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.