I can’t believe this post needs to be written, but it does. Too many Christians seem to feel a freedom to treat atheists (or others with whom they disagree) with condescension. It’s couched in “truth in love” language, of course, but it only serves to reinforce negativity.
So I’m going to reveal the age-old mystery on how to befriend an atheist (bonus: this advice will help build relationships with anyone):
5 Tips for Making Friends With Atheists
1. Quit trying to save them
If you’re thinking about befriending an atheist because you’re hoping to get them saved, DON’T. People aren’t tasks, and evangelism built upon the pretense of relationship is no good to anyone.
Jesus always seemed to be surrounded by an entourage of people that the religious establishment detested. They were obviously drawn to him because he valued them just as they were. People can see through our agendas easily enough . . . even when we call it friendship.
Before you start interacting with anyone, you should ask yourself if you’d be willing to love and accept them if they never change. If the answer’s no, close this browser window right now and go do something else. Atheists don’t need you for a friend.
The irony is that a true friendship without an agenda will enable you to have many deep conversations about life and faith, but it will happen naturally because you have a relationship. But it’s not the reason you have a relationship.
2. You don’t have to defend the Gospel
I wrote a post called The Gospel’s Too Silly to Be Mocking Other Faiths. Its point was that, when we truly look at our faith from an outsider’s perspective, we can see that we believe some crazy stuff. Maybe we don’t have to treat people like Christianity is so self-evident —
because it’s not. Your own faith says that you wouldn’t believe if it wasn’t revealed to you (John 6.65″ data-version=”nasb95″ data-purpose=”bible-reference”>Jn 6:65).
A pastor friend of mine chided me because posts that make light of our beliefs enable people to disregard the Gospel. Dude, they’re atheists — they already disregard the Gospel. But here’s the thing: my blog is regularly read by atheists. I have a lot of atheist friends, and I don’t feel I have to downplay my faith at all to keep them around.
The reason they are willing to engage with me is [that] I’m not on the defensive all the time.
If Christianity is true, then it’s not a Fabergé egg that needs to be protected from mean pagans. We need to honestly see what our faith looks like from someone else’s perspective. We need to be completely transparent about how Christianity can be misrepresented by us screwed-up people (and often preyed upon by people who take advantage of our naiveté).
If asked, I’m always “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks me to give the reason for the hope that I have.” (1 Peter 3:15) But that doesn’t give me license to get into endless arguments. In fact, its focus is on responding to people who ask me — not ongoing around looking for people to force my opinions on. Have you ever noticed that? The active focus is on preparation, not on confrontation.
And even in response, Peter encourages “gentleness and respect.”
3. Lighten up
I follow a couple atheist friends on Twitter with pretty large social platforms, so I see a steady stream of “deluded Christians” and “idiots who believe the bible” tweets. Sometimes it bums me out because, although I consider them friends, I fall within the demographic that they feel such contempt for.
Most Christians find their identity in the Gospel. When someone is crass and aggressively dismissive of their faith, they feel personally attacked, and their natural response for many is to strike back — or get bitter.
But take a deep breath and think about this for a minute. . . where is your significance supposed to come from? If you’re a Christian, I hope you said Christ. Nothing else can really diminish you, and you don’t have to get all up in arms about other people’s opinions.