ATHENS REVISITED: EVANGELISING IN THE 21st CENTURY

1. Preamble Dankie Jan, Marno vir die geleentheid. Dit is vir my baie spesiaal om vanoggend die kant van die kansel te staan en ted eel oor iets wat baie na aan die hart is en wat volgens my mening van die uiterste belang is vir dié wat die evangelie ernstig opneem. Ek het oor die jare geleer dat as ek tegnies wil wees dan moet ek liewers by die moedertaal bly. Ek het al meer as een keer, op die harde manier, besef dat my Afrikanse weergawe en die werklikheid twee versillende dinge is. 2. Introduction Title: Athens Revisited: Evangelising in the 21st Century Challenge: Wetting the appetite. It is impossible to do justice to the subject in 40 minutes but yet is remain necessary to establish a firm Biblical foundation [ Missionary: swami, Hindu Priest- karma and samsara - He had been domesticated into the Hindu worldview. ] While most would understand our missionary’s predicament many of us do not quite realise that we have very similar cultural constraints in our own society. Oh yes, you would say. “I understand that there are major differences between our African and Western culture and we need to somehow bridge these differences.” But that’s not quite what I have in mind. In fact it is a lot more subtle than that. [Sunnypark, Arcadia Centre]. Sharing the Gospel has somehow changed over the last years. In the past people at least had a vague idea of what the Bible was who Jesus is, heaven and hell, sin [elaborate] and so on. [STUDENT] What has changed? Well, much in fact. Politically, economically, technologically, environmentally, etc. But most important of all the thinking has changed- if I be as so bold to use the word, the philosophy of the day has changed. The ‘spirit of this age’ is quite different from the ‘spirit of the last age,’ and by last age I am talking about not longer than 10 years ago. We are now living in what is known as a postmodern culture. It is the most pervasive philosophical system to date. It has penetrated every avenue of society including much of the church. [ANTS] Time does not permit me to explain what postmodernism is as that would take at least another hour.

Athens Revisited

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We have to connect with where people are. 3. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.Even then it is very difficult to define postmodernism – it’s like trying to nail jelly to a wall yet it does exhibit certain distinctive traits:    There are no absolutes – truth is relative It is pluralistic by nature – it accommodates many sub worldviews and religions (except Christianity. so spiritual. Every human being past. It is here where the enemy slips in. – 2 Corinthians 10 Two important points emerge from all this:   Ideas have consequences: We are called to confront the philosophy of the day not to retreat into places of safety. This new cultural mood offers challenges to churches in that it forces them to do some significant rethinking on how the gospel is presented in our contemporary society. transparent and relational and as a result has attracted many sectors of the church with devastating consequences. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. Athens Revisited Page 2 . The old methods are simply not as effective as they were in the past. It some areas it seems so accommodating.) Tolerance is the key word. present and future has a worldview 2. 6 being ready to punish every disobedience. While we all to a greater or lesser extent understand that we are primarily involved in a spiritual battle I not always that sure we always understand what type a battle we are involved in. Definition of a worldview “A worldview is a way of viewing or interpreting all of reality. when your obedience is complete. We seem to get it right is some areas while we miss other areas. While I believe postmodernism is actually quite difficult to defend and sustain intellectually. If you don’t get the questions right you will never understand the answers. Our battle is a worldview battle. we are not waging war according to the flesh. not with where we think they ought to be. A worldview comprises certain common fundamental questions and these are the questions that Paul deals with in Acts 17. 3 For though we walk in the flesh. and take every thought captive to obey Christ. It is an interpretive framework through which one makes sense of the data of life and the world” Two important characteristics need to be highlighted: 1. we must nevertheless accept that it continues to shape cultural perceptions and we need to recognise that.

