In this session of Secret Church 16, Pastor David Platt helps Christians to think about reaching atheists and agnostics for Christ. While most people don’t think of atheists or agnostics as religious, the belief systems of such people are, in fact, a religion. Secular humanism applies the beliefs of atheists and agnostics to a formal ideological system.
Secular humanists, for example, have their own system of philosophy (philosophical naturalism) and ethics (consequential ethicism). Amazingly, over 287 atheistic people groups are currently identified as unreached. In this session, David Platt offers suggestions for sharing the gospel with atheists, including questions to ask in order to transition into a gospel conversation.
- Debunking Myths
- Who are Atheists?
- What Do Atheists Believe?
- How Do We Share the Gospel with Atheists?
So we’ve talked about belief in God, gods, spirits, supernatural realities. What about those who believe only in the natural? No God, no gods, no spirits, no such thing.
Debunking Myths about what Atheists Believe
To debunk a few myths about atheism, we should begin by debunking the idea that atheists believe in nothing. Atheists have beliefs. So whether or not you call atheism a religion, it’s clear that it’s a belief system that is at work in an atheist’s life. Everybody lives according to some sort of belief. So it’s a myth that they believe in nothing.
It’s also a myth that atheists have no morals in life. We’re going to talk in just a minute about how atheism lacks an objective basis for morality. That doesn’t mean all atheists are immoral or don’t have morals, that is, understandings of right and wrong by which they live.
The third myth: all atheists are either communists, left-wing or liberal. Yes, communist teaching is predominantly atheistic. One could even argue in light of understanding their basis for morality that atheists could be more liberal and open to different ways of living as the result of their beliefs. But it’s definitely not true that any atheist is automatically a communist, left-wing or liberal. It’s entirely possible for an atheist to be a right-wing, conservative capitalist.
Who Are Atheists and What Do They Believe?
To sum it up—again, this is broad-stroke—1.6 billion people can be considered atheist. Generally, atheists believe there is no God or there are no gods. The word ‘a-theism’ means without god. Similar to atheism but not exactly the same would be agnosticism. Agnostics believe it’s impossible to know if there is a God or there are gods. The ‘a’ here comes before ‘gnosis,’ a term for knowledge. So you can’t have knowledge if there is a God or gods.
Practically, though, agnostics mostly end up living as atheists. So most agnostics who believe you can’t really know if there is a God or gods don’t then turn around and live there is a God or gods. They turn around and functionally operate and live as if there is no God or gods.
Atheists Believe in Secular Humanism
Let’s introduce this term: “secular humanism” which refers to the application of the atheistic and agnostic belief to a formal ideological system. Here is how it is described by the Council for Secular Humanism:
For many, mere atheism (the absence of belief in gods and the supernatural) or agnosticism (the view that such questions cannot be answered) isn’t enough. Atheism and agnosticism are silent on larger questions of values and meaning. If Ultimate Meaning in life is not ordained from on high, what other meaning can we work out among ourselves? If eternal life is an illusion, how can we make the most of our only lives? As social beings sharing a godless world, how should we coexist? For the questions that remain unanswered after we’ve cleared our minds of gods and souls and spirits, many atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and freethinkers turn to secular humanism.
So secular humanism is formalized atheism or agnosticism and is characterized by a philosophical natural that affirms the natural and denies the supernatural. According to secular humanism, nature is all there is, and as a result, knowledge is gained by scientific inquiry into the natural—not simplistic appeal to the supernatural. They would use the scientific method to discover what is true without appealing to anything outside scientific authority which they consider to be unreliable. Scientific rather than supernatural authority is superior authority.
Atheists Believe in Consequential Ethicism
Flowing from that philosophical naturalism is a consequential ethicism. This basically says ethics and morals are determined over time by their results in culture. In other words, it’s moral relativism. Morals are relative over time. So what may be perceived as right and wrong at one time may change over time and across cultures. The “results” referred to here are human discovery and human achievement. As humans discover more truths and achieve greater heights, our ethics and morals evolve.
