Requesting Counsel on Witnessing to Atheist Friend

Discussion in 'Defending the Faith' started by No Name #5, Aug 4, 2010.

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  1. No Name #5

    No Name #5 Puritan Board Freshman

    I would appreciate it if someone could offer me some advice on witnessing to an atheist friend of mine. We've known each other for a couple of years now, & have debated this subject numerous times in the past. They haven't even read the Bible yet, & my insistence thus far has been for them to read & study the Bible for all its worth if they are genuinely interested, because "Faith comes by hearing, & hearing by the Word of God." Since they've yet to do so & don't take any of my explanations as valid, I thought the Spirit must not be working, & decided to do as Jesus instructed: "If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them." (Bear in mind, this is simplifying our discussions quite a lot.) But the other day, because of a book they're apparently reading, we got in a discussion on philosophy, & I unwittingly fell into another intellectual argument. Below is a transcript of the dialogue that followed.

    I received an E-mail after this conversation from them, in which they insisted their same points stubbornly, apparently not understanding anything I've said, & calling me dishonest for disagreeing. My questions are, if you'd be gracious enough to read the AIM conversation: do you think I've gone about explaining the Truth soundly? And do you think I should continue this conversation, or would going about that be in violation of the aforementioned instruction by Jesus?

    Thank you very much & God bless.

    The conversation just began to loop at this point. Your thoughts?
  2. Iconoclast

    Iconoclast Puritan Board Junior

    I have found that unless and until the word of God is understood to be the word of God,you can expect very little to come from philosophical discussions,quoting human authors,carnal reasonings and the like. We are to set forth the scripture faithfully.
    God as creator gives meaning to all things. The truth supressing unbeliever wants to re-define God's reality into his own fantasy world,where he can impress you with his or her thoughts,which are vain imaginations.
    Bring them back to direct scripture quotes, for example'
    Liz....put the word before them in a way that leaves them no comfort outside of Jesus.

    Not everyone will have ears to hear, yet it is that same word that will judge them,not our best philosophical reasonings.:candle:
  3. No Name #5

    No Name #5 Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank so much for the good response. I very much agree. I'm curious, what is your outlook on the apologist Gordon Clark?
  4. Theoretical

    Theoretical Puritan Board Professor

    Scripture matters in these conversations, as does learning about the background of the atheist. I am poor at debating, so I tend to address morality and affirmatively talk about Christianity and my practice, not in a pluralistic way. Most of the time, I find that there are relatively few purely intellectual atheists. Typically, something about organized religion really, really burned them. In many, that includes evangelicalism. For others it's severe suffering, or any number of things.

    Here's a couple of points I've learned:
    1. Atheists have some of the best-tuned hypocrisy detectors imaginable. However, if you've built a relationship with them, you should find them far more forgiving of your flaws than you are of your own, as long as you don't try to minimize your flawedness. If you try to take the moral high ground in any respect apart from talking about Christ's work in you, then you'll get spurned rapidly.
    2. Don't be afraid to agree with them where you have common ground, especially including similar criticisms of a lot of churches and the like.
    3. Focus on getting to know them as people, and understanding how they tick. Learn about their past and how they came to be an atheist.
    4. Be utterly and sincerely humble. Don't be afraid to mention even deep flaws in yourself, including when discussing aspects of morality. By this, you can show them how your righteousness is alien to you. Atheists don't tend to pull the hypocrisy card when you're willing to apply the standard in all of its weight to yourself. It's not comfortable, but owning to deep flaws builds respect.
    5. The Calvinist has a massive advantage in these discussions simply because we recognize and consciously affirm that absolutely nothing about ourselves merits grace at all.
    6. Love them as people, and don't get exasperated if they give some argument you think ridiculous. Of course many of those are ridiculous, but when a mind is darkened by the fall and has not be brought to life in Christ, then certainly their reasoning will be warped.
    7. Avoid talk of "all those bad people out there" and focus on the bad person you know, you.

