by John Ellis
According to the most recent data I could find, self-described atheists make up 4% of America’s population. Pew reports, “this is up from 2% in 2011.” Add in the 5% of Americans who describe themselves as agnostic, and nearly 1 out of every 10 Americans are sceptics of the highest order. In 2007, that number was a measly 4%; self-described atheists and agnostics have more than doubled in a decade and a half. While the overall percentage is low, the trend is in the wrong direction. Prior to that timeframe, of course, I know for sure that atheism lost one claimant in 2004. After nearly 3 decades on this planet, this once-atheist found myself believing in a God I had long mocked and scoffed at as an invention of those who are either intellectually stunted or too emotionally incapable of handling life without an adult version of Santa Claus. Adding a deeper wrinkle to my story, I had been raised in a Christian home. And not just a normal Christian home. My dad was a pastor, and my mom a Christian school teacher. Those facts mean that over the course of my now nearly 2 decades as a Christian I have often fielded the question, “What was it that caused you to stop being an atheist?”
I get it; I understand and empathize. With 2 kids of my own, I can imagine the unique pain and worry that comes when a child renounces Jesus. This isn’t like a child suddenly cheering for the Mets after having been raised in Yankee household; the stakes are eternally higher. For Christians, the rejection of Jesus has eternal consequences of the highest magnitude. No parent can handle the thought of those consequences coming to bear on their child. So, yes, I get it. I understand when hurting parents with adult children who have rejected Jesus have looked at me in desperation through their tears as they ask me what finally caused me to believe in God. They desperately want to know what works: what can convince an atheist that God exists?
This article is a complete rewrite of an article with the same name that I wrote several years ago. The original article first appeared on my previous blog and was one of the few I republished on this blog. In fact, this rewrite has the same URL. I simply scrubbed the body and rewrote it. It’s not that I no longer agree with what I said in the original version, it’s that my thoughts have become deeper and more nuanced (or less nuanced, as some will charge me with) in the intervening years since I first wrote it. However, in and of itself that doesn’t usually cause me to rewrite articles. There are several articles on this blog that if I were to write them today would be substantially different, although the core would remain the same. This article, though, before I made it private it a few weeks ago in anticipation of this rewrite was 1 of the 2 most clicked articles on this blog via web searches. The title “How to Convince an Atheist God Exists” is not only provocative but a question on the hearts of many Christians who have access to Google. After going back and forth, I decided that its continued relevance made it worth my time to rewrite. So, here’s my “improved” answer:
I met Jesus. Or rather, Jesus introduced himself to me.
This morning, in anticipation of finally rewriting this article, I wrote on Facebook, “Personal change of stasis comes from meeting Jesus, not from having your mind (or worldview) changed.” But I should back up in time a bit.
For several years, I had the privilege of leading apologetic workshops in which I would play an atheist. The audience, usually highschoolers, engaged me in an apologetic conversation. As an actor and once-atheist, the sessions were not only fun for me but more rewarding than I anticipated when my friend who came up with the idea and I were in the planning stage prior to the first time we did it. Armed with a fairly robust understanding of apologetics and theology combined with my acting – especially improv – training fused well with my past experiences as an atheist. The first half of the session consisted of me dismantling all the audiences’ apologetic efforts to break down my resistance. The second half was spent going over the first half and talking about better ways to do apologetics.
From the very beginning, my main objective was to communicate that Christians are not called to win debates but are called to make disciples. Over the years, though, as I continued to study theology and philosophy, that main objective began to become clearer. As of this moment, it’s safe to say that I am not a fan of apologetics. I’ve written more about that in other places (you can probably find them at the bottom of this article under the “related” articles section, if you’re interested), so I’m not going to engage the larger problem of apologetics here. With this rewrite, I want to focus on my above answer.
Throughout the New Testament, followers of Jesus are told that the world is going to hate us. We are warned to expect persecution and suffering. Christianity is not cool. It’s the most counter-culture “movement” of any counter-culture movements that have ever existed because it threatens the deluded reign of humans on the throne of their heart. By definition, unbelief cannot allow (true) Belief a place in the public square because (true) Belief is an existential threat to unbelief. The two cannot cohabitate on any level. The Apostle Paul explained this clearly in his first letter to the Corinthians when he wrote, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1:18)” and “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and a folly to Gentiles (1:23).”
Yet, modern (modernist) apologetics says otherwise, no matter how much they may protest otherwise. I recently summed it up in colloquial terms like this:
Paul: “The preaching of the Cross (the gospel of Jesus Christ) is considered foolishness by an unbelieving world.”
