I was a happy atheist. I didn’t sense the slightest need for any kind of superstitious religion in my life. However, I wasn’t completely closed-minded toward religion. I visited a Baptist service, a Catholic Mass, and (my favorite at the time) dabbled in the teachings of Buddhism.Yet, religion in all of its forms still seemed like nothing more than a collection of antiquated fairy tales. Especially Christianity. Oh, I loathed Christianity. It was so divided, contradictory, intellectually dishonest, and hypocritical. I believed that all Christians lived with an illogical, fear-inspiring blind faith in some kind of magic wizard.
That is until I visited a church of Christ. Every caricature I had drawn of Christianity was shattered. There was no pomp. There was no façade. The members were not wearing the masks of hypocrites. In fact, the congregation knew what they were doing religiously and why they were doing it. The congregants were loving and genuine. I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to dislike them for their philosophical ignorance and backward thinking. However, their pure religion was unassailable.
As I reflect back on my time as an atheist visiting with and studying the church, there were certain characteristics of Christianity that I found especially appealing as someone with no faith at all. They are listed below.
Hypocrisy has dealt a large blow to Christianity, and one hypocrite can scar an unbeliever for life. While those in the church should have the mercy and forbearance to encourage those who hold the faith with hypocrisy, we can’t expect those who are skeptical of Christianity to do likewise. Hypocrisy doesn’t necessarily prove that Christianity is false, but it certainly will not attract those with no faith. The New Testament is clear that our conduct as Christians can either help or be a detriment to those outside of the body. When Christians let their light shine and “keep their conduct among the Gentiles honorable” (1 Pet. 2:12a), even atheists may “glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:12b). We cannot expect to get anywhere with atheists if we ourselves do not live as Christ in our daily lives. When I as an atheist was surrounded by genuine Christians, I was much more eager to hear them out.
Intellectually Honest Christianity
Atheists (for the most part) have thought their way into atheism. If you ask them why they are an atheist, they will more than likely give you several reasons grounded in thought. So when an atheist gets into a discussion with a Christian and that Christian cannot offer any ounce of reasoning, rationale, or logic for why they believe what they believe, that atheist will feel as if Christianity has absolutely nothing to offer him. More than likely, those who subscribe to no faith at all do so for what they see as intellectual reasons. So, Christians should be able to reason with them without alluding to logical fallacies or circular reasoning.
Christianity that is appealing to atheists must be intellectually honest, and logically sound. Thankfully, biblical Christianity is just that. Once I was exposed to Christianity defended by sound logical syllogisms and rational reasoning, I was immediately interested as an atheist.
As an atheist, I lacked any kind of spiritual fulfillment. Of course, I didn’t know that, nor did I want some kind of superstitious tingling feeling to feel whole. But, spiritual fulfillment is more than a feeling. It is something you can know (1 Jn. 5:13). It is something only found in Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6). Christianity that magnifies Christ is vital to appealing to atheists because Jesus Christ is the most significant figure in history, the head of the church, and the foundation of the faith. That fact of His existence is rationally undeniable, His words are challenging, His love is incomprehensible, and His example is unprecedented.
The Gospel of John was written, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:31). So, the accounts of Jesus would be a good start when discussing the faith with atheists. After all, Jesus is the one who said: “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (Jn. 20:27). Ultimately, it was Jesus who drew me to Christianity, as should and will be the case for every atheist who converts.
As an atheist, one of the most unappealing facets of Christianity was all of the denominational division. The fact that I could drive down the street and see 20 different churches on one block seemed so asinine. Then, I started studying the New Testament and realized that it was. You cannot read about denominations in the New Testament. In fact, you read just the opposite! In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says that He will build His church (not churches). Likewise, the Bible teaches that the church is Christ’s body (Eph. 1:22-23) and that there is only one body (Eph. 4:4; Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12-13, 20). The division espoused by denominationalism is even condemned by Paul in First Corinthians 1:10.
Jesus prayed that His followers “may all be one” so that “the world may believe” that Jesus is the Son of God (Jn. 17:21). When there is the division that we see in “Christendom” today, it becomes a hurdle for unbelievers; just as Jesus implied it would be. Undenominational Christianity appeals to atheists because the contradiction and division of denominationalism is illogical and unbiblical. When I realized that I could follow Christ and be a member of His body and not any denomination, I was joyfully surprised!
Sometimes, it is easy for us with faith to read verses like Hebrews 11:6 and conclude that atheists are too far gone. But, when Christians are genuine, intellectually honest, Christ-magnifying, and undenominational, a lot of good can happen. Hopefully, Christ’s body can continue to reach out to those with no faith at all. I know firsthand that they are not a lost cause.