One clear example of this in our culture would be marriage and sexuality. We’ve supposedly advanced in the increasingly secularized West and have come to realize that homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender sexuality are right, not wrong. In fact, to say that those things are wrong now is itself wrong. What was commonly held as sexual reality a hundred years ago is now different a hundred years later—or even ten years later for that matter. At the core, ethics and morals develop over time through progress in society. Or in the words of our current President of the United States, “Our ethics evolve over time.” This is a picture of what atheists and agnostics believe, with the core tenets of philosophical naturalism.
So how does this play out practically? I pulled some examples from a “positive atheism” on-line forum. These are people describing how they became atheists—even from Christian backgrounds. This is not to say these people speak for all atheists, but I think their words take what we’re talking about with atheism, which could seem just philosophical, and make it very practical. They represent different types of atheists in different ways, but I trust that they will give us a glimpse into the worldview and foundation of atheism. For obvious reasons, I didn’t use their actual names, but I’ve given them names to try to represent some of their perspective.
We’ll start with Scientific Sam who says:
After years of self-study in philosophy, religion, and science, I finally came to the conclusion that there are no gods and there have never been any gods. The whole god thing has been nothing more than an invention of humans looking for answers to the fact of existence. As I look back on the whole process I wonder why it took me so long to reach this obvious conclusion. I believe that the acceptance of the fact of evolution was the deciding factor in the conclusion that gods did not and do not exist. Evolution and the natural evil in the world settle the matter for me. There are still questions that science may not be able to answer: I still wonder why there is something instead of nothing; the complexity of life still awes me; I miss the comfort of old legends. But in the end, I prefer the truth instead of lies and falsehoods, however cold the truth may be.
So philosophical naturalism embraces scientific authority as superior and believes science has all the answers. “And even if science doesn’t have all the answers, I’m not going to appeal to the supernatural for answers I don’t have. I’m exclusively looking to science and the natural world,” says Scientific Sam.
Then we have Moral Mark:
Looking back on my youth, I realize that I wanted to belong to the good, true, moral crowd. But what I found out is that it isn’t a moral crowd and its teachings are not true. Religions are made up of lies and metaphors to scare their followers into practicing a certain kind of morality. Here’s my conclusion: man invented God; man desires power; absolute power corrupts absolutely; man feels guilt, fear, and compassion. These are the tools that are utilized to brainwash the uneducated and weak into believing that they alone are the moral elite. Brainwashed individuals that are infected with religious belief then infect their children, and this perpetuates ignorance and superstition. Religion is just amoral, intellectual slavery. My name is Mark, and I am proud to call myself a moral atheist.
So Mark obviously has been disenfranchised by the morality or lack thereof that he saw in religions around him, so he concluded he doesn’t need religion for morality. He’s better off without religion. He can be moral with no appeal to religion or belief in God whatsoever. He’s a moral atheist.
Then third is Insignificant Isabelle, which sounds like a negative designation I’m giving her, but listen to how she describes herself. Coming from a background of Christianity, she says:
I am grateful that I believed the stories in the Bible when I was little, because this gave me a calm childhood without any earth-shattering events that made me grow up faster. Once I did grow up, I started studying the natural sciences. Then, after three years of intense studying, it was clear that my eyes were opening wide and that it would be impossible to ever shut them again. After my twentieth birthday, I felt that I had finally grown into my own skin, and all my adolescent insecurities were gone. Now I was ready! Once my fear was gone, everything was easy to accept. First, there is no God. Second, I am an insignificant part of the universe. Third, when I die, I am dead, no ifs, ands, or buts. Fourth, there is no invisible Super-Parent who takes care of me or guides me through life. It was a scary, naked feeling at first, realizing that I am on my own and I better make the best of the one chance at bat that I have. I found out that there is a heaven, but not your everyday Bible-thumping heaven: my heaven is a circle of trust and comfort I have created with those close to me. Together we walk through life. No crutches are needed and we stroll hand-in-hand down a short, bumpy road, pausing as often as possible to smell the roses as we gently approach the end.
