by Philip Ryken
Make no mistake: there is an aggressive new atheism in America. The new unbelievers are eager to win people to their cause. Not content simply to disbelieve in God for themselves, they want to persuade other people not to believe in Him either.
Some of these evangelists for atheism are famous authors with a high public profile. Others are professors on college or university campuses. Still others are ordinary people we meet at work or in the neighborhood. They may even be the members of our own families. But in each case, their opposition to the God of the Bible poses a challenge to our faith. In fact, some Christians may find aggressive atheism more than a little intimidating. Any time our faith is under attack, we face the real temptation to keep quiet about our firm confidence in biblical truth or our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The apostle Peter wrote his first epistle to believers who were facing similar challenges in the days of the early church. Their faith was under attack and there was real danger that standing firm for the Gospel would cause them to suffer for the cause of Christ. Thus Peter told them to be ready to witness with courage — an exhortation that still applies to us today: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:14–16).
Peter’s words of comfort are reassuring: “Have no fear of them.” Even more reassuring is the reason why: Because Jesus is with us to help us. If we know Christ, then we regard Him as the Lord of our hearts. Now Jesus is with us — in all the power of His grace — in every difficult situation we face. This includes every opportunity we have to bear witness to His sufferings on the cross and His triumph over the tomb. There is no need for us to be intimidated by people who deny the Gospel, or who even deny the very existence of God. The true and living Lord is with us to help us speak the truth about His crucifixion and resurrection, giving people the hope of eternal life.
We must be ready to witness, however. The helping presence of our Lord does not eliminate our own obligation to be well-prepared to tell people about His saving grace. Peter’s exhortation about how to do this is comprehensive. We should always be ready to explain the hope that is within us. We should be ready to do this in a logical way, giving reasons for our faith in Christ and answers to the legitimate questions people have about the Bible. We should be ready to do this for anyone and everyone who asks, regardless of their religious commitments.
Are you ready to give people an answer when they ask about your hope in Christ, especially people who claim to be atheists? Reading this issue of Tabletalk is one practical way to get ready to give people an answer. Another good way to get better prepared to share our faith is to read good Christian books like R.C. Sproul’s Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. It is also important for us to develop growing friendships with people outside the church. The better we know people, the more they will share their spiritual questions, and the better we will understand all the ways they need the Gospel. Peter’s words remind us to do this with gentleness and respect, loving people who still need to know Christ.
Yet the most important thing for us to do is point people to the Scriptures. The best reasons we can give people for our hope in Christ are biblical reasons; the clearest answers we can give to their question about God are biblical answers. The Holy Spirit will use the true words of God to do His spiritual work in people’s lives. God has not promised to use our personal testimonies to bring people to Christ. No matter how eloquently or persuasively we speak, our words in themselves do not have the power to give people spiritual life. What God has promised to use in a saving and sanctifying way are His own words — the words we read in the Bible and understand by the help of the Spirit. God’s Word always does God’s work (see Isa. 55:10–11).
The Word of God even has the power to save atheists, changing the minds and hearts of people who say they do not believe in God. The real truth, of course, is that even the most hardened atheist actually does believe in God, he just works very hard to deny it. In order to maintain a consistently atheistic point of view, unbelievers must actively suppress what they know to be true about the existence of God. Deep down, everyone knows there is a God (see Rom. 1:21).
The inescapable reality of God’s power should give us tremendous confidence for personal evangelism. Although we may not have very much confidence in ourselves, or in our ability to respond to every objection an unbeliever may raise against the Gospel, we ought to have every confidence in the goodness of God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Bible confronts every person’s conscience, testifying that the God who is really there speaks to people today. Whether we are fully prepared to give an answer or not, God is always ready and able to save people by His mighty Word.