We are back together this Tuesday. This week, we will be discussing Chapter 6 “Finding the Echoes of the Story of Jesus in Our World Today” of Dr. Hanna Steele’s book Living His Story. In this chapter, Dr. Steele writes about how we can use popular culture to speak about the good news of Jesus Christ. She bases her discussion on Paul’s visit to Athens as recorded in Acts 17:16-34. Please read about Paul’s visit. T
Paul in Athens:
Athens was the intellectual and cultural center of the ancient world. Just outside the city was Mars Hill (or the Areopagus meaning Ares Hill – same god, different language). This was the judicial center of Athens. It was the courthouse square where men would gather to discuss politics, religion, and the news of the day.
Paul arrives in Athens and is overcome by the number of idols in the City. Paul goes throughout the City debating his fellow Jews in their synagogue, but also engaging the various schools of Greek philosophy. His journey through Athens ends at Mars Hill where he gives a speech to the men of Athens about Jesus. In that speech, Pauls never quotes Scripture (because the Greeks do not recognize the Jewish holy book). Rather Paul begins with his observations as to the religious status of the Athenians and he quotes only pagan philosophers to make his point about God and Jesus. He meets the Athenians where there are and he engages with them from their own point of view.
In engaging non-Christians with the gospel, Dr. Steele gives us four lessons we learn from Paul’s speech on Mars Hill.
1. Look and Listen:
Paul engages the Athenians on their own religious terms. Paul can only do this because he took the time to look, to listen, and to learn about where the Athenian’s religious sensibilities lay. Paul did not tell the Athenians to believe in Jesus because he was the Jewish messiah or the fulfillment of the promises of the Jewish Scriptures. After all, the Athenians would not have cared. (In the synagogues, of course, Paul did make these points. See, Acts 17:11) People who do not recognize the authority of Scripture will not be swayed by an appeal to Scripture, rather we have to look, listen, and learn about what they believe. Currently, about 30% of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, however (like the Athenians), almost 70% of the unaffiliated, still retain a belief in God. Dr. Steele’s challenge to us is how do we talk to these religious/spiritual unaffiliated people.
2. Give Credit where Credit is Due:
Ancient Athens was overcome by idols, and this fact grieved Paul greatly. (v.16). However, when Paul begins his speech he affirms and recognizes the Athenians’ great religious devotion. (v.22). He does not criticize or condemn their idol worship, rather he sees their religious devotion as something good in them that he can work with. Like the ancient Athenians, people today still hunger for meaning and purpose. That hunger is the hunger to know God. As Dr. Steele points out, today many non-Christians value the beauty of (God’s) creation, or the inherent dignity of people (created in the image of God), or to know that they are loved (by God). Giving due credit to what others hold as valuable is often the best place to begin a discussion about God and Jesus.
3. Looking from a Different Angle:
Once Paul gives credit to his audience for their own religious devotion and once Paul engages them by using the authorities of their own philosophers, Paul invites them to consider these authorities from a different angle. Paul uses the shrine to an unknown god to have his audience imagine who that unknown god would be. Paul chooses his quotes from the philosophers so that they can be reimagined as pointing toward the one true God. Only once we have listened to others and affirmed their existing beliefs and what they value, can we then ask them to look at those beliefs and values from a different angle. Only then, can we ask to look for God.
4. Pointing Towards Christ:
Paul dedicates most of his speech on Mars Hill to pointing the Athenians toward God. However, Paul concludes his address by speaking of Jesus and the Resurrection. Jesus’s victory over death is the heart of the gospel message. Everyone we meet in the Gospels believes in God, and James reminds us, that even the demons do as well (James 2:19). A recognition of God is a prerequisite to the Gospel message, but it is not the good news itself. Rather the good news is the person of Jesus Christ. Dr. Steele concludes her discussion by reminding us that Jesus Christ is not a doctrine but a person. And that it is only in proclaiming the person – his teachings, his actions, and his resurrection – that we become evangelists.
Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is Philly cheesesteaks. Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here.
For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.Acts 17:23