So Isabelle, having grown up with at least somewhat of a Christian background, came to refute what she read in the Bible, saying, “There is no God, there’s nothing beyond this life and there’s only today—the here and now. I’m like every other piece of matter in the world—an insignificant part of the universe destined to die and return to the dust. So I’ll make the most of the moments I have with the people around me.”
How Do We Share the Gospel With Atheists?
Each of these atheists has a different perspective, with different journeys for how they came to atheism. So without generalizing, but still thinking of these individual people, how do we share the gospel with Sam, Mark, and Isabelle, or others who may be like them in different ways? Here are some exhortations.
Create Humble Dialogue
Much like we talked about with Islam and other religions, create humble dialogue. Don’t feel like you need to jump right into a proof for the existence of God. Get to know people—where they’re coming from and the reasons why they believe what they believe. Find out what they mean when they say they believe something. When an atheist tells me, “I don’t believe in God,” I’ll reply by saying, “Tell about the God you don’t believe in.” If they start talking about a big Santa Claus in the sky who’s keeping a record of wrongs and rights and is going to judge us one day based on them, I’ll say, “I’m with you. I totally don’t believe in a God like that. Can I tell you about the God I do believe in?”
Or someone might say, “I think religions are all the same.” Instead of just jumping into a refutation of that idea, just ask, “What makes you believe that?” Find out why somebody believes it. Because you obviously know it’s not true. I hope tonight has made it abundantly clear that they’re not all the same. But what makes somebody believe that? What do they perceive about religions that causes them to lump them all in the same category? Hearing that answer will usually be helpful in discerning how to share what is distinct and uniquely good about the gospel.
Other people say, “I think people are basically good,” which leads to the question, “Why do we need religion anyway, if we’re all basically good?” You might respond, “Really?” And then use an example like Mussolini or Hitler. The German holocaust. Or terrorism and war today. Or kidnappers who traffic children for sex. “All these people who commit these human atrocities—are they basically good? Do you really believe that?”
Cause Honest Questioning
So create a humble dialogue to cause honest questioning. Tim Keller does a great job of talking about this in the beginning of his book A Reason For God. Instead of always seeing yourself as needing to answer every question people may ask you about your faith, create a humble dialogue that causes honest questioning about their assumptions and beliefs. So if a friend or neighbor or acquaintance says, “God doesn’t exist,” instead of immediately going on the defense and trying to prove He does exist, why not start by asking, “Can you prove that God doesn’t exist?” Which no one can do. Atheism is totally unprovable.
To say that God is not there is like saying something is not in this room. If I were to say that, I would have to search this entire room to see if that thing was or was not here. Once I’ve searched the entire room, I would be able to say, “Okay, it’s not here.” To say “There is no God” means you have to have searched all knowledge to see if God is there. And if you say you’ve searched all knowledge, that means you have all knowledge—and by definition, that makes you God, and therefore you’re denying your own divinity. In other words, you can’t do it. Does that make sense at 12:30 at night?! Anyway, it’s unprovable.
Another way to get to that point might be to say, “Why have human beings throughout history believed in the supernatural? It certainly seems like atheism is contrary to human nature, that there’s something inherent in human beings to look to the supernatural. What causes that? Where does that sense come from?” Again, the goal here is not to establish irrefutable truth, but just to cause honest questioning in such a way that once those questions are asked, the journey toward truth can begin.
Sharing the Gospel with Scientific Sam
So generally create humble dialogue, cause honest questioning, and then specifically think about how you might share the gospel with Scientific Sam. If someone believes in evolution and natural evil in the world, science may not answer all the questions he would ask but why not start with some of those questions he might ask that are pretty significant? How was creation caused? Focus on the beginning. Even with evolution, there was a starting point with something. In the beginning, why was there something instead of nothing?
