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This is intended to be a question of general applicability, but in all honesty, I'm asking inspired by concrete YouTube channels that promote atheism and skepticism, most notably, CosmicSkeptic and RationalityRules. These are examples of a special category of atheists that stand out for their remarkable understanding of philosophy, logical thinking, and skepticism, as well as their outstanding debating skills, even against renowned Christian apologists. Just to give you an idea, Alex O'Connor, the founder of CosmicSkeptic, has debated William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, Jonathan McLatchie, Trent Horn and several other defenders of the faith.

When it comes to atheists of this caliber, I see no possible way of evangelizing them through purely intellectual/argumentative means. Not even the best apologists have managed to do so. If I were asked my honest opinion, I would say that the only thing that can turn them around would be a supernatural, "road to Damascus" kind of experience. I see no other way.

But leaving my personal opinions aside, I would like to know if there are any denominations that provide official advice on how to evangelize highly intellectual and well-spoken atheists and skeptics. What recommendations do they give to win strong atheists for Christ? Or is this category of atheists simply a lost cause and the only thing that we can do is to throw up our hands, leave them alone and hope for the best?

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    You've got more respect for these atheists than you do for the power of the gospel. Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 3:18
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    @TheChaz2.0 - are you saying this from personal experience? Have you dealt with strong atheists in the past?
    – user50422
    Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 3:24
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    Excellent question, and one that deserves a considered and honest answer. I am inclined to agree with you that it takes "a supernatural experience", but since Christians are told to defend the faith given to them during the first century, then they should have a response. Off to dig up some material (could take a while).....
    – Lesley
    Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 8:16
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    The fool hath said in his heart, God is not. Answer not a fool according to his folly lest thou be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit. [Psalm 14:1, Proverbs 26:4, Proverbs 26:5.]
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 9:27
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    We do better to preach the Gospel by word and deed than to argue about it! Many denominations offer advice, but not in an official manner. I think you can find an answer with some individual preachers offering advice with this rather than a whole denomination.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 17:06

5 Answers 5

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I do not have this as an official denominational teaching from either the Baptist church I started out in or the Foursquare Church I currently attend but the grassroots teaching and practical lifestyle are generally as follows with the Baptists leaning heavier on doctrine and reason while Foursquare lifts interpersonal relationship to higher relevance.

By and large a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ is not initially accessed intellectually (Matthew 16:17). Appreciation of it can grow in the rational mind once the mind has begun to be renewed beginning at the new birth but very few (if any) can be reasoned into the kingdom. This is because the sin nature lies beneath and empowers the intellect. Until slavery to sin is broken the intellect has no other master.

That is not to say that reason should not be employed in defense or proclamation of the Gospel. When the Apostle Paul would enter a town he would go first to the synagogue and reason with the Jews from the Scriptures (and I daresay he might have swayed some) and when he was in Athens at the Areopogus, he reasoned with the philosophers and skeptics of his day according to their proclivities. What he also did, however, was to be very careful about how he lived among them so that, when his preaching was done, his message would not be disqualified by his way of life. I don't know if it is fair to say that one avenue carries more power than another.

Then, too, there were "ships passing in the night" opportunities where only a brief interaction was afforded. Only from God's perspective can the effect of such interactions be properly weighted. Behind, under, and over any evangelization effort lies the power of prayer as we minister the Gospel of the God who saves.

But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,  for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. - Ephesians 5:13-17

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    To do justice to Paul, he also had a powerful card up his sleeve. 1 Cor 2:4-5 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.; Rom 15:19 by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.
    – user50422
    Commented Mar 13, 2021 at 1:24
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    Yes he did. But he also said "Follow me as I follow Christ". Commented Mar 13, 2021 at 2:02
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    It's only tangential to the question, but I'll comment on your assertion that "a relationship with Jesus Christ is not accessed intellectually." While it certainly requires more than intellectual study, I think that many Christians (including myself) will assert that intellectual study and logical reasoning were pretty crucial to their being willing to take their first steps of faith towards Christ. I imagine that someone who didn't grow up with engineers for parents would take a different approach, but I think God is capable of talking to each of us in the language of our understanding.
    – Lige
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 0:38
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    "I think God is capable of talking to each of us in the language of our understanding." I totally agree but whether he speaks to us through circumstance, dream, or intellect it is not my intellect but His speaking to my intellect that gets the glory. If the eyes of my understanding are not opened I am blind. Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 11:56
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    Yes, I believe that we agree.
    – Lige
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 18:53
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The only Protestant denomination I have found that gives unofficial advice about sharing the gospel with atheists or agnostics is the Free Church of Scotland. Professor Donald Macleod, Systematic Theology Professor at the Free Church of Scotland College, takes an uncompromising stand and has this to say:

