Talking to unbelievers about God is no easy task.
Thankfully, Scripture has much to say about how to engage with them! The book of Proverbs is especially helpful in this regard. This book of the Bible contains several practical guidelines for Christian apologists to follow. Below are 8 proverbs to remember when you dialogue with an unbeliever. Let’s dive in!
1. Don’t Correct a Scoffer.
“Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:7-8).
I have struggled with this one a lot. We cannot know what people are thinking, but we can use God-given discernment to determine when we come across a scoffer. Scoffers are people who don’t want to have a genuine conversation. They merely ridicule and slander their opponents. Over time, it becomes easier to spot scoffers before you get too deep in conversation. According to this proverb, sometimes we do more damage by correcting someone that doesn’t care what we have to say. So don’t be afraid to end conversations when a scoffer emerges.
2. Don’t Overstate Your Case.
“Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit” (Proverbs 12:17).
One of our goals as apologists is to present the best case that we can. This doesn’t mean, however, that we should present our case with more confidence or certainty than we actually have. More importantly, we should never present “evidence” that is misleading, inconclusive or plain false! Be honest when the evidence for a particular point is not as strong as you might like. After all, poor arguments are not going to help anyone.
3. Listen Carefully to the Other Side.
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2).
“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13).
“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17).
I am certainly not an expert in apologetics, but I do know that we are wasting our time if we never give the unbeliever a chance to talk. We must hear their stories and their arguments and try to see things from their perspectives. Apologetics is not about getting our views and opinions out there and halting the conversation. Listen carefully first and give them a fair shake. Also, acknowledge a good objection or admit when you are wrong! It goes a long way.
4. Think Before You Answer.
“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Proverbs 15:28).
As obvious as this seems, God put it in Scripture for a reason. In the heat of the moment, especially when your character is being attacked, it’s easy to blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind. Instead, pause and think about what a person is really saying. Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know, let me research and think about this and get back to you.”
Sometimes giving an answer can be worse than no response at all. For example, you don’t want to list out 10 cold theodicies to someone who just lost his spouse. Pray and seek the leading of the Holy Spirit on how to answer objections to the faith.
5. Don’t Let Their Insults Get to You.
“The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult” (Proverbs 12:16).
I’ll never forget the comments on my first post with A Clear Lens. An atheist swarmed the comment section with lengthy paragraphs and threw in a few insults for good measure:
“Perhaps you should read or watch Ehrman again and try to refrain from applying an apologist mind-set but rather exercise a more open minded historian’s type perspective?”
“Only those blinded by indoctrination accept the biblical tale as written. You should actually research the origins of this creation myth.”
It got even worse when my post was re-blogged on this atheist’s site, where the title was changed to “Indoctrination or Simply Plain Bloody Stupid?” Other atheists chimed in and slandered me in the comments section. Here were two of my favorites:
“Stunning. Absolutely stunning. The blatant stupidity emanating from Mr. Bryant’s reply to you is so powerful it almost feels like a physical assault against the body. Deliberate, chosen ignorance is as much a disease in our society as is cancer, and Mr. Bryant is crawling with it.”
And more simply put, “Typical prick head, wanna be apologist.”
It’s easy to take offense at comments like these. But in situations like these, remember Jesus’ words: “If anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town” (Matthew 10:14).
6. Don’t Make It About Winning Arguments.
“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles” (Proverbs 24:17).
I have always loved the saying, “Win the person, not the argument.” When debating a skeptic, our goal isn’t to trip him up or rejoice when he is proven wrong. We aren’t about scoring intellectual points or showing our superiority. Sadly, I’ve seen many Christians rejoice when seeing the other side fall. I’ve seen some go as far as insulting the person’s intelligence.
When an unbeliever makes a misstep in his argument, use that opportunity to pray. Ask that God would use this experience to show him the error of his way and lead him to the knowledge of the truth.
7. Don’t Trust Your Own Wisdom.
“Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:7).
You aren’t that smart, and neither am I. It’s easy for us apologists to trust our own background experience, our own education, and our own wittiness. Yes, we should be diligent in our studies. Yes, we should know our stuff. But the fact of the matter is, we will never have all of the answers and know what to say all of the time. We have to lean on God and His understanding, and ask Him for wisdom when engaging unbelievers.
8. Commit Your Work of Apologetics to the Lord.
“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16:3).
Don’t forget our motivation in doing apologetics. We desire for others to trust in Christ, and we know that only God can draw them. If our work in apologetics is for our own glory, then it will certainly fail. But if we engage with unbelievers to please God alone, the Lord will establish our ministry.
These are just some of the Proverbs that have been helpful for me when engaging unbelievers. As Jesus commands us, we must “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). I pray that God would bless your work in apologetics!
I’d also love to hear from you. What are some verses in Proverbs or other passages in Scripture that you find helpful when talking with unbelievers? Comment below!