Stand for Truth Thursday: 10 Tips for Interacting with an Atheist

For the past month I’ve had the unexpected privilege of corresponding with an atheist. He first emailed me because he took issue with my post “I’m Falling in Love with an Atheist.” I responded, and we’ve been writing back and forth ever since.

When I was your age, I would’ve freaked at the idea of dialoguing with an atheist. I’m not an apologist (someone skilled in the defense or proof of Christianity), and I’ve never aspired to be one. A fair amount of the time I feel simple and not-so-smart.

God’s Word is clear that the Holy Spirit must open our blind eyes and unstop our deaf ears in order for any of us to believe in Him.

But God brought this man across my path. Plus, I have the Word of God and the Spirit of God to help me. I might as well learn a thing or two about how to
use them, huh?

You probably don’t feel like an expert either. But I want to encourage you to respectfully and kindly engage with that atheist rather than running in fear
the next time you cross paths. Here are ten tips to help you as you do:

1. Don’t wait ’til you have all the answers.

You’ll never have all the answers or be able to fully wrap your mind around God. He’s way too big for that! Besides, how do you think you’ll learn? (With uncomfortable situations like this that will drive you to God’s Word for answers, that’s how!) What a great opportunity for you to stretch your brain—and your faith—muscles.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

2. Don’t freak out when your atheist friend makes God sound like a fool.

If their arguments appear convincing, if they sound like they know more about God’s Word than you do, that doesn’t mean God’s Word is broken. Go study the passages they mentioned in context (atheists and Christians can both be bad at taking verses out of context). Remember, God’s Word is perfect.

The word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him (Ps. 18:30).

3. Don’t feel like you have to offer an answer right away.

It’s okay to tell them, “I’m not sure. Let me get back to you,” and then spend time thinking, praying, and researching before responding. Some people are just “quicker on their feet,” and that’s okay.

The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things (Prov. 15:28).

4. Expect a whole lot of objections.

These will range from “the Bible is full of contradictions” to “the Bible has so many translations from so many different languages” to “the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament” to a whole lot more. (None of these objections “hold,” by the way, if you do your homework.) If you stick with your atheist friend long enough, these aren’t usually the main reason they don’t believe in God. Listen for their main objection. It might take several conversations to get there.

The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out (Prov. 20:5).

5. Be winsome in how you share truth.

When Jesus shared truth, it was “with grace.” (That is, except for the times He talked with the religious snobs who claimed to know God but trusted in their own “good” works.) Jessie Minassian writes about sharing truth in love. Here’s just a taste:

To paraphrase Paul’s famous love chapter (1 Cor. 13), if I can quote apologists, argue with atheists, and verbally spar with the biggest skeptics but don’t love them to pieces, then all my clever words amount to exactly nothing.

Your atheist friend is not your enemy. They’re held captive by your shared enemy: “The god of this world [notice the “little g” god—this is referring to Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).

6. Continue to share truth from the Bible with your friend, even if they don’t believe in the Bible.

How can they believe if they do not hear the truth? If you ever offend your atheist friend, may it be with God’s words and not your own.

Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).

If your friend hears God’s Word but never believes it, the fault did not lie with God’s Word, but with the condition of his or her heart (see Matt. 13:1–23).

7. Know that answering their questions and providing “evidence” will never be enough to change their minds.

God’s Word is clear that the Holy Spirit must open our blind eyes and unstop our deaf ears in order for any of us to believe in Him. Pray, pray, pray that God will do just that.

A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul (Acts 16:14, emphasis added).

My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is that they may be saved (Rom. 10:1).

8. It’s not about you.

Don’t let your hopes be dashed if your atheist friend doesn’t change his or her mind. Don’t think you’re the bomb-dot-com if he or she does. It has not been a waste if they don’t become a believer through your conversation(s). Who knows what God has done in their heart through their interaction with you. But even if their heart has only grown more hard, if you have studied God’s Word with a vengeance; if your faith has grown, it has been worth it.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:6–7).

9. Keep sharing the gospel with them every chance you get.

Even as you’re seeking to answer their questions, don’t forget to point them to Jesus every chance you get.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16–17).

