By Dick Brogden
I recently visited Mars Hill in Athens and I wanted to address something theologically as we work amongst the unreached.
Acts 17 (which records Paul’s visit here when he addressed the Agora crowd) is often used as a hermeneutic against bold proclamation. But if you look back at the beginning of the chapter, Paul is very provoked in his spirit. He starts teaching a new doctrine, which they think very strange. It’s strange to their ears. They ask: “What is this babbler talking about?” Paul was preaching Christ as divine through the power of the resurrection. Now when Paul quotes the poets, it’s not authoritative scripture he’s referencing. It’s a cultural reference in a spiritual presentation. He’s just referencing them even as we would reference pop culture in a sermon. Paul’s authority is always the Scripture and he always goes back to the deity of Jesus. We see this at the end of his sermon here on Mars Hill. He says, “These times of ignorance [basically, “you blockheads”], God overlooked, but now He commands men everywhere to repent.”
So some people working with the unreached say, “See, you can be very soft. You can go very slow. You don’t have to reference the Scripture. You can start with the Qur’an or their religious text and build a base on what they know and take them to where you want them to go.” But interestingly, Paul didn’t do that here in Athens. He started with the divinity of Jesus. They thought it was strange doctrine. They thought he was babbling. They wanted to hear more. He built a case not on their scripture, even though there was a reference to popular culture. He built his case on the timeless truths of the Scripture, and in one extended conversation he is making a call for them to repent.
So let’s be like that. Let’s understand the culture and the realms that we work in, but let’s base our presentations to the unreached on Scripture, get them right to Jesus, and call them to repent.