the former home of the ‘gang of three’. people thoroughly informed by the Bible (what we would today call the Old Testament). one finds the apostle Paul evangelizing intelligent Athenians who are utterly biblically illiterate.  Athens Revisited Page 3 . Apollonia] 16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens. In Acts 17. it would have to engage the city’s formidable philosophical heritage and pagan roots.] Sharing your worldview The setting. of course. however. Plato and Aristotle – philosophy that has affected civilization to this present day. Here his approach is remarkably different. P45aul rose to this challenge [clash of Kingdoms – a worldview battle. a synagogue. The example of Paul All of this. and God fearers . The non-negotiables. the apostle Paul well understood. stronghold. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons. Athens [Background – Amphipolis.a society very similar in many aspects to our society today. and has much to teach us as we attempt to evangelize a new generation of biblical illiterates. Three important points need to be noted with regard to Paul and subsequent to our evangelical approach:   the realities the culture Paul faces. While radically different from the pagan worldview it was nevertheless clearly understood. Gentile proselytes to Judaism. If Christianity was to take root in this city. Socrates. He understood the pagan worldview and subsequently established a framework based upon a Biblical worldview. Athens: An important spiritual. ensures that his hearers are Jews.4.in every case. and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. The Biblical illiterate In Acts 17:16-34. One of the most important early engagements between Christianity and the classic philosophical beliefs is found in Paul’s address in the Greek city of Athens. by his own example he teaches us the difference between evangelizing those who largely share your biblical worldview and evangelizing those who are biblically illiterate . his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.

if you want to know a little more closely just how he would have expanded each point. being Lord of heaven and earth. ‘To the unknown god. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it. In other words. But speeches before the Areopagus were not known for their brevity.. 6. Historical and Soteriology – worldview questions ] 22 So Paul. does not live in temples made by man. The Areopagus (Areios Pagos. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus. we must remember that this is a condensed report of a much longer speech.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. After all. it takes you about two minutes to read this record of Paul’s address. lit. standing in the midst of the Areopagus. Ultimately Caesar was lord [Jesus is Lord. Athens Revisited Page 4 . god of thunder and war). I perceive that in every way you are very religious. But let no temple and no God challenge Rome.5. this I proclaim to you. “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said. it is easier to discover than some people think. constituted a point that Paul expanded upon at length. Romans. Its membership consisted of all city administrators. Anthropology. [ Romans -religion. The Framework Paul establishes Preliminary observations Here it will be helpful to run through Paul’s argument from 17:22 to 17:31:  First. in some cases every clause.” the Gr. “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. So we should doubtless understand Paul’s appearance before the Athenian Council of Ares as being for the purpose of explaining his message before those in control of affairs in the city so that he might either receive the freedom of the city to preach or be censored and silenced. it was a capital offense to desecrate a temple—any temple.’ What therefore you worship as unknown. said: “Men of Athens. I found also an altar with this inscription.] 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. for instance. land.] Religious pluralism was not only endemic to the Empire but was buttressed by the force of law. For there are many points of comparison between these sermon notes and. and people. Second. The Realities Paul faces I mentioned the philosophical background of Athens but we also need to take note of its pagan background and then to realise how similar this gentile society is to our 21st Century society.  [ Theology. And some said. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship. saying. “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. “Court” or “Council of Ares. Doubtless every sentence. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.

