The following suggestions were borrowed and modified by me from the Center for Apologetics Research Ministries (or, CARM for those in the know). With atheism fast becoming the “in thing,” and with the frequent interaction I’ve had with those who hold to atheism as a worldview, I would like atheists to know the proper way to speak to Christians. Likewise, I would love for Christians to follow the same basic principles when speaking to atheists. Too often, both sides hold very passionate views, but instead of articulating those views in a respectful manner, the conversation turns into one person disparaging the other. Nothing profitable ever comes from such exchanges.
The original author of these “rules of engagement” has valid points that often, the atheist has little or no understanding of biblical Christianity, and often misrepresents Christianity. I’ve also found this to be true of atheists. I might also add that they frequently take the most abnormal examples of Christianity and hold them up as normative.
Therefore, the following are suggestions to atheists of the best way for atheists to have a conversation/discussion/debate with Christians.
Understand what you attack. Atheists often attack Christianity and frequently fail to understand what they are criticizing. Have you, atheist, taken any time to actually study the issues you wish to debate? Are you using reputable books/authors, websites, and representatives for your “source” material? Or are you merely spouting off about what you THINK Christianity is?
Learn biblical theology. This one’s a lot like the first point. If you are going to attack and criticize the Bible, and the theology Christians hold to, have you actually taken the time to give a closer look at the doctrines you are dismissing? Have you done your research? May I suggest you read Basic Christianity by John RW Stott or Bitesize Theology by Peter Jeffery? Both could easily be read and digested in two or three days. Oh yeah, don’t forget to read the Bible! That is always helpful when discussing Christianity. Then come and let’s discuss. Also, if you’re arguing against the deity of Jesus have you actually looked at the relevant passages? The same goes for things like the Trinity, the eternalness of God, the afterlife, etc.
Learn from correction. When a faulty understanding of Christianity is corrected, atheists very often deny the correction and continue defend their error. Sometimes you just have to admit you were previously misinformed, now you’re informed, and accept it with humility.
Don’t use incendiary statements. Don’t say thing like “That’s so stupid!” or “You’re an idiot for believing that!” Doing so is an example of what not to do since it raises emotional blocks that prevent rational discourse.
Don’t use emotionally laden terminology. This only detracts from the discussion at hand. For example, atheists will use derogatory terms like magic sky god, Christian fantasy, Christian mythology, zombie Jew, etc., when attacking Christianity. Such terms only close the doors of communication and are generally in bad taste.
Be respectful to what we believe. You don’t have to agree with Christianity. I don’t expect you to right away, you are, after all, an atheist. “But you need to realize that if you, for example, insult Jesus our Savior, all you do is make yourself look bad, get people defensive, and make atheists, as a whole, look like obstreperous twits” [original author’s description, emphasis added]. You want to start a discussion, not a fight. Some Christians haven’t learned the concept of turning the other cheek, so be careful when you start calling God a fairie, or the Bible a myth, or Jesus a figment of imagination.
Use logic and evidence. When attempting to refute Christianity. This goes along with everything written thus far. Are you drawing from reputable source material, or are you copying and pasting from anti-Christian websites? Most of these websites are poorly researched, unreliable, and purposely biased. And don’t think just because it’s on Discovery channel that it’s not without error. Also, understand that God often offends our sensibilities, and there are many things even Christians can’t wrap their minds around. But, there is far more evidence for the truth of Christianity than not.
Read/Quote biblical passages in context. It seems that atheists refuse to do this and just jump on a standard “contradictions” without researching the context. The thinking Christian lives by the motto, “Context is everything.” You can make the Bible say (or not say) whatever you want it to by pulling verses out of their narrative, historical, and cultural context.
I realize Christians are as guilty as atheists of some of the dialectic crimes listed above. Hopefully both will read this and take these suggestions to heart when engaging one another.
(Here is a link to the original article on CARM by Matthew Slick)