Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Advice for Christians who discuss their faith with atheists… from an atheist

I spotted this post by Jeffery Jay Lowder on The Secular Outpost, and I think it’s good advice.

There are times where two people speak the same language, use the same words, and mean very different things by the same words. In conversations between Christians and atheists, “faith” is one such word. For many atheists, the word “faith” means, by default, belief without evidence or even belief against the evidence. In contrast, I doubt many Christians would accept that definition. For example, according to the NIV translation, Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Victor Reppert, at Dangerous Idea, writes this about the word “faith.”

Every time you use the word “faith” in a discussion with an atheist, they are going to declare victory. They will presume that you are believing for no reason, and that you are are admitting that the evidence is against you.

I think he is probably right. If Christians want to dialogue with atheists, I think Christians would be well served to speak the ‘language’ of atheists. The word “faith” simply has too much baggage associated with it; inserting that word into the conversation is likely to become a distraction from whatever point the Christian was probably trying to make. So if you’re a Christian talking with atheists, my advice is to temporarily delete the word “faith” from your vocabulary. Find some other way to make your point.

A better word to use is “trust”, and here’s Christian apologist Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason to make the same point:

Christian apologist Jonathan Morrow had a similar post on Think Christianly. (Mark well the part he put in bold)

Excerpt:

In today’s post I want to share a conversation I had with some of the sharp young men during lunch. It had to do with how we talk about Christianity with our friends, family, and coworkers. Most of the time, well meaning Christians talk about Christianity in the context of religion…not reality. Is that a problem? Yes, and here’s why. Religion is understood as a personal and private feeling that is not accessible by everyone else. You can’t question, challenge, or investigate it; you must simply be tolerant of it (and by tolerant, I am using the modern misunderstanding of tolerance which believes that all religious views are equally valid simply because a person sincerely believes them). That’s why having a conversation about Christianity as a religion is a dead end. It’s a non-starter.

That’s why I encouraged these students to talk about Christianity in the context of reality where terms like truth, knowledge, reason, and evidence apply. Any claim about reality is either true or false (it can’t be both). If Christianity is not the kind of thing that can be true or false…the battle has already been lost and the Gospel cannot be seriously considered. We need to talk about Christianity in the same way we talk about having a prescription filled at the pharmacy or receiving instruction from a Doctor.

In today’s society, religion is a fuzzy (i.e., socially constructed or psychologically projected) category that makes little difference in everyday life. But if Christianity is true, then it speaks to ALL of life. It makes a comprehensive claim on reality. Jesus didn’t intend to merely address two hours of our week. As Christians we need to have more conversations about reality and less about religion.

I’ve even written a post about the concept of faith that is presented in the Bible and the word faith has nothing to do with blind belief in the Bible – it’s always based on evidence, so that people can know for certain what the truth is. I highly recommend it for anyone who disagrees with Jeffery,Greg or Jonathan. When you’re talking about Christianity, you’re talking about what you know. You’re talking about the way the world is, for everyone. When you talk about your belief in God, you should say “trust”. You should not say “faith”.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

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10 Responses

  1. razorswift says:

    Wow, really great information/advice. It’s amazing how changing your vocab even just a tad, can enhance your discussion.

  2. Kunoichi says:

    I always want to roll my eyes when athiests freak out over the word “faith.” They’ve redefined it, then attack Christians based on their definition of it, rather then the real one. I, too, prefer to use the word “trust,” since they have not yet re-defined that particular word.

    I also like to point out that we operate on faith all the time. We have faith that the designers of the buildings that surround us, the materials they are built with, the people who built them, and that they are maintained by the people who own and care for them. We generally know nothing about any of those people, but we have faith that they did their jobs right and the buildings won’t fall down on our heads. Sometimes, that faith is tested, as when that shopping mall collapsed. Even then, we don’t suddenly become paranoid about all buildings, doubting the existance of architects, or questioning the abilities of the builders. We don’t suddenly decide “there are no architects designing buildings – architects are just creations of builders who want to take advantage of people so they can take their money while throwing up shoddy buildings.” The same can apply every time we get into a vehicle, and in many other areas of our lives. We just have to have faith – trust – that people we will never meet, and have no proof they even exist, did their jobs and knew what they were doing.

    • Cindy Freeman says:

      That was a great analogy. I have heard similar before, but yours was succinct and clear. I hope you won’t mind if I quote you! Thanks.

    • you don’t have faith in the designers and builders, instead you know there’s a high degree of probability of them doing their job, and you also know why. it’s all knowledge and probabilities, there’s no faith whatsoever involved in any of it.

      • Kunoichi says:

        ” instead you know there’s a high degree of probability of them doing their job,”

        I *know* no such thing, and I have no idea what the degree of probability is at all. In fact, I’ve encountered enough evidence to the contrary (pieces of buildings falling in high winds, buildings suddenly collapsing, entire complexes permanently evacuated due to shoddy construction, mold, etc.), that it is absolutly a matter of faith.

  3. Chris says:

    While I agree that ‘trust’ should be used when talking about ‘faith’, I disagree that we need to change our terms. I will often simply point out to people that when I speak of faith I’m really talking about trust and not ‘belief in spite of the evidence’ and that if they want to question me on that they can give me a biblical exposition on why the word ‘faith’ does not mean trust.

    Of course, no one takes me up on that.

    • Kunoichi says:

      I find argumentative atheists rarely take up direct challenges like that. Much easier to cluster in like-minded groups and insult religious people in their own sheltered little circles what patting each other on the back over how much smarter they are.

      Granted, I know religious people who do that, too…

  4. Texan99 says:

    C.S. Lewis used the analogy of a man who had once been convinced of something by reason and evidence, and who then had to hold to his conviction in the face of fear, weariness, and other assaults to his confidence that were not directly and logically related to the conviction. He said faith was sticking to what he had known to be true to begin with and not getting distracted by mere moods. So, for instance, a man shouldn’t suddenly desert his wife because of an irrational and unfounded doubt of her fidelity, but should instead have faith in her. Faith is emphatically NOT persisting in a belief in the face of reason or evidence to the contrary — which is exactly what a modern atheist will assume we mean by the term.

  5. Karl Udy says:

    Of course, deciding to use “trust” instead of “faith” when talking with atheists doesn’t help when they tell us that we have faith because it says so in the Bible and insist that when the Bible says faith it is according to their definition and has a completely different meaning to trust.

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