I’m excited to welcome a close friend of mine, Rebekah Diaddigo as a guest blogger to discuss how to deal with atheist friends. I’ve asked her to write this article because of her knowledge in apologetics, experience in evangelism, and love for God. 

In wondering how to talk to an atheist about faith, I would certainly go to her for advice. But the main reason I asked her to write on this topic is because of the compassion she has for people who don’t know Jesus. 

I am encouraged and inspired by how she purposefully lives her life to witness to others about the gospel. I thought, who better to speak about how we can all respond to an atheist or witness to an atheist about our faith in Jesus?

Young women talking and laughing over a cup of coffee

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How to Talk to an Atheist about Faith

By Rebekah Diaddigo, Director of Bluebird Uncaged

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. ~Colossians 4:4-5 (ESV)


Pop. The yellow plastic ball bumped Alisha’s paddle and arched over the net. “It’s just been amazing to see God’s provision through this situation,” Savannah said as she finished updating her friend on a recent job search and family medical incident. 

The ball bounced in the ‘kitchen’ and Savannah lunged to ‘dink’ it back over the net. “That’s amazing how everything seems to be coming together for you,” Alisha said, “but I don’t believe in God.”

Savannah missed her next chance to hit the ball. As she walked to retrieve it, a thought flashed through her mind, how do I deal with an atheist friend? Then her heart felt heavy, was annoyance really her first response? 

Forgive me, Lord, she prayed, show me how to love Alisha well and direct our conversation to the hope found in You. 

Savannah picked up the pickleball, and threw it back to Alisha to serve. “Why don’t you believe in God?” she asked.


How to deal with atheist friends

We’ve all encountered friends with whom we might share different beliefs. Like Savannah and Alisha, sometimes the conversation can feel awkward or like you’re communicating on two different planes. 

In this blog post, we’ll talk about what scripture has to say about these interactions and give you some practical tips for how to respond to an atheist friend. 

What does atheist mean? Is atheism considered a religion?

According to dictionary.com, an atheist is “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.” 

Though not a codified religion, atheism is definitely a worldview. It influences how one processes information, makes decisions, determines morality, views other human beings, and much more. 

The World Population Review estimates that 10% of Americans claim to be atheists with 40% of that statistic being between the ages of 18 and 29. 

If you have not encountered an atheist friend or family member yet, you probably will in the near future. How will you respond?

How do I Talk to a Non-Believer about God?

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul says:

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person.”

Colossians 4:5-6 ESV

This verse is so jam packed, let’s break it down. Paul suggests two ways in which we witness to those who aren’t [yet] Jesus-followers— the way we walk and the way we talk. 

Our walk

The way we walk refers to how we live our lives — how we make decisions, how we conduct ourselves in different environments, how we handle our money, how we choose to spend our time, and who we hang out with. Paul says our walk should be marked by wisdom and intentionality. 

Growing up, my dad told us that wisdom is “a heart that hears God.” It’s being attentive to the Holy Spirit, evaluating the situation, and responding in a self-controlled, God-honoring way. In our interactions with atheists, we need to be careful to respond in wisdom instead of knee-jerk reactions.

Our intentions

Secondly, Paul tells us to “make the best use of time.” This boils down to intentionality. 

When we realize the weight of the opportunity in front of us we are compelled with the urgency of eternity to be boldly guided by the Holy Spirit. Like Savannah in the story above, she wasn’t just playing pickleball. She was leveraging the time to have a meaningful conversation.

Our speech

Which leads us to the words that come out of our mouth. Paul says our speech should first, be gracious. The NASB translation of Ephesians 4:29 talks about our words “giving grace to those who hear.” 

A gracious conversation is marked by kindness; it gives the benefit of the doubt, it is not crude or sharp. A big factor in having a gracious conversation is our tone. 

How we say something is often as important as what we say when speaking to atheists. 

We’ll talk about some practical conversation tips later. For now, know that someone is more likely to be receptive to new ideas if they feel cared for and loved.

How to respond to an atheist

The second mark of our speech should be “seasoned with salt.” Our conversation intentionally arouses curiosity and provides appropriate flavor to the situation. 

This is where we might ask our atheist friends some hard but honest questions and engage in friendly debate. Don’t be afraid to ask “why do you believe that?” or to challenge their statements without becoming confrontational. 

