Tips for Talking With Skeptics

6 imperatives for evangelism

Sharing the gospel with skeptics isn’t an endeavor to take lightly. In addition to risking your public reputation, you’re forced to come face-to-face with your true convictions. Your views will be laughed at, and your commitments scorned. Unless you’re adequately established, you’ll be tempted to dilute your beliefs in order to earn credibility.

A great deal of these temptations stem from a lack of confidence in the gospel and a misunderstanding of what ministry to skeptics entails. Many think evangelism aimed at this demographic is limited to apologetics, but such a notion is too narrow.

Evangelism in every setting should include both an affirmation of what the gospel is and a defense against certain objections, attacks and misunderstandings. Without this balanced approach, you’ll be tempted to abdicate a biblical foundation in an effort to establish some elusive common ground.

So what’s the best way to share the gospel with skeptics? To answer this question, I offer six imperatives.

1. Present Truth as Knowable.

Christians can easily grow intimidated when sharing the gospel with the “intelligentsia.” Yet this shouldn’t be the case, for when it comes to describing reality the Christian worldview offers more than most people realize.

Consider how we use the basic laws of logic in our everyday conversations. The law of noncontradiction, for example, is regularly used in evaluating truth claims. Something can’t be both true and false at the same time and in the same way. But have you ever considered how a naturalistic framework might account for such a law? How can eternal, mindless and impersonal matter produce logical laws that guide our thought?

This doubt can be traced back to Charles Darwin himself, who questioned whether he could trust his mental thoughts if his brain is merely a product of evolution. He seemed to worry that, if nature is all there is, there can be no certainty our brains are aimed at truth or our thoughts reliable.

Apologists have consistently exploited this worldview weakness. C.S. Lewis claimed this difficulty for naturalism is a self-contradiction. G.K. Chesterton called it the “thought that stops all thought.”

Only Christianity provides a reasonable explanation for reason itself. Even arguments against God presuppose logical laws that only make sense if there is an eternal, intelligent, personal Creator. The Bible makes sense of the world we inhabit and provides a foundation for rational discussion.

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2. Present God as He Reveals Himself.

If we water down our conception of God to make the gospel more palatable, we’ll find that, in the end, we’re no longer doing true evangelism. We’re merely marketing a god of our own invention, attempting to woo people with a hazy image of an impotent deity.

Don’t dilute God in order to make him more marketable. Don’t propagate idolatry. Present the sovereign God of the Bible as the key to understanding the human narrative.

3. Present Christ as Savior.

The human epic is stained by guilt, shame and regret. Even if some deny the reality of God, they can’t functionally deny the existence of guilt. When we declare the gospel to skeptics, we speak to their innate knowledge of God and their sense of moral guilt.

But guilt is only a symptom. Sin and separation from God are the true problems—and grace the only antidote. Our evangelism of even the smartest skeptics, then, should begin and end with a simple gospel presentation. You can never improve on Jesus’ assertion: “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Never abdicate your responsibility to share the good news. Our arguments cannot, in and of themselves, save anyone. Only Jesus can.

4. Present Scripture as Authoritative.

Every book you own will eventually deteriorate, except for one. It is sharper than a two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). As you share with skeptics, don’t relegate Scripture to obscurity or peer status among other sources. You’re not God’s editor; you’re his publicist. He isn’t waiting for your revisions. He’s already gone to press.

This isn’t to say every argument must be a sermon or a Bible commentary. But don’t compromise the trustworthiness of the Bible in word or attitude in order to placate a skeptic’s objections. As you evangelize, remember where your authority is found.

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You likely came to faith when someone opened their Bible and simply shared the gospel with you. Do not doubt that the gospel’s power, on the authority of God’s revelation, can do the same for those to whom you minister (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18).

5. Present Regeneration as Necessary.

Nearly everyone I’ve known who’s active in evangelism understands the necessity of the Spirit to bring about conversion. I’ve never met an apologist who believed his arguments could, in and of themselves, change someone’s heart. I have, however, met many who pray fervently that God will use their meager attempts to help remove some intellectual obstacles. Still, they also pray with equal passion for the Spirit to convict with gospel truth.

Sharing Christ with anyone—skeptics included—means shining the light of the gospel into the darkness of Satan’s domain. If you do it in your own power, you’ll fail. Like the apostle Paul, we should pray for our audience, that the eyes of their hearts might be enlightened to see the beauty of gospel grace (Eph. 1:18). Without the Spirit’s work, ours is in vain.

6. Present Yourself as Humble.

There’s nothing worse than an arrogant apologist or an unnecessarily edgy evangelist. I don’t care how right he or she might be; the condescension doesn’t help.

Superior attitudes should be remedied by taking seriously the Bible’s best-known verse about defending the faith: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

As we present Christian truth, we point others to Jesus, truth and grace incarnate. When Christ is Lord, and when we’re humble, we’ve found the sweet spot for evangelizing skeptics. When we understand the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Bible and our need of the Spirit due to our fallenness, we’re well on our way to God-honoring evangelism with atheists and agnostics.

This article originally appeared on TheGospelCoalition.org and is reposted here by permission.