Christians Need to Keep Up
A few weeks ago I posted an article about Paul’s heart for evangelism. I briefly examined Paul’s ministry in Athens. I would like to revisit that passage again today, specifically looking at how Paul communicated the Gospel to the Athenians. He did so by understanding their culture.
Firstly, we must notice that Paul was teaching in Athens. He made friends with his opponents. Acts 17:18 speaks about the Epicureans and Stoic philosophers coming and discussing the Gospel with Paul. They call him a babbler, which means picker of seeds. This was a term of endearment. Paul was a gatherer of truth in their eyes. This would have been a very noble title, showing that there was a sense of friendliness between Paul and these unbelieving philosophers. We too must be friends with those without Christ. We were just like them, let us build relationships and earn their trust so we can speak speak truth into their lives.
When Paul goes before the Areopagus, think of a huge braintrust of philosophers, he cleverly speaks about the “unknown god.” He does this because it was actually against the law to bring a new religion to Athens. Paul understood the culture and saw something he could use for the Gospel’s benefit. The Athenians had created the altar of the “unknown god” just in case they had missed one amongst their numerous false deities. Paul saw that and used it as a jumping off point for explaining who this real unknown God. Paul essentially said, “Let me introduce you to the unknown God - Jehovah.” How can we use culture to help us communicate the Gospel?
Paul even quotes an Athenian poet named Artus in Acts 17:28. This shows Paul’s intimate knowledge with the culture. He’s aware of the teachings that this culture has created. He knows them so well that he can quote the Athenian philosophy. This shows us that we need to be involved in culture to have a good grasp on what thoughts are being elevated in our culture. Francis Schaeffer, the famous Christian apologist, wrote a great work in Escape from Reason.
He wrote, “Each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting.” This means that every generation of Christian must be involved in their culture so the they know what is happening and what schools of thought are out there in order to advance the Gospel.
We need to know what is happening in the world in order to best communicate the Gospel.
Imagine if Paul had shut himself completely out from culture and then showed up in Athens. What would he have to say to them? The Gospel is all about transformation and this is seen in how we can use the culture around us to help us spread the Gospel. At the same time we must be careful to not let the sin inside our culture impact us. It’s a line we all must be careful to walk.
Francis A. Schaeffer, Escape from Reason. p. 120.