  1. No Christian can accept peoples' claims to be atheists or agnostics. Such claims contradict what the Bible tells us about human nature. Wherever we go, Christians have to assume that there is a divinely implanted awareness of God in every human soul.
  1. Christians can take it for granted that basic religious concepts such as God, eternity, holiness, sin and judgment are meaningful to all men and women. To begin our evangelism by trying to get behind this framework (by setting out to prove that God exists) is to walk into a philosophical maze. Christians should not confuse knowledge of God (religion) with knowledge of how we know Him (epistemology). Unfortunately, on here a lot of Christians make that mistake.
  1. All Christian witness must start from the assumption that 'the seed of religion' exists in every human heart. All people have a sense of the holy, of the spiritual. Everyone has a feeling of dependence. All have God's law within their hearts. They all know that they are answerable to God. No matter how loudly they protest to the contrary! Christians are not called to instil these instincts into people. Our responsibility is to build on the foundation which God has already laid.

Source: 'Behold Your God' by Donald Macleod pp 26-27 (Christian Focus 1990); Systematic Theology Professor at the Free Church of Scotland College

During my search for relevant information, I found two quotes from Aiden W. Tozer which speaks to your comment that “the only thing that can turn [atheists] around would be a supernatural, "road to Damascus" kind of experience. I see no other way.”

“The Spirit never bears witness to an argument about Christ, but He never fails to witness to a proclamation of Christ crucified, dead and buried, and now ascended to the right hand of the Majesty on high… Light is not enough. The inward operation of the Holy Spirit is necessary to saving faith. The gospel is light but only the Spirit can give sight.” (Born After Midnight)

What it means to be crucified [Romans 6:6 & Galatians 2:20]: Self is the opaque veil that hides the Face of God from us. It can be removed only in spiritual experience, never by mere instruction. As well try to instruct leprosy out of our system. There must be a work of God in destruction before we are free. We must invite the cross to do its deadly work within us. We must bring our self-sins to the cross of judgment. (The Pursuit of God)

To answer your question: As far as I know, there is no Christian denomination that gives official advice on how to win atheists for Christ. I only know that Christians are urged to "speak the truth in love" to atheists and to all others, and not to get into arguments about words. That detracts from pointing people to "the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3). Christians should care about atheists to the extent that they are prepared to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them, so that they might come to know the love of God. Christians can, and should, simply share with them the reality of Christ (their own testimony, which might not be believed but cannot be refuted) and use that to explain the gospel of Christ to them. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.

That’s because coming to faith in Christ is not a head-trip – it’s a heart transplant.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Additional information and Resources for further investigation: There are many eminently qualified and intellectual Christians who have publicly debated with atheists. A now-dead former atheist and intellectual famously declared that he was the most reluctant of converts to Christianity (C.S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity”). The Reverend D. Robertson (Free Church of Scotland) has blog sites and books, such as ‘The Dawkins Letters – Challenging Atheist Myths’ (Christian Focus 2007). Professor John C. Lennox has had public debates with atheists Christopher Hitchens (now dead), Richard Dawkins, Laurence Kruss, Stephen Law and Peter Singer. Lennox has written a book 'Gunning for God: A Critique of the New Atheism' (Lion, 2011). John Stott - 'Why I Am a Christian,' (IVP, 2003) p. 87 (a riposte to Bertrand Russell's earlier work, 'Why I Am Not a Christian')

I have read the book ‘36 Arguments for the Existence of God’ by Rebecca Goldstein (First published in U.S.A. in 2010 by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House Inc.) The purpose of Goldstein’s book is to refute the existence of God. The following article presents the case for God’s existence: https://peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm

This article invites atheists to focus on truth, regardless of beliefs and clears up some misconceptions (the source is a Protestant evangelical organisation, not a denomination: https://www.gotquestions.org/atheist-Christian.html

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/ is dealt with in this article: https://www.gotquestions.org/skeptics-annotated-Bible.html The purpose of the Got Questions article is to point out the fallacies behind the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible.

