Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Sharing your faith with an atheist

I’ve just been watching a TV program on the topic of life after death. It’s actually a conservation program on South African TV (50/50 for the South African readers of this blog) and as far as I am concerned, it was pathetic! Three people took part in the debate, one a fairly conservative Christian, the second a professor in natural sciences who is also a confessing atheist and thirdly a theologian from a secular university in South Africa and quite honestly, if I had been ready to be convinced either way tonight, I would have left being even more confused. The first Christian wasn’t convincing in what he said, focussing mainly on the fact, as he understands it, that we fall into a deep sleep after death where we will remain until the second coming of Jesus. The second person, the atheist, maintained that there is no scientific proof for life after death and therefore, when you die, you’re dead! The third person, the theologian, lost me. He said that we have to leave behind archaic terms found in the Bible (words such as “soul”) and we need to look at what the Bible says about life after death in a more modern way. But I’m still not sure how he wants to look at this topic.
What I did wonder about is how one brings the message of salvation through Christ to an atheist. More than fifteen years ago I was in a conversation with an atheist (as I found out later.) The conversation took place in a fairly good spirit, but I realised after more than an hour that we were getting nowhere. Eventually I asked the person if we could try and find some point on which we agree. I suggested that we try and find some point of agreement in the Bible, hoping that, whatever we could agree upon, could lead to a more fruitful discussion on our beliefs. The man responded by saying: “I reject every word of the Bible as lies, from Genesis 1:1 to the last verse in Revelation!” The only thing we could agree upon that evening is that his wife made good coffee.
Thinking back to that evening, I wonder how I would approach such a conversation today. What I realise is that one cannot convince anybody about the advantage of being a Christian, because faith, as I see it, is all about a relationship with God. How do I convince a happily married man that my wife is better than his wife? Being happily married, after all, is all about a relationship. To convince someone that my faith is better than his faith (or lack of it) means that I have to convince him that the relationship within which I find myself is more meaningful than his relationship (or lack of it!) And that’s not easy, unless if that person is already feeling that he’s caught up in a meaningless relationship and looking for something better.
The reality is that I cannot convince an unbeliever that the Bible is the truth. If a person accepts the Bible as truth, I will probably be able to prove to that person that Jesus is the only road to salvation. But what do you do if the person does not accept the Bible? I have become convinced that God called us to be his witnesses, and a witness is someone who speaks about what he or she has personally experienced. If I can witness that Jesus, to me, is a living reality, that I have experienced what it means to know that I am no longer condemned and that I have received everlasting life, to name just a few, then nobody can call me a liar. I am witnessing about my personal relationship with God. And someone may accept this or reject it, but at the very least they will have to admit that, for me, this is the truth. They may consider me stupid or naive, but they cannot claim that what I have personally experienced in my relationship with God is untrue. But to try and convince an atheist that the Bible is the truth, is downright impossible, unless if a miracle happens.
Just as an afterthought: It still beats me how, of all professions, someone who is doing research in natural sciences could be an atheist.


Monday, March 16, 2009 - Posted by | Evangelism, Mission


  1. I agree 100%, I gave up trying to figure out whether the two “Christians” were Christians at all, at one stage I actually thought that they were more New Age inclined. The sad part is that it most probably confused those who were seeking some security regarding their faith. One should suggest to all three of them that they should perhaps start reading Lee Strobel’s books before attempting to discuss such issues on public tv.

    I personally have experienced exactly what you are saying the last week, and have come to the conclusion that the only way we can effectively witness to unbelievers are by living as people who have a relationship with a living God. It is pointless telling someone about Christ when we cannot support what we are saying with the way we are living. It’s all about choices at the end of the day…

    Comment by Vince Aslett | Tuesday, March 17, 2009 | Reply

  2. Personally I blame the SABC for inviting these people to the program. I don’t know of a better “atheist”, but I can, without thinking very hard, name at least five people who would have been able to give a much better opinion on the relationship between (Christian) religion and natural science.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, March 17, 2009 | Reply

  3. […] that the answer is not so simple. Perhaps I should refer back to an analogy that I used in a previous post: Why do I love my wife and why did I marry her? Not because I had sat down one day and analysed all […]

    Pingback by Religulous - Why do you believe? « Mission Issues | Thursday, April 9, 2009 | Reply

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