    Most of all, recognize and remember that this person is made in the image of God and that you are not going to be able save him/her by your own efforts.
  5. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Please be sure that posting private correspondence/conversation in an open forum (even without names) is OK with the other party. It can be a violation of privacy/confidence.

    Second, while people may give you ideas of how to go forward, you need to be careful about becoming little more than a conduit for a new "discussion" taking place between interlocutors here, and a third party elsewhere.

    Thank you.
  6. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    This person tried to knock your assumptions but they have their own assumptions to prove first. To say that the existance or nonexistance of someone or something makes no "difference" to the value of anything else is a little odd considering that if their parents didn't exist their value would effectivly drop to zero. Also beware of their category mistake, Atheists love to make them. Everything they think is like God is in the same category as God, according to them. But is God almost exactly like faireis or Santa Clause? No, their almost nothing alike at all. If Santa Clause doesn't exist what practical or logical difference does it make? None, we don't face any metaphysical, ethical, or meaning of life logical problems to deny the existance of Santa Clause. But as even Atheists admit there are logical problems that result from the denial of the existance of God, this means that they are two logicaly different beings. Thus they are not in the same category and cannot share the exact same attributes, of having no relation to the value of anything for instance. That is a category mistake to take an attribute that belongs to one category of things and ascribe it to a thing not in the same category. Just because fairies, goblins, and Santa Clause make no difference in their existance or lack thereof says nothing about the being of God.
  7. No Name #5

    No Name #5 Puritan Board Freshman

    As a piece of advice, if you are concerned about being a better moderator (please bear in mind I'm not trying to be rude), you should try talking about things like this in a way that's a bit more warm & human. Focusing on a very, very ridiculously minute detail of the thread & then following it up with merely one relevant sentence of advice makes it appear like you're simply bored & looking for a reason to call people out on doing the slightest wrong thing. In short, it comes off as cold & unwelcoming to new members, & like you care more about what they're doing wrong than about them. People in the Reformed circle have a reputation for being cold & stand-offish, & I think it's best we remind each other to avoid this as much as possible. =]

    Thank you.
  8. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    Yikes! Try not to tug on Superman's cape. ;)

  9. No Name #5

    No Name #5 Puritan Board Freshman

    Tug tug tug.
  10. Mushroom

    Mushroom Puritan Board Doctor

    Liz, Rev. Buchanan is both a moderator and a Teaching Elder in the Lord's Church. If the first does not engender respect from you, the second ought. He was encouraging you to honor the rules of common decency and only post private communication on an open web forum with the permission of all the participants. It is not a ridiculously minute detail of this thread, but a very important factor, that a Christian should respect the privacy of even atheists. It is also important that those who call themselves Christians should give double honor to those who labor in the gospel. You say you weren't trying to be rude, so you must be pretty good at it, since you were quite successful without even trying.

    As for this atheist, pray for him, but trying to explain color to a blind man can be a pointless endeavor.
  11. No Name #5

    No Name #5 Puritan Board Freshman

    Well, tugging on a superman's cape is something I'm always willing to do, to be honest, but doing such a thing to a Reverend is something I would never endorse. Of course, I understand & adhere to rules regarding moderators, & I realize that I was out of place when rebuking said moderator publically, but I expected more from a Christian message board than getting an unfeeling admonishment for possibly breaching someone's privacy, rather than having my question(s) answered in a more warm & caring way. Us, as Christians, tend to expect more from each other than we do from unbelievers, even while all we are is - to quote Martin Luther - "snow-covered dung" ourselves.

    Please accept my sincerest apologies.
  12. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    Sigh. You received a warm explanation from Brad, yet continue to belabor indignation of being taken to task by those that you expected more from, all the while sincerely apologizing. A wee bit odd that is, no?

    Moving on...

