Love Your Neighbor, the Atheist

by Sean McDowell

When Jesus was asked the most important commandment in the law he answered to “love the Lord your God” and “love your neighbor.” In other words, the most important thing for Christians to do is to love (Mark 12). And yet this summer I have been reminded how far we have to go in learning to love our neighbors. Let me explain.

One of my favorite ways to teach students is through role-playing. I take on the part of an atheist, Muslim, Mormon, or a member of some other non-Christian worldview and challenge students to articulate and defend their beliefs accordingly.  I have done this with groups of as few as twelve students or as many as 6,000.

One of the great values in role-playing is that it quickly reveals how little students actually understand their faith. Rarely have I encountered a student who was conversant about theology, science or philosophy. Most defend their views by quoting verses (even though my role-play persona typically does not believe in the Bible) or by pointing to some personal experience. As Barna studies reveal, few Christians understand or can articulate their faith.

And yet my role-play also reveals how students treat non-believers. This summer I role-played as an atheist at a summer camp. As soon as I put on my “atheist shirt,” to indicate I was role-playing, a youth pastor yelled out, “You are going to hell.” Everyone laughed. Another student read me Psalms 14:1, which says, “The fool says there is no God.” Others clapped and jeered as soon as they answered my questions or countered my challenges. Rather than loving me as a neighbor they told me I was going to hell, called me a fool, and cheered against me as if I was their cross-town rival…

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