A non-Christian friend of mine recently described being approached by a Watchtower member. He does not like people trying to convert him. So he told the Watchtower member that he is an atheist (he assures me he really isn’t). He was using religion repellent: just spray a little “au de atheism” in the air and the religion worker will stop bugging you. In that case, it worked.
After thinking about my friend’s story I became curious. Based on what I have observed, he seems to be a functional atheist. I asked him later, “So what are you then?” Here is how the conversation went from there:
“I believe in god in my own way.”
“What do you mean?”
“I just have my own way of thinking about God.”
“Does this god that you believe in actually exist?”
(Hesitation) “Yeah, I think so.”
“How do you know that this god exists and is not just something you want to imagine?”
“Let me turn the question back to you. How do you know that the God you believe in exists?”
At that point the conversation was interrupted. The topic will probably come up again, and my answer will be that my knowledge of God comes from the written record by numerous eyewitnesses who had direct encounters with the living God, as well as my own experience with God. Then I will ask him the question again, and he will be able to reflect more on the God he is avoiding.
I think that conversation went well in terms of bringing truth to the surface. But for me, it would not have been possible until recently. That is partly due to a widespread misunderstanding of our proper role.
Our role is to speak truth. The Holy Spirit’s role is to convince people of truth (John 16:8). So rather than think that we need brilliant arguments to change minds, we might do better to start with simple questions to understand the real objections and to provoke thought.
How do we know what questions to ask? It helps to spend time with skeptics. While listening to them I have learned that the same objections tend to surface over and over. So there is a lot that we can prepare for. Here are a few examples:
“This life is all there is. When you die, you cease to exist.” So ask: “How much faith does it take to believe that?” (How much experience does the skeptic have with life after death?)
“I’m not as bad as a lot of people. I’m doing the best I can.” So ask: “How good is ‘good enough’ (to live with God)?”
“I think that we all have god within us. We just need to fan that spark of divinity.”
Instead of offering a response question to that last objection, I encourage you to visit Bill Foster’s website and listen to him demonstrate it. (Also check the role-play, “Breaking Down Skepticism”). Foster, author of Meet the Skeptic, does an excellent job explaining and demonstrating ways to use questions to point others to truth. Those within reasonable driving distance from Charlotte, NC can also hear him lead practical workshops at the “Truth for a New Generation” conference on Saturday, September 28.
But don’t stop there. Unless you have a perfect memory, you need practice. Ask your pastor when your church will start training sessions that give you the opportunity to practice putting what you learn into real life conversations.