    Your discussion with the non-believer took a serious left turn around this bit:

    Me: premises work that way.
    Me: deal with it.
    Me: reality could very well violate your rule.
    Me: God could very well work this way.
    Me: just because it doesn't satisfy -you- and how -you- see things is infinitely naive.
    Me: screw Thomists, Cartesians, what have you.​

    I think you need more careful study on the whole domain of apologetics. Here is a good study outline:

    Apologetics Presbytery Examination

    Admittedly, very few could meet this test completely. Instead consider it to be a humbling endeavor to review and examine one's own competencies and shortcomings.

    My recommendation is that with any discussion with a non-believer, the Christian must argue from the presupposition that the Trinitarian God exists and the non-believer cannot even form a sentence claiming knowledge of this or that without assuming as such. As long as they cannot see how they live their lives borrowing from the Christian's world view, including the Good News, further discussion is generally for naught. Your sort of discussion needed more of the Good News early and reliance on the Spirit to do the real work as you leveraged a much deeper knowledge of apologetics, as suggested by the outline linked above, than I saw being demonstrated from your conversational snippet.

    I offer this advice with brotherly love and in the hope that you are open to correction.

  13. No Name #5

    No Name #5 Puritan Board Freshman

    Could you please explain to me what you think is wrong with this? If you already tried, I apologize, but I don't see your point still.

    Also, it's fine that you suggest that what I'm doing is unsound, because you are only answering my question, which was asked because I always want to make sure I don't undermine the Truth in any way, shape, or form. I just need to know what you see wrong with this so I can work to improve it. Even though you provided me a link, I don't know what I will find to correct me in it (I've already read that website previously), unless you give me an idea of what you see as unsound first. Thank you very much.
  14. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    My point in posting these snippets was to showcase a less than irenic approach to proper dialog. Once you devolve a conversation in this manner with anyone, the old saying proves true: "mud slung is ground lost". ;)

    BTW, what do I call you? Is E-Liz short for Elizabeth?

  15. No Name #5

    No Name #5 Puritan Board Freshman

    So you're referring to "deal with it" & "screw (various philosophers here)"? I've known this person for a couple of years now, & we communicate with each other this way humorously & lightly. Please note that I said were were "friends". Even in the subsequent E-mail they sent, there were many references to in-jokes of ours. We have this kind of relationship. The question in my thread was asking if you think anything I said was unsound. I don't see how this has anything to do with passing a college-level apologetics test, as well...

    Yes, E-Liz is short for Elizabeth.
  16. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable


    Thanks for the background. I am old-school, and think that any sincere discussion of sacred topics warrants great care and circumspection. I agree with you that when we are all sitting around with friends discussing things like religion, politics, etc., we rely upon the vernaculars of the present age and casual observers listening in can unfairly misconstrue motives. Yet, for me, and old fuddy duddy, ;) when it comes time to engage in a one on one with a non-believer, serious matters are afoot, and I do not rely upon casualness of conversation. I also do not seek common ground, for I believe there can be no common ground between the totally depraved non-believer and the believer.

    Perhaps you have been through all of this with your correspondent. Perhaps your post of the conversation was but one of a series of conversations long since past. All I or anyone here has is what you have placed before us for review. Thus, given the only evidence before me, I cannot read in any other background, nor between the lines. My general opinion of the entire conversation is not going to change. I thought it needed more seasoning from greater knowledge. I am unwilling to dissect it line by line, and assume you don't want anyone to do that anyway. For example, your frequent dismissal of begging the question argumentation is simply erroneous, as we all argue circularly, unless we are wholly autonomous beings. Just explaining that matter alone warrants a new thread. ;) Another example: you claim often God created morality. Again another thread would be needed to dig into exactly what you mean by this and to tease out a more proper means of relating God and morality to others. Finally, you seem to admit you cannot argue God's existence. This statement stands bereft of any support for the rationality of our faith and irrationality of non-belief. Here you let pass important aspects of the believer's world view that could be juxtaposed against the non-believer's. And so on.