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As Ken Graham says, you are probably going to find much more in specific ministries than official church programs.

Within Catholicism, the Word on Fire ministry has focused to a significant degree on intellectual atheists. You can see here

https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/browse/topic/atheism/

for some resources from them on this topic.

However, when you say "I see no possible way of evangelizing them through purely intellectual/argumentative means." I think this is right. Very rarely, an atheist might change to belief in God through entirely abstract argumentation, but at that point, they still lack the experiential reference points that, IMHO, are more important. You're not really fighting the intellectual beliefs. Yet, I think removing intellectual obstacles to an ongoing relationship with God is usually going to be important, either way.

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    (USE OF EVIDENCE) Many misunderstand the use of evidences in Evangelism! They remove weeds so seeds can be planted. They eliminate misconceptions about "blind faith." They are "tools" in the hands of the Holy Spirit. They are grease on the hinges of the closed mind so it will open easily when Christ comes knocking! Much of "proofs, syllogisms, evidence" is PRE-EVANGELISM. Many intellectuals and scientists have come--at least from atheism to agnosticism--by seeing "Design" in the universe (Romans 2 and17). Prevenient grace leads logic to the Omniscient Mind...and a Gracious God.
    – ray grant
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 22:49
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I'll offer a brief supplemental argument from the perspective of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

From the record of the prophet Alma:

And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God. (Alma 31:5)

Nephi taught:

when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men. (2 Nephi 33:1b)

--

The wisdom of the world is a constantly changing picture. It can answer many questions, but in doing so has a funny way of creating at least as many new ones (e.g. because more is known about the universe today than 4,000 years ago, we are asking more unanswered questions about the universe today than people were 4,000 years ago).

Knowledge that the world gives, the world can take away. Knowledge that God gives is knowledge the world cannot touch.

--

Conclusion

The word of God and the influence of the Holy Spirit can change hearts & minds (specifically open hearts & minds) in a way nothing else can.

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    The word of God and the influence of the Holy Spirit can change hearts & minds (specifically open hearts & minds) in a way nothing else can. - let's hope that a nonresistant nonbeliever such as Alex O'Connor has indeed an open heart & mind. If he ever posts a testimony of his conversion, that would be fantastic. (Good post, +1)
    – user50422
    Commented Jun 27, 2022 at 2:11
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Several Answers There are several answers to this question and lengthy introduction. (1) Seminaries First note that quite a few Denominations sponsor or support several Bible Colleges and Seminaries. Scholarly researchers usually congregate in the seminaries. AND is is the custom and habit for one or more of them to write and publish Systematic Theologies.

In most of these Systematic Theologies there is an opening section dealing with the Existence and Attributes of God. Quite a few give an expose of several of the "proofs of God's Existence." (Anthropological, Cosmological, Teleological, Historical, etc.) These books would be as close as one could come to obtaining OFFICIAL BELIEFS of any denomination. And any "evangelism" would be based on these truths. Seminarians would take courses on this type of philosophical and logical Apologetics, and incorporate it into their church which they would pastor. Evangelism in the local church would have a scholarly foundation.

  • Louis Berkhof
  • Augustus Strong
  • Henry Thiessen
  • Charles Hodge
  • John Mueller
  • Robert Dabney
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • Donald Macleod (?)

