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How to Witness to an Atheist

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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 numerous 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 people become atheists, but 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 friendship evangelism methods
  • Threatening them with Hell

Personally, I suggest you not witness to atheists. 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 atheists, 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 and claims you make. Saying the Bible says won’t work since atheists do not accept the authority of the Bible.

atheists read the bible

You might as well face it, if atheists refuse to accept the Bible as a God-inspired authoritative text, there is no hope of you successfully witnessing to them. You should kick the dust off your shoes and 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, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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11 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Matilda

    I’d add one more to your pretty comprehensive list, Bruce – don’t say ‘I pray for you every day.’ In my experience, it’s usually said with a concerned and faux-caring expression and a confidence that their prayers will cause my reconversion any day now. Also, several x tians have told me that they know why I deconverted. It was because I wanted to become a ‘militant atheist.’ I’ve also been told it was so that I could become a ‘militant feminist.’ Not even remotely true on either count.

  2. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    It’s been a while since anyone tried to “convert “ or “bring” me “back to Jesus.” (I don’t spend much time around Evangelicals or other religious fundamentalists.) But, when I think back to those who tried, they all were convinced they knew why I no longer believe. I don’t know whether my experience parallels that of other Christians-turned-atheists, but if it does, I think it explains, to a large degree, why “witnessing” even to non-believers who hold to the possibility that there could be some sort of supreme being. And even if they start believing again, I somehow doubt that they will see the Bible as inerrant or even authoritative.

  3. Avatar
    Troy

    I’d add “You must accept that it is more likely that you will be converted to atheism than the reverse.” As infinitesimally improbably that seems… the odds are better for the atheist to convert you.

    • Avatar
      TheDutchGuy

      Troy that’s manifestly true. The Atheist point of view inherently has support from something religious conviction does not and can not have, that being logic. Logic debunks the hocus pocus of religion whereas logic can’t possibly support religion. Nonsense is the very reason we bailed out of religion so even more nonsense has no power to bring us back under it’s spell.

  4. Avatar
    George

    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.

    ‘Course, Paul said Christians should be all things to all people so that the could win some of them. On the other hand, he said to shake a town’s dust off of their feet as a sign against them if they didn’t listen to the gospel.

    Starting to think Paul was bipolar.

  5. Avatar
    Michael Mock

    Paul definitely had some issues.

    How to witness to an atheist? Easy!
    Step One: Don’t.
    Step Two: No, really, don’t. You’re wasting your time and theirs.
    Step Three: Just be a decent person and let that speak for itself.
    Step Four: But seriously, don’t bother.

  6. Avatar
    Charles

    Sorry to offend but most atheists were “intellectual Christians” before they “deconverted”. They likely never truly accepted the gift of God through Jesus Christ. Because once someone experiences the light of Christ they’re not going to run back into darkness.

    Yes Bruce is a extremely rare bird. And actually reminds me of another pastor. Sam Kinison. If you don’t know who that is. He was a hellfire and brimstone holiness Pentecostal preacher in the 70’s sadly left the ministry in the 80’s and became one of the biggest foul nasty mouthed comedians of the 80’s and beginning of the 90’s. I’ve never read anything where he advertised to have become an atheist but it was kinda obvious as he would make fun of Christianity in his comedy act.

    And he would also do his comic routine the same way he used to preach Pentecostal sermons. With the loud yelling speaking in tongues style.

    Sam kinision was killed in an auto wreck in 1992 and witnesses said he was talking to someone they couldn’t see or hear that assured him of something and he died peacefully. So if that’s true he was still saved.

    Salvation is a gift and Christ will not take back a gift if it has been truly received. I hope it’s the same for Bruce as it was for Sam and that he was truly saved.

    • Avatar
      Yulya Sevelova

      Charles, I doubt your conclusion that Bruce was an ” intellectual Christian.”. There are verses in the New Testament letters about warning believers not to repudiate the faith, or allow themselves to drift away, those warnings are NOT for unbelievers. Also, the ” once- saved – always – saved” doctrine is now being examined again, as heresy. Called OSAS theses days. It doesn’t help matters that so MANY American churches are full of crazy,dysfunctional, fear- ridden members, who are driving away people who would be faithful attendees otherwise! Pastors are having a very hard time keeping members from leaving , by the usual methods that once worked( fear and threats). So there’s that. So the way around all this is to keep the faith, but don’t go to church anymore, if you can’t find a groups of normal, decent people. American culture makes going to church a nightmare.

    • Avatar
      Troy

      @Charles Re:”never truly accepted the gift of God through Jesus Christ” Of course they never truly accepted that gift, because the gift does not exist.
      Interesting about Sam. I knew he was the son of a preacher, didn’t realize he did it himself. I don’t think the arrggh arggh! style was from his preaching days though. I’ve never heard that. I remember when Sam died, I used to listen to Bob Larson’s show on A.M. radio coming home from work and he was sort of making light of him and his death. I never realized it until now that was because he left the clergy more than the fact he enjoyed the success of his vulgar secular career. Interesting.

  7. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I am one of those atheists who is a former Christian. Raised in a Southern Baptist church, I also attended fundamentalist Christian school. I knew soteriology inside and out. I had memorized a ton of Bible verses and heard hundreds of sermons and lessons. I can still run the Bible categories in “Jeopardy”. While I didn’t attend Christian college or seminary, I am confident that I know more Bible than the average Christian does. My deconversion brought further study into archaeology, how the Bible was written (from a scholarly point of view), the history of Christianity. I also have a psychology degree and am fairly up to date on cognitive studies, so I understand why people believe absurd things.

    My kids, on the other hand, are atheists but don’t know jack about Christianity or the Bible.

    Try to “witness” to me, and you’ll likely find that I know rebuttals to any verse or idea you throw at me.

    Try to witness to my kids and you’ll likely get a firm but polite “no thanks”. They don’t necessarily know rebuttals to your verses, but they don’t regard your verses as holding authority or truth any more than “Harry Potter” does. Actually, they likely hold “Harry Potter” in higher regard because they like the stories.

    So how to witness to atheists? Just don’t. Or proceed with caution ⚠️

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