Why Evangelical Christians will be Unable to Reach Atheists with the Gospel

Exploring the reasons why evangelicals will not be able to reach many atheists with the Gospel. Drawing upon my knowledge of evangelical Christian culture, exploration of atheism, and my faith crisis in writing this post. Examining how current evangelical culture of anti-intellectualism, living in the “bubble” and how atheist high value of science and knowledge will inevitably clash. How opportunities will be lost unless evangelicalism can correct itself. Note this post will be drawing upon quotes and clips from George Carlin, Christopher Hitchens and Greta Christina so there will be explicit language.

 “The Bible has noble poetry in it… and some good morals and a wealth of obscenity, and upwards of a thousand lies.” 

 Mark Twain

“Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed. Results like these do not belong on the résumé of a Supreme Being. This is the kind of shit you’d expect from an office temp with a bad attitude. And just between you and me, in any decently-run universe, this guy would’ve been out on his all-powerful ass a long time ago. And by the way, I say “this guy”, because I firmly believe, looking at these results, that if there is a God, it has to be a man. No woman could or would ever fuck things up like this. So, if there is a God, I think most reasonable people might agree that he’s at least incompetent, and maybe, just maybe, doesn’t give a shit. Doesn’t give a shit, which I admire in a person, and which would explain a lot of these bad results.”  

George Carlin

Dan Barker (Freedom From Religion Foundation)  on God, where he asks, “Do you want to go down to my basement…”

 

Many evangelicals often talk about how important it is to evangelize and share the Gospel with those outside the faith. I can’t tell you how many times when I went to evangelical churches I heard a lot of talk, sermons, and programs about evangelism and how it was going to proceed. Some evangelicals love to evangelize while others don’t. However, later on I plan on writing a post as to what it was like to show up at differing churches in my faith crisis and the issues I encountered. That post alone could almost be a book. In reflecting back on the evangelism that I encountered after my faith crisis I want to shake my head with frustration and angst because in all likelihood just the opposite will happen when it comes to evangelizing. There is something that has been on my mind that I wanted to explore in this particular post. That issue is how unlikely it will be that many evangelical Christians will be unable and unwilling to reach many atheists and those outside their evangelical bubble. There are many factors that come into play and with that let’s commence looking at the reasons.

