely yet. "I think therefore I am" just led to a slew of skepticism. If the smartest people can't prove we exist, then the rest of us can't prove anything. (Well, except math, but that is another thing entirely.) You might mention this issue to the person you are talking to.
3. ASK. Try starting with the question "How do you decide what is true?" This will give you insight into the position they are starting from. It is good to know what they consider 'evidence'. If they aren't used to critical thinking, they may believe anything they hear, watch, or read.
4. USE LOGIC. Firm up your understanding of reasoning. Be aware of informal logical fallacies, so you can try to avoid them and recognize when others make them. I suggest a small book: The Ideas of the Great Philosophers by William S. and Mabel L. Sahakian (under $4, used on Amazon). "Part One—Epistemology [theory of knowledge] and Logic" covers material fallacies of reasoning and is very helpful. "Part Four—The Philosophy of Religion" is also helpful. Your attackers may ask you to prove things while not providing evidence themselves. Don't get sucked into that. You might politely ask what evidence they have to support their opinions. Then be ready to put forth your evidence for your opinions.
5. KNOW YOUR STUFF. Find out how the Bible came together and why you can trust it. I have studied the New Testament origins and transmission, and I am convinced the NT is reliable. [I have not studied the origins and transmissions of the Old Testament in depth. Once I accepted the New Testament as reliable, it was enough for me that Jesus and his apostles quoted it.] I like anything by Bruce M. Metzger and Daniel B. Wallace—preeminent authorities on New Testament texts. Do not just Google your question and believe anything you watch or read. Metzger and Wallace really knew/know (respectively) their stuff.
a. A great overview by Daniel Wallace is at: this post.
b. Google Wallace's video "Is What We Have Now What They Wrote Then?" Combined, the whole thing is under an hour.
c. If you want to do some more reading on this subject, start with Chapters 6 and 7 of Reinventing Jesus, co-authored by Wallace.
d. Check out Josh McDowell's The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Chapter 2 "How We Got the Bible" and Chapter 3 "Is the New Testament Historically Reliable." I don't necessarily suggest you have atheists read this type of book if they are extremely critical and/or analytical—it might be argued that the authors do not thoroughly examine evidence to the contrary.
e. If you have a lot of time to study this subject, I recommend The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, And Restoration, The Bible in Translation, and The Canon of the New Testament by Metzger.*
6. TRUST GOD. At the end of the day, even the most well-researched and well-constructed argument will fail if your listeners refuse to listen and refuse to turn to God. That is ultimately between them and God. Also, everything we believe, including whether we exist or not, requires some measure of faith. We can't really prove our beliefs by logic and analysis. Eventually we trust God and believe the Bible because we have faith.
So, when faced with impossible questions from an atheist (the devil wrote the bible, and all god does is kill people that do nothing wrong, or even the devil deceives us through the Bible by thinking it's something great but is not), you can respond with your own questions based on the information above. Why do they believe these things? What evidence do they have for them? Would they like to know more about how the Bible came into being? Have they ever heard about the historical evidence and painstaking analysis that Bible scholars have done over the years? Do they understand that textural criticism is a tool used by scholars analyzing texts, whether they are Christians or atheists or whatever?
I hope this helps. I pray that God will guide you as you interact with non-believers, that He will bless you as you seek to spread His Word, and that you will take comfort in knowing that God is with you.
* My trust in the work of Metzger and Wallace isn't universal among Christians—M and W use the critical method. I think it is the most reasonable approach, but not everyone agrees.
Photo source: Chris Blakely; Some rights reserved
Tags: Biblical-Salvation | Witnessing-Evangelism
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