Recently, an evening family stroll in our downtown square turned into an unexpected conversation about Richard Dawkins, atheism, and Jesus. My daughter began to play in a fountain when two other children ran up to join in the fun. As naturally happens when children play, the other children’s parents and my husband and I began to engage in conversation. Eventually, the man shared with me that he is an atheist and in turn I told him, “I’m a Christian.” I’ve had conversations with atheists before, but never have I had someone disagree with me while simultaneously thanking me and understanding the importance of what I was saying. He told me, “If you believe that hell is real, you must share your faith. I think modern-day Christians believe that all you need to do is live a good life and that will be enough to witness to others.”
I was shocked. Clearly, the man has been around Christian circles enough to know the language. And his comments led me to question whether I had fallen into what he was describing.
I live in what has been called the Bible Belt of America. And within this imagined Christian metropolis, my community is home to many churches, Christian organizations, and ministries. So, one might assume that in such a place, the name Christian is easily applied to everyone. But we know it’s dangerous to assume that everyone is a Christian simply because they say so. Even Jesus says that “not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 7:21). My conversation with the atheist man on that unassuming night reminded me that it doesn’t matter how many churches populate our streets—there are still many people who have access to the truth that Jesus reigns but do not claim Christianity. We must be the ones to open our mouths and share the gospel.
The truth of the atheist’s comments to me is confirmed by Paul, who also urges us to proclaim the good news, concluding in Romans 10:14–17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (v. 14).
If we believe that there is an eternal destiny for every person, then I agree with my new atheist friend: we must proclaim the gospel to all those around us. And if Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells us that faith comes by hearing, we can’t ignore those words in hopes that what he really means is that if we simply live godly lives, that’s enough. We are often afraid to open our mouths to proclaim the good news. We are afraid of repercussions, of being denied, and of saying the wrong thing. But, if we’re honest, I wonder if we are also apathetic and too comfortable with this world.
I shared the gospel with the man and he wasn’t convinced. I told him I would pray for him to have faith. The Lord may or may not save him, but I know that I no longer have an excuse not to share the gospel. I’ve received my marching orders, first from Christ and then, surprisingly, from someone who doesn’t know Him.