Just recently a teen told me, “If the God of the Bible exists, I’ve never seen Him.” A dozen possible apologetic responses came to mind, but I put them all on the back burner. As important as it is to be ready with an answer for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15), I’ve come to realize that effective outreach to skeptics is probably about 80 percent relationship and 20 percent persuasive evidence.
Doubts and questions about God and the Bible are nothing new. There have always been skeptics. Some are bright and sincere but misguided or unwilling to embrace the truth once they have encountered it. Others simply have an axe to grind. When reaching out to those with doubts about the Christian faith, I’ve noticed that intellectual objections aren’t always the underlying cause of unbelief. In many cases, personal skepticism is preceded by emotional pain.
In our apologetics programs at North Greenville University, we encourage students to look for the life issue behind the question. A vocal skeptic may be carrying hurt from some negative experience with a religious person. Most all of the atheists I’ve spoken with tell war stories from the days when they used to be in church.
One college student I met at a secular university proudly introduced herself as an “ex-Christian.” She had begun to question God after prayers for a cancer-stricken loved one seemed to go unanswered. In loving and ministering to such people, empathy, discernment and a listening ear will take the conversation much farther than a data dump.
Strategy 1: With friendliness and a winsome spirit, students should try to connect with the person God has placed in their paths. Suggest the following to young people: Find a quiet place where you can both open up. Ask questions such as, “Have you always felt this way, or did something happen that caused you to change your beliefs?”
Strategy 2: Listen carefully to the other person’s position, trying to understand the real obstacle to faith. Restate what’s been said so that you are sure you really understand. Try to steer the conversation toward the subject of Jesus, just as the Lord did when talking with the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-26.
Strategy 3: Stay away from rabbit trails. Ancillary issues often fade away when the discussion focuses on Christ.
Strategy 4: Even as you’re talking, silently pray for the Holy Spirit to be at work in the situation. The person may have someone he/she needs to forgive will need God’s help.
Strategy 5: There’s nothing to “win.” The title of a C.S. Lewis book, God in the Dock, implies that people attempt to keep God on the witness stand. They consider the Bible guilty until proven innocent. Some of the more vitriolic say they have come from churches where questions and critical thinking were off limits. This is sad, because one duty of the Christian is to worship God through continual nurture of the intellect (Matthew 22:37; Romans 12:2).
Nevertheless, our goal should never be to win arguments. We are simply called to testify in hopes of convincing skeptics to consider the facts with an open mind and allow the Scripture to vindicate itself under cross-examination.
Need more ideas? Preorder a copy of my new book Abandoned Faith. You’ll find many more truths to share with people who have doubts.