How to Confront the Culture
- Monday, October 22, 2007
You may know I pastor a church in Los Angeles, California. I have the blessed privilege of mining the truth from God's Word every week of my life. Doing that in L.A. only makes it more interesting, if for no other reason than the tremendous diversity of people, culture, and language here. When we take the gospel to our city, it's amazing to watch God's Word transcend the culture—and every false religion—to change lives. The message of salvation in Christ truly knows no hindrance.
If you think evangelism is a somewhat arduous task in that environment, you're right. We face a culture that has rejected absolute truth and now considers it stylish to openly embrace and encourage degrading passions. The ecumenical, syncretistic spirit of the age recoils in horror at the exclusive claims of Christ. And popular, evangelical seeker-sensitive churches only make the task more difficult by refusing to confront sin in an effort to make the "unchurched" sinner comfortable.
Preaching today is clearly out of season (2 Tim. 4:2) and evangelism is difficult, but that's nothing new. Paul faced worse challenges in his day. He faced an increasingly anti-Christian culture—there was no spirit of tolerance to shield believers from hostility. Still, he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ-a hard, uncompromising message of repentance. That is best illustrated in Acts 17:16-34 where Paul faced one of the most intellectually erudite and morally corrupt audiences ever-the philosophers on Mars Hill.The Situation: Acts 17:16-21
Paul came to Athens after being forced to flee Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17:1-15). Athens was the heart of Greek culture and thought, renowned for its art and philosophy and some of the most famous philosophers. The founders of two dominant philosophies, Epicurus (Epicureanism) and Zeno (Stoicism), had taught in Athens.
Athens was also the home of almost every man-made god in existence. The pagan writer Petronius once said it was easier to find a god in Athens than a man. In fact it was Athenian idolatry that drove Paul to preach the gospel in Athens—such idolatry offended him to the core (v. 16). In customary fashion, he marched directly to the local synagogue and was reasoning from the Scriptures (cf. v. 2) "with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present" (v. 17).
Some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers heard Paul's message in the market place and brought him to the Areopagus on Mars Hill before some of the most astute philosophers in Athens. They had no interest in the gospel; Paul was simply a novelty to them. They set him in their midst as a specimen that would amuse their interest in "telling or hearing something new" (v. 21). That's the setting for Paul's message and method for confronting a godless culture.
Paul spoke his message to an indifferent and arrogant audience, like many to whom you and I speak today. As we look at how Paul preached to the philosophers, you'll see three essential elements of an effective message to confront our post-Christian culture with the truth.
First, tell them that God is (vv. 22-23). Here's Paul's first point: "You are ignorant and I'm going to give you the truth." Try recommending that opening line at an evangelism conference. Some people think Paul commended their religiosity when he mentioned their many objects of worship. He wasn't commending them at all-their idols infuriated him (v. 16). Rather, he started with a given: all men are innately religious. All men are created to be worshipers-they either worship God or something else, but everyone worships something. The Athenians were no different.
Externally, God has given witness about Himself through what He created: "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands" (Ps. 19:1). Internally, according to Romans 1:19: "that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them." They have an innate sense of the true God of the Bible, His standards are written on their hearts, and their consciences hold them accountable (Rom. 2:14-15). But because of sin, they "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom. 1:18). They willfully reject what they know to be true and choose instead to worship in ignorance.
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