Telling someone you’re a Christian can kill a conversation. Many people react strongly to Christianity with a mix of fear and anger.
I hate stirring up this reaction in people, especially when I suddenly become the personal embodiment of something another person hates and fears.
To avoid this, I have found some things helpful in explaining myself as a Christian to those who do not share my faith in Christ or may even be hostile toward Christianity.
Talk More About What the Bible Says Than Your Opinion
This gives you the freedom to be honest about how hard it can be to believe the God of the Bible and what has helped to convince you He is trustworthy.
If you start talking only in terms of your beliefs, you get away from a focus on what is true and invite this dead-end response: “Well that’s, like, your opinion man.” (And a weird, still unexplained opinion at that).
Try to thank God for your Christian-critical friends—God is big enough to turn their criticisms into spiritual growth for you and them. You may have to do some extra studying and reading of the Bible (which is not the worst thing in the world). These videos from The Bible Project are great, share-able explanations of themes throughout the biblical story and of particular books in the Bible. I love the way they tell the Bible’s story.
Ask Genuine Questions and Listen
When I was doing street evangelism as Serge staff in London, I was surprised to see how blessed people felt to have someone listen to them process the big questions in life.
Simply listening is a generous gift to many people who long to be able to talk about deeper things and rarely get the opportunity. Be gracious to someone who verbalizes his or her thoughts for the first time or without much practice. Help the person understand what he or she believes. Consider their perspective and what might be going unsaid.
Francis Schaeffer, who founded a ministry called L’Abri, where people could ask honest questions and seek honest answers, shared his personal approach:
If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first 55 minutes asking questions and finding out what is troubling their heart and mind, and then in the last five minutes I will share something of the truth.
You don’t have to be able to answer all the questions—its OK to admit you don’t know and learn along with someone.
Ultimately, a successful conversation is defined by both parties learning to trust God more. We may not understand everything, but God is big enough for our questions. I’ve found I can trust God for the things I do not understand because He did not withhold His only Son, who suffered brutally and died so that I could enjoy a restored relationship with God and all His good creation.
Invite the Critic into a Genuine Friendship
Offer to take them to your church or an informal gathering where friends from your church will be hanging out together. (Implicit in this point is having good relationships within the church community and a church that welcomes skeptics.)
C.S. Lewis demonstrates how powerful a Christian community can be in The Screwtape Letters, which is a series of fictitious letters written from a mature demon to his nephew in temptation training.
The two demons in this situation are conspiring to keep a man from joining the side of “the Enemy” (God). The mature demon warns about the danger in bringing their target too close to Christian community, for he (their target) may get a whiff of the “fragrance of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15):
Then, of course, he gets to know this woman’s family and whole circle. Could you not see that the very house she lives in is one that he ought never to have entered? The whole place reeks of that deadly odor. The very gardener, though he has only been there five years, is beginning to acquire it. Even guests, after a week-end visit, carry some of the smell away with them. The dog and the cat are tainted with it. And a house full of the impenetrable mystery. We are certain (it is a matter of first principles) that each member of the family must in some way be making capital out of the others—but we can’t find out how. They guard as jealously as the Enemy Himself the secret of what really lies behind this pretense of disinterested love. The whole house and garden is one vast obscenity. It bears a sickening resemblance to the description one human writer made of Heaven; “the regions where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence.”
The loving Christian community has massive potential. For it is in the church community that we all see what God is like to the degree we faithfully display His character. The greatest obstacle for skeptics may be the Church’s historic blunders, but the loving church is the greatest apologetic.
Remember There’s Hope for Screw Ups
As you read the Bible and notice its heroes, you can’t help but notice they are screw ups. They are real people like you and me, bumbling and fumbling opportunities to demonstrate the goodness of God.
The Bible shows us there is hope for these people. And if there is hope for the likes of Solomon (who had everything and still wrestled with meaninglessness in his life), David (Israel’s great king who had to repent of adultery and the murder of an innocent man), Peter (the first church leader who denied knowing Jesus—despite being warned that he would do so)—if there is hope for these guys, then there is hope for us. Hope not only to be brought back into a good relationship with God, but also to play a key part in what God is doing to bring about His good Kingdom here and now and forever.