Here’s the link to Acts 17.
So Paul is in the city of Athens where he debates not only with Jews in the synagogue but with various kinds of philosophers. Not only, therefore, does Paul have to be conversant in the Old Testament scriptures, he also has to have a steady grasp on Greek philosophical ideas.
And he shows that he does as he shares the gospel of Jesus with these Epicureans and Stoics at the Areopagus, a meeting place where they debated and discussed various ideas. Having observed all of the idols and shrines when he explored the city, he uses one in particular, the altar to an unknown god, as a point of entry into presenting the truth of the Christian God. He also quoted one of their familiar poets. All of this was to provide him with a means of connecting more effectively with his listeners.
Reading Paul’s words again, it’s interesting to see how he critiques the idolatry of these philosophers yet also commends their intellectual curiosity and their interest in spiritual matters. It’s in this way that Paul proclaims God as one who wants people to seek him–and who has drawn near to humanity in the person of Jesus.
I also love how some thought Paul is off his rocker, while some are interested enough to want to hear more. And some people believed.
I think there is enough ignorance or misunderstanding of the Christian faith even in our own societal backyard that we can’t presume people will share our values and assumptions. There is an increasing distance between the beliefs and the moral compass of most Christians and the broader culture.
Paul’s example suggests that even to share our faith today with families, friends, and neighbors, we will have to work on understanding what others believe. Where are people coming from? What are the assumptions of the person I am talking to? How can I bridge the divide between myself and the person in front of me who doesn’t even have a Sunday school grasp of the Bible?
We no longer have to go overseas to foreign countries to find people who know nothing of the Christian faith. There are plenty of people like that right here. Our own communities are, to use an old fashioned term, a mission field. And as all missionaries know, to gain a hearing for the good news you have to earn the good will of the people you’re trying to reach. Part of that means showing a genuine interest in who they are and an understanding of what they believe.