The church is faced in the postmodern age by several distinct apologetic challenges. Internally, the church must defend the faith against ignorance, against compromise, against doctrinal apathy, and against denial. The church now suffers from a breathtaking deficit of doctrinal instruction and biblical truth. In some churches, the great truths of the Christian faith are unknown, and in others, these truths are left dormant and untaught. Beyond this, the very real dangers of doctrinal corrosion and heresy threaten.

Externally, the Gospel must be defended against secular atheism, postmodern relativism, naturalistic scientism, materialism, and current syncretisms. The Gospel must be proclaimed in the face of rival systems of belief and alternative worldviews, new and old.

This is where the task of Christian apologetics begins. In the Apostle Paul we find a model of Great Commission proclamation matched to an apologetic argument--an argument in defense of Christian truth. In Acts 17:16-34, we find Paul standing at Ground Zero of apologetic ministry in the first century.

Athens was the most intellectually sophisticated culture in the ancient world, and even in Paul's day it basked in its retreating glory. Though Rome held political and military preeminence, Athens stood supreme in terms of cultural and intellectual influence. The centerpiece of Paul's visit to Athens is his message to the court of philosophers at the Areopagus, also known as Mars Hill.

Some critics have claimed that Paul's experience on Mars Hill was a dismal failure. Luke presents it otherwise, however, and in this account we can learn a great deal about the proper defense of the faith. Several principles of a proper Christian apologetic become evident as we consider this great biblical text.

First, a Christian apologetic begins in a provoked spirit. [Acts 17:16] Paul observed the spiritual confusion of the Athenians and was overcome with concern. The sight of a city full of idols seized him with grief, and that grief turned to Gospel proclamation.

Luke records that Paul experienced paroxynos, a paroxysm, at the sight of such spiritual confusion. Athens was intellectually sophisticated--the arena where the ancient world's most famous philosophers had debated. This was the city of Pericles, Plato, and Socrates. But Paul was not impressed with the faded glory. He saw men and women in need of a Savior.

This text reminds us that a proper Christian apologetic begins in spiritual concern, not in intellectual snobbery or scorn. We preach Christ, not because Christianity is merely a superior philosophy or worldview, nor because we have been smart enough to embrace the Gospel, but because we have met the Savior, we have been claimed by the Gospel, and we have been transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Our apologetic impulse is not a matter of intellectual pride, but of spiritual concern. A dying world languishes in spiritual confusion. I wonder how many of us are grieved as Paul was grieved in his observation of Athens. Looking at the spiritual confusion of American culture, do we experience the paroxysm with which Paul was seized?

We live in a nation filled with idols of self-realization, material comfort, psychological salvation, sexual ecstasy, ambition, power, and success. Millions of Americans embrace New Age spiritualites in a quest for personal fulfillment and self-transcendence. The ancient paganisms of nature worship have emerged once again, along with esoteric and occultic practices.