  • The biggest obstacle that evangelicals have against them when it comes to working with and speaking to atheists is the following. Evangelicals often lack love in their interaction and beliefs. Actually its no surprise that many evangelicals are today known for what they are opposed to instead of what they are for. But love can move mountains if it is practiced, I explored that in a couple of posts already here. You can read those here and here.
  • Another factor is many evangelicals come from a culture that is anti-intellectual. Let’s be honest…people like CS Lewis and Philip Yancey are the exception and not the norm. I often wonder privately if the reason why people like CS Lewis and Alistar Beg became intellectual giants becuase they bring that intellectual background with them from atheism when they became Christians. Many parts of evangelicalism lack intellectualism. When I read Philip Yancey’s work one comment that kept popping up over and over is how he has spent his lifetime in recovery from the evangelical Christian church. Its in areas like this that the evangelical Christian approach of hostility to science, academia, etc.. comes back to haunt them, and just backfires Many atheists and people on the outside of evangelicalism have a high approach to intellectualism, science, and other educational disciplines. When the spokesmen for evangelicalism are questionable individuals like Ken Ham or David Barton…do we honestly think that we are going to be able to engage the outside world? Now in raising Ken Ham please note I am not saying that a personal belief in Young Earth Creationism is the issue. It can be made an issue when it becomes primary doctrine as the way some evangelicals do, but there are others who don’t do that at all. What I am saying is that when your spokesman is questionable and wrapped up in needless controversy it becomes another needless issue. Ken Ham has no scientific credentials and no Biblical scholarship. I have often been puzzled as to how did he became the go to person for the creationist issue?  When it comes to David Barton I’ve been following from time to time Warren Throckmorton’s covering of the issues surrounding him. The issues are too numerous and deal with an outrageous twisting of history to include Barton’s claim that Jefferson could never free his slaves to justifying the destruction of the Indians in King Philip’s War in Colonial American history. There is so much distortion by David Barton that I would say his work ceases to be history and instead is mere propaganda. I’ve done graduate work in history and I’ve been taken back by the pseudo approach to history that David Barton has had. His work wouldn’t past the muster at many universities and academic programs. So why do I write this? I spend some time to illustrate how we shoot ourselves in the foot when we create and support individuals like David Barton or Ken Ham and others. Due to the people we uphold evangelicals will be unable to academically engage those in atheism especially since many atheists have a high view of science, education, etc…
  • Many evangelicals are too sensitive, easy to offend, and trigger happy in response to the next issue I want to raise. Many evangelicals worry too much about violence, language, sex, and so many other issues, in other words many evangelicals are too sensitive. This is the primary reason why when discussing how to deal with a person in a faith crisis why I wrote about growing thick skin. I get a good laugh in reflecting upon this issue because many atheists are not that sensitive in so many ways. They can be abrasive, rough, intellectual, or course in engaging with a Christian as they can be abrupt. This is the reason why I put the quote by George Carlin as the lead into this post. But that is just the beginning of this issue, for example Christopher Hitchens was known for his “Hitch Slaps”. It goes beyond that with Christopher Hitchens whose language was strong, provocative and brazen. Don’t believe me? Watch this clip of Hitchens talking about Abraham and Isaac. Now did you listen to that? Hitchens says that if God told him to gut his kid, and that we are admire the man who would sacrifice his child, he’d say in response; “Fuck you…” (I’m just quoting from Hitchens) Or consider Greta Christina, when one of the top atheist bloggers who is loved and appreciated publishes a book called Why Atheists Are Angry…99 Things That Piss Off the Godless it leaves me with the following question. How are many evangelicals going to be able to move beyond Greta Christina’s title? Many will be unable to as they will get stuck on one particular word. This is just part of atheist culture in many ways. Don’t believe me? Think I am just quoting the more well known? Spend some time at exChristian.net. Read the stories there and see how people react. I think this is one of the reasons why Dee Parsons was able to engage me. She was not hung up on this issue where as many Christians are, in addition she knew she had to go to another playing field and engage me. Many evangelical Christians are not going to be able to engage because they are too sensitive to things like language, violence, sex, etc… On a side note this doesn’t justify Mark Driscoll. Driscoll’s biggest problem is Driscoll.
  • The “bubble” traps and keeps many evangelicals in their own comfort zone. Lets be honest… many evangelicals have created their own bubbles where they have opted to disengage and remove themselves from the culture. While many claim they do this often with the goal of keeping things safe and protecting people from the world, and staying pure the exact opposite is that many people are entrapped in the bubble. This is part of the reason why when people go to high school, college, etc… their faith implodes and they can’t deal with competing thoughts or ideas. Some ministries which had a good start I feel have unintentionally fallen into this trap. I’m thinking of ministries like Cru that have created safe havens at universities and have led Christians out of the world instead of into it. The problem with the bubble is that many evangelicals have surrounded themselves with like minded people, limited their contacts, and controlled their world to the point that they have made their faith impotent. This is a major issue that has become a factor. Many evangelical Christians living inside the bubble have become so withdrawn from the world that they can’t engage the world.I think its profoundly sad….
  • Many evangelicals have crated their own enemies and taken people who maybe were neutral, or had not thought of these faith issue significantly and had been turned against Christianity by evangelical Christian behavior. Many evangelicals must have an enemy, as such there will always be some form of culture war with some segment of evangelicalism needing and creating conflict. On a side note I personally wonder if this is a legacy of the Cold War. In the 19th century the evangelicals waged a war against alcohol, which eventually led to prohibition. These are some of the enemies that evangelicals have claimed, I would suggest:
    • women
    • Calvinists
    • Arminians
    • Academics
    • Scientists
    • Democrats
    • Gays
    • Catholics
    • Mainline Protestants
    • Hollywood
    • Many forms of musical entertainment
    • Artists
    • The poor
    • Immigrants
  • Another issue is that many evangelicals remove themselves by embracing, and encouraging corruption in Christianity. Listen to this clip by Hemant Mehta, who blogs as The Friendly Athesit. At about the 2 minute mark he talks about how encouraging it is that some Christians have called out Mark Driscoll and challenged him. Its refreshing to hear Christians – from his point of view – that challenge unhealthy pastors, and I would say corruption and so much more. Christians who embrace organizations like Mars Hill Seattle or Sovereign Grace Ministries amidst all the corruption and child sex abuse are giving atheists reasons to stay away. This is the reason why I firmly believe that blogs like Julie Anne Smith’s Spiritual Sounding Board, Todd Whilhelm’s Thou Are the Man, and Dee and Deb’s The Wartburg Watch are some of the most healthiest and robust Christian blogs that exist. They are so desperately needed.

