I have a friend who proclaims to be an atheist. The other day he asked me "why do you send out missionaries when people will all be judged according to what they know anyway. Bare in mind, I am hoping for insight into what to say to an atheist, not what my response might be to a Christian. Thank you ahead of time if you share your thoughts and understanding.
I would say that it’s better for people to avoid any judgment at all. I suspect that he proclaims atheism as his own way of trying to avoid judgment - an incredibly risky way, but still…
So we send out missionaries to tell people a realistic way that they can avoid judgment - by accepting the judgment Jesus already paid on their behalf. And on every atheist’s behalf too!
“So we send out missionaries to tell people a realistic way that they can avoid judgment - by accepting the judgment Jesus already paid on their behalf…”. This is interesting to me. I’m not sure I could tell my friend that is better for people to avoid any judgement at all when I have already told him that we all face judgement. No one escapes it. He doesn’t believe in a judgement day for anyone. You also shared that " we send out missionaries to tell people a realistic way that they can avoid judgment - by accepting the judgment Jesus already paid on their behalf."… . This presents a problem for me as well in giving him a response to his question. I also did not tell him that he would have to accept the judgement. I told him he would have to accept Jesus Christ believing he paid what God had judged was payment in full for the sins of mankind. I told him that judgement day will be a separation into two groups. Those who are God’s own and those who rejected God. I think I understand what you are saying though. What are your thoughts?
Well, it is true that all lost people face the judgment of God for their sins, but we certainly would not say that “no one escapes it” - the whole point of the gospel is to give a way of escape to all who come to Christ. Psalm 71:2, deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape; incline thine ear unto me, and save me.
But those who reject the gospel will definitely not escape judgment. Hebrews 2:3, How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him?
When we say that we accept the judgment that Jesus already paid on our behalf, we mean the same thing that you are saying about accepting Jesus, believing He paid what God had judged was payment in full for the sins of mankind. Your own wording is perfectly fine - you do not have to use mine.
I hope this will help you in your witness to your friemd.
@DuaneL Great question We don’t share Jesus mainly as a “get out of jail free” card.There is a reason we call the story of Jesus “Good News”, which is what Gospel literally means. We believe Jesus sets us free from sin, death, guilt, and shame so that we can have an abundant life of joy and peace defined by love for God and love for others. We believe that the thing people are all longing for in life is found in God alone and that our greatest joy comes when we find our meaning, purpose, and joy in Christ alone!
We also believe this world is under the sway of an evil supernatural adversary, who convinces people to believe lies that are destructive to themselves and society. And that only Christ can break the chains of the evil one on this world. We want to see the world set free from the dominion of darkness so that people can live in love, purity, and joy in God’s Kingdom of light.
John 10:10 - The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Matthew 4:16 - the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
Hebrews 2:14-16 - Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Isaiah 55:1-7 - “Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a ruler and commander of the peoples.
5 Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”
6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
Hey Duane @DuaneL, great question.
Great answers are outlined above but I wanted to say few things. Every questioner has an implied belief or assumption in their question. So the athiest you talked to is assuming that it is by works that you go to heaven. So if he is good, doing good, he might make it to heaven. But no, you have to know Christ to make it to heaven. There is no judgement when you know Christ. But beyond that you have true life, peace, communion with our Lord and the body of Christ, and many more that is outlined in the other answers.
Ofcourse, the athiest is going to respond with “Oh yeah, you think there is only one way to heaven. So arrogant.” You’ll have to get ready for that
I hope that helps.
Amen. Those words always leave me in awe. But my response will be a part of a long standing conversation we are having where I share my belief in the Word of God and why and he shares his belief that there is no God. This is a person who refers to my God as my “sky friend”. I guess I am looking for actual possible responses to say to somebody specifically like my friend. He was basically arguing that what is the reason to send out a missionary or share the Gospel with anybody. His argument was that the tribe living in the middle of a wilderness had just as likely a chance to accept a God just through what was experienced in the creation around them as someone is to accept the Gospel message shared by a missionary who traveled out into the wilderness to find them. I’m not sure I am framing this in the best possible way, but what is the specific reply to his argument?
This is good stuff Dan. Thank you so much. I am going to spend some more time thinking about what you shared. I appreciate that you would take the time to respond. I value your thoughts. My friend is challenging. But just the fact that he is willing to engage in conversation about the Bible and God and the Gospel message at all is evidence to me that indeed all things are possible with Christ Jesus. I am only wanting not to misspeak or misstep in this conversation I am in with him. Thank you so much again, Dan. God Bless you as well.
@DuaneL It can be difficult talking to someone who is approaching Christianity from the position of a skeptic because Christianity is a worldview. If the skeptic refuses to at least try to see the world through the eyes of someone who believes Jesus’ teaching, very few answers will make any sense to them. To assess the truth of a worldview, you have to consider many different facets, which Ravi generally summarizes as origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.
As Christians, we share the Gospel because Jesus commanded us to and we believe it sets people free from slavery to sin, death, and the devil. We believe in Jesus because He rose from the dead in the presence of many witnesses and because His Spirit has entered into our lives. We trust the testimony of those witnesses as recorded in Scripture because it has been preserved better than any other ancient document.
