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How to Witness to an Atheist

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Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Many Evangelical Christians take seriously Jesus’ command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Every creature includes atheists.

Here is what Christians need to understand:

  • Many atheists were Christians before they deconverted. In my case, I was a Christian for fifty years and I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five of those years. Granted, most atheists’ stories are not like mine, but many of them were raised in the Christian church and know what the Christian gospel is and what the Bible teaches.
  • Many atheists have read the Bible many, many times. In fact, many atheists have likely read the Bible more than the average American Christian.
  • Many atheists attended church before they deconverted. They know a good bit about Catholic and Protestant Christianity. They know what it is to worship God, pray, and live according to the teachings of the Bible. They are not ignorant of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
  • People become atheists for a variety of reasons. Often there are psychological and cultural reasons why a person becomes an atheist, but, at the end of the day, most people become atheists for intellectual reasons.
  • Most atheists are not atheists because they are angry with God, mad at the church, or hurt.

Here are some evangelistic methods that will likely not work with atheists:

  • Preaching at the person
  • Quoting Bible verses (the atheist has likely heard the verses before)
  • Giving a testimony of how Jesus saved you and changed your life (atheists place little value on subjective stories such as testimonies)
  • Giving the atheist a Christian book, tract, sermon tape/CD/DVD
  • The Romans Road, John Road, Four Spiritual Laws, The Way of the Master, or any other evangelistic program you have been taught
  • Inviting them to church
  • Friending them on Facebook
  • Trying to become friends with them using your friendship evangelism methods
  • Threatening them with Hell

Personally, I would suggest you not witness to an atheist. You are likely going to be disappointed with the result. There are a lot of “other” prospects for Heaven — low hanging fruit — who are much easier to evangelize than atheists. However, if you are certain God is directing you and the Holy Spirit is leading you to witness to an atheist, I would encourage you to be all prayed up and ready to have an intellectual discussion about God, Jesus, and the Bible. Be prepared to talk about theology, philosophy, history, science, and archeology. Be prepared to give evidence for the assertions you make. Saying the Bible says will not work since the atheist will not accept the authority of the Bible.

atheists read the bible

You might as well face it, if the atheist refuses to accept the Bible as a God-inspired authoritative text, there is no hope of you successfully witnessing to him or her. It is better for you to kick the dust off your shoes and go evangelize those who accept your presuppositions about God and the Bible.

Atheists are the swine in the don’t cast your pearls before swine Bible verse. Atheists are reprobates whom God has turned over to their evil desires. Atheists are followers of satan, deaf and blind to your God and the Bible. With so many billions of other people to witness to, why bother witnessing to people who have no interest in your message, are likely to make great intellectual demands of you, and are probably not God’s elect? Be a smart fisher-of-men — go where the fish are.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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21 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Becky Wiren

    You’re right Bruce. There is no witnessing to atheists. I would suggest just being a true friend and caring about each person for themselves. Unfortunately, this won’t be possible for most serious Christians to do, as they will feel like failures to not put a notch in their “saved” category. I do keep suggesting to all the angry Christians on Facebook why they don’t try just “loving their neighbor” instead of condemning most people.

  2. Avatar
    CC

    How have I just now found you? Looking forward to reading here. I’m a former Baptist who now just pretends to be a Christian so I won’t break my family’s hearts. I’ve started writing a letter to my parents, though—the years of being a counterfeit are coming to an end (and then I’ll need a new blog title).

    • Avatar
      Brian

      Best wishes, CC. I am the son of a Fellowship Baptist preacher who is at least a former Baptist! I do not pretend to be a Christian because it rips me apart inside to continue the long lie in my family. When you say, “so I won’t break my family’s hearts” I weep for your pain but have to tell you that their hearts are not yours to decide about. And I bet you that their hearts will continue on just as they please even when you tell them the truth. I wrote a letter too at first and sent it. They responded as if it was the act of a madman, a drug abuser or something. Then I talked with them and got more of the same. You know what I never got? A loving ear. They could not listen to me because they did not want to and would rather reject me than believe and support me.
      I hear what you are saying. There is support out there (in this blog for instance) to support your truth-telling. If it means that you must not be you to save the hearts of your family, how is your life now any different that when you were a card carrying Christian? Choose a new blog title and go through the pain of rejection ( I suspect they will reject you) and then carry on as the rest of us do.
      From what flavor Baptist do you emerge?

  3. Avatar
    Terry

    Speak of truth and how one determines what is true and what is not, what is “fact”, and what is not. The “gift” of life is not won, but received. Love is the answer to the question “Why?”. What is Love?…well, isn’t that just the thing. We might be able to experience a physiologic reaction to a thought but that isn’t necessarily evidence of “love” or the Spirit of God (in all honesty)…a beginning. To speak of things eternal one must submit themselves for inspection from within and without and embrace where love leads. This mind was not designed to conceive God or Love, but to receive and believe based on the evidence at hand. Come now and let us reason together for we are a witness to this reality as any photon or particle, to reveal their immediate truth and as well reveal the deeper revelation of our true selves…it is always a beginning. Search me, try me, lead me in the way eternal…:)

    • Avatar
      Oldbroad1

      omfg. I have a cousin who speaks like that and she is totally serious………deep in a weird new age woo. bless her heart, she is a sweetheart, tho.