The Greatest Tragedy…

The greatest tragedy comes with the following…and I am thinking of the big picture. Many evangelicals have stereotyped atheists and non-believers. They have been labeled, identified and routinely dismissed. The problem is that many atheists are willing to discuss faith and religion. Some long for discussions that they can have especially if the discussions are intellectual. Jesus once taught that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few (Matthew 9:35-38). There are many atheists closer to Christianity than many Christians know or care about. Since many Christians shut the door and close it they don’t realize how close to the Christian faith some atheists are. The reason why some atheists don’t cross over is because evangelical Christians cannot engage them in their current culture. Its a tragedy and it deeply distress me because its so needless. With that I would like to leave you with XTC’s “Dear God,” its a song about atheism.

 

 

19 thoughts on “Why Evangelical Christians will be Unable to Reach Atheists with the Gospel

  1. So. Much. Truth.

    I was never an atheist. I was raised SBC, and came to faith in Christ at 14. However, whether it was my personality, background, creative interests, or bad social skills, I never had any problems *connecting* with atheists, just by being friendly and open. It’s not my job to correct someone’s grammar, so why should I correct their swearing? And trying to regulate non-Christians into acting like Christians simply NEVER made any sense to me. Unless Christians can have meaningful friendships & dialogue with those who disagree with us (and who may NEVER agree with us!) there will be no common ground to build on.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Question Eagle, when atheists and other unbelievers stand before God in Heaven, will He allow them to blame their lack of belief on Evangelicals they have known? Or will they stand without excuse for having rejected Jesus Christ as their salvation.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sadly, the bubble is getting stronger all the time, and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon. Thanks for mentioning sensitivity, I think that needs to be talked about more. I’ve noticed many Evangelicals have a knee-jerk reaction to any mockery or harsh criticism of Christian beliefs. It automatically turns into an us vs. them situation, with both sides disliking the other even more than before. Yet reacting in verbal angst for the other, instead of peace and self-control, is seen as natural and even healthy sometimes. It proves you won’t “capitulate” to the “culture”. You want “Holiness” instead of “approval”.

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  4. @ senecagriggs yahoo asked,
    “…will He allow them to blame their lack of belief on Evangelicals they have known”

    You’re excusing how the behavior of believers can turn people off to accepting Christ.

    God does not take that lightly. Imagine, you, yes you, can be the reason why someone decides to reject God – whether God decides to hold that individual responsible om Judgment Day or not is a somewhat separate topic.

    “For, as it is written: The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:24)

    “”Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13)

    There are a few other Bible verses that mention how the behavior of believers can cause other people to reject God, and God is not fine with that at all. Instead of chewing out the people for rejecting God there, the onus is put on the believers who are causing others to question, doubt, or reject God.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. (Part 1)
    I related to your post Eagle and agree with much of it.

    Though I have to say my background in Christian apologetics for many years makes me fairly immune from the intellectual arguments I hear from atheists against the faith.

    My own current phase of doubt and drifting away a bit from the Christian faith is not based mainly in intellectual reasons or doubts, but other reasons, such as how Christians treat other professing Christians, and that they are not even, on a most basic level, attempting to live consistently by the Bible’s teachings.

    I do not expect perfection from any Christian, but I’ve been appalled to discover how so many don’t even do the most essential things, such as showing love and compassion to someone who is hurting for whatever reason, or showing patience and compassion towards the Christian who is undergoing a walk through a valley of doubt.

    Even though my morals and politics are fairly right wing, I am tired of the many evangelicals who conflate being a good Christian with being right wing, with the Republican Party, etc.

    I don’t see how evangelicals (the ones who advocate “biblical gender roles” under the rubric of “gender complementarianism”) are any different in their views on women in life, jobs, marriage, etc, than are extremist Muslims or Mormons, who also have very sexist, strident views on a woman’s place in the world (all these groups tend to teach a woman’s only godly role in life is to marry and have children, women should not receive higher education, etc).

    It seems to me Jesus came to restore women to an equal status with men, not keep them in a second class position, but some of these groups – the Christian gender complementarians, Mormons, and radical Muslims, are trying to keep women down.

    I don’t think I want to be party to a faith group that keeps insisting I am “less than” men just on the nature of my birth, that I was born a woman (oh, they will say I am equal in worth but not in role, but that’s just papering over that yes, at the end of the day, their teaching logically leads to the conclusion that women are less in value than men), or that there should be a unilateral submission of woman to man. No thanks to all that.