10. Ask a wise Jesus-follower for help.

We’re a “Body” for a reason. You don’t have all the answers (or gifts), and neither do I. Ask your church elders for help. Check out books like The Reason for God by Tim Keller, The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, and 77 FAQs about God and the Bible by Josh & Sean McDowell.

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them (Rom. 12:4–6).

I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever lovingly challenged an atheist’s beliefs? How did it go? Do you have any other tips to add to this list?

About Author

Paula Marsteller

Paula no longer tries to catch guys’ attention by swallowing live goldfish, arm wrestling, and jumping down flights of stairs. (She’s married to a wonderful man now!) She spends her days caring for her son, Iren, and writing for Revive Our Hearts. She’s the author of Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl: On Her Journey from Neediness to Freedom, and she and her family live in New York. You can catch all her writing on PaulaWrites.com.

HEY, GIRLS! We love hearing from you, but feel limited in the ways we can help. For one thing, we’re not trained counselors. If you’re seeking counsel, we encourage you to talk to your pastor or a godly woman in your life as they’ll know more details and can provide you with ongoing accountability and help. Also, the following comments do not necessarily reflect the views of Revive Our Hearts. We reserve the right to remove comments which might be unhelpful, unsuitable, or inappropriate. We may edit or remove your comment if it:

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  • Olivia W.

    That was really good advice! A lot of these things might apply to people who believe other religions too. I haven’t had the opportunity to talk to an atheist before, but I do have conversations frequently via email with a girl who has some different beliefs than me. We both agree about the gospel, and lots of main things, but talking about different doctrines and theologies can get… interesting. Nevertheless, my friendship with her has really challenged me to learn more about what I believe and why I believe it so that I will be “always ready to give a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in me”.

  • Anonymous Sister

    Hi Paula! Great post. The other thing you should definitely do when sharing the gospel is Use. Your. Story.
    1 Peter 3: 15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
    Once, me and a few of my Christian friends were having a conversation with an agnostic about God. I had asked many of the same questions that he was asking myself, and God had given me answers. You hit the nail on the head when you said that there is usually a heart issue rather than a logic issue. After I had clearly laid out that God exists, which he agreed with, I asked why not Christianity (Jesus)? He said he simply did not want to choose to believe in Christianity. When my friend said that God kept her parents together, he said, “He didn’t do that for my family.” We learned that his parents were divorced and he used to go to church.
    After all the logical arguments were laid out, we started sharing OUR STORIES. I told him about my journey out of doubt, fear, and anxiety. One friend shared about God’s unconditional love. We did not stop our talk about God’s love, and that boy told us something that will stick with me forever, “You have answered every question that my pastor couldn’t, and I have never been so moved.” He prayed with us for salvation that night. The logical arguments we gave may have opened the door as we showed him we knew what we were talking about, but it was when God’s love was shown through our testimonies that his heart was truly moved. I don’t know if he is going to church (he came to mine once or twice), but I know a seed was planted and I have full faith that he will do great things for God.

  • Proverbs 31 girl in Training

    I have not had the opportunity to share the Gospel with an atheist. I must admit, I would be TERRIFIED!! Not because I am afraid of their argument, but because I wouldn’t want to lead them in the wrong way or misquote something. God would give me the tools I need stand against lies if I came across this situation though. I think an important thing I would need to remind myself in a situation like this is that in Ephesians 6, where it talks about the armor of God, I am to STAND not FIGHT them, and I am not fighting against flesh and blood but against principalities, against power, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. It changes things a bit when you think of it that way. Also, Anonymous Sister, that verse is perfect! Thank you so much for sharing it.

    • Dear Prov. 31 girl in training,

      Now is the time to begin preparing for future conversations, as you dig into the Word each day. May we both study hard so we are ready when God brings opportunities our way (2 Tim. 2:15).