    As for your last "college-level apologetics test", I sense some indignation. I could be wrong. Perhaps this is just lingering from the way things have progressed in this thread. So I would kindly ask that you resist this feeling to take a subtle swipe at me or anyone else who is taking the time to actually communicate with you. No one wants you to pass a test. I made my rationale clear when I suggested the link. You are correct to ask that I try to steer you in some direction related to your original post. I hope the above has helped somewhat.

    And let me just say, welcome to PB! I am genuinely looking forward to more of your posts and the discussions they will engender.

    Group hugs everyone!

    So how can anyone else assist in improving the OP for the glory of God?

  17. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    Being new to the Board, there are some rules here that take getting used to.

    The goal of course, is truthful and biblical discussion, and that is taken seriously here.

    A few thoughts about that, not to discourage you, but to help get off on a right foot.

    The Ninth Commandment has broad application to the way we behave, and often we are not even conscious of it- including even things like printing conversations with another without their permission.

    Only since being on Puritan Board have I become more aware that things like that matter, to our God.:)
  18. Iconoclast

    Iconoclast Puritan Board Junior

    Hello e-liz,
    I am not that familiar with Gordon Clark ,so I am not really qualified to comment specifically about him.
    If the truth be known i back away from this type of philisophical apologetic,and discussion whether it be someone like Gordon Clark, or another that comes to mind is Ravi Zacarias.
    These men and these discussions have some place or use in the world,and I know many have profited somewhat from them and their efforts.
    I once heard Ravi Z on a radio program and he was an interesting speaker. I ordered some tapes of his to listen to.
    I was disappointed in that as I listened to him it was more about philosophy,than Jesus. It was more about philosphical rabbit trails, than the real world,the blood of the cross, the scripture.
    I understand that in some way he was trying to bring the discussion full circle and relate it to apologetics. For me personally it was getting away from how the apostle Paul wrote about human philosphy in 1Cor1-2 , and how Paul dealt with those on Mars hill in Acts 17. Then again I am expressing a personal opinion,and my limitations might not allow me to grasp what some of these men are "seeing". Once in awhile I will read some of these ideas, but overall it is out of my theological comfort zone.Sorry I cannot be of more help.
    PS. Welcome to the PB;
  19. No Name #5

    No Name #5 Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you for your response, Iconoclast. =] (LOVE the name, in passing.) Although I enjoy Ravi Z., I don't think there's any sound comparison to his philosophy & that of Gordon Clark's. I respect that you feel that it's out of your "theological comfort zone", so to speak, but I expect that you'll find Gordon Clark much more agreeable to the traditional Calvinist position. I'd suggest that you'd at least give him a try sometime, whenever you're ready, before forming any preconceptions. You might be wonderfully surprised.

    Well, this is palpably untrue, to be honest, because the contrary is quite clearly stated in the OP.

    The fact that we all argue circularly doesn't excuse them from begging the question. It's an inescapable fallacy when anyone begins to attempt to argue the so-called "problem of evil", foolishly asserting that their morals are somehow superior to God's, when they simply CANNOT be, because God's nature is all-good. The very problem is that that they apparently care to argue against what is, in their opinion, a "hypothetical" God, but refuse to be honest & admit that their ethical opinion would have nothing in contrast to an omniscient, omnipotent, omni-etc. being who is also all-good in the first place. It would be seen as nothing but defiance which, in Christianity, would have its roots in the Adam & Eve rebellion occurring in Genesis. They inevitably beg the question of their judgment as a result.

    Do you disagree with this somehow? Why?

    The point here was to make it intelligibly known that God is above the law, being that what the atheist in the conversation was attempting to do was, in their own words, "give equal consideration to god's side just as I would with anyone." By trying to emphasize how Holy & above the law He is, I affirmed that He created morals, which fundamentally reveals that God is above all things, & that you can't even begin to wrap your head around Him, let alone start to "give equal conderation" to Him as one would do "with anyone".

    Do you disagree with this somehow? Why?

