Four Thoughts from Non-Christians about Christians

UPDATE: Listen to the podcast on this topic.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about how non-Christians perceive Christians. The article was based on an interchange with one non-Christian lady on this blog. I was surprised at the number of responses, including those from a number of non-Christians. I am grateful for all who responded.

A few Christians were concerned that I might be compromising my beliefs and convictions by writing the post. To the contrary, I still hold firmly to the exclusivity of the gospel and the mandate to evangelize. But, while I am convicted about the never-changing message of the gospel, I am concerned how we messengers sometimes treat others who don’t believe as we do.

For now, I have provided four examples of what non-Christians are asking of Christians. They were all comments at different points on my blog. Each section represents a different non-Christian.

Demonstrate Respect and the Interest of Others

I can certainly understand that it might be very uncomfortable for you to witness – as a technique for attracting potential followers, it seems very forced and artificial, and it renders any attempt to express real friendship towards the recipient seem insincere and not a little sinister.

I’m an atheist, so you may be tempted to disregard my views. However, I’ve been on the receiving end of numerous attempts to witness, and I’ve never felt that any of the people who made these attempts had my interests at heart, or would offer me the basic respect of considering the possibility, however faint, that I’d put genuine thought into my position; that I might be sincere in my lack of belief.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of your prey – I suspect that you’ll become better people for making the effort.

Don’t Condescend and Discriminate

First I want to thank you for posting this, for being forthcoming and for all the encouraging comments.

I use the moniker darb because I live in the heart of the Bible belt and am concerned about repercussions of being a public atheist. We are, after all, the most reviled groups in America, even behind Muslims. I am concerned about hiring bias. I am concerned about downsizing bias. I am concerned about my children being ostracized or bullied. I am concerned because I have seen it happen.

It is SO refreshing to hear the accepting attitudes I hear in these comments. I only wish I could be assured that these were majority attitudes amongst Christians. I wish that good folks like you would speak out against those who would discriminate against me. I wish I could be myself without fearing proselytizing, condescension or worse. After all, we are all just humans trying to make our way in this uncertain world.

Really Care about the Non-Christian and Show It

This is very much how I tend to perceive approaches from would-be witnesses. I’ve read several posts in which people (believers) have expressed the desire to witness through ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ and I’d personally have a lot more respect for someone whose life expressed the spirit of their religious belief as opposed to attempting to fill that quota. The Christians I’ve remembered with fondness were those who actually cared about other people; the ones who appeared to express the legalistic, judgmental and relentless and cultish urge to convert were, honestly, kind of a pain in the —. Not people I respected or would want know.

As a non-Christian, I have to say that 90% of these comments continue to back up the point from the article. Most of them talk about “waiting to develop a relationship before witnessing” or something of the sort. There are over 20 major religions in the world, never mind the number of smaller subsets. Has it ever just occurred to Christians that we just don’t believe the same thing you do? That we don’t think you’re right? That we don’t, at any point, want your prayers or your opinions on how we should think? If Christians are going to be so narrow minded that they are only going to have relationships with people that think the same thing they do, or think that they are better than people that don’t agree with them, why would we want to have a relationship? If you can’t look past my religious preferences (or lack thereof) and see me as a PERSON, I’ll just hang out with my open minded, non-preachy friends.

Demonstrate Compassion and Respect

Here’s a bright idea: STOP PRESSURING OTHERS TO JOIN YOUR RELIGION. If someone doesn’t want to join your church, that doesn’t make them a jerk. They’re entitled to their own beliefs, just like you’re entitled to yours. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but if you really want the rest of the world to accept you, then you need to accept the rest of the world. Stop focusing on how many souls you can save and start focusing on being a good person. And by ‘good person’, I mean being compassionate and generous, not paraphrasing a book written three thousand years ago on a street corner.

I don’t hate Christians, but because of the way I’ve been treated in the past, I’m wary of them. If you want to be respected, then do some respecting in return.

What Do You Think?

What do you Christians think about these admonitions from non-Christians? What do you who aren’t Christians want to say to the Christian community?

Posted on July 31, 2013

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Atheist Pen Jillette thanks Christians for witnessing to him. He says if they really believe that they say they do then he would hope they would witness to him to demonstrate they truly care about him; to do otherwise would be hypocritical. I’ve never heard him complain once about feeling like someone’s project or not being respected. Personally, the atheists I interact with at work are only interested in philosophical sparring and mockery- far less sensitive than those of the sample pool described in the article. They ridicule well intentioned, brave people who have tried to personally witness to them and can be quite brazen but otherwise pleasant people when the subject is something other than metaphysics.

    Respectfully Dr. Thom, I don’t think this is an evangelism methodology issue; it’s ecclesiology and discipleship. I think the American church has done a miserable job of equipping the saints to understand, both theologically and philosophically, the world around them through the lens of scripture and an even worse job at teaching them how to interact with it as compassionate followers of Christ with firm conviction. This post-Christian, post-modern culture has lapped the church and only a scarce few have even heard the starting gun.

  • Dewanda says on

    Live the life and stop being judgemental about other people beliefs, Respect every individual on all race and denominations .