Remember, it’s ok to disagree with each other in a loving way. 

The last part of Colossians 4:6 reminds us why we should walk in wisdom and intentionality and talk with grace and salt. “So that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” 

Paul is reminding us here that each situation is unique. Each person is made in the image of God and on a different journey. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to talking to atheist friends. 

How to witness to an atheist

So how do we talk to a non-believer about God?

First up, some conversation tips:

  • Listen. Really hear what your friend is saying. Oftentimes, we’re distracted in formulating our own response that we miss part of the conversation. Build trust with your friend by being a good listener and asking follow-up questions for clarity.
  • Seek to understand. In getting to know your friend, make note of any specific life experiences that may have contributed to forming their worldview. Practice empathy and extend grace instead of judgment.
  • Find common ground. Even if it’s as simple as agreeing that the sky is blue, seek for ways both you and your friend can stand in solidarity. Reaffirm him or her where you can. 
  • Try to get to the root. Oftentimes, the questions people ask are indicators of deeper yearnings of their heart. Remember that you aren’t only responding to ideas, you’re responding to a person made in the image of God and loved infinitely by Him.

Finding the “best reply” to atheists

In our conversations with atheists or those who do not hold a biblical worldview, it’s important to remember to be attentive to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, it’s best to just listen, ask questions, and keep things lighthearted. 

Other times, the Lord may ask us to go deeper and speak boldly. Use discernment and be in constant prayer throughout your time together. 

Atheist talking points

If your friend is receptive, you may want to be prepared with a few responses to their claims. Here are a few ideas:

  • Share personal experiences. Tell your friend why you believe there is a God. It’s hard to argue with someone’s personal experience and as you recount stories of how God has revealed Himself to you, you’ll also be reminded of His faithfulness.
  • Ask questions. Be genuinely curious about your atheist friend’s worldview. You might say something like “I’m really curious to hear your perspective on this: what do you believe about the origins of the universe?” or “What do you think is the basis for morality? How do humans know the difference between right and wrong?” Asking open ended questions leads to rich conversation and can set the stage to present the biblical view of a topic. 
  • Do some research. Hopefully, your friend has put careful thought into why they do not believe in God and they might have some convincing arguments to disprove His existence. Most likely, they also have unanswered questions about God. 
    • Do not panic if your friend says something that leaves you tongue tied. Say something like, “I understand where you are coming from, that’s a good point. I’ll have to do a little more research on that.” Go home, look up a Biblical response, formulate an answer for yourself and follow up with your friend. 
    • This will keep the conversation going and give you an excuse to get together again. It’s ok if you don’t know the answer to something and it’s completely fine to humbly admit that you don’t know. In fact, this might even build more trust — whatever you do, don’t make things up, represent the truth well. 

How to pray for an atheist

Last but most certainly not least, pray for your atheist friends. One question I like to ask is: “If God is real, what could He do to prove Himself to you?” Use their response to pray for your friend specifically.

Ask the Lord to reveal Himself to them in a unique way and to soften their hearts to the possibility of His existence. 

two young women enjoying conversation over coffee

Dealing with Loving Atheist Friends

One of the biggest things to keep in mind when talking to a non-believer about God is that the pressure is not on you. You do not have to convince anyone of God’s existence. 

God is big enough to do that Himself. The Holy Spirit will speak to hearts in His timing. Your primary role is to be a consistent and loving friend who lives and articulates the gospel boldly with clarity. 

As a friend to an atheist…

May you walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of every opportunity. May your speech be gracious and seasoned with salt so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. May Jesus grant you His peace and confidence as He sends you to be a Kingdom ambassador in your sphere. 

For further study:

  • Check out Psalm 90:12 and think about how it relates to Col. 4:5-6
  • Ephesians 5:1-14
  • 1 Peter 3:8-17

Resources

I hope these tips help you not in dealing with atheist friends, but with loving your atheist friends. 

What have you done to love your atheist friends?

Leave me a comment below!

Rebekah is the founder and director of Bluebird Uncaged (bluebirduncaged.com), a company dedicated to bringing hope and dignity through dance. She loves mentoring young ballerinas and encouraging others in their walk with Jesus. If she’s not in the studio or spending time with friends, you’ll probably find Rebekah working on a handicraft project or with her nose in a book. More at rebekahdiaddigo.com.

Check out More Posts about Growing in Faith:


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