“Speaking with an Atheist about Christianity” is what Robert, a pastor in France, did with me 15 years ago. I affirmed there was no God, and I despised religion. Several months later, I was a believer. Several years after that, I was a Christian philosopher. Looking back, I can see what worked well with me. So here are five pieces of advice for a Christian seeking to discuss Christianity with an Atheist.
1. Recognize that the outcome isn’t in your hands.
In my story, it was obvious that God was providentially involved. He is always the one who changes hearts. The Christian witness focuses on being faithful to share and commend the Good News, but the result is up to God. Pray that God would do that work in the life of your Atheist friend.
2. Ask to pray for them briefly at the beginning of your conversations.
Yes, it may feel uncomfortable. I felt awkward when Robert prayed for me in his office, but there was something reassuringly consistent about it. At least he really believes in it, I thought. Such consistency sends a good message. (And you’re asking the Creator of the universe to intervene! That sort of help can’t hurt, can it?)
3. Point them to the Bible.
Robert regularly did for me. It built trust as I found the information without having to take Robert’s word for it. And as we Christians believe, the Word of God is alive and active, so there was divine illumination as I flipped through my old, dusty French Bible, which I’m certain contributed to my change of heart and mind. An important shift in my mind also occurred when I contemplated the Bible as a historical document containing testimony about Jesus of Nazareth. I realized we were dealing with real-world historical testimony—witnesses telling us what they saw Jesus say and do. I came to see this as a reliable source to know (not just blindly believe) that Jesus is who he claimed to be and was raised from the dead.
4. Don’t compromise on your view of sin, but make it clear you don’t need them to change so you’ll accept them.
Intellectually believing wasn’t enough to be a Christian, though. I had to trust in Christ for the forgiveness of my sins. Robert navigated this matter wonderfully as well. He was clear on the Christian view of morality even when my own lifestyle evidently went against it, but he wasn’t judgmental—truly a “friend of sinners” (see Matthew 11:10). I never felt threatened or looked down upon. When God eventually reactivated my conscience, everything came together, and I was poised to see the Gospel as a lifeline—as “Good News.” Christ didn’t just die on the cross; he died on the cross for me. I yielded my life to Christ and asked in faith for the forgiveness he promised.
5. Explain the Gospel before you argue any of it.
This Gospel story—Jesus died on the cross for our sins so that we wouldn’t be saved by our good works but by faith in him—is something I never heard before Robert. It took time for me to understand. It was so radical. I couldn’t process it. So don’t assume that everyone knows the Christian message. Be as explicit as you can. I often advise that, early on, you say something like this: “Let’s leave aside the arguments and reasons to think it’s true. I’m not yet trying to convince you that it’s a correct teaching, but let me explain briefly what Christianity even teaches—what the Christian view is.” And proceed to tell them the Gospel. (Prepare beforehand to explain it clearly and biblically.)
This is often new information to them. I have done this over and over, surprising more than a few listeners. And how do I know they get it? Because, without fail, the first thing they say is the objection Paul anticipated: “If salvation is by faith, why not go on sinning?” (see Romans 6:1-2). You can explain that, but they get it now; they understand how shocking the Gospel is. They see what’s at stake. You can discuss its merits and whether it’s true, and you’re in for a good conversation.
Dr. Guillaume Bignon is the author of Confessions of a French Atheist: How God Hijacked My Quest to Disprove the Christian Faith (Tyndale Momentum, June 2022). He was born and raised in France, where he studied math, physics, and engineering science. After his improbable conversion from atheism to Christianity, Guillaume earned a master’s in biblical literature with an emphasis on the New Testament and a PhD in philosophical theology. He and his wife, Katherine, have five young (and adorable) children. Follow Guillaume on Twitter: @theoloGUI.