Then from those questions, cross bridges that point to creation and a divine Creator as being at least one possible answer to the question of where the world came from. There is a Creator to Whom creation seems to point (Psalm 19). Bring that to bear on the question of beginnings. Suppose scientific evidence shows that the universe began to exist in a great explosion called the Big Bang Theory, maybe 15 billion years ago. Many scientists are impressed with evidence for the Big Bang Theory, but the ultimate question is not what happened—it’s what caused it to happen. “Ex nihilo nihil fit.” Out of nothing nothing comes.
There’s a threefold progression here. Whatever begins to exist has to have a cause. The universe began to exist. So, the universe has a cause. What the Big Bang Theory requires is that the universe began to exist, but it was created out of nothing—which is pretty awkward for evolutionary atheism. Because they must believe the universe came from nothing and by nothing, which makes no sense. Out of nothing nothing comes. Aristotle said, “Nothing is what rocks dream about.” It’s nothing.
I know we’ve got some NASA guys on the other side here. Robert Jastrow, the Founding Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said this:
The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same… This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have always believed the word of the Bible. But we scientists did not expect to find evidence for an abrupt beginning because we have had, until recently, such extraordinary success in tracing the chain of cause and effect backward in time… At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; then as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.
So point to creation, or point to design—how God leaves the imprints of His glory upon the design of the earth. We know this is what the Bible teaches to be true, that God has been revealed in such a way that His attributes are clear in creation. I love what Paul Davies, a one-time agnostic, has to say. “Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact.” So speak with awe about the design of the universe and the fact that it points to the Designer. For example, if the earth was slightly closer to the sun, we’d burn up in an instant. If the earth was slightly farther away from the sun, we would freeze. We are held by a “Who,” a Designer, a Someone.
Let me give you a quote from Charles Misner, who was commenting on Albert Einstein’s skepticism toward religion. Talking about Einstein, this brilliant scientist who had studied so much about the world, Misner said:
The design of the universe is very magnificent and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, I believe that is why Einstein had so little use for organized religions, although he strikes me as a basically very religious man. He must have looked at what the Christians said about God and felt that they were blaspheming. He had seen much more majesty than they had ever imagined, and they were just not talking about the real thing. My guess is that he simply felt that religions he’d run across did not have proper respect for the Author of the universe.
Do you realize Who we worship? We worship the God Who, as Isaiah says, calls the stars by name (Isaiah 40:26). So when sharing the gospel with Scientific Sam, let the limitations of science become a bridge to begin to talk about the realistic possibility of a Creator Who caused creation, a Designer responsible for our design. This is actually not far-fetched at all—not any more far-fetched than the silence that science ultimately gives in the face of those questions.
Sharing the Gospel with Moral Mark
How do you share the gospel with a moral atheist like Moral Mark, who was disenfranchised by the morality, or lack thereof, in religions? He pictured it more as a power play for authority. So say, “I have no desire to defend the morality of every religion in the world, specifically the religious people you’ve been around who have caused questions in your life. But to get down to your life, Mark, do you believe in right and wrong?” He’ll probably answer yes. Then ask, “Why do you have a sense of right and wrong? Where did that come from? How do you know the difference between right and wrong?”
These questions lead to bridges to cross in conversation about how the existence of objective moral values points to a moral Creator. It’s what Paul talked about in Romans 2:14-15:
“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:14-15).
Basically, the fact that we have a moral law written on our hearts by which we know something is good or bad. This reality actually points to a moral Law Giver. So begin talking about how if God doesn’t exist that means good and evil do not exist—at least in an innate sense of good and evil, right and wrong—because there’s no objective basis for distinguishing between the two. Any atheist knows this. Look at this quote from Dinesh D’Souza:
If we are purely material beings, then we should no more object to mass murder than a river objects to drying up in a drought… Our ability to distinguish between good and evil, and to recognize these as real, means that there is a moral standard in the universe that provides the basis for this distinction. And what is the source of that moral standard if not God?
