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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11 Responses

  1. Very good information.

  2. Francis says:

    Interestingly, none of the “evidences” referenced here have anything to do with christianity! They are at best arguments for Deism. Einstein’s god.

  3. Clark Dunlap says:

    “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). ”

    I like the idea of the context of reality even If I don’t fully understand what you mean. But the 2nd sentence undermines that. In reality people don’t accept the “true or false” claim. Thats too logical and modern. Post-modern thought laughs at that.

    • Mbelina says:

      Clark: In reality, people *do* accept the “true or false” claim. They know when they cross an intersection that either a bus is coming their way or it isn’t. There’s nothing postmodern about that. It’s only in theory where they like to tell themselves that truth claims don’t have to submit to categorization of this nature. What is needed if they think like this is to help them to understand the law of non-contradiction. Postmodern thought is pretty useless for understanding reality and the sooner we disabuse people of it, so that we can have a rational conversation, the better.

  4. wm brown says:

    I’m reading Lesslie Newbingen’s “Foolishness To The Greeks” right now. These topics are addressed in a deep and
    profound way in his intelligent book. I very highly recommend it……..http://www.amazon.com/Foolishness-Greeks-Gospel-Western-Culture/dp/0802801765/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1367501815&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=newbingen%2C+foolishness+to+the+greeks

    There’s nothing wrong with the word “faith”, because of all people, the post-Enlightenment rationalist has far more faith, going on more unproven assumptions without evidence, in his world-view than the Christian. I understand te point being made, and I do agree with most of it – the typical person submersed in the culture will probably respond better to the concept of fact and evidence and not have much insight into how much they believe on faith. Newbingen’s book is refreshing in perspective on these issues.

    –Bill

    Forest, VA

  5. I’ve ran into this a number of times myself. It takes a great deal longer I think to find common ground due to this. Good share!

  6. Mbelina says:

    Excellent post. We need to use language people understand if we want to reach them and not use language people commonly misunderstand.

  7. [...] Here’s some advice from an atheist on how Christians should Speak to Atheists about their Faith. [...]

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