I probably can’t give you any response to any single issue that is going to satisfy your friend. At the most fundamental level his disbelief in God makes everything you are saying seem ludicrous at worst or silly at best, so your explanations may never satisfy him. It might be more meaningful, if your friend is willing, to watch/read some of Tim Keller’s work on God’s existence and then discuss together.
Of course, you two may have already been over this ground a hundred times. If so, I’ll pray for wisdom as you continue to try to share the Gospel and that the Lord would open his heart to the love and grace of Jesus
I am entering this conversation a little late, but I would like to share. It is my understanding from the conversation that you are engaging a friend who proclaims he is an atheist and also is a skeptic.
The simple answer to his question is that Christianity holds as a primary fact about mankind that no one who has reached the age of reason is ignorant of the existence of God including your friend. Further Christianity states that it is in the nature of mankind that, short of God’s intervention, mankind will reject the authority of God their Creator. They do this by creating and establishing their own individual morals, ethics and worldview. Their works based on these morals, ethics, and worldview are then offered up as being good and knowledgeable to establish that their lives would acceptable to God. Christianity believes this is true for the atheist as well as the religious person outside of the intervention of God. The purpose of missionaries then is primarily to bring The Truth of Man’s Condition with the Gospel (God News) Message. The missionaries are in a very real sense the Voices Crying in the Wilderness to prepare the hearts of mankind to be open to the coming of the Lord.
The skeptic, as your friend seems to be, may question or reject the Christian concept of reality but the purpose of missionaries is to promote the Christian View of Reality: that is no one is truly ignorant of the Law of God as it is written on everyone’s heart at that individual’s creation. Psalm 51 and Romans 1 & 2 makes this clear. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
Responding to the Skeptic in general is difficult because skeptics tend to challenge everything presented as a form of intellectualism. Thus the primary tactic I use is what I call the shades of grey approach. I ask by what criteria do they accept something as true. I explain that unless we have some basis for authority that we both accept then we will simply talk past each other. We need this authority to base our discussion because we generally see Truth around us in shades of grey rather than seeing things as black and white. All skeptics I have found will agree with this premise. Then I explain that I as a Christian believe Truth is Absolute and is not in various shades of grey, but I struggle because I do see these shades of grey. Further unfortunately all of us in life constantly sees things in these shades of grey. And if we do not have an objective basis for Absolute Truth then we will never know Absolute Truth and therefore will always be ignorant or worse intellectually dishonest. So is there a objective basis of Absolute Truth so that I will be able to remove the grey I see. I then ask what is the skeptic’s objective basis to know Absolute Truth. That is what is it that is separate from his person is this objective basis. Is it a book or writing? They generally cannot answer the question except to ask what is mine. My answer is simply The Bible which claims it is the objective basis for Absolute Truth that we seek. And then the real fun begins
Hope this helps
Hey Duane @DuaneL. Yes, all things are possible in Christ. I once was an athiest too, grew up “Christian” but then left it as science made sense at the time in college. Keep it up. There is an answer for every question he will ask you. Answer what you can and for those that you cant, just simple say, I am not sure but I will get back to you. Come discuss with us and reply to him. Dont BS an answer to just answer him. That wont help. May the Holy Spirit be with you at all times.
Thank you, Dan. Your reply is actually very inspirational and thoughtful. This line jumped out to me as the platform I will be building on: “…the purpose of missionaries is to promote the Christian View of Reality:” I love that line. It has reminded me that it is not just an intelligent verbal response I need to seek, but also an intentional “living for Christ” should be presented to him from me as well. I really appreciate you, Dan and that you seem genuinely invested in what I am hoping to bring to my friend. This was perfect for me.
Duane Thank you for your kind words. Just as an aside I have encountered people like your friend and Missionaries throughout the past worldwide travels of my career.
Skeptics I have found are usually putting up a façade of intellectualism to escape dealing with the real questions of life that they are trying to deal with.
Missionaries, on the other hand, I have always found to be very real people that are dedicated to The Lord. Their humility is only surpassed by their dedication and care for others to know The Truth.
Again thank you for your kind words
Thanks for the summation, Dan. It speaks volumes.
Hi Dan, would you mind talking a bit more about your experience or maybe giving your testimony on the testimony site, if the Lord leads? It may help some of us understand to some degree those in our circle who have made the same choice you’ve made (and for whom we are praying that they return to the Shepherd). Thanks.
Will do Amal. Beautiful said "for all that we are praying for. "
I think this is a good question your friend brought up. I would respond to him by saying that salvation is, to a certain degree, only the starting point as a Christian. There is also the fulfillment of God’s purposes on earth that a Christian needs to take up after salvation. So, missionaries and other evangelistic efforts, help to increase the knowledge of Christ and these purposes.
Just like the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt, then given the commandments and told to go to the promised land. After you receive salvation as a Christian, then comes the mission. Which is to partner with God in His plan for the world, by following the commandments and being a good steward on earth.
