You see, true Christian apologetics is not about defending any old religion that has Jesus for its mascot. It is about defending the truth of the historic Christian faith. And while there is definitely a place for advancing polemics against other philosophies, we cannot let our own views be hijacked. That often requires us to help people cross the chasm that exists between what Christians believe and what historic Christianity teaches.
The atheists are right--right to reject imposter forms of Christianity. And that is where it is important for defenders of the faith to know more than just how to poke holes in other people’s views. If we are knowledgeable of what historical Christianity teaches, we will be able to say, “I agree with you” and “That bugs me too,” when someone is pointing out problems which run contrary to the truth. Believe it or not, people love to be right! I haven’t looked into the psychological literature, but I would be willing to bet that people are much more receptive to a conversation that begins with the other person saying, “I agree with you.”
We should not take opposition for granted. There are great things to be learned from those who disagree with us. Even if they are wrong about 99% of what they say, there is almost sure to be 1% that is correct, which would be helpful for us to hear. Unfortunately, we generally screen out the 1% because of the 99. All we hear is, “I don’t believe in your god!” But if we listen closely, I submit, we will often discover that we don’t believe in the god they are talking about either.*
We live in a time when you will be hard pressed to find any outspoken atheists or agnostics who do not feel passionate about their distaste for Christianity. When they are pressed into a corner, they may say that they don’t have any opinion one way or the other--they just “lack belief”--but you won’t have to talk to them for very long before you find the hot button issue that really irks them. But it would be counterproductive to antagonize someone in order to find something to agree with them about. You could probably get to the same place by asking a question that they would be more than happy to answer. Something like: “What are your biggest reasons for rejecting Christianity?” Below, I will provide a short list of possible responses that you might receive to this (or a similar) question--along with ways that you might be able to find common ground and start a productive conversation.**
1. “There are so many hypocrites!”
You’re telling me! That is just as frustrating to me as it is to you. And Jesus had a lot to say about people who exploited others, lived double lives, and acted self-righteous. The truth is, I am not perfect either, and that is why I need a savior. Anyone who calls himself a Christian but walks around acting like he has it all together has missed the whole point of Christianity--and should not be considered a representative of the faith. In fact, there is only one true representative of the faith--Christ himself.
2. “There is so much evil in the world!”
You’re right. There is no question. And not only is there a lot of evil in the world, but we all have to deal with suffering, no matter what our beliefs are. The Bible does not make light of the problem of evil or ignore it, and I don’t think Christians should either.
3. “The God of the Bible is a racist bully!”
I agree that there are some very difficult passages, particularly in the Old Testament, and I can understand why you would say that. I actually used to feel the same way. But have you considered how these fit into the whole context of the Bible?
4. “The whole idea of God torturing his Son to save people from sin is barbaric.”
I agree with you that the Cross is terrible. I also agree that if it was all about satisfying some divine bloodlust, then I would be just as horrified as you. However, that isn’t what the Cross is about at all.
5. “I can’t believe in something without any evidence or reason.”
Guess what? Neither can I! Fortunately, Christianity is a faith based in evidence. Blind faith is a myth. There is no such thing as faith without reason. Do you want to hear some of the evidence?
*It is entirely possible that they are totally familiar with the historic Christian faith and simply reject it for volitional reasons. That is usually going on at some level regardless. Light is always offensive to darkness. Even so, there are usually walls that can be broken down by clarifying the historic Christian position.
**There is no silver bullet or magic formula. I am just sharing what I have found to be helpful.