This is our last post on the Apostle Paul’s use of his mind on Mars Hill found in Acts 17. As I prepare to speak on the theme “Anti-Intellectualism Isn’t Spirituality,” studying Acts 17 has been an encouragement to me in several ways. If one pours over verses 16-34, we see that Paul saw all the idols in Athens and was deeply concerned that these intelligent people were idolaters. He proclaims the “unknown god” to them and is then given the opportunity to formally present his “strange ideas” before their formal court of opinion.
He uses their own literature to advance his gospel presentation, quoting lines from pagan poetry with which those Athenians would have been familiar. Would you ever say to someone who hasn’t believed in Jesus, “We are God’s offspring!”? But Paul does not mean that, therefore, one doesn’t need to believe in Jesus. He is referring to creation — and never confuse creation with redemption!
In fact, he goes on to say, “Therefore since we are God’s offspring . . .”
(1) we should not worship idols (v. 29).
(2) we should turn to the true God — and repent! (v. 30).
Using secular or contemporary or non-Christian literature might be a bit risky, but it accomplishes several goals. The first is that your audience knows that you strive to be a well-read person who cares about what they think and has looked into what they read. Second, using such material establishes a bridge, a contact point, between their worldview and yours. You can then attempt to bring them from the known to the unknown.
Paul’s emphasis on Jesus’ resurrection produces an immediate result: Some sneer at him. Others say that they want to hear him again on the subject. Some of his hearers became followers of Paul and believed! And Paul names two of them, one of whom is a member of the Areopagus!
We do not judge a person’s method by its results (a pragmatic approach). Nowhere in Scripture is Paul’s process in Acts 17 criticized (please note Norman Geisler’s refutation of the view that in I Cor. 2:2 Paul repented of his approach here — see his article “An Apology for Apologetics” found here).
Several questions occur to me as we conclude this brief study. Perhaps you will find these challenging as well.
1. Am I open to learn various philosophies so that God can use me to speak to the intellectual unbelievers of my day?
2. Am I willing to read stuff that isn’t “Christian” so that I can connect with those who aren’t yet followers of Jesus?
3. Am I in it for the long haul? That is, am I willing to spend significant time presenting and debating the case for Jesus?
4. Can I name at least one unbelieving intellectual friend for whom I can daily pray?