When speaking about God, atheists can be curious or aggressive, transparent or convoluted. I was an atheist for many years. Now that I’m a Christian I enjoy discussing things with atheists. Here are some tips about talking to non-believers, using the Bible as your tool and guide.
1. LOVE. 1 Corinthians 13 is good to remember. Anything you say without love is a noisy gong.
2. PERSPECTIVE. The Bible, God, anything supernatural—it doesn’t make any sense to someone who doesn’t have a relationship with God. They will never truly understand what you are saying until they “turn to the Lord”. Show them grace in this—but don’t feel the need to point this out because it will likely make things worse. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul says, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” See also 2 Corinthians 3:14b-16.
3. HUMILITY. Be humble. Check out Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Jesus modeled this for us (Philippians 2:5-11), so we know it’s important. Don’t worry about having perfect answers, and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer. Realize that all of us really don’t know as much as we like to think we do—God is the one with all the answers.
4. PATIENCE. Do not approach them in an argumentative fashion or respond to their attacks with a loud defense. Try to have a calm discussion. (See James 1:19-20, Proverbs 15:1, Romans 12:17-21, James 1:26, Ephesians 4:31-32, Proverbs 14:29, Ephesians 4:26.) This is not easy! But keep praying for God to help you, and try and remember these verses as you speak. Someone once told me: “Your goal is to win the person, not the argument.”
5. OPENNESS. See what you can learn from the discussion you have with the atheist. Listen to what they say. “I hadn’t thought of that—let me look into that and get back to you,” is a great reply. This is an opportunity to learn, not just teach. Listen to what they say before you speak and don’t interrupt them (1 John 4:8).
6. PRAYER. Pray before, during, and after that God would guide you and use you for His work. Pray that He will lift the veil from the person’s eyes and draw them to Him. Otherwise they will not make it. (John 6:44) I often ask my friends to pray for me for the opportunity to speak without tension and then for the Spirit to guide our conversations.
7. SPIRIT. Some of those who approach you already have the Holy Spirit at work in them, even though they aren’t aware of it and don’t act like it. Respect that and trust the Holy Spirit to complete the work He has started in them (Philippians 1:6). Be open to God’s nudges as you speak. Different people are at different places, and God may prompt you to say something you might not usually say. It is God’s job to supply you with the guidance you need and then He will do the work in their hearts.
8. GOD DOES IT. Remember that ultimately, it is God and God alone who will change their hearts. Not you (John 16:8). You may never see or know the outcome of their hearts (1 Corinthians 3:6–7). This way we know that the glory of conversion is God’s (1 Peter 4:11, 2 Corinthians 4:7). There is great freedom in this—we can relax and know that the power to change people only comes from God and changing them is God’s job. We are only to witness to His Truth as best we can. God knows we are clay jars, imperfect, full of lumps and bumps. He is the one with the power.
9. DON’T QUOTE. Atheists want physical and historical evidence, not Bible quotes. Quoting scripture doesn’t help unless they ask for supporting scripture for your viewpoint. This is because they don’t believe the Bible is Truth. Directly quoting something they don’t believe only makes them believe you less. The Word of God is still true and important—work it naturally into your conversation, rather than throwing out verses (Romans 10:17). The Word is still there, and its power goes with it.
10. CHECK YOUR SOURCES. Don’t just parrot things you’ve heard other Christians say. Do your own research. There are a lot of strange arguments and unfounded ‘facts’ that get repeated by Christians and non-Christians who haven’t taken the time to really study the subject they profess to know so much about.