    • Avatar
      Geoff

      Terry, I have almost no idea what you are talking about. I think you are trawling your mind for all the evangelical deep sounding phrases but the result is total gibberish. Your inclusion of the word ‘reason’ in this mish mash is, I would have to say, pretty inappropriate.

  4. Avatar
    Tyler

    No. As Christians, we are called to make disciples of ALL men. Its not about what WE can do, nor what THEY will accept, its about what GOD, JESUS, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT CAN DO. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. That statement includes witnessing to ALL men. Not just the ones who will listen. And if you are willing to just give up on them without any conviction, then you sir may not have the holy spirit. You sir, may not be saved.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Personally, I wish Christians would show respect for people and leave them alone unless they are asked to “share” their faith. Christians seem to think that they have an inalienable right to invade the personal space of others because a mythical God told them in an ancient religious text to do so. How about I respect your personal space and you respect mine. Simply put, if I want to go to hell, don’t get in my way. If your God really wants me to be saved, he knows where I live. No need for Christians to tell me the “good” news. I’ve heard it thousands of times. I am not a good sales prospect. Better to try to sell your goods to people not as well schooled in Christian theology and methodology.

      Bruce

      • Avatar
        DougK

        From what I understand, it’s William Carey we can thank for this kind of thinking–Bruce, you’re probably familiar with him. He lived in the 18th Century, and I think it was he who came up with the term “Great Commission,” arguing why it applied to all believers. I read those arguments in his “Enquiry” pamphlet, and it seemed to me he was straining to shoehorn his personal opinion into the holy writ. This was further inflamed by Charles Finney in the 19th Century, who asserted it was the “duty” of all Christians to get out there and convert the whole world.

        And in the 20th it was Keith Green, with guilt-inducing songs like “Asleep in the Light” and “Jesus Commands us to Go…”

        If they could only be here today to see what a Pandora’s Box of anxiety, stress and guilt they opened. Tyler’s comment is a prime example. It drove me to act like a loudmouthed idiot on the streets of San Diego in 1986. Did I like it at all? It brought me to the point of trauma at times, and I could only have been embarrassing to God. And in a home fellowship once, I got rebuked in front of everyone because I dared claim that not all Christians are called to evangelize. Because of this, among other things, I finally reached the point where I said, stop this bus and let me get off.

        And it’s sad because Christ did say, Come unto me and I shall give you rest. Others came along and turned it into guilt.

    • Avatar
      Brian

      Tyler, If you could meditate on the phrase, ‘First, do no harm’, then there might be some possibility for you to respect others. As soon as you state that you serve the master only (interpreted by the preacher in you or the one at your church), then you feel free to go out and accuse others of being like you, a fallen creature, a vile thing needing magic Jesus or a holy spirit or whatever. As a Baptist preacher’s son, let me tell you that your words are very offensive, as if someone has just told me to ‘fuck off’! Is it any wonder that such disdain comes at Christianity when it has people like you flailing around blindly like you KNOW something? What I see you doing with the help of the Christ who strengthens you is insult and harm others with your words.

    • Avatar
      missimontana

      Tyler, an eternity in the afterlife with people like you would be the true Hell. The pushy, aggressive, and obnoxious witnessing you promote above is why people are leaving the church. There are wonderful concepts called “Mind your own business” and “Let others have the freedom to choose their own path.” Learn them.

  5. Avatar
    Caroline

    I’ve always wondered if evangelical Christians realize that they are being offensive when they 1.) become your friend for the purpose of saving you, 2.) invite you to their ‘church plant’ (a hilarious term IMO) in hopes of saving you, 3.) remind you every time they see you that ‘Jesus is coming’ and you’d better hurry up and accept him as your personal savior. Or do they just not care that they are being offensive and phony as long as they get brownie points for the hereafter? I think I know the answer, but it still fascinates me. Also, when I was a practicing Catholic I wasn’t even considered Christian by this crowd. It didn’t bother me because I truly got that they were a little out there.
    This blog is answering a lot of questions for me.

    Caroline

  6. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    What is it exactly that reduces an individual to clone-level speech when they start the evangelizing? The message is always the same shallow parrot squawk that reveals the system more than the person. The person is reduced to a squawk-talk level.
    But then, evangelical training is designed to do exactly what it does…

  7. Avatar
    Steve Ruis

    Re “Atheists are the swine in the don’t cast your pearls before swine Bible verse. Atheists are reprobates whom God has turned over to their evil desires. Atheists are followers of Satan, deaf and blind to your God and the Bible. With so many billions of other people to witness to, why bother witnessing to people who have no interest in your message, are likely to make great intellectual demands of you, and are probably not God’s elect? Be a smart fisher-of-men — go where the fish are.”

    Brilliant, Bruce, effing brilliant! I wish I had come up with this!

  8. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    There really isn’t anything a Christian could say to me to change me back into a Christian. I can’t unread or unrealize what I have learned that’s so contrary to Christianity. I can’t make myself believe things for which I cannot find evidence. I could probably name whatever method a Christian is trying to use to convince me.

  9. Avatar
    Trenton

    No way I could ever go back. Generally I’m against burning books, but if I ever receive and apologetics book not even worth the paper its written on, I might just use it to keep me warm in the winter. I also might get some satisfaction by pissing on it as well, or save it for the next time there is a run on toilet paper.😁

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