We are examining ten simple principles about sharing our faith with pagans from Paul’s time in Athens (Acts 17:16-34). We have already stated that Paul could have just waited idly, but he got busy when he was burdened by the empty, hopeless, and superstitious idolatry he saw in the city. Paul overcame perhaps the most difficult barrier for most of us – he started conversing with people. But there is more we can learn.
4. Know the gospel; learn the culture. Paul’s conversations in the marketplace prepared him for what was to come. We can tell from his later speech that Paul had studied Greek philosophy, but here he was fine tuning his approach by learning the ideas and superstitions of his immediate audience. In 1 Cor. 9:19-23, a passage key to missional philosophy, Paul said that he adapted himself in order to identify with the people he was trying to reach with the gospel. When you enter a culture, you must first learn and discern; what elements of the culture reflect the image of God and what elements reflect the toxic falleness of mankind? What common ground can I find to move in on the gospel’s message?
5. Live, speak, watch. Live out your faith in a credible and contagious way, speak up about a gospel that has already been communicated by your life, and then watch God work. The greatest argument that Christianity is true and that Jesus is real is a life transformed by those truths. In Acts 17:16-17, we see Paul work, but in verse 18-21, we see God work. God honored Paul’s faithfulness in the small and simple things by giving him a huge opportunity – an invitation to speak to leading the thinkers of the city on the Areopagus.
6. Look for common ground. In Acts 17:22-23, Paul begins to speak. When you strike up conversations with pre-believers, the skill we try to develop under the guidance of the Spirit is to transition conversations from the mundane to the meaningful, from the meaningful to the spiritual, from the spiritual to the biblical, and from the biblical to the gospel. Sometimes, God shortens the process considerably. At times, they ask us to explain the gospel! I can imagine Paul chuckling as the Lord directed his eye to the inscription “to the unknown God” and he saw it as the perfect opener.
7. Appeal to the heart by speaking about a God they know is there. Paul doesn’t get involved in a dialectic but speaks the truth in a narrative fashion, simple and yet compelling, affirming God’s truth and thereby correcting six (or more) errors in his audience’s thinking:
· Paul began with “God.” He knew he might get lumped together with the Socrates-Plato-Aristotle line of thinkers who believed in one ultimate transcendent Being (Form of the Good) rather than in the pantheon of Greek gods, but he would add clarity as he continued (v. 24)
· God doesn’t live in buildings. We didn’t make Him up; He made us and is thus sovereign and powerful (v. 24)
· God needs nothing and gives us everything good (v. 25)
· We are all part of one human family, God’s creative offspring, which He has governed throughout history (v. 26)
· God has not made Himself overly obvious but has given clues throughout creation and history to get people to seek and feel their way to Him (v. 27)
· God is not far from us, contrary to what worldviews through the ages have taught about God being away on a journey or otherwise too busy to care about mankind (v. 27)
© David J. Brown, JD, PhD
picture by: Kevin Mearns from Benoni South Africa,