10 Lessons from an Atheist

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:16-20

When faced with the mocking rants of atheists and God-haters, our natural temptation is to dismiss them as ignorant bigots or to get angry. But that’s not Christ’s way. Christians who follow the Lamb’s example will find His Spirit shedding light in the most unexpected places.

Recently I was asked to watch a TV show that I would otherwise never have turned to. The show is hosted by two illusionists, Penn & Teller. Talented but very crude.

I reluctantly viewed two episodes poking fun at creationists and the Bible. My goal was to pull out their specific arguments and prepare responses that I could use in my worldview talks at churches and conferences.

Afterward I wanted nothing more to do with this program or these men. Their blatant disrespect for the Bible and my Savior angered me. To be honest, I was hardhearted toward them and said in my mind, “If I were ever to see them, I would walk right by and not say a word.” I felt justified in this attitude because the Bible tells us in Matthew 7:6, “Do not . . . cast your pearls before swine.”

“These guys are just big pigs!” I thought. How wrong I was! Shortly after evaluating this program I saw another short video where Penn (full name, Penn Jillette) shares about his encounter with a Christian man who gave him a gift after one of his shows.

Following are excerpts and some valuable lessons about how to share our faith with an atheist.

Lesson 1

“At the end of the show . . . we talk to folks, . . . sign the occasional autograph, shake hands, and so on. And there was one guy waiting over to the side . . . . He walked over to me and he said, ‘I was here last night at the show . . . and I liked it.’”

He was there the night before and came back. How many times have we passed up an opportunity to share the gospel with someone? Remember this, we can usually go back.

Lesson 2

“He was very complimentary about my use of language and complimentary about—you know—honesty and stuff. He said nice stuff.”

The Christian complimented the atheist’s gifts instead of attacking his weaknesses.

Lesson 3

“And then he said, ‘I brought this for you.’ And he handed me a Gideon pocket edition. I thought it said from the New Testament, but I also thought it . . . Psalms is from the New Testament, right?”

I can see you chuckling now, but don’t mock. Anyone could easily misspeak. Even if your listener doesn’t know that Psalms isn’t in the New Testament, he deserves patience and respect.

Lesson 4

“He said, ‘I wrote in the front of it. And I wanted you to have this. I’m kind of proselytizing.’”

This Christian man wasn’t intimidated. He opened his mouth and shared his faith, knowing how Penn felt about Christians and the Bible. Oh, how we need such boldness!

Lesson 5

“And then he said, ‘I’m a businessman. I’m sane. I’m not crazy.’ And he looked me right in the eye and did all of this.”

It’s so important that we take the time to look people in the eye, be sincere, and speak the truth in love. If you’re like me, you’re thinking, “He handed him a Bible? Penn’s going to tear this guy apart.”

Read how Penn responded:

“And it was really wonderful.”

Wow! I’m so embarrassed. I wouldn’t have spoken with this foul-mouthed atheist, much less given him a Bible. Penn was encouraged by this man’s boldness.

Lesson 6, 7, 8

“But he was not defensive, and he looked me right in the eyes. And he was truly complimentary. He wasn’t in any way—it didn’t seem like empty flattery. He was really kind and nice and sane and looked me in the eyes, and talked to me and then gave me this Bible.”

He wasn’t defensive or attacking.

Did you notice the phrase “he looked me in the eyes” repeated three times? This is so important.

He talked “to” him, not “at” him. Yes, there is a major difference.

Lesson 9

“This guy was a really good guy. He was polite and honest and sane, and he cared enough about me to proselytize and give me a Bible, [and he] had written in it a little note to me.”

Check your motivations! This man cared, and it came through clearly. If the Christian’s motivation had been to show the atheist how wrong he was or to just win an argument, those motives would have been just as clear.

Lesson 10

“I know there’s no God. And one polite person living his life right doesn’t change that.”

How about two, three, maybe four people living right? What if every Christian exuded this type of concern? Even though Penn didn’t “convert,” that’s not our concern. Our job is not to convict or convert. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. Our job is to converse (Mark 16:15). Christians must become more visible in the culture. We’ve been hiding our light under a basket far too long.

“IF YOU BELIEVE THAT THERE’S A HEAVEN AND HELL . . . HOW MUCH DO YOU HAVE TO HATE SOMEBODY TO BELIEVE THAT EVERLASTING LIFE IS POSSIBLE AND NOT TELL THEM THAT?”

Please read and reread Penn’s last quote carefully.

“If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell—or not getting eternal life or whatever—and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward. . . . How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

As part of my talks all across America, I now show footage from this interview with Penn. This message needs to be preached in pulpits everywhere. If we say we love Jesus with our mouths, our actions should also reflect that love. To quote a friend, “Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who should hear the gospel” (Romans 10:14–15).

Be bold!

– Carl Kerby
Answers in Genesis

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