God is utterly independent of his created order so far as his own well-being or contentment or existence is concerned. 24). “I perceive that in every way you are very religious. He is so much bigger than that. For the first time one finds an explicit reference to something wrong in this universe that God created. Paul insists that God “is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands” The sovereignty of God over the whole universe stands over against views that assign this god or that goddess a particular domain—perhaps the sea (Neptune) or communication (Hermes). 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth. where human beings and gods interact in all kinds of ways bound up with the finiteness and needs of the gods. God is Transcendent. It is important for Paul to get the anthropology right so that the soteriology is right. God does not need us . 27 that they should seek God.a very different perspective from that of polytheism. God cannot be domesticated—not even by temples (v. Something has gone profoundly wrong. as though he needed anything. and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. 25b ………….. The truth of the matter is the converse: we are utterly dependent on him . He makes reference to their unknown god and now proceeds to explain who the ‘known’ God is. as if he needed anything”. This contradicts not a few ancient notions of human descent. which conjectured that different ethnic groups came into being in quite different ways. 25 nor is he served by human hands. …………. He insists that all nations descended from one man (v. God “is not served by human hands. We cannot agree on the solution if we cannot agree on the problem. 26). since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. Because of the universality of his reign. having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place From theology proper.“he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else”. Paul turns to anthropology. does not live in temples made by man.Theology: First. Athens Revisited Page 5 . Paul establishes that God is the creator of “the world and everything in it” Paul finds a ‘common’ starting point. But Paul has a universal gospel that is based on a universal problem.” There is nearly a hint of sarcasm here. The assumption is that the race as a whole does not know the God who made them.

29 Being then God’s offspring. The entailment of this theology and this anthropology is to clarify what sin is and to make idolatry utterly reprehensible Idolatry – the original sin – de-goding God. not least his death and resurrection. Phaenomena. Otherwise nothing that Paul wants to say about Jesus will make sense. for Paul.) 28 for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’. we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone. but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. in fact. Romans 1:18 (…. Athens Revisited Page 6 . but as an expression of God’s personal and immediate concern for our well-being. as even some of your own poets have said. an image formed by the art and imagination of man.who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” So here is the framework Paul establishes. and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. But he has not done so simply for the pleasure of creating a worldview. makes sense. From the one transcendent God Paul shows that He is also intimately involved in His Creation [and not the other way around. constructed a biblical worldview. The apostle recognizes that some of this truth is acknowledged in some pagan religions. He is also a personal God who wishes to also communicate with His creation. We live and move and have our being in this God.not. Note how he subtly shows the incoherency of the pagan worldview. He has. and we are his offspring (17:28) . 27)[EPICURIANS].…………Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. “because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator”. In this context he has done so in order to provide a framework in which Jesus himself.’ Paul then quotes from one of their philosophers and a poet – Epimendes of Crete and Aratus’ poem.] The God he has in mind “is not far from each one of us” (v. in some pantheistic sense (STOICS). ‘For we are indeed his offspring. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked. Rom 1:25 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed. cf.

The no negotiables. Athens Revisited Page 7 . there is nothing in any pagan or philosophical terminology that even remotely represents the finished work of our Lord. I end off with a quotes by the great reformer Martin Luther: “If I profess with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition every portion of truth of God except precisely that point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking. The Non negotiables When it comes to Christ’s death.7. The good news of Jesus Christ . Paul does not trim the gospel to make it acceptable to the worldview of his listeners – it is centred upon Christ and Christ crucified.e. Where the battle rages. That is why our evangelism must be “worldview” evangelism. We cannot possibly agree on the solution that Jesus provides if we cannot agree on the problem he confronts. the nature of human beings made in the image of God. But others said. 8. Conclusion: The implications of postmodern thinking for evangelism Evangelism today. “We will hear you again about this. 34 But some men joined him and believed. and exaltation . The Biblical Worldview Framework. however boldly I may be professing Christ. burial and resurrection. Paul does not flinch from affirming the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead. Again:    The reality of the culture.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. The Cross.who he is and what he accomplished by his death. there the loyalty of the soldier is proved”. i. the sheer odium of rebellion against him. one cannot make sense of the Bible’s portrayal of Jesus without such blocks in place. some mocked. and the Areopagus address comes to an end. One cannot make sense of the Bible’s plot line without such basic ingredients. And that is what causes so much offense that Paul is cut off. resurrection. among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. I am not confessing Christ.is simply incoherent unless certain structures are already in place. We must translate our faith into a language that can be understood by our audiences. You cannot make heads or tails of the real Jesus unless you have categories for the personal/transcendent God of the Bible. means starting farther back.