10 Ways to Peacefully Talk to an Atheist about Christianity
When someone says they’re an atheist what’s your knee jerk response? Does it break your heart or does it launch you into a tirade about why they are wrong?
People want to be heard. Even if you think they are wrong, allowing them to share their ideas shows respect and might persuade them to really listen to you as well.
Rather than mentally formulating your argument so you can pounce whenever they take a breath, let’s look at 10 ways to peacefully talk to an atheist about Christianity.
1. Ask God to send them to you.
If God calls us to be His ambassadors, then we can know He will also help us in our calling. Rather than marching ahead of Christ to do battle with an unsuspecting atheist, spend time seeking God through Bible study and prayer, and then ask Him to send them to you.
The more time you spend with Jesus, the more His heart and compassion for the lost will become your heart. John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This should be the example we follow as proclaimers of Truth.
When your mind is washed with the water of the Word, you can have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). Think of it! That means instead of your own perception of how God would have you approach an atheist, you can become so in tune with God that His heart becomes your heart for those blinded by Satan’s schemes.
2. Pay attention.
The other day a woman bagging my groceries shared with me details of her life. As she spoke, I avoided engaging in a conversation. I was in a hurry and so taking time to interact would be inconvenient. However, as she talked, God convicted me of my selfishness. Soon I was listening intently to the details of her less-than-fulfilling life.
When she said, “There is no God. If He is real, why is there suffering?”, rather than pouncing on her with reasons why I know God exists, I realized her comment revealed she was searching for answers––not an argument. Watch this video of Rhonda revealing secrets to effectively sharing the gospel with strangers.
3. Show genuine interest.
When your neighbor tells you they’re an atheist, rather than putting up your dukes for a theological debate, realize how God has shown everyone He exists (see Romans 1). Your kindness and interest in him as a person might open the door for you to kindly share biblically-founded reasons to believe in God.
People need to feel valued for who they are. If they feel like you’re just some crazy Christian waiting to pounce on them to recruit them to your religion, or to prove wrong their atheistic beliefs, they’re less likely to hear anything you have to say.
You’d be surprised how many people feel lonely, invisible, and without value. Having an inkling of hope that there’s a God who created, knows, and cares for them might seem far-fetched. But through you, God can cause them to long to believe it is true––even if their response may seem otherwise.
4. Listen for a point of entry.
Is their marriage in trouble, their kid gone sideways, or are they facing financial or health issues? God has ways of using life’s challenges to bring people to the end of themselves to ponder the purpose of life. When this happens they might become interested in hearing the gospel.
My husband says I’m a “fixer.” That means whenever I hear someone’s in trouble, I immediately go into mode: how can I help you fix this? As a pastor Steve often comes to me saying, “I’m gonna share something with you, but I’m not asking you to fix it. I just want you to be praying.”
All to say, when an atheist tells you about their struggle or lack of fulfillment in life, rather than jumping to rescue them, step back and realize God might have caused it to bring them to the end of themselves to turn to Christ. This doesn’t mean you don’t pray with them, bring them a meal, and walk with them through the trial, but rather your involvement is to lovingly show them Christ is the answer to all of life’s problems.
5. Pray for wisdom as they speak.
Remember God is the one who calls us to be His ambassadors. And to what God calls us, He promises to equip us.
James 1:5 encourages anyone who lacks wisdom to ask God and He will abundantly supply it. So the next time you find yourself in a conversation with an atheist, ask God for wisdom to know how He would have you share your faith.
6. Share your own testimony.
The example in Revelation 12:11 shows how Christ’s followers had, “overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.” Never underestimate the power of a changed life. It simply cannot be refuted.
If you came to Jesus at a young age, you still have a powerful testimony. You don’t need a “look how bad I was before Jesus” story. Rather, take time to ponder who you’d be without Christ. Who are you on your worst day? What is your sinful bent when you’re not walking in obedience to God?
Because of Christ in you, the hope of glory, you’re not enslaved to your sinful tendencies. This is an incredibly powerful testimony and offers hope to anyone who God is drawing to salvation. Sadly, observing the powerful testimony of a changed life may one day be the reason many atheists will be without excuse on judgment day.
7. Season your conversation with Scripture.
The Word of God is powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). So you must memorize it. You must!
When talking with an atheist, you’d be surprised how much Scripture the Holy Spirit will bring to mind and speak through you if you’ve done your part in memorizing it. It is God’s Word––not your opinion––that cuts to the heart of one He is drawing to repentance.
As a side note, if you’re a parent, take extra care to help your children memorize Scripture. When they have God’s Word hidden in their hearts, the Spirit can use it to guide, convict, and persuade them when they might be influenced by an atheist friend or a professor (see Psalm 119:11-16).
8. Refuse to argue.
It’s easy for Christians trying to persuade an atheist to enter into “debate mode”. And if you're looking for an argument, most atheists are happy to oblige. If they can get you riled up, your anger only helps to confirm in their minds that your belief makes you no different than them.
For many atheists, if they can get a Christian to engage in a heated argument, they feel justified if they feel they have won the argument. In a sense they’re arguing with you to convince themselves.
Keep your voice calm. Speaking in a respectful, kind, and loving manner will make a far greater impact than raising your voice or becoming combative.
9. Don't push them to agree or pray with you.
Remember your goal is not to seal the deal. If God has brought across your path one whom He is drawing to Christ, it’s not up to you to persuade them to surrender––that’s the Spirit’s work.
Realize that sometimes you’re planting a seed. Other times you’re watering what someone else planted. And once in a wonderful while, God lets you harvest a soul He has been wooing to repentance.
10. Love and light is key.
Jesus’ instructions to His disciples hold the same weight to us: “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). This amounts to more than just being a good person who does good things.
When your actions stem from the power of the Spirit, your works shine brightly Christ’s character. Then others will be either offended by Jesus (which the Bible warns will happen), or it’ll be the light that draws non-believers to learn how knowing God saves us and equips His followers to live with purpose and passion.
And when we are grounded in a deep love for God, our loving actions toward each other and the world will so reflect Christ’s selfless love, that it will be difficult to ignore. Remember, you’re not trying to convince atheists they’re wrong. Your goal is to help them see they are treasured so much by their Creator that He sent His only Son to rescue them from the clutches of sin’s curse, and live a life filled with purpose and passion in relationship with Christ.*