It is right to critique unbelief as an incoherent, unsustainable worldview. But we must also offer an alternative. Apologists don’t merely answer questions or defend against accusations. They proclaim and invite.
Apologetic conversations aren’t about hypothetical truths, but about life’s most important matters. We mustn’t simply stick to the scripts of critics; we must see ourselves as God’s prophets “anointed to confess his name” and reveal the mysterious “counsel and will of God concerning our deliverance.” Apologists aim to disrupt the status quo of the critic. Why? Because “as an outsider I don’t need reasons to dismiss something. My ignorance of the subject is already doing a good job of that. I need reasons to take seriously something that I would otherwise dismiss.”
How can we do that? Apologists answer that question differently. For example, “The Van Tillian methodology was negative, to reduce the opponent to absurdity. The Lewisian methodology was affirmative, to persuade the opponent that they actually needed and wanted the Foundation and Anchor of Truth.”  Folks might favor one approach over the other—but aren’t they both needed?
This was Paul’s plan. Apologists must “destroy arguments” (2 Cor. 10:5). They also must “entreat…by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (1). And before doing either we can help our friends better understand their unbelief.
Because you believe God’s Word, you know more about the unbelief of your friends than they do. The woman at the well was amazed because of the personal things Jesus knew about her (John 4:29). His analysis of her life got her wondering about the claims of Christ’s lordship. We don’t have to be omniscient to understand important truths about unbelief.
Unbelief Is Always Moral, Not Merely Intellectual
Intellectually unbelievers know there is a God, but find it morally intolerable to honor him as God (Rom. 1:21). They stumble over Jesus’ claim of Lordship (1 Peter 2:8) despite his promise of gentleness (Matt. 11:29).
To truly receive Christ, we have to disown everything we thought was to our advantage (Phil. 3:7–8). The gospel offends us because it “deprives us of all credit for wisdom, virtue, and righteousness.” Some people use intellectual arguments to excuse their refusal to trust Jesus. Others use less sophisticated methods. J. H. Bavinck puts it like this: “fear of the future, fear of the pitiless discovery of his own insignificance, fear of death, and fear of God—all that dark and somber fear which lives and hides in the inner man is covered with a pattern of banter and lightheartedness.” Either way, refusal to trust in Jesus is always a matter of the heart; it is never simply about mental hurdles.
Unbelief Is Contrary to Our Deepest Desires
Unbelief is dissatisfying because we are wired to know God. The teenager who rebels against her parents violates deeper desires. She wants acceptance, security, and love. Rejecting her parents drives her further from what she truly wants and needs. So it is with unbelief. The peace and healing God promises, and which everyone desires, cannot be experienced by unbelievers. Here’s how Isaiah put it: “‘Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,’ says the Lord, ‘and I will heal him. But the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt. There is no peace’ says my God, ‘for the wicked’” (57:20–21). Truly, “Our restless spirits yearn for thee, where’er our changeful lot is cast.” No matter how intelligent, competent, and lovely unbelievers are, because they reject God they are “wandering through life aimlessly, not knowing the right perspective on the simplest things of life.” That is contrary to our deeper desires. Paul describes non-Christians in terms of homelessness. As aliens and strangers they have “no hope” and are “without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). I’ve never been homeless, but I’ve been away from home—where I belong—for too long. Unbelief keeps people from being where they belong.
Don’t fear telling unbelieving friends what the Bible says about their unbelief.