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Christian Apologetics: Eight Failed Methods Evangelicals Have Used to Evangelize Me

atheists read the bible

Evangelicals believe they are commanded by God to go into all the world preach the gospel to everyone. Pastors encourage church members to seek out prospective candidates for evangelization everywhere they go. Hell is hot, death is certain, and the return of Jesus to earth is imminent, preachers say, so winning souls for Jesus is their top priority. (Fortunately, most Evangelicals fail to evangelize even one sinner.)

I studied for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution, was founded by Tom Malone, a graduate of Bob Jones College and the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Every day students were required to attend chapel — a 45 minute or so church service. One song that was frequently sung went like this:

“Souls for Jesus!” is our battle cry!

“Souls for Jesus!” We’ll fight until we die!

We never will give in while souls are lost in sin!

“Souls for Jesus!” is our battle cry!

Students lustily sang the words, believing that their highest calling in life was winning souls for Jesus. Students were required to share the gospel weekly with at least three people. Some students, all jacked up on Mountain Dew, would spend hours each week evangelizing “sinners” in the Pontiac area. Others, such as Polly and I, had a life, which included full-time jobs, full-time class schedules, attending church three times a week, going on visitation/bus calling, working in a church ministry, and then, in the few waking hours we had left, have some sort of social life. We “wanted” to win souls. We wanted to be as zealous as other students, but we simply didn’t have enough hours in the day to do so. And we were not alone. Countless students, when called on to give an account of how many people they shared the gospel with, lied or played loose with what it meant to verbalize the gospel to sinners. All told, I won a handful of people to Christ during the three years I spent at Midwestern. I was, by Midwestern’s standard, a soulwinning failure.

As a pastor, I found that most of the people saved under my ministry came to saving faith through my preaching (over 600 people at one church in Southeast Ohio). I continued to knock on doors, hand out tracts, and preach on the streets, but I quickly learned that my most effective evangelization tool was my preaching.

I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. During this time, I came in contact with thousands of people. Two of the churches I pastored had attendances around 200. These two churches, in particular, had lots of visitors. Yet, in all my years in the ministry, I didn’t meet one person who said they were an atheist. Not one. I can’t remember ever preaching a whole sermon on “atheism.” When the text I was preaching from was applicable to atheists, I would mention it in passing, but I never dwelled on the people God called “fools.”

Now that I am a non-Christian, I realize everything I have learned about evangelizing atheists has come from Evangelicals who have tried to evangelize me. What follows is a list of methods Evangelicals have used in their attempts “save” me:

  1. The God question
  2. Philosophical arguments
  3. Creation
  4. Law of God written on my heart
  5. Questioning/doubting my story
  6. Quoting Bible verses
  7. Sharing personal testimony with me
  8. Attacking my character and motives

Scores of Evangelicals have tried to reclaim me (or claim me for the first time, depending on their soteriology) for Jesus using one or more of the methods listed above. All of them have failed spectacularly. Of course, Evangelicals never accept blame for their failed efforts, nor do they blame God for his inability to “save” me. No, I am to blame. I have a hard heart. I am a reprobate. I secretly want to sin. I am a closeted homosexual. I refuse to accept the “truth.” However, Evangelicals might want to reconsider their methodology, or better yet, realize that most atheists are not good prospects for evangelization — especially those who were Evangelicals before they deconverted. Atheists are not low-hanging fruit. We are at places in life where we are almost impossible to reach. Yet, Evangelicals continue to try to evangelize me, each thinking he or she is going to be the one who wins the Evangelical-pastor-turned-atheist back to Jesus. What a prize, right?

I know I will never dissuade Evangelicals from trying to “save” me. All I can do is suggest that they come up with better methods than generic God arguments, fuzzy philosophical arguments, presuppositional arguments, quoting Bible verses I have heard and preached on countless times before, calling me a liar, discounting/dismissing my story, besmirching my character, or shitting on my doorstep.

Why not just pray and ask God to save me? Why not leave the state of my nonexistent soul up to the nonexistent creator of the universe? If God is the sovereign Lord of all and knows everything, surely he alone knows if and when I will be saved and what means will best do the job. Why leave my salvation in the hands of people who can’t even agree amongst themselves about “how” a person is saved, whether I need saving, or whether I have committed the unpardonable sin and crossed the line of no return?


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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    I have never met anyone who says they went back to believing in Santa Claus once they reasoned their way out of this. Similarly ex Christians have opened their eyes to the foolishness of their former beliefs and there is no road back to this

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    MJ Lisbeth

    I don’t know whether I helped anyone to “see the light” when I was an Evangelical. Then again, by the standards Bruce mentioned, I probably didn’t witness to as many people as I should have.

    If anything, I probably turned at least a few people off. I can imagine at least a few of them thinking,
    “Why would I want to spend eternity with that jerk?”

    Aside from IFB, Holiness and other Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, the one that most actively proselytizes might be the Church of Latter-Day Saints. I’ve been approached by “elders” and wondered what someone who isn’t old enough to drink in most states (and who wouldn’t have been old enough to vote when I was growing up) could say to convince someone like me.

    The other religions I am most familiar with, Roman Catholicism (in which I grew up) and Judaism (I grew up around a lot of Jews and taught in a yeshiva)‘don’t seem to do much proselytizing. Interestingly, some rabbis even seem to discourage conversions, especially if they are undertaken for someone one is about to marry. And I guess the Catholics figured out that Inquisitions, Crusades don’t guarantee long-term or intergenerational fealty.

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    I actually wonder if I knew anyone who converted to Christianity from another religion or nonreligion. To my knowledge no. My stepdad was Lutheran and had to go down the aisle and get baptized in the Southern Baptist church because he and my mom wanted to get married. But he was already exposed to Christianity of some sort.

    How common is it for someone who was from a different religion or not religious at all to become a Christian?

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    Toby Lee

    Mr. Gerencser, regular reader; love your work. My problem with Mr. Ham, and most evangelical leaders, is that they try to make truth claims without offering concrete evidence. I realize that they believe that Scripture fills this void, but wouldn’t that require that Scripture be proven empirically true? There are also some who fall on their logical sword and appeal to “faith;” there people are the worst, because they attempt to make their evidence problem the penitent’s faith problem. It’s amazing how easy it is to see this now; it’s equally amazing to see how evangelicalism clouds peoples’ minds. Hope you are well, and I hope the Reds have a great 2022 season.

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Bruce Gerencser