Knock, Knock, Knocking on Hell’s Door

"Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning. . ." – Mere Christianity

"Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable." – Mere Christianity


Matthew 16:18:” And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it”.(NIV)

In order to witness to those who are atheists, Christians should prepare themselves by meditating on this verse. Think about it. The gates of hell will not overcome the church. What do gates do? They keep people out. Often times this verse is used to show that the church is being protected from hell. In fact, this verse says just the opposite. The gates of hell cannot keep the church out. Think of it this way. The church is pounding on the gates of hell and the church will prevail.

But what happens when we push against those gates? Well as the gates begin to fail, some of hell begins to leak out and it may not be pretty. You see, hell is exposed to the light and the Light, our Lord, is brighter. Sometimes, however, Christians find it most difficult to deal with the hell that leaks out. But, think of our Lord, who left His perfect home and moved to a temporary address on Earth. Can you imagine how He felt at times walking amongst us, dealing with our sin?

We say all this to give an introduction to how to dialogue with those who are opposed to the faith. We received some comments on the blog that seem to indicate that all you have to do is tell them (the nonbelievers) about Jesus and, if they don’t listen, too bad. Yet this approach is totally negated by the acts of our Lord who condescended to live amongst His creation while teaching and loving them. He was willing to pay the ultimate penalty, which was to die for our sins. He did far more than just tell them. He dies for them. Paul, exemplifying Jesus, went to Mars Hill to contend for the faith, addressing the various philosophies of his day. He obviously had studied their beliefs in order to contend for the faith.

Not all of these atheists are permanently lost as some have contended. One only has to look at the life of CS Lewis and his journey from agnosticism through deism to Christianity. One of the more current surprises in the atheist world is Anthony Flew, the former ardent atheist, who, in his 80s, has become a deist. Richard Dawkins said that Flew must have become senile. How do I know? Dr. John Lennox, Oxford mathematician and a debater for Fixed Point Foundation, is a friend of Flew’s and visited him soon after Dawkins made this pronouncement. Apparently, Flew asked to see where Dawkins called him “confused” and was most displeased. Dr. Lennox told us this story when he visited our area a couple of years ago. We can assure you that many Christians thought Anthony Flew was a lost cause 30 years ago.

So, here are a few tips for those who wish to try their hand at reaching out to these folks.

You will be insulted. They believe you are naïve, stupid, unintelligent, etc. To this, I usually point out that Dr. Francis Collins and Dr. John Lennox are universally known as tops in their fields and are committed Christians. Dr. Collins mapped the human gnome and is in line for a Nobel Prize. I will be discussing Dr. Lennox in more depth tomorrow. Also, I find that self-deprecating humor works well. When they say that I am stupid, I usually agree and go on. I never, ever insult any of them. If I did, I would only reinforce the stereotypes they have of Christians.

2.They don’t fight fair. They often correct spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, implying that I am ill educated. However, one time, I corrected the web master on his spelling. It was not well received. So, when they insult, correct, andact unkindly, be a Christian and turn the other cheek.

3.Remember that you are the Christian; they are not. You cannot expect the same behavior from them that they expect from you. One time, one poster said a very disgusting thing to me. Another Christian, rising to my defense, insulted him back. I chastised the Christian in the post, reminding him that we are the Christians.

4.    Do not, I repeat do not, fight over secondary issues such as the age of the earth. Keep the main thing, the main thing. They don’t even believe in God so why in the world would you want to convince them that the earth is 6000 years old. This is an issue in which even Christians disagree.

5.    Many of them have thought long and hard about morality and ethics. Never, ever insult them be saying that atheists have no morals. Some statistics seem to indicate that atheists have a lower divorce rate than Southern Baptists!

6.    Do develop a careful theology of hell. Hank Hannegraff at does a good job elucidating that there are levels of punishment in hell. I tell them that God is gracious and has never dragged anyone kicking and screaming into His presence. Hell is a place where God is not. In fact, isn’t this what atheists really want? I rarely go beyond this point, often reiterating that hell is not part of their belief system. I find that they are surprised by my answer.

7.    Listen, listen, listen. Do not assume you know their reasons for not believing in God. Many of these folks have been rejected by family and friends and have been treated like pariahs by the church. God loves each of them as a much as He loves you. Remember how Jesus returned for the one lost sheep?

8.    Many of them have attended legalistic or prosperity gospel churches. These churches can be short on theology and many of these folks have some misunderstandings of the simple Gospel message. Be ready to correct misunderstandings of Biblical interpretation.

9.    They will often point out the atrocities of the Crusades and the Inquisitions. Be sure to point out the atrocities committed by the atheistic regimes in the old Soviet Union, China, etc. They will attempt to argue that Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, etc were religious. This is easily disproven. But beware; they pull a lot of quotes out of context.

10.    I have found it helpful to point out that many people who identify         themselves, as Christians may not be Christians. I argue that some people use religion just as others use science to gain power, money, notoriety, etc.

