Monday, July 15, 2019

Anonymous Asks (49)

“I have a friend who says she is not religious. How do I respond?”

One thing I am slowly learning not to do is to tell other people exactly what they should say when witnessing for Christ. There are probably worse ways to share your beliefs than recycling someone else’s arguments in words you wouldn’t normally use, but I can’t think of too many at the moment. The best case a Christian can make is one he fully understands and believes with all his heart, and is able to express in the same sort of everyday language he uses to enthuse about a football team or a great song.

So I won’t tell you how to respond. The response needs to be all yours. What I might be able to do is to help you work through what your friend is really telling you when she says she is “not religious”, so you can decide how best to attempt to share Christ with her.

Atheism and Agnosticism

We normally refer to someone who is “not religious” as agnostic, unless they are actively anti-religious. If your friend hates the idea of God and runs on about how “religion poisons everything”, she is probably an atheist and may even have been reading some of the anti-theistic propaganda circulating on the internet. If that turns out to be the case, and she’s willing to talk to a Christian, you can find help understanding the atheistic mindset and learning to counter arguments against God on our home page under “Topics” in the right-hand sidebar.

However, I suspect your friend is among the vast majority of non-religious people: agnostic, but not consciously hostile. Let’s go with that assumption.

In my experience there are two types of agnostics. One kind thinks that even if God exists, trying to know him is hopeless because no human knowledge about him is certain. The other kind is not sure whether there would be any point in knowing God even if he does exist. The sort of God these people imagine has little about him that would appeal to them.

If you think about it, these are both strong opinions about “religion”.

Things That Must Be Believed

The writer to the Hebrews breaks it down this way: “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

It is worth trying to figure out which of these positions your friend takes, if any: Is it God’s existence she doubts, or is it really his goodness? Is it both, perhaps? Chances are that whichever view your friend holds, she has probably arrived at it more or less by default. Atheists are almost always very defined; agnostics, generally less so.

A couple of relatively unobtrusive questions may help both you and her pin down what it is exactly about the God we worship that fails to inspire her. After all, it is no good wasting hours debunking evolutionary theory or trying to prove God exists to someone whose real problem is that they sort of think he probably does, but simply don’t like the idea of having to obey him. Likewise, it is of little value demonstrating how loving the God of the Bible is and how great it is to know him if your friend’s basic problem is believing God could exist at all. An existence-focused agnostic may benefit from exploring the Creation/Evolution question, while a goodness-focused agnostic may see it as a very secondary issue.

The Perfect Zinger

However you respond to your friend’s statement about not being religious, don’t waste a lot of time looking for the perfect zinger, and don’t pepper her with questions as if she is a hostile witness in a court proceeding and you’re trying to break her down in order to get your client off the hook. One of the better ways to stimulate thoughts about God is to gently ask her a question or two that she has not yet asked herself. One example: “What would it take to convince you God exists?”

Depending on her answer, that opens up many more possible questions. A response like “He would have to appear to me” invites a little probing about whether she requires 100% certainty for all the other things she believes in. She may not have thought in great depth about how many things she accepts as true on the basis of the balance of probabilities rather than stringent proof. The answer to that is nearly everything.

In short, there is probably no perfect response to a statement like “I’m not religious.” What is much more important than the next thing you say is how you say it, and that you show a genuine, loving, personal interest in her, not just the desire to win a theological argument.

1 comment :

  1. How you say it is vital IMO. 1st Peter 3:15 comes to mind, as in: always being ready to give an account "yet with gentleness and reverence". Tone matters a great deal; the manner in which we speak about Christ, how we address others' carefully cultivated (but wrong) beliefs, the tone with which we respond when pressed - all are sometimes a stronger and clearer witness than anything else.