    My presupposition is evidently Faith, theirs is evidently unbelief. It is my understanding that there is an overwhelming quantity of evidence that points to "a god" & "a creator", but not unavoidably to The Creator, the Trinitarian God. When I made the aforesaid affirmation, I did so with this exact understanding in mind. Also, I cannot help but feel compelled to state here that all the evidence for the existence of God is for the believer alone & not the unbeliever. It is there only to render unbelievers guilty & without excuse.

    Do you disagree with this somehow? Why?

    There's no indignation. I desired nothing more than to comprehend what you meant. You seemed to have acheived that more in this post, & you truly have my gratitude, & quite kindly. =]

    Awh, thank you for the welcome, I'm looking forward to more discussions with you & everyone else myself.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2010
  20. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    Until you and your atheist freinds can agree on a definition of "God" you won't get anywhere but keep talking past each other. They are arguing against a generalized "God" where they have defined the terms so they can easily knock down their straw-God. You should be arguing from the Biblical view of God. Until you both can talk about the same thing you aren't really talking.

    I would also suggest, if you haven't already, getting to know them more personally. Talk about other things beside this topic. They (and you) will be more cordial and open to discuss things with a friend than with just an internet debater in a chat room. :2cents:
  21. No Name #5

    No Name #5 Puritan Board Freshman

    I already addressed this later on in the conversation, which wasn't posted because I wanted to curtail it so it wouldn't be too overwhelming to read. They responded to it accordingly in the E-mail that followed our IM chat (they're quoting me in the 1st paragraph):

    It seems to me that they are blindly presupposing that they can invent the rules & call anyone "dishonest" who disagree. I'd be curious to hear anyone's thoughts anyway, though, because I always believe that 2 minds are far better than one & that there is wisdom in plurality.

    I already know them very well personally. We've known each other for a couple years, as plainly outlined in the OP.
  22. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    Begging the question is irrelevant. We all do so.

    There is no defect of reasoning called "begging the question" aside from a certain prohibited move in the Academic game of elenchus.

    "A, therefore A" is deductively valid.

    Another one..

    God has all the virtues.
    Therefore, God is benevolent.

    Clearly, the question of whether an argument begs the question is a matter of the context of dialog. While the above would get no mileage with a non-believer, it is very reasonable for the believer.

    There are only two proper ways of condemning such an argument - because the conclusion does not follow from the premises, or because the premises are not acceptable to the person to whom the argument was directed. It is easy to argue that begging the question does not fit into either category, and conclude that it is not a proper criticism of an argument. All premises themselves are constructed from inductive arguments--generalizations of particularizations. We know nothing but from induction. All human thought is circular and finite.

    I don't subscribe to the Clarkian argumentation of God being ex lex. It ignores the very nature of God. Again, this would need to be another topic in a separate thread.

    If yours is faith, and theirs is unbelief, how is not both views faith based? The latter simply faith in unbelief. This is where others have already suggested getting everything defined early: Who is God? Once the unbeliever utters "God" he has stepped into an inconsistency of his own claimed views. For that matter, once the unbeliever attempts to predicate any view, they have borrowed from the believer's world view. Spending time showing that inconsistency to the unbeliever is, to me, the vital issue.

  23. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    All I can suggest is to help him/her to be convinced that axioms cannot be proven but are assumed according to a particular worldview. They are essentially "irrational" and the reasons for settling on those axioms and not others are subjective. Arguments for and against atheism stems from worldviews which cannot be rationally resolved. We are simply too sinful to be adequately rational. I like an apologetic that deals with matters of the heart: identity, significance, hope, forgiveness, etc.
  24. No Name #5

    No Name #5 Puritan Board Freshman

    It's far better when God begs the question than when man does.

    This is analogous to when unbelievers say that the Bible must have faults & inconsistencies because it was written from a finite human hand, & appear shocked that we would put trust in it for this reason. The typical response applies to your reasoning as to them: God the Father supersedes this with the Holy Spirit. The authors of the Bible & all who are saved no longer think purely inductively (in the sense that the conclusions could be false or "finite") since we have been endowed with Spiritual knowledge. It's not inductive or deductive reasoning, precisely, it's divine reasoning.

