Question: I recently met a new co-worker who said right out, “I don’t believe in God.” How do I handle that and respond to that?
Answer: You have asked two distinct questions, so let me answer them separately:
“How do I handle that?” is a good question with which to begin because blatant expressions of unbelief are somewhat surprising in heavily-churched communities like ours.
Most of our neighbors go to church regularly, try live moral lives, and would claim to be Christian. While this does make for a nice little community, it can also dull our sense of calling in this world.
That is why I am personally thankful for my occasional encounters with self-proclaimed atheists because it proves the Bible true and puts everything back into biblical perspective: We have been left in this dark world to shine as lights. Our presence not only exposes the darkness of sin, but it also attracts unbelievers to the source of our light — Christ.
So how should you handle your atheist co-worker? Regard that person as a God-sent reminder that we are strangers and pilgrims in this world with a mission to fulfill.
“How do I respond to that?” is a different kind of question and a difficult one to answer. There are a variety of good approaches to sharing our faith with others, but your co-worker’s bold claim of atheism complicates things somewhat.
When a person is that outspoken about their unbelief, it is usually an indication that they are not actually a philosophical atheist. If they were, then your mission would be simple because there are plenty of intellectual arguments available that expose the epistemological inconsistency of atheism.
The outspoken demeanor of your co-worker actually seems to suggest that they do indeed believe in God. They are just angry with him and defiantly rejecting him. More specifically, they are probably embittered against someone who misrepresented God or his gospel to them in the past.
Only time will tell whether this is the case, but in the meantime 1 Peter 3:15-16 recommends a very practical course of action:
Get Yourself Ready – Reasoning with an atheist can quickly become complicated, so begin preparing yourself for future conversations by studying the topic of apologetics. I would recommend the book “Always Ready – Directions for Defending the Faith” by Greg Bahnsen.
Live a Holy Life – Because you work with this person, opportunities will abound to break down some of their mental objections to Christianity simply by the way you conduct yourself in the workplace. Be on time, work hard, help your co-workers, and don’t participate in office politics.
Answer Their Questions – If you successfully distinguish yourself from the type of religious hypocrites that drove this person to atheism in the first place, your co-worker will begin wondering what makes you so different. When they finally ask, simply give them the truth: “I’m a Christian.”
While this approach may take more time than other approaches to evangelism, the value of breaking down mental objections and softening a calloused heart through a good personal testimony cannot be underestimated.
As for the potentially nagging question, “But how will I respond when they say ____?” Don’t worry about it. Simple sincerity is always better than rhetorical perfection in evangelistic conversations.
If you find yourself unable to answer their objections, there is nothing wrong with saying, “That’s a good question and I’m honestly not sure… can I get back to you?” Send me the question and I will gladly research the matter and recommend an appropriate response.
Finally, don’t forget to thank God for this wonderful opportunity to serve as a Christian witness in this confused world.