(2) Para-Church Orgs Some denominations are not capable of establishing A Seminary, or do not have seminary professors efficient in Evangelistic Apologetics. The local churches in these denominations are therefore reliant upon Para-church organizations for training their congregations on evangelizing atheist, agnostics, and skeptics. These organizations have highly skilled researchers, lecturers, disciplers, whom local churches can resort to for wisdom in reaching the unbelievers. A few of these are:

  • Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru)
  • Navigators
  • Intervarsity
  • Socrates in the City (Eric Metxas)
  • Discovery Institute
  • C.S. Lewis Society
  • Institute for Creation Research
  • Biologos

Denomination boards would examine and consider recommending one or more of these that are compatible with their denomination creeds. This would be surrogate OFFICIAL ADVICE, for which the OP asks.

Many of these organizations have lecturers and seminar speakers available for ministering in local churches. As well as literature, videos, a discipleship programs. Beyond this there is a plethora of web sites dealing with a philosophical, scholarly approach to evangelism, that denominational pastors could use as a resource.

John Lennox, Norman Geisler, Jason Lisle, Gary Parker, Jonathan Wells, Lee Strobel, Eric Metaxas, Petr Kreeft, William Lane Craig...are all knowledgeable scholars, who are able to give Official Advice on dialoging with unbelievers.

Unreasonable Resignation The middle paragraph of this OP presented an unreasonable resignation, throwing up his hands in defeat! It ignores the facts of the conversion of even the hardest of skeptics in history. And it displays an ignorance of the many ways unbelievers come to faith. And it is unaware of the purpose of "reasons, proofs, logical arguments, etc." (Most dialog is "pre-evangelism. Logical reasons dropped in the mind become tools for the Holy Spirit to work with.)

Most of the confrontation/gentle dialog with atheists and agnostics is

(a) pulling weeds (dealing with misinformation and disinformation about God),

(b) planting seeds (seeds of doubt concerning the inadequacies of the atheistic worldview,

(c) fulfilling needs (even atheists need friends and are human with many mortal-type needs; love can bring a mighty man to his knees),

(d) performing deeds (prophecies, see 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, healings 1 Cor. 2:4-5, Heb. 2:4, charity),

(e) explaining Creeds (many college atheists haven't a clue what Christianity is all about! Spiritually challenged they are! Also note how many biblical questions contestants on Jeopardy are unable to answer.)

The Holy Spirit is able to use many different tools to change the Minds and Wills of even the hardest skeptic. Scientists have come to faith by intellectually trying to resolve the "design" in the universe. Pondering the existential meaning of the universe has opened the minds of some. The logical bankruptcy of the Atheistic worldview has led others to consider Theism.

Paul and Areopagus In Acts 17:17 we see that the Apostle Paul was not hesitant to use metaphysical arguments in addressing the scholars of Athens. (cosmological, teleological, anthropological) He was so successful that "among a number of others," Dionysius, one of the scholars, became a convert! Men and women were convinced.

Note that when Paul referred to the "wisdom of men" in 1 Corinthians 1:21, he was referring to the philosophies of the Stoics, Epicurians, Pythagageans, and Platonic Athenians. He was NOT being adverse to Apologetics. The way a word is defined and used is determined by its context. So here "wisdom" was referring to the philosophies invented by men only.

But "wisdom," in reading the whole counsel of God, is a blessing and creation of God. In fact, most do not realize that wisdom was the very first thing created!

The Lord brought me forth as the first of His works, before His deeds of old; I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning before the world began. (Proverbs 8:22,23)

By wisdom the LORD laid the earth's foundations; by understanding, He set the heavens in place; by His knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.

So God is not adverse to "wisdom" and its use by His disciples to convince unbelievers of the existence of God and their need to convert. Anyone who comes to salvation must believe He exists first. (Hebrews 11:6) Then they can live a life of faith that He will reward all those seek Him earnestly.

Apologetic reasonings are not the Gospel, but they lead men to the Author of the Gospel. Holy Spirit anointed Apologetics is the grease on the door of the closed mind so it will open easily when Christ comes knocking.

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    I would add Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International to that list. Also perhaps Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry and Stand to Reason, and probably others that aren't coming to mind. AiG and CMI, at any rate, are certainly on par with ICR and DI.
    – Matthew
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 4:47
  • @Matthew-Good additions. There ARE good resources for coming to truth if people would take the time to look!
    – ray grant
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 22:42

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