Apologetics in a Postmodern Age, Part 3
- Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Fourth, a Christian apologetic is directed to a spiritual hunger. [Acts 17:22-23] Paul's observation convinced him that the Athenians were a religious people. A deficit of religiosity was not the problem. The Athenians seemed to be fearful lest they miss any new philosophy, or neglect any unknown deity.
American culture is increasingly secularistic. The past century has seen the agenda of secularism accomplished in the courts, in the schools, in the marketplace, and in the media. And yet Americans are among the most religious people in the world. The emptiness of the secular wasteland haunts most postmodern persons. They long for something more.
Many people declare themselves to live by scientific rationality, and yet they read the astrology charts, believe in alien abductions, line up to see bleeding statues, and talk about past lives. In America, even some atheists say they believe in miracles. Sociologist Robert Wuthnow suggests that "Americans are particularly fascinated with miraculous manifestations of the sacred because they are uncertain whether the sacred has really gone away."
Paul had taken account of the plentiful idols and houses of worship found in Athens. He noted that they were hedging their bets, lest they offend an unknown deity. Paul seized the opportunity. Brought before the court at the Areopagus, Paul brought up the altar to an unknown god. "It just so happens that I know that God," Paul asserted. "Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you."
This is surely a pattern for Christian apologetics in a postmodern age. We must seek constantly to turn spiritual hunger toward the true food of the Gospel of Christ. God has placed that hunger within lost persons so that they might desire Christ. We bear the stewardship of proclaiming the Gospel. We must muster the courage to confront confused postmodernists with the reality of their spiritual ignorance. Paul never allowed this ignorance to become an excuse, but there can be no doubt that it is a reality.
In their ignorance, Americans are feeding on a false diet of superstition and myths. The hunger is a place to start. Our challenge is to preach Christ as the only answer to that hunger.
Fifth, a Christian apologetic begins with the fundamental issue of God's nature, character, power, and authority. [Acts 17:24-28] Interestingly, Paul does not begin with Christ and the cross, but with the knowledge of God in creation. The God who created the world is not looking for Corinthian columns and the Parthenon, Paul argued. He does not dwell in temples made with human hands. He is the author of life itself, preached Paul; and He needs nothing from us. Furthermore, He has made humanity and is Lord over all the nations. He sovereignly determines their times and boundaries.
The Athenians were partly right, said Paul, even as he quoted their poets. All human beings are God's children, but not in the sense the Athenians believed. In proclaiming God as the Creator, Ruler, and Sustainer of all things and all peoples, Paul was making a claim that far surpassed the claims of the Hellenistic deities.
Paul's concern was to establish his preaching of Christ upon the larger foundation of the knowledge of the God of the Bible, Maker of Heaven and Earth. John Calvin organized his systematic theology around what he called the duplex cognito Domini, the two-fold knowledge of God. We must start with the knowledge of God as Creator, but this is not sufficient to save. "It is one thing to feel that God our Maker supports us by his power, governs us by his providence, nourishes us by his goodness, and attends us with all sorts of blessings," Calvin said, "and another thing to embrace the reconciliation offered us in Christ."
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