An atheistic worldview provides no objective basis for distinguishing between good and evil. Michael Ruse, noted agnostic philosopher of science, said:
The position of the modern evolutionist is that…morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction…and any deeper meaning is illusory.
Another atheist ethicist, Kai Nielsen, agrees:
We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view, or that all really rational persons should not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason doesn’t decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Refection on it depresses me… Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality.
When you recognize that, you realize that atheism is left with hopeless subjectivity that’s dependent upon the whims of changing society, where culture determines what’s right and wrong. And as long as culture says something is okay, then it’s okay. Which sounds good to some—at least at first—but think about the implications. This is where it’s helpful in a conversation with Mark to show that the implications of an atheistic approach to morality are frightening. Taken to their end, they are far more frightening than any other religion he’s grown disillusioned by. Is he really prepared to say that as long as Nazi German culture said it was okay to exterminate Jewish people, that made it okay?
Listen to Richard Dawkins, a noteworthy atheist:
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no other good. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.
Can you imagine telling the victims of Auschwitz, “Sorry. Hitler and his Nazi soldiers were just dancing to their DNA. They’re neither evil nor good. It’s just blind, pitiless indifference that neither knows nor cares.” Or in the present day, imagine telling moms and dads whose little girls in West Africa were kidnapped by Boko Haram, have been forcibly raped and married off to militant Muslim captors who are now training them to be suicide bombers, “They’re just dancing to their DNA.”
We can’t conclude that. We don’t want to conclude that there is no God. See, there are implications that can be seen only in the context of humble dialogue, honest questioning and gospel conversations.
Sharing the Gospel with Insignificant Isabelle
What about sharing the gospel with Insignificant Isabelle? First, “There is no God,” she said. Second, “I’m an insignificant part of the universe.” And third, “When I die, I’m dead—no ifs, ands or buts. There’s no invisible Super-Parent. It was scary at first, but I’m on my own and want to make the best of the one chance at bat I have.”
So, ask questions. “If the universe is ultimately impersonal, and therefore we’re all insignificant, then why do we have such a personal desire for meaningful relationships like you mentioned? Where does that come from? If we really are insignificant in the whole of creation, then why do we have such a strong desire inside of us for significance?” Maybe another way to put that question is, “If we really are not insignificant in the whole creation, then where does that strong desire for significance come from?”
Maybe another way to get at the heart of what we all feel, want and desire is to ask, “Is there part of you that desires ultimate justice in the world, a transcendent meaning beyond this world? For example, when you see sex trafficking and terrorism and poverty and oppression and injustice, isn’t there something in you that says surely this is not all there is? And if so, where does that desire come from?”
So get to the heart, and then begin to cross the bridge and show in the gospel how our search for significance comes from a personal Creator Who’s made us in His image. Our longing for love comes from a loving Creator. This wonderful gift we have of love—that even Isabelle talks about in the relationships she has with other people—this love is a gift. It’s the most excellent way, ultimately because there is a God Who is love.
We can show how our desire for justice comes from an ultimate Judge. We want to see ultimate justice, and it’s right to want that. One day it’s going to happen. The Bible makes clear that one day ultimate justice will be shown. Evil will not have the last day. Justice will reign. Just show her that. Show how the desire for meaning comes from a majestic God, Who awes us with His majesty and wonder (Revelation 4:1-11). See beauty that you can’t even imagine or comprehend.
The whole theme in every interaction with Sam, Mark and Isabelle, or any atheist or agnostic, is to realize that objections to the existence of God aren’t just in the person’s head—they’re in the person’s heart. The Bible says, “The fool says” not in his head, but “in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). All of us have a heart that turns away from God and the truth about God or even the thought of God. None of us reacts to God naturally with joy. We’re sinners. We’re rebellious. That’s the whole point of the gospel. This is not just a head issue.
