I engage with skeptics all the time, as you can imagine. The mass majority of the ones I deal with are from America and have a Christian upbringing. All of these ridicule the Gospel, Christ, the Bible and belief in God, finding solace in their claim to some sort of intellectual enlightenment. 

When I engage these, I find the following three groups (although I am not saying these are the only types):

1. Those who need answers

These are those who, from childhood, began to ask questions and could not find a footing for their faith amidst those who they saw to be leaders in the Church. These leaders were telling them Christians don’t ask questions or have doubts, they just believe. Therefore, these skeptics ridicule the blind faith of those who led them before, believing they represent all of Christianity. The number this category represents is astounding.

These are the least difficult to deal with as it is pretty cut and dry to expose them to the sheer amount of warrant the Christian faith has. True, one must do this with skill, focusing on the things that matter, but if their belief that Christianity does not have any evidence is all that needs a course correction, this can be done.

In a sense, we are building the house of Christianity with them for the first time.

2. Those who don’t like the answers

The second group are those who, like the first, grew up in Christian homes and probably had the same questions. The difference with this group is that they got good answers from strong well-balanced Christians who knew how to engage in the specific details of their questions. The problem with this group is that they eventually fell away from the faith. As life came at them like a ton of bricks they did not like the answers that they previously accepted. Life has a way of challenging all your notions and asking “How much do you really believe this?”

These are more difficult to deal with as the problem lies not in the answers to the questions but in the underlying assumptions behind what we are expecting to find. As their mother dies of cancer and prayer did not change the outcome of her death, they rework their beliefs not through their intellect, but their emotions. They may have been taught early on that the Christian life is filled with peril, disappointment, and pain, but it is not until they experience these wounds themselves that they find out what their beliefs are really made of. Some of them sink in the desperate pain they see in the world and fall away. The answers are never easy because we cannot give them the hope in this world they want. We just proclaim the reality of redemption and the hope of a different world.

Here, we have to relay the foundations of the house while keeping the same structure.

3. Those who need healing

This third group is probably the most difficult. As with the rest they grew up under Christian tutelage. They may or may not have gotten good theology, apologetics (an intellectual defense of the faith), and Bible teaching. They may or may not have doubted their faith or found the answers. The difference with this group is that within their lives they have been exposed to personal hurt and pain caused by another whom they believed to be Christian. Their worldview is slanted due to some type of actions, attitudes, or lifestyles of Christians that were not in concert with Godliness. They are physically abused by Christian parents, sexually molested by a Christian counselor at camp, or kicked out of their Sunday School class for some sin they kept falling into. This does not have to happen to them directly for it to be very personal. They can see the action from afar when a church pickets a gay establishment saying “all gay people are going to hell” or has believed it when the media continually lumps Christians with Republicans and says that they don’t care about the poor and are prejudiced.

These are the ones that have been hurt and their pain is so incisive or severe that they can’t even consider the evidence and don’t really care to. These have rejected Christianity because they end up getting a poisoned version of it. Their wounds have caused such a deep bitterness that no matter how persuasive your intellectual arguments are they cannot accept. 

For these, the house could be very well built, they just don’t like the people living in it.

I am going to forgo the specifics on how I deal with each of them as I would rather create conversation concerning my observations.

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C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    9 replies to "3 Types of Skeptics"

    • […] 3 Types of Skeptics (C. Michael Patton, Credo House): “1. Those who need answers…. 2. Those who don’t like the answers…. 3. Those who need healing.” […]

    • SolaAkin

      My interpretation of your post is that you have identified a problem (s), so the question is what is the solution (s)? Rather than engaging in banters on the subject matter, we should ask God for ways and means to help those who are conflicted on the issue of the Christian faith. So, what will Jesus Christ do if he happens to meet the 3 categories of people you identified? First, I think Jesus’ presence alone will command peace (he is the prince of peace), this we need to seek for God to make us an instrument of peace for people who are in turmoil, physically and spiritually. Second, I think Jesus will be gentle, show love and listen to understanding and provide answers to questions people may have. Third, Jesus will pray to the Father in heaven for help for those in conflict and healings will come. Is the Church of Christ truly playing its roles today? This is a million-dollar question. Notwithstanding, there may still be many who will not be restored, but we must plan our role, not to judge, but to show love and in gentleness guide those who are going astray in the right path.

    • SolaAkin

      My error…

      ….and listen to understand and provide…

      ….but we must play our role…

    • Marissa

      This is a very typical Christian post. I would consider myself a skeptic, grew up in the faith and have now “fallen away” (this is a running joke between myself and friends who, like me, decided to stop being Christians). Can I first say I find that language, “they fell away”, like this post, disrespectful? It immediately assumes that that person is wrong. In my experience, a central foundation to Christianity is that other faiths are just wrong and misdirected, and “Lord help them”, maybe one day they’ll see truth. This may seem obvious and maybe necessary given the need for evangelism, but it often often often misses love. We are taught how to “deal with” these people — they aren’t really seen. They are categorized. They are on the prayer list. They are made small.

      Since I’ve decided to not be a Christian, I have had some of my best (still Christian) friends get angry with me and say there’s nothing we have in common anymore. I’ve almost lost friendships, even though I’m still me and not attacking their beliefs. Where’s love there? Because here, there’s little room for disagreement and difference; they must persuade me.

      I don’t think I fully communicate my thoughts on this topic, but as a “type 3 skeptic”, I would appreciate not reading any more articles like this. Please don’t try to save me — that’s God’s job (assuming there is one).

    • Glenn Shrom

      It is not appropriate to speak of one falling away when it comes to somebody who has a religious affiliation then stops. But if someone enters into covenant relationship with the Messiah and then later betrays him or breaks covenant, this is how one could really fall away.

      I don’t think it’s about being right or wrong, having the truth or not. If someone never entered into covenant with the living person of Christ, then if they leave the religion, there is no falling away to speak of. If someone makes a mistake by covenanting with the wrong person, they can be right to break covenant, but it is still a falling away from the person they once covenanted with.

    • Glenn Shrom

      For instance, I’ve fallen away from Satan, but it was the right thing to do! My falling away in that case does not imply that I was wrong.

    • Glenn Shrom

      The ones who need healing may be the most difficult for someone with the gift of teaching, but may be easiest for someone with the gift of mercy. Sometimes it may not be about the right approach, but about God connecting them with the right person who has the right gifts to meet that hurt.

    • Darrell McDowell

      Thanks for the article Michael. Do you plan to publish, specifics as to how you would share the love of Christ with each one ?

      Thanks again!

    • Mike Brooks

      Falling away is just a general way of saying someone either left the faith or just stopped believing for whatever reason. Many of us “Christians” have been the biggest deterrent to the faith because of how we treat others or how we present the gospel or the evidence. Some are not loving. Some are ignorant of the word and don’t even apply it to their lives. I think if we can learn to be more engaging and compassionate and be able to communicate better we could make more of an impact and a difference in someones life.

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