Dealing with Skepticsby Stephen Lawwell on July 6, 2014
One of the questions that I am frequently asked is, "How can I most effectively talk with the skeptic at my job or at my school?" For many, it may be a friendly relationship where conversations have recently turned to the subject of religion. For others, it may be a more confrontational setting, such as in a classroom, on the internet, or on the street. Regardless of the setting, it is always encouraging to hear this type of question because it reveals the person's desire to connect with the skeptic in a way that will allow the gospel to be shared.
As you can probably imagine, dealing with skeptics is not easy, especially when they are antagonistic in their response. Younger Christians often leave these encounters very frustrated by their inability to "get through" to the skeptic.
In spite of the challenges, there are Biblically-based methods for dealing with skeptics. These methods do not require advanced degrees in any scientific field or decades in the Christian faith. They only require a sincere desire to see the skeptic come to Christ.
Steps for Dealing with a Skeptic
Step #1: Learn about their questions and concerns
James 1:19 reminds us that we should be "swift to hear, slow to speak." In a similar vain, the Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." I know that my elementary school teachers often had to remind me of this truth.
The difficulty is that many Christians suffer from an inability to listen to those around them. We often are so excited about sharing our own thoughts or thinking of the next thing to say that we simply ignore what the skeptic is already telling us. This feeds into what the skeptic probably already believes about people of faith - that they are incapable of listening to those that believe differently than they do.
I believe Christ has provided the perfect example in this area, in particular with how He deals with unbelievers. Christ often used questions, instead of statements, when speaking with unbelievers (i.e. Matthew 16:15; 19:16; John 21:15-17). This approach forced his audience to look inward for the true answers He was seeking to give. When we ask the skeptic a question, it gives them an opportunity to open up about why they believe the way they do and it helps us drive them to speak about the specific issues that have contributed to their skepticism.
For example, if a skeptic tells you they do not believe the Bible is the Word of God, you have two options in your response. You can either give them a complete dissertation on the historical, scientific, and prophetical inerrancy of Scripture or you can simply ask them why they believe that way. You might be surprised to find out that it was only a single issue that stands in the their way of believing the Bible and it is much easier to deal with a single issue in that scenario.
Step #2: Be ready to give an answer
Once you have learned about the stumbling blocks and issues that are preventing the skeptic from accepting Christ, it is important that you be prepared to give them the answers they need. That is why 1 Peter 3:15 is such an important verse for Christians and why apologetics ministries exist.
Peter 3:15 - "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear."
The famous apologist J.P. Moreland once wrote, “Apologetics is a ministry designed to help unbelievers to overcome intellectual obstacles to conversion and believers to remove doubts that hinder spiritual growth.” 1
That is why it is very important that believers actually spend time growing in their own faith and knowledge of the Scriptures.
2 Timothy 2:15 - “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Step #3: Show the love of Christ
There is an old Indian proverb that says, "Once you cut off a person's nose, there's no point in giving him a rose to smell."
If we are to ever have the hope of seeing a skeptic converted, we must make sure that our methods reflect the love of Christ and are "full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth." (Psalm 86:15)
Step #4: Recognize willful ignorance
There are times when our best efforts are unable to turn the skeptic's heart toward God. At that point, it is important that we recognize that there is such a thing as "willful ignorance" as described in 2 Peter 3:5 and Romans 1:21-28. Some people are willfully rejecting God, not because of any intellectual or emotional hurdles they are facing, but because of a choice to follow their lustful heart.
One atheist wrote, “I want atheism to be true… It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God.” 2
With a heavy heart, we must realize that some skeptics are simply rejecting God because they have chosen sin, in spite of the penalty it brings (Romans 6:23).
Dealing with Skeptical Children
We often fool ourselves into thinking that we have all of the answers as parents. We look at our young children as they sit on the church pew and never imagine a day when they might turn away from their Christian heritage. By the time we realize that skepticism has taken root, it is often too late to repair the damage. Without a doubt, some of the most heart-wrenching conversations I have are with parents that have teenagers who have become skeptical.
The good news is that God has provided direction on how to deal with skeptical children:
Step #1 - Learn about their questions and concerns
Step #2 - Be ready to give an answer
Step #3 - Show the love of Christ
Step #4 - Recognize willful ignorance
Dealing with a skeptical child requires more than just dragging them to church. It requires diligence, patience, time, and most of all, love, some of which are difficult in this hectic world of work, school, and sports and the dishes and clothes that have to be cleaned between them. Yes, it will be tough, but prayerfully remember the patience and compassion that was shown to you in your own journey of faith. It may just be the motivation you need to help not only the skeptics at your job, but also those in your family.
Footnotes1. J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind (1997), p. 131.
2. Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (1997), p. 130-131.