So we can’t just give right proofs for the existence of God and think that’s going to change everything. It’s a heart issue. How does the heart change? The answer is: through the proclamation of the gospel and the power of the Spirit. Remember that the gospel proclaimed and portrayed has power to save.
So call atheists, family members, friends, neighbors, acquaintances to turn from their way of thinking, to turn from their denial of what God has made clear in creation. There’s a law God has put on their hearts. Share the truth of the gospel, which can cause them to turn from their way of thinking and their way of living, like there is no God.
Urge atheists—friends, family members, neighbors, acquaintances—to trust in the Creator Who rules over them, and to realize that this Ruler is good, that He loves them and has designed them to enjoy Him. Call them to trust in the Savior Who will redeem them and Who will wipe away all their rebellion against Him solely by faith in Him. Tell them how much God loves them, that He’s a God Who is not only true, but He’s worthy of their trust.
Now, you put all that together with all we’ve seen tonight, and an atheist might ask the question—just as a Hindu, Buddhist, Animist or Muslim might ask—“I hear you talk about how loving God is. Well, if He’s really that loving, then why is there only one way to Him?” That may be the question that comes to the surface after this whole night. You may be asking, “If what you’re saying about the gospel is true, then billions of people right now are on a road that leads to an eternal hell because they have not trusted in that one way. So how is that loving of God? Isn’t God more loving than you’re giving Him credit for? If God is loving, wouldn’t He make other ways—all kinds of ways? I mean, if Christians really believe God is loving, then Christians wouldn’t be so narrow-minded.”
I feel the force of those questions, particularly when I look at the numbers we have looked at tonight. That’s why I want to encourage you, when others ask you that question, to point them—and even when you think about it to point yourself—to the pursing love of God and the perceived narrowness of the gospel. Here’s what I mean by that: John 14:6, when Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me…”He didn’t just say those words out of nowhere.
Have you ever been in a conversation with somebody where you’re talking about something for hours, and you get in a deep conversation, and then somebody else comes in and starts interrupting and bringing up things you talked about hours ago—and you just want to say, “Who invited you into this conversation?” We have to realize that when we read John 14:6, it’s a conversation that began a long ways back.
When I talk with atheist friends or acquaintances, or anyone I’m talking about the gospel with, I’ll say, “Let’s step back for a minute. I totally get some of these questions. But just imagine there is a God. I know you don’t believe there is, but then, you can’t prove He’s not there. You don’t have all knowledge. So maybe in some of the knowledge you don’t have, God exists. So just imagine there is a God. He’s perfect, perfectly good, perfectly loving. Everything about Him is good and loving.
“Imagine if this God were to create a world, and He were to create all these beautiful things in the world, and as the pinnacle of His creation He were to create a man and a woman, and to say to them, ‘I created you to know Me uniquely, to enjoy Me and to walk with Me. I want you to experience life with Me forever.’ Imagine one day that creation were to look at the Creator and say, ‘Ah, I think we don’t want to follow our Creator’s ways. We’d rather do things on our own.’
“Imagine if the Creator said, ‘If you turn from Me, if you eat from this tree, then you’ll experience death. But I don’t want you to experience death. I want you to experience life.’ Imagine if the creation were to say, ‘I don’t think we can trust Him,’ and if they were to eat from that tree and totally turn from their Creator. Imagine the Creator saying, ‘I told you if you did this you would experience death. But I have in motion a plan for you to still live.’
“Imagine this Creator sending people to His creation to bring good news of His love for them. Imagine He called some of them to Himself and said, ‘I want to enter into a covenant, like a marriage relationship with you, to show My love to you in a way that you will then reflect My love to everybody in the world.’ Imagine those people were to say, ‘Yes, we want to do that.’ They’re called the people of Israel in the Old Testament. Imagine if the people of Israel who entered into this marriage relationship, this covenant relationship with God the Creator, were to say, ‘You know, I think we’d rather take our gold and silver and put it together and worship that man-made image instead of our Creator.’
