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Chess, Coffee, and God: Conversations with an Atheist (Part 1, Introduction)

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

Several years ago, I worked alongside an atheist who played chess. I also played chess, though I really just knew what the pieces did. Mostly. A beginner, you could say, though that’s probably being generous. He, on the other hand, played chess. Like, really played it.

He also happened to enjoy discussions on religion and philosophy. Religion being one of my favorite topics, I invited him to a local Barnes and Noble, where we could talk religion and play chess. Also, I made sure that there was a Starbucks inside the Barnes and Noble. For, you know, scientific reasons.

Anyway, over the course of the next several months, we would meet two or sometimes three times a month to play chess and talk religion, specifically the area of apologetics. I have a special relationship with apologetics. And, for that matter, with atheism. When I was eighteen, I was an atheist for about a year. The journey from Christ-follower to atheist and back again is a story for another time. For now, just know that I got my hand on some books on apologetics and was pretty much hooked.

I used to believe that if I could sit down with just about anyone, I could re-enact my journey from atheist to Christ-follower and suddenly they would be a believer, too. That I could prove God to someone and that was all there was to it. Case closed, the defense rests. After all, that’s sort of what happened to me. Obviously, my story is much deeper than a quick read-through of Lee Strobel and a couple Frank Turek videos. However, I did believe that it could be that simple.

Suffice to say, it is not. My friend is still an atheist, and he’s still far better than me at chess. I’m assuming this last part, since we’ve not played in some time. He did beat me seventy-seven times in a row before I was able to take home a win (I did say beginner was generous). I learned a great deal from our conversations, and I like to think he did, too. Mostly, I learned you cannot talk someone into being a believer. After all, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44, ESV). Yet we are also told, “how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (Rom 10:14).

So, while I no longer think we can talk someone into becoming a believer, I do think we can remove the obstacles they’ve put in their own way. For example, one of the issues my friend had with Christianity was typical of many non-believers: “If the Bible has been translated a hundred times over two thousand years, how can we know what it really says?” I have heard this objection, or a version of this objection, dozens of times during my walk with Christ. In fact, there is a very simple answer to this objection (which I will lay out in a post to come). Once my friend heard what I had to say regarding this, he essentially dropped the objection. Did that make him a believer? No. Is it going to give him one less objection to becoming a believer? Yes.

And that, I learned, is what apologetics is all about. It is not talking someone into believing. It is removing the false objections people have raised for themselves. In the posts to follow this one, I will be recounting our conversations. I will be leaving out names in favor of pronouns. In addition, I will obviously not be able to recount our conversations accurately, since it has been almost three years since they took place. Instead, I will be recounting the topics of our conversation. I hope to paint my friend in a favorable light, since that's the way I remember him.


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Mar 31, 2021

My late pastor taught us, "You cannot give what you do not have." So simple, and yet, profound - especially when applied to what we have to offer others. I suppose we Christians might want to remember this a bit more.

And then - The Preposition Problem - where we talk 'at' people, rather than 'with' them. I think both you, and your friend, have done this. And, your writing, here, is a very 'comfortable' read. Nice.

Thank you.

Bryan R. Saye
Bryan R. Saye
Mar 31, 2021
Replying to

I think I would like your pastor. Talking ‘at’ people is a quick way to close someone’s ear and ruin a dialogue. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I’m looking forward to sharing more of our conversation.

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