  • I appreciate what is being said and agree that as Christians we need to stop focusing on “saving” someone & focus on loving them, serving them, respecting them, listening, being a good friend & neighbor. As God gives us opportunities to share our faith, do it in a considerate & respectful way. If they disagree & don’t want to hear it, we need to back off; this shows respect. The better we treat them the more likely they will be to listen when they’re ready. I believe in staying on friendly terms & maintaining the relationship inspite of differing beliefs. If we gain their respect, one day they may be open to hear what we have to say. It’s God who prepares their heart & woes them. It’s in His timing when they come to faith; we can’t make it happen. There is also the very effective witness of our testimony & what God had done for us; we can share that when the opportunity presents itself & do it in a nonoffensive manner.

  • I haven’t read all the comments so I apologize if I duplicate what someone else may have covered. Bottom line, I believe we are trying to do things in our own strength. If Christians truly followed the methods (and ALL truths) outlined in the New Testament, I think our results would be completely different. There will always be those who reject the Truth. We are told that in the Word. But I find usually the so-called Christians that are the noisiest are the ones lacking the power of the Holy Spirit in their life. If Christians were really seeking God by deep prayer lives and making His Word their first priority, our results would be different. Most Christians I know barely spend 5-10 minutes a day in prayer and maybe that much time in the Word. We are, for lack of a better world, a proud people. We approach people with the attitude that “we’re right, you’re wrong” and it spills over into witnessing. If we were truly humbled before The Lord and being Spirit led each day, our results might be different. When I read the book of Acts, I see men who were praying earnestly for boldness and being led by the Spirit. The Spirit is the one who does the work THRU us. You can witness til you are blue in the face but the Spirit is the one who draws men to Jesus. I believe Christians should spend more time praying, waiting on God and studying His Word and then, when the Spirit leads to witness, the results will come thru Him. I’d guess, more often than not, the door to witnessing would be opened by the individual ASKING because of seeing the purity of your life. No one wants to pay the price of sacrificing in prayer first though. We are too proud for that but we look down, without true compassion, on those that reject our arrogance in vebalizing our Christian head-knowledge.

  • Great article for us to learn from. We need to always proclaim the gospel with love. God’s elect will respond.

  • I am a believer in Jesus, and I think I totally agree with most that was said by the non-believers. I think many christian’s only concern is to just get someone to say a prayer so they can chalk another one up for themselves, sadly. What we should be doing is introducing this amazing GOD, who would rather die than be without them, that each one is a chosen one that is deeply loved and has a purpose. That HE desires a relationship with them.

  • Thom, I’ve been a Christian for 72 years and “sold out to the Lordship of Jesus” for 54. At least over the past 54 years I’ve seen more non-believers turned away from Jesus by the, some times well meaning, dogmatism of Christians than by any other way. It’s those times that I just want to sit down and cry, please Jesus don’t let that person go to hell because of what just happened. Some times we are our, and His, own worst enemies.

  • While I do agree with all that was said in the article, that we as believers should be more genuine and honest about witnessing to non-believers, the comments from the last non-believer come a little under-handed there. He asks that we respect him and then turns and labels the Word as a book written 3,000 years ago on a street corner, obviously demeaning it. And while I understand that he does not regard it as sacred like we as believers do, it’s a bit hard to honor his command for respect when he’s not offering much to us to begin with. Much less explain Christ and the faith to someone who doesn’t want to hear about the only book that contains all of the relevant information.

  • Scott Brown says on

    Two experiences I have had that I feel appropriate to share. Many years ago, I had someone coming door to door, discussing religion. I was bored at the time, and they were being highly respectful, never telling me what I believed was wrong, just asking me to think of things in a different light. I happily conversed with him for quite a while, and he did get me thinking in quite a few different areas. Later that month, someone else came to the house when my family and I were getting home, and approached my son…and, after talking to him *VERY* briefly, flat out told him that he was going to hell, and made him cry. THAT ‘person’ had the riot act read to him, and was told to never come near me or my family again…and reaffirmed my choice to stay away from churches, and Christianity, in general. Yes, his statement was most likely correct..but I refuse to be part of an institution that feels bullying small children is in *ANY* way acceptable…(Speaking strictly for his ‘church’ here, not the religion as a whole…though I will admit, it did tarnish my view of the entire religion to some degree)

  • Charles Lord says on

    It would be helpful and humbling to receive verbal feedback about how we witness in our encounters and relationships with non Christians. I appreciate your summary statements above each comment. It is helpful to listen and learn, because witnessing is for the sake of others and for the gospel.
    We must pursue God’s will for others, and to be gracious and generous toward those who are offended, defensive or cynical. There is are 2 elements in witnessing that would transform it, and perhaps, empower it. The persecution of the witness, and the love for “enemies and persecutors”.
    I are examples in my own life when my witness (life and word) were done in the flesh instead of empowered by the Spirit. Witnessing is spiritual warfare and even in the mildest sense, is confrontational. May God give believers confidence, sensitivity, compassion, and a deep love for God and others.

  • Dr. Rainer:

    I feel many of the things expressed in this article are true to an extent but there is also a reality that non-believers will not like us and may even twist the reasons for why they do not based on their own presumptions. The world will dislike us, but perhaps they need to dislike us for the right reasons?

    I think of some of McArthur’s work and how we often ignore the passages in the gospels where Jesus was not very “nice” and turned people away by his teachings and even went as far to call people “sons of Satan.” The line is very hard to see in my opinion, and I do not think our goal should ever be to be liked by unbelievers. Nor should our goal be to not be liked by unbelievers. Rather, we should Christ’s Kingdom first and the rest will added to us.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks Levi. These posts and comments are not about being liked or not liked. They are about speaking the truth in love. Jesus did express disgust toward people at times; but most of those comments were directed toward religious leaders.