For example, if you had a business and you were hiring employees, although the people you hire bring with them a certain level of ability, you wouldn’t leave them to simply do the best they could, with their own understanding, in their role in the business. It would be necessary to train them in the specifics of the job you needed them to do, as well as, inform them of the expectations of the employer for them, so you could not only maximize their productivity, and opportunity for success in the job you hired them for, but so that it would increase the opportunity for success in the business as a whole.
So, missionaries and other evangelization efforts are worthwhile because they don’t just attempt to increase the number of people being saved, but they are enlisting people into God’s plan for the earth, by giving them the knowledge of Christ and the instructions necessary for them to be good stewards in God’s plan.
I really appreciate your insight. My own sight widened. Thank you very much!
Good discussion. I’d like to add a couple more perspectives.
For many non-believers, and I’m sorry to say, even people who claim to believe, the basic gospel that goes out from the church is “Give your life to Jesus, ask for forgiveness for your sins, so that when you die you’ll go to heaven.”
So a lot of unbelievers, including many agnostics and atheists, maintain that Christianity preaches “pie in the sky by and by.” Others seeing the way many religions, including christianity, have been co-opted by other political and economic power structures, claim that “religion is the opiate of the people.” Missionaries have been very instrumental in spreading “western culture and economic systems” even while preaching the good news of salvation from the power of sin and fear of death. Unfortunately, there is much evidence that the results have not all been to the glory of God.
Someone who knows Greek and/or Aramaic can correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that the word we have translated as “repent” has the sense of “change your mind.” Or put in today’s parlance: “change your mindset.” People who have studied systems theory, will have heard of Donella Meadows, a brilliant mind in this field. She wrote a very interesting article Places to Intervene in a System in which she describes the deepest level of intervention to change a system is at the mindset level - change the paradigm. This is deeper than changing rules and goals of a system, because it is the source from which those goals, rules, and so on flow.
Jesus called us to a mindset change, a paradigm shift, a shift from “me” in the centre to “God” in the centre. Out of it comes such radical ideas as “you think you should love your friends, but I say love your enemies; bless those that curse you, … if you seek to save/promote your life you will lose it; but if you give it up for my sake, you will keep it - and experience it more abundantly.” And He called for this to happen NOW and HERE. We seem to forget that the Lord taught his disciples to say in their prayers “your Kingdom come (here), your will be done (here) as it is in heaven.” And He maintained that “The Kingdom of God is near you.” In other words, as put by Paul, we are not saved by works, but we have been saved for good works … that God has prepared for us. To do here, not in heaven after we die. James says “true religion is this: to care for ophans and widows” echoing the prophets of the OT who constantly harped on the need to return to the societal behaviour patterns undelying the law God gave to HIS people. Caring for orphans and widows is simply the simplest of examples of what is at the core of this paradigm. In terms of behaviour patterns expected by God’s people, the main differences that I see between the OT and New, are that Jesus himself demonstrated what it can and should be, and the Holy Spirit has been promised to us to empower us to be able to follow that model. Jesus resurrection provided physical evidence that God approved of Jesus’ self-sacrificial life, lending weight to the validity of his teaching.
Jesus preached and taught his message, but he backed it up with actions and behaviour that was totally consistent with his words. All of his followers have been sent out to communicate his message. In that sense all believers are missionaries. Jesus was “God’s body language” and so in our communication of his message we must demonstrate it consistently in our daily lives. With ALL that means.
There is a small detail here too. In our individualistic western societies we are losing true “community” that is at the heart of Christ’s teaching. Where I live, the idea that everyone must stand on his/her own feet, there is an incredible stubborness to accepting help, even when it is needed. It is a matter of pride never to ask for (or need) help. And with it a refusal to help the immediate neighbour (less one offend him, or because he ought to be managing on his own), even while there is generosity to help starving children in far away foreign lands. The church is supposed to be an amazing community - a body where all parts function well together.“They shall know you are my disciples if you love one another.” That can only happen in community.
I suspect that quite a few atheists and agnostics will often use a wide variety of arguments against true Christianity, simply as a way of avoiding facing what they know to be true in their hearts. Perhaps they are more honest than many of us, because they see (though are afraid to accept) the very real implications of the paradigm shift that true following of Jesus implies. Until they see it practised in real daily life, within a community setting, they won’t allow themselve to be convinced.
(I admit and confess, that I don’t live up to this standard, but it is at the mindset level I have put myself forward for a “transformation of my thinking” by the Holy Spirit)
In part because if those people know, accept and live what Christ taught, their lives individually and collectively will be of a far better quality than they are now. There will be less fear and anxiety, less violence and hate, more mutual respect; forgiveness and reconciliation will replace bitterness and vengeance; there will be greater social justice; contentment and generosity will replace greed and abuse of authority; productive and constructive activities for the benefit of others will replace laziness and theft; … and more… All in “the here and now,” not in some “heaven” or paradise after death.
Unfortunately, this picture is not something most people observe in so-called christian countries or societies. But there are examples of individuals and communities that seek to live by these principles.