  • Magdiel De Salas

    Thank you for the encouragement. My cousin and uncle are atheists, and when I went to visit for Christmas eve I had a very challenging time. These tips are very practical. Thank you so much!
    Mark 13:10-11
    ” And the gospel must first be published among all nations.But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.”
    Believe me, the Holy Spirit leads in conversations in such a way that you get amazed of the answers that you say. Finally, you trully realize that God leads and His Holy Spirit is the one that speakd.
    THANK YOU SO MUCH!

    • Dear Magdiel, Thank you for loving your family well, and pointing them to the reality of Christ in your words and actions. Praying for them now.

  • Love this, Paula! Great post full of spot-on truth. xo

  • Cosette Wu

    Am I blind or is there actually only 9? Other than this confusion, this was some really good advice!

    • Bethany Breaux

      I just noticed that too, 9 is missing!

    • Hmmm, I see it on my screen. I’m not sure why you’re not seeing it.

      LOVE that you’re reading so closely, though. That makes me happy, Cosette. 🙂

      • Cosette Wu

        I went to reply to this and now 9 is there. Not really sure what happened, but I can see it now!

    • Olivia W.

      Yeah, I didn’t see it at first but now it’s there 🙂

  • miss K

    Wow.. Definitely needed to hear this. It’s encouraging to be reminded that I don’t have to be an apologist or have all the answers before I engage in a discussion.

  • Bethany Breaux

    I’ve been shy and intimidated by atheist because I felt like I needed to know all the answers. This post gave me the encouragement I needed. The quote about doing everything in love was a great reminder as well.

  • Rachel

    Oddly enough, we’ve been studying atheism in our
    Wednesday night Bible study, and how to combat it. Last night we were challenged to find four unsaved people in the next eight weeks and ask them why. Personally I have loved seeing how God’s Word has all the answers to their arguments, and I can’t wait to see what He will be teaching me in the next eight weeks!

    • That’s awesome, Rachel. I can’t wait to hear what you learn! Maybe you can come back and share here when you’re done?

  • Amber

    I really liked this like, thank you so much!

  • Liz

    I loved this! I’ve been speaking to my friend about the gospel. It, like you said, has strengthened my understanding about things and has helped me grow in my relationship with Christ. Thank you for this post!

  • Mauricette

    Love this article and am blessed by so much of the wisdom on this site!😊.

    I was an athiest for most of my life, then agnostic, then “searching,” and finally saved 2 years ago to the glory of God!!

    Growing up, I didn’t like Christians & the few that would evangelize to me I would argue & attempt to make them doubt their faith. What bothered me was not so much that the Christians I talked to could not defend their faith, it was their lack of love & genuine concern in their interactions with me & lack of attempt to explain to me “the hope that was in them” (1 Peter 3:15). Most athiests have had bad experiences with “Christian” people and their rejection is often rooted in that anger and ignorance of who God truly is, rather than pure, intellectual rejection.

    I always encourage my brothers & sisters in Christ to reach out to athiests in love!! They may seem extremely difficult to reach at times but seeds are being planted & watered and you never know what God uses and in what timing!

    I praise God for the handful of Christians that kept sharing with me, despite how much I rejected what they would say. My testimony (and many others) shows that God can and will reach even the hardest heart. God is truly a merciful and loving Father!! All glory to Him!

    Thanks again for this article. I usually don’t comment but I felt compelled to this time 😊

    • Leanne

      Wow, thanks, you are an encouragement to me! I am a full time college student as well as missionary/evangelist on campus and it can be hard with so many people rejecting Christ. But your story gives me hope. Its nice to see the other end of a person’s story. Thanks for sharing!!!!

      • Mauricette

        Praise God for that! Keep on with what your doing- don’t be discouraged!! God is with us every step of the way 😊.

        I’ll be in prayer for you and the people you talk to!!

  • Joy

    I loved this so much!!! I’m talking to a friend who doesn’t know Christ. This post helped me out a lot. Thank you!

  • Jorge MSilva

    All your ten tips of your post share a common false dilemma.
    Quoting the bible to assert your point does not make it truth. I can point to
    the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Agamas and quote from these that there
    is more than one God. The failure to prove either your particular God or their
    Gods is the same. Atheists don’t address only Christianism.

