Rules for Discussions of Faith, Part II
Last time, we discussed some tips for those times when you are discussing matters of faith with unbelievers. This article will continue those rules.
Know what you believe
As a Christian, it is your duty to know what the Bible says and how to gently explain that to others. While you likely won't have an answer for every issue raised, you should gain the respect of your co worker, colleague, neighbor, etc. by being able to address common objections to faith in a mature manner. This applies to dealing with honest skeptics and not those seeking a fight.
Know what the other believes
It has never been easier to be a skeptic, atheist, bright or whatever they call themselves. Do a Google search and you can find lists of apparent Biblical contradictions and heinous acts by people who called themselves Christian (likewise, these issues have been answered). Do your research. You lose all credibility with your debating partner if you misstate fundamental issues of their side. For example, in Age of Reason, a work still quoted and read by skeptics, Thomas Paine states "The story of the angel announcing what the church calls the immaculate conception, is not so much as mentioned in the books ascribed to Mark, and John; and is differently related in Matthew and Luke." Sigh. Matthew and Luke teach on the "Virgin Birth" not the immaculate conception. The immaculate conception is a Catholic doctrine (which is not mentioned at all in the Bible) that refers to Mary being conceived in such a way as to avoid original sin. If you make such a fundamental error when discussing items of faith, your partner will likely not listen to other things you say no matter how correct you are in them.
The same thing applies to Christians addressing atheists-know what they believe. Don't call atheism a religion. It is a religious belief, but it is not a religion. Saying it is only irritates them and makes it look like you haven't done your research. And as you remove their stated objections to the faith, they will get irritated enough. Similarly, as a discussion on evolution is almost given in such a series, evolution proper does not deal with how life began-biogenesis. It only deals with how that life changed after it began.
Employ the Golden Rule
You want them to treat you with courtesy, you treat them courteously. Don't go for gotcha moments. Don't call names (this should go without saying, but I've seen Christians do it). And if you are discussing a particular author's work and style, it is good to have read the work.
Seek to understand first
Know that the person you are talking with probably did not become an atheist based solely on evidence. Very likely there are deep hurts that have to be healed first. One atheist I know left the faith because his father abused him and (wrongly) justified it from the Bible. Those hurts don't go away after you explain how two seemingly at-odds passages work together-it will take time to heal the wounds. Your job is to reflect the image of God in your discussions and show Christ's love. You can be part of the salve on those wounds.
In all things, pray during these discussions. I have seen many tense discussions calm down after the Christians stopped to pray.
Most importantly, if you aren't in the discussion to bring someone closer to Jesus, then you aren't in it for the right reasons. Remember that and act on it.