Engaging Unbelief: What to say
Imagine you are talking with a coworker and the subject of faith gets brought up in the course of the conversation. He says he is not a believer, and cannot understand how people could believe in a God who allows evil. What do you do? What do you say?
Or imagine you post something on your social media feed with a desire to be edifying and uplifting, when all of a sudden an outspoken atheist decides to post on your content and says that believing in God is like believing in fairy tales, especially because the Bible cannot be trusted. Do you avoid him? Do you delete the comment? How do you respond?
Now imagine you have some family visiting from out of town, and you know they are not believers, yet desire to talk with them about faith related topics. You find the courage to bring up the subject that is on your heart, but your family member curtly responds with “I’m good without God, thanks. Besides, the Bible might have some good advice on some subjects, but it also condones slavery and condemns wearing blended fabrics. It is full of contradictions.” What should you say to her?
Most of us do not have to try and imagine too hard, as these are realities that we have faced. Some of us may have faced situations similar to these, although the details may vary. Every time such a scenario arises, we feel as if we are placed in an awkward position as we spout off platitudes or give evidence for God based on science or history. The conversation can be especially frustrating when you are talking to someone who seems to be well read in particular areas such as biology, cosmology, geology, physics, history, etc.
So what should you do? How do you respond to these kind of statements?
Finding the Standard
The most important thing to do in any situation like those presented above is to remind yourself who you represent. You are a herald of the King, so we must do our best to not give in to the fleshly desire to “win” an argument. You could win a million arguments and never faithfully speak truth. Everything we say must be coupled with love. Ephesians 4:15 says we should speak the truth in love, and only ten verses later (Ephesians 4:25) Paul exhorts us to speak truth to our neighbor after putting away falsehood. Speaking truth is vital for a Christian.
After you have reminded yourself who you represent, do what Christian apologist Sye Ten Bruggencate calls “the two move checkmate.” If the person makes a claim that is contrary to Scripture, simply say “that’s not what the Bible says.” If the person you are talking with pushes back and says “I don’t believe the Bible”, respond with “So you don’t think the Bible is true. Where do you get truth without God?”
Everybody has a standard. A standard is defined as “an idea or thing used as a measure, norm, or model in comparisons.” When a person who rejects the existence of God claims that all there is to life is that which we can see, taste, and touch (also known as a materialist), we must challenge their assertions by showing them their own standard. According to a consistent materialist’s worldview, laws of logic cannot exist, nor can truth. According to them, the only things that exist are the things that can be seen, or tasted, or touched. Can a person see logic? Can you taste truth?
Realizing that there is such thing as absolute truth, we must appeal to God, who is The standard of truth. Because we are made in His image, all people are able to reason and even be “moral” people; this is not limited to believers only. However, when interacting with someone who rejects God, we must point out the shaky foundation they stand upon. Do not get caught up in the countless rabbit trails that pop up when dialoguing with unbelievers. Focus on the underlying assumptions that are being made when they speak, and show to them how, without God, there can be no such thing as absolute truth.
Speaking God’s Word
We are to do more than point out the flaws in an unbeliever’s reasoning. We must speak truth to them and point them back to Christ. If someone asks you “what is truth” simply respond “Jesus said God’s word is truth” (John 17:17). In our interactions, we must always remember that Jesus did not say in John 10:27 “My sheep hear your really good argument.” Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice.” How do we speak the words of God? By using Scripture. Paul calls Scripture the “Sword of the Spirit” in Ephesians 6:17. Would you show up to a battle without your weapon? Make no mistake, when you engage with unbelieving thought, you are engaging in a battle, albeit a spiritual one. In 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 Paul tells that although we walk in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh. We are to use our weapons of warfare to destroy strongholds of unbelieving thought.
Attack the foundation of the unbelieving worldview by pointing out their assumptions. Ask how, according to their worldview, things such as truth can exist. Focus on using Scripture as the standard that God has given us. Speak the truth in love, but do not put down your sword. Use the Bible as your baseline, and trust that the words you speak are God’s words, and that the Holy Spirit is at work in their heart. Give the results of your interaction over to God, and allow Him to be glorified.
In the next article, we will focus on the “How to say it” aspect of engaging unbelief.