    Now, addressing your tips:

    1. Don’t wait ’til you have all the answers.

    When you don´t have an explanation for something you refrain
    from asserting the existence of things that you don’t know anything. Stretching your
    brain in searching demonstrable good evidence for assertions you make will be
    the best to prove your case. In the basis of faith – believing anything that comforts
    me without good evidence – validates any concept I come about with when I´m
    resting in the sofa at the end of the day while contemplating the mysteries of
    the universe. Do you know anything that you cannot validate the existence of in
    the basis of faith?

    2. Don’t freak out when your atheist friend makes God sound like a fool.

    This tip is all about the false dilemma I pointed out in my initial comment.

    Do you really think that quoting from the bible “The word of the LORD proves true; he is a
    shield for all those who take refuge in him” from the Judeo-Christian’s
    bible will prove your point?

    If in the Bhagavad Gita has a similar quote “The word of the Bhrama, Khrisna and Vishnu proves true; they are a shield for all those who take refuge in them”.?

    Which of the quotes should I believe and why?

    3. Don’t feel like you have to offer an answer right away.

    Yeah, with this tip I think I go along with your quote, if metaphorically. Pondering, thinking, researching, demonstrable good evidence for your belief, right! I once prayed to one person to not die from aids. He died anyway…

    4. Expect a whole lot of objections.

    Again, assuming that the bible is a reliable source of truth…I’m failing to understand why the Bhagavad Gita is less reliable…

    The main objection to go along with the theistic proposal that exists a God is… lack of good sounding evidence for it, nothing more.

    5. Be winsome in how you share truth.

    Yes, maybe yelling or snobbish is not a good form of passing a message…but truth is irrespective of form. The case keeps for good demonstrable evidence…

    6. Continue to share truth from the Bible with your friend, even if they don’t believe in the Bible.

    Well, if I may: “Continue to share truth from the Bhagavad Gita with your friend, even if they don’t believe in the Bhagavad Gita.”

    7. Know that answering their questions and providing “evidence” will never be enough to change their minds.

    You’re wrong!!! Good sounding demonstrable evidence about your particular God, or other, will change the mind of atheists about its real
    existence.

    8. It’s not about you.

    “Who knows what God has done in their heart through their interaction with you”

    Why do you think God wanted the atheist to not believe in his own existence? I’m missing the point…

    And how do you know he interacts with him? Shouldn’t be a lack of interaction that lead instead to atheism? How do you determine that?

    9. Keep sharing the gospel with them every chance you get.

    I think you know where I’m going to this point for real truth. I think I’m good with the Bhagavad Gita!

    10. Ask a wise Jesus-follower for help.

    Ask a wise Bhagavad Gita-follower for help.

    Finally, an atheist doesn’t have a belief. An atheist is a
    person that addressing the theistic belief on the proposal that a God exists,
    has a lack of it.

    Lacking the belief in something is not the same of believing
    in the opposite. Not being of the Lakers does not mean being of Celtics or
    other team!

  • Jorge MSilva

    Seems to me that my comment, from yesterday, addressing all your ten tips was threatening to your religious point of view and consequently deleted…
    If in the first place was privilege to engage in conversation with an atheist in the end is more like an annoying act to take.

    • Carrie @ Revive Our Hearts

      We appreciate you making us aware that your comment was deleted. Our team is working to identify and correct a recent glitch in our system that inadvertently deletes random comments.

      Unfortunately, your comment was deleted for this reason. We apologize, Jorge MSilva. You’re welcome to repost your original comment.

      Grace and peace,
      Carrie

  • Graham Kennedy

    Gotta say, to this atheist’s ears a lot of that comes across as preparing the believer to lose any debate and keep on believing regardless.

  • The Void

    The fact that you seem to believe you hold claim to TRUTH tells me you are currently incapable of having a genuine religious discussion with anyone. Step 1 in discussing a belief is being open to the idea that you might be wrong. Because you are incapable of that, you have wasted that atheists time and the time of anyone else who might disagree with you. This reads more like an instruction manual for the religious on how to spin / ignore legitimate challenges to your belief system while feeling good about yourself by pretending to be open minded.