Apologetics: “Hold my beer.”
Modern (modernist) apologetics operates under the assumption that our primary problem is our mind – an intellectual problem. The right answers and airtight arguments are what’s needed. At best, modern (modernist) apologetics will respond to my accusation by saying, “John, you’re not representing us fairly. We, too, believe that it’s a heart issue. Our ultimate goal is to see hearts of stone changed to hearts of flesh.” Yet, even with that protestation, they continue to try and change people’s mind. They continue to try and win arguments no matter how much they may claim it’s not about winning arguments. They continue to operate under the modernist (and idolatrous) lie that we are mind-centered beings. And they do so under the ontological assumption of univocity of being; they believe, whether they’ve realized it or not, that humans share in being with God which means that it’s an issue of philosophical idealism. Change the mind, change the heart.
With the goal of avoiding complicated theological and philosophical discussion in this article, I want to tell you a story.
I was dragged kicking and screaming into God’s family. Prior to my believing in Jesus – and by “prior,” I mean the very second before – I had zero desire to submit to God through faith in Jesus. I wanted no part of Christianity. But over the previous year or so, Jesus kept inserting himself into my life without me ever opening the door to my heart to him. Ultimately, he didn’t even bother to politely pick the lock and sneak in. Jesus kicked the door of my heart to smithereens, proceeded to go about the business of throwing out all my furniture (an activity His Spirit is still graciously doing), and began the long often painful process of redecorating. He was an uninvited guest. But after meeting him, I am so thankful that he didn’t care what I wanted.
In practical terms, there are no practical answers to how to convince an atheist God exists. Jesus introduced himself to me via the prayers of my mom and others. Jesus introduced himself to me via a stranger in Denver who felt compelled by the Spirit to simply tell me, “God loves you. And somewhere, someone is praying for you.” Jesus introduced himself to me when my mom and sister ate my vegan lasagna.
As a vegan, I never expected people to cater to my very specific diet. During the late 90s and early 00s, vegan food wasn’t readily available. So, when invited over, I generally offered to provide my own food. At a family gathering at my sister’s house, that’s what I did. I brought a vegan lasagna I had made with the understanding that I would be the only one eating it. I mean, even as a vegan I knew that vegan “cheese” was nasty. To my surprise, both my mom and sister passed up the real lasagna in favor of my lasagna. That selfless act said to me that I was part of the family, no matter what. With their act of eating my vegan lasagna, my mom and sister introduced me to Jesus because they were a metaphor/imaged the unquenchable love Jesus has for those whom the Father has given him.
So, you want to know what convinced me to believe in God? Because my mom and sister ate my nasty vegan lasagna.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is foolishness to unbelievers. It doesn’t matter how philosophically sophisticated your arguments are, the Cross is folly to an unbelieving world. It doesn’t matter how adroitly you contextualize the gospel, Christianity will never be allowed a seat at the cool kid’s table.
So, you want to know how to convince atheists that God exists? Love God with your mind, heart, and body. Doing so – loving God – will radiate out in loving and serving others that is so counter-culture that you will either be fed to the lions, or they will bow in faith before Jesus. Those are the only two options upon meeting Jesus: total rejection or surrender.
Pray for your loved ones. Introduce them to Jesus – via word and deed.
My questions about God weren’t answered until after I placed my faith in Jesus. Even now, I have questions and doubts, but I’ve met Jesus and he’s why I’m in God’s family not my cognitive understanding and acceptance of God.
In closing, I include a short excerpt from a sermon preached by Alistair Begg. In truth, as beautiful and poignant as the video is, I wanted to include a link to the sermon preached by my friend Robert at our church this morning. It’s not available yet. When it is, I’ll include it, too.
Soli Deo Gloria
 The other one makes no sense to me. It’s “A Godless Fundamentalist: Chapter 8 ‘The Bill Rice Ranch’” For the life of me, I can’t figure out why so many people click on that article via web searches – Google hides web search terms.
 No doubt, with veganism now a profitable market space, vegan food has likely and vastly improved in taste (and texture).
 For those who say that the preaching of the gospel MUST involve words, I point them to I Peter 3:1 where the Apostle Peter tells women with unbelieving husbands to serve their husbands so that unbelieving husbands, “may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.” This verse also applies to those who are tempted to scoff, even just a little, at my claim that my mom and sister eating my vegan lasagna introduced me to Jesus.