    Evangelicals and other groups of conservative Christians (as I’ve mentioned at other sites) generally ignore anyone who does not conform to the secular, American 1950s ideal of “married by the age of 25 with three children living at home.”

    If you are childless, childfree, infertile, never married, divorced, or widowed, there is no place for you in a Christian culture that continues to be overly mindful of “the nuclear family.”

    Some polling and research organizations released studies in 2014 that show that over 50% of the American adult population is single now, which includes a lot of never-married adults, too. Do evangelicals try to help, and love on, these singles where they are in their singleness? Nope, they do not.

    No, when evangelicals do bother to discuss singles on their blogs, radio programs, conferences, and in their magazines, it’s to bemoan and criticize the lack of marriage and to make singleness out to be “less than” marriage. They actually attack singleness and make marriage out to be a superior state to being single (which is the reverse of what Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 7.) So, evangelicals are excluding and turning off over half of the American population on that basis.

    (I’ll continue this in a part 2, so I won’t have one huge blog post!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Daisy, my heart is with you. I’ve seen you raise this issue on TWW, and you are 100% correct that the church (generally) does not know what to do with those who fall outside their preferred demographic categories.

      I did not marry until age 37. The annoying, conflicting, demeaning counsel I got and “caught” from the evangelical culture about being single drove me to tears and despair. But by the grace of God, I left the meat market of a mega church’s singles group and found a tiny Anglican church that was okay with me just being a member of the family of God. They were too small to be worried about shunting people into demographic ghettos. Likewise, by the grace of God, I realized that God wasn’t mad at me for desiring a husband and it didn’t make me a second-class Christian.

      Now, as a mid-40s artist type with no children (somewhat by choice, mostly because of necessity), my husband and I again are looking at going to a small church where the whole demographic Balkanizing is less likely and less important. I need and want to know the family of God … ALL of them! The seniors, the teens, the children, the widows. We all belong at the table, not segregated and labeled according to the latest slick marketing plan.

      God bless you, sister. I pray God surrounds you with such “family” so that you will feel loved, validated and appreciated for the unique child of God you are!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Anonnie Mouse.

        I don’t mean to drive people crazy at the Wartburg Watch blog discussing that particular issue, but nobody else really discusses it, or is willing to deal with it.

        The U.S. adult population is a bit over 50% single, but evangelicals keep ignoring or marginalizing this group to minister to married couples who have children.

        I still hope to marry eventually, provided I can meet a decent guy, but I am seeing hair raising stuff on other blogs, like recently, with that lady who had her marriage anulled from her pedophile, Christian husband, and her church (Village Church) put her in discipline for it! I look at things like that, and think, do I really want to be married, if churches aren’t going to be there to help me if the spouse turns out to be a pedophile or abuser?

        While I am still single, though, I wish to be treated as an equal to married couples (with equal respect and consideration, etc), but a lot of evangelicals put never married adults such as me into a “second class citizen” position.

        And yep, evangelicals give a lot of conflicting advice to adult singles who want to marry. Some of the advice is contradictory, some of it is condescending, some of it insulting, some of it impractical, some of it plain stupid. A lot of Christian dating advice directed towards singles over 30 years of age sounds like it’s meant for 15 year olds.

        I’ve since learned to tune out Christian dating and marriage advice and just make my own decisions.

        Anyway, thank you for your words of support, they mean a lot. I hope you find a church where you feel welcome and comfortable.

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  6. (Part 2.)
    I haven’t yet looked around your blog a lot, so I don’t know if you’ve touched on this or not, but most Christians I see do not grapple with the problem of unanswered prayer.

    If you mention God has not meet some need or another in your life, some Christians will go into attack mode at this point, and yell at you that you don’t deserve anything from God, or you will be told that your personal happiness should not matter and is a form of selfishness. None of these responses suffice for someone who truly trusted in God for help, but their petition to God for whatever help they were asking went unanswered.

    Christians are appalling at helping or showing compassion to people who have mental health problems, and some even discourage Christians from seeing doctors and taking medications to treat such illness.

    There are so many other problems I could go on about, but there are many reasons I have partially left Christianity, and most of my reasons don’t have an intellectual bent (though I can see how others may get tripped up over the intellectual aspect).

    I think in the big picture, many evangelicals are not empathetic people. I think that is perhaps the biggest problem with why so many people are leaving churches, why Christians are turning off atheists and others from the faith.