    If you have some time, would you read this essay & let me know your thoughts? If it's necessary, feel free to make a new thread detailing your outlook & link me to it here after having done so. Thank you very kindly.

    It's not that simple. Faith, as is Biblically defined, is knowledge. Faith, as is defined by man, is a type of wishful thinking. The difference is monumental.

    I've tried doing this before. I keep suggesting they read the Bible before coming to a firm, set-in-stone viewpoint on Christianity, but they apparetly have yet to do so - as affirmed, once more, in the OP. Should I now "shake the dust off my feet" and walk away, do you think?
  25. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Well begging the question is a serious fallacy in logic which involves more than you mentioned. The problem is when you make a argument like so:
    1. atheists are always right
    2. an atheist says that they are always right
    3. therefore all atheists are right

    The conclusion is one of the premises thus making a formal fallacy of logic. I have also seen it used to draw attention to unanswered questions in an argument like so:
    1. christians don't worry about nuclear war
    2. it is wrong not to worry about nuclear war
    3. therefore christians are wrong

    Although it is not formaly a fallacy, that I know of, it does seriously beg the question of why it is wrong not to worry about nuclear war. Premise 2 is the problem here and needs to be proven in order for the argument to be trueful. The uses you gave of begging the question are more of pressupossitions or assumptions not the formal fallacy mentioned above. The atheist in the OP did beg the question by not providing a solid basis for ethics before making condemnations of the christian point of view, refusing to answer a legitmate logical question almost always invalidates ones point of view.

    I don't mind him but I favor Van Til over him. I think Van Til had a much more robust view of things, I like Dooyweerd as well. I take it you like Clark? His book on language was very good I thought. Although he and I would disagree over the later Witgenstien, he didn't like him and I do.

    ---------- Post added at 05:03 PM ---------- Previous post was at 05:02 PM ----------

    Welcome to the PB!
  26. Zenas

    Zenas Snow Miser

    Personally, I find it far better to ask questions to deconstruct the opposing worldview rather than try and prove my own. I know mine is internally consistent. What's more is it's quite simple. It's simply unacceptable to the unbeliever on its face. Rather than quibble over what I know they're not going to accept, I ask questions to point out the absurdities of their own worldview which only serve to highlight the simple consistency of mine. It works quite well.

    For instance, if an atheist told me they were an atheist because they believe religion is evil, I'd ask them to define evil without relying on religious terms. Depending on the philosophical argument they revert to, either utilitarianism or subjectivism (most likely), I'd continue asking questions to illustrate that they can't define evil without using religion and therefore they have no reason to reject religion. In fact, they rely on religion to reject it. Contrast this with Christianity which can readily define evil.

    Don't let them assume terms. Make them define the most basic assumptions they make like morality, good, evil, etc. Don't even let them state one position is more favorable than another without defining what makes it more favorable and why, providing criteria to determine favorability-all without using religious qualifiers.

    In sum, spend your time on their end of the field, not yours. To do otherwise is to concede a litany of assumptions they make which essentially handicaps you because they're writing the rules in their own favor.
  27. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    Sounds nice, but don't really know what this means or what you think it means.

    The issue is what inductive means. For me: inferring something general from something particular. Nothing more.

    I have made a copy of the item and will get around to it soon. Thanks.

    That's the spirit! Missing in your OP snippet, no? Which was my actual point in that I think you let too much slide in the conversation. That said, my view would be faith is knowledge, assent, and confidence in the truths of God.

    No, don't give up just yet. As others have suggested along my own lines of thought, attacking the irrationality of the unbeliever's world view is the first and only place to start. Asking them to read the Bible is a great suggestion. But I think you motivate the need to do so by demonstrating that they cannot even speak of God without presupposing God. ;)

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