It’s important to understand that the Bible advises against continually evangelizing certain people.
Jesus Himself warned about giving pearls to persons who not only destroy them, but then actually attack the giver with violence (Matt. 7:6). Christ also told His disciples to stop arguing with some of the Pharisees who were not interested in hearing the truth (Luke 15:14).
A Biblical term given to these people is one not used much today – scoffer. The Hebrew word means to scorn and mock, and an unwillingness to receive reproof. In the New Testament, the Greek meaning is the same as the Hebrew, with the idea of despising the one giving advice also thrown in.
The warning about consistently engaging scoffers is seen throughout both the Old and New Testaments. A few examples include:
“He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, and he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, reprove a wise man and he will love you” (Prov. 9:8).
“A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise” (Prov. 15:12).
“And when they opposed and reviled him, he [Paul] shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles”” (Acts 18:6).
“Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers [scoffers] will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts” (2 Pet. 3:3).
While the warning about such people is easy to understand, what’s oftentimes difficult for the Christian is recognizing the scoffer and heeding the Bible’s advice on dealing with them. To help with this, I’d like to pass along one method that’s worked fairly well for me.
Lifting the Veil of the Scoffer
Let me first say I don’t have any beef with a person who is an honest skeptic, agnostic, or atheist. In fact, I find people who are thinking through matters of faith and non-faith very refreshing and some of my best and most thoughtful conversations have been with those who don’t believe as I do.
Further, in his book Not the Religious Type – Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist, Dave Schmelzer discusses how those who have rationally wrestled through questions about God and see-sawed back and forth between skepticism and faith can eventually turn out to be the strongest Christians.
But make no mistake, there is a marked difference between an agnostic or even professing atheist and a hatetheist; between an intellectually honest skeptic and what Scripture terms a scoffer. So how do you distinguish between the two?
Many years ago, Eric Metaxes gave us an excellent example of how it’s done in his wildly popular Wall Street Journal piece entitled, Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God. After presenting his case for how an intelligent Creator is the best reason for why the universe exists, he then asks this important question:
At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces?
That’s how you do it.
To unmask any scoffers in his audience, Metaxes asks a “what’s it going to take for you to believe?” question. These ultimatums can take many forms, but all end the same way.
For example, to those who doubt Christ rose from the dead, a question can be asked along the lines of, “Using the techniques and methods available to historians for validating events in the past, what would it take for you to believe in Christ’s resurrection?”
Up-leveling things even more, the question being asked of the non-Christian is really, “What is it going to take for you to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
However it’s offered, the question will reveal who is in front of you. The honest agnostic, skeptic, atheist, etc., might be caught off guard and say they will need to think about it and get back to you. Or, they may have already thought through the matter and will provide some good reasons as to what it would take for them to become a Christian. Or they may simply say “I don’t know”.
The scoffer won’t.
A good example of this is the rebuttal piece atheist Lawrence Krauss wrote in The New Yorker against Metaxes’ article. In it, he attempted to refute various points made by Metaxes, which he is certainly free to do.
But he never answered Metaxes’ key question. That’s because Krauss (at least today) seems to be a hardened skeptic who doesn’t want God to exist – a claim not hard to believe after you listen to his debates with William Lane Craig.
Ask the “what’s it going to take” question of someone you believe to be a scoffer, and the answer – or non-answer – will almost always instantly tell you whether you should continue to engage the person about Christ. No answer, joking responses about God skywriting their name in the clouds (or any ‘show me’ miracle), or patently false statements such as there being no evidence for God’s existence will tell you what you need to know.
What About Us?
Of course, it’s very fair to turn such a question back around on Christians and ask: what’s it going to take for you to drop your faith in Christ? My response has always been the same as the Apostle Paul’s, which is, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:13–14).
Find the body of that Jewish carpenter and it’s game over for Christianity. Every Bible needs to be discarded and every church put up for sale.
Would that be hard for Christians to do? Sure. But if you’re committed to following the truth no matter where it leads, then you have no other option if the body of Jesus ever turns up.
The same is true for those committed to a belief that there is nothing beyond the natural world. It’s scary for them to discard that worldview and admit there is something – Someone – outside nature responsible for the life that we know.
If that’s you, I’d like to invite you to give some good hard thought on what it would take for you to believe in a Creator, and even take some steps beyond that to think about what would make you embrace Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
The exercise could be quite revealing.
 See Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament ( לִיץ, 1113).
 See A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.; καταφρονητής).
 Dave Schmelzer, Not the Religious Type (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2008), pp. 17-27.
Robin Schumacher is a software executive and Christian apologist who has written many apologetic articles, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at various apologetic events. He holds a Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament.