Tag Archives: Mars Hill
We have been thinking through a few issues of an introductory nature that need to be discussed before we get into the specific subject areas of God, the Bible, Christ, the Holy Spirit, etc. [For those of you who like technical words, this area of study is called PROLEGOMENA, literally, “things you discuss first.”]
There are many of these preliminary matters to be considered. This morning we want to consider the issue of philosophy. “Philosophy” is the love of wisdom. How does philosophy relate to theology (the study of God and the things of God)?
The Apostle Paul says in Colossians 2:8- “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” Philosophy can quite easily become theology’s enemy, especially if it elevates the thinking of fallen man above the infallible Word of God.
But notice that Paul warns against “hollow and deceptive” philosophy, not philosophy in general. If one’s philosophy is how one views life, everyone has one, and needs to have the best one possible!
We are not to put down good philosophy, but test it by the word of God. I love the quote from John Gardner, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Lyndon Baines Johnson: “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”
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?
In Acts 17 we read of the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill, using his mind to love God — and to share the gospel! I’m preparing for Emmaus Bible College’s “Christian MInistry Seminars” on February 6-7. One of my messages (the theme is “Anti-Intellectualism Isn’t Spirituality”) will take a look at Acts 17:19-34 to see how the Apostle Paul used his mind to reach five different groups.
Although we’ve seen much already, today I want to focus on Paul’s use of pagan literature to advance the gospel. In making his case that the unknown God, the true Creator of the universe, wants to be sought by human beings, Paul refers to God’s immanence (His closeness) when he says, “he is not far from any one of us” (v. 27). And to bolster his point of God’s nearness, Paul quotes two pagan writers (note the [b] and [c] in the NIV of this text). He quotes Cretan philosopher Epimenides when he says, “For in him we live and move and have our being” and the Cilician Stoic philosopher Aratus when he says, “As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'” (v. 28).
Don’t miss this critical point! Somewhere C.S. Lewis said that one’s audience determines one’s language. Here it seems that one’s audience determines one’s sources. In other words, Paul uses non-Christian, non-biblical literature (with which some of his audience would have been familiar) to advance his gospel presentation. Is it too much to say that if you only know your Bible, you know too little? Paul knew pagan/Greek literature — and used it for his purposes.
He quotes the Cretan philosopher Epimenides,considered a semi-mythical 7th or 6th century BC Greek seer and philosopher-poet. While tending his father’s sheep, he is said to have fallen asleep for fifty-seven years in a Cretan cave sacred to Zeus, after which he reportedly awoke with the gift of prophecy. Epimenides’ Cretica (Κρητικά) is quoted twice in the New Testament. In the poem, Minos addresses Zeus thus: “They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one, Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies. But you are not dead: you live and abide forever, For in you we live and move and have our being.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epimenides).
Paul also quotes the Cilician Stoic philosopher Aratus when he says, “As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'” A Greek didactic poet, Aratus might have been from Tarsus! His major extant work is his hexameter poem Phaenomena. Although somewhat ignorant of Greek astronomy, Aratus’ poem was very popular in the Greek and Roman world, as is proved by the large number of commentaries and Latin translations, some of which survive. The full stanza reads, “Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken. For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus. Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity. Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus. For we are indeed his offspring …” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aratus)
We will discuss this issue of being God’s “offspring” in our next post. But please don’t miss our main point today: We need to be aware of the influences which form the worldview of lost people — and use whatever is helpful in advancing the gospel!
We continue with our study of Acts 17, Paul on Mars Hill. I’m looking forward to Emmaus Bible College’s “Christian MInistry Seminars” on February 6-7. My theme, “Anti-Intellectualism Isn’t Spirituality,” will pursue several topics. We will look at Acts 17:19-34 to see how the Apostle Paul used his mind to reach five different groups.
Beginning with a compliment, Paul proclaims the “unknown god” to the Athenians. Let’s notice verses 24-28. As Paul moves into PROCLAMATION, he speaks clearly of Christian doctrine! Notice that he credits this “unknown god” with creation (He “made the world and everything in it” – v. 24) and providence (caring for His creation) (“he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else” – v. 25). Paul makes it clear that this true God is independent of His creation (He “is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands . . . and . . . is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything” – vv. 24-25).
Wow! That’s a lot of Christian doctrine! Paul goes on to talk about man’s creation (“all the nations” – v. 26) being intended by this God to “inhabit the whole earth” (v. 26). Both man’s relationship to time (“marked out their appointed times”) and their geography (“the boundaries of their lands”) are covered in verse 26.
And this Creator-God is not content with simply making stuff. He wants a personal relationship with human beings (“God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for him and find him” – v. 27).
Question: Are we presenting the true God of the Bible as One who wishes for a personal relationship with each of His creatures made in His image?
On February 6-7 I will be the speaker at Emmaus Bible College’s “Christian MInistry Seminars.” My theme, “Anti-Intellectualism Isn’t Spirituality,” will pursue several topics, among them is Paul’s use of his mind in Acts 17. As we look at Acts 17:19-34 we see how the Apostle Paul reaches a diverse audience with the gospel. “Greatly distressed” to see the city “full of idols,” he uses reasoning to debate with those five groups.
He tells them that he has taken the time to look carefully at their objects of worship (v. 23). He read every inscription. He became culturally-aware of his audience and what had captured their attention.
He then moves from the known to the unknown. The Athenians covered all their bases (or so they thought) by even having an altar with the inscription “to an unknown god.” Paul uses that anonymous object of worship as a contact point to transition to “that is what I am going to proclaim to you” (v. 23).
There is a time for PROCLAMATION in the presentation of the gospel, isn’t there? But sometimes we bring in PROCLAMATION too early. What has preceded Paul’s proclaiming of this “unknown god”? (1) He has taken the time to become culturally-aware of their religious habits. (2) He has extended a compliment to them as he begins to speak about the true religion. RESPECT and KINDNESS precede PROCLAMATION.
In our next post we will notice how Paul unpacks the truths about this “unknown god” who has made Himself known to those who will seek Him! Paul inspires their curiosity in the next part of his speech. Question: How do we get people in our culture to become curious about the Christian God?