    Evangelicals (and a lot of other conservative Christians) are not carrying out the Bible’s most basic instructions to those who hurt or who have doubts, such as “weep with those who weep.”

    Many evangelicals’ first reaction to a Christian who expresses hurt, pain, or doubt, is to criticize the person, and/or shame them for expressing pain or doubt or disappointment in God, or they get into victim-blaming.

    Hurting people should be able to expect compassion and empathy from Christians, but don’t usually receive any.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. We had two teaching moments in our family in the past week somewhat related to this…..

    A friend of ours comes from a rough place, not really a church person…ever to my knowledge….her and her husband and kids came for the first time the other week. After service, in the ‘lobby’ with lots of people around, she commented very loudly that it had been fucking awesome. Didn’t even blink. Probably didn’t even cross her mind that it was extreme language. I could care less, and I am glad no one else said anything. Two weeks in a row now they have come, and she has asked me to meet with her brother and his estranged wife as they are dealing with heroin addiction. But I could guarantee that if someone busybody dogooder had taken her aside and lectured her on her innapropriate language she would not have returned.

    Our youth pastor does a great job of connecting with unchurched kids. Out of the 60 or so on a Wednesday night at least 20 come from no church background. So….their language can get a bit rough. I know, shocking. This has been an annoyance for some of our more pious families where they don’t let John and Jane go because they might hear bad language….which obviously is ridiculous, but we control it from being a real problem. My five year old loves to sneak up into the youth room(thats where the fun games are) after his programs are over and all the big kids make him feel special. This past week he ‘tattled’ to us about how he heard the big boys saying bad words. We got to have a great conversation with him about how not everyone talks nicely, but that is ok. What is most important is that they know that Jesus loves them and they are welcome at church. And it isn’t his job(or ours) to tell people they have to act better if they are going to come to church.

    Now we did have to circle back to clarify that this did not mean that HE could use bad words, but I think he grasped the idea and why it was important.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Daisy, all of us are sinners. Some have accepted the covering of Jesus as a blood sacrifice for our sins; others have not. I have certainly done and said things – on a pretty regular basis – that are hardly glorifying of God. I am a sinner and stand in need of salvation. If you take me as an example of how a Christian should live; well I’m a pretty poor example. But at heaven’s gate, people will NOT be able to blame their rejection of Jesus Christ on my sins. They will be condemned, without excuse, for their own sins. No Excuses.

    Like

    • @ senecagriggs.

      I accepted Jesus as my savior when I was a kid. I now suspect that most of Christianity is a crock, though I maintain a baseline belief (i.e., that Jesus died for my sins and was raised from the dead). Jury is still out on the rest of it.

      But yes, your behavior that turns others away from Jesus can be attributed to you, not the person who rejects Christ.

      Jesus said that anyone who causes a little one to doubt him, may that person have a millstone tied around his neck and thrown into the sea – Jesus laid responsibility for the kid doubting on the aggressor, not on the kid. Jesus yelled at the Pharisees in the Gospels for turning people off to God from their legalism.

      There are other, similar examples in the Scripture where the one whose actions and attitudes that results in a lost sheep doubting God and staying lost are the ones held responsible by God, and not the lost sheep.

      Your attitude about this is precisely what I was talking about above – instead of showing empathy to someone having doubt, your first reaction is to blame and shame a person.

      You may be a sinner, but God still expects of you (a forgiven Christian sinner) to treat other people a certain way.

      You being a sinner does not give you a free pass to be lax, critical, or indifferent in how your behaviors and attitudes make a poor representation of Jesus to lost people or to Christians who are having a faith crisis.

      You, senecagriggs, may be the very reason someone rejects Christ or belief in God. You.

      Your manner of argument is not going to sway people such as myself, it only turns people off more.

      If you can’t catch a fish using one type of bait, may I suggest you try another type of bait? And the “fish” in this case is telling you exactly what sort of bait you need to be using, and you refuse to take that advice. You want to keep cramming your own brand of bait down my throat, after I have explained that type of bait makes me sick and does not change my mind.
      ——-
      Thank you Eagle for letting me post on your blog. I am sorry I am so long winded, I don’t mean to be. I’ve always been wordy.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I gotta respond to Carlin’s rant by saying that I think he’s just knee-jerking himself off in a very predictable fashion.
    We’ve all heard it before. It falls flat and here’s why:
    All of the evils he throws a tantrum over are all things we as humans have full power over, and full power to make them go away.
    God is not in control over Carlin’s list of evils, we are. Isn’t it about time we start acting like it?

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