Tom Elliff
Oklahoma City, OK

After pastoring for forty-two years, Tom Elliff served the International Mission Board, first as Senior Vice President for Spiritual Nurture and Church Relations from 2005-2009, then as President from 2011-2014. Tom served pastorates in Arkansas, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma and as an IMB missionary in Zimbabwe. Tom also served as president of the SBC Pastor's Conference and two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Seven Questions You Should Ask An Atheist

By on August 10, 2010

A resurgence of atheism has captured considerable attention in the media recently. Of particular interest has been what some call a “new atheism.” New atheism is a position noted for more than its simple antipathy toward any type of theistic viewpoint; it calls instead for absolute intolerance of any belief in God, and the banishment of such belief by every possible means.

Atheism, of course is not new. But the “new atheist” pursues his viewpoint with a militancy rarely seen before. So it stands to reason that those of us who not only believe in God, but that the way to God is through His Son, Jesus, should have a ready response to this fresh challenge. I want suggest that you take a pro-active stance when confronted by any person who calls himself (or herself) and atheist.

“You seem to be an intelligent person,” you might say as you broach the issue, “so would you mind if I ask you seven questions about your position as an atheist?”

By the way, here is a good passage to keep in mind as you ask the following seven questions out of a heart of genuine concern. “The fool has said in his heart ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that does good. The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand and seek God. They are all gone aside, they have all together become filthy: there is none that does good, no, not one” (Psalm 14:1-3).

Now look at the questions that I believe you should ask in the following order:

1. Are you certain you are an atheist? Often, in an attempt to appear intelligent, a person will incorrectly assume the label “atheist.” An atheist is to be distinguished from a polytheist (many gods), pantheist (god is the same as the universe), or agnostic (an uncertainty as what to believe, or whether truth can be actually known). The atheist says, “There is NO GOD.”

2. Are you aware that actual evidence for God does exist? God has revealed himself physically, through creation (Psalm 19, Romans 1), spiritually, through conviction (John 16:8), and uniquely through Christ and the Bible (John 1:4, 14, 2 Tim 3:16-17).

3. Do you know why many people choose to be atheists? Many choose the path of atheism simply because they cannot believe in God and continue living as they do. “They are corrupt.”

4. How much of the Bible have you actually read? “The Lord looks…to see if there were any that did understand.” It is less than honest to attack a book with which you are not actually familiar. Nor is it intellectually authentic to oppose something only on the basis of hearsay.

5. Do you know the word used in the Bible to describe an atheist? “The fool has said in his heart ‘There is no God.” Wouldn’t you agree that only a foolish person ignores evidence in choosing whether to accept or reject eternal life? (Make it clear that “fool” is God’s name for the atheist, not one you have picked at random.)

6. Would you allow me to share how you can know God? At this point you simply make a clear presentation of the Gospel. Do not attempt to argue your point. Your goal is to present the Gospel in its entirety.

7. Would you allow me to pray for you, either now or at a later date? Listen carefully for the person’s response, and graciously abide by their request. Of course, you can always pray for the person later.

There is absolutely no reason for you to be intimidated by a purported “atheist.” After all, an atheist is simply a “fool” who desperately needs to meet God and receive His eternal salvation.

Think about it.

Rejoice evermore!

Tom Elliff

2 Tim 1:12