Theology, simply put, is a set of beliefs about God.
Everyone believes something about God.
Therefore, everyone has a theology.
It may be well informed. It may be poorly informed. It may be true. It may be false. Whatever the case, belief about God is universal. Even atheists believe something about God.
This is to say that no one is “without faith.” Sometimes we might hear people say, “I don’t believe anything,” or “I have no beliefs about God.”
However, such a statement is not true. Someone who says, “I don’t believe God exists” is saying, “I believe God does not exist,” (an atheist) or at the very least, “I believe that the existence of God is unproved” (an agnostic). It is simply an alternative belief.*
In evangelism, one of the steps is to find out what people believe about God.
Someone might say, “I don’t believe in God.”
We can respond with something like, “Did you know that God disagrees with you?” Of course, it is hard to imagine how that will help the conversation.
We can turn the atheist response on its head with, “Really? How can you be so irrational and superstitious as to deny there is a God?” This is an approach that actually has some merit, since there is nothing quite so irrational as denying the existence of the one true and living God. The truth is that while some might verbally deny the existence of God, most do not want to live in the kind of world that results from this denial.
We can respond with, “Interesting. Tell me what kind of God you don’t believe in. I might not believe in him either.” This is perhaps the most helpful response since it puts the ball in his court to explain his thinking. Oftentimes, when people are forced to listen to themselves talk, they find out very quickly just how incoherent they are.
It is also very helpful because it gives us the opportunity to do something most of us don’t like, but is often the most helpful tool for evangelism that is not found in the Bible. It is called “listening.” In other words, ask him to describe the kind of God he doesn’t believe in, and then shut up and listen. Resist the urge to show off your advanced knowledge. Resist the urge to interrupt his silly, nonsensical statements. Just listen for a while.
Listen carefully for the kind of God he has in his mind. Don’t make up your response until you have understood his or her objections. In other words, don’t fell compelled (at this point) to answer questions he or she isn’t asking.
When he quits talking, ask more questions to verify what he actually believes.
Then, use God’s revelation of himself to show how his beliefs are based on shifting quicksand, irrationality, inconsistency, and hopelessness.
And point him to Jesus as the revelation of God—the true theology.
*I have found Tim Keller very helpful on the idea of alternative beliefs. See his The Reason for God, which is an (almost presuppositional) apologetic for the Christian faith.