An Atheist Gives Sound Biblical Advice To Christians
In the current sermon series at our church, we’ve explored several direct encounters with Jesus from the Gospels in which a person expressed doubt and/or skepticism about the nature and claims of Christianity. Rather than dismiss such concerns, like Jesus our desire ought to be to engage them, and to take things like doubt and skepticism seriously. As many bright and inquisitive minds have concluded, the claims of Christianity stand up strong to the historic and rational tests (consider Harvard’s Simon Greenleaf, Oxford’s C.S. Lewis, Princeton’s Jonathan Edwards, and Yale’s Miroslav Volf, for example). What I’d like to address in this post, however, is more of an emotional and existential test that many apply to our faith. Namely, the test of representation. As you read the following, and if you are a Christian, consider the questions with me, “What does our representation of Christ say to the world about the things we say we believe? Are we a bad, mediocre, or good “advertisement” for Jesus? Are we helping people see and understand who he really is and what he is really like? Thanks for reading…
If you identify as a non-believer, an agnostic, a skeptic, or an atheist, you may never come to believe the things that I and other Christians do. If this becomes the case, and this may surprise some people to hear me say this…I understand where you are coming from.
With all of the evidence that exists to support to the truth claims of Christianity, honest Christians are okay admitting that our beliefs, though undergirded with “many convincing proofs” such as the historic evidence for the miracles and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 1:3), are quite far-fetched to the average human mind. After all, we Christians believe that the hope of the universe rests on the shoulders of Jesus, a first-century Middle Eastern man who was conceived by a teenage virgin, born in an obscure and overlooked town, hung out with people who were not religious and who were, for the most part, unimpressive. He spent much of his adult life with no place to lay his head, and he died between two crooks on top of a trash heap. Admittedly, these details about Jesus’ life don’t exactly scream “hope of the universe” or “answer to all of the world’s problems and woes.”
Even Paul, who wrote about one-third of the New Testament, conceded that Christianity seems weak, foolish, and scandalous to those who have not encountered Jesus personally. From the outside looking in, “the word of the cross is folly,” he writes. But from the inside “…it is the power of God” and “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 25).
This reminds me of something that the Oxford historian CS Lewis said once. In his view, Christianity must be true because no human being in her or his right mind could have invented it. And yet, there are billions of men and women in their right minds who have believed it and surrendered their whole lives to its founder, leader, and king—Lewis included.
There are others, like Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, who came not only to believe that Christianity was the truth, but that it is also the most beautiful among all of the alternatives: “This Credo is very simple,” he said, “To believe that nothing is more beautiful, profound, sympathetic, reasonable, manly, and more perfect than Christ.”
But I digress.
I want to get back to the question of why those who identify as non-believers in Christ might hold to their position because of their experience with Christians.
Please allow me to share with you some insightful advice for Christians from an unlikely source. The advice comes from an essay called The Top 10 Tips for Evangelizing (From An Atheist). The atheist writer’s name is Daniel Fincke, and he is speaking especially to Christians. Whether you agree with every piece of his advice or not, I hope that you find it helpful. As for me, I find most of his advice to be, well…surprisingly refreshing, and also quite Christian.
- Be like Jesus: Hang with the sinners and judge the judgers.
The most admirable part of the story of Jesus, even to an atheist like me…is the way that the Gospels portray him as a…preacher who focused his sermons against those who abused their wealth and religious power…while he spent is time hanging out with the outcasts loathed by his community.
- Form genuine relationships with people, don’t treat them as projects.
Loving people should not be seen as a tool for getting access to someone so you can do your work fixing them. Loving people means more than just saving them. If you’re turning another person into a project, stop it. Treat them like your peer and not someone to be manipulated and shaped for their own good.
- Actions speak louder than words.
People will figure out whether they like you, want to be close to you, or have anything to learn from you by how you behave, far more than by anything you say.
- When talking about religious and philosophical matters, ask more questions and do less preaching.
People just like to be heard and they like people who listen to them. And they will feel more trust in you the more that they open up to you. You have to overcome the temptation to make your attempts to persuade others all about how you feel and what you think. Your focus must be on what the person you’re persuading feels and thinks.
- Don’t give unsolicited advice or judgments. Support people and wait for them to ask for your input if they want it.
Ask if they want your advice before giving it…I think you have to trust that a morally perfect God can save people without you acting in exploitative and manipulative ways.
- Appreciate that nominal Christians are Christians too.
People are extremely complicated. If you are walking through the world categorizing everyone you meet into two categories—True Christians vs. The Unsaved—you are not only being shamefully judgmental, but you are risking alienating yourself from those you want to see saved.
- Don’t try to force others into Christian participation.
Don’t be the Christian who tries…to turn your common spaces—your workplace, your living room, your school, your book club, your government, etc.—into specifically Christian contexts. Don’t try to rope everyone into prayers or other acts of worship or acknowledgment of Jesus…Make it so all participation in Christianity is free and chosen by all the participants.
- Understand atheists and embrace the opportunity confrontational atheists afford you.
Don’t ignore our rational concerns, interests, and preoccupations or you will be wasting your time…When you find one of us who is rather willing to have an argument with you, be grateful we are interested in talking to you about your faith. Rejoice!
- Respect other religions even as you evangelize their members
Have confidence that if your faith is true and superior that just comparing faiths in an in-depth way with someone of a different faith will spark this realization, without you having to present yourself as the enlightened one to save others.And coming in at number ten…
- Love your enemies, not just your tribe.
Yep. Seems we’ve heard #10 somewhere before, yes?
Some food for thought.
 Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Press, 2009), Kindle edition.