“Imagine if the Creator were to send messengers to His people to say, ‘I love you. Turn back from your sin. Trust in Me.’ And imagine that creation were to take the messengers sent by the Creator and were to stone them and saw them in two—to persecute them. Imagine after all that, the Creator were to commit the ultimate act of condescension and come to the creation Himself, and love and care for His creation, serve His creation, and make a way for His creation to know the Creator.
“Imagine that the creation were to take the Creator Himself, in the flesh, and to mock, beat and scourge Him, spit upon Him, nail Him to a cross in the most cruel form of death they could imagine. Imagine in light of all of that, the Creator were to say to anyone in all history, ‘If you’ll simply trust in My love for you and what I did for you, then I will forgive you of all your rebellion against Me, and you can live with Me forever.’”
Then I’ll say to my atheist friends, “If that were true, then doesn’t it seem a bit bold to look in the face of that Creator and say, ‘Why have You only made one way for us?’ Because once you realize the whole story, you realize the question is not, ‘Why is there only one way?’ The question is, ‘Why is there any way at all?’ And you begin to realize that even if there were a thousand ways, we would want a thousand and one. The issue is not how many ways. The issue is our autonomy. We want to make our own way in this life, and the beauty is He loves us so much that He wants to save us from the effects of our making our own way.”
Point them to pursuing the love of God and the perceived narrowness of the gospel. There are a lot of atheists in the world who need to hear the gospel.
Session 8 Discussion Questions
Study Guide pp. 126-134
1. Do you personally know any atheists? How would you describe them— their lifestyle, their attitude toward Christians, their values, etc.?
2. Are you intimidated at the thought of sharing the gospel with atheists? Why or why not?
3. Why does it make sense to study atheism as a religion? What similarities and differences are there between atheism and the other religions in this study?
4. Give your response to the following statement: “I’m an agnostic, because it shows a lack of humility to claim that you know God exists.”
5. What evidence do you see in our culture that secular humanism is becoming more vocal, and even aggressive?
6. Is it accurate to say that Christians are opposed to science? Why not?
7. Why is it wrong to say that secular humanists are fair and objective in determining their views of right and wrong?
8. Respond to this statement from an atheist: “I don’t believe in God because all the Christians I know are hypocrites.”
9. Why do you think some atheists claim to have outgrown their beliefs in Christianity?
10. Although atheists don’t believe that God exists, most atheists agree that certain actions—like murder—are sinful. Come up with a question that might help to start a conversation with an atheist on this point, with the ultimate goal of sharing the gospel. See pages 128-134 of the Secret Church 16 Study Guide for help, as there are several examples of a “question to ask” or a “bridge to cross” when sharing the gospel with atheists.
Key Terms, Concepts, and Scriptures
Who are Atheists and What Do They Believe?
- Atheists do not believe in the existence of God; agnostics believe it is impossible to know if God exists.
- The fact that atheists don’t believe in God does not mean they believe in nothing or that they have no moral values.
- Secular humanism applies the beliefs of atheists and agnostics to a formal belief system.
- Two tenets of secular humanism are philosophical naturalism and consequential ethicism.
- Philosophical naturalism denies the supernatural while affirming the natural and accepting the authority of scientific inquiry.
- Consequential ethicism is a system of ethics and values based on results over time in culture. It is based on human discovery and achievement.
- People become atheists for a variety of reasons, including the idea that science disproves God’s existence, the belief that Christianity brainwashes its followers to follow a man-made morality, and the idea that we outgrow childish notions of God as we mature in knowledge and in life.
How Do We Share the Gospel with Atheists?
- Create humble dialogue and cause them to honestly question their beliefs.
- Realize that objections are not only in a person’s head, but also in a person’s heart (Psalm 14:1).
- Remember that the gospel proclaimed and portrayed has power to save (Colossians 1:10).