How to Reach Someone Who's Not God's Type?

How do you reach out to someone who is not looking for God and does not even believe He exists? That’s a question I’ve asked myself more than once, which is why the opening lines of a little book I recently stumbled across immediately grabbed my attention.

This book sets out to do what might seem to be a straight-forward task: to recount the experiences of a few months in my life in which I walked away from atheism and entered into Christian faith. Nothing is ever as simple as that. It is no light matter to meet God after having denied Him all one’s life.

A delightful read—and also a fascinating radio interview with STR— followed. The book, Not God’s Type—A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith, is a memoir by Holly Ordway of her journey from atheism to Christ.

The guide God used to shepherd Holly on her pilgrimage was not a professional apologist, but rather her fencing coach—an ordinary, thoughtful Christian named Josh in whom she saw Jesus for an entire year before the name “Jesus” ever came up in conversation.

Josh was the personification of wisdom—“an artful method”—the second critical characteristic of a good ambassador. Here are some of the lessons I gleaned from Holly’s account of her friendship with Josh and his wife, Heidi.

One, respect people. Period. Treat others as special in God’s eyes regardless of their spiritual condition. To Josh, Holly wasn’t a heathen to be converted, but a human to be valued. He never reproached her for her unbelief, but treated her with genuine grace, dignity, and honor. He also did not fulfill any of the negative stereotypes she had of Christians. Instead, his character silently spoke volumes.

Two, begin at their beginning. Start at square one for that person. The basic message of forgiveness rests upon a number of assumptions about God, morality, guilt, Jesus, and more. Don’t presume the other person has crossed all those bridges.
“What’s helpful varies from person to person,” Holly pointed out. “I was glad for Josh’s willingness to be a guide as I entered this strange new territory, rather than trying to choose the path for me.” Like Josh, be a coach, a guide for the journey. Don’t choose the path for them. Answer their questions first, not the questions you think they should be asking.

Three, don’t push. “Josh didn’t try to close the deal on me—ever,” Holly wrote. If he had, she would have bolted. “Pressing for a decision [too early] would have been a disaster. It would have taken very little to make me close up and turn away, vulnerable and confused as I was.”
Don’t be afraid to move slowly. People need time to think, to digest, to reflect before they can ultimately commit. Don’t press for a “decision” for Christ when a conversion to Christ is what’s necessary. Trust the Spirit to do the deep work. Remember, God is in control.

Four, use questions. Josh consistently used carefully crafted questions to make his point. “If you could do something wrong that would benefit yourself,” he asked, “and you knew that no one would ever know about it, would you do it?” When Holly said no, he asked, “Why not? If there is no God, why be moral when it would benefit you personally to be immoral?” Josh was not trying to score points in an argument. Instead, he was probing the tension in Holly’s worldview, graciously challenging her inconsistency while presenting new ideas for her to consider.

Five, be clear. Make the central issues unmistakable. When Holly asked Josh what would happen to her when she died, he told her the truth—simply, without ambiguity, but without animosity. “I believe we will come before God in judgment,” he said, “and He will give each person either perfect justice or perfect mercy.” When asked, “What, exactly, would I be getting myself into?,” Josh told her two things that Jesus said: “My yoke is light,” and “Take up your cross and follow me.” “I’ll let you ponder that.”

Holly was willing to consider taking up her own cross to follow Jesus because mercy and safety could be found only under His cross. Sadly, many Christians today flee this truth. Their Jesus-is-my-savior-but-He-doesn’t-have-to-be-yours Christianity may protect them from criticism, but there is no real safety in this “confused confession.”

Why are these Christians both confessing Christ and retreating from the Gospel at the same time? To answer that question I completed a little book, new for our Ambassador’s Guide series, identifying—and repudiating—three possible reasons: theological uncertainty, religious pluralism, and Christian inclusivism.

Josh was especially deft at navigating the challenge that Holly’s situation presented. Sensitivity like his is developed over time, learning how to proceed with wisdom—“an artful method”—based on knowledge—“an accurately informed mind.”

With the new Ambassador’s Guide, you’ll expand your knowledge on the central truth of faith and trust in Jesus. And by thoughtfully applying the five principles listed above, you can be a wise and effective “coach” for dear souls trying to find their way.

Greg Koukl

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