God is not a liar. Therefore, when we engage in evangelism, in elenctics, in apologetics, we are to do so without lying. And as it is possible to violate driving laws unknowingly, so too is it possible to lie unknowingly. To be guilty of lying is not necessarily to be guilty of malevolence. But it is still to be in the wrong.
When speaking with atheists, we want to say what is true about God and man. But many unintentionally communicate falsehood about God and man. Anytime you talk to a professing atheist about religion, he is sure to let you know that he doesn’t believe in God. At this point in the conversation, many Christians, out of a genuine concern for the well-being of their neighbor, are tempted to present evidence to the professing atheist in order to persuade him to believe in God’s existence. As loving as doing this feels, it is to commit a twofold lie.
First, it implicitly affirms as true the atheist’s claim to not believe in the existence of God. But this affirms, and joins in, a damning lie. Everyone believes in the existence of God, not simply a general deism or theism, but God, the only God.
“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
All men know God. And all men, not from ignorance or intellectual confusion, but from willful animosity, have exchanged the truth of God for a lie. In unrighteousness, all men actively work to put down the truth, whether through some charade of false religion, like Islam or Hinduism, or through the transparent silliness that is atheism. There are no atheists, no men who genuinely believe not in the existence of God. We will discover Martian pigs before we discover such a man. There are, as we know, professing atheists; and these men must be called to repent of their suppression and receive through faith the salvation that can be had in Christ Jesus alone.
Second, to present evidence to a professing atheist in order to persuade him of God’s existence is to treat him as God. You may read that as a far too bold claim, one that is inflammatory without substance. But its truthfulness can be demonstrated with a short series of questions. Where is evidence most stereotypically presented in our world? Evidence is most stereotypically presented in the courts of law. In a court of law, to whom is evidence presented? Evidence is presented to the judge. Now, in these most important matters of salvation and judgement, who is the Judge? Is any man the Judge? Is any non-Christian the Judge? No. God alone presides as Judge.
“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; For You will judge the peoples with uprightness and guide the nations on the earth” (Psalm 67:4).
“I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work” (Ecclesiastes 3:17).
God is Judge; and sinners are under his judgement. It is sinners who go to and fro under the wrath of God, God patiently forbearing until the appointed day of their conversion or the day when he crushes them as grapes in the winepress of his fury. When we present evidence to professing atheists in order to persuade them of God’s existence, we act as if God is on trial, and that they, rebels that they are, somehow deserve to sit upon the seat of judgment and judge God, assessing proofs of what they already know to be true. This cannot be; to act this way harmfully lies about God and man, and dishonors the very God we seek to honor in our evangelism.
If we believe the Biblical witness, we have no need to stumble into this twofold lie. Why seek to persuade a man of that which he already knows? Why treat a problem of the will with intellectual medicine? Your job is to communicate the gospel, and trust God to grant repentance. Serve up the truth. Tell them of God’s righteous wrath for their sin. Tell them of Christ’s incarnation, his substitutionary death on the cross, his resurrection, and his ascension. Tell them that they must repent and believe in order to be saved. Tell them the they are dependent upon the God they deny to graciously give them this repentance and faith. Make plain the foolishness of any counterclaims to this gospel. And thank God that the declaration of his Word never returns void.