11.    Do not talk down to them. Many of them have a good working knowledge of the Bible and certain Christian beliefs. Never, ever say they were not Christian or they wouldn’t have stopped believing. This argument does nothing but get them frustrated. Accept them at their word.

12.    Ask questions. Why do you believe that? What caused you to come to that conclusion? Do you ever doubt? How do you deal with guilt? In fact, I would say that 75% of all that I write is written in the form of questions. Questions are less threatening and show an interest in what that person really thinks and feels. Many folks comment that they feel that Christians want to  “witness as quickly as possible and not listen.” They call these sorts of people “trolls.” I think they feel like they are a project and that Christians don’t really care about what they think 0r feel.

13.    In the end, patience, kindness, humor, thoughtfulness, refusing to take offense, and love are the traits that we must exhibit. Be the Christian that doesn’t lose it and sign off in a huff.

Before I conclude, here is a little background on Francis Collins from Wikipedia. Francis Collins offers a real threat to the atheists because of his incredible accomplishments in science. They must respect him for his genius. Some Christians, however, reject his because he believes in a form of theistic evolution. To them I say, Be careful. This man is a believer and is doing more to reach hardened atheists than many.

“Francis S. Collins (born April 14, 1950), M.D., Ph.D., is an American physician-geneticist, noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project (HGP) and described as "one of the most accomplished scientists of our time".[1] [2] and "a scientists' scientist",[3] He currently serves as Director of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Openly Christian, Collins wrote a book about his faith and founded and was president of the BioLogos Foundation before accepting the nomination to lead the NIH. On October 14, 2009, Pope Benedict appointed Francis Collins to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Collins has described his parents as "only nominally Christian" and by graduate school he considered himself an atheist. However, dealing with dying patients led him to question his religious views, and he investigated various faiths. He familiarized himself with the evidence for and against God in cosmology, and used Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis[18] as a foundation to re-examine his religious view. He eventually came to a conclusion, and finally became an evangelical Christian during a hike on a fall afternoon.

In his 2006 book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Collins considers scientific discoveries an "opportunity to worship." In his book Collins examines and subsequently rejects creationism and intelligent design. His own belief system is theistic evolution which he prefers to term BioLogos.

During a debate with the biologist Richard Dawkins, Collins stated that God is the explanation of those features of the universe that science finds difficult to explain (such as the values of certain physical constants favoring life), and that God himself does not need an explanation since he is beyond the universe. Dawkins called this "the mother and father of all cop-outs" and "an incredible evasion of the responsibility to explain", to which Collins responded "I do object to the assumption that anything that might be outside of nature is ruled out of the conversation. That's an impoverished view of the kinds of questions we humans can ask, such as 'Why am I here?', 'What happens after we die?' If you refuse to acknowledge their appropriateness, you end up with a zero probability of God after examining the natural world because it doesn't convince you on a proof basis. But if your mind is open about whether God might exist, you can point to aspects of the universe that are consistent with that conclusion."

I (Dee) end with a true story. A couple of years ago, I was seated next to a famous evolutionary biologist on a flight. I didn’t realize it at first. I was rather tired and hoping to get some rest but he started talking about a trip he had just taken. I suddenly realized who he was. He had written a New York Times bestselling nonfiction book and was a chaired professor a prestigious university.

With great fear, I realized God wanted me to talk to him about issues of faith. So, taking a deep breath, I started asking him questions about his recent trip to India to meet with scientists there. I wanted to know whether Hindu scientists believed in evolution. He laughed and said all the great scientists in the world believed in evolution. I then told him I had heard that Francis Collins, was a Christian and a theistic evolutionist (believes that God started and guided the evolutionary process) . He nodded and said that he was surprised by this and wondered how he came to this conclusion.

I then asked him if he had heard of Philip Johnson who had written Darwin on Trial. Johnson was a trial attorney and a tenured faculty member of University of California, Berkley. He had written a book pretending he was cross-examining Charles Darwin and decided that Darwin could not offer enough proof for his cause. Funny thing, Johnson was not yet a Christian when he did this although he is now. This professor sounded fascinated and I ended up sending him a copy of this book.

So, as we were coming to the end of our flight, I asked him this next question in just this way. “Where did all the stuff come from?” He looked at me and started fiddling with his seat belt. “What do you mean?” he returned.  I continued, “You believe the universe expands and then contracts to a point until it explodes again and this process goes on and on for all eternity.” He nodded. “So, where did the stuff that is part of this endless contraction and expansion come from?” He looked at me and said, “For that, science has no answer.” I then said, “Perhaps this is the Great Uncaused, First Cause that some call God.”

By this time we had landed. As we gathered out things he said that he had never had such a conversation on a plane before and that the trip passed quickly. As we said our good-byes, I had much to think about. I am not a great scientist. In fact, I am not a great anything. Yet, God gave me the words to speak to a man who is my intellectual superior. At that moment, I realized that all Christians, with a little study, a lot of prayer, a desire to spread the Good News and a bit of courage tempered with compassion could knock on the gates